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The Mermaid's Quest
By J. D. Manders
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2015 J. D. Manders
All rights reserved.
Sarah's and Lily's father had been home from the war for only a few weeks when the entire family decided to go to the beach for vacation. He had left the previous year to serve with the U.S. Army in Iraq. While he was gone, the girls stayed home with their mother, who often did not have much time to entertain them while she served as father, mother, and maid, all at the same time. As a result, she often left them to their own devices. While playing alone in their yard during just such a time, the girls had some fantastical adventures and claimed they had visited fairyland, met elves, and fought witches and goblins. The story of these adventures appears in another book, The Fairy Child.
Their mother never really believed those adventures had happened. Sarah and Lily tried many times to show her the traces of the fairy market or the old stump where they said the palace was, and they often went driving around looking for the witch's cottage. But their mother could always explain away any fairy signs as natural occurrences. The fairy circles were mushrooms. The fairy dust across the doorstep was a snail trail. The fairies flying were lightning bugs. Besides, Mother would argue, the girls were not absent long enough to have adventures, a fact which they could not explain, for in their mind they were gone for days. After many months of politely arguing the point, Sarah and Lily quit trying to explain, accepting that their mother would never believe.
Now that Daddy was home, everything had returned to normal, and Sarah and Lily no longer brought up their fairy adventures. Their encounters with the fairy folk had more or less ceased, although they sometimes thought they had seen the fairies wandering about keeping an eye on the children and protecting them from the revenge of the goblins. Sarah had sometimes thought that the goblins might return, but neither she nor Lily had ever seen a sign of them. They had seen several signs of the fairies. They occasionally saw insects flying in formation when the fairies were riding them to keep watch on the house. They sometimes found fairy guard posts in the trees or the garden, where fairies hid when watching the girls play. They also found fairy dust across the doorstep where the fairies had protected them. Such signs let Sarah and Lily know when fairies had visited and reminded them that guardians continued to look after their old friends. Otherwise, the girls had gotten on with their lives and returned to school without much disturbance or any further adventures.
In some ways, after their father returned, there was no need for such adventures. Now that their family had reunited, the girls' real life was exciting enough for them most of the time. With Daddy back from the war, Sarah and Lily were spending more time with him and less time playing alone in the yard or going on fairy adventures. He would take them to the park, push them on the swing, or go bike-riding with them, and although fairies may have watched them, they never came near. The fairy folk almost always prefer to reveal themselves to one or two children at a time rather than a large group of people, especially big people who tend to talk loudly and make a lot of noise. So they never showed up when Sarah and Lily were with Daddy.
After their father had been home for a few months, they decided to go to their favorite resort on the South Atlantic Coast. Daddy wanted to get away one last time before returning to work, and he chose a spot where he had vacationed as a child and where the family had often gone before his tour in Iraq. It was an exciting trip for the girls, especially since they were back with their father again. It was a long drive to the coast, but they talked and read and listened to music in the car to pass the time, and the girls continued to quietly play their fairy games all the way. Finally, the rows of palm trees, sand-filled yards, smell of salt, and sounds of the surf let them know that they had arrived at the beach.
Sarah and Lily loved the beach, but for very different reasons. Lily, who was now nearly seven, loved to swim. She loved to catch the waves on her boogie board, walk through the breaking waves to the calm waters, and play in the shallows. When she got bored of swimming in the ocean, she would swim in the hotel pool, where she could see clearly underwater and would not tire from fighting waves. She and Sarah were both very good swimmers. Always curious, Lily loved to seek out the crabs and periwinkles digging holes in the sand and try to catch sting rays or jellyfish in her pail while wading. She was the more social one and would often play with neighboring children on the beach, running up and down from one family to another. She would play and play in the sun until her short-cropped blond hair turned a shocking white and her skin was bronze from head to toe.
Ten and a half with long brown hair, Sarah sometimes swam and occasionally went exploring with Lily, but what she really liked to do was sit on the beach under the umbrella and read, especially when next to her father. They would sit and read, then go out and swim to cool off, then return and read some more. This always bothered their mother, who liked to take long walks on the beach or go shopping at all the tourist places that sold shells or shirts or mugs. When Sarah did swim, she liked to get on a float in the calm, deep water past the breakers. She would just lie there rolling up and down until the waves caught her and brought her onto the strand, often hundreds of yards from where she started. Then she would go out and do it again.
What both Sarah and Lily liked most of all about the beach was building sandcastles. Daddy had taught them how to build sandcastles when they were very young. They always wondered whether he should have been an architect or engineer. Perhaps it was the history buff in their father that drew him to sandcastles, for he was always reading about ancient castles and medieval warfare. He taught them about how to mix sand and water to get the right consistency, how to use the pail to build towers, how to dig tunnels without making the castle overhead crack, and how to build the foundation so that really tall towers did not collapse. He also taught them how to angle the towers along the wall so that they could protect or fire at every angle, how to build the moat so that it protected the keep, and how to build gate houses so that the entry way into the castle had the strongest protections.
