Emily Windsnap and the Ship of Lost Souls, p.1Liz Kessler
Eighth grade. Week two. Assignment one. What I did over summer vacation.
I chewed the end of my pen and tried to think of something I could say that wouldn’t make Mr. Rollins, my new English teacher, think I’d made it up.
I had the feeling that if I wrote I went on vacation to an ice-filled land where I found people’s lost memories in a magical pool, helped unfreeze Neptune’s evil brother, turned him into a mountain, and ultimately saved the future of the world, it might come back with FAIL! This is supposed to be fact, not fiction, scrawled across it in red pen.
So I decided to write about my birthday instead. I had turned thirteen on September 4, just before we came back to school. Yes, I know, I look much younger. I’m the oldest in my class and the smallest as well. Which is kind of weird. Not half as weird as everything else about me, though. And this last year was a bit different from usual, what with discovering I was a mermaid, freeing my dad from a prison out at sea, nearly getting squeezed to death by a sea monster, and having about a million adventures in the ocean. Oh, and getting a boyfriend!
All of which meant that by the time my birthday came around, I was more than ready to celebrate.
I set to work writing about my birthday party and wondering what I would be doing if I were at Shiprock Mermaid School right then, instead of Brightport High.
Since we had come back to Brightport, my parents and I had spent weeks discussing how my schooling was going to work. When you’re half human and half mermaid, decisions like these are trickier than they are for most people.
We finally came up with an answer just before the school year started. The deal was that I’d go to “normal” school (Mom’s word, not mine. Mom’s the full-time human in the family) from Monday to Thursday. And because “nothing much of any use ever seems to happen at that school on Fridays” (Dad’s phrase, not mine. He’s the merman, and the one who’d like me to be learning siren songs and ocean rhythms every day), I would go to mermaid school on Fridays and Saturdays. Shiprock has school on Saturday mornings, so at least I’d get a couple of days a week there.
It wasn’t the perfect solution, but it was keeping the three of us happy for now. At least, Mom and Dad were happy. I wasn’t so sure about myself. Every time I sat in class doing things like writing essays about what I’d done over summer vacation, I wished I was with my best friend — and full-time mermaid — Shona, learning about sirens and shipwrecks, or how to make a trampoline out of fishing rope, or the hundred other things that I learned out in the ocean.
Trouble was, when I was at Shiprock, I spent half my time worrying about what I was missing at Brightport! Mandy Rushton — my onetime enemy, now a good friend — always filled me in, but it wasn’t the same. See, Dad was right. Nothing much of any use ever did happen on Fridays, but it was when people had the most fun.
Whichever way I looked at it, it seemed I was missing out. The only silver lining was that because Aaron, my boyfriend, is a semi-mer like me, he had the same arrangement. Which meant that he was in the same place as I was, no matter which day of the week it was. And I had to admit, that mostly made all of it better.
“OK, folks, class is almost over, so finish the sentence you’re writing and put your pens down.” Mr. Rollins shuffled papers around on his desk while he waited to get everyone’s attention.
A second later, the bell rang. Mr. Rollins called over the noise of chairs scraping on the floor, “Chairs behind your desks, and don’t forget your homework. Oh, and there’s a letter for each of you to take home to your parents. Please pick up an envelope on your way out of the classroom.”
“What’s this about?” Mandy mumbled as we collected our letters. The envelopes were sealed, so we couldn’t see what was in them. On the front, they just said, To the parents of Brightport High eighth-graders. On the back, each was labeled with the words An exciting invitation from Fivebays Island.
As I read the words, I felt a funny sensation inside me — like a tail swishing around in my stomach.
I had mixed feelings when it came to islands.
On the one hand, an island, by definition, is surrounded by sea — which is totally fantastic, obviously, as it generally means lots of opportunities for the mermaid part of me to go out exploring in the ocean. On the other hand, I’d had some of the worst experiences of my life on an island, including nearly being squeezed to death by a sea monster — which isn’t as much fun.
“‘Fivebays Island,’” Mandy read aloud. “Sounds cool.”
And as I pocketed my letter, I had to agree. All things considered, Fivebays Island sounded very cool.
I forgot about the letter for the rest of the day. It was only once I got home and was unpacking my bag that I remembered it.
“Oh, Mom, Dad, this is for you,” I said, passing it over to Mom.
Mom took the letter from me and reached for her glasses as Dad popped his head up from below deck.
We lived on a boat moored in Brightport Harbour. It was a beautiful old ship that had been specially adapted so merpeople and humans could both live in it.
“Hey, little ’un, how was school?” Dad asked, flicking wet hair off his face and smiling up at me. I took my shoes and socks off and sat on the edge of the gap in the floor, dangling my feet in the water. Just my toes, so my legs wouldn’t turn into a tail. Part of the new deal was that I had to do my homework before going in the water.
I shrugged. “OK.” I nodded over to the table, where Mom had opened the envelope and was now sitting reading the letter. “We were given those.”
