Sunrise warmed the coastline with a tangerine shine. The silhouette of an albatross soared across the coral sky and lavender clouds. Waves crashed against the rocks with sprays of froth and water droplets. One at a time, several mermaids rose above the seas and heaved themselves onto various rocks with dead sea urchins in their hands. Each situated herself on a rock and started to comb the bristled creature through her hair as they sang "Beautiful." * The wind carried their lovely voices across the sea.
Their voices dissolved into laughter at the end of the song. Coral shrieked and gathered her aptly coral tail beneath her on the rock. She pointed down into the clear waters and shouted "Spotted jellies!"
Sure enough, the jellyfish covered with multiple white spots arose close to the surface. Several seemed to stay close together some distance back from the rocks.
"Those do not have awful stings, remember?" Sunny reminded her. She curled her golden tail beneath her so Breezy could climb up beside her with the various pearls and shells in her purse. The latter removed some old fishing net out of the purse so the aforementioned could secure it around her bun of golden hair. She already had placed a circlet of pearls around the crown of her head.
"I would rather not experience any sting," Coral persisted.
Breezy stretched out her turquoise tail as Sunny put the last pin in the net. "We should gather more shells. I know I have lost some, and we are running low."
"What are we low on?" Sunny asked.
"Small clam shells and sand dollars, mostly. We have lots of hermit crab shells."
"Let me look," Sunny heaved herself off the rock with a splash and dove down to the sand.
The wind hastened and carried with it droplets of sea. The lavender in the sky increased. Breezy peered out to the horizon and saw what appeared to be a dense mist.
"Seems to be a storm approaching."
"Then I shall leave," Coral pushed away from the rock with a splash and disappeared.
Soon, Sunny reappeared with a loaded purse and Shelly at her side.
"We have discovered a load of shells," she announced with a pleased smile and pulled herself up beside Breezy to show what she discovered. "Clam shells in all colors, and a couple sand dollars."
"Oh, beautiful!" Breezy breathed.
"Is that a storm?" Shelly asked as she heaved herself onto another rock. Her hair fell in blonde waves past her shoulders, and her tail was a lovely lavender with carnation streaks in the fins.
"Sure looks like it," Sunny peered over her shoulder at the horizon.
Waves crashed a little harder against the rocks and sprayed them with water.
"Time to get out to sea a little more," Sunny leapt off the rock and started to swim. "I will stash the shells between the usual rocks."
"I'm out, too," Breezy slid from her rock and dropped into the water. "You should come, Shell."
"I want to watch it come in, and then I'll come."
"All right, but the tide is rising," Breezy warned as she swam out to see and dove down.
Shelly stared up at the approaching veil of silver and gray mist. Wind whipped her blonde hair across her eyes. The seabirds seemed to have all but disappeared. Waves crashed against the rocks and tumbled across the shore. Raindrops started to pelt her. The atmosphere was cold.
She splashed down into the water for warmth and tread water with her arms. The rain became more steady. She started to swim out to sea, but the waves shoved her back. She swam with stronger strokes, but the waves cast her back again. The storm was close now. She ducked beneath the water and tried again, but when the storm threw her back this time, she crashed into a rock…
A small girl burst through the front door of their cottage in a village about a mile from the shore. She surprised her mother, who rushed to embrace her with open arms.
"There you are, Amy! I had no idea you would actually run away!"
"But Mommy, there is a lady on the beach!"
Her mother stared. "What beach, Amy?"
"The Melys Sea beach!"
Her mother dropped down into a chair and covered her mouth. "Amy," she breathed when she dropped her hand onto her lap, "that beach is cursed. Everyone knows that! How many times have I said you must not ever go near that shore?"
"Mommy, it's not cursed."
Amy stared at her mother with such earnest dark eyes that her mother considered this. She reached out and smoothed her black hair and bangs.
"We have to go get her."
Her mother darted her eyes out the window. The breeze billowed against their muslin curtains. No one seemed to be out in the cobblestone streets.
"Honey, the storm is too severe."
"That must be why she's hurt!"
"I will go get her."
The girl stormed toward the door, but her mother rose and caught her arm. She released her breath and dropped down into a crouch ahead of her. She searched her eyes and swallowed with a nod.
"All right," she said gently. "We will go get her. Where was she?"
Minutes later, the girl was running along the shoreline with her mother trotting behind her with a heavy quilt. There was a mass of blonde hair in the shallow waves. When the waves retracted, the torso of a woman was revealed.
"Amy, do not touch her!" her mother shouted as she hastened her pace. Amy stopped beside the woman and peered down at her.
"Mommy, look!" she pointed down at the woman as her mother arrived.
