Maddy said her goodbyes for the last time.

"Bye mom, bye dad," she said from the door, wishing she could let her bags go and run into her parents arms. Although Maddy was far from a baby, she still saw herself as a faithful daughter and couldn't believe she was leaving home for the first time. The trip was meant to be invaluable- and she thoroughly looked forward to every single minute of it- but that didn't mean she wasn't allowed to miss her family too.

"You take care of yourself, hun," her father said lovingly, resting a hand on his wife's shoulder.

His wife- Maddy's mom- supressed a sob and waved her daughter away with a hanky. "Have fun but not too much fun," she managed to weep out. "And make sure you call, the second you reach Uncle Ernie's okay?"

"Ok, mom." Maddy nodded. "I love you."

And nodding with reassurance at her father, Maddy stepped out of their house on top of a hill, and started hiking down the path to catch the bus. Uncle Ernie was a very agreeable fellow, and was always the balmiest in family get togethers. He and his wife, Nora had two young children, a boy and a girl who was equally as micheivious as each other.

If they weren't close family, Maddy would have found them incredibly annoying- but instead she did the unmentionable, and accepted their offer of having vacation at their place. Uncle Ernie lived right at the bottom of South coast, where the seas were so choppy and volatile, many people had lost their lives over the years on those shores.

But Maddy had no intention of wandering anywhere near the sea.

The moment she got to their place, she was going to assess their living arrangements and get a summer job somwhere way inland. The whole scenario was perfect to earn a couple of bucks, and as Maddy sat through an entire 8-hour bus ride, all that kept her going was the mention of money.

But what she didn't expect was how soon she was going to earn it.

The moment she stepped out of the nondescript bus, Aunt Nora was waiting there for her with Nathaniel and Bethany. The kids immediately shared wicked glances as Maddy came to a stop, and realised with a sinking heart, this had been a set-up from the go. The reason why Aunt Nora had been so enthusiatic about an extra mouth to feed, was because that extra mouth was going to get the two other little mouths out of her hair.

For the whole summer.

This was all planned from the very beginning, so good-bye summer job. So long inner peace time!

"Aunt Nora," Maddy greeted civilly, nodding at Nathan and Becky. "Thank you for greeting me here like this, but I could've saved you the trouble of coming out, by finding my own way. Especially with the youngsters."

Aunt Nora was already walking away, after having kissed Maddy on both cheeks. She was dressed in a long skirt, and a shawl draped around her skinny shoulders with a money pouch strapped to her waist. And she was headed towards the bakery.

"It is a pleasure to have you here, child, Nathaniel and Bethany have been begging me all morning to let them have you all to themselves for today, and since I'm particularly busy I was more than happy to indulge. Make sure you bring the children back by nine!"

"What the...?" Maddy was surprised. Although Aunt Nora was far from a cruel woman, surely she realized her niece had famished through an entire bus journey? Since setting out at the crack of dawn, all that had kept Maddy sated, was the her breakfast sloshing around in her stomach and two packets of cranberries. She was starving.

"Children, have you eaten?" Maddy asked, hitching her back even higher on her shoulder. After both of them nodded in the afirmative, with slurping noises and yum yum to match, Maddy scowled and started walking towards the street market. "Well, I haven't," she snapped. "So follow me."

A delicious fried fish, accomanied with sauted potatoes followed, but feeling guilty the children would be sitting there, watching her eat, she bought two ice-lollies to dawdle their time. All too soon, all three of them finished their treats and stood up licking their lips. Maddy wished to be lead to Uncle Ernie's house to deposit her bags, and freshen up but Nathan had other ideas in mind.

"Let's go to the beach!"

"Yeah, the beach!" Becky piped up, after her brother.

Maddy stood her ground and shook her head much to their intital protests. "Fine," she finally abated. "Let's go after I drop of my bags at your house, okay?"