Dad looked over. “What is it?”
“Emily’s class has been invited to visit an island for a geography field trip at the end of this month,” Mom replied.
I was emptying my bag of all the junk I’d accumulated through the day, but my heart thumped down on the table along with my browning apple core. So it was just a geography field trip. The dullest thing in the world.
“They’ll be studying rare birds and exotic plants and unusual geological formations,” Mom went on. Then she looked across at us and added, “It’s for a whole week.”
I dropped my homework planner on the table with a thud. A whole week studying birds, plants, and rocks? Really?
“Oh, and there are shipwrecks and some interesting sea life, too,” Mom went on. “They’ll organize glass-bottom boat trips.”
Shipwrecks and sea life? That sounded much better! But they could forget the glass-bottom boat trips. If shipwrecks and sea life were in the cards, I wanted to go underwater and see them up close!
“I think she should go,” Dad said.
“Me too,” Mom added.
“Yeah, I think so too,” I agreed. If my record with islands was anything to go by — who knew? — perhaps I’d find myself caught up in an adventure while I was there!
That evening, Aaron and I swam out to Rainbow Rocks to meet up with Shona and Seth.
Seth is Shona’s boyfriend. Well, she hasn’t officially called him her boyfriend yet — but I know she’d like
Swimming over to meet them with Aaron, I forgot all about school and geography field trips. When I was in the water, everything else floated away. Nothing that happened at Brightport High could ever come close to the feeling of zooming along, racing a shoal of tiny bright-blue fish, or darting in and out of coral and rocks, or gliding along on a warm current, holding Aaron’s hand.
When we arrived at Rainbow Rocks, Shona waved us over and pulled me in for an excited hug. Seth and Aaron greeted each other with more boy-like greetings — i.e., a grunt and a nod.
“The best thing happened today. I’ve been dying to tell you!” Shona squealed.
“You got the highest score on the B and D test?” I ventured. Beauty and Deportment is Shona’s favorite subject. It’s all about sitting correctly on rocks and brushing your hair smoothly while singing siren songs at a perfect pitch. I’m not very good at it, myself. It always feels a bit like that game where you have to rub your tummy and pat your head at the same time. I’ve never been any good at that, either.
“No. Well, yes, I did, actually,” Shona said, blushing a little. “But it’s not that.”
“Mrs. Sharktail accidentally put her skirt on backward?” Aaron offered. Mrs. Sharktail is the principal at Shiprock School, and ever since embarrassing Aaron and me in front of the whole school for being semi-mers, she hasn’t been on our list of favorite people.
Seth laughed. “That would be funny,” he said.
Shona was getting impatient. “I’ll tell you. It’s a geography reef trip! It’s in a few weeks. We’re going to study shipwrecks and sea life and —”
“Is it at Fivebays Island?” I asked.
“Yes! How did you know? I asked if you could come, but Mr. Finsplash said he doesn’t think you’ll be allowed because you have to attend full-time and —”
“I’m going!” I squealed.
“We both are,” Aaron added.
Shona stared at us both. “You are? But how come? Mr. Finsplash said —”
“We’re going with Brightport High. I’m guessing it’s the same week!” I grinned. “They must have sent letters to both schools at the same time.”
Shona grinned back. “Swishy!” She jumped so high, her tail came out of the water. “Oh, it’s going to be such fun. Mr. Finsplash says the island has a shallow reef all the way around it. There are loads of amazing rock formations, and there are shipwrecks and hundreds of varieties of fish that you don’t get anywhere else. And guess how it got its name.”
Aaron scratched his chin and scowled, as if thinking hard. “Hmmm, I’m going out on a fin here, but does the island by any chance have five bays?”
“Yes!” Shona glanced at Aaron and realized he was laughing. “Oh,” she said, flicking water at him. “Well, OK, I suppose that might have been obvious.”
“It sounds swishy,” Seth said with a shy smile. He didn’t strike me as the kind of boy who would normally use Shona’s favorite word, swishy, to describe something fun. I guessed that meant he was definitely her boyfriend. “Wish I could join you.”
“Maybe you could ask Neptune for a few days off,” Aaron suggested.
“That would be super-swishy!” Shona exclaimed, clapping her hands so excitedly she splashed seawater in my face. Then she turned as red as a snapper fish and tried — belatedly — to look unconcerned. “That’s if, you know, you want to,” she added with a shrug.
Seth smiled. “I’d love to,” he said. “I’ll try. But you know Neptune.”
Oh, yes. I knew Neptune. Probably better than any of them. The king of all the oceans was not someone you mess around with or someone who granted favors lightly. I’d been on his wrong side often enough to know that.
“I’ll give it a try,” Seth said again. Then he reached out to take Shona’s hand. “It would be great to spend the week with you guys.”
Shona beamed as brightly as the multicolored rocks behind her. “Come on,” she said, swimming away — presumably before Seth could see that her face had turned even redder. “Let’s go to the playground. Some netting floated in the other day, and I’ve started making a trampoline.”
