With Illust�ations by ABIGAIL HALPIN
Published by Simply Read Books 2 Vancouver Film School version
Special edition for Vancouver Film School, Digital Design Department Published in 2010 by Simply Read Books www.simplyreadbooks.com Text ÂŠ 2010 Kallie George Illustrations ÂŠ 2010 Abigail Halpin All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the written permission of the publisher. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content. Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication George, K. (Kallie), 1983The melancholic mermaid / written by Kallie George ; illustrated by Abigail Halpin. ISBN 978-1-897476-53-6 I. Halpin, Abigail II. Title. PS8563.E6257M45 2010 jC813'.6 C2010-901040-X We gratefully acknowledge for their financial support of our publishing program the Canada Council for the Arts, the BC Arts Council, and the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP). Book design by Halley Chung 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
With illustrations by
ABIGAIL HALPIN 4
To my dad, who said, long ago now, “I wonder what a mermaid’s tears look like?” to distract me from my own tears. And thus began this story. —Kallie
To my parents. —Abigail
Contents Part one
The Tears of Bubbles and How They Began The Boy Who Always Wore Mitts Maude and Tonyâ€™s Incredible Escape
To Be Read Only by Those Curious to Know What Happened Next
The Tears of Bubbles and How They Began
eep in the sea, where whales drift like dark clouds above a coral kingdom, a beautiful merbaby was born with not one, but two shimmering tails. Papa held his daughter close. “Twice the speed,” he announced with pride. “Twice the strength.” “And twice the grace,” added Mama. “Our little mermaid is destined for great adventures.” In merhistory, those born with two tails are legendary. There was Atlante the Speed Champion who out-raced a bluefin tuna. And powerful Celune who, with his two tails, saved a school of merchildren from a great white shark.
But most famous of all was Twin-Tailed Trista who used her tails to stand upright so she could rescue a merbaby stranded on a rock shelf in a storm. Papa and Mama named their merbaby Maude, which means â€œmighty,â€? and hung not one, but two tiny moon shells
But as Maude grew, she came to regard having two tails as a curse rather than a blessing. The other merchildren never invited her to play tag-a-tail or race-around-the-shipwreck. “You’re too fast,” they complained. “It’s not fair.” Everyday after school, Maude swam home alone, as quickly as her two tails would take her.
“Oh Maudy, keep your fins up,” encouraged her mother one night when Maude was particularly upset. “The other merchildren are just jealous. Never forget: twice the speed ...” “Twice the strength,” muttered Maude. “ And twice the …” “… kisses,” finished Papa, swimming into the room and kissing his daughter on both cheeks. “Swishy dreams, my dear,” they chimed together as Maude snuggled under her covers. But Maude didn’t have swishy dreams. Instead she lay awake gazing out her window at a bobbing jellyfish. Just one friend, thought Maude. One friend. That’s all I want.
As time passed, Maude continued to be shunned, and she grew more and more unhappy. She avoided school and spent her days exploring the outer regions of Merdom, swimming in the dark shadows of sunken ships and among the shallow reefs around uninhabited islands.
Often afterward, tired and lonely, and tired of being lonely, Maude sat on a seamount and wept.
Mermaids rarely cry, but when they do, tears bubble from their eyes. Day after day, bubbles rose from Maude’s eyes to the surface of the sea. One day the pooling bubbles caught the attention of a fisherman. “Slithering sardines! Now what do you think that could be?” He cast a net in hope of discovering. Maude, absorbed in her sadness, didn’t see it until it was too late. “Help! Help!” she cried, as the net engulfed her. But she was too far from the coral kingdom for anyone to hear.No merfolk had ever felt the nets of the two-leggeds and lived to tell the tale. Maude shouted louder and struggled with all her might, but even twice the strength could not help her.
The bottom of the boat loomed closer and closer, until â€Ś Maudeâ€™s head hit the keel, and she lost consciousness.
When she awoke, she was in a glass tank. She thrashed her tails against the sides, but she was trapped. Iâ€™m not mighty, only mindless. If only I had been paying attention! If only â€Ś Maude peered through the glass at the two-leggeds vwho were watching her. One flashed its teeth like a hungry shark. She shrank back, remembering what her parents had told her. The two-leggeds and merfolk had once been friends, but many moons ago they had drifted apart. Now two-leggeds treated merfolk no better than they treated the other inhabitants of the sea. Maude curled up and hugged her tails. She was sure it was only a matter of time before her soul joined the moon spirit who ruled the tides of the earth and lived in the seas of the sky.
The Boy Who Always Wore Mitts
n the very same day that Maude was born deep in the sea, Tony was born beside it, in a fishermanâ€™s cottage. From the time he was a baby, Tony loved the ocean: the cool morning mists, the lullaby of waves, the blues and greens of the water. He understood the sea. But he did not understand the other children.
