The Shallows

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Note: This short story was commissioned by National Geographic for the #PlanetOrPlastic contest.

The Shallows

"Another one went missing last night..."

Meryl looked toward her mother. She probably wasn't supposed to hear that. The words were addressed to her father in hushed tones.

She wished her parents wouldn't treat her like such a child. They were trying to protect her, she supposed. The disappearances had everyone in The Colony frightened. It was all anyone talked about at school.

Nestor would fill her in. He always knew the latest news. His mother sat on the Joint Oceanic Taskforce, and she received "Incident Reports" before the general public.


Meryl couldn't wait to see him. Today was her birthday, and he'd promised her a special gift before kissing her goodnight yesterday evening.

She knew what it would be: That scrap of purple sea-film floating in the shallows near the cove. They'd found all sorts of treasures—more and more lately—carried by the currents to that spot.

Meryl collected sea-film. That was the name she and Nestor made up for it in any case. Neither of them knew exactly what it was. They found it mesmerizing, though, the way it danced through the water and captured the sunlight, painting the ocean floor in brilliant hues.

The first time Nestor snagged a piece, Meryl had been shocked. It felt unlike any substance she'd encountered. Thin and flexible as an angelfish's tail. But strong. Impossible to tear. And it made the most pleasant crinkling sound when she touched it.

She'd ogled that purple fragment yesterday, but Nestor seemed intent on some jagged items buried in the sand. "Look Mer!" he'd called. "Look at these!"

At first she thought they were shark's teeth, but not quite. Too smooth. Too sleek.

"Plastic," Nestor had murmured reverently. "Careful, it might be sharp!"

She'd never heard that word before. Plastic. It wasn't one of their make-believe terms. He said it with a certain authority, though. His mother must have told him the proper name for these strange objects they kept finding. Plastic...

"Meryl!" Her father's voice boomed. She looked up at the large sea turtle who called her name.

"Sweetie... come here." Her mother hovered at her father's side. Something in their faces made Meryl's heart flutter. Instinctively, she drew her neck deeper into her shell.

"Another one went missing..."

Another member of their colony, lost overnight. Nestor would know the details...

"I have to get to school!" Meryl announced. "Nestor's waiting!"

But her voice trailed off at the look on her parents' faces.

Her pulse pounded in her ears. She could barely understand the broken phrases that tumbled from her mother's mouth. "Nestor... in the shallows... tangled... some strange kind of seaweed, too strong to tear..."

No, Meryl thought. No.

Not seaweed. Plastic.

Nestor must have gone back to the shallows alone to fetch her gift.

"He's missing?" Meryl whispered.

Her father shook his head, as her mother reached a gentle fin in her direction.

"They found him there this morning. He wasn't able to resurface."

"I'm so sorry, sweetheart. Nestor drowned."


Dear Readers:
Did you know that 9 million tons of plastic waste end up in the ocean every year? Plastic bags, bottles, straws, packing materials... our oceans and marine life are drowning in these items we throw away each day.

If this issue breaks your heart as much as it does mine, don't be silent! You can help spread the word by entering the NationalGeographic #PlanetOrPlastic contest. To enter, all you have to do is write a 500-word short story like this one and tag it #PlanetOrPlastic. Full instructions here:

Please be sure read and vote for the other contest entries as well. Together we can make our voices heard!


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