We followed Shona through the water. As I swam, I thought about the upcoming trip. I was looking forward to a simple week away with my friends, with no drama. No frozen people. No sea monsters. No prisons guarded by hammerhead sharks. Just a nice, normal week — with maybe the tiniest adventure thrown in for a bit of excitement.
Whatever else happened, I was determined that my trip to Fivebays Island would be free from anything weird and scary.
Not that it was up to me, of course.
September passed quickly, and it wasn’t long before I was packing a bag and getting ready to join my classmates for the mammoth journey. It was Saturday morning, and a bus was picking us up at noon to take us on a five-hour drive up the coast, followed by a four-hour crossing on a boat over to Fivebays Island. With any luck, we’d be there before nightfall.
I squashed my last bits and pieces into my bag and pulled the zipper shut.
“You’ve packed all your geography books and your binoculars for the birds, haven’t you?” Mom asked.
“And the charts I gave you so you can recognize and record all the fish?” Dad added.
Mom held her arms out. “I’m going to miss you, sweet pea,” she said as I hugged her.
Dad leaned on the trapdoor and reached up to kiss me on the cheek. “Me too, little ’un.”
I wasn’t sure if they should really still be calling me things like sweet pea and little ’un now that I’d turned thirteen, but since I was leaving them for a week, and since every other time I’d left them recently, my life had been in danger from either a kraken, an evil ice man, or an ancient curse, I decided to let them off the hook.
Clutching my bag, I stepped off the boat and made my way along the wooden jetty that led up to the pier.
“Hey, Emily!” A voice called from ahead of me.
It was Mandy. I waved at her. “Wait for me!”
As we made our way up the pier, I could see the group of children waiting. There were only twelve of us on the trip; not everyone had chosen to come. And about the same number again would be coming from Shiprock. Plus, there’d be a teacher from each school.
A flicker of excitement went through me. We’d had another letter last week, telling us what to expect. It was from someone named Lowenna Waters. Which I’d thought was a joke name at first. I mean, she’s in charge of an island and she’s named Waters? That’d be like a math teacher named Mrs. Multiplication. But it had turned out to be real.
Lowenna’s letter said that she and her husband, Lyle, looked after the island. No one really lived there apart from them — it was one of those places that were kept free from human interference so they could protect all the varieties of animals and birds that live there. Their job was to keep it that way, and to educate people about all the things that they protected.
Lowenna said that she would organize games and trips and we’d have loads of fun, as well as learn more about geography than you could ever learn in a classroom. She’d written to Shiprock School, too. Shona showed me her letter. It included information about shipwreck tours and sightseeing trips to underwater places that hardly anyone has ever seen before.
Both letters said how proud they were to be hosting the first ever joint trip between a human school and a mer school.
I couldn’t wait to get there.
“OK, eighth-graders, listen carefully,” Miss Platt, our geography teacher, called over the din as the boat drew toward Fivebays Island. We’d been traveling all day and w
From the front deck of the boat, I stared into the twilight of the early evening to try to catch a first glimpse of the island.
“When we arrive, we will be greeted by Mr. and Mrs. Waters. Please be on your best behavior. They have worked extremely hard to provide an exciting week for you and have promised us a wonderful welcome, so can we ensure that we all show them the utmost respect at all times?”
We all dutifully did the “Yes, Miss Platt” thing as we jostled for the best spots at the front of the boat. I really wanted to dive off the boat and swim up to the shore — but I had the feeling that might not fit in with the “best behavior” promise, so I stood and waited with everybody else.
Eventually, the boat’s engines died, the gangplank at the front came up, and we were herded into the semidarkness of Fivebays Harbour — which might be a bit of a grand thing to call something that seemed to consist of a jetty only just large enough to fit our boat alongside it, a scrappy beach covered in stones and stranded seaweed, and a couple of rowboats tied up on big round buoys at the other end of the beach. Was this supposed to be one of the wonderful five bays?
“Hmm. Right. Now, then,” Miss Platt mumbled as she pulled a folder out of her bag and started rifling through papers. “Mrs. Waters said she would be here to meet us.”
We all peered into the gloom. There was no one around, and no sign that anyone had been around anytime recently, either. Just us, the beach, and the soft waves lapping gently over the rocky bay. I wandered down to the water’s edge. The stones jangled as each wave came in, hissed as each one retreated.
Over on the other side of the bay, Miss Platt was walking this way and that, waving her arms around and checking her phone for a signal.
“What do you think is going on?” Aaron was by my side.
“No idea. Maybe they’ve forgotten us.” We stood in silence for a moment, mesmerized by the rhythm and the tunes of the waves.
Mandy came over to join us. “Miss Platt is talking to someone now. I think they’re on their way.”
Emily Windsnap and the Ship of Lost Souls by Liz Kessler / Fantasy / Actions & Adventure have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes