“The Calling” Scene 23: “The Friend”

It was around Christmas time and Penny was feeling slightly depressed. Aware that it was her decision to come to the pod and live with her mother’s people, it didn’t lessen the slight pain she felt knowing this would be the first Christmas she spent away from her mother, and her mother away from her. It wasn’t as if they did much for Christmas, but they always seem to find time to dress in their warmest pajamas and get under a fleece comforter and drink hot chocolate while watching a movie together—

Whereas today, she did more of the same thing she’d now been doing for six months.

There was time after school before she had to go to the communal area and eat second meal, so she swam off a few hundred feet so that she could be with her thoughts for a while, by now Singing Nymph was getting used to her being able to make her way around the pod dwellings without supervision, so there was no possibility that Saying Nymph would come looking for her in the next few minutes.

Penny found a nice secluded place to rest. She floated down on to the rock and curled her tail around her, adopting what she called the Ariel Pose. Although she couldn’t recall if Ariel had ever sat like this; it wasn’t hard to remember, however, that she had a green tail, red hair, and a clam shell bra…

Penny wasn’t seated for more than two minutes when her mermaid senses told her that someone was approaching, she’d gotten quite adapt to being able to pick up on the small magnetic field that each mermaid generated, but that allowed a patrolling mermaid to detect another one at distances up to five hundred feet. She knew some of the mermaids had to realize that she was here, and as had been drilled into her from day one, mermaids were rarely alone—

The mermaid glided into view from her left and Penny instantly recognized her as one of the girls from school, and the Crimson tail with the regular dots a bright orange further identified her as Curious Squid of the Magical Cove, who was almost exactly a year younger than Penny she sat quietly and waited for Curious Squid to approach her, because she knew it would be bad form to get up and swim off now.

The young mermaid with bright aqua hair and hazel eyes floated to a stop about six feet in front of Penny. “Are you okay?”

Penny nodded. “I’m okay. Just a little down.”

“Down?”

“A bit depressed.” Even after six months Penny often forgot that mermaids were slow to pick up on idiom.

Curious Squid nodded then looked at the wide rock upon which Penny was sitting. “May I join you?”

Penny tapped the space to her left. “Sure.”

The two mermaid sat in silence for nearly three minutes as Penny waited to see if her new companion was going to start the conversation. When it seemed almost as if Curious Squid was waiting for Penny to say something, the mermaid spoke. “Are you missing your binding mother?”

“Yeah.” Penny stared off into the luminescent depths. “Today should be December 23; tomorrow will be Christmas Eve.”

Curious Squid glanced over at her classmate. “I take it that’s a day of celebration.”

“It is. Mama and I would exchange presence at night after dinner.” She chuckled. “She always gave me enough of and allowance that I had money at the end of the year to buy her present. Since we didn’t have any other family, we were the family.”

“Sounds interesting. Wasn’t there any one else in your celebrations? Ever?”

A wistful look came over Penny’s face. “Last year Kemena came over at night on Christmas Eve. Set around in our pajamas and watched Ghostbusters.”

“What’s Ghostbusters?” Curious Squid’s brow wrinkled. “I’ve never heard of that.”

“It’s an old movie my Mama likes. It’s kinda funny.”

“I see. And who is Kemena?”

Penny immediately imagine Kemena’s face, digging it out of her memory. “She’s my friend back in Albuquerque. If I had to, I’d say she’s my best friend.”

Curious Squid leaned forward so she could see Penny’s face. “You miss her as much as you do your binding mother, don’t you?”

Penny slowly rubbed her hands together. “I guess I do. She knows what I am: she is the only other person knows him down here.” Penny glanced down her tail fin, watching as it curled and unfurled. “I hope she’s missing me, too.”

“I’m sure she is.” Curious Squid reached over and took Penny’s hand, much to the surprise of the young mermaid. “Can I tell you something?”

“Sure.” Even after six months Penny still found the touchy-feeley attitude of many the mermaids to be a little disconcerting. She was pleased, however, that she hadn’t jerked her hand away immediately.

“While you’ve become sociable since arriving, you don’t have any friends other than your cousin. And a mermaid without friends will die young from an empty heart.” Curious Squid shifted around and gave Penny’s hand a squeeze. “I would like to be your friend. I love listening to your stories of when you lived on land, but I also think you’re an interesting person. I’d like to get to know you better.”

Penny didn’t think any of what Curious Squid said was unusual–if anything, there was a great deal of truth in her words. Because since arriving, while she did feel as if she was now an accepted member of the pod, she felt that there was very little of a connection between her and the majority of the other mermaids with whom she came in contact every day. It was true that she was close to Singing Nymph, and considered her a friend, but she was also family.