After that, the children were more than happy to help. They danced and skipped in front of her, ocasionally holding hands and other times bursting into song as their minder huffed and panted after them. But as long as they didn't turn their mischief on her- Maddy was willing to play along, and be happy families. Within an hour, they were at the beach.

The beach wasn't particularly user-friendly. There was no sand like the Cannes, and if one wanted to reach the sea they had to navigate an obstacle course of varying pebbles, and boulders. One scary instance, Bethany lost her footing and would've tumbled head over heels until she reached the sea, if Maddy hadn't reached out and righted her.

The sea seemed to give an angry hiss as though denied of another victim.

Maddy instantly disliked the place and wondered what Nathaniel found so fascinating to suggest it in the beginning. She tried to view the coast through a ten-year-old boys eyes and suddenly understood why. For any normal boy, exploring a mysterious place was akin to adventure and fun. He had come here in hopes of conquering the sea, or to do something equally as exhilarating.

"Nathan, no," Maddy said sternly as the boy suddenly veered of course, and started treking down. Bethany started following him, windmilling her arms on occasion to keep her balance. Maddy could only watch in despair, as Nathan roundered a particularly large boulder and vanished from view. Bethany did the same disappearing act, a few seconds later.

Maddy started jogging to keep up, intent on finding the children and leading them right home. But she veered the corner, and was confronted with a sight so biazarre, she fell back screaming.

Had she just seen a...?

"Ssh, Maddy, it's okay," Nathan said, following her around the corner. He squatted down beside her sprawled form, and placed a hand on her shoulder. Maddy couldn't stop shaking. Even the hand covering her mouth was shaking, and embarrassingly, so was her body.

"I wanted to bring you here, to show him someone other than us. We're trusting you, Maddy. He's really scared and lacks a mother's love. Since we can't bring the grown-ups, we had to bring you. Be his mother, Maddy."

Maddy couldn't help it. She passed out.

...

When she came too, it was to find a pair of moss green eyes peering at her inquistively. But the moment they saw she was awake, the eyes disappeared in a flash and frightened whimpering came from what sounded like a corner.

She didn't immediately get up. For a while, she lay on the cold ground and stared at the roof above her. She was in a cave, with algae and moss as green as those eyes covering every square inch. They were also quite close to the sea- because Maddy could smell the saltiness of it very strongly and it was beginning to make her sick.

Becky's face loomed over her own, and Maddy closed her eyes gratefully as the girl mopped her brow.

"She will become your mother, don't worry," Nathan was saying in the background. "Maddy has always looked after us in the past, and she's the next best thing to a grown up we have. She'll feed you and comfort you, and if you even want, snuggle up with you. Maddy's great like that."

Her heart stared beating in her chest, really fast. This wasn't some wonky dream.

When she'd walked around that boulder earlier, she'd actually seen a...

...mermaid?

"Bethany, Nathaniel," she groaned, struggling to get up. "You've got me, okay? Haha. I fell for the trick. You made me pass out. Now gather your stuff so we can head back before the tide starts heading in." At last, she managed to sit up with no thanks to the little critters, and came face to face with the green-eyed monster again.

"AAARRRRGGGGHHHHH!"

"Stop it, Maddy! You're scaring him!" Bethany cried and abandoning Maddy's side, scuttled over to the creature's side and cradled his head on her little chest. It was strange to see the maternal instincts of a six-year-old come into play, but it wasn't as strange as meeting a mythological creature for the first time. Maddy didn't know whether to keep screaming, or tug on that boy's tail to see it was a fake.

The mermaid- or boy- as Maddy now classifed him was was a strange little thing. He looked her age- but yet his arms were as skinny as Nathan's and his chest practically concave. His pearly skin was outshone by his glorious tail though- emerald scales literally glowing from the waist-down and finally branching out to a two-headed leathery fin. His hair was copper. And clung to his scalp in tight curls.

His face was by far the most bewitching Maddy had ever seen.

