Ilhoon found that book when he visited his grandmother before her birthday. He went there with his mother to surprise her and eventually stayed for a few days. One could say that it was because Ilhoon was in his rebellious years that he and her mother fought a lot, but that wasn’t true. He was already 21, living alone. After his father suddenly disappeared from their lives two years ago, his relationship with his mother started getting worse and worse.
One day, when he and his mother fought again, he ran up the stairs that led to the loft. He hated that place in his entire life but at that moment this seemed the perfect place to hide. It had always looked so scary. No one used it ever since his grandfather passed away more than twenty years ago. Back then, when he came over for a few days, he always avoided this place. Even standing before the stairs made him scared, let alone the loft itself.
Now he just wanted to be alone. He knew he was being childish. They could’ve solved their problem with talking, but that was what neither of them wanted. They rather waited a few days to contact the other again than talk about their problems properly, how the responsible adult would.
As he was walking around there, he found it. A book.
"What the ocean hides," he read the title. "What the hell?" he grimaced and set the book aside. He found some old pictures of his grandparents and hir mother, those seemed more interesting than an old book.
He couldn't sleep well on that night. He could swear he heard the ocean. It called him.
He woke up drenched in cold sweat. However, when he tried to recall his dream, he only saw the ocean under the night sky, stars reflecting back on its surface. It was calm but this calmness just made the ocean even more terrifying. It was mysterious and how it called him, felt like it was a wild animal, hunting down its prey.
He thought of that book he found earlier. What the ocean hides.
According to the digital clock’s display, it was only three in the morning. However, Ilhoon couldn't sleep anymore. He could still hear quietly that voice. It wasn't a human's voice. It was something else.
He got up and went outside. He thought maybe the chilly air would calm him down. He shivered as he walked to the swing. He used it a lot when he was still little. Well, not as if he grew that much since then. He could easily sit down without being afraid of breaking it off.
He looked up at the sky. It was cloudy, he couldn't see any stars. He sighed. That book bothered him. He wanted to wait until morning but he couldn't, so he decided to go back to the loft. He wasn’t as scared as earlier but he still hesitated before he entered the room. He turned on the lights.
The book was still there where he left it. He took it in his hands and ran his fingers over the cover. What the ocean hides. He opened it slowly. There was a drawing of a mermaid on the first page. Strange , he thought. On the next page, the title said When the ocean calls.
"The ocean calls?" he read it out loud. He shivered.
He thought back of his dream.
" Hey, that's more than creepy," he said with a trembling voice. He took his phone out of his pocket and texted Peniel.
ILHOON: Something is weird
PENIEL: Why are you awake?
ILHOON: I could ask you the same
PENIEL: True lol. So? What happened?
ILHOON: I found this book yesterday. I only read the title but had a very strange dream. It was more like a nightmare, so I came back to this book and the first, well the second page, (if we count that drawing of that mermaid) it says “when the ocean calls”
ILHOON: THE FUCKING OCEAN CALLED ME IN MY DREAM
PENIEL: Are you sure? Maybe you're just confused. Or it's just a coincidence.
PENIEL: Maybe you're dreaming now.
ILHOON: why? Do you feel like you aren't real?
PENIEL: no, but you should go to sleep
ILHOON: THANK YOU FOR NOTHING! ! !
Ilhoon slid his phone back into his pocket. He flipped a page. Then another. Then another.
"Bullshit," Ilhoon murmured. "Merpeople, huh?"
Ilhoon yawned. He was getting sleepy. His fear disappeared as soon as he read parts of the book and saw the illustrations. The whole book was about merpeople.
He sighed and wished he could turn back time and not text Peniel. It was nothing, just him being paranoid. He probably dreamed about the ocean because he read the title earlier. Maybe he opened the book and read the first title when he was here in the afternoon, just didn’t remember it.
He laughed at himself and went back to sleep. On the next day, his grandmother asked him if he saw a book. Apparently, the old woman saw him when she went to the kitchen to get a drink.
"I did," Ilhoon replied. "Is it a problem?"
"No, I guess," she shrugged. Ilhoon's mother was still asleep so it was just the two of them in the living room.
"Have you ever heard about merpeople?"
"Do you know who the author of that book was?" Ilhoon shook his head. "Your grandfather."
"What?" It took Ilhoon by surprise. "He wrote…"
"He did. Although I’ve never seen them, your grandfather did. It happened before we met," she started. "He was a fisherman but his boat got caught in a storm one time he was out there. He thought he would die but when he woke up, he was on an island with two people," She rubbed her wrinkled hands. "They were merpeople."
"And they just let grandpa write that book?" Ilhoon frowned.
"I don't think they know about it. When he started writing it, he already stopped visiting that island."
After this talk, Ilhoon was deep in thought all day. Merpeople. One part of him wanted to believe it, especially knowing that his grandfather met them and even wrote a book about them. But the rational side of him told him that it just couldn't be real. Merpeople are from fairy tales. How could they live in reality?
"So it's real, huh?" Peniel asked. They were talking on the phone. Ilhoon couldn't keep it to himself only, he needed to tell it to someone. And that someone couldn't be any other person than his best friend.
"Yes," he replied. He was sitting on the swing again. "Don't you want to find them?"
"What?" Ilhoon gasped. "But imagine, finding a pretty mermaid," he grinned.
"So you want to find them?" Ilhoon could hear Peniel's sigh.
"Yes. We can use my grandfather's boat," he said, excitedly. "I thought-"
Someone grabbed the phone and took out of his hand. When he turned around, he met his grandmother's strict look.
"Wh- Why?" he yelled.
"I don't want you to die the same death as your grandfather," she said.
"The same…" Ilhoon repeated, eyes wide.
"The ocean took him away from me."
"The ocean…" Ilhoon didn't know what to say. He always thought his grandfather died because he was already too old. But thinking about it, he was only 21 now, his grandfather couldn't be that old when he died. It happened a few years before he was born.
"He said multiple times that the ocean called him," she pressed her lips together. "He tried everything he could but everything was useless. The ocean is too powerful, Ilhoon."
He remembered his dream again.
"You're not allowed to go," she said, turning back and walking away with Ilhoon's phone.
However, this couldn't stop Ilhoon. He asked his mother if he could use her phone, called Peniel and on the next day, they were ready to go. They packed some food, clothes to change and the book. They had everything they needed. For the first time, Ilhoon was happy his father taught him everything he had to know about fishing.
Their destination was the island they found in the book. They could just hope they wouldn’t get in danger in the meantime. Ilhoon felt guilty. He just left without a word. Not like he was a child and had to tell them everything he was doing, but going to this journey was something that made his grandmother very, very, very worried. He lost his husband like that, and if Ilhoon didn’t succeed, he’d lost his only grandson too.
He was sitting on an old chair, sighing repeatedly, staring at the ocean. It was their second day there. He waited for the ocean to call him, but it didn’t happen. It was silent, only a few birds chirped around them. Peniel stood behind him, putting his hands on Ilhoon’s shoulders and massaging him.
"Did something happen?" he asked.
Ilhoon shook his head. "I just-"
The fishing net caught something.
"Maybe it’s our pretty mermaid," Ilhoon winked.
They ran out and pulled the fishing net out of the water.
Neither Ilhoon nor Peniel could believe what they just saw.
They laid down it on the ground and stared at it with disbelief.
Then Ilhoon poked Peniel's arm.
"That's… That's a man," Ilhoon said, eyes widening.
Peniel snorted. "A merman."