Emily Windsnap and the Land of the Midnight Sun, p.1Liz Kessler
We interrupt this program to bring you a severe weather warning. Flash storms are affecting many coastal regions again this morning. The authorities are advising people living in these areas to avoid going out unless they have to. Coastal roads still flooded from yesterday’s downpour will remain closed until further notice.”
Mom switched the TV off and got up to put the kettle on. “These storms are getting ridiculous,” she said. “It’s the middle of summer! We should be outside sunbathing, not huddled inside or dashing around under raincoats and umbrellas.”
Mom’s best friend, Millie, nodded at the torn, inside-out umbrella standing upside down in the trash. “Third one I’ve been through in a week,” she said. “I wouldn’t mind so much if it were just the rain. It’s the howling wind I don’t like. It’s been giving me bad dreams. And the waves crashing over the pier don’t exactly help create a calm space for my Meditation and Visualization group.”
Meditation and Visualization was Millie’s new class that she ran from King, the boat she lived on near us in Brightport harbor. King was our old boat, but we’d moved to a new one when my mom and dad were reunited. Mom’s human and Dad’s a merman and our new boat, Fortuna, was specially adapted so that you can live above and below water on it. I’m a semi-mer — human on land, mermaid in the water — which means I get to live both above and under water.
Millie was on week three of her Meditation and Visualization group. She’d set it up after she’d had what she called “an enlightened moment of synchronicity.”
“Enlightened moments of synchronicity” are the kinds of things Millie has a lot of. She doesn’t worry too much that no one knows what such things actually mean.
“I don’t see what the fuss is about,” I said. “The storms only last half an hour and the rest of the time the weather’s been beautiful.” I glanced out the window. “Look, it’s clearing up already.”
Mom and Millie exchanged a look.
“What?” I asked.
Mom reached for a couple of mugs and put a tea bag in one of them. “Well, I’m not surprised you can look on the bright side,” she said, a hint of a smile twitching the corners of her mouth.
“What do you mean?”
“She means it’s funny how everything looks rosier to those of us who have a boyfriend,” Millie said. Then she cackled with laughter and got up from the sofa. “Only teasing, love, don’t worry,” she went on, squeezing my cheek as she passed me. “Earl Grey for me, Mary P.,” she added, joining Mom in the kitchen.
“Whatever,” I said, turning away from them both, so they couldn’t see the flames creeping up my cheeks — or the smile that I couldn’t seem to keep off my face.
But they were right. I was finding it hard to look on the downside of anything at the moment. So what if it rained a bit? Who cared? As far as I was concerned, my world was full of sunshine.
And yes, it was because of Aaron. My boyfriend.
I still felt a bit weird calling him that, and I hadn’t actually used the word out loud yet — especially to him! But I said it in my head — a lot. And I liked it.
Rap rappity rappity rap! A tap at the door broke me from my thoughts. I recognized the knock, and right on cue, my cheeks burned again.
Mom reached the door just ahead of me. “Hello, Aaron,” she said with a big smile. “We were just talking about you.”
Aaron glanced past Mom to catch my eye. “Were you?” he asked shyly.
I squeezed past Mom. “See you later,” I said.
“Be careful out there,” she warned.
“It’s fine. Look — the storm’s finished already. Told you it wouldn’t last long.” I headed down the jetty with Aaron.
“Have fun with your boyfriend!” Millie trilled from inside the boat.
I stole a glance at Aaron. “Sorry about them,” I mumbled.
He smiled. “I don’t mind,” he said, “if you don’t.”
I looked down, too embarrassed to meet his eyes. “No, I don’t mind either,” I said to the wooden slats of the jetty.
Aaron reached out a hand without saying anything else, and I slipped my hand into his as we walked. As I did, I felt my whole body tingle. I’d never felt anything like the way I felt when Aaron held my hand. It was as if someone were tickling all my nerve endings at the same time. It made me want to jump up and down and burst out laughing.
We’d only met this year. Aaron used to live with his mom in a castle out at sea, but they’d recently moved to Brightport with us. We’d put on an amazing concert recently, and ever since that night — when he’d kissed me — I’d felt this way.
I didn’t tell him, of course. The only person I’d said anything to was my best friend, Shona.
“You’re in LOVE!” she’d squealed delightedly when I’d told her. Shona is the most traditional, sappy mermaid in the entire world, and she loves nothing more than a good romance.
“Don’t be ridiculous!” I’d said at the time. “I’m too young to be in love. I don’t even know what it means.” Like her, I was nearly thirteen — way too young to start thinking about things like love.
But I did find myself wondering about the word. And I was aware that there was nothing I liked more than being with Aaron. I was also aware that lately this had meant I hadn’t seen as much of Shona as usual. And I had the feeling it was becoming a sore point.
I wasn’t sure if she was bored of being the odd one out, or fed up with me talking about him, or maybe even a tiny bit jealous. Either way, she’d stopped asking me about Aaron. And whenever I tried to talk about him, she’d changed the subject or swum off to do something else.
I didn’t really blame her. I must have become quite boring, talking about Aaron all the time. And to be honest, I missed hanging out with her. The only trouble was, I always wanted to hang out with Aaron more.
