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       Emily Windsnap and the Siren's Secret, p.1

           Liz Kessler
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Emily Windsnap and the Siren's Secret

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or, if real, are used fictitiously.

  Text copyright © 2009 by Liz Kessler

  Illustrations copyright © 2009 by Natacha Ledwidge

  Cover illustration copyright © 2009 by Sarah Gibb

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in an information retrieval system in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, taping, and recording, without prior written permission from the publisher.

  First electronic edition 2010

  The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition as follows:

  Kessler, Liz.

  Emily Windsnap and the siren’s secret / Liz Kessler. — 1st U.S. ed.

  p. cm.

  Summary: When Neptune tells Emily and her merman father and human mother to return to Brightport to try to make merpeople and humans work more closely together, Emily faces problems with old enemies, her new, half-merfolk friend Aaron, and a mystery related to a group of legendary lost sirens.

  ISBN 978-0-7636-4374-4 (hardcover)

  [1. Mermaids — Fiction. 2. Interpersonal relations — Fiction. 3. Neptune (Roman deity) — Fiction. 4. Sirens (Mythology) — Fiction.] I. Title.

  PZ7.K4842Ems 2010

  [Fic] — dc22 2009046540

  ISBN 978-0-7636-5247-0 (electronic)

  Candlewick Press

  99 Dover Street

  Somerville, Massachusetts 02144

  visit us at

  It wasn’t a night for going out. Not unless you had to.

  Sharp tunnels of wind whistled and shrieked around every corner. Trees bowed and shook and broke. Rain splattered viciously down on the pavement.

  Out at sea, it was even worse. On the water, the storm had turned swells into walls the size of skyscrapers. Waves foamed hungrily, like giant rabid dogs.

  Anyone who knew about the sea knew that this meant one thing: Neptune was angry.

  And anyone wild or crazy or brave enough to be out on such a night might have seen two figures in the distance, way out at sea, way beyond safe. A man leaned out from his fishing boat, calling to a woman in the water below him. “Take it. Take it. Keep it close.”

  “What is it?” the woman called back, shouting to be heard over the thunderous waves.

  The man shook his head. “I can’t hear you!” Leaning farther out, he added, “When it’s safe again, find me.”

  “How?” she called, panic hitting her as hard as the waves that were now dragging them farther and farther apart.

  He pointed to the package he had just given her. “The shell!” she thought she heard him say, and then he added something that sounded like, “There’s magic in it.”

  The woman thought about what she was leaving, and the pain of it slapped against her harder than the next wave. “What about —?”

  The wave washed the rest of her question away — but he knew what she was asking.

  “I’ll look after everything,” he called. “Everything. Don’t worry. It will be OK. Go now. Go, before it’s too late.”

  A moment later, the onlooker would have seen them part, each disappearing behind the hills and mountains of the raging sea. Then the onlooker would have wondered if they’d imagined the whole thing, because surely no one would go out on a night like this.

  Not unless they had to.

  I know you’re going to think I’m crazy when I say this, but something about my life wasn’t right.

  Why would that mean I was crazy?

  Because for the first time in my life, I was living with my mom and dad, together, in our beautiful home at Allpoints Island, with my best friend, Shona, living just around the corner and my new friend Aaron and his mom living nearby. There was nothing wrong with our lives.

  Really. Absolutely nothing. No dad to be rescued from prison, no sea monsters trying to squeeze the life out of me, no storms hurling our home halfway across the planet — all of which had happened to me in the last year.

  Now all I had was day after day filled with sun, sand, friends, and laughter. My life was perfect.

  So why had I woken up restless and rattled every morning for the last week? I just didn’t get it.

  I sat up in bed and stretched, trying to remember what I’d been dreaming about. Fragments from a jumbled mass of weird dreams chased each other around in my head, but I couldn’t piece them together. All I could remember was the feeling they’d left behind. Not exactly unhappy — but definitely unsettled and, well, not right.

