Once upon a time, it was a beautiful spring day, and two sisters were
walking through the forest. Their names were Laura and Sara. They had been
walking all morning to find a good patch of huckleberries, because the bears
had come and eaten all their ripe berries the night before.
Sara knew they needed more than the few shriveled and unripened berries she had found. Sara wanted huckleberry cobbler for breakfast tomorrow, but she didn't want to walk through this dumb forest all day long to find the berries. *If only we could take a break.* Sara was getting very frustrated by now. *This horrible forest is getting thicker and hotter by the minute. The scratch I got from that dumb huckleberry bush is starting to throb. Laura will never want to stop until we find some berries. I think I just stepped in poison oak. And.....* Sara had almost worked herself into tears when Laura interrupted her thoughts.
"I think I hear a creed up ahead, do you want to take a break?"
Sara gave an enthusiastic "Yes!", and they stepped off the winding dirt path and into the trees.
Sara lay on the thick, soft carpet of new moss. She listened to the water
gurgle over the rounded pebbles and slide away between the old twisted roots
of the towering redwood trees. Sara was glad of the warm late morning sun
now, as it beat down upon her back and legs. She had chosen a large flat
rock to lie on. This way she could get the most sun possible, and it was
surprisingly comfortable. Sara knew, without even opening her eyes, where
Laura would be. She would be lying on the smooth gray trunk of that overhanging
maple, dangling her bare feet in the sparkling clear water. Sara could hear
Laura's soft, even breathing and knew she must have fallen asleep. *What
a good idea....* she though.
The next thing Sara knew, Laura had woken her up and was leading her
purposefully up the mountain. Laura was mumbling to Sara something she couldn't
quite hear, about how she shouldn't have let her fall asleep. Sara didn't
pay any attention. They couldn't have been asleep for more than a few minutes
according to the position of the morning sun. When Sara had shaken awake
her dazed brain, she realized they were no longer on the path. She was about
to tell Laura they should turn back when the ground fell away from their
feet, and they were plunged into sudden darkness.
Sara landed in a very hard, dark place. As she looked around, she realized
she and Laura were in some kind of cave. The walls and floor were cold,
and smooth as if washed by water for millions of years. Then even in this
cold forbidding cave, she felt a warm breeze from somewhere.
"A way out..." Sara thought hopefully, as she followed the draft of warm air. A glow of light up ahead caused her to pause, and turning around she ran back to Laura, who was still in shock, lying in a hollow beneath the tunnel they had fallen through.
"Come on," Sara whispered. "I think I've found a way out of here."
"Really?" Laura asked, sitting up. "Because I don't think we can get out the way we came."
Sara helped her up from the ground, and led her to where she had seen the light. They followed it up the now almost warm passage, until they stepped out into a bright colorful world.
"Oh...." Laura gaped at astonishment at what lay only a few yards in front of them.
They were standing on the threshold of a much larger cave than the one
they had fallen into. The clear, luminescent walls, ledges, and ceiling
seemed to be made of some kind of crystal marbled with shining white. However,
they produced a pleasant heat, keeping this cavern, deep beneath the earth,
as warm as the spring day above. The ceiling and ledges were bejeweled with
graceful columns of stalactites and stalagmites, forming intricate patterns
in the background.
The foreground was taken up with a bright, glistening pool that reached exactly as high as the ledges. The water was tranquil, only ruffled by a fresh breeze circulating the room. The most beautiful of all was a great pillar in the center of the pool. This was the source of light for the underground chamber. It was formed from thousands of rainbow colored crystals, which warmed the cave further with their soft glow. However, the pillar, though riveting, was not what fixed their attention.
Sara stared open mouthed at the figure before them. She was of approximately Laura's age, from what Sara could tell, and extremely beautiful. Her dark, flowing hair reached to her waist. Her eyes seemed to glow with the same light as the crystals, and she stared back at Laura and Sara with equal surprise and fear. Sara's eyes were, however, drawn lower, to the place were legs should have been. Instead of legs, what she found herself staring at was the tail of a fish. It was a mixture of colors, reflecting the rainbow crystals in the central pillar.