“What do you want to do?” Aaron asked now, as we walked up the jetty.
What I really wanted to do was go to the Rushtons’ fairground and take a ride on the ghost train again so we could sit really close and hold hands in the dark. We’d been on it the other night, and even though it was the tamest ride in the world, Aaron put his arm around me and it felt so nice I didn’t want the ride to end.
But I hadn’t seen Shona since the beginning of the week, and it was Friday now.
“Shall we go to Shiprock?” I suggested. Shiprock was the merfolk town under the sea where Shona lived.
“Sure!” Aaron agreed, and we walked down the beach to the water’s edge.
Aaron waded into the water. I looked around nervously.
“It’s fine,” he said. “Come on.” Then he turned away and ran, splashing and jumping, into the water.
I still hadn’t got used to the fact that we didn’t have to hide what we were anymore. It was only last year that I’d discovered I became a mermaid when I went in water — and for most of the time since then, it had been a secret. Neptune, who ruled the seas, used to be really strict about these things. For years and years, he’d kept the human and mer worlds apart and used a memory drug to make humans forget if they ever saw a mermaid. He even had laws that said humans and merpeople couldn’t mix. My dad had been sent to prison because he’d married my mom!
But everything had changed recently. Neptune had decreed that humans and merpeople had to get along. And he’d gotten rid of the memory drug — at least in Brightport — so everyone knew about merpeople, and we no longer had any reason to hide.
Even so, it still felt weird to go into the water without panicking about what would happen if someone saw my tail.
“What are you waiting for?” Aaron called to me. Then he ducked unde
Aaron was a semi-mer like me, and his ease in the water reminded me how much I loved it, too. I shrugged off my worries and ran into the sea to join him.
Within seconds, I felt my body begin to change. First, the familiar tingle in my toes; then my legs went numb and joined together; finally, my legs disappeared altogether, my clothes melted away, and in their place my tail formed. I swished it around, stretching it out and spinning in the water to join Aaron.
We swam along side by side, and I smiled to myself and wondered if I had ever felt so happy in my whole life.
Shona’s mom hovered in the door of their home in Shiprock Caves and smiled apologetically. “Sorry, Emily, Shona went out earlier with some of her school friends.”
“No worries,” I said. “We’ll find her.”
She went inside and Aaron and I swam back down the tunnel and out to the open sea. A line of silver fish followed us, swimming just below me and tickling my tummy as I swam.
“Now what?” Aaron asked.
I had a tiny pang of jealousy at the thought of Shona hanging out with other friends — till I remembered I had no right to feel jealous. I was the one who kept abandoning her to be with Aaron. I could hardly complain if she chose to hang out with some of her friends from Shiprock. Real friends who didn’t drop her when they got a boyfriend.
Then I had an idea. “I know where she might be.”
The water grew colder as we made our way out to sea. Fish glanced furtively at us as we passed.
“Look,” Aaron said, laughing, as two fish swam toward us. One was fat and yellow with a purple blotch all over its face. It looked like a grand lady who’d smudged her lipstick. The other one had black-and-white stripes the length of its long body. It swam elegantly beside her, like an obedient butler.
We swam through a couple of arches in the rocks, going lower and lower till we came to a huge rug of brown seaweed flapping lazily in the tide.
“What’s this place?” Aaron asked as we swam across the seaweed to a sandy patch covered in fishing nets, old bicycles, and oil drums.
“It’s our playground,” I said, swimming through a large tube and indicating for him to follow me.
We swam to the end of the tube and looked around; Shona wasn’t there. Half of me was disappointed — but the other half felt relieved. At least she hadn’t shared our special playground with all her other friends. Plus it meant I was still alone with Aaron.
“Hey, look at this,” he called, swimming across to a black sheet at the far end of the playground. I hadn’t seen it before.
I swam over to join him. “What is it?”
“Looks like a sail to me.”
“A black sail?”
Aaron grinned. “Must be from a pirate ship! Let’s check it out.”
The sand scattered below me as I swam down, and the sail wafted upward, swishing with the tide. I swam onward, only stopping when I heard Aaron call out.
I turned back. He wasn’t there.
“Aaron?” I called louder. “You OK?”
I started swimming back to the edge of the sail, but my tail snagged on something. A piece of seaweed? I twisted around to see what it was. As I turned, the seaweed pinched harder. My tail was completely stuck. A moment later, something grabbed me around my middle.
And then the world went black.
“Aaron, get off me,” I said, laughing. It was typical of him to play a joke like this. Pretend he wasn’t following me, then sneak in and cover my eyes with his hands. Any second now, he’d say “Guess who?” and it would be an easy guess.
But he wasn’t saying anything.
“Come on, Aaron, I know it’s you,” I said. I was still laughing. I reached up to his hands so I could pull them off my face.
And that was pretty much the moment I stopped laughing.
They weren’t Aaron’s hands.
The hands over my eyes were big, cold, and clammy. “Who — who is this?” I stammered.
Whoever it was spread one of their hands across both my eyes and clamped the other one across my mouth.