It was no surprise, then, that on the first day after they arrived at the beach, one of the first things Sarah and Lily did was build an enormous sandcastle, with Daddy helping. They spent many hours working on it. First, they built the keep itself, with a high tower that was almost as tall as Lily. Then, they built the crenelated inner walls high around the keep, with large towers on the corners and a gate house. Then they built a small village on the outside of the keep, with another wall surrounding it with smaller round towers every so often. Then the castle spread out into the countryside, with a further wall surrounding the common fields, each wall shorter and thinner than the one after it. Driftwood, shells, and twigs formed the doors and drawbridges and flags. As usual, there was a moat, dug from a large tidal pool up through the outer walls to surround the keep with a deep river. Over the moat they built a bridge that crossed to the gate house. Every time the tide came in, it would wash up into the moat and around the castle. There was even a little boat house far away from the castle by the sea, with a little protected road leading to it.
Of course, all the time Sarah and Lily built the sandcastle, they took breaks to swim and read and eat. Mother brought down a picnic basket from the hotel room filled with sandwiches, sodas, and fruit. Then, she would make them take a time out to rest at least half an hour before going back in the water, and she would ensure that they were coated with sunblock, to keep them from getting sunburned. They obeyed, even Daddy, but then they went right back to work on the sandcastle.
At last, the castle was finished. It was a grand achievement and caught the eyes of all the passing people, who praised it for its realism. In fact, Lily thought that it was a little too real, especially after it sat for a time – they left it standing after they had finished and then went on to swimming and other fun. Amazingly, no one tore it down as so often happened. Usually, some teenage boys would kick it over, or the policeman would run it over with his four-wheeler. The girls thought the fact this did not happen to their sandcastle was a tribute to its greatness. They would go out to look at it from time to time, and Lily could have sworn that she saw lights in some of the houses and in the keep itself, and that it looked at times like there had been traffic in and out of some doors. She showed Sarah, who agreed that it had a lived-in look, although they never saw people or fairy folk, but whenever they showed Mommy or Daddy, their parents never saw anything, or they would explain it away as an active imagination.
"Look at the tracks going up to the castle," Lily said.
"Dear, those are crab trails," Mommy would say.
Or, "Look at the lights twinkling in the tower," she would point out to Daddy as the sun set, turning the sea into a shimmering reflection.
"That's neat how the sun reflects off that shell," Daddy would say.
"Why won't they believe when I show them?" Lily asked her sister later.
"Grown-ups never see anything magical," Sarah said.
"Never?" Lily asked.
"Well, rarely," she responded. "At least, that's what happens in books. Like in Peter Pan, when Wendy's mother does not believe in Peter until the end, or in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when only the Professor believes Lucy's story."
Sarah read a lot and knew all of the fairy stories. After she explained their parents' reaction using books, Lily understood.
"Do you think fairies have moved into the castle?" Lily asked.
"Probably not," Sarah said, "since we built it only yesterday. Maybe some passed this way and stopped to stay in the castle."
"It is very grand. It is the kind of place fairies would choose to live. I mean, there are so many rooms and towers where they can stay. Everything is already the right size for them. Sarah, what kinds of fairies live near the beach?" Lily asked.
"Well, there are fairies that live near water, such as brownies or pixies, who might live near a well or an old house. You might hear about some pools or wells that are enchanted themselves, that grant three wishes or try to drown you. Like the famous Fountain of Youth that Ponce De Leon found in Florida. Some say Indian spirits inhabited it and made it magical. You don't really hear about these being near the sea, though. There are also spirits that live in water such as water horses or kelpies, which are sort of sea demons, but they usually live in shallow water. Some live on land but play in water, such as selkies, which are people who change their form into otters. Mostly, though, you hear about creatures that actually live in the sea, such as mermaids or a hippocampus."
"Hippo?" Lily said. She had liked hippopotamuses ever since she had seen one at the zoo when she was little.
"Not hippopotamus; hippocampus," Sarah explained. "It's like a seahorse, only with a regular horse body instead of a fish tail. And you have other sea creatures, giant crabs and squids and such. But most of these never go on the beach. It would have to be a traveling fairy, just like the others we saw."
Sarah and Lily continued to watch the castle, coming often late at night to see if it was still there and still being visited by fairies. The sandcastle continued to stand and continued to have what Lily called "little visitors," although she never actually saw anyone. The weather stayed calm for a long time, the sea receded, and the tide stayed low, so the waves did not even get high enough to wash out the castle, which stood on a dune with a tidal pool in front of it. There were times they would find a piece of wood floating in the water that looked just like a barge, or Lily would notice some part of the castle that had been improved or moved, but it was nothing she could say with absolute certainty.