  Like I said — crazy. How could anything about my life not be right?

  There was something, though, and I couldn’t ignore it. What’s more, I had the feeling that Mom felt the same way. Once or twice, while she was making dinner or reading a book, I’d seen her eyes get all distant and gray, as though she were looking for something far away, something she was missing.

  I think deep down inside, I knew what was eating at us both; I knew what we were missing, even before the conversation with Archie that changed everything.

  “Knock, knock. It’s me!” a familiar voice trilled through the doorway, followed by a familiar thump as Mom’s best friend, Millie, landed on the deck.

  Fortuna, the boat we lived on, was moored out in the bay, half-sunk in the sand so that the lower level was underwater. With Dad being a merman, and me being a semi-mer, this meant we could both swim around on the lower level. Mom’s bedroom was upstairs, but all the trapdoors in between made it easy for us to live here together. And the long jetty leading out from the beach to the boat was handy for getting on the boat without having to swim — which made it very easy for Millie to visit us without getting more than her feet wet.

  She stuck her head around the door. “Anyone home?”

  I dragged myself out of bed and gestured for her to come in. Not that she needed an invitation. She’d already clambered in through the door and was busily wringing out the bottom of her dress over the side.

  “Is your mom up?” she asked.

  I rubbed my eyes and yawned. “Not yet, I don’t think. Why?”

  “Someone’s coming home!” she said excitedly. “I just heard it on the seaweed vine.”

  “The seaweed vine?”

  “Just trying to keep up with the mer-speak,” Millie said, frowning. “I meant I heard it on the grapevine. Archie’s back today!”

  That was when I noticed her face. Well, obviously I’d already noticed her face — I was looking straight at it. But I finally noticed the bright blue eye shadow arching high over each eye and the thick red line of lipstick smeared across her mouth — and across a few teeth. I pointed this out, and she peered into the mirror by the door.

  “It’sh been nearly tcho weeksh,” she said, wiping lipstick off her teeth with the edge of her sleeve. “I’ve misshed him sho much!”

  Archie is Millie’s boyfriend. He’s a merman, and he’d been away on an assignment for Neptune.

  “Is that Millie?” Mom’s voice warbled out from her room. “Come on in, Mill, and put the kettle on, would you?”

  Half an hour later, Mom was dressed and sitting upstairs with Millie in the saloon — that’s what you call the living room on a boat. I wanted to go out and play with Shona and Aaron, but Mom said we should all wait with Millie; she was far too excitable to be left on her own.

  I waited downstairs with Dad. We had a gymnastics day coming up soon at school, and he was helping me with a tricky triple back-spin I had to do. I could do two spins perfectly but couldn’t manage the third without swallowing a gallon of water.

  I was ju
st recovering from my fourth attempt when there was a sharp rap at the door.

  “Archie!” I exclaimed.

  “I doubt it, little ’un,” Dad said. “When did Archie ever knock?”

  I laughed. Archie was much more likely to turn up at one of the portholes. Mermen don’t usually walk up to the front door.

  We both poked our heads up through the trapdoor to see who it was. “Charles,” Mom was saying crisply. “How nice to see you.”

  Mr. Beeston. Not exactly our best friend. Well, someone who’s spent your entire life lying to you about who you really are, drugging you so you won’t remember the truth, and spying on you so he can report back to Neptune on your activities doesn’t tend to fill your heart with love and warmth, in my experience.

  However, after our latest batch of disasters, Neptune had made us all promise to put the past behind us and start afresh. So we’d been trying our best to be friendly and polite ever since.

  Mom held the door open for him. “Why don’t you join us?” she said. “We’re just having a cup of tea.”

  “Well, I — I mean, I don’t want to, you know — I wouldn’t like to be in your way,” he stammered, but came in anyway and sat down on the little sofa in the middle of the saloon.

  “Hello, Emily,” he said, nodding at me and flattening his hair down.

  “Hi,” I said, and turned to swim back down, but Dad gave me a nudge.

