An Island Hidden in Mist
The icy cold pulled him down, forcing him into the murky depths. He spun, flipped, and could only tell that he was going down. Down, down. So far down. The water was getting colder, the weight on his chest was becoming tremendous.
He flexed his paws, kicked relentlessly, pawing through the water for some kind of hold, but he could grasp nothing. His heart pounded, but couldn’t compare to the roar of the violent ocean in his head.
“Al! Al, help me!” He could remember the scream, and it followed him down.
His sisters had called for his help, and he had tried to get to them. But lightning had pierced the sky, given a thunderous crack, and suddenly disaster was upon them.
The ocean was choppy, the waves were much larger than any he had faced before, and the storm had been like a red-eyed monster, hungry, and waiting to swallow them whole.
When the flash of lightning had disappeared, the ominous red glow had taken its place. Burning wood stung his nostrils, and the cries of his sisters became more pronounced, but he couldn’t get to them.
The fire caught and spread quickly. A wall of it had been between Al and his sisters. A solid, blazing red wall that threatened to take his future or that of his sisters.
He had been nearly ready to barge straight through it, throwing all cautions to the angry wind, when he’d heard the foreboding groan and the deck had shaken under his paws. The waves were batting his ship, and flames were eating what they hadn’t destroyed.
He thought fast, but the storm was faster. A wave rose tall, taller than any of the mountains in Shenkuu, and crashed against them. His boat went careening sideways, tipping, swaying, and then resting completely on its right side. Al had lost his footing, and, with a blur of damp yellow fur, he had tumbled over.
Now the currents played with him like he had often played with his favorite ball in his neohome. Their wrath sucked him under and demanded he stay there forever.
To think he had once fancied himself a weathered explorer, Al thought scornfully. He had been all over Neopia. He’d battled the cold frosts of Terror Mountain, the thick jungles of Mystery Island, and the blazing heat of the Lost Desert, yet nothing could quite compare to this. This storm, these waves, tripled that of everything he had ever faced before.
Now his and his sister’s lives were in jeopardy, all because he longed so horribly to see, to at least glimpse, the mystery that was Lutari Island. Could he help it? He was a Lutari, through and through, and he’d never once set eyes on the land of his kin.
He was a fool. A fool to risk so much to see a hunk of land. He had been warned that trying to find Lutari Island when you had not gained entrance the proper way could be dangerous. He had only wanted to sneak onto the shores, to stay for a day or two and truly understand where he had come from.
But he obviously didn’t measure up to the likes of his kin anyway. It would be nothing but shame for him to go there now, seeing as how he was a Lutari, and he could not even brave the storm and defeat the ocean. He couldn’t claw his way to the surface. He was a joke with swimming skills such as these. But, then again, it was a joke to think that he had prepared himself for this kind of danger merely by swimming and training for days and days in the ocean of Mystery Island. Their ocean seemed like nothing but a paddling pool like the one at his neohome when compared to this one.
Swirling, falling, twirling. Was he going farther under? Or was he merely stuck in a limbo? Al wished feverishly that he could determine which way was up. At least he would stand a better chance that way.
He was running out of time. Even a Lutari could only hold his breath for so long, even a trained Lutari. To think he had once admired the life of a pirate. If he had to face storms like this more than once, he’d rather be a landlubber any day.
Al tried to clear his mind, to push down the panic that was gnawing its way hurriedly to the top. The last thing he needed to do was become panicked.
“If I make it out of this, I’ll clean our neohome by myself for a year and take care of Bryna every day that my mother can’t,” he promised himself, because no one else could hear, and hoped it would make a difference.
He swung one paw, then the next, seeing if being calm would bring him any closer to the surface.
When he realized it wouldn’t, he began to thrash, and the panic became harder to control.
Then: a miracle. His paw touched something. Or rather, something touched his paw. A feeling of calm immediately washed over him, as if this unknown being had soothed him by a touch. The hand wrapped firmly around his paw, controlling his jerky movements, and, suddenly, Al began to feel himself moving upwards. At least, he hoped it was upwards. He could only make out the dark silhouette of his savior, but he followed them faithfully, trustingly.