It came to Penny that if she’d had a friend in the days leading up to this moment, it would’ve made hurt of missing Christmas Eve and Christmas a bit more dull.  She needed to be more than another communal member: she needed to be open.

She needed to show her heart.

Penny returned the hand squeeze as she flashed a grin in Curious Squide’s direction. “You know, making a new friend is a great Christmas present.” Her grin turned into a full smile. “Thank you for doing this.”

Curious Squid blushed. “It’s not a problem. After all, what are friends for?”

“The Calling” Scene 22: “The Routine”

After a couple of days Penny had fallen in to the same routine that a lot of mermaids in her position were following—or, as she liked to joke, she had gotten into the swim of things.

The first day in the pod was spent being shown around and introduced the people. With only about a hundred mermaids in the pod, she managed to meet everyone by the second meal. She loved hearing everyone’s extensive names and was told by Singing Nymph that each name had to do with circumstances relating to the mermaid’s conception. In the case of her own name, Singing Nymph said her binding mother’s had gone on to land to retrieve things needed by the pod—something that mermaids did every so often. On the way back to the ocean they were accosted by two men. One of Singing Nymph’s binding mother’s was knocked out, so the other used a particular ability known as Siren’s Song to force the two men to follow her out into the ocean. Once they were in water over their heads, Singing Nymph’s other binding mother drowned both men and retrieved her partner.

Not long after that she was quickened and at birth was given the name Singing Nymph the Bringer of Death. She said that it made her feel proud that, in a way, one of her mother’s was willing to kill so that she could be born. There were few mermaids who could claim the same.

The days seem to become the same. Penny would wake up at a particular time, usually the same time as her cousin. There wasn’t any actual meal like breakfast: instead, mermaids eight during a time that would normally be considered brunch for humans. The second meal always came late in the afternoon, but would still be considered early for humans.

All meals consisted of variations of the same thing: fish, shellfish, and vegetation like seaweed. It was all consumed raw, as there was no way to cook here five hundred feet below the surface of the ocean.

The first time Penny was given a raw fish to eat, she thought she was never going to get it down, but she found the first bite delectable and had no problem stripping her fish clean in no time. The only thing she could figure out was that by now being a full mermaid, her taste buds had adjusted to enjoy the normal diet.

The pod maintained fishery areas nearby, where schools of fish fed off the nutrients that filtered down from the surface. Sometimes groups of mermaids would go out on fishing expeditions and not return for more than a week. These groups would often come back with larger types of fish found in the deeper parts of the ocean, but every so often they’d return with a giant squid. Squid hunting parties were easy to figure out as about a dozen mermaids would go out; at least that many were needed to combat the creature and drag its carcass back to the pod.

Life in the pod was nothing like that found in a Disney movie. Mermaids tended to groom one another cleaning their bodies with mud and washing clean and one of the many undersea currents nearby. Scavenging and cleanup parties would spend a few hours every day cleaning up trash that floated down from the surface and would keep those items that would serve the most used to the pod.

Mermaids spent hours working with the fisheries, while others would go out on short patrols around the pod location. Penny asked why these were necessary and Singing Nymph told her that while there weren’t any pods nearby, they needed to be on the lookout for various sea creatures that could do them harm. But, she added, they were also ready to greet any new mermaids who happen to come their way, and Singing Nymph said that in time Penny would learn how to detect a mermaid coming in from a distance—the same way she detected Penny approaching the pod when she first arrived.

Three days pass before Penny discovered the one thing that Kemena had wanted to know the most: how mermaids went to the bathroom. Singing Them showed her location of a current about five hundred feet from the southwest corner of the pod as singing them said, make sure you’re a little upstream from the pod, relax, and let nature do its work. Penny did as told and found the experience rather relaxing. She asked how often it was necessary to use this current and Singing Nymph said their diet, being high in protein and fats, kept them from producing much waste, so a mermaid normally needed to relieve herself once every three or four days. Penny was also told that any waste liquids would go out at the same time, though there were few. Penny figured that out already: their bodies were under constant hydration and since coming to the pod she had get to feel thirsty.

The last thing she discovered was school. All young mermaids attended school until what was known as the Age of Attainment, which usually occurred around the time of a mermaid’s twelfth or thirteenth birthday. As Penny was already eleven she was told it might be a couple of years before she could reach the same level of experience, which meant she went to school with mermaids younger than her.

It was unlike school that she had known in Albuquerque. Everything was told verbally and they were expected to remember. Surprisingly, Penny remembered most of what she was told and she remembered her mother telling her that mermaids have remarkable memories. She was also surprised to hear teachings given on mast and even some science that had been picked up from those who would spend time on land. As her weeks in school continued, her instructor would often ask questions of her about what it was like living in Albuquerque, and what she knew of certain things that happened with humans.

