Off The Deep End ~ Part 2

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"Good. You're awake," said a girl's voice.

"Huh? Whah?" I burbled groggily at the pretty fish girl I saw hovering in front of me. She looked to be around sixteen and was about the cutest girl I'd ever seen. Definitely the cutest mermaid.

I was still in the beach chair in the seashell castle's courtyard. My legs felt fat and funny and there was something sitting on my chest. She said, "Please don't panic, but in order to save you from drowning we had to-"

Of course when she told me "don't panic" like this it's exactly what I did do, but only for a second. I looked down and saw what was on my chest. It was my chest. Beneath these two beautiful breasts my waist narrowed and then flared out into girlish hips that were covered in pretty jade green scales, which continued down the long sleek shiny tail I now had for legs. I gazed down at it in amazement, wagging it back + forth experimentally. And this stuff floating around my face wasn't some kind of seaweed but my hair, super long and shimmering like gold.

"Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God," was all I could say. "Oh my God! My God! My God!"

This summer vacation was turning out to be the strangest week of my life. Or maybe of anyone's...


Laika Pupkino ~ 2010




Drowning isn't fun.

They say that you just go to sleep, and you do sort of, but it's heller scary and awful before then. You do a lot of treading water, and wimpering, and praying, and getting sick from swallowing seawater, and you think about all the things you'll never get a chance to do when you're dead, which when you're 15 is a whole lot of things. At least this was my experience, thrashing around out in the middle of the Atlantic in the middle of the night all by myself. And because the water was warm I didn't get all dopey from that hypothermia they talk about, but got to experience it all.

This vacation wasn't turning out at all like I'd expected. I figured the worst thing I would have to deal with was how my dad was acting since I came out to him and my mom back in June. The way he kept looking at me like he was all constipated and saying things that really hurt me. Not like "I hate you! I hate you!" but just a total lack of taking anything I said to them seriously, like there was NO WAY I could really mean it but was telling them I was a girl for attention, or just to upset them for some messed up reason; and then he'd burn rubber out of the driveway in his Beemer and go back to the plant to yell at the foremen about those damn #7's that got installed wrong or whatever...

Not like my mom, who seemed to believe me pretty quick. After getting over the shock of it, and after we talked about it a lot with her looking me straight in the eye, and after she finally decided I wasn't mistaken about what my issue was (like maybe I was only gay, or just wanted to wear frilly panties and stuff under my clothes like Robert Downey Jr. did in that spy comedy we rented...), and after really listening to what Dr. Blokenfrock was saying about girls like me; that little lightbulb went off over her head, and from about the second week after I came out to them she started calling me Susan, and being very cool- kind of digging the idea that now she had someone she could hang out and do girl stuff with, mom and daughter stuff, which I don't think she ever thought about or missed before when it wasn't possible in her mind. While my father wasn't having any of this nonsense, even after we started on our trip.

It wasn't like my dad was this big jerk or was deliberately trying to hurt my feelings. I knew he loved me even when he was being one, but my wanting to be the real me was totally hard on him for some reason. Like I was betraying what I was suppose to be and HE was less because of it.

But I knew for sure he was going through hell since I disappeared, probably thinking I ran away and blaming himself for it, and that after my disgusting fish-eaten remains washed up on shore he would never be the same. I wished I could tell him that I wasn't drowning myself out here on purpose, not for being transgender or because of him. I wished I could tell him I loved him and knew he loved me. I wished a lot of useless things that night, until I finally couldn't kick my feet anymore.

And now I was spiralling down through the inky water, still thinking I better not breathe this stuff, but at some point I couldn't hold my breathe and the water poured into my lungs. My heart was still beating, it was loud, but I knew I was dying and my brain was crapping out on me when I saw the mermaid.

She didn't have any clothes on, except the seashell hanging on a twine around her neck. The beautiful long straight hair that went clear down her back was golden- not blonde but actually looking like it was made out of gold.

God, I wish I had tits like hers, I thought, and then tried to laugh when I thought this was probably going to be my last thought. Transgendered to the end...

I was amazed at how real this creature from out of my imagination looked. She also felt real, when she got behind me and kicked her powerful tail, trying to pull me toward the surface with her hands hooked under my arms. She might've done it too, but it would of took a half hour when I only had seconds left.

"Oh, poor human!" she sang, her voice high and sweet but blurry, like somebody making bubbles in their soda with a straw, "Why do you have to be so heavy?! Hang on, let's get you some help!"

She grabbed the sea shell hanging on her neck and blew it, making a loud sound like the lowest note on a pipe organ. But whoever she was calling for didn't seem to be coming, and then she started pulling me down, which was easier.

And now I could see the ocean floor below us, a dark plain where this incredible house sat, its hundreds of round windows shining brightly, seven stories tall if you didn't count all the domes and things on top, and all made out of these gigantic sea shells, the tall pointy spirally ones sticking up like castle towers.

Surrounding this mansion was an enormous garden, just like you'd see around some old palace in Europe, only made of coral shaped into geometric patterns, and neatly trimmed hedges made of kelp, and sea anemomes the size of elephants arranged in circles around giant statues of important looking mermen and merwomen. She parked me in an old beat up aluminum beach chair on the shale patio, looked around one last time for her help, then swam like lightning off toward the castle, yelling, "Don't go anywhere!"