“Tony the Frog Boy!” they’d cry, trying to snatch off his woolen mitts whenever they got the chance so they could gawk at his webbed hands. Tony’s hands didn’t bother him, but the teasing did. The more the children teased him, the sadder Tony grew. Tony’s parents didn’t know what to do— until the day the circus rolled into the village and the Ring Mistress came to visit. She’d heard of Tony and his webbed hands.
â€œOur circus is such a happy place. Tony will be happy there, too.â€? Her voice was soft and soothing, and his parents were soon convinced. Tony hoped she was right.
But it was not to be. The circus was loud, full of raucous laughter and shouting. Tony was quiet. The circus air was filled with the smells of mini-donuts and cotton candy. Tony missed the fresh salty smell of the sea. The circus folk loved bright colors and swirling patterns. Tony missed the grays of a foggy morning. The Ring Mistress, now shrill and stern, forced Tony to display his webbed fingers as part of the show. “Freddie the Frog Boy,” she called him, though his name wasn’t Freddie. But every time she pushed him on stage, he froze. So the Ring Mistress made him work instead, scraping gum from under the seats, picking up litter, and cleaning the animal cages. “Until you perform, you clean!” she declared. Days turned into months. Tony was too frightened to complain. The Ring Mistress changed moods as often as she changed earrings. Tony felt trapped.
One morning, when the circus was camped in a seaside town,the Ring Mistress summoned him to her tent. “I have an important job for you,” she announced. “Last night I acquired a new attraction for our show. I paid a fisherman a fortune for her, but she’ll make us fortunes back. You must feed her, clean her tank, and make sure that nothing happens to her.” “Who … who is she?” stammered Tony. “She is our hope! She is our future! She is in the new blue tent. Go there now!” cried the Ring Mistress, and she waved Tony away.
Tony stood in the shadows just inside the blue tent, staring at a glass tank and the magical creature lying listlessly in a corner. It was a mermaid! He blinked. Were those two tails he saw? The mermaidâ€™s green hair swirled around her head like strands of seaweed. He couldnâ€™t see her face because it was covered by her hands. Her hands! They were webbed, just like his. Tony walked up to the tank to get a better look. He noticed small air bubbles and assumed they were coming from the mermaidâ€™s mouth or nose. But then she moved her hands, and he saw that the bubbles rose from the corners of her pale gray eyes, like tiny transparent balloons.
Everyday Tony fed the mermaid seaweed and wiped the glass clean of the fingerprints and sticky smudges left by the crowds who came to stare. Eventually the inside of the tank needed cleaning, too. It was a day Tony had been dreading. He hated to disturb the mermaid. He stalled for time, tugging off one mitt, then the other. They would only slow him down. And, besides, when he was around the mermaid, he didn’t feel the need for them. As soon as he lowered himself into the water, the mermaid shrank further into the corner, like a sea anemone recoiling from touch. “It’s okay. I won’t hurt you,” Tony said, his words coming out as bubbles.
As quickly as he could, Tony scrubbed the algae off the glass, avoiding the corner where the mermaid cowered.
The sooner he finished, the better. He was scouring the biggest rock, which he’d saved until last, when it shifted and pinned the webbing between two of his fingers. He tugged and tugged, but couldn’t pull free. His lungs were beginning to ache, when something touched his leg. The mermaid! She glanced at his hand and then hers, as if realizing for the first time that they were the same. Then she reached out and lifted up the rock. Tony pulled his hand free, and the mermaid immediately grasped it. Her skin was cool and her grip tight. She pulled him to the surface and he gulped in deep breaths. For a long time after, Tony stood in front of the tank, dripping wet, staring at the mermaid. “Thank you,” he whispered.
Tony was pulling on his shirt when the tent flap opened and the Strong Man entered. “She moved yet?” he grunted and thumped the glass. “Stop!” shouted Tony. “Aw, ain’t that cute. Freddie likes Flippy.” Tony felt the prick of tears. He noticed that, once again, bubbles were streaming from the mermaid’s eyes. Suddenly he understood. For the first time in his life, Tony did not feel quiet. He stormed outside and into the Ring Mistress’s tent. “The mermaid’s crying. You have to let her go!” “My mermaid’s not going anywhere,” sneered the Ring Mistress. “You, my boy, are going to train her.” “But she’s homesick! You can’t—”
“I want the biggest show in circus history: The Two-Tailed Mermaid and Freddie the Frog Boy! Just think of it, Freddie, my boy, I’ll be famous!” The gleam in her eye warned Tony it was useless to argue. He shuffled back to the blue tent. “I hate it when she calls me Freddie,” he mumbled. He couldn’t face the mermaid now. So he sat in the dust outside, deep in thought, not about being a sideshow star, but about the mermaid’s tears. As the sun slowly set, a bold plan bubbled up in his mind.