There was always a relaxation time in the evening after the second meal. Though there were no clocks, Penny figured that relaxation time went from 5 PM to almost 10 PM, with most mermaids turning in sometime between nine and ten. She would often sit with Singing Nymph and some of her friends while some of the students would join them. It was very rare that Penny was allowed out of Singing Nymph’s eyesight, but on a few occasions she was allowed to go to their dwelling with some of the mermaids from school, and he would sit in there and talk until it was time for bed.

As Singing Nymph had told her, Penny quickly grew use to sleeping with another person. It was always the same: they would remove their jewelry, then Singing Nymph would ease herself into their sleeping hammock and Penny would follow. Sometimes they would talk for a bit before drifting off to sleep, but often they would immediately begin relaxing with Singing Nymph draping an arm over Penny as if to comfort and protect her.

Though Penny took the pod life immediately, she wondered how long would be before she began to miss her home in Albuquerque—

As she discovered, it took about six months.

“The Calling” Scene 21: “The Dwelling”

Singing Nymph’s dwelling wasn’t far away: Penny and she only needed to swim about two hundred and fifty feet to reach one of the numerous huts that made up the pod’s living area. From the outside it look remarkably like every other building: a rectangular space perhaps twenty feet by fifteen feet with a dome-like roof maybe fifteen feet high. Just like with the building they had just left this made sense to Penny, for a mermaid wasn’t going the walk around their living area, she would swim. And they need that space to move around, particularly if there was another person with them.

The entrance was covered over with seaweed, which again made sense to Penny: doors would be unnecessary in the ocean, but a mermaid would probably still enjoy a little privacy. Singing Nymph pushed through the seaweed door and Penny followed.

The inside of Singing Nymph’s dwelling was rather spartan. The far end of the space consisted of a seaweed hammock attached to the walls and ceiling with strands of something that seemed to be organic. Closer to the entrance were two more hammocks that seemed more for reclining and sitting than sleeping. The wall opposite the entrance had a space set aside for what appeared to be various forms of body jewelry, and wall immediately to the right as he entered the dwelling had several racks made of what look like bone protruding from the wall where there was a variety of weapons.

Singing Nymph set her spear onto one of the racks before swimming into the center of the dwelling. She held out her arms and looked to her left and right. “Here it is. This is been mine for the last five years.”

Penny slipped the nylon carryall offer back. “How old are you?”

Singing Nymph took the carryall and set it on a hook where the body jewelry hung. “I’m twenty-three.”

“So double my age.”

“Yes.” Singing Nymph pointed out the different objects in the room. “The weapons you can figure out; I would prefer if you leave those alone for now. These—” She pointed to the two reclining hammocks. “—are for resting and sitting. Behind me is the bed. And over where I put your carryall, that’s where I keep my body adornments.”

Penny floated over and check out the jewelry. “There’s like a couple of dozen items here.”

“Yes, there are. Mermaids like to adorn themselves: that’s our one way of expressing her individuality. It’s funny that I wasn’t wearing anything today; I overslept this morning and decided I would put on something after I got back from patrol.”

“I see.” Penny turned so she faced her cousin. “My grandmothers had tattooing. Do a lot of mermaids have that?”

“It’s mostly the older ones who get that.” Singing Nymph smiled. “And by older, I mean those mermaids of reached about thirty years of age, when our bodies will pretty much stay the same for about a hundred years.”

“How do they do them? And what makes them glow like that?”

“An artist mixes squid ink with bioluminescent secretions. The ink is actually chiseled into the skin: the next time you’re close to your binding grandmothers take a look and you’ll see the raised surfaces on their body.”

Penny wanted to ask why the term “binding grandmothers” was being used, but figured she discovered this information later. “I’ll do that.”

Singing Nymph pull the chain that seemed to be made out of amethyst and emeralds and wrapped it around her waist so it hung off her hips and just below where her human-like abdomen merged with her scaly tail. She grabbed another article of jewelry off the wall and turned to Penny. “I had this when I was about your age; I think it’ll make a good first adornment for you.”

She slipped a loop over Penny’s head and pulled her hair out of the way so it rested around her neck like a necklace. It hung down in front of Penny’s torso and Singing Nymph showed her how to full her tailfins and slipped them through the bottom loop. Once the jewelry was in place it look like a harness of emeralds that ran down her torso and were secured at her neck and blow her butt.

Penny looked at down herself and admired how she looked. “Where you find all these gems?”

Singing Nymph smiled. “They’re all over if you know where look for them.”

“Well, I’d like to look for a few.” She smiled back at her cousin. “Thanks.”

“Thank you. It was the least I can do.”

“So…” Penny glanced at the reclining hammocks. “Do you want me to sleep over here?”

“Of course not.” Singing Nymph floated backwards and touched the large mass of seaweed behind her. “You’ll sleep here, with me.”

