“Vibrant Waters” by Patrick VendenBussche

Image by Matthew Chase-Daniel

Friday, April 26th 1996

It is here, in this populated lagoon nicknamed ‘Vibrant Waters’ by the public, where I have decided to stay and conduct my observations.

 Though a continual flow of boat traffic skims the surface and crowds of pedestrians surround the shores, the abundance and diversity of life under the calm, clear water makes this an ideal place to settle and conduct research.

 Right off, I note two mysteries about this area: The diversity of life in such a shallow lagoon, and the night divers.

 The night divers are men I have yet to physically approach. I see them appear on the far end of the lagoon as the sky grows dark. When the visitors have left, the divers slip into the lagoon and disappear into darkness.

 Watching them triggers a deep pull in my heart, for due to an irregular imperfection that has formed in my lungs in these later years, I am land-bound and unable to go diving.

 These divers seem to have no effect on the life down within Vibrant Waters. And what life there is! Fish of all types: Tangs, Angels, Damselfish, Anthias… and the corals… Acropora, Brain, and Polyps…  The numbers are too much to list. And there are sharks, squid, anemones… If only I could observe them closer. I look to these glimpses of life through the plate glass at the bottom of a boat as if I am watching a television. Why is there so much life in such a small closed off lagoon? The evolutionary diversity of this single lagoon is confounding. And what do these men of the night do when they slip into those waters and leave in the morning? Like any man of science, curiosity grips me harder than any love could.

 ~Dr. Henry Handler


Monday, April 29th 1998

Today there is a new arrival in the lagoon. A pair of dolphins: a mother and her calf. I never had much interest in dolphins, but it is good to see new life in the lagoon. Though the amounts of species are vast, I have also found them stale and unchanging. Each species I have noted has an incredibly low density. The dolphins don’t seem frightened by the boats (nor does much of the life out here) as they leap from the waves to say hello. They are more rigid in their swimming pattern then the dolphins I remember in my past. The ones I would see sailing on the Gulf, with the wind ripping through my hair and my fate bent on the sail. Nevertheless, it is good to see them.

~Dr. Henry Handler


Tuesday, June 17th 1998

I was passively observing a school of Tangs from the boat when I made the most remarkable discovery. Keep in mind, I write this next passage as a man with a solid scientific mind. I write it as a man who has spent most of his life on or below the water… in all my years… I can barely write this! It was only a flash in the corner of my eye. What I glimpsed was… how can a man of science write this… or make claim to this? It was from what I could see… a mermaid. The myth of sailors and legends! I had seen her zoom from my sight, her hair trailing behind, pulsing in the surge. It was only a second, but I swear it was a mermaid!

 There is nothing to do now but keep watch. Keep watch and hope I am not going crazy.

~Dr. Henry Handler


Saturday, June 29th 1998

I yearn to go back into the water with SCUBA gear. The depressurization would be hard on my old body. The nitrogen narcosis would come on fast even in shallow waters. The gear would be too heavy and with my irregular lung passage it is too risky. But I am happy to be out near where the sea life is mostly familiar, even if its reasoning is so different. There are species of crab and lobster I never thought would be living in the same reefs and fish I believed only lived in other areas of the world.

 I contemplate my findings as I wander around this island paradise. The locals have plenty of food stands and markets. There is a hospital and a quaint downtown which reminds me much of the small old-fashioned streets where I grew up. I find that this place is one of the happiest places on earth, though during the summer months it can get quite crowded. It is during these months when I spend most of my time indoors or on the river, cruising to nowhere on a boat.

~Dr. Henry Handler


Wednesday, July 3rd 1998

There’s a mansion on the hill. They say it’s been haunted for years. I dare not venture there, for ghosts frighten me, though it seems to be a great attraction to many people and as of late (a lot more of an attraction then the lagoon). Boat traffic has slowed immensely. This makes me happy. For me, I would rather explore what is alive then what was. But we all have our interests I suppose.

 This is why I have decided that leaving isn’t on my agenda.

 I find that I miss my daughter, but there is too much work to be done in this lagoon. With this ‘mermaid’ I feel nearly chosen. As if her waving hair was beckoning me to her with a seductive motion. Of course, I am too old and too studied to believe she is real. I am certain it must have been a tuft of Maiden’s Hair algae adrift in the waters. Regardless, the small feeling of mystery I once felt in those days of discovery, before men had dropped down to the reefs in anything but a lead suit and began the use of the Aqua Lung… those unknown days which filled me with shocking warmth even in the cold Pacific… I feel it again. Even if it is a false emotion, I will hold onto it.

~Dr. Henry Handler


Friday, July 26th 1998

I glimpsed it again. I am certain it was a mermaid. Certain. There is no going back now. The spirit of adventure and exploration is alive. A myth is real. If men can believe in ghosts, why not a mermaid?

~Dr. Henry Handler


Wednesday, August 7th 1998

The night divers came back last night. They continue to mystify me, but I will watch, always, over this lagoon that I have grown too fond of.

~Dr. Henry Handler


Tuesday, October 22nd 1998

I have spent more time looking for the mermaid than writing in my journal. She has not appeared again, yet the divers come every night. The dolphins have stopped surfacing. Fish are disappearing.

 I want to approach these mysterious divers, dressed in black wetsuits and carrying bags of tools and other bulky equipment. I want to stop them, but I am a feeble, old man, and I know men like these are dangerous. They slip in after sunset and leave before morning. They are doing something. Poaching, or killing, or building, but I haven’t been able to discern what even after my months of staying here.

 I will keep watch, always.

~Dr. Henry Handler


Wednesday, November 13th 1998

I apologize for my terrible handwriting. I am writing with a broken wrist, which is now bound in gauze and a splint. It was two nights ago. I was standing watch, as always, over the lagoon. I’d had a cup of coffee to stave off my early afternoon drowsiness, but the pot was more potent then I believed and it had kept me up all night.

 I watched the divers enter the waters after sunset as they always do. I attempted sleep, but it didn’t come. I went outside and spent my time between reading an old copy of The Great Gatsby (a personal favorite) and keeping an eye on the lagoon. When the sun broke in the morning, I found the divers coming forth from the water. This time dragging something…

 Pulling her from the water, roughly, yanking her by her hair… It was the mermaid.

 Of course, like the old fool I am, it was then I realized what they were after all this time.

 I am an old man, but I still felt the bite. The bite that a conservationist feels whenever they look at a rich forest of emerald green and know it is doomed for demolition. So I went after them.

 There was no plan. Looking back I should have grabbed something, anything, even a pan or a rolling pin. But I was in a rage. I ran at them, bellowing a roar I never knew I had inside of me. They saw my approach, barely moved. When I reached them (the mermaid, now on the ground, lying lifelessly on the grainy shore, without a twitch) it was only a matter of seconds before they strong-armed me into submission.

 I swung, I fought, I kicked, I bit. And then I was thrown to the ground where I landed on my hand. I heard the crunch of bone, and felt the fire of breaking ligaments.

 They loaded the mermaid onto the truck and drove away. One stayed to observe me until the island doctors arrived. We exchanged no eye contact and no conversation.

 I spent the last two days asleep. I will sleep for one more full day.

~Dr. Henry Handler


Monday, December 23rd 1998

Christmas doesn’t deter the tourists here. In fact, when the islanders decorate, the place is vivid, like a snow kingdom in the middle of a warm paradise.

 No mermaids have come back, and though I study the waters less and less, I find peace looking out across the lagoon. The cheers and squeals of children echoing as they see passing schools of Chromis, the parents in awe of the stranger creatures like cephalopods and nudibranches.

 But I am fine on my porch. Relaxed. Happy to see the sun rise and fall. Though I still think of the mermaid. In the darkest dreams I see her body lifeless on the cement, her face turned down. Only in the brightest moments do I see her in the water, a living myth only a few men could possibly have ever seen.

~Dr. Henry Handler


January 18th, 1999

The Office of the President – Imagic-Nation
Paradise Ave, Orange Valley, CA

Dear Dr. Judith Handler,

I am writing to offer my condolences regarding the recent passing of your father, Dr. Henry Handler. Like most boys growing up, your father’s books and the films of astounding underwater worlds that he studied during his lifetime enamored me. Without your father, a true pioneer, the underwater world would still be mostly a mystery. I credit your father for giving me the inspiration for building my park. Even many of the films I produced were tributes to Dr. Handler.

 In recent years, as you know, your father’s senility became quite severe. His delusions were extreme, and even that would be an understatement. To watch a mind and soul of such great intelligence and adventure wither to foolishness, I beseeched my heart not to break! To think of Dr. Handler spending his days in a home, in such a confined space compared to that vastness of dynamic life within the ocean… just the prospect made me sad. Which is why when your father visited the “Vibrant Underwater Kingdom Ride” in his elder days (you know this ride, we took you on it when you visited as a small girl – it is a horrid, little attraction where a series of glass bottom boats travel on a track around a lagoon full of plastic fish, killer squids, and a mermaid, even though she was removed in the later years due to constant breakdowns and a shoddy design) he would often forget he was looking at plastic marine life. Or perhaps he just had been starved so long of seeing it in the wild that he only wished it to be real.

When the lawsuits from the university and the mismanagement of your father’s properties came about, both his bank account and mind were deteriorating at a rapid rate. Too senile to handle a book deal or a TV show that could save his pocketbook, he was destined to be led to a small retirement apartment, a shoebox on the 32nd floor of a crumbling building downtown. That was when I built a small cabin on the lagoon of Vibrant Underwater Kingdom. He took up residency there with complacency. He would often watch the ‘animals’ and though I never quite knew what he was up to, he seemed like his normal self: as if he were back in the sparkling waters of Fiji and Bali or offshore of the Tonga in his boat the Yemaja exploring the unknown. When we removed his belongings from the cabin (we always told the guests it was a pump house, your father the pump house operator…you see, most people knew your father’s name, but his face was always hidden by one of those archaic two-hosed re-breathers) we found a journal he had been writing since he took up residency.

 Though I am sad to see him go, I know my diving repair engineers (who often butted head with your father for reasons I am sure you will see) are happy to be free of the old ‘pump house operator’, though I know deep in their hearts they feel the ache, as their night shift has become a lot less interesting.

 I think you will find this journal an interesting slice of your father’s life and mine.  I know you yourself are somewhere out in the Pacific, continuing where he left off, going even deeper then he could imagine. But I want you to know, even in his final days—his existence a small, pathetic, faux slice of his former reality—he was a happy man.

Yours Truly,

Rodney Mabel
President of Imagic-nation and Imagic-nation Theme Park



Patrick VendenBussche spends most of his time out on the Pacific and under the waves. An avid SCUBA diver, he volunteers most his time for coastal restoration efforts and aquarium diving for education. Between the water and his other volunteer work with therapeutic horseback riding, he is currently working on feature length scripts and more short fiction. Far from his homeland of northern Michigan, he now resides in West Hollywood, California.

Read an interview with Patrick here.


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