"I know, honey. She's – " the woman stopped short. She realized that her daughter had not pointed out any wounds or injuries, but at a massive tail with thin fins at the end and around her waist and down the tail. "She's a mermaid."
"Pick her up. We have to get her home."
The wind was cold and icy. Her mother leaned down and spread the quilt onto the sand. She scooped the mermaid into her arms and deposited her into the quilt, then wrapped the quilt around her and gathered them both into her arms.
"Lead the way home, Amy."
The small girl led the way home with her mother trailing behind her with the mermaid in her arms. By the time they reached the small stone cottage and her mother kicked the door closed behind them, the woman was heavy in her arms. She was amazed that no one looked out the window and saw them.
"Mommy," Amy whispered and pointed to a pair of feet dangling out from beneath the quilt. "She is not a mermaid anymore!"
Her mother peered down at the exposed feet and shook her head. Maybe she only imagined the tail in the first place.
She carried the woman to the cobalt back bedroom with white trim, where she generally slept, and laid her on the bed in the corner. She crossed her arms and rested her chin on one fist.
"Maybe we should get the doctor."
"Where do we tell him we found her?" Amy asked.
"I suppose we just say that we found her close to the beach."
The woman stirred. She blinked her blue eyes. She examined the room with voluminous eyes. Then they locked on the woman and her child.
"Where am I?" she murmured.
"Y-you are in our cottage," the woman answered.
The mysterious lady reached up and rubbed her eyes with the palms of her hands.
"Are you all right?" the woman asked.
"And are you a mermaid?" Amy asked.
The mysterious woman darted her eyes in their direction. She then struggled to sit up, but the woman gently pressed her shoulder down.
"Hon, you were washed ashore by the Melys Sea. We should get you a doctor."
"No, thank you. I have to get back to the ocean."
"I'm afraid you hit your head. You probably have a concussion. You should stay –"
"The Melys Sea has… rather a healing effect," the mysterious lady admitted. "But please, you mustn't speak a word of this to anyone. Anyone who knows about the water will know about us, and we can't let that happen."
The woman nodded. "O-okay. Amy?"
"I will never tell," the girl promised.
The mysterious lady smiled. "Thank you. My name is Shelly."
"My name is Moira, and this is Amy," said the woman. She was bundled in a navy pea coat with her dark hair braided on one side. She pursed her lips with contemplation. "I suppose if you insist on returning to the ocean, you can borrow one of my skirts to get there. Here…"
As she spoke, she went to her closet beside the bed and searched out a cream skirt. She pulled it out of the closet and laid it across the bed.
"We will give you some privacy to change into that skirt. You know how to put one on…?"
"Around the waist, right?" Shelly asked.
Moira smiled. "That's right."
She put an arm around Amy and steered her out of the room. Shelly unwrapped herself from the quilt and slung her legs over the side of the bed. It was low to the wooden planked floors, so her bare feet touched down easily. She stood and staggered a bit, reaching toward the bed for stability.
"Oh, how do they make this look so easy?" she murmured to herself as she reached toward the skirt and struggled to balance on one foot. She stepped inside the skirt and pulled it over her hips and tied the drawstring snugly. Then it was time to walk. She stretched her arms out and staggered toward the door, slamming her palms against it to stop a near fall.
She reached down and pushed the handle down on the door. After she wiggled it, she pulled it open and saw Amy seated at a barstool at the kitchen counter, where her mother was peering into the fridge.
"Would you like something to eat?" Moira asked.
"No, thank you," Shelly smiled. "I should get back home."
"Right," Moira closed the refrigerator. "Amy, we better get her home. Then I will make breakfast."
She met Shelly at the door and put an arm around her waist to steady her as they walked out the door. The storm had mostly cleared, leaving remnants of pearly clouds and the scent of rain on the slick cobblestone streets. Moira darted her eyes at the windows of the cottages down the street to ensure no one was peeking out at them.
By the time they reached the shoreline, Shelly had gained some coordination with her legs. Moira released her so she could step into the waves that reached toward her. Shelly smiled and breathed in the salt air. She then smiled over her shoulder at the mother and daughter.
"Thank you," she said sincerely. "If you keep my secret, I will meet you here again."
And with that, she crashed into the water and dove deeper. The skirt rose to the surface and tumbled onto shore with the waves. Moira picked her way toward the clothing and snatched it out of the water before she could get wet.
"Mommy, look!" Amy pointed past her. Moira peered over her shoulder and saw a woman waving at them in the distance. They smiled and waved back.
"So you will keep her secret, Amy?" Moira asked.
"Yes. Will you?"
"Yes," her mother admitted. "And perhaps we will see her again."