Penny felt a quick clutch in her chest. Not only was she used to having her own bed, but she had never considered sleeping with someone twice her age. “I don’t—”

Singing Nymph was in front of her with two quick flicks of her tail. “Little Bubbles, how old were you when you stopped sleeping with your binding mother?”

“Do you mean my mom?”

“Yes.”

“I was about eight.”

“Really. And you’re eleven now?” Singing Nymph chuckled. “You never thought it was unusual you’ve only been sleeping alone for three years?”

The moment her cousin brought up her former sleeping arrangements, it became clear that Penny hadn’t thought it unusual that she shared a bed with her mother until she was about eight and a half years old. Up until the moment she got her own room in bed, Penny sort of assumed this was normal. “That’s something mermaids do, isn’t it?”

Singing Nymph gave a slight nod. “It is. Mermaids are extremely communal creatures; we enjoyed being around each other. It’s rare for mermaid to ever want to be alone and if she is, she really stays alone for long. They’re just over a hundred of us in this pod, and you’ll find that you almost always have one of us. You at all times.

“And when it comes to sleeping, we’re just as communal. I’ve only recently received my own dwelling, and it is an unusual for another mermaid to come over and spend the evening with me. We find it comforting to have someone next to us while we sleep.” She gave Penny a warm smile. “I assure you, in a day or so it’s going to feel normal to you.”

Realizing she came to the pod to learn of her mother’s culture, Penny nodded and smiled back. “I guess I will.” She swam over to the hammock. “Is there a blanket that goes over this?”

“No. Let me show you—” Singing Nymph swim to the end on Penny’s left and spread the hammock apart, then slid inside with a few flips of her tail. Her head popped out the other end, resting against the bottom half of the hanging seaweed bed. “See? The top is a little shorter than the bottom, so we stay nice and comfortable.”

“It’s like a big sleeve. Your tail is hanging at the other end.”

“It’s all right: it doesn’t get cold.” Singing Nymph drew her arm out and motioned toward Penny. “Come on; you try it.”

Penny swam down by her cousin’s tail and pulled open the seaweed hammock, noticing there was more than enough room for them both. Doing exactly is Singing Nymph did, sliding inside and moving up through the sleeve with just a few, lazy slaps of her tail. A second later she was resting next to Singing Nymph, her back pressed against her cousin. “This is kinda comfortable.”

“I think you’ll find it exceptionally comfortable. In case you are wondering, when we get out in the morning just give you tail a couple of quick flips—”

“And will pop out the other end.” Penny did that and was up and over the hammock and swimming toward the center of the room in a matter of seconds. She waited for her cousin to join her before she spoke again. “So, what you want to show me next?”

“The Calling” Scene 20: “The Arrival”

As they approached the pod location Penny had no idea what to expect. Cinematically she’d seen that mermaids live in grandiose cities or spend all their time surrounded by forest of seaweed and kelp, but what she did not expect was what she saw five minutes after encountering Singing Nymph: a collection of dozens of structures that appear to be built out of stone and mud surrounding a central depression that looked as if it served as a type of amphitheater.

It was only when they were within a hundred feet of the outer ring of huts that Penny saw the other mermaids. Five or six of them seemed to be swimming around; some carrying objects, some just swimming together. All stopped and turned in her direction as they glided over the pod huts, something that Penny expected due to her being a stranger in this group.

Penny quickly noticed that the tail of every mermaid possessed a series of different colors and patterns, and that no two seemed to be like. Colors appeared to go from grayish black to whitish yellow, with patterns ranging from speckles to stripes that went in every direction, including some that seem to be heart, star, and diamond shape. Since all mermaids were female and probably looked alike from a distance, the color and patterns of one’s tail could immediately tell one whom they were seeing.

Singing Nymph eventually floated towards the entrance of one of the larger structures in the mermaid village and motioned Penny inside. The space looked large enough to hold a few dozen people and there were several rocks of various size place that positions all around the interior. Singing Nymph stop near the middle of the room and turned to Penny. “You wait here for a few minutes: I’ll be back with some people who want to speak with you.”

Penny looked around the room. “I know this is going to be a stupid question, but—”

“Get your butt on a rock and curl your tail around you.” Singing Nymph chuckled. “Don’t worry, it’s gonna take you some time to figure these things out. I’ll be right back.” She hoisted her weapon to her side and darted out the door.

Penny took in the room around her. It was bare and unadorned, but there was plenty of light due to the natural bio-luminescence in the room. She realized there wouldn’t be paintings or murals, but she wondered if there was any sort of art gracing a mermaid’s existence. Her mother loved artwork, as made evident by the paintings throughout their home in Albuquerque, and wondered if she picked up her appreciation after coming out of the ocean, or while she lived here.