He looked frightened, but equally as enthralled as he took in her arms and legs, and other feminine features, like her breasts and hips. She felt like she was being appraised, and Maddy forgot to keep her vocal cords going, as she closed her mouth to do the same.

He was beautiful.

"Can I touch you?" she whispered, and the merboy skittered at her voice. She looked at Beth imploringly, and was surprised when straightway the girl reached out a familiar hand and placed it on the merboy's arm. They seemed to communicate wordlessly, before Beth stepped away and snapped her eyes open.

"Yes. But he would like to do the same. He did it with us too. It's his way of getting to know you."

Reassurance granted, Maddy slowly got to her knees and inched over to him, pausing whenever he flinched or looked unsure. At last she was close enough to breath in the smell of sea on him, and reach out a hand to lightly touch his scales. Maddy was awed, when he flexed them in response and she started running her hand up and down the sleek plates until her hand was starting to itch.

"Stop it, Maddie! You're hurting him," Nathan insisted from somewhere behind her, and Maddy looked up in alarm. The eyes of the Merboy were screwed tight, and his mouth was open in a puckered fashion. She didn't know whether he looked the picture of pain or pleasure, and decided having his scales stroked was something akin to a dog being put through the same treatment. They loved it!

"Maddy," Beth tugged her sleeve slowly, not wishing to distrupt the contentment of the creature. "He really likes it when you cradle him too. Like this." Suddenly holding a great deal of wisdom, Beth reached out for Maddy's hands and guided them to the Merboy's head. Instinctively Maddy cradled behind his head with one arm, and used the other hand to guide his cheek to her chest.

He felt cold. And leathery.

But as he snuffled against her blouse, Maddy had her own rush of maternal feelings that could out-rival a six-year-old's any day of the week. She tenderly watched him as he rested his weary head against her breast, and didn't even realize he was attempting to suckle until a wet patch, left behind by his spit, brushed against her nipple.

Maddy instantly was on alert. "What is he doing?" she asked in panick. She nearly shoved the Merboy away from her, but Beth hushed her with a simple smile and held out a hand so Nathan wouldn't wander any closer.

"Let him do it, Maddy," Beth whispered. "It would comfort him."

Pop! Whilst Maddy had been distracted by Beth's rather strange request- the Merboy had ignored the both of them- and rolled Maddy's nipple into his mouth. He gave it a suctioning suckle, but when Maddy's breast didn't readily lactate for him, he gave an annoyed whine and nipped the offending item with his teeth. Not soon after, her teat was assaulted to an abrasive lick before he let it go and let out a cheshire like yawn.

The Merboy's eyes started flickering.

"Oh look!" Beth cried with delight. "He's falling asleep! You're a natural, Maddy."

She looked across at her cousin, to only find the elder girl was glowering at Bethany and the Merboy alternatively. Maddy looked half-crazed, and slightly hysterial as she eased the Merboy's head onto the ground and slowly got up.

"Bethany, Nathaniel," she ennunciated. "We have to go."

...

That night heavy rain lashed against the craig Uncle Ernie and his family lived on. Nora couldn't pick a finger on it- but it seemed her two children were more concerned staring out at the blackened sky, then sniffing around the pastry she'd bought earlier. It seemed like Maddy had fallen under the same spell too- after returning from the coast with a dazed expression on her face- she had failed to react all throughout dinner, and even at the mention of her parents.

"Maddy, dear? Your parents called to see if you reached here alright. Apparently you promised to call?"

"I did?" she asked, staring bemusedly at Nora.

And the rest of the evening had followed in a similar vein. Normally the children were sent up to bed by ten, but because it was Maddy's first night and summer vacation had already started, they were allowed to stay up a little later to watch the box. The TV was ancient, and the antenna kept cutting out on ferocious nights like these, but it kept Ernie and the kids happy.

And that was what was important.