None of this is real, you know, I said to myself. I was hallucinating as I drowned, scenes that might have come from my favorite childhood movie The Little Mermaid. I was totally nuts over that movie when I was six. Ariel the mermaid was everything I wanted to be. So spunky, totally alive and adventurous yet sweet and caring. And she was all girl- from her incredible red hair down to her shiny green fluke. She was my favorite Disney princess. I had got a whole lot of Little Mermaid stuff out of my parents---my room was starting to look like the Disney Store---before they got alarmed and put their foot down, my Mom grabbing away the red towel I had hanging over my head as I sang along during my third time in a day watching it, asking, "Sweetheart, don't you maybe want to watch something else?"

So I guessed this was like what you always hear about your life flashing before your eyes when you die, only I had spent so much of my life in fantasies and if-onlies I was getting these instead of the real stuff...

And now my beautiful imaginary friend was coming back, carrying something in a bag. She blew the sea shell again, took my pulse and shook her head. Then she pulled a big fancy jewelled brass bottle out of the bag, making me think Oh no! More elixer, but when she rubbed on the bottle with her hand a large figure in an old fashioned canvas diving suit appeared, his helmet's air hose leading into the mouth of the bottle.

From where I lay I couldn't see the face behind the helmet's little window, but I wouldn't have been surprised if it was blue with a humungous chin and a weird little beard. So now we were doing another old favorite cartoon movie of mine. But his voice was much deeper than the genie from Aladdin's when he said, "So you've decided on your third wish, Mistress?"

She pointed at me and shouted desperately, "Save him!"

"You really need to be more specific with your wishes. I thought we discussed this."

"Put him back on land!"

"As you wish, but that won't save him. He's pretty much a goner. Kaputt. Moribund. In extremis..."

"Wait- No! Then put him back on land and make him better."

"That's two wishes. One more than you have."

"No it's not!" she burbled. Whatever they were going to do I hoped they'd do it quick. My sight and hearing were fading fast. Now I really was dying.

"I'm afraid it is, the way you've worded it. It's really too bad he can't survive under water."

"Then do that! Make him so he can."

The helmetted genie posed like he was thinking, "I suppose I could turn him into a sponge."

The mermaid waved her arms in frustration, "No! I mean like me! Make him like I am!"

"As you command," said the genie just as I lost consciousness.


"Oh good. You're awake," said a burbly girl's voice.

"Huh? Whah?" I burbled groggily at the pretty fish girl hovering in front of me. Somehow I could see a lot better underwater now, like she'd found a diving mask for me. She looked to be around sixteen, and was about the cutest girl I'd ever seen. Definitely the cutest mermaid, and that includes Aquamarine and Splash.

I was still in the beach chair. My legs felt funny and there was something sitting on my chest. She said, "Now please don't panic, but when the genie changed you. He-"

Of course when someone tells you "don't panic" like this it's exactly what you do do, but I only did for a second. I looked down and saw what was on my chest. It was my chest. A nice pair of breasts that felt full and soft and sensitive when my hands went up to them. Beneath them my waist narrowed and then flared out into girlish hips that were covered in pretty jade green scales, which continued down my beautiful long sleek shiny tail, which flipped itself out in front of me for better look at it when I thought about this happening. I wagged it back + forth experimentally. And this stuff floating all around my face wasn't some kind of seaweed but my hair, super long and shimmering like gold.

"Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God," was all I seemed to be able to say. "Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!"

"Look," she said, "it saved your life. There wasn't time, and that genie kept wanting to argue-"

"Oh my god! Oh my god- I'm a mermaid!!"

"I know, I'm sorry! Okay? But it really won't be so bad, you'll see."

"Bad?" I laughed, and like I'd been doing it all my life I swam up out of the chair and grabbed her in a hug, "I think it's wonderful! Oh thank you! Thank you!"

"Whoah, easy there!" she said as I danced her around in a circle, "It is? I thought you'd be mad."

"No! I always dreamed about being a mermaid when I was a kid," I said, running my hands over the smooth green scales on my hips, "And now, I mean ........ Wow!"

"Hmmmmm, that seems kind of weird. But I guess maybe if I was stuck being a human I'd want to change too. But you do mean a merman, right? That's a boy mermaid."

With a huge smile on my face I shook my head no, no way! It felt like I was crying, but it was hard to tell underwater.

She was very relieved. "If you're happy being a girl then I guess that goofy genie knew what he was doing after all. Which is good, because he's not here anymore. He started acting all crazy, singing some song about he was gonna go shovel off some buffaloes---that's like a cow, right?---and then he was gone! What's a '23 skidoo', anyway?"

"I have no idea," I laughed, in a voice that was high and musical and bubble-sounding like hers was, grinning like an idiot at the sound of it, until I noticed something streamlined and a bit bigger than us swimming towards us fast.

Uh oh! I really hope that isn't a shark...

But it wasn't, it was a dolphin. A bottlenose, like Flipper. He had a cask hanging around his neck (or not his neck but somewhere behind his face...) like those Swiss St. Bernard rescue dogs in the cartoons have. I was in Cartoon Central here, except everything was real and not drawn-looking.

