by John Carlucci
She followed the warm current, knowing full well how terribly angry her mother would be. Warned more than once that she was too young to be swimming here alone, the girl ignored everything, because the reefs were always a delight she looked forward to seeing. Drawn by the brilliant colors and the exquisite taste of life that flowed through the surrounding waters, she could not help seeking the reef. Rolling over to swim on her back, the little girl could see the radiant glow of the sun as it filtered through the shimmering surface of the warm water. With powerful strokes, she cut through the clear water and headed for the living surface of the reef.
She had just reached the edge when all of her senses screamed out their silent alarm. A jaggedmouth hunted nearby, searching the water for fresh prey. Too many of her people had fallen victim to its never-ending hunger. She swam quickly for a coral shelf and crawled underneath its protective lip. Breathing in and out hard, the little girl closed her eyes tightly and hoped. From her vantage point she could see the sleek gray skin of the jaggedmouth's body. It rippled slightly as its powerful tail propelled it through the water. She shivered as it swam into the distance. Fear of the hunter clutched her stomach in a tight ball, and she swam away from the reef with great haste. Slightly disoriented by her encounter, the little girl headed in the wrong direction and soon found herself close to shore.
The thrashing legs in the water surprised and startled her at first. She had never seen anything like this. Allowing her long tail to lift her through the water, the little girl floated up through the current. Her dark hair broke the surface with hardly a splash and she floated with just her eyes above the water. She waited a moment as her eyes adjusted to the surface light and felt the protective lids sliding back. She stared in wonder and awe at what lay before her.
These people looked like her own, but the curious thing was they had what looked like arms where their tails should be. Scared at first, the girl found these people so terribly strange and new she could not look away. Their skin was pink, and they made the strangest noises with their mouths she had ever heard. She giggled aloud.
Startled to see that some of the people turned when they heard the high-pitched laughter, the little girl dove beneath the surface and huddled near the sandy bottom. Since no one followed her, she stared at her tail and wondered what it would be like to not have one. The tail was twice as long as the rest of her body and covered in the softest of scales. The white-green surface contrasted only by the deep green of the striping that flowed its length. Her skin was a milky white and hair a dark green that ran down her back and the length of her tail. She could not imagine what it would feel like to move on the land the way these others did. Curiosity getting the better of the girl, she swam closer to the shore while carefully avoiding the other swimmers in the water.
It was then she saw that one of the swimmers was smaller than the others. She was wary of contact, but could it be that this one was a little girl like herself? She stared in wonder at this small little girl and gently reached out to touch her extended foot. The skin was fiery hot and the girl jerked her foot away. She started swimming and quickly ran from the water shrieking. Angry with herself for scaring the little girl away, the baby mermaid again broke the surface to watch.
She saw the girl run up the sandy beach and embrace what must have been her mother. After a few hugs, the little girl sat in the sand and picked up an object that lay beside her. It appeared to be a representation of the little girl herself. It had arms where its tail should have been and appeared to shine like the hardest pearl from the bottom of the ocean. She watched as the girl played in the sand and made those strange noises at the little form. She stayed so long that the water started to cool and she began thinking of returning home. It was then that the girl started squealing again and ran toward the splashing water. She kicked furiously away from the shore and stopped when she floated several feet above the bottom. The mermaid sank to the sandy surface and stared up as the little girl played. She could see that this time she had brought the shiny little figure with her. After several minutes of this playful romping, the little girl began to swim for the shore again. The mermaid knew this would be her last chance, so she reached out and touched the girl's toe again. It so startled her that she dropped the figure and swam more quickly for the sandy beach. The little mermaid could hardly believe her luck and watched as the figure floated down to her. She caught it in her webbed hands and stared at its shiny face. It looked very much like the surface girl, but its hair was as light as the sun. She moved all four arms and the head, smiled, then swam away.
She had almost reached the reef when a dark shape cut through the water and swam directly at her. She screeched in fear as the shape whirled her around and she found the frowning face of her mother. Relief flooded the little girl's body as she listened to the well-deserved scolding her mother was now giving her. After a few moments, her mother stopped and hugged the girl tightly to her body. She noticed the human figure clutched in her daughter's hand and scolded her once again. She frowned at the girl's pleadings, but eventually relented out of relief that her baby was okay. Reaching into the pouch that hung around her neck, the mother handed the daughter a small bag. Made of the softest fish skin and tied tightly at the top with thread, the girl clutched the bag tightly to her. Both mother and daughter swam, hand in hand, back toward the shore.
The little girl sat at the water's edge and stared off to where she had last seen Mrs. Bentley. Mrs. Bentley had been with her for as long as she could remember, having received her at a Christmas long ago. Daddy had searched the water for a while, only to return sad and empty-handed. Warm tears still flowed down her cheeks as she thought of never seeing her friend again.
Surprised, she watched as a girl with green hair peeked her head from the surface of the water. She slowly swam to the shore and crawled partly up the wet sand, stopping just at the girl's feet. She had large black eyes and pale, striped skin that shone in the dying sunlight. She had Mrs. Bentley in her hand and a small bag in the other that she held out for the little girl to take. She smiled once before sliding back into the water. Opening the bag, the little girl poured a number of shiny black balls into her pudgy little hand. She smiled and giggled at the surprised laughter from Mommy and Daddy when she showed them what the wet bag held. *
Story copyright © 1995 by John Donald Carlucci
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