  “Go on up, now; you need to be polite, remember,” he said under his breath.

  With a sigh, I pulled myself up through the trapdoor. As I did, I felt the familiar tingling feeling in my tail. Sitting on the side, I watched it flap and wave in the water. The tingling grew stronger, the purply green shimmer faded, my tail stiffened — and then it melted away and my legs emerged. I rubbed the tingle away. It always gave me pins and needles changing back from being a mermaid.

  “I believe Archieval is due back today,” Mr. Beeston was saying to Mom as I dangled my legs over the trapdoor. He’d obviously been listening to the grapevine, too. That didn’t surprise me. He always seemed to find out what was going on. Probably had spies working for him all over the place.

  I knew we were meant to be friends now, but I still didn’t trust him, and I didn’t see how Mom and Dad could be so happy to forgive and forget.

  “So I’ve heard,” Mom said. Millie had gotten up to check herself out in the mirror again. She pulled at her hair and straightened her dress and was getting her lipstick out of her bag again when there was a noise downstairs.

  “That’s him!” Millie squeaked. “He’s back!”

  We all raced over to the trapdoor and looked down. Sure enough, two seconds later Archie appeared in the large porthole that we use as the downstairs door. He looked up. Grinning broadly, he flicked his dark hair off his face and swam across to the trapdoor. “Hello, all,” he said, looking straight at Millie.

  Mom laughed. “Come on,” she said to Mr. Beeston and me, “let’s get a cup of tea and leave the lovebirds to it,” she said.

  Mr. Beeston gave Archie a quick nod. “Good to see you back, Archieval,” he said before following Mom into the kitchen.

  “So let me get this straight,” Dad said as we gathered outside later that day. Archie and Dad were in the water next to the boat, the rest of us sitting on the front deck. “You’ve been in Brightport for the last two weeks?”

  Brightport was my home. Well, I should say my old home. It’s where I’d spent all my life up until we moved to Allpoints Island — the only place in the world where humans live alongside merpeople. In other words, the only place in the world where my mom and dad could live together. It’s the swishiest place ever, and you couldn’t want to live anywhere more perfect — but when my dad said the word Brightport, I suddenly got a dull ache in my stomach.

  “That’s right,” Archie replied. “I didn’t realize that was where the assignment was till we were almost there.”

  Mr. Beeston nodded seriously. “Well, you know how important it is to Neptune to keep his assignments top secret. That’s how it’s always been in my experience of working alongside the king,” he said importantly.

  Archie ignored him and continued. “Cranes and diggers had been spotted at the edge of the town, very close to our merfolk area just off the coast. Shiprock folk were getting scared, and Neptune sent us to find out what was going on.”

  There it was again, the pain in my stomach, only it was even sharper this time. Shiprock was the merfolk town where Shona used to live. Where I’d first gone to mermaid school. Just the mention of the place was enough to give me a funny twinge; the fact that something might be going wrong there made it twice as bad.

  “So what did you find?” Dad asked.

  “Most of the activity is on land, so we were fairly limited. But we managed to discover that it’s the Brightport Council who’s behind it.”

  “What are they doing?” asked Mom.

  Archie looked at her. “Well, that depends on whom you ask. According to the enormous billboards that you can see from about a mile out at sea, they’re ‘developing unused wasteland.’ But if you ask any of the merfolk at Shiprock, they’re about to bulldoze the whole town to smithereens.”

  “What do you mean?” I asked. “They can’t destroy Shiprock, can they?”

  “Depends on how far they develop and on how many more cranes and diggers they bring out there. They’re dangerously close as it is, and their work is causing problems in the sea nearby. There’ve been daily landslides on the outskirts of Shiprock. Two families have already lost their homes. The whole of Shiprock could collapse if those builders get greedy and try to ‘develop’ farther into more of our town.”

  “But that’s terrible!” I said. I thought of the merpeople I’d seen and met in Shiprock — the school, all the kids, the parents, the old folks.

