海の涙. (sea tears.)

Akio quietly grumbled as he squirmed in his sleeping bag. A bead of sweat dripped down the side of his forehead and onto the scratchy fabric of his pillow. He cursed underneath his breath as he turned over, unable to find a comfortable position. The thin fabric of the tent and the ragged second-hand sleeping bag did very little to shield his back against the rough ground. Sharp stones and sticks beneath the tent jabbed into sensitive parts of his body, no matter how he adjusted his position.

Through the transparent material of the tent, Akio gazed up at the sprinkle of stars painted upon the twilight canvas, partially hidden behind a thin veil of clouds, and then turned his focus to the silent symphony around him. The dim chirping of the crickets. The rustle of the wind against the bushes. The scampering of bugs as they burrowed beneath the ground. The thundering sound of the waves crashing onto the shore. The flurry of sounds formed a sweet melody of the night that Akio found himself relaxing to, closing his eyes to intensify the song.

He had to admit: the cove was breathtaking by day. The way the delicate sand sifted through his toes as he paced along the shore. The small spatters of seawater on his skin as the waves slammed upon the soft sand. The refreshing scent of the sea and the cool air against the back of his throat. The delicate ivory seafoam that trailed behind as the water withdrew from the shore. The indignant squawking of seagulls, and the brilliant laughter of the tourists who chased after them.

But now, between the intolerable heat inside the stuffy tent and the roar of the tides, there was close to no hope of Akio ever falling asleep. Releasing a resigned sigh, he grabbed his jacket and a flashlight from the foot of the sleeping bag, crawling out of the tent’s opening. Almost immediately after he stepped outside, the frigid damp air clung onto his skin. Akio pulled on his jacket and sneakers before turning on the flashlight and heading his way toward the beach. Akio allowed himself to sink into the soft whispers of the leaves as they brushed against each other, almost as if in a daze.

Akio was pulled from his trance by the flecks of seawater that landed on his exposed cheek, cool and chilling. Goosebumps began to reveal themselves, and a chill ran down his spine as he admired the dark majestic scenery around him, basking in the beauty of the waves as they washed over the shore. He noticed the clouds beginning to gather, hiding the twinkling light of the stars. The soft glow of the moon emerged from behind a cluster of particularly dark clouds, imposing, imperial, and imperfect. The moonbeams, reflected upon the surface of the water, appeared distorted by the rippling of the waves, and the scent of seaweed tainted the air with nostalgia. And, other than the thundering of the waves crashing onto the sand, there was silence.

Akio heard a soft, pitiful sound, hidden behind the howling of the wind. Almost a whine, so breathtaking, so sad. He scanned his surroundings with the flashlight, but Akio couldn’t find anything that could have caused the sweet harmony. I should get more sleep. That was probably just a trick of the mind. It’s probably just the violent wind brushing against the rocky cliffs. Akio didn’t know much about what the music was or where it came from, but the one thing he was sure about was the bliss that flowed through his body when he heard it. Like he was floating on thin air, as if he was filled with air and light as a feather and drifting away, away. It was almost as if the song pulled him into a trance like some kind of spell.

Like a sharp hook, it pulled something inside him, before quickly disappearing as the direction of the wind shifted. The silence returned and filled Akio’s head with…sorrow. Overwhelming wave after wave of pure, unadulterated sorrow, laced with poisoned words and poisoned thoughts as if his broken memories washed over his mind over and over. Akio doubled over in white-hot agony, his hands desperately entangling with and pulling at his hair, anything, anything to make the pain disappear. A few droplets of rain fell upon the back of his neck, unnoticed by Akio. He threw his head toward the sky, now filled with darkening and foreboding clouds, and released a gut-wrenching screech of pure terror. Of pure desire. The sensation that coursed through his bloodstream could only be described as empty. He was filled with a need for more, to hear the strange song again.

As if responding to his thoughts, the song crept out from between the waves and the pain almost immediately subsided; his mind gradually cleared. He released a lung full of air he didn’t even know he was holding onto. Akio found himself rapidly pacing toward the direction of the lingering mourning melody as if the directions were whispered into his ears. His pupils dilated at the sound of the tinkling voice and his ears strained, determined to not miss a single note of the haunting song. 

