Hello, hello, hello wonderful readers!
I come to you today with humble offerings of a new story I entered in a writing competition! I have yet to see how I did! How good do you think it is?
If everybody had GPS devices, there would be no need for maps and a world without maps is indeed one I’d like to live in.
Maps do not seem to like me. My mother, an explorer trying to find the prehistoric town of Atlantis, was dead. She died trying to decipher whether to go left or right to get to her magical, underwater city. She took a left and no one ever saw here again. I always knew that left was a detrimental direction. Anyway, she left me and my twin sister, Astra, alone.
Astra never understood why she couldn’t follow in our mother’s footsteps. She never got the part in “not real,” that means, don’t do it. And so she left. She’s not dead, but she’s not alive, either. Just gone. I haven’t seen her since our fourteenth birthday.
And so why do I hate maps? Because those stupid pieces of paper took away my mother and my sister. They took away my family. The day my sister went missing, I swore that I would never leave Cutler, Maine. Not for a million dollars. Until the police brought the map to me. They said that they couldn’t find my sister. Case closed, they told me. And then one guy with kind eyes handed me the map.
“I’m sorry, Tanner,” he said softly. “This is all we could find.” And then I snapped.
I don’t think you could call me insane. No, that’s not the right word. I guess social workers call me a “troubled adolescent.” I’m not troubled. The definition of troubled is “showing stress or anxiety, beset by problems or conflict.” No, I’m not troubled either. So, we’ll call me paranoid.
The first year I’d ever been put in a foster home, I freaked out. I’d lived with my aunt after my mother died, but she didn’t like me, only Astra. Perfect, quiet, sweet Astra. So, when Astra went AWOL, poor Aunt Sheila couldn’t handle me any more. Apparently, I was too “mentally challenged.” Too much like my mother.
My social worker, Mrs. Tyfe, rhymes with “strife” as she always says, knocked on the bright red door and politely introduced my to Mr. and Mrs. Wallgreen. Okay, really? Who’s last name is “Wallgreen” other than the guy who started the pharmacy.
There was a map on the wall, the big kind, that you use as wallpaper. Well, I went ballistic. I turned around, ran, and didn’t stop running. When the police finally caught up with me, the Wallgreens had decided that I wasn’t the foster kid for them.
Maps call to me. They seem to glow, just on a particular spot. Sometimes, when I’m not paying enough attention, my feet start to wander. I always end up in the same spot, the beach. I’ll be walking home from school and then, before I know it, I’ll be two miles away at the beach. It’s weird. And to be honest, it scares me.
Currently, I live with Mr. and Mrs. Adeler. They have no maps hanging on their walls. They have no cats (I’m allergic to the beasts). And none of their hallways turn left.
One normal, average day, I was walking. I wasn’t walking anywhere in particular. Just walking. It was a Saturday afternoon, the first day of summer vacation. Guilt hung in my chest, as heavy as the humid air around me. For the first time, I had taken the map out of it’s dusty box under my bed. I didn’t believe in magic or the supernatural, but it seemed like it had been calling to me for the past week. My dreams had been about my mother and sister and their last moments in this world. So today, I was going to dispose of it.
I had tried before. Oh, I had tried. I’d thrown the map into the fireplace, I’d tossed it in the garbage, put it through the paper shredder, everything I could think of, but it always ended up in that same, dusty, prehistoric looking box shoved under my bed. Now, I was truly going to destroy it.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath as I walked down the sidewalk to Cutler Public Beach. The edges of the sidewalk were starting to turn sandy and bits of it were wiggling their way into my tennis shoes. A soft breeze rippled through the trees on the other side of the street.
The map was still heavy in my sweatshirt pocket when I arrived at the white shores of Cutler Beach. I slipped off my shoes and socks and waded into the frigid, dark blue water. My calves ached with the cold but I tugged the yellowed, torn map from my pocket with my one dry hand.
“Say your last goodbyes,” I whispered to it bitterly and was about to dunk it in, when a hand yanked me under.
I thrashed under the icy, dark curtain of water.
“Help!” I tried to yell but it turned out more as “Emp!” I choked as water rushed up my nose and throat. There I go. Just like my mother and sister. A watery death. A stupid, watery death with a stupid, yellow map. My family is cursed. I thought as the water got darker and colder. Just as my eyelids were about to flutter closed, I was pulled to the surface.
“Huh!” I gasped, filling my lungs with the fresh, salty air. I looked around.
I seemed to be in a rock. But that’s impossible, so I decided I was in a cave. It was dark and my voice echoed. I could touch the rocky bottom of the pool that I was floating in with my big toe, but just barely. Surrounding the pool was a thin ledge of rock. I heaved myself onto it and stood there for a moment. The map was gone. Finally, I had gotten rid of it. I looked up to see if I could find a crack in the rocks, some way other than underwater to get out.