Two mermaids swam into the room and expertly sat themselves down on rocks about ten feet from Penny. These were the first mermaids she’d seen up close other than Singing Nymph, and what surprised her the most was that they actually looked like middle aged women. Given what Penny knew about the longevity of mermaids, she immediately guessed that these two were older than her mother.

They were also the first she’d seen who were adorned. Both had colorful ribbons of some material weaved into their hair, and around their waist where skin seamlessly merged into tail, there hung necklaces that to Penny’s untrained eye looked as if they were made of precious stones.

What was most unusual, however, was that both women possessed tattoos. The brunette on her left had a sunburst pattern on her right shoulder that glowed a soft green, while the mermaid with almost greenish blue hair on her right possessed an intricate pattern across her lower abdomen that seemed to be a combination of black and red. Since she had not seen these markings on the other mermaids, Penny wondered if they indicated some sort of significance within the pod.

There was one last thing she noticed: both mermaids wore bracelets made of stones that resembled emeralds and diamonds on their left wrists. Though it had registered at the time, she now saw that Singing Nymph—who was now floating just inside the entrance to the building—were the same sort of bracelet. Penny’s mind immediately connected those bracelets to something important, for could not be a coincidence that all three possess the same kind in style on their left wrists.

After a couple of moments of examination the brunette mermaid spoke. “It is our understanding you claim to be the daughter of Crimson Mane of Raging Sea Foam. That is correct?”

Penny nodded. “Yes, she’s my mother.” She slipped the nylon carry pack off her back and removed the laminated photo which she held out to the other mermaids. “This is a picture of my mother and me. I figured you might want to see it.”

The mermaid with the bluish-green hair swept off her stone and took the photo from Penny. With a quick flick of her tail she propelled back to the other mermaid so that they could examine the photos together. After five seconds the one who’d taken the photo address Penny for the first time. “Your mother has become quite the beautiful woman.”

“She’s really is beautiful.” Penny shrugged. “She keeps telling me I’m going to be that way one day.”

“It’s quite likely you will.” She handed the photo back to Penny and then returned to her rock. “We were told that your name is Little Bubbles of the Northern River Forest?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know why you were given that name?”

“Mama told me it was because I was conceived near Portland, Oregon, which is on the shores of the Columbia River.” She looked down for a minute. “And that runs through pretty big forest.”

The brunette mermaid nodded. “Yes, we are both familiar with that body of water. And, I believe, that it is undeniable that you are the daughter of Crimson Mane.” She turned to the mermaid on her left. “Wouldn’t you agree?”

“I would.” Blue-Green Mermaid gave Penny a warm smile. “Little Bubbles, why have you come to us?”

Penny had spent a few days rehearsing his speech, not knowing if she would have to give it, but prepared to do so if necessary. “I only discovered my true nature a year ago and I’ve grown curious about this life that belonged to my mother. It’s been a long time since she’s been here—”

Both the older mermaids nodded with the brunette speaking. “That is true.”

“Since I want to know about this life, about how mermaids live, I knew the only way I could do so was by coming here. I figured if nothing else, I would have family here who could teach me.”

Again the mermaids looked between them with the brunette responding. “And how long do you intend to live among us?”

Penny gave a slight shrug. “I just turned eleven, so I figured I could live here until I was eighteen.” A crooked smile formed upon her face. “Or until you got tired of me and threw me out.”

“I can assure you we will not throw you out.” The brunette sat back on her rock and seemed to draw herself upright even more so. “And, you do have family here who will look after you. I am Swirling Maelstrom of Mid-Ocean, and this is Breaking Waves of the Tremendous Storm. We are the binding mothers of Crimson Mane.” As the older mermaid held the others hand, Swirling Maelstrom nodded toward Penny. “That makes you our binding granddaughter.”

Breaking Waves floated off her rock and held open her arms. “Welcome to the pod, Little Bubbles.”

Penny pushed off from her rock and swam into the waiting arms of Breaking Waves, hugging her as Swirling Maelstrom joined in the hug. When they finished Penny looked up into their smiling faces, feeling waves of adoration washing over her. “Thank you for having me.”

“What sort of binding grandmothers would we be if we turned you away?” Breaking Waves turned toward Penny’s cousin. “Singing Nymph the Bringer of Death?”

The young mermaid almost snapped to attention. “Yes?”

“I would like you to take Little Bubbles as your apprentice; she needs someone good to train her so we’re assured she’ll reached the Age of Attainment.” She gave the young mermaid a quizzical look. “Is that something you can do?”

“Yes, Breaking Waves.”

There were quick nods between both older mermaids. Breaking Waves patted Penny on the back. “Go with your cousin: from this point on she is your mentor. You will follow everything she says and learn from her—and it is important that you follow her without question.” She gave her granddaughter a serious look. “The things she will teach you could actually become a matter of life or death.”