The tide pools stank of brine and salt. Chunks of rotting seaweed dried out from the sun were stuck between the shallow crags, waiting for the ocean to pull them back out into the sea. The song appeared to be coming from the direction of a cluster of several large jagged rocks. The closer that Akio got to the rocks, the more defined and loud it grew. Reaching the rocks, he discovered a narrow opening in the rocks that appeared to be the opening of a cave. Akio supposed that the low tides were probably the only reason why the opening was even visible.

Akio turned off his flashlight and tossed it into the ocean. He was sure he would have to pay for the damage done later, but he couldn’t risk alerting whoever was singing so beautifully of his presence. The moonlight was bright enough to guide the way, and even pitch darkness was better than not being able to hear the haunting song. Just the thought of it made him feel slightly nauseated.

Akio carefully fitted himself through the narrow passageway. The tone of the song was so mournful, almost as if the person was calling out to someone. Desperate and so, so full of pain, the manifestation of pure, unadulterated loneliness. The winsome voice reeled him in and blurred his conscience. He followed the soft teal glow emitting through the cracks of the cave with the haunting song lingering in the back of his mind. He hardly noticed himself subconsciously humming the sweet melody as he struggled to fit through the narrow opening of the cave. The grotto was cavernous, and the song echoing off the stone dome was much clearer despite the growl of the waves barricaded against the structure. A soft cerulean glow, emitted from the unusually deep tide pool, lit the cave and intermingled with the few tendrils of moonlight reaching in through the breaks in the rock enclosure.

Akio blinked in surprise, allowing his eyes a moment to adjust to the sudden light. His gaze almost immediately found the pale visage half-submerged in the water. He did a double-take when he noticed the fishtail that appeared to be attached to the young man’s torso, the ebony scales shimmering in the moonlight and reflecting the pool’s light. No fucking way. The scales trailed up the young man’s body before seamlessly merging into pale skin. The person—no, the creature—lounged upon some of the ragged stones along the opposite edge of the tide pool, with their tail dipped into the glowing water. The creature had a mane of long straight silver hair, almost hip level and flowing gracefully in the soft breeze. Light and trim, their lean muscular back was revealed by a strip of particularly bright moonlight.

“He-hello,” Akio stuttered out the words, hesitantly and breathlessly, almost as if the sight of the strange man had robbed him of the ability to speak. Only then did he realize how long he had been holding onto his breath, his lungs and throat now aching with pain.

The dark song cut off almost immediately and the young man quickly jerked his head in Akio’s direction. From afar, his features were rather blurry, but there was no mistaking the expression of pure shock frozen on his face. Before Akio could get a better look at him, he pushed himself off the rock and dove into the water.

“Wait, no! Wait! Come back, please, come back!” A look of horror washed over Akio’s face as he hurriedly pulled off his jacket, preparing to jump into the tidepool after the strange young man. Panic wrecking through his mind, he climbed onto a short stack of rocks by the side of the tidepool and scanned the entirety of the cave. He noticed a hand breaking the surface of the water and clutching onto the edge of the tidal pool closest to him, and a head popped out of the water. The tightness in his chest unwound as Akio noted the man’s webbed fingers and pointed nails. Akio stumbled toward the young man, his legs still weak and his adrenaline still high, and came to a stop a few feet away from him.

“I’m so sorry for scaring you. I didn’t mean to.” Akio did his best to hide how his voice quivered from nervousness and how petrified he felt. He took in a deep breath and squeezed his eyes shut before taking a few steps closer. Dropping down onto his knees, Akio leaned forward and leveled his face to the young man’s. He took notice of the few dark scales trailing along the side of his neck, just over a few flaps of skin—gills?—and the intricately webbed ears that extended from the side of the man’s face, emphasized by the way his wet silver hair clung to his figure. “I heard your song and I was curious, I guess.” Akio found the courage to look up into the man’s intense sapphire stare, almost immediately wincing at the ferocity behind it. He gulped and dug his fingernails into his hand to keep himself from looking away.

“I’m Akio. Akio Tanaka.” Akio gave the strange man a small, encouraging grin. The man stared back at Akio, unresponsive, sending shivers along his spine. “Was that you singing?” Noticing a quick glimpse of pain flashing over the young man’s face, Akio’s eyebrows furrowed out of concern. “I’m so sorry. That was insensitive. You don’t have to answer that. Just please don’t leave me.”