“Go away, Astra,” I said, rolling my eyes. Wait, what? Astra can’t be here. Stop making stuff up, Tanner. I turned around. My eyes were still adjusting to the dark, but there was definitely something there. “Who are you!” I called. “Come closer!” I mentally kicked myself. What kind of idiot was I, asking some random stranger who grabbed my ankle and pulled me underwater for what felt like a half a mile, to come closer?
The shape floated closer.
I bent over. Wide, blue eyes blinked at me in the darkness. She was submerged up to her nose. Light blonde hair floated around her in the dark water.
“Come on,” I said softly. “I’m not going to hurt you.” I reached my hand out tentatively. The girl grabbed it. She was surprisingly heavy and she almost pulled me into the water with her.
She rose above the water, about to her stomach and flicked her feet in the water.
Those weren’t feet.
I jumped backwards.
“Aah!” I yelled. “What are you?” Well, isn’t that kinda obvious, Tanner? She’s a mermaid! My inner voice told me. But mermaids don’t exist. My logical half argued. The girl looked at me as I gaped at her. She gestured for me to come into the pool. She looked confused that I wasn’t in the water. I shook my head.
“I can’t breath underwater, creeper,” I told her, scooching forward a little bit. She cocked her head and warbled at me. “Uh, inglése por favor?” I said, raising an eyebrow. More warbling. Her voice was actually quite beautiful. It seemed to rise and fall, like the waves of the ocean.
I jerked backwards. Somehow, while I was distracted, my toes had inched themselves into the water.
“Stop it!” I yelled. “How are you doing that?” She responded with some more trilling. “Okay, I’m just gonna leave now-” The girl, or mermaid, or whatever she was, turned on me. She bared her teeth and narrowed her eyes. I put up my hands in surrender. “Okay, okay! Sorry!” I sat back down. “So, do you know anyone who speaks my language?” I said, pointing to the water and then me and then my throat. She smiled widely and did a summersault. “I guess you didn’t get that,” I grumbled, resting my head in my hands. She sang some more, but this time it was different. This time, I could understand bits and pieces of what she was saying. Something about the sea, and rescuing, and Amatheia, and-
“Astra? Where is she?” When I opened my mouth, sounds I’d never made before erupted from my lips. Low humming and then swelling, rising higher and then sinking back down. My hand flew to my mouth. “My name is Tanner Odell. I am fifteen years old. I am a human. I do not speak mer,” I muttered over and over.
“You don’t, do you?” A smooth, clear voice startled me from my thoughts. I looked up. The girl was messing with some button on something. “Dang it. Sorry,” she said, smiling and look up, “The welcoming program failed. Hang on.” I gaped. “Oh, here we go! Now pretend you just got here!” She said pressing a button.
“Hello,” a robotic sounding voice like the kind in those audio museum tours ricocheted off the walls of the cave. “And welcome to Atlantis. This is your tour guide, Amatheia,” At this point Amatheia waved and smiled. “Please select a language.” The voice went through the speech in at least a dozen languages.
“You’re supposed to say what language you want,” Amatheia whispered, leaning in.
“Oh, English! Please,” I stammered.
“You have selected the language ‘English.’ To reselect your language, say ‘back.’” The voice paused. “Atlantis is the ancient city that sunk thousands of yearst ago-” The voice rattled.
“And, you can skip this,” Amatheia said pressing a button and laughing. “Technically, I’m not supposed to do that,” she whispered, grinning.
“Please state your mode of transportation,” the voice droned. I hesitated. What was I supposed to tell it? That I was trying to destroy a map and Amatheia grabbed me? “Please state your mode of transportation,” the voice said again.
“Skip,” I said.
“I’m sorry. I am not programmed to skip this question. Please state your mode of transportation,”
“Foot?” I didn’t know what else to say. Amatheia’s eyes widened and she shook her head vigorously.
“Please state your species,” the voice said cooly. Amatheia smacked her forehead with her hand.
“Human.” What else would I be? Mer?
“I am sorry. You are not authorized to enter the land of Atlantis. Please exit,” A light flicked on by a slab of rock. Now that I looked at it properly, it did look a bit like a door.
“Okay, no! You are not going to leave!” Amatheia grabbed my hand as I turned around. “You’re Tanner Odell, right?” I nodded. “Yeah, you can’t leave. Astra and your mom have been asking about you.” My jaw dropped to the floor.
“Astra? My mom? Where?” I was shocked.
“In Atlantis! But now you can’t get there because you messed stuff up with the security thingy! We’re not supposed to have humans here! Or speak English! Astra taught me so I could try to find you and then you had the map and you were going to dunk it in and so I grabbed you and now you’re here and we have to go!” She rambled.
“Um, okay? Where?” I asked.
“Jump in when I tell you,” Amatheia stared at the ceiling.
“Now!” I jumped in the pool just before the ceiling came crashing down.
The water bubbled around me. Bits of rock floated down and landed on the pebbly floor of the cave. So that’s how all those rocks got to the bottom! I thought. I felt a tug on my wrist. Amatheia was pulling on me, wide eyed. Come on! She seemed to say.