Shortly after dinner, Maddy got up and made her excuses. "I would like to retire early," she said and Nora nodded her consent, never imagining in a thousand years, Maddy would spend the rest of the night examining her nipple in the bathroom. Even as the little ones knocked shortly after 1AM, before giving up and heading back to back, Maddy would tease her left areola with both sets of fingers and hiss when the redness refused to die down.

By morning, she was convinced she was out of her mind.

There was no merboy- there wasn't even a cave. Her body was suffering from hallcinations and surrealism because the meal she'd gulped down at the street market hadn't been enough. She even pretended not to notice the next morning, when the children hid bits of their breakfast in their pockets and urged her to do the same.

Maddy cornered Nora in the kitchen shortly after.

"Aunt Nora, it seems like I won't be able to look after the children today. I really need to attend to some business in the town centre."

Her aunt was a little surprised but seemed to take it in her stride, as she waved Maddy away for the day.

"Don't worry, love. It seems unfair to toggle you down with two kids right from the go. So you go do your business dearie, and remember that our doors will be open to you whatever time of day." Maddy was grateful and thanked Nora a couple of times. And then quickly changing into some camisole shorts and a t-shirt, she beat a hasty track out of there as Nathan and Becky watched plastered to the window, with stricken eyes.

You were our only hope, they seemed to say.

But her guilt was long forgotten by the time the sun rose to it's highest pinicle in the sky. She met a lad similar to her age- and was more than willing to help set her up with a summer job with flexible hours. His name was Larry, and he was local- but he also seemed to know a lot of Myths and Lore about the town.

"Some towns are famous for their ghosts," Larry lamented, as he raked the hay for neighbouring chickens. Larry had led Maddy to a barn on the outskirts of town that belonged to his father- and they had taken shelter when the sun became too scorching. "But this town has long been entangled with Mermaid folklore."

"Legend has it, the first inhabitant of this town was washed up on these very shores after a siren wrecked their ship. Most of the men were killed but the one who survived went on to tell tales of bewitching females, half human and half fish, wreathed on craggy rocks out to sea and sung haunting melodies. No man was able to resist her call."

Maddy told herself not to get excited, a couple of times even, but she couldn't pretend anymore. She wanted to know everything about mermaids and hoped the information she got would put her curiosity to rest. Maybe if the children agreed to stop heading to the beach once in a while, she could recount the tales and convince them yesterday was not real either.

"So how did he?" Maddy asked, down-playing her interest. "Get away from the siren I mean? And become the founder of this town all those centuries ago?"

"The mermaid was his sister."

"What?"

"Long-lost sister. See, a couple of years back his elder sister Rosemary had gone missing whilst she was out at sea one day. Oh, she wasn't sailing- as if girls could!- but witnesses saw her paddling out into the depths until she disappeared altogether. The family was heartbroken but gave up the search a few days later. So it was kind of a shock to see a mermaid who heavily resembled his sister, sitting on a rock singing. Topless."

"No!" Maddy gasped.

"Yes. It's no coincidence girls your age go disappearing here all the time, Maddy. Something's behind it."

"So you actually believe in the Myth?" Maddy said, starting to feel sickened. She expected Larry to snap out of the trance he'd gotten himself into, but he merely gave a nod in the affirmative. He suddenly reared back though, when Maddy suddenly got up and ran out of the barn, kicking up hay along the way.

Maddy didn't know where she was heading, but already her feet was beating the path down to the rocky beach. She rushed past the confused street vendors who cursed her when she barraged into a basket full of limes. It wasn't long before she was clearing the last houses towards the sea, including Uncle Ernie's, whom she ran past without even stopping for a biscuit. Maddy slowed down when she reached the upper shore, in order to control her huffing and panting, and began to follow their route from yesterday by memory.

It wasn't long before the rock she'd fainted beside came into view, and she went around the corner, not expecting the boulder to actually be the outside of a cave.

