Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Emma. She was six years old and had a pet fish. His name was Neptune. She loved to watch him swim all day, back and forth in his tank. Neptune liked to swim up to her and press his nose against the glass. When he did that, Emma would put her hand up against the glass, too. It was the closest she could ever get to him. She loved Neptune and wished she could swim with him, but Neptune lived in the water and Emma lived on the land.
Emma did not let this make her sad. One night while her mother was tucking her into bed, Emma said, "I am going to find a way to swim with Neptune."
"How will you do that?" her mother asked.
Emma thought hard. After a minute she answered, "I am going to wish on a shooting star. I am going to ask the star to make me into a mermaid so I can swim with Neptune!"
Her mother smiled and kissed her goodnight. "I hope your wish comes true," she said. Then she left the room.
While Emma was snuggled in her bed, she looked out her window and up at the sky. She waited and waited until she finally saw a shooting star! "Please, please, please let me swim with Neptune!" she begged it as it fell across the sky. "Please let me be a mermaid so I can play with him!" Emma was very sleepy, and after she made her wish, she yawned and closed her eyes. She drifted off to sleep.
When Emma woke up, she was very startled. She was underwater! Instead of legs, she had a long, pink, scaly fish tail. She was still wearing her yellow pajama shirt. Her long blonde hair was pushed and pulled around by the water. Around her neck was a beautiful necklace with sea shells and beads. She had been turned into a mermaid!
With a big smile from ear to ear, Emma started swimming in big loops. "I am really a mermaid!" she cried. "The star granted my wish! It turned me into a mermaid!"
She stopped swimming when she saw something swim over to her. She was very happy to see it was Neptune! His dark blue fins moved gracefully when he swam. "Emma!" he squeaked in a tiny voice. "The star brought us to the ocean so we can swim together!"
Emma was surprised to see that Neptune could now talk! "Yes," she said. "The shooting star knew how badly I wanted to play with you."
The two of them were very happy that they could finally play together. They were no longer separated by land and sea. All day long, Emma and Neptune swam together in the ocean. They played hide-and-go-seek, tag, and many other fun games. After they played, Emma and Neptune decided to explore the ocean. As they swam, they bumped into a sea turtle.
"I am so sorry!" Emma apologized.
"We did not see you there," Neptune added.
The sea turtle was not mad. He was a jolly sea turtle, and he did not let accidents like this bother him. He knew they meant no harm. "Do not worry," he told them. "It's okay."
"My name is Emma," Emma said to the turtle. "This is Neptune."
"Hello," replied the sea turtle. "You can call me Hubert. I am a travelling sea turtle. I like to swim all around the ocean and make new friends. What brings a fish and a young mermaid like you out here?"
"I am actually not a real mermaid," Emma explained. "I am a human girl. I wished on a star and it turned me into a mermaid so I could play with my fish, Neptune."
"Well I'll be!" Hubert said in amazement. "You are a very lucky girl to be able to play with your fish."
"I am a lucky fish!" said Neptune. "Emma is my best friend."
"How long have you been a mermaid?" Hubert asked. "Has your family also been turned into merfolk?"
Emma thought for a minute and frowned. "No," she answered, and she felt a little sad. She was glad that she got the chance to play with Neptune, but she was beginning to miss her family. She wondered if her mother missed her. She looked down at her necklace. It reminded her of her family. "Do you know if there is a way I can turn back into a human?" she asked Hubert. "I am glad I got to be a mermaid today, but I want to go back home."
"Maybe you can wish on another shooting star," Neptune suggested.
Hubert shook his head. "Shooting stars work only one time," he explained. "You see, the magic the shooting star used to turn you into a mermaid is not actually the star's magic at all. It is your magic, Emma—the magic of your heart. If you wish hard enough, the star uses your magic to grant your heart's desire. But you only have enough magic to make one wish."
Emma began to feel scared. "Will I not be able to go home?" she asked. "My mother will wonder where I have gone!"
"There is another way," Hubert assured her. "Here in this very ocean is a magic shell. The shell will grant one wish to whoever holds it."
"You can use the shell to turn yourself back into a human," Neptune gasped.
"Where can I find the magic shell?" asked Emma.
"The shell is in the Kingdom of the Eels," answered Hubert. His happy voice became quite serious. "The eels found the shell long ago. They have already used all of their wishes, but refuse to let anyone else have it. They guard the shell day and night so no one else can use its magic."
"That is very selfish," Neptune said. He shook his head sadly.
Emma had an idea. "Where is the Kingdom of the Eels?" she asked. "Maybe they will let me use the shell if we teach them how to share."