The cask had a hose with a mouthpiece dangling from it and was labelled O2. But I could feel the thick water getting pulled down into my chest and pushed back out when I breathed it, and it felt good, so I knew I wouldn't need his air tank. He said in kind of a snooty voice, "Please state the nature of the marine emergency."

She glared at him. "The emergency is over Jasper Five, it's fixed! And no thanks to you."

He dipped his head in sort of a bow, "My apologies your highness, I got here as quick as I could. I had to settle a war between the starfish clans."

"Those stars are always fighting! They probably started again the minute you left. This human was drowning, she would've DIED if I'd've left it up to you! I used up my last wish because of you, you stupid fluking fish!"

"I won't take that sort of abuse even from you, Princess," the dolphin warned her.

It seemed like calling a dolphin a fish was the worst insult you could give one, and the mermaid realised she'd crossed the line, "I'm sorry Jasper, really! I didn't mean that. It's just Mommy made me promise I'd save that wish for when I got older. I don't know what I'm going to tell her."

"Apology accepted," huffed Jasper Five, then he said, "Well you always did want a sister. Tell the Queen that you just couldn't stand being alone anymore. That with everyone in your village being either older or much younger than you, you needed someone your own age for company. She knows it's hard for you, only being able to see your cousins twice a year at Festival time. I'm sure she'll come to love having a second child, the way she and King Uyetah continued to try and spawn another baby, right up until ........ whatever has happened to him."

"Some humans got Daddy, that's what happened to him! They've probably got him stuffed and in one of those horrible museums up there."

The dolphin kind of nuzzled her face with his snout, and said softly, "We don't know that for certain, do we? I think her Majesty will be angry at first, but she's not the heartless autocrat that some take her for. She'll understand why you broke down and had the genie make you a twin..."

I startled, "A twin?"

The mermaid nodded, "When I told the genie to make you like I was he took it literally."

"Genies do that, don't they?" muttered the dolphin, "Seem to think it's funny..."

I said, "Wow! if I look like you that's great! You're really pretty, Princess."

"You think so? Thank you Princess, so are you," she said and we both laughed at how vain this sounded.

Jasper Five laughed along with us, a dolphin-y sound not at all like the voice he'd been talking to us in, but then he jerked his head and seemed to be listening to something far away. "Sorry, I have to go. A hero's life and all that. There's some emergency down at Rasmussen Trench."

We watched him dart off into the murky distance. I asked her, "So what happened to your father, if you don't mind my asking."

"I can't say. He disappeared when I was twelve. It happens that way down here a lot. You get eaten, or hauled away in a net, and all anyone knows is you're gone."

"I'm sorry," I told her, "I never lost anybody like that..."

"But in a way you did. You just lost everyone you ever knew, that whole life you had until now, when I changed you. And I'm sorry for that."

"But I would be dead now if you didn't, so there's nothing to be sorry about. You could've used your last wish for anything and you wasted it on me. I don't know how I can ever repay you."

"I'm sure you would've done the same for me," she said, and she was right. You'd pretty much have to after you tried every other way to rescue someone. She smiled, "I don't think it's such a wasted wish. Like Jasper Five said, I got a sister out of it. Or I hope you'll want to stick around."

"Of course I will," I said.

"Great! My name is Anemone. What's yours?"

"Susan," I answered, happy that I had a right to use my girl name now that all the crazy uptight gender-nazis in the world couldn't say I didn't.

But Anemone didn't like it. "No, that won't do at all. As bad as Mom hates humans we can't let her find out you used to be one, and 'Susan' is such a land-dweller's name. How does Enomena sound to you? Princess Enomena. That's Anemone backward..."

I thought this name sounded a bit too much like "enema", but if nobody down here knew what one of those was (in fact wasn't sure if we even had butt holes, since the back of my scale-covered pelvis was as featureless as the front...) I figured it would be okay. Kind of exotic, and it was neat how it was my twin's name in reverse. I said, "It's cute, I love it!"

She said we should go meet my new mother, and if the Queen or anyone asked me I should tell them the genie made me out of a Florida sea cow. And after that we could have the maid make us lunch. As we swam off toward the sea shell palace I asked her what merpeople ate for lunch.

She asked me if I liked sushi. I told her I loved sushi and could eat it every day, which turned out to be a good thing since it was hard to keep a stove lit underwater and they didn't do a lot of cooking down here.


Inside the palace Queen Atlantea, Sovereign of the North Atlantic Territories and her daughter argued about me while I hung back in the corridor. It was like that day I tried to bring that dog home---who I had already named River Tam---except now I was the dog. I was real worried about what the queen would decide, and hoping she wouldn't turn out to be allergic to me like my mom was to poor River, but when I saw my reflection in that great big gold framed mirror out there in the hall I sort of forgot about everything else...

From the waist up I was a beautiful teenage girl. My tummy was slim, my were breasts more full than I had ever hoped to someday get from hormones (I hadn't made up my mind about implants...), my arms and hands all graceful and slender with nice nails, and my face was just gorgeous- with dimples and nice full lips. My long-lashed eyes were human looking, but like Anemone's they were bigger, somewhere between normal sized and an anime character's eyes, which might explain why I could see farther through the water as a mermaid than when I was male and human and drowning. And I could see even better now that somewhere high above us the sun seemed to be coming up.