Penny tried not to look afraid. “Yes, Grandmother.”

“Come on, Little Bubbles.” Singing Nymph motioned the girl to her side. She gave both the older mermaids a quick bow then swam out of the building with Penny close behind. “My dwelling is over here. Let’s get you settled in…”

“The Calling” Scene 19: “The Inquiry”

They were only a mile out of the trailside parking lot when Penny decided she wanted to eat before cleaning up. Leigh stopped at a local grill in Netarts so her daughter could get her hamburger, and when she had her fill they drove on to the small, local motel about a mile further down the road. Leigh was staying in one cabin by herself, while the girls shared one next door. They all said a quick good night and retired for the evening.

Kemena showered before going to the beach, so the bathroom belonged to Penny. She took a nice, long shower, cleaning up for nearly thirty minutes. Kemena could hear her singing to herself, though the song she had chosen were anywhere from seven to ten years out of date.  Once they were back home it was going to take some time to get her friend caught up on the newest artists.

Penny came out of the bathroom wearing a robe and running a comb through her thick hair, which now reached nearly to her waist. She started to slip out of her robe halfway to where her sleep shorts and cami lay on her bed, but caught herself at the last moment. She grabbed her night clothes and stood in the corner facing away from Kemena. She stepped into her shorts before dropping the robe to put on her cami:  it was then that Kemena saw a six inch scar running from the middle of Penny’s right shoulder blade down to her back.

Now dressed, Penny took a deep breath and came over to join her friend. “Oh, I feel so much better now.”

Kemena scooted over on her bed so Penny could sit next to her, which she did. “Refreshed?”

“I know it’s gonna seem a little strange, but even though I been living in water for seven years, I really miss taking a shower.” Penny ran the comb through her hair a few more times. “It makes you feel so much better once you’re done. And…” Her smile was wide and bright. I haven’t felt real hot water since I moved to the pod.”

There were dozens of questions about mermaid life in the pod that Kemena had asked Leigh during the years that Penny was away, and the answer was always the same: wait until Penny gets back and ask her. Now that her friend was finally sitting in front of her, the first question that came to mind was probably the dumbest. “So how do you keep clean?”

Penny chuckled. “Once a week we go scrub down with mud and sand, then find a swift current to swim through.” Finished combing her hair, she turned and toss the comb over on the dresser. “I guess you could say it’s a little like getting a mud bath. But, not really.” She folded her hands in her lap and shrugged. “My home under the sea definitely doesn’t have the same comforts as my home in Albuquerque.”

Kemena decided she couldn’t wait any longer: she had to know. “So, what was it like? I mean, who greeted you when you got there? Who was there from your family? Did you have a place to stay? Did you make any friends?”

Whoa, slow down.” Penny looked down as she shook her head slightly. “I kind of figured I could talk with you guys tomorrow about this, when we had back to Portland.”

“Come on, Penn.” Kemena gave her a “I Can’t Believe You’re Doing This to Me” look. “In case she didn’t notice, your mother was really reluctant to question you about anything between the time we picked you up in the time we get back here.” She leaned forward slightly with her head cocked to one side. “There’s no way I can go to bed now and not know what you’ve been up to for the last seven years. I’m never going to get to sleep, and you know it.” Her tone softened considerably. “Please? Can you tell me just a few things?”

Penny sensed the anxiety in Kemena’s voice and knew if she kept her friend waiting to hear the full story of her life in the ocean, Kemena would go to go to bed frustrated and unhappy. As it was, Penny was still on Pod Time and wouldn’t be ready for bed for several hours, so there was no worry that she would fall asleep anytime soon.

Penny reached out and took Kemena’s hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. “You want to hear my grand story?”

Kemena return the squeeze and nodded. “I want to hear it all.”

Penny drew in a breath and squeezed her shoulders together before getting comfortable. “Okay, then—” She released Kemena’s hand and rested hers up on her thighs. “This is what happened…”

“The Calling” Scene 18: “The Homecoming”

“Are you sure she’ll come back to this point?”

Leigh continued looking straight ahead, scanning the ocean horizon. “I’m sure.”

Kemena scratched at her cheek and bounced her knees up and down a couple of times. “How is she going to know to get here an hour before the sun reaches the horizon?”

“Because she will.” Leigh turned to the teenager at her right. “Mermaids have an excellent ability of knowing their spatial and temporal locations. They have to: when you’re under five hundred feet of water all the time, it’s necessary that we know where we are and when we are.” She patted her daughter’s friend on the shoulder. “I expect her along at any moment.”