This had been the cave she'd been in yesterday. She could remember clearly now. She paused just beyond the entrance and noticed several things like how a ring ran around the cave, about head-level and everything below it was damp. This was the tide's doing. Every night the cave would fill with water and it's urchins, and come morning all of it would be washed out.

Everything would be washed out.

There was nobody here. Maddy gave a short bark of laughter. Of course there wasn't! Yesterday hadn't happened, remember? She turned away, shaking her head and tittering to herself when a low scrape from behind stopped her. She turned around, and saw something she hadn't earlier. Just at the bottom of the cave, practically undetectable, a dark shadow shifted and whimpered.

Maddy approached it like a wild animal, not daring to turn her back on it, and crouched down to reach out a hand shakily. At once her fingertips came into contact with something large and scaly and Maddy snatched her hand back.

It was the Merboy. It had to be! Everything was real!

A cold hand reached out for her, and Maddy grabbed at it with everything she had. She pulled him out into the open, closer to the mouth of the cave and didn't pause to look at him, until she laid his head gently on her lap and lent over him, her hair framing his face.

The Merboy blinked slowly, seeming to bathe in her exhuberation. He puckered his mouth and nose-butted her breast as if silently asking for milk. Maddy found tears working into her eyes as she shook her head no, but didn't expect the creature to suddenly start flailing wildly and opening his mouth in silent screams. If his pitch could be heard right now, it would be total misery.

"I don't have any milk!" Maddy yelled, and found it didn't help at all. "I'm not your mother!" she tried, but actually grew concerned when froth began bubbling out of the Merboy's lips as he turned white in rage. Out of all days, she'd chosen to wear a well padded bra today so her sensitive nipples could be cocooned from any major jiggling or impact. Even if she the boner of all boners, nobody would able to tell because of how much fabric kept her nipples from popping into view.

So Maddy did the best thing she could, to stop his temper tantrum.

She started unbuttoning her shirt hesistantly and shrugged it of her shoulders, in a fluid motion. Maddy felt sick as his wails automatically decreased in volume and he snuffled impatiently, watching her with a barely disguised hunger. She was about to let a Merboy attach his lips to her breast and what was worse, in the name of comfort.

Not allowing herself to think about it too much, incase she chickened out and ran away, Maddy propped him up with one arm so his lips were at working distance and pulled down one cup, so her generous breast would fill out.

The moment her exposed breast came into view, he dove in and god-damn attacked it. He suckled so brazenly and potently, that Maddy cried out and she cried out again, when he bit down tightly. Her nipples were already sensitive, but they exploded in his mouth when he reached out a possessive fist and layed it on her breast.

He was marking her as his sole ownership.

Maddy glanced down with dazed eyes to find he hadn't drifted off to sleep like last time. He was staring back at her, and the moment he saw her looking he gave her breast another wet suckle. This time it was tender- but the message was clear. He wouldn't let her nipple go until he was well and truly satisfied. Maddy knew there was no milk in her breasts- and she opened her mouth to tell him that- but his eyes seemed to tell her he knew and didn't care jack-squat about it.

Just as long as her mammaries were open a little longer.

The eyes on her all of a sudden seemed irrelevant. Maddy withdrew into herself and entered a happy place of when she was about six-year's-old, Bethany's age, and she was running around a big garden with her mother or father chasing her. She couldn't completely loose herself though- because the moment Merboy sensed her drifting away, he would bite down on her breast and start the whole process again.

Eventually satisfied with his handiwork, he let go of her nipple with a plop and lagged back into her lap. Maddy didn't do anything for a minute. But eventually convinced he won't pop back up and demand her breast again, she eased out her arm from under his head and used both hands to lift her breast so she could inspect the damage.

He hadn't drawn any blood, thankfully, but her normally dusky pink areola was bright red from all the blood forced to gather there. It took several minutes for the angry red to fade away, but when it did, Maddy tucked her breast back in with care. Suddenly wearing a padded bra seemed like a fantastic idea, as her breast wobbled for a bit and then held.