It seemed like only seconds before they broke the surface, but he had felt like he had been pulled under for an eternity, losing the surface to miles and miles of ocean. The cold wind hit him like a slap in the face, and he began to cough while trying to suck in much needed air at the same time.
“I-I’m alive,” he stammered uncertainly, afraid to believe it, when he regained his breath.
His hero still had his paw, holding him easily above the waves that still continued to roll, though the storm had lessened. He looked upon the person with the utmost gratitude.
His mouth promptly fell open when he focused on them in the gloom. The fragile, pale oval face watched him with wide blue eyes. Concern was evident in the way the young woman’s mouth formed a slight pout, as if she wasn’t quite certain she could release him yet. Her hair contrasted brightly with her surroundings, seeing as it was vibrantly red. It curled from the wet, and seemed as wild and as untamed as she. Bits of seaweed were tangled stubbornly with her locks, but she didn’t seem to notice.
“Are you a-”
Al cut himself off abruptly, before he could accuse the woman of being one of the fabled mermaids he had always refused to believe existed. His ears perked up, and he turned momentarily away from his heroine.
The sound of drums rolled out hauntingly over the waves. They thumped to a wild tune, something that made his heart beat erratically, something that called to him like nothing he had ever felt before.
His heart rose in his throat as he caught sight of the mist that hovered just over the ocean, panning out from what looked to be the outline of an island. The mist was thick, like a sheet trying to hide a secret. But he knew. Somehow, he knew. He could see the faint coloring of structures that were done in vibrant, bold colors, like the tail of a faerie Lenny, proud and exotic.
He heard the voices next. The voices sang out in time with the drum beats, chanting an ancient song of life and traditions, of happiness and adventure. They sang a tune that was buried somewhere deep in Al’s soul, and the noises pulled him by some invisible but strong rope, herding him to the place he had always belonged.
Home. The island, this island in the distance, covered in the thick mist, was Lutari Island. He was certain of it. He had found it. Finally.
A hand touched his shoulder, tentatively, and he jumped. The mermaid was staring at him from under long, fiery lashes with eyes full of wisdom and secrets he would never know.
“I think,” she began in a musical voice that sounded like a heartbreaking melody, “you’ve been looking for this place.”
“I have,” he answered.
A small, pleased smile tilted up the corners of her pretty, full lips. “You’ve found your home.”
She released him, and disappeared, diving under the waves.
A splash of water hit him in the face, and he woke up.
“Al, what are you doing? Mom expected you to be home fifteen minutes ago to watch Bryna.”
Al blinked and a dark figure came in focus above him, shadowing him from the sun that blazed above him.
“Huh?” he mumbled, while echoes of chants and drum beats faded into the distance.
“You’re late, like always. I should have known you’d be here goofing off,” Jezza, his grey Kougra sister, informed him angrily.
Al sat up, dazed. The cool water of their family paddling pool lapped at his waist, the soft hum of insects hovering around his mother’s flowers filled his ears. He looked around. He was home? He had never been on a ship? There had never been a storm? Or a mermaid? Or Lutari Island?
The latter devastated him.
“I-I guess I lost track of time,” he murmured, as he came slowly back to reality, remembering that he had come to this pool to waste a couple of hours before he was to baby-sit.
His sister rolled her eyes, annoyed. She gave a hasty jerk of her shoulder and gestured with her head in the direction of their house. “Come on, Mom is upset. She’s late for work.”
Al sighed and got out of the pool. Jezza turned, heading for the house, expecting him to follow her without a word.
He paused before he went, looking up at the sky, his thoughts miles and miles away on an island hidden in the mist with voices that called to his heart.
Maybe later, when his mother had cooled down and gotten into her typical good mood and happy spirits, he could convince her to get him entrance into Lutari Island.
He trotted off after his sister with the drum beats now playing in his heart.