I kicked my feet and swam after her. She kept yanking on my arm because her blue tail could propel her much faster than I could swim. I squeezed my eyes shut and kept swimming. Suddenly, the water felt a little warmer, the pressure in my ears a little lesser. I opened my eyes to see Atlantis.
It was not like how I imagined it.
There wasn’t a huge castle in the middle and mermaids with rainbow tails. There were ruins of what used to be huge buildings and temples covered with sea moss and kelp. Seagrass waved in the currents and all the merfolk were out of sight.
“Where are they?” I whispered. I opened my mouth again, but this time I didn’t choke on salt water.
“They heard the warning from the security cave. That means, you’re wanted,” Amatheia wouldn’t look at me. I grinned.
“Like in those old westerns with the wanted posters? ‘Tanner Odell. Wanted dead or alive. Reward: 3,000 dollars,’” I held up my hand like a picture frame, envisioning my name in the old, cowboy font.
“No. Well, maybe. I haven’t ever seen a western. We live in Maine. Maine is north. But whatever. Swim faster!” Amatheia complained, wrenching on my wrist.
“Well, you can tell she’s been hanging out with Astra,” I grumbled. Suddenly, Amatheia stopped. I slammed into her. “Why’d you stop?” I said, looking around.
“Patrol.” Amatheia pointed to a group of merman with midnight blue tails swimming in front of what you could call the Palace of Atlantis. Really, it was just a big lump of old rocks, but an especially beautiful lump. “Come on, we have to get into the palace. Astra and your mother will be there,” Amatheia and I swam through the gates and into the palace. It was strange how easy it was. They had a fancy tour guide voice in a self-destructing cave, but they had no actual security within the city.
Something barreled into me.
“Tanner!” Astra squealed, hugging me so tightly I thought my ribs would crack. I hugged her back.
“Astra!” I pulled away. “Where did you go?! I am so mad at you right now!” I said, grinning from ear to ear. I got really quiet when my mom stepped up.
“Tanner,” she whispered. “You’ve gotten so big. My little Tanner’s all grown up,” she clutched me to her.
“I missed you, mom,” I said into her long, black hair. “Thank you Amatheia. We owe you one,” My mother said to Amatheia, who was smiling on the sidelines.
“Oh, no problem! I love family reunions!” She shrugged cheerfully.
“Oh you do, do you?” A deep voice boomed from behind us. Amatheia shut her eyes tightly and then opened them.
“Dad! Yay,” she said unenthusiastically. A tall, broad shouldered merman with long gray hair and a dark green tail swam up.
“Amaethia, what are you doing? This is illegal! These women have chosen to become part of Atlantis! You are showing them a human to tell them what they’ve lost?” Amatheia’s father shouted.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” I interrupted, possibly saving Amatheia from a slow, painful death. “Are you Neptune?” I said. When in doubt, compliment the guy who wants you dead. The merman turned to me.
“No. Who is that? I am the Bob, King of Atlantis!” His deep voice echoed off the walls. I snorted slightly.
“Bob? How kingly!” I said. “So, what were you saying about my mom and sister being part of Atlantis?” I asked, trying to sound as casual as possible.
“You haven’t noticed? Look down.”
Light blue tails flicked from the end of my family’s waist.
“T-tails?” I stammered. “You guys, you’re mermaids?”
“Don’t look so shocked, T!” Astra said, punching my shoulder, but I could tell this was awkward.
“So, you guys leave me to become mermaids?” I have to admit, I was completely and utterly horrified.
“Yes, they did,” King Bob cut in smugly. “So say bye-bye.” He yanked me away by my shoulders. I glared at my mother and sister.
“Um, Daddy? You’re forgetting something really important!” Amatheia pulled me away from her father. “He gets a choice. He can join us.” I looked into Amatheia’s bright blue eyes. They sparkled with determination, and for the first time, I admired someone I wasn’t related to.
“Oh goodness, deary. Did you have to bring that up?” Bob sighed.
“Okay, then. What’s his name?” The king said, pulling a trident out of what looked like a back pocket.
“Tanner,” everyone except me answered at once.
“Right. Tanner, according to the laws of mer, any human that’s smart enough to get through our high tech security system, gets the choice to leave and never say a word about Atlantis ever, or stay here and get a tail, swim around the ocean, you know. Mer stuff. So now you get to choose. Will you stay? Or will you go?” King Bob paused dramatically. “Okay, make up your mind already. I’m done being patient.”
Stay or leave. Leave or stay. The two thoughts bounced around in my head. If I stayed, I could be with my mother and sister and Amatheia. If I left, well, I would be going back to foster homes and bullies and homework.
“I chose to stay.”
Amatheia’s smile was enough to convince me that I had made the right choice.
“Then welcome to Atlantis!” A bright light filled the palace and the next time I looked down, instead of seeing two skinny legs and too big feet, I saw a silvery blue tail.
Atlantis is my home now and the mer are my family.
No longer do I fear that map. Actually, I thank it. It brought me home.