Sara sat down abruptly. In shock, her legs had turned to applesauce and
slipped from beneath her.
"Wha...what are you?" Sara stammered, trying to unglue her eyes from the tail.
"I'm a mermaid, of course," said the creature, turning up her nose. "What else should I be? What, may I ask, are you?"
Sara didn't know what to say. She could only sit and gape. Luckily Laura nonchalantly replied, uninterestedly watching the merfolk swim below the surface of the lake, "Why, we are humans. Haven't you ever seen one before? Oh well, that's all right, my name is Laura and this is my sister Sara."
"Delighted to meet you both I'm sure. I am Christyne.....does your
sister have some sort of problem with her jaw? She doesn't seem to be able
to close it."
"Oh, I'm sorry," Sara murmured, "it's just that I've never seen a mermaid before and I..."
"Perfectly understandable, my dear, though I must say your sister doesn't seem surprised."
*What a little snob!* Sara was infuriated. *Who does she think she is? Princess of the Universe or something!* Sara listened to Laura and Christyne chatter, and let her mind ramble on with them. *Lunch? Well, I must admit I am hungry, mmm sardines! My favorite! Oh, who's that? I hope she's not as snobby as Christyne. She looks okay.*
They were all seated on the ledge, eating a picnic style lunch Christyne
had provided. Christyne now introduced another mermaid as her sister Sharlite.
She had the same flowing black hair and glowing eyes, but Sharlite was different
somehow. She was shorter for one thing. She also looked kinder, not so arrogant.
*Much better* thought Sara. *Here's one mermaid I could be friends with.
Unlike one mermaid I know!*
After a tasty lunch of lovely fresh sardines, grilled crayfish, and a variety of freshwater plants and seaweed, which tasted a lot like lettuce, the mermaids said they had a surprise for Laura and Sara, but first they had to turn around and not look until they came back. Sara heard the two, splashing and giggling somewhere not very far away. *What in the world are they up to?* Sara thought. A few seconds later, Christyne and Sharlite emerged silently from the pool. Sara jumped when Sharlite said, "All right, you may turn around now." When they did Laura and Sara noticed the mermaids were each holding two of the rainbow crystals, one for each of them. Christyne explained that it was customary to eat these after lunch.
"But how can we?" inquired Sara. "They're as hard as rocks."
"You don't chew on them, silly!" exclaimed Sharlite. "You suck on them!"
They tasted sweet, but not overly so. With her crystal sill in her mouth
Sara lay down next to the warmth of the wall. The day was finally catching
up to her, all the walking that morning, falling into the passage, and the
excitement of discovering the mermaids. She closed her eyes, and the heat
from the wall reminded her of the warm morning sun. That was another problem,
how were they going to get home? Oh well, she was sure the mermaids would
know a way.
The part of the ledge Sara was lying on seemed to be getting softer by the minute, now it almost felt like the moss on the rock she had lain on before. The pool even sounded like the murmur of the creek.
Sara opened her eyes to reassure herself, and saw the morning sunlight
beam through the redwood trees and dapple the ferns below. She sat up and
saw the maple with Laura just waking up also, and the creek whirling happily
along beneath it. *It must have been a dream* thought Sara with a sigh.
*But doesn't Laura look slightly dazed and disappointed also? Maybe it's
just my imagination.* However, when Sara walked over to where they had left
their berry baskets, she found them stuffed to the brim with the ripest,
juiciest berries she had ever seen, and on top of each of their baskets
was a rainbow crystal.
Laura and Sara walked home in an awed silence, through the familiar, ancient forest. For breakfast the next day they had the sweetest, tastiest huckleberry cobbler they had ever tasted, and they all lived happily ever after.
"The Mermaid Lagoon" belongs purely to Alexandra Webb ©
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