Maude and Tony’s Incredible Escape
ong past midnight, when the circus was as quiet as the deep, dark sea, Tony tied ropes around Maude and, with the help of a makeshift pulley, lifted her from the tank and lowered her into a wheelbarrow. She didn’t struggle, but instead made whistles and clicks that reminded Tony of whale song. “Shhh,” he whispered. “You’ll wake someone. Don’t worry. I’m taking you back to the sea. And I’m leaving too.” Although he had no idea where he would go. In his hurry, Tony had forgotten the bundle he’d made of his mitts and meager belongings. But there was no time to retrieve it. He pushed the wheelbarrow forward, right over a discarded bag of popcorn. He glanced nervously around. But no one came. Quickly, he steered the barrow out of the tent. The blue canvas ceiling gave way to sky.
The stars and the moonâ€”bright and round and mightyâ€”shone above them. 42
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Tony reassured the mermaid, although he didn’t know how long she could live out of water. He hummed a sea shanty, to soothe her and ease his own worries. The sky was beginning to lighten and, as they rounded a turn in the dusty road, there before them was the great, glorious sea! Tony’s heart sank. “The tide is out!” He pushed the wheelbarrow onto the sand. Immediately it sunk in and stopped. So he spun the barrow around and tried tugging instead. ‘This time it crept foward a little, but not much. And then he heard it. “The Strong Man’s motorcycle!” The sound grew louder. He squinted back at the road. “It’s the Ring Mistress! If she catches us, we’re done for!” It had been hard enough lifting and lowering the mermaid out of the tank with the help of a pulley and ropes. In the soft sand, it would be impossible to carry her. But he tried. He managed only a few awkward steps before he stumbled. The mermaid fell out of Tony’s armvvs, and he fell helplessly beside her.
This is the end, thought Maude. Her eyes stung with tears, but out of the water she was unable to cry. Then she felt arms encircle her. The young two-legged—the boy who shared the same hands as her, who had brought her food and freed her from the tank—was kneeling over her, trying with all his might to lift her. He hadn’t given up. A deep strength surged through her, twice the strength she’d ever felt before. I can’t give up either, thought Maude. She remembered the legend of Twin-Tailed Trista, the mermaid who had stood upright like a two-legged. ‘ Perhaps—Using her two tails, Maude struggled to stand. Her tail tips trembled from the effort. With the boy’s arms around her, she succeeded. Then, doing what no mermaid or merman had ever done, she dragged one tail after the other through the sand and walked.
The two-leggeds who had held her captive were getting closer. Just as Maude was sure she would faint, soothing cool water touched her tail fins She collapsed with a splash and squirmed herself into deeper water. The two-leggeds climbed off their noisy contraption and stumbled through the sand. But they were too late. Maude was free! She was about to swim out to sea when she re-membered the boy. He was backing into the water, trying to escape.
Maude knew what she had to do. 46
She swam close to shore, arched her tails, and slapped the water with her fins. Spray flew through the air in an explosion of bubbles. 47
“Oi!” shouted the Strong Man. “I can’t see!” screamed the Ring Mistress.
The boy turned and dove into the sea. When he surfaced, Maude surfaced, too. 49
She circled him twice, then slid her hand into his. The boy smiled and kicked off his shoes. Maude led the way. Tiny bubble rings escaped from her mouth. When mermaids laugh, which they do only when they are tremendously happy, they create these rings. The rings floated up through the blue, as Maude swam with twice the strength, twice the graceâ€”and twice the spiritâ€”with her two-legged friend.
To Be Read Only by Those Curious to Know What Happened Next
aude knew a place on one of the little islands she had discovered, perfect for a two-legged to live. And she knew where there was a small wrecked boat, perfect for a two-legged to repair. Tony lived on the little island near Merdom and gradually learned the merfolkâ€™s language of clicks and whistles. Maude visited him everyday and brought him useful treasures. Maudeâ€™s parents came to visit him, too. Even her schoolmates snuck a look. When they were finally brave enough to ask to meet him, Maude introduced them and they played together in the shallows.z
The merchildren never tired of hearing Maudeâ€™s stories about the two-leggeds, and she shyly showed them how she had escaped by walking on her tails on the sea floor. Before long, Maude the Mighty took her place in merhistory.
When Tony finished repairing the boat, he and Maude decided to embark on a journey. And so, one sunny day, they set off to find the remote region of the sea where wild hippocampi, half-fish half-horse creatures, were rumored to roam. 56
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