“Kiyoshi. Kiyoshi Akiyama,” the man whispered just loud enough for Akio to hear him, his voice strangely melodic, even behind his thick accent. Akio could glimpse a set of sharp pointed teeth from between his blue-tinted lips. “Akio Tanaka. Stay here, Akio Tanaka.” Kiyoshi dove back into the water.

Akio’s heart skipped a beat at the sound of his name being said with that strange accent. What is it? That accent. It’s unlike everything I’ve ever heard before. Russian almost. It’s so pretty. It’s so melodic. Like everything else about him. He waited patiently, as directed, until Kiyoshi’s head popped out of the water, this time his face painted over with sorrow. Akio looked closer at the young man and noticed that Kiyoshi was holding another limp figure in his arms. Swimming over to the side of the tidepool, he carefully laid out the figure onto the stones, taking the time to caress the person’s cheek. Akio took a few steps closer to the figure and carefully observed him, a look of horror over his face.

The person was clearly of a similar species as Kiyoshi, but while Kiyoshi was so full of movement, this man laid limp and still. He was stripped almost completely naked, save the shiny black scale—clearly one of Kiyoshi’s—hanging by a delicate silver chain around his neck. His hair, the color of mulled wine despite being wet and limp with water, was clearly once a stylish haircut. Akio couldn’t help but notice that the man’s slim build and dark skin did little to hide two deep gouge scars on the sides of his torso and the bruises on his neck. Akio’s eyes glimpsed Kiyoshi’s sharp claws, and Akio involuntarily shuddered at the thought. Like Kiyoshi, the man also carried a similar mesmerizing aura to him. However, while Kiyoshi’s tail was more like that of a fish, or dolphin even, the man’s tail looked like that of a blue whale—sleek and navy blue with wide tail flukes and covered with smooth, slippery, wet rubber-like skin that merged flawlessly with his torso. Akio glanced over at Kiyoshi and, noticing the look of intense pain on his face, realized the truth.

“Is he why you were singing?” 

Kiyoshi released a few soft notes, filled with so much suffering, so much grief, that Akio felt a heart-wrenching twinge in his own body. Kiyoshi’s glance averted to the limp figure in-between them, and a single tear poured out from his left eye and trailed down his nose. He reached up a single claw and gently stroked the man’s cheek with it, taking the time to caress his jawline, so tenderly, making sure he didn’t accidentally hurt the man. 

“I’m so sorry. I really am, Kiyoshi. Kiyoshi Akiyama.”

“Takumi. Takumi Nakahara. My Takumi Nakahara,” Kiyoshi crooned softly, leaning down to nuzzle his nose against Takumi’s, an action laced with more agony than affection. He pushed himself onto the shore and carefully pulled Takumi’s head onto his lap, using his silver hair to cushion his head against the hard scales. Kiyoshi sadly stroked Takumi’s mahogany hair and resumed his singing. Akio couldn’t help but notice the heartache behind the evocative melody.

“Was…was he your lover?” Akio watched as Kiyoshi’s song faded away, as his webbed hands reached up and laced through his hair. Kiyoshi’s head dropped, his hands holding his hair, and a soft hiccup-like sob burst from his lips, so quiet that Akio was sure he wouldn’t have heard it if he wasn’t listening for a response.

“My Takumi Nakahara. My fault. My fault, my fault, my fault. My Takumi Nakahara. I’m sorry, my Takumi Nakahara. I’m sorry, my fault, all my fault.” Kiyoshi’s voice raised a full octave as he threw his head back, his hair whipping the glowing water behind him, and released a woeful screech. “Takumi Nakahara! Come back, my Takumi Nakahara! Please, please, please! Takumi Nakahara, please come back to me!” He doubled over at the waist, weakly bending over Takumi’s corpse, tears still freely flowing.

Akio softly walked over to Kiyoshi’s hunched form and threw his arms over his shoulder, embracing his quivering body.

No, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry, Kiyoshi Akiyama.

Julia Vu is a high school junior from Bay Area, California. She founded Operation Dopamine, an international mental health advocacy organization with ambassadors from nine countries, to stimulate discussion around mental health. Her works are published in Songs of Peace: World’s Biggest Anthology of Contemporary Poetry 2020, A Celebration of Poets 2020, and several literary magazines. Julia empowers others through her poetry, a “letter she never intended to send.”