The Little Mermaid

Prequel to 'The Little Mermaid' * Honourable Mention in the Huntsman competition.* Sort of hybrid between Hans Christian Andersen’s original and the Disney version, with some of my own flair thrown in.* At fifteen years of age, mermaids are permitted the freedom to look upon those on the surface. And now it’s Cleo’s turn. What she’ll find, she has no idea, but she has an inkling it will change everything. ©Molly Looby

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Today I would venture to the surface.

That was my first thought when I blinked open my eyes on the morning of my fifteenth birthday. At last, my time had come. Hearing tales of each sister before me was never enough to quench my curiosity. But at last, the day had come. My day. My future.

Flinging the blanket to one side, I dashed over to my mirror before the blanket had a chance to float back onto the sand. Letting my eyes roam over my face, I dropped down on my stool, deflating a little. I didn’t look any different. From head to tail, everything was as it had been a few hours before.

But now I was fifteen years old.

Shrugging, I sped through the rest of my morning, almost floating straight into Ula as I went to greet my father.

“Watch where you’re going.” Her tone wasn’t harsh like our older sisters’, and she smirked at me. “How’s the little mermaid this morning?”

“Fantastic, thank you.” I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. At last I was going to see what the surface looked like. I had dreamt of this day ever since our eldest sister Nerissa returned and jabbered on for three days straight. A sudden burst of excitement filled me up, and I left my sister to call after me.

“I think I saw Bay outside. You better not sneak him in.”

I rolled my eyes as I looped my way into the throne room, singing as I went. Nothing could take this feeling away from me. Nothing.

“Cleo.” My father’s voice was soft and deep. “How beautiful you look this morning.”

“Thank you, Daddy.” I kissed him on the cheek before swimming for the exit again. There was no time for chit-chat. Not now the surface and the world of humans was mine for the discovery.

My father grabbed my wrist, chuckling. “Wait just a moment. Don’t you want your gift?”

I settled myself on the arm of his throne, nodding, trying to calm my breathing.

“It’s no ordinary day when a mermaid turns fifteen.”

I smiled at him and tucked my hair behind my ear before it obscured my vision.

“And it doesn’t half make you feel old when it’s your youngest daughter.” He produced a clam from behind his back. “Your mother wanted you to have this.”

My smile dropped off my face. Try as I might, I could not recall her image to mind. She was just out of reach. And the harder I tried, the further away her image escaped.

My father handed me the clam, and I clenched it in my hands for a few moments, terrified of what it might hold. Taking a deep breath, I prised it open. Inside, was the most beautiful seashell I’d ever seen. And fused into it was a beautiful, bright-aqua gemstone. The same colour as my tail. I pulled it out to reveal that it was attached to a silver chain from the surface.

“Your mother found that stone the day before you were born. She said it was a sign from the gods that you were going to be bright and beautiful.” He touched his hand to my cheek. “And she wasn’t wrong.”

Heat spread to my face, and I looked down to the sandy floor.

“If only she were here to see how right she was.”

I took his hand and tried to smile. “I wish she was here too.”

He shook his head and focused his attention back to the necklace. “What do you think?”

“It’s wonderful.” I kissed his check again. “I love it. Thank you, Daddy.”

He took it from my hand and fastened it behind my neck. “There,” he said as I turned to face him again. “Perfect.”

I touched the necklace with the tip of my finger, wishing for some sort of feeling to come from it. Some sort of sign from my mother. But I knew that to be impossible. The gods may have been all-powerful, but no one could bring back the dead.

“Now, have you had breakfast?” my father asked. “I don’t want you swimming up to the surface without eating something.”

“Yes,” I lied. “Of course.”

He sighed. “Then I guess I have to let you go.”

I squealed and did a summersault before squeezing my father tight and rushing out of the room. But before I could leave, I crashed straight into Bay’s chest.

He laughed as he caught me. “Whoa there.”

“Bay.” It came out in a breathless gasp.

“Happy birthday.” He kissed me soft and slow.

When we parted, I was sure my face was deep red. It took all of my power not to check if my father had seen us. Not that he didn’t know about Bay. And not that he didn’t like him. He liked him a little too much, in fact. Like he was making plans for our future. I didn’t like the way he looked at us. Like it was any of his business.

“Hey.” I tugged on his hand and led him out of the palace. “You didn’t have to visit so early. I’m going in moment, and I can’t imagine I’ll be back for a while!” I couldn’t hide the joy in my voice.

He chuckled and shook his head like I was being silly. “Don’t big it up too much. There’s not that much to see, Cleo.”

I felt my eyes bug. “Humans walk on two things that come out from where their tails should be.”

“Legs,” he said.

“They wear silly things on their bodies and drive machines.” I put my hand over his mouth before he could say anything more. “They live on land, Bay. And I have to see it for myself. What sort of creatures live on land?”

“Humans,” he said, removing my hand. “And they’re not that interesting.”

“Easy for you to say, you’ve seen them already.”

He squeezed my hand. “I just don’t want you to be disappointed.”

“I won’t be.” I kissed him hard on the mouth and swam away before he could gather his bearings.

It was time.

I was off to the surface.

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