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Harper woke up when the sun was just beginning to set, and squinted at the dim orange light streaming in through her curtains. For one moment—one brief, glorious moment—she’d forgotten about the night before, the night when her little sister had been attacked before turning into some kind of mermaid and disappearing in the ocean.
Then it all came back to her. Her head throbbed at the memory, and she squeezed her eyes shut.
After Gemma had swum away, leaving Harper alone on the dock at Bernie’s Island, Daniel had checked on Alex to make sure that he was all right. When they’d arrived at the cabin, Alex had been lying unconscious on the floor. Harper hadn’t seen what had happened, but it wasn’t hard for her to imagine.
A horrible bird-creature stood over him. Its mouth was filled with razor-sharp teeth, and massive black wings stretched out behind it. Then it had shifted, changing form into a different kind of monster—the beautiful Penn.
It was almost impossible for Harper to wrap her mind around. When Alex had come to, he’d been certain the things he remembered were a bizarre dream brought on by head trauma. But Harper and Daniel had been forced to tell him that it was all true. The monsters were real, and Gemma was gone.
Then, after all of that, Harper knew she had to go home and attempt to explain to her father what had happened, even though she didn’t understand it herself. Not that she could tell him the truth—there was no way any sane person would believe it unless he had witnessed it for himself.
So Harper told Brian that Gemma had run off with Penn and her friends. It was something close to the truth, but even that was still hard for him to comprehend. Harper stayed up all morning convincing her father that Gemma wasn’t coming home, and that was one of the hardest things she’d ever had to do.
But she knew things were only going to get harder. Harper didn’t even know what Penn and the other girls were, let alone how to stop them or how to get Gemma back.
Lying in bed all day wouldn’t solve anything, though. Harper rolled over and grabbed her cell phone from the bedside table, meaning to check the time, and noticed she had two missed calls from a number she didn’t know. Gemma had left her cell phone behind, so if she called, it would be from an unfamiliar number.
Harper’s heart dropped to her stomach. She’d been so dead tired that she’d slept right through her phone ringing. Harper hurried to check her voice mail.
“You have one new message,” the automated voice told her, and Harper cursed herself under her breath. If she’d missed a call from her sister, she’d never be able to forgive herself.
“Hey, Harper, this is Daniel,” his deep voice came through the phone.
“Daniel,” Harper whispered, and put her free hand on her forehead, listening to his message.
“I got your number from the surly girl at the library. I wanted to make sure that you got home all right and see how you’re doing after … well, you know, what happened last night.
“I’ve been keeping an eye out for Gemma, like you asked me to. I took the boat out earlier, but I didn’t see her. I’ll keep looking, and I’ll let you know if I find anything.
“So anyway, give me a call later.” Daniel paused. “I hope you’re doing okay.”
When his message ended, she left her phone at her ear for a minute, even after the automated voice assured her that she had no other messages.
It was thoughtful of Daniel to call and check up on her, but Harper couldn’t call him back. The strange dalliance she’d had with him had to be pushed out of her mind. If he found out anything about Gemma, Daniel would let her know, but that was the only time she should be talking to him. Whatever was happening to Gemma came first. Harper had to deal with that before she could think of anything else.
Harper had slept in her clothes from last night, and they stank like the ocean and sweat. She grabbed a change of clothes, then crept across the hall to the bathroom in case her father was home. There was nothing more she could say to him about Gemma’s disappearance, but she knew Brian would want to keep rehashing it until it made sense.
She cleaned up quickly, then got dressed. She’d started to sneak back to her room when she glanced over at Gemma’s. Something about the sight of the darkened room broke her heart. Pausing at the doorway, Harper couldn’t help but wonder if Gemma would ever stay in this room again.
Harper swallowed the lump in her throat and shook her head, trying to shake off the feeling. Of course Gemma would stay here again. Harper wouldn’t stop searching until Gemma was home.
When Harper turned back to her own room, she nearly yelped in surprise. Alex was sitting on her bed, staring down at the floor and looking forlorn.
“Alex?” Harper managed once the beating of her heart slowed. “What are you doing here?” She stepped into her room.
“Oh, sorry.” He lifted his head and motioned toward the downstairs. “Your dad let me in. I came over to talk.”
She glanced back behind her, half expecting Brian to be standing in the hall eavesdropping, and then she shut the bedroom door.
“How did my dad seem?” Harper asked.
“Okay, I guess.” Alex shrugged, and she noticed a cut on his forehead, probably from whatever had knocked him out last night. “A little sad and confused. He asked me about Gemma, but I told him I don’t know where she is.”
She’d meant to call Alex so they could get their stories straight about what had happened to Gemma. The truth was that they didn’t know where she was, and that was as good an answer as any.
“So, what the hell happened last night?” Alex asked her directly.
“I have no idea.” Harper shook her head and sat down in the chair in front of her desk. “I don’t even know what those … those things were.”
“I can barely even remember what they look like anymore.” His brow furrowed as he tried to think. “Last night’s a weird blur of images that don’t even make sense.”
“That’s probably because you hit your head,” Harper said.
Alex seemed to think about it for a minute, then said, “No. I don’t think so. I remember everything really clearly until we were in the cove and that song started.”
Harper had actually forgotten about the song until Alex mentioned it. She couldn’t remember the words, but the melody surfaced, like a half-forgotten dream.
There were a few minutes in the cove that Harper couldn’t really remember, either. The events were a haze of confusion, though she recalled a longing and a pull toward the phantom song. Daniel had helped keep her from diving into the ocean the way Alex had, but that was about all she could remember until they were on the boat again.
“Did you swim to the island?” Harper asked, realizing that he must have.
“I think so.” He shook his head again. “I can’t really remember much. There was the song, then I was swimming, and then I was on the island. Those pretty girls were there, and … and Gemma. She kissed me…” He swallowed hard.
“Do you remember the creature?” Harper asked.
“The bird?” Alex asked, and she nodded. “Is that what it was? A really big bird?”
“It was more like a bird-monster,” Harper tried to explain. “But then it changed and turned into Penn.”
“So those pretty girls are some kind of shape-shifters?” Alex asked. “Because they turned into fish, right? Gemma and the girls turned into fish, then swam off?”
“Mermaids, I think,” Harper corrected him.
“This is so insane,” Alex said quietly, almost to himself, then he looked up at Harper, his dark brown eyes locking seriously on hers. “Stupid question time, but I have to ask. Gemma hasn’t, like … always been a mermaid, has she? This isn’t some family curse thing like on Teen Wolf?”
“No.” Harper smiled despite herself and shook her head. “No. There’s no history of mermaids or any other mythological beings in our family.”
“Okay. Good,” Alex said, then changed his mind and wagged his head back and forth. “Well, not really. If you knew what this was, it would be easier to deal with.”
“It certainly would,” she agreed.
“So you don’t have any idea what Gemma or Penn or the girls might be?” Alex asked.
“No,” Harper admitted regretfully.
“And you don’t know where they went?”
“So. How are we gonna get her back?” Alex asked.
“Well…” Harper took a deep breath. “We figure out what they are and how to stop them, then we find them and we take Gemma back.”
Copyright © 2012 by Amanda Hocking