Kemena wanted to believe Penny’s mother so much. She’d been waiting for this day ever since they returned to Albuquerque the day after watching Penny swim away, and in the seven years since that moment, Kemena never missed marking off a day on the calendars she kept in her room, reminding her of when she would see her childhood friend once more.

Leigh could understand Kemena’s worry. She hated to use the expression, but Kemena was only just a human and couldn’t understand every intricacy of the lives of she and her daughter. Theirs was a world that her daughter’s best friend could never enter or fully comprehend.

But she did hate to think of her as just a human, for in the year after Penny’s departure Kemena brought Leigh a great deal of comfort. Kemena would visit her at least twice a week and ask questions about what she thought Penny might be doing with the other mermaids in the pod. She wanted to know what Penny ate; she wanted to know how Penny slept; she even the once asked, with a furious blush in her cheeks, how Penny went to the bathroom. That last was a question that Leigh said Kemena should save for when Penny returned.

Not only did they act as a sort of mutual support group over the last seven years, but Leigh had the opportunity to watch Kemena blossom from a somewhat awkward eleven-year-old girl into a graceful, beautiful eighteen-year-old. And in watching her grow, Leigh imagined Penny going through the same changes—only with a tail instead of legs. Lee couldn’t wait to get Penny back to Albuquerque and see her magnificent tail in their swimming pool—

“What’s that?” Kemena leapt to her feet and shielded her eyes from the setting sun. A second later she thrust her left arm out and pointed. “There.”

Leigh stood and looked in the direction from which Penny should arrive. There were a few seconds where she didn’t see a thing, then suddenly a shiny tail fin broke the surface and slapped the water before vanishing. Three seconds later it happened again—and five seconds after that a human-like shape with a cobalt blue tail left out of the water and arched back in.

She couldn’t help smiling. “That’s her.”

Kemena nodded as she waved it Penny, who was about a hundred feet offshore treading water and waving back. “She’s not gonna have any trouble getting to the riptides?”

Leigh had explained long before that this stretch of beach was almost never used for swimming as the curtains here produced strong riptides. “A mermaid won’t have any problems negotiating these tides.” As Penny grew closer Lee grabbed her backpack. “Get the robe ready.”

Penny grew closer, breaking surface every twenty feet to gaze upon the shore. When she was within fifteen feet of the shoreline she went under and was under for about fifteen seconds before she rose slowly out of the water. She allowed a wave to break over her before walking slowly out of the surf and onto the surface.

Kemena ran forward and through a large white robe around Penny’s naked form. Up close she saw her friend was maybe two inches taller than her and that her hair had lightened considerably. What hadn’t changed, though, where her piercing gray eyes. If anything, they better relayed the emotions that Penny was feeling that moment—
She was deliriously happy.

Penny threw an arm around Kemena and gave her a quick hug before hopping the three steps to her mother. She threw her arms around Leigh and held onto her as if she was about to fall. “Mama.”

Leigh tried to lift her daughter off the ground and soon realized that a combination of weight and height prevented that from happening. Instead she buried her face into Penny’s shoulder and began crying. “Oh, my baby. I missed you so much.” She gave her daughter a long kiss on the cheek.

“I missed you too, Mama.” Penny wiped tears from her eyes. “Ha, I can finally cry again.” She returned her mother’s kiss and then turned to the friend she had not seen since leaving this beach seven years earlier. “Come here, you.”

Kemena fell into her friend’s arms and hugged her tight as the tears began to flow. “Your mother kept saying you were coming, and I kept thinking, ‘What if—’”

“Hey, I said I was coming back and I’m here.” Penny sniffed back her tears and spoke softly into Kemena’s ear. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be there to help you through high school.”
“Yeah, well, the couldn’t be there to help you through—mermaid school.” Kemena laughed as did Penny. “I have to say, you look really good.”

Penny wrapped the rope tied around her. “You don’t look too bad yourself, babe.”

“You too can admire each other later.” Leigh zipped open her backpack. We need to get you dressed and get up that cliffside, and we need to do it in the next hour.”

Not knowing the sort of person who was going to walk out of the ocean after seven years, Leigh brought a collection of everything: a half-dozen sports bras and tank tops, four pair of spandex bicycle shorts, and a half-dozen pairs of sports sandals. Within ten minutes they found the right combination and had Penny dressed and ready to move.

As they headed toward the path leading up to the parking lot Kemena noticed Penny walking gingerly. “What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

Penny looked to her mom before smiling at her friend. “You know the old tales about how to mermaids it feels like you’re walking on glass?”

Kemena nodded. “Uh, huh.”

“There’s some truth to that. I mean, my legs are fine because I develop the muscles swimming from my tail, but—” Penny shrugged. “I haven’t had feet for seven years. So, I’m going to need a little time getting them toughened up.”