"Maybe they will," agreed Hubert. "The Kingdom of the Eels is not far from here. The eels live a few minutes' swim past that large, moss-covered rock." He pointed with his flipper. "I will give you some advice," he added. "If you show the eels kindness, they will listen to you. But even if you are kind to them, they will be very mean at first. If you can show them sharing, you will be showing them true kindness. They will learn from you, young mermaid!" With that, Hubert waved goodbye to them and began to swim away.
Emma and Neptune waved back. "Goodbye, Hubert!" they called after him. "Thank you for helping us!"
Together, the two friends began their journey to the Kingdom of the Eels.
The Kingdom of the Eels was very dark and gloomy. They lived in holes in the stone and coral all around them, and they were covered in shadow. The Kingdom was very quiet. There were no sounds of laughter. No one even talked.
Emma and Neptune swam through the Kingdom and found where the magic shell was kept. It was atop a soft cluster of seaweed. A big group of eels suddenly blocked their path. "Where do you think you are going?" the boss eel demanded. "No one is allowed to go near the magic shell except for us!"
"I am sorry," Emma said. "My friend and I wanted to ask if we could use the shell. My name is Emma, and this is Neptune."
The boss eel glared at them. "Ralph's the name," he sneered. "What would a mermaid and a puny fish need with our magic shell?"
Ralph's mean words made Emma sad, but she remembered what Hubert told her. "I would like to use the shell to turn myself into a human," she said. "I used to be a human, and I want to go back home."
The eel next to Ralph cackled. "Why should we care?" he said. "The shell is ours. We eels will not share it with anyone. Not even a mermaid."
"What's your name?" Neptune asked politely.
"Iwan," said the eel. "Now go away!"
Emma did not want to anger the eels. "Okay, we will leave," she said. "But first, I would like to give you something." She took off her shell-and-bead necklace and gave it to Ralph. "Before we go, I want to show you kindness," she said. "I hope that this will brighten up your day." She smiled at Ralph and Iwan, and then she and Neptune began to swim away.
The eels all looked at each other in confusion. Why did this mermaid give them her necklace when they had been so rude? Suddenly, the eels started to feel strange… Their bellies felt empty, but they were not hungry. They were sad as they watched the mermaid and the fish swim away. The feeling was guilt.
"Wait!" Ralph cried, and Emma and Neptune stopped.
"What is it?" Neptune asked.
"Do you not like the necklace?" Emma wondered. She had hoped the eels would appreciate her present and remember her after she and Neptune were far away, somewhere in the ocean.
"I have changed my mind," Ralph decided. "We eels have never met such a nice mermaid before. No one has even given us a present."
Iwan swam up to them with the magic shell. "Thank you, mermaid, for being so nice to us. We can be such bullies, but you were still kind to us."
"I want to be kind like her," one of the other eels told his friend.
Emma giggled and smiled. "Then be very nice to everyone you meet from now on," she said.
"They will be nice to you, too," Neptune added. "Would you like to be friends?"
The eels brightened up. "Yes!" they cried.
Iwan gave the magic shell to Emma. "Make your wish," he said. "You will be the first mermaid we let use the shell."
"Are you sure?" Emma asked. "It's your shell."
"You are wrong," Ralph said. "The shell belongs to everyone. Everyone in the ocean gets one wish, and we have already used ours. Now it is your turn!"
Emma was delighted that the eels had learned to share. "Thank you very much!" she said. "Maybe I will be able to visit again someday."
"Please do!" cried the eels.
Emma held the magic shell in her hands. She said to Neptune, "I will see you at home. It was fun playing with you!" With the magical powers of the shell, Emma wished out loud, "I wish I was a human again. I wish I was back at home with my family."
Suddenly, Emma was no longer in the ocean! Her fins had turned back into legs, and she was lying in her bed in her pajamas. The sky was bright outside her window. She threw the covers off and ran to Neptune's tank.
Neptune was home, too! He pressed his nose against the glass and Emma smiled.
"Mom! Mom!" she cried, running to the kitchen, where her mother was cooking breakfast. "I swam in the ocean with Neptune, mom! I wished on a star and it turned me into a mermaid and we played all day and then we met a sea turtle and found the eels to look for the magic shell and…"
Emma told her mother everything that had happened. Her mother listened quietly with a smile. When Emma was finished, she said, "It sounds like you and Neptune had a lot of fun. Do you think you will go back to the ocean soon? Will you wish on another shooting star?"
Emma rolled her eyes and said, "Mom, shooting stars only work one time. That's what Hubert told me. But maybe I can find a different kind of magic to bring me back to the ocean one day, so I can see all of my new friends again!"
"I am sure you can," her mother replied. "Maybe you have more magic in you than you think." She bopped her daughter on the nose.
Emma laughed and ran off. She went to talk to Neptune about their adventure. And for her whole life, Emma never forgot about the shooting star that turned her into a mermaid.