Being half fish might of freaked some people out, but that scared confused little kid I used to be, who wondered what the heck was wrong with him and why he couldn't jump into the ocean, grow fins and be a pretty mermaid---but was smart enough not to try it---was still inside me; and she was real happy, not just with being a girl finally, but also with her long emerald green tail. She seemed to be telling me: See?! I told'ja it was real!!

I started swimming around in front of the mirror, astonished by what I could do. I knew how to swim before, but compared to this you could hardly that kicking-your-feet-and-flapping-your-arms business swimming. Just over half my body was about nothing but swimming now! (Well it was also about pooping and laying eggs, but I wouldn't find these holes until later, much farther down my body than where I expected them to be...). I performed all kinds of crazy maneuvers, twisting and spinning and doing loop-de-loops that you would think might make me dizzy but it didn't at all. It felt so good I was laughing, my golden hair flashing in the light from the lanternfish chandeliers.

"A-hem!" went a woman's voice.

It was an octopus in what had to be an octopus version of a maid's apron and cap, the first clothes I had seen down here. She waved toward the doorway with her tentacle and said coldly, "Excuse me, Miss. If you're finished with your cavorting Her Majesty will see you now."

"Sorry," I said, "It's just I've never been a mermaid before."

"I gather not."

Being a mermaid meant I could talk to all the animals in the sea, but I'd learn that you didn't want to get trapped in a conversation with the dumber ones, which was most of them down here. Although Octavia the octapus was anything but dumb, and would turn out to actually be pretty nice, but was only acting like this until she could find out how to treat me---like I was one of the gentries or like common mertrash---depending on what Queen Atlantea decided.

"All right, let's have a look at you. Let's see what my daughter spent her last wish on," said the Queen as I swam into the room. She was sitting in a big fancy throne that was kind of tall so her long tail could hang down the front. She resembled a merwoman Judy Dench, with her shiny silver hair cut so short, and I won't say she was real fat, but most human women as stout and chubby as her don't go around naked. On her head was a fancy crown made of pearls all stuck together somehow.

I didn't know how these people bowed to their queen so I went right down on the marble floor, as humble as I could, and though it was real awkward trying to kneel without knees I managed to (and found my egg-hole in the process, this tender hollow-feeling place in me that I had pressed against the floor...); down on my elbows with my head hung way down.

"Now that isn't helping me look at you, is it? Up, dear! All this genuflection isn't necessary," said the queen, sounding like she was trying not to laugh.

"Sorry your, um ...... momness." I said, and as I looked up I saw her big silver-gray eyes go all soft and her jaw start to kind of tremble.

"Oh! You look just like her. How could I not love that? Whatever you were before you're my daughter now. Come here," she sighed and held her arms open.

I swam to her and she gave me a big old mom hug. After such a scary day and night---with that boatload of pirates trying to make me their bitch, and crazy Kiki chasing me with that pig sticker, the drowning and everything---it was just what I needed. I hugged her back tight. Sometimes you just need a mom.

"You too," she sang to Anemone, who was hovering meekly in the corner after being chewed out so intense, and who swam over to be embraced by her mom too. She kissed us each on the forehead then said to Anemone, "I can't think of a finer use for your last wish, Sweetheart. You have a friend now, a sister. And I have another lovely daughter, to fill this big house with song and carry on the family name. I'm sure we shall all get along swimmingly!"

)))========> THE OTHER SISTER

Way back in another life, before I was kidnapped by pirates and jumped overboard and got turned into a mermaid by a genie from a bottle, my best friend Pepper Davis used to tell me I was lucky for not having any brothers or sisters. She'd tell me how her and her dopey sisters were always fighting, and would complain about how they would always borrow her stuff and not bring it back. But I could never quite believe that having two sisters wasn't good for her more often than it was bad. After being an only child for all my life, being twins with the mermaid princess Anemone was WoNDeRfuL!!!!

Maybe if we had grew up together it wouldn't seem very special, but I was too new to all this to take anything about this life for granted. It was hard to feel like there was anything worth fighting about when just brushing my long soft golden hair put me on a total high, if I wasn't already on one from having woke up in my seashell bed that morning to discover: "Yep, still a princess!"

Anemone had been an only child until now too, and she was loving us being sisters as much as I was. We went everywhere and did everything together, and all of the ocean's seals and dolphins, the fish, the stars, the shrimps and lobsters (but not so much the crabs...) and even the unbelievably stupid sponges were our friends.

My sister took me all through the village around the castle, showing me the stores that sold everything from spearguns and anti-shark clubs (POSIDEARMS) to musical instruments (LYRE, LYRE) and those kelp-scrolls they used for books down there (DEEP SUBJECTS). Everywhere we went the merpeople your-highnessed us and blessed us in the name of the Sea Gods, and the ones who owned restaurants and snack shops were always trying to give us treats.

If the villagers all seemed to be crazy about Anemone it didn't have anything to do with that weird "celebrity worship" we have for royalties or other famous people we never met up on land. They had an excellent reason for loving her besides her family and her fancy title. The Princess was as big of a hero as anyone could ever be. If we had ate everything that somebody tried to feed us we would of wound up a couple of real whales, but we just couldn't turn down the roe-cones Mr. Krakenov brought out from his shop CAVIAR EMPTOR.