She looked down at his contented face, and bitterly wondered if he was happy.

Her teat didn't hurt- no, far from it- but her pride was. She had just let a boy her age, with a tail, nurse from her as if it was normal and freaking liked it. How could that not be anymore perverse?

Maddy threw her hand to her eyes, as she got up and didn't uncover them until she felt her way out of the cave. If she couldn't see, then maybe it wasn't real. It was a pathetic and over-used ploy, but it seemed to work as she walked briskly but calmly to Uncle Ernie's house. How had the day managed to end up like this? This morning she'd woken up vowing to never set foot on the beach again, and come afternoon she's strutting home after letting a Merboy do unmentionale things to her breasts.

Maddy wasn't actually strutting, but she felt a word needed to be used to sum up her discernful behaviour.

She was a virgin. No boy had ever touched here there before, and one pesky little Merboy comes along and she's flopping all over the place. Like a fish without oxygen. As Uncle Ernie's mismatched but homely house came into sight, Maddy slowed down her pace and tried to control the blush creeping to her face.

Figuring it was now or never, she took three deep breaths before walking up the path and throwing open the door. It seemed like the kids had been waiting for this very moment because Beth and Nathan rushed past her within seconds of the door opening. But Maddy had been expecting this- and she reached out both arms sideways and caught the kids around their necks.

She pushed them back lightly and closed the door tight behind her.

"I don't think so, kids. Cousin Maddy has a lot of questions for the both of you. Up!" She pointed at the staircase leading to her bedroom with a no-nonsense look on her face and didn't make a move until the children deflated in size and nodded their head in recognition. The moment all three of them crowded into her room, Maddy turned on them so fast she was surprised she didn't get whiplash.

"I want you to explain. Now," she growled.

Nathan visibly gulped.

"Well, the water cycle is pretty easy to get. The water evaporates from the sea, or any other body of liquid and once in the clouds, the temperature drops and the vapour begins to condense, you know, before-"

Bethany elbowed her brother sharply in the ribs.

"Not that, you doofus!" she whispered. "She meant the mermaid!"

"Thank you, Beth." Maddy nodded. "Nathaniel, I'm asking you because you're the older one here, but if you refuse to be straight with me then I guess I have no choice but to get your mom-"

"No!"

Maddy allowed herself a small moment of victory before she frowned again and sat on the bed. There was so many questions she wanted to ask, that she didn't even know where to begin and there were some questions that Maddy doubted even the children knew the answer. But she couldn't close her eyes and pretend this wasn't happening anymore, because it was, and only a fool would keep denying the facts.

Mermaids exist.

And that's how the questioning begun.

"How long have you been harbouring him?"

"Uhh...about three weeks?"

"Hmm-mm. And does anyone else know? Besides you two?"

"No!" Beth broke in with a horrified gasp. "We couldn't do that to him!"

"Yeah," Nathaniel nodded. "We know if the grown-ups found out about him, they'd take him away to some far away place and do experiments on him. He's our friend."

"Your friend?" Maddy was nonplussed.

"Yeah, our friend."

"And what? You thought you could keep him forever? Play happy families until someone finds out? Think it through!"

"Maddy!" Beth threw herself at her cousin's feet and clutched at the hem of her pants. The elder girl, not expecting this level of prostration, shifted uncomfortably and moved her leg from Bethany's grasp. But that didn't dissuade the little girl and Nathan watched on as his sister continued begging Maddy. "It won't be for long! His family, they're searching for him but they'll find him soon enough! And then he can by with his family again and nobody would have to get hurt! Please, Maddy. Help us keep him a secret a while longer. Help us be his friends, and not feel lonely at all! Please? Please please please-"

"Alright!" Maddy stood up annoyed, and turned her back on the pair. For the first time since she'd stood on this spot, Maddy actually saw the view in front of her. Aunt Nora had been kind when she asked Beth to let Maddy have her room for the summer. It faced out towards the sea, and the horizon beyond and Maddy was sure if she caught the sun at a particular time, she'd be able to glimpse it rising bloody red or diving swathed in orange.