“And you have all summer to do that.” Leigh reached out and took her daughter’s hand. “For now, we’ll head back to the hotel so you can clean up and then we’ll go eat.”

“That sounds good.” Penny stop so she could take a moment to see the sun for the first time in two-thirds of a decade. “I’m really dying for a hamburger.”

“The Calling” Scene 17: “The Meeting”

After thirty minutes of swimming Penny began to feel the fear that her mother told her she would feel. It was simple: she was an eleven-year-old mermaid swimming into the ocean for the first time in her life, and every minute she continued forward, she headed further and deeper into the sea.

One could look at it scary situation, but Leigh pulled her daughter to push on and in time she would find yourself surrounded by the wonder of a new world.

Part of what scared her was the feeling of weight upon her body as well is the dimness around her. The weight she understood: at that point her journey she was probably more than a hundred feet below the surface, which meant the water pressure was building. She was told not to worry as mermaids could handle pressures at depths far greater than this. And in time she would see it as nothing more than an inconvenience, rather than an issue.

What puzzled Penny the most was that even a hundred feet below the surface of the ocean she could still see things. Though she was still in what was known as the sunlight zone, everything had taken on a sort of murky, twilight appearance, which reminded Penny of walking around her neighborhood well after the sun had set with nightfall approaching.

But everything she was seeing was with her own eyes, and some of the things she had read indicated that this depth she should be able to see much at all. And yet, she could. It was due to her mermaid eyes finally kicking in and allowing her to see the ocean the way she should see.

And her mother said that her that her eyesight would only get better as she went deeper.

After sinking another hundred feet she saw why. The entire ocean around her had started becoming luminous, and Penny felt as if she were swimming through waving curtains of light. It finally struck her what was happening: at this depth almost no sunlight was getting through and her eyes were finally picking up on some form of natural bio-luminescence. Everything around her was bathed in shades of greens, blues, and pale yellows, and after allowing a few seconds for eyes to adjust even further, she realized she could see almost as far now as she might’ve been able to on land.

Embolden by the realization that she would never be completely in the dark, and he increased her speed slightly and pushed on toward deeper waters.

Her senses told her that she’d been swimming for almost an hour and half—just as her mother told her she should—when she noticed something swimming in from her left side, maybe a hundred feet away. At first she thought it might be a shark, but five seconds of observing it’s motion told her she was seeing another mermaid, and she was coming closer. Rather than swim towards the approaching mermaid, Penny held her position and waited for her to come and investigate.

The mermaid came to within about ten feet and stopped. Though she didn’t appear much longer than Penny, the length of her blond hair, the curve of her hips, and the fullness of her breast said she was definitely older. She carried a long, white object in her hands: Penny had no idea what it was, but the way it was held indicated it was some kind of weapon.

The mermaid looked Penny up and down for a few seconds before speaking in The Language. “Who are you?”

Penny consider drawing in a breath before she realized there was nowhere to draw into her lungs. She cleared her throat and began the statement she’d been practicing for a few days. “My name is Little Bubbles of the Northern River Forest. I am the daughter of Crimson Mane of Raging Sea Foam, and I am seeking the Great Sheltered Pod of the Cape.”

The mermaid relax the weapon in her hand and begin twirling a six strand of her long blonde hair around her right index finger. “You’re the daughter of Crimson Mane of Raging Sea Foam?”

“I am.” Penny tugged on the straps of the nylon carryall on her back. “I have pictures of my mother to show, in case anyone needs proof.” She smiled. “I had them sealed in plastic so nothing will happen to them.”

The other mermaid seem to consider Penny’s words for about ten seconds before she lowered her weapon to one side. She swam forward until she was only a couple of feet away. “I am Singing Nymph the Bringer of Death.” She flashed a bright smile. “I’m your cousin.”

Penny’s eyes went wide with surprise. “Really?”

Singing Nymph nodded. “Yes. My mother is my aunt. Whom, I should point out, I’ve never met.”

“Well…” Penny shrugged. “Until this moment I’ve never met my mermaid cousin.”

Singing Nymph flicked her tail so that she was close enough to Penny to give her a hug. “You’ve met her now.” She pushed back until she was once more a couple of feet away. “Why have you come, Little Bubbles?”

Penny chuckled softly, realizing she was going to spend the next seven years hearing a completely new name for herself. “I’ve only recently discovered I am a mermaid and I’ve come to live with the pod for a few years. I want to learn the ways of our culture.”

Singing Nymph broader self alongside her cousin and held out her right hand. “Then come with me, Little Bubbles. The best way for you to starting learning of our culture is introduce you to our grandmothers and the rest of the pod.”

“Sounds good to me.” She took Singing Nymph’s hand and allowed her to lead as she breathed a sigh of relief.

Penny found her other family and was about to begin the next seven years of her new life.