We ate them sitting at the table out in front of his shop, a round steel thing with four round seats attached that was clearly built on land. The people here were clever about using human things that were dragged out here by hurricanes or they took off a sunken boat. Although they didn't always use them for what they started out being. When I first saw that toilet seat that had been made into a picture frame and hung on the wall of the castle I bust out laughing. But I didn't want to explain what was so funny about this, so it looked like I was laughing at the portrait of some very ordinary looking merman, a duke or somebody. Which made the octapus maid mutter, "Such a strange girl..."

It felt kind of weird to be sitting naked right out in the village square like this like this, but all the other merpeople swimming around here were naked too; unless you counted bracelets and necklaces and some piercings- like the woman who had a whole row of gold hoops along the end of her tailfin. And a few wore human-made baseball caps that I figured had been lost by fishermen.

But what really seemed weird was how everyone we saw seemed to be either an adult or under the age of four. I asked my sister, "Why aren't there any teenagers here besides us?"

"You noticed that, huh? There's a reason for that, and it's pretty scary. I was the last merchild to be hatched around here for a really long time. By the time I came along there were fewer and fewer babies hatching, and most the ones that that did were so weird looking and sick they didn't last long after they were born," said Anemone. She'd been about to take a bite from her caviar cone when she stopped, and frowned at it, and tossed it to one of the half-wild nurse sharks that hung around town, eating whatever garbage they could find. The little shark caught it on the fly and was gone in a flash.

"That's horrible!" I said, "What was causing it?"

"It's technical, I don't want to bore you with it. But if I hadn't found that genie it probably would've meant the end of us. In a few years mermaids really would be a myth, just like the crawlers- excuse me, like the landpeople all think. And that was my first wish, that we could get our population back up to what it was during the Golden Age and stay there," she said, then smiled and pointed, "As you can see we're off to a good start. Hello Phoebe darling!"

This adorable little girl who had her two front teeth missing was swimming up to us with a sea lily in her hand. She looked back and forth between me and my twin, confused. I pointed at Anenome with both hands, jabbing them toward her over + over in a silly little dance, and Phoebe broke into a huge grin. She handed her the flowerlike animal, saying something to her in a faint lispy voice as they hugged. And then she wanted to hug me too.

The whole ocean knew about me already. Princess Anemone's magically created sister, beautiful like her twin but as dumb as the sea cow she was made from, or so the stories went. And I couldn't get too upset about this, my reputation as the North Atlantic's biggest blonde was kind of my fault. This life here was so new to me that I'd done some strange things in my short time as a mermaid. Some things that just weren't cool to do, like picking your scales in public, and others that were downright stupid. Like when that crab got me on the nose because I was dumb enough to bend down and try to pet a creature that even a kid Phoebe's age would know would be- well, crabby. But nobody was mean to me for this. They all tried to look out for me and make sure I wouldn't go kissing an electric eel or something.

"Thank you too, magic cow girl!" Phoebe whispered into my ear as she threw her arms around my neck. If this was celebrity I could handle it.

"Take care, sweetie," Anemone called after the tiny mermaid as she swam back to her smiling parents, who each took hold of one of her hands and swish-tailed off down the boulevard, their motions all synchronized like they were ice skating together. As we left the plaza we finished our treats she planted the sea lily in a flower box under the window of BATHY'S CAFÉ.

So anyway it was no wonder everyone here loved Anemone. She had singlehandedly kept mer-kind from going extinct. The genie might have made it possible, using powers that my sister didn't have and couldn't even say how they worked; but he wouldn't of lifted a finger to save them if she hadn't commanded him to.

"But what I can't figure out is how anyone even found out it was me who did it." she told me.

She'd made her wish way far from town, out in the Great Kelp Forest where she thought no one could see it. But when babies started being hatched again everyone seemed to know who to thank for this miracle.

She shrugged, "I guess it's true what Finius says in his Ode To The Unfathomable: 'The Sea alone decides which secrets she will keep...'"

)))========> THE BIG HOUSE

My sister and I had about as much fun as two mermaids can have. We went out on long swims together, exploring the colorful coral reefs, and she took me to a rock about the size of a grand piano poking up above the ocean's surface, where we could watch the Caribbean cruise ships go past in the distance. They sure were pretty at night with their lights all on. Although we could never tell Mom about it when we did this. She'd really get her tail in a knot if she found out we'd got that close to a bunch of humans...

I loved that there was always so much to do, it kept me from going off on a bummer about how much I missed my mom and dad like I did whenever things got a bit quiet. But still it seemed weird for us to just be playing all the time. It was about the middle of the week when I asked her, "Don't you have schools down here?"

"Yeah, but not during summer vacation. Don't worry, if you like school so much it starts next week. Our tutor Mr. Mergolis will be coming back from his vacation and you'd better be ready to hit the scrolls. He's off in the Florida Keys, where he meets up with all his merman friends every year, some big nightclub down there called Diver Dan's. He can be pretty sarcastic if you give him a dumb answer, and he really pushes you to learn and to think about stuff, but he's also a lot of fun. And I love that he's such great friends with my mom. He can makes her laugh like nobody else can, like when he puts on her crown and imitates Queen Remora of the South Atlantic. He does her perfect, with the accent and all stuck up and bossy. Even her own subjects hate her, she's such an egg hole!"