Falcons wheeled over the sea in the distance, in hope of prey and the thought of fish brought her back into the room.

"Alright!" she said again, but turned suspiciously. "Wait, how did you know all of that? About his family searching for him and him being stranded for only a bit more time? Is there something you're not telling me?"

"Oh, he talks," Bethany said matter-of-factly.

"He what?" Maddy felt stupid for asking the next question, but it needed to be asked. "English?"

"No, Mermish."

"He talks to Bethany more than me," Nathan broke in. "But that's because she's younger than me, and apparently the younger you are, the more perciptible you are to another language. I know a few key phrases, but Beth's practically fluent."

"Of course she is," Maddy said faintly.

Beth mistook the bizareness of the situation, for Maddy being distraught she couldn't communicate in Mermish. "Don't worry, Maddy," she said scrambling to her side and clutching her hand. "At first he didn't like we brought you along, but by the end, he really liked you. He said he wanted you to come everyday until he went back into the sea."

"Did he now," Maddy muttered, suddenly getting a vivid image of him latched to her breast and turning bright red. "Does fish-boy have a name?"

"Yes," Nathan put simply. "His Mermish name is Anemone, but we call him Ansem for short."

Maddy blinked. Clearly she had underestimated the bond between fish and children, because they seemed to answering all her questions with ease. She was suddenly stumped and Maddy felt like she had to sit down again before she collapsed and passed out for good. How could she be discussing with them, even quizzing them, as if mermaids were stranded on the beach any day of the week and it was normal? Her brain felt like it was loaded with new information and if she didn't shut down for the night, her hardrive was going to EXPLODE.

But Nathan had other ideas in mind first.

"Come on, Maddy! It's nearly supper time and mom never lets us out after supper! We have to be quick, if we want to feed him!"

"Feed him?" Maddy bleated, as she fell back on the bed. "What do you feed a mermaid?"

"Normal stuff! That's why we were putting food in our pockets earlier, didn't you notice?"

Maddy didn't reply. She was asleep.

Bethany and Nathaniel exchanged exasperated glances before splitting ways and walking to the tail-ends of her body. Nathan wrapped his hands around her ankles and pulled and Beth started slapping Maddy repeatedly on the forehead. "Get up! Get up! Get up!" she chanted.

"I'm up!" Maddy gasped, sitting bolt upright on the bed. The pair sent delighted smiles at each other and instantly rushed forward so each one could grab each of Maddy's hand and tug her forward. Down the stairs they pulled her, and past a bemused Nora they galloped. Maddy vaguely remembered opening her mouth to yell out some absurd excuse about the children wanting to show her some shellfish on the beach, and then they were out.

The cold air immediately wakened Maddy up a little, as she struggled to keep up with Nathaniel and Becky. Confused, she watched as the children disappeared around the corner into the cave before a shill scream sounded from the inside.

Instantly Maddy was alert and she raced around the corner to see what the matter was. She was already picturing the worst-case scenarios- one of the little kids had fallen down and cracked their skull open- both of them had fallen down together- why, oh WHY, hadn't she been more responsible as their senior? Always indulging in their kiddie little fantasies.

But Maddy rounded the corner and found none of her worst nightmares had come into pass. Quite the opposite.

Both children was un-marked and injury-free as the day they born, except for the shock and despair swimming in their eyes. They were already standing in ankle-deep water as the low tide started to rise up and not before long, submerge the cave.

"What is it?" she asked desperately, scanning the same tide mark she'd seen earlier. What she clearly didn't expect was an attack of another kind, when Beth left her brother's side and plummeted into Maddy so desperately, her breath whooshed out of her. Maddy looked down to see Becky sobbing into her waist.

"He's gone!" she wailed. "Anemone's gone!"