Still, the girls' vacation drew on, and their interests soon returned to swimming and exploring and relaxing on the beach. The next day, they went out to swim. At first, they could not hear over the crashing waves, but finally they got far out past the breakers. As usual, Sarah got on her raft to float. After swimming about and looking underwater with her goggles, Lily hung onto the side as they talked quietly about the fairies and about Daddy getting home. Suddenly, Sarah stopped talking.
"Do you ever get the feeling that someone is watching us?"
"You mean like from the beach?" Lily asked, turning her head. There were several families on the beach, including their father and mother sitting under an umbrella. Daddy waved at them, while their mother yelled something about not getting out too far.
"No, it feels like it is coming from behind us, out to sea," Sarah replied. There were a few boys swimming somewhat next to them down the beach, but the boys had not been behind them.
"Well, there was that boat that went by a while back," Lily said.
"No, it's been more recent," Sarah said.
"Maybe there is a boat far out where we cannot see it," Lily wondered. "You remember that story Dad used to tell about drifting out so far on his raft he saw an ocean liner. There could be a large ship that is watching us, but we can't see it because of the waves."
"Maybe," Sarah said. "But it feels more like it is coming from under the waves."
Lily slipped on her goggles again and stuck her head in the water, looking around. The water was a dark green, but she could still see the bottom a few feet below them. She saw the sand, some kind of seaweed, and then she saw the fin of a fish of some kind. It looked rather large and startled her. She pulled her head back out.
"Sarah, there's a fish down there," Lily said.
"Of course there's a fish," Sarah replied. "It's the ocean."
"No, I mean a really big fish," Lily explained.
"Is it a shark?" Sarah asked, sitting up and pulling her legs onto her float.
"I don't think so. I did not see the head, but it did not look like the fin of a shark. You know how shark fins are sort of moon shaped and move from side to side. This one was flat and moved up and down. More like a dolphin. It was also the wrong color. This one was green, not gray or blue," Lily explained
"Well, let's not take any chances," Sarah said and started to paddle back to shore.
"At least we know what made you feel like you were being watched. It was obviously some animal looking at you from the sea," Lily said.
"I wonder," Sarah said. It did not seem at all like a fish was what had given her the feeling of being watched. It felt more like a person watching. But there were obviously not any people nearby. Lily was probably right, and it was all in their heads or it was some sea animal looking at her.
"Sarah," their father called as he waved at them to return to the beach.
Sarah and Lily swam back to shore, climbing out on the beach as the sun was setting. They waded through the tidal pool and crawled up the side of the dune where their sandcastle still stood. As it got darker, the castle took on an ominous look. Perhaps it was the gathering clouds of the storm forecasted to hit the coast. It seemed to get much darker much quicker than expected. There were black clouds across the sky, leaving the remainder of the horizon a strange gray hue. Or perhaps it was the wind having blown some of the fresh sand off the castle so it looked a little worn, a little rough in places. It did not look like the new castle they had built. Or maybe it was how the incoming tide had eroded away some of the outer walls and towers, making them look like they had melted. Many of the quaint little farm houses they had sculpted around the castle were nearly gone now. But mostly it was how the light seemed to gleam and flicker through the windows in the high tower, making it look as though it were inhabited, as though someone were watching television or lightning were striking in that high tower. It sparked their imaginations.
"We need to get back to the room. It is going to start raining soon, and we need to get off the beach," Daddy said.
Daddy was waiting on them with a towel, and Sarah and Lily started to dry off. He had already folded up the chairs. Mother had gone ahead to the hotel room, and they soon followed, dragging a cart full of towels, clothes, floats, and chairs with them as they went.
Sarah, Lily, and Daddy got in the elevator, which started to go up to their room high up in the hotel. Through the window on the elevator, they could see the beach, and between two buildings across the street the very slice of beach on which they had sat and played for several days.
Excerpted from The Mermaid's Quest by J. D. Manders. Copyright © 2015 J. D. Manders. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. The Sandcastle, 1,
2. The Old Fisherman, 11,
3. Past the Waves, 20,
4. The Mer City, 30,
5. Interview with King Triton, 40,
6. Back to the Surface, 49,
7. The Sea Elves, 61,
8. An Old Friend, 70,
9. The Island of Mist, 79,
10. The Bermuda Triangle, 90,
11. A Brief Rest, 99,
12. Passage through Atlantis, 109,
13. Into the Abyss, 122,
14. The Undersea Mines, 133,
15. The Sea Hag's Grotto, 142,
16. The Slave Revolt, 153,
17. The Surface Again, 162,
18. The Tidal Pool, 172,
19. Inside the Sandcastle, 185,
20. The Sand Man Cometh, 198,
21. The Tower, 208,
22. The Storm, 220,
About the Author, 227,