I told her I was looking forward to meeting him. I wasn't the best student but there were some subjects I liked, and I was glad there was some kind of school down here. It felt like you were doing something with your life. Putting things into your head you could take out and use later.

We played hide and seek all over the castle, the hundreds of guest rooms, banquet rooms, storage rooms and rooms that I didn't know what they were supposed to be. It was even more fun playing it with Chloe and the other young kids who we sometimes watched for their parents (Being the only two teenage girls in the North Atlantic we had sort of a monopoly on the babysitting business...) Those little fries were real geniuses at squishing themself into tiny places you'd never think they could hide in. But sometimes they actually got lost in that weird maze of a house; and we only found them after they'd been crying a while. The place was huge. I never did see all of it...

Anemone was taking me to see the castle's main library, down a bunch of corridors and up a half dozen ramphalls (what their buildings had instead of staircases...) when I just started laughing, "Holy Mackerel! It just goes on and on! How long did it take to build all this?"

"I don't know. A minute, maybe."

"What?!" I said, thinking she was kidding me. "Oh, you mean the genie made it. Well that makes sense."

"Yeah," she said, "This was my second wish. Our original house really wasn't much. But I knew your human presidents live in big fancy castles and I thought mom would like it. She needed cheering up after Daddy disappeared. She told me it was way more house than we needed, and made me promise to hold on to my last wish, but she likes living here now."

"Um, speaking of your father. If you had three wishes, couldn't you have brought him back?"

"That was going to be my second wish. But the genie said he couldn't do it, and wouldn't tell me why unless I commanded him to, which would've used up a wish. And everyone knows one of the few things genies can't do is bring back the dead. He could be in one of the other universes, but I don't think so .......... I sure miss him. Everyone says he was a great King, and really helped Mommy rule this place."

)))========> DON'T DRINK THE WATER

Like we did for every meal we sat with our mother down at one end of the long, long table for dinner. We were having Godzilla rolls, my favorite. I loved the chewy texture of the nori, even if it wasn't as crunchy as it was on land. And using big gobs of white roe instead of rice probably would of made these little seaweed rolls unbearably rich if I was still human, but the kind of tastes I craved had really changed since I was turned into a mermaid. A really rare steak would probably taste good, but I wouldn't eat cheesecake or a candy bar now if you paid me.

What I was really wanting was a diet coke or a some milk or something to go with dinner, but this was just out of habit. I hadn't drank anything all week and I never got thirsty...

"What a peculiar notion," said my new mom when I talked about drinking liquids, which was what she said about a lot of the things I said. Like when I asked her why we sat in chairs, and slept in beds, when we could just float around like astronauts in a space station.

"Ah yes, the space station," said the Queen, all digusted like. "The crawlers aren't content to just pollute the land and the sky and the ocean, now they're setting out to contaminate the moon, the planets, the stars..."

"Mommy, don't start!"

"I'm sorry Sweetheart if I don't share your love of humankind. We're just lucky you found that genie lamp, or they would have destroyed us all with their bonzi-catto-whatever-it-is..."

"Benzoketrapolychlorahexahydrozine," burbled my sister under her breath.

I had heard about that stuff in school last fall. How all these environment groups were trying to get rid of it for hurting sea life, but the government was saying they needed more proof before they would ban such an important ingredient for fabric softeners.

'Oh God!' I thought, 'No wonder Queen Atlantea hates us! We nearly wiped out this whole beautiful civilization and we DIDN'T EVEN KNOW!' Suddenly I wasn't very hungry.

"It's partly our own fault though, isn't it?" asked Anemone. "The way we hide down here like we do. I'm sure if we contacted the humans, sent an ambassador and let them know what was happening, they would have done something about it."

"Are you completely without reason, Child? All the magical beings know enough to hide from them. The yetti, the unicorns, even the werewolves and vampires who walk among them. If they treat their own kind so barbarically, what do you suppose they'd do to us? But we really shouldn't even be discussing such unpleasant matters at dinnertime. We seem to have upset poor Enomena. Are you all right, dear? You seem a bit green around the gills."

"No, I'm fine," I lied.

"Then to answer your question, the reason we do these things is a matter of civility. We don't need to swim outside to poo but we do. Somethings are just done, and somethings just aren't. It's tradition. We're not bottom dwellers after all" she said.

"They're called Wildmers, Mom!" snapped Anemone. They were talking about the merpeople who didn't live on the continental shelf like we did but way deep down in the ocean. They were supposed to be these horrible savages, but the stories about them almost sounded like those 'urban legends' that get wilder and crazier each time someone retells them (Down there where no sunlight ever reached, the bottom dwellers glowed in the dark. They had big steel lobster claws for hands, they were these bloodthirsty cannibals, etc. etc. etc...)

I asked the Queen, "But how did the tradition even start? Tables, chairs, it all seems ........ well, so human."