I couldn’t speak. I could hardly breathe. My heart was beating so fast it felt like a motorboat’s engine in overdrive. What was going on? How long would it take Aaron to realize that something wasn’t right and come back for me?
I tried to bite the hand over my mouth but I couldn’t even pry my lips wide enough apart to open my teeth. I tried to get my tail out of the seaweed and realized that it wasn’t seaweed — it was a net.
Then I heard a voice. Gruff. Muffled. Urgent.
“Tie her tail up,” the voice said. “Slippery as an eel, this one.”
My tail felt as if it were being bent double as they bound it up. I felt hands wrap a thick band of reeds over my eyes and my mouth — and it was done. I was blind, dumb, and trapped inside a net.
“Right, let’s get out of here,” the gruff voice said. “Now!”
I had no idea where I was being taken. All I knew was that the journey seemed to go on forever, and that the sea felt as cold as the hands that gripped and carried and bustled me all the way there.
“Now what?” a voice said, sometime later. It wasn’t the gruff voice. It was a different one. Higher pitched. Smoother. Kinder? No, that was just wishful thinking.
“We do exactly what we’ve been told,” Gruff Voice answered. “Keep her here and stay with her until we’re given further instructions. The others should be here any minute.”
“You hold her — I’ll sort out the locks.”
As one set of hands released me, the others clutched tighter, squeezing me so hard I thought they’d crush me into sand.
Moments later, Gruff Voice was back. “Right, we’re locked in. Let’s get her out of there.”
“Get her out?”
“She can’t go anywhere, and we were told not to be too rough with her. We can’t have the boss turn up and find her blindfolded and trussed up in a fishing net, can we, now?”
“You’re right. You sure the door is secure?”
“It’s locked as tight as a shark’s jaw. Come on, let’s get her out of that net.”
I squirmed and struggled and fought as they undid the net and removed the reeds around my mouth and eyes. The second my mouth was free, I found my voice.
“AAARRRRRGGHGGGGGHHHHHLETMEGOYOUMONSTERRRRRRS!” I yelled
One of them clamped a hand over my mouth. I bit into his finger.
“Lumbering lobsters!” he yelped, leaping away from me. As he did, I looked him up and down. The gruff voice belonged to an even gruffer looking merman. He was huge — at least seven foot from his head to the end of his long, sharp dusty-gray tail. He had greasy black hair tied back in a ponytail, gray eyes staring into mine, and what looked like an elaborate collection of Iron Age tools dangling from his ears, eyelids, chin, and upper lip.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to get on the wrong side of him.
“You can scream all you like,” he snarled, “but no one will hear you. We’re a long way down, and there’s no one else around for miles.”
I listened for any response to my scream. There wasn’t one — unless you counted the gentle sway of multicolored sea bushes, or the shoal of a hundred tiny silver fish that darted toward me and then flicked away again, flashing like a knife in sunlight.
“Where are we?”
He didn’t reply.
I cast a quick glance at the other merman: skinnier, younger, only about half the amount of piercings, and maybe a foot shorter, but looking at me with the same expression. I wasn’t exactly sure what the expression was. Hatred? Menace? Anger?
No. It wasn’t any of those. Or if it was, it was mixed with something e
“What do you want with me?” I asked.
Gruff Voice ignored me as he rubbed his finger where I’d bitten it.
“I’m sorry about that,” I said.
Wait! These guys kidnap me in a net, blindfold me, gag me, and drag me to a hidden cave, and I apologize to them? “What do you want with me?” I repeated, more firmly. “Why am I here? Who are you?”
Skinny Merman opened his mouth to answer me, but Gruff Voice held up a hand. The one I hadn’t bitten. “No answers,” he said.
“But, Orta —” the other merman began.
Gruff Voice — Orta — shook his head. “But nothing, Kai. We have our instructions. No conversation, no explanation, no nothing. Got it?”
Kai nodded. “Got it,” he mumbled.
They both fell silent after that. For the first time, I looked around the cave and realized how big it was — and how grand. The roof seemed to glow with a hazy fluorescent light in between stones carved into intricate shapes all along the rocky ceiling.
I swam around the walls, feeling and examining them as I moved. They were filled with crystals. Natural sea crystals or some kind of exotic jewels, I couldn’t tell. All I knew was that I hadn’t been locked away in a prison cell. I’d seen an underwater prison cell when I’d rescued my dad — and it was nothing like this!
An occasional lone fish swam past, black and sleek, skittering quickly from one side to the other like a businessman on his way to a meeting. A long silver eel slithered by, slicing in front of me like a sword.
I swam toward the entrance: an enormous solid oak door with metal bars across it. It was bolted and fastened with the biggest padlock I’d ever seen.
That was when I heard something on the other side. Scuffling and shuffling outside the cave! What was it? A huge shoal of fish? The tide hitting against the door? Or was there a chance it was someone who could help me get out of here?
I banged on the door as hard as I could. Which wasn’t actually very hard. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried it, but it turns out that bashing your fists against a solid oak door half a mile down in the ocean is fairly pointless. All I managed to do was bruise my hands and make a soft thudding sound.
Emily Windsnap and the Land of the Midnight Sun by Liz Kessler / Fantasy / Young Adult have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes