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The Little Merman
It was hot; and when I say hot, I mean sweat drenching, skin burning, blisteringly hot. But, I had suffered the motion sickness of the two hour drive just to get from my house in Pennsylvania to my friend’s shore house in New Jersey, so I was going to go to the beach. My two friends, who had also come down with me last year, were the sensible ones and decided to stay at home while I risked the sun. Once I got there, there were no places left to set up my towel, so I took to the ocean. I didn’t mind; it was only the edge of the ocean and the water felt good on my burning skin. So, making myself comfortable on the sand, I lay down in the couple inches of water that washed up occasionally.
I didn’t realize how relaxing the cool water felt until I fell asleep in it. I awoke to find myself floating in the middle of the ocean. I splashed the water in anger, feeling like a complete moron for having let this happen, but my splashes caused me to lose hold of my floating position and I sank into the sea. Blinking, I looked around me under the water, my eyes stinging from the salt. I almost drowned at the sight that awaited me. Staring at me with huge, shiny blue eyes with no pupils was a little boy: sort of. Well, it was half a little boy, anyways. The other half was made up of a long, sparkly, scaly, fish tail.
Rising to the surface, I gulped in fresh air as I treaded water, almost hoping I was hallucinating, maybe from over-exposure to the sun. However, my hopes died when the head of the little boy broke the surface of the water. I stared at him and he stared at me and finally we both spoke at the same time.
“Who are you?” we asked in tandem.
I jerked at the sound of his voice. He had a high-pitched, rather girly voice that sounded like bubbles popping. It was so foreign that I could only stare in wonder at this creature. After a while, he seemed to get annoyed and frowned at me, obviously wondering if my mental capacity was up to scratch.
“Who are you?” he asked again.
I blinked, trying to recover myself.
“Umm...” I began, “My name’s Ellinor...er...Ellie.”
He smiled, pleased that he had gotten an intelligible answer out of me.
“I’m—“ And he proceeded to say a name that sounded like a million pebbles falling onto a granite countertop. I gaped at him for a moment before he added in a cheery voice, “You can just call me Russell.”
After saying this, he fell silent and just stared at me with his grin still firmly in place. When the silence had finally stretched on long enough for me to start feeling uncomfortable, I asked, “Well, what do you want, Russell?”
His grin abruptly faded and I almost felt sad to be the one to have wiped it from his face.
“I...” he began hesitantly, “I, well, you see...I’m lost.” He looked ashamed as he uttered those last two words. I smiled at him kindly, hoping he would see that there was nothing to be ashamed about.
“All you have to do is retrace your steps. Although,” I frowned, “that may be rather hard to do out here seeing as there are no landmarks. Hmm...” I tried to think of a way we may be able to find his home. I hadn’t any idea of how to go about this since, up until a few moments ago, I hadn’t even know mermaids existed—well, mermen, in this case. I sighed. “I guess I’m in the same situation as you.”
“You’re lost too?” he asked, startled.
“Yes, well, as you can plainly see, I’m quite a far way from land and I am a land creature after all,” I said comically. He giggled.
“I can see that.”
“What shall we do?” I asked.
“I can lead you to land.”
“What!” I exclaimed.
“Of course. It’s quite easy, actually. You just follow the stars.”
I frowned. “You know how to do that, even though you live underwater?”
“Oh yes. It’s one of the first things they teach us in primary school. I don’t know exactly why that is, but today it is officially coming in handy,” he said. “Oh, look, the sun’s setting. The stars will be out soon. Then I can take you home. All children are taught the location of the continents. Which one do you need to get to?”
“America. Actually, to be more specific, one of the New Jersey beaches: in Ocean City.”
“I know where that one is. Just wait a little longer and I can take you there. But will you promise to help me find my home? Please?” he asked, almost pleading.
“I promise,” I said, smiling at him, then grimacing as a sudden cramp overtook my left leg. For a moment I bobbed under the surface of the water, but the boy grabbed me and hauled me up again.
“Are you okay?” he asked, worried, still holding me up.
“Yeah...sort of. My leg’s cramping from treading water for this long.”
“Can’t you float? It’ll take the strain off your legs.”
“I can, usually. But it’s difficult to get my balance this way.”
“No worries! I can help you,” he said happily. “Here!” And he lifted me right up until I was on my back in the water. I squeaked, then quickly got a hold of myself so that I could maintain my stability. Once I had gotten into the correct position, he let me go.
“Better?” he asked.
“Thanks,” I said. I lay there for a while, staring at the few stars that were faintly showing and had an idea. “Can’t you figure out the position of your own home by looking at the stars? If you can do it for me, surely you can do it for you.”
“I don’t know,” he said, now floating beside me, “I’ve never tried. I only know the positions of the continents and some of their cities.”
“Well, couldn’t you figure it out by measuring the distance between those cities? You must know where your home is in relation to at least one of them.”
“You know, maybe you’re right,” he said, “I know of a city in Spain that’s about...um...1600 miles away from my school. If I go...” He paused for a moment, thinking, “West from there, I think I may be able to find my way home.” He turned to me and smiled an adorably sweet grin as I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye. “Thanks!”
“No problem,” I said, smiling towards the sky.
“Well, I guess it’s time to get you home,” he said, flipping back over onto his side so that he could look at me. “Ready?” he asked.
“Yep!” I said, righting myself. From then on, it was a long swim back to the New Jersey shore, but I made it somehow without cramping more than once or twice. When we finally made it, the beach was deserted. Out of the water, the cool night air was freezing on my wet skin. I looked at him, shivering.
“Will you be okay? You have such far way to swim. If you want, I could...” I didn’t know what I could do. Really, there was nothing I could do, but I wanted to help somehow. This little mer-boy had led me home and I was extremely grateful. He smiled at me.
“I’ll be fine. Just promise me I can see you again some day?” he said. “Some day when I know my way home better than I do now. Then maybe I can show you my home. You might like it.”
“I’m sure I would. But,” I paused, biting my lip, “how am I supposed to breathe at the bottom of the sea? Let alone survive the pressure of all that water bearing down on my body. Really, I want to come, but I don’t think it’s physically possible for me.”
He thought for a moment, trying to find a way around the situation. Then he brightened.
“I know! I’ll invent something!” he said excitedly.
I smiled, thinking it better to just go alone with him even though I knew it was hopeless.
“Okay,” I said. “Good luck!”
“Bye!” he called as he did a back-flip into the waves. “I’ll definitely see you again!” he yelled from farther out. I waved from shore, sad at the thought that I probably would never have another chance to see him.
It was good to return to the beach. It had been 73 years since I had had that strange experience of meeting the little mer-boy named Russell, but I never forgot him. I had been a senior in high school then. How long ago that was.
It was dark and cool on the beach. It was my favorite time to come because there was no one there to bother me and I could sit and stare out at the water and hope that maybe, just maybe, he really could take me away to the underwater city he called his home.
Just as I thought that, I saw an unusually shaped ripple in the water. I stood up to get a better look and saw a head pop up and look in my direction. An arm waved at me, holding up something that looked like a bubble just the right size to fit around my head. I smiled and bounced on my toes a little in excitement before running into the water. Strangely, he looked exactly like I remembered him, like he hadn’t aged at all. When he told me that I looked the same as well, I peered down at myself to see that he was right; I hadn’t noticed it in my enthusiasm to see him again, but I must have become young as I ran to him because I had gone from 91 to 18 without realizing it. I figured that maybe it was a sort of trick he could perform, reversing the aging process.
“Are you ready to go?” he asked me in that high voice that sounded like popping bubbles.
“Yep,” I said. “Lead the way.”