"We didn't always live under the water, you know. As unpleasant as it is to consider, we once had legs and dwelled on land," she said, "There was a war, some wizards, I'm not sure what all entirely, except that the whole continent we were living on supposedly sank. Although a lot of the ancient history I was taught at your age, they're saying it's wrong now. Mr. Mergolis can explain it when he returns. I would tell you to ask your sister, but her version of events would undoubtedly be more informed by fashionable radicalism and wishful thinking about humans than facts or common sense."

Anemone quitely seethed. I knew that after dinner I'd be treated to a long pissed-off rant about what a bigot our mother was, which I knew she did partly to let me know that she herself wasn't a narrow-minded human hater...). I thanked her Majesty for the information.

"I do wish you'd learn to call me Mommy," sighed Atlantea.

"Thank you, Mommy."

I was trying. I really was. I knew this merwoman had a big heart, and had found a place for me in it the minute she met me, but I still had a hard time calling her my mother. I already had parents, who I missed something awful. I would even go back to being a boy if I could be with them again. It wasn't like I would have to stay one forever...

I remembed the night my mom joined the local P-TRANS group. How she came back from her first meeting talking a mile a minute about the other parents she met and the way she related to just about everything they said, and the hope she got from their stories. And weirdly, Dad didn't make fun of her, but seemed sort of interested. That it might be good if I could be happy and not all depressed and hopeless like I was there for a while, even if I wound up just some girl instead of that quarterback they all talked about down at the barbershop, or whatever he'd been picturing for me in his head. It was one of those hints I got that he really was trying, or trying to try anyway.

Because me and him had gotten along pretty good before I came out to them with this thing he thought was so weird; like some little part had broken in my head and caused me to start mislabeling myself. And I saw that if he was being super-negative about this, it could be mostly because he wanted to discourage me from doing something that he thought would make life really hard for me; since he couldn't understand how much harder it would be if I didn't.

My dad had been through some tough times in his life, but never anything that would help him relate to how I felt; the way things that every other boy in town seemed okay with (like to go on using the name they had gave me and dressing like I was taught to) could bum me out as bad as they did, making me feel like everything about my life was this huge gigantic lie.

And if that had felt like a lie, my being a girl now felt like the truth, and the real me, and I loved it! Sure turning into a mythical creature, being able to breathe underwater and talk to fish was interesting, things that only comic book heroes usually got to do, but it was really the maid part of my mermaidness I was so stoked about!

But I'd had to give up everything I knew to get this, so it was weird. Bittersweet I guess you would call it...

The next morning me and Anemone ran into Cyrus 7 and Violet 13 out in the kelp forest and they took us for a ride. It was sort of like horseback riding except they're a lot smarter and way more talkative than horses, and they never quite let you forget that you don't own them and they're letting you ride them, but they were fun to spend the day with and seemed up for about anything we wanted to do. Violet didn't even mind when I said I wanted to try actually riding on her (sitting sidesaddle, of course...) instead of just hanging onto the big fin on her back and getting towed. Although she did tell me it was a dumb idea, which it was. The wiggly up-and-down motion of her swimming made it a real bumpy ride, and I finally had to give it up when we got into a race.

We rode for what seemed like twenty miles, clear out to the wreck of an old sailing ship half buried in this big oval clearing, its three masts now stumps and the tops of them laying scattered around it in pieces. The name wasn't visible on the rotting wood anymore, but what was left of it looked exactly like The Invincible, except for the big hole in the side like from a cannonball.

It was strange to think that these men I was talking to only a week ago had all gone to their wet watery graves over two hundred years ago. Somehow it made what they'd wanted to do to me and then leaving me to die feel like ancient history and a little easier to forgive. They had paid for all that, drowning just like I did, only for real.

It was out here that I taught my sister and our two friends a dolphin riding game I came up with called Aquiddich, after talking a quick little parrotfish into being the golden snitch. (Well okay I stole it, but I don't think the lady who wrote those Harry Potter books would mind if she knew dolphins and real live mermaids were playing her game...).. They all loved it, and agreed we should try to get teams together at the Fall Festival...

)))========> BUSTED!

It was a long way out to the wreck, through the forests and over a bunch of wrinkly hills on the sea floor and then another seaweed forest And it felt like even farther coming back. Riding dolphins might not sound too tiring, since Violet 13 was doing all the swimming, but on the way home my arms and shoulders really started to ache. I kept switching hands, but after a while this wasn't helping much, and by the time we got to the castle I was so stiff I could barely work my chopsticks at dinner.

I felt like just putting my face into my plate of marinated swordfish nuggets, but I knew Mom---with her "Sit up, young lady!" and all her harping about "dainty bites"---would have a fit big enough to cause a tsunami if I did this. This struck me as really funny, that someone might act so low-class in a place as fancy as the castle's royal banquet room; like something out of The Princess Diaries or maybe more like King Ralph. But I could tell I was in a goofy mood from being so tired and probably shouldn't trust what I thought was funny right now. I'd never seen the Queen really mad, and this was something that Anemone warned me I didn't ever want to see...

After the table was cleared our mom asked me to stick around and chat for a while. Sis looked kind of worried for me, but when Mother shooed her out of the room she shrugged and left.

Even though I was an exact clone of her daughter Queen Atlantea was always able to tell us apart, which none of the villagers or even the castle's domestics could do. It seemed to just show how on top of things this woman was...

