Twenty-one Stars Fell into the Ocean,
And Mermaids Swam Ashore
One summer, Marley went camping by the seashore. Her mother and father came along, also. The first day, she played on the beach and let small waves wash her feet. In front of her and far out to sea she could see an island.
“There are sea caves on that island,” said her father pointing across the sea. “Seals live in them.”
Behind all the children playing in the waves the lifeguard in her tower never took her eyes off them. Behind the lifeguard tower was a stone statue of a seal. It sat alone in a bowl of dry sand. Marley climbed on the seal’s back and her father took a photo.
“If that seal had a saddle,” said her mother, “you could ride it.”
“Across the sand?” asked Marley.
“The ride would be bumpy,” said her father.
“And into the surf to play in the waves?” asked Marley.
“Stone seals are too heavy to swim in the waves,” said her mother. “You would need to wish it alive and light. Tonight try wishing upon a shooting star.”
That night the sea air did its magic and Marley fell deeply asleep. That night our universe bumped into another universe. The moon and all the stars shook. Twenty-one stars shook loose and blazed across the night sky. The shooting stars fell into our Pacific Ocean where they turned into sea spirits, Nereids. With her eyes closed and her ears hearing a silent dream Marley knew this is what happened. Twenty-one Nereids, all young women, all with fish tales, swam to the shore where ocean swells crumbled into tumbling whiteness.
Shining through the tent walls, a foggy faint moon morning light touched Marley. Now she stood over the little person in her sleeping bag. Her sleeping eyes could see her father’s dreams – a grownup Marley now a doctor. She could see her mother’s dreams – a grownup Marley now the president. Marley crept out of the tent. In the moon morning the whole campground was misty with all the camper’s dreams, all pleasant in their mind’s eyes, silent dreams. Yet…
… from the ocean the sound of silvery voices singing and sighing. Marley walked to the top of a sand dune. From there she saw the Nereids riding the waves. She knew she couldn’t walk across the wet sand – too near the water – unless someone watched over her. Some of the Nereids had come onto the dry sand of the beach. No longer with tails they stood on two legs each. Smiling pleasantly they waved to the land born girl.
“Hello, Marley,” said a Nereid. The young and beautiful woman lay half in the water and small waves washed over her fish like tail. Marley rubbed her sleepy eyes, and then watched as the woman stood up on two legs.
“I’m Clio,” the Nereid said.
“Are you a Mermaid?” asked Marley.
“In the sea we are. On land we have legs,” said Clio. “Do you want to play with us in the waves?”
“I can only swim a little,” answered Marley who grew a bit sad. She really wanted to play in the waves with the seaborn ladies called Nereids.
Clio pointed at the stone seal. Marley silently asked how could a seal made of stone swim. Wouldn’t it sink? Like a rock?
“Not if I put a saddle on it,” said Clio.
“Halie,” she called to a Nereid in the waves, “find Marley a turtle shell, one without a turtle.”
Halie swam to the open sea and dove down into the dark water. When she returned, in her hands, she held a turtle shell saddle. The sea had rubbed it smooth and into the shape of a saddle. Marley followed Halie and Clio across the beach and to the seal statue.
“A perfect fit,” said Halie after she had put the saddle on the back of the seal. The eyes of the stone seal blinked once and then again. It motioned with its head for Marley to climb onto the saddle. So she did.
At first, while going across the sand, the ride was bumpy. However, once the seal and Marley reached knee deep water, they glided upon the water as smoothly as a swan on a pond.
“You float very high in the water for a seal,” Marley remarked.
“Oh, when I’m not set in stone, I’m very light,” said the seal. “It’s my diet.”
“What do you eat in the sea?”
“Puffer fish, for sure – they’re mostly air. Of course, I never ever eat rockfish,” said the seal. “Let’s get in line to ride the waves.”
Marley on the seal and the Nereids in the water took turns catching waves. Sometimes while scooting along a green wall of water she could stick out her hand and cut the water wall. Sometimes the wall of green water turned into white foam. Halie and Clio would race just ahead or even alongside. Their tails made them very fast swimmers. They raced back and forth never taking their eyes off Marley. Too soon, the moon morning darkened. Clio and Halie guided the seal and Marley from the waves to the shore.
“The moon morning is almost over,” Clio explained. “We must hide away before the sun morning dawns.”
Again, it was a bumpy ride across the sand to the seal’s sand bowl. The seal posed as it had before. Marley climbed down. Halie took off the turtle shell saddle and the seal became still as stone. The Nereids waded into the ocean and then dove into the waves. Their legs became tails and they swam toward the island and its sea caves.
Marley returned to her tent. She settled into her sleeping bag. The sun morning woke everyone gently so that their dreams could stay as wonderful memories. The sun morning woke her gently. For a moment she kept her eyes closed – the better to remember swimming with the mermaids on the back of a seal.
The second night of the camping trip Marley fell deep asleep. Again the light of moon morning touched her. By that special light she found her way to the beach. None of the Nereids played in the white surf. Clio sat on the sand, facing the ocean and with her head hung down. Some of the Nereids sat on the sand, hugging their knees. Some sat half in the water, slowly waving their tails in the toe deep water. Marley couldn’t see their faces but she knew all of them were sad.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
Clio looked up at her and said, “Nereids are fifty in number, and we are only twenty-one. We miss the others.”
“We’re homesick,” said Halie.
Marley said nothing. She sat down next to the sad but beautiful Nereids. After a little while Marley asked, “The first night you arrived with the shooting stars. Can’t you go home on a shooting star?”
“Special shooting stars,” said Clio, “Only happen when one universe bumps into another.”
“I really wanted to ride the stone seal,” said Marley. “I think I dreamed of the stars being shaken loose so I could wish upon a shooting star.”
“Maybe you can dream again of universes bumping into one another,” said Halie.
“Wouldn’t work,” said another Nereid. “It might cause more ocean spirits to lose their homes.”
“When we fell into your ocean, we were little points of light,” said Clio.
For a while, they sat there on the sand quietly watching the moon lower itself near to the end of the sea. The white light of the moon reflected on the water all the way to the horizon.
“And then we could take that path to the moon,” said Halie.
“And on the moon we could turn back into points of light,” said Clio. “And then we can join the stars again.”
“We’ll leave when the moon touches the edge of the sea,” said Halie, “but first we’ll put the saddle on the stone seal. The waves look so inviting tonight.”
For Marley it was a little sad to think that this was to be the last night. So she stopped thinking about it and had a wonderful time until the moon’s bottom nearly touched the sea’s horizon.
Everyone knew it was time to leave. The seal returned to its circle of sand. Halie took the saddle off the seal. Marley walked across the sand toward the campground. When she reached the top of a sand dune, she turned around to wave goodbye. All but two of the Nereids in the water swam in a single line following the moonlight path. Still on the beach Clio and Halie turned to face Marley and wave. Clio put something down on the wet sand, and then she and Halie swam down the moonlight path.
The next day Marley had fun playing in knee deep water. She let waves crash into her almost knocking her over. Further out where the green waves turned into white surf she could see the big kids riding waves on rafts.
“My seal could ride me faster than that,” she said to herself.
That night was the last night of camping by the ocean. After dinner, Marley with her mother and father went for a moonlight walk on the beach. They paused to look up at the stars.
“Do shooting stars ever shoot from the ocean back into the sky?” asked Marley.
“Not that I know of,” answered her mom.
“Hmm, I’ve never seen that group of stars before,” said her dad pointing at the western sky.
“Those stars look like fish,” said her mom.
“Look at this!” said her dad. He bent down to pick up something from a pile of seaweed. “It’s a turtle shell.”
“And it looks like a small saddle,” said her mom.
“It’s for the stone seal,” said Marley. “Can I take it home with me?”
On that last night the sea air again worked its magic. Marley fell into a deep sleep, but in the middle of the night she woke up. There was no moon morning light. In fact, it was so dark hardly anything could be seen in the campground. But the stars above the ocean blazed brightly. In the western night sky she saw again the group of twenty-one stars that looked like an outline of the Nereids. Slowly more and more stars appeared until finally she could see the faces of Clio and Halie. They smiled at her. Then twenty-one stars shook a little and began to retreat into a single point of light. It disappeared and Marley knew that twenty-one friends had found their way home.
All rights reserved; copyrighted by J. M. Miles