  “It certainly is,” Archie agreed. “The townsfolk are preparing for disaster as best they can. Leaders are discussing plans for a major evacuation if needed, but they don’t want to cause unnecessary panic. No one knows exactly what Brightport Council has in mind or how far they plan to develop, so it’s hard for us to make a plan.”

  “Can’t Neptune do something?” Mom asked.

  “Neptune’s put the area on high alert,” Archie replied. “That means the town will have a unit there at all times to watch what’s going on. Beyond that, there’s not much he can do.”

  “Not much he can do?” I spluttered. “We are talking about the same Neptune? He’s more powerful than anyone!”

  “Anyone in the ocean,” Archie corrected me. “On land, he has no power to stop anyone from doing anything. All he can do is monitor the situation and decide how to respond and when.”

  “How come you’ve come back here, then?” Mr. Beeston butted in. “Aren’t you deserting your post? If Neptune has decreed that you are needed there at all times —”

  “Neptune has decreed that someone is needed there at all times,” Archie went on. “But we need a unit that is capable of getting more access to the area. I have a few contacts on land, but no one who can really find out what’s going on. No one with any influence.”

  “So you’re not going back?” Millie asked, a slight quiver in her voice.

  Archie grinned at her. “Not yet, I’m not. For one thing, Neptune prefers me to be at Allpoints Island and keep an eye on things here. And for another — well, we need someone different. Someone who can gain access to areas that I can’t.” He turned to Mr. Beeston. “Someone like you.”

  “Someone like me?” Mr. Beeston asked. His face turned crimson as he brushed some invisible dust off his collar. “Well, of course, with an operation of such importance, Neptune is bound to ask for the most highly skilled, professional team on board, and I have to say, though not greatly surprised, I am flattered and —”

  “What I mean is, we need a semi-mer,” Archie said, interrupting Mr. Beeston in the middle of what was starting to sound like an acceptance speech for a grand award.

nbsp; Mr. Beeston is like me: half-mer, half-person. I didn’t know it until a few months ago — but then I didn’t know it about myself, either, until I went swimming for the first time.

  “We need someone who has access to the human world as well as the mer world,” Archie went on.

  Mr. Beeston sniffed and examined his collar again. “So it’s not the years of loyalty, highly skilled work, and dedicated training that you’re after? It’s the fact that I’ve got legs,” he said.

  “And a tail,” I put in. He gave me a look of scorn.

  Archie reached into the bag slung by his side and pulled something out. “Look, it’s not just that,” he said. “You’re wanted there.” He passed a bundle of papers on to the deck.

  Mr. Beeston picked it up. “What’s this?”

  “One of my fisherman contacts smuggled it out to me,” Archie said. “Read it.”

  Mr. Beeston unfolded the papers. “It’s just a list of names,” he said.

  “Read the sentence at the top.”

  Mr. Beeston cleared his throat. “We, the undersigned, believe important jobs should be done by people, not computers. Don’t let high-tech development get out of hand. Reinstate the lighthouse keeper! Bring back Mr. Beeston!”

  Mr. Beeston flicked through the pages of names. “Well, I —” he began. “I mean, I —” He looked up at Archie. “This isn’t a joke?”

  Archie shook his head.

  “The people of the town want me back?”

  Archie nodded.

  “And Neptune needs me?”

  “He does.”

  Mr. Beeston pulled himself up straighter. “Well, then,” he said. “I cannot let them down. I must return to Brightport.”

  Which was the exact moment I realized why I’d been having bad dreams every night and waking up sad every morning — and why my insides had ached at the mention of Brightport.

  I was homesick. It was as simple as that.

  Mom turned to Dad. “Jake,” she said. “I — I —”

  Dad swam over to the side and reached up to take her hand. I looked at Mom’s face and I recognized the look in her eyes. It was saying the same thing as mine. It had been saying the same thing all along. These last few weeks when I’d caught her staring into the distance — I suddenly realized what it was that she was searching for, what she was missing.

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