It wasn't until I sat down at my computer to start writing this story that I figured out how she did this. After leaving in such an unexpected way, my "calling conch" is the one souvenir I have of the week I spent underwater. I was so proud I was when my twin put it on a shoelace she'd found and hung it around my neck, welcoming me to being a mermaid. I keep the big shell right here on my desk where I can look at it. And seeing it under the bright light of my desk lamp was when I first noticed that my conch has one big fat red spot hidden among the brown and white ones, and I think Anemone's had a yellow spot.

The Queen said slowly, "Tell me Daughter, are you happy with this life you've entered into?"

"Oh yes," I told her, "It's fantastic!"

She said slowly, "I know you love your sister, and that she loves you ........ I always thought Anemone was happy enough with her life, she hardly ever complained. But since you came along the Princess has just blossomed! It's wonderful seeing you two playing together, hearing you sing those crazy songs you've taught her, about rock lobsters and octapus's gardens ......... And I know you're quite pleased with the body the genie has given you. Perhaps a little too pleased. Your constant preening in front of the mirror would seem rather narcissistic if you weren't also so grateful for it. But I can't help noticing that there's a sadness to you at times. You make an admirable effort to hide it, but you aren't always successful. And it pains me to see this, because I've come to care for you so much!"

"And I'm really starting to love you too," I said, "But there's nothing you can do about this. Not even being Queen of the whole ocean."

"Maybe not. But I have quite an extensive circle of important friends, who are good at all sorts of clever things. Perhaps one of them would be able to help, if I knew what it was."

"I don't think so. It's just ......... well I miss my family. A lot!"

"I can see how you would." she nodded, "All this must be quite strange to you. One minute you were swimming in the bosom of your family, your loving mother and father, your days spent frolicking with all your brothers and sisters; or just lazing on the surface in the Florida sun, getting nice and fat on all those yummy little fish and crayfish those bays are teeming with..."

"Yeah, that's it exactly! I do love it here, and being a mermaid, but it's all so different. I miss doing all that sea-cow stuff. I could really go for some of those crawdads about now."

"It does appear to be a problem without a solution. Because short of finding another bottle with a genie in it there's really no way to send you back. Your own family wouldn't even recognize you now, and I don't think they'd believe or even understand your story. They're far less mentally gifted than seals or cetaceans. But it's curious..."

"What's that?"

When her tone suddenly turned all accusing I knew I was in trouble. "You wouldn't have brothers and sisters if you were a manatee, or even a father that was engaged in caring for you. The mothers only bear and raise one calf at a time. Not to mention that they don't eat crayfish. They're strictly herbivores."

"Oh that's right," I stammered, "I knew that. but you see the transformation it ......... my memory, I mean ........ Hey I'm just a sea cow, what do I know?"

"From one conversation with your sister that I overheard, you know far more about nuclear submarines than any manatee would. Turbines, boilers, reactor piles, control rods; it was quite fascinating," she said, her big shiny gray eyes boring into mine. "You were human, weren't you?"

I sighed. I wasn't going to B.S. my way out of this. "Yes I was. I'm sorry. Your daughter used her last wish saving me from drowning. Don't blame her, she just can't stand to see anything suffer or die. And really, if you think about it, it's something you should be proud of her for!"

"I don't need you to tell me that," she said coldly. "I knew what you were from the start. My little spies told me all about your first encounter with Anemone. With the genie, and then Jasper 5. I wanted to give you a week to come forward about this, but I should have known you wouldn't. You're human, a liar by nature. I expect a crawler to be dishonest, and I suppose I should thank you for not insulting my intelligence by continuing to lie after I confronted you. But now you've brought the Princess and Jasper into your net of deceit. I'll be having a word with both of them."

Hey it was their idea! They didn't need any human help coming up with that sea cow story! I thought. But I couldn't go ratting out my sister and my friend.

I just said, "I'm really sorry I lied to you, you were real good to me. And I-"

She stared at me.

"I guess I'll go now."

"I think you'd better," she hissed, in a calm controlled way that was worse than if she shouted it, "You came into my house where I accepted you like a daughter, under utterly false pretenses. I despise liars! I think there's only one place for you at this point. Now get out of my sight, and I don't want to see you back down here-"

I'd already turned and was swimming toward the banquet hall's tall double doors as quick as I could, "And I'm real sorry we almost killed you with our pollution because I love mermaids, I really do! Ever since I was a little boy I wanted- Oh nevermind."

I swam out of the castle, and over the mermaid village---high enough above it that I wouldn't have to talk to anybody---and out into the Great Kelp Forest. Into my banishment.



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This story

I read this once before and it escapes me where. It didn't affect me like it does now, 'cause before I didn't know who I really was. But to read about how WANTING to be the real 'her' was hard on her dad. Somehow wanting to be authentic and real was wrong. Maybe silly, but that line brought me to tears. And I know that this story is so much more than being a girl or a mermaid or both, but how we don't always get to be who we really are? Maybe I read this wrong, but this hurt so bad because it's so real to me for the first time in my life; I'm not the boy I was born as but I don't hold out any hope that I'll ever be the girl I was born to be. Thank you for your sensitivity in the midst of brilliant and entertaining story telling. Jenny McArthur