AN ANNOYING MERMAID
The sky was blue and the ocean was calm when Ben and Denzel borrowed a boat to go fishing. It would be their last time out on the ocean before the school year ended. They were both students at Fairhaven Private School located off the west coast of Vancouver Island. Of the two of them, only Ben knew the school’s true purpose was training heroes for the Guardian of the Six Worlds. He’d learned just over a month ago when a portal opened for him to travel to a world of merfolk and monsters.
“Ben, buddy, I lucked out when I got you as my roommate, because you know how to fish.” Denzel was trying to untangle his fishing line so he could get it back in the water. It wasn’t going well.
“Yep, I’m very lucky to have a roommate who could teach me how to fish, which I will do when I get this line untangled,” Denzel said again.
“What?” Ben reached out his hand. “Okay, give it over.”
“Well, you do have a knack for it.”
“You’re never going to learn if I keep doing it for you.”
“I’ll practice later, but right now I don’t want to waste fishing time doing something you’re already expert at.”
Ben just grunted as he tried to figure out which way the tangle on Denzel’s line went.
“Hey, Ben, you’ve got a fish. Shall I get it?” Without waiting for an answer Denzel jumped forward, pulled Ben’s rod out of the holder and jerked the tip upward to set the hook.
Ben sighed and carefully laid Denzel’s tangled fishing line aside so he would be ready with the net. Everything was going as expected when all of a sudden the line started peeling off the reel and Denzel couldn’t stop it.
“That salmon must have been grabbed by something big,” Ben said. “Most likely a seal.”
Denzel managed to put the brakes on and was struggling to bring the fish back toward the boat when the line went slack and the hook and flasher came hurtling out of the water toward them. Denzel jumped aside which caused the boat to dip toward the ocean.
“Careful,” Ben said.
“My fish is gone,” Denzel howled.
“Your fish,” Ben grumbled, as he went back to untangling Denzel’s line.
Denzel turned his head toward the school where only the top of the castle was visible. His eyes narrowed and he scratched his neck. “There’s something strange going on at Fairhaven. I know it and you do too, but you haven’t wanted to talk about it ever since you disappeared last month.”
“I told you, my dad returned after being gone for a long time. I got to go see him.” Ben’s statement was true. His dad had been missing, he did return and Ben did get to spend time with him.
“But I don’t get why you didn’t tell me you were going away.”
“It all happened so fast. I didn’t get a chance.”
“Before you disappeared, you said it was strange to have a secret library with books on make believe worlds. Now when I try to get you to talk about it, you won’t.”
“We just need to be patient and people will tell us when they think we’re ready.” Ben didn’t look at his friend as he said this. He remembered the day Denzel convinced him to sneak into the library. He also remembered the month long detention they’d gotten because of it.
“I’m thinking there’s a secret society that plays role playing games. The teachers are in on it and some of the students. I want to know how we can get in.”
“Like I said, we just have to be patient.”
“I don’t get you, Ben. Not long ago you wanted answers as much as me.”
Ben stared at his friend and didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t tell Denzel the truth.
“I just think… there might be good reasons… for keeping it… secret,” Ben stammered.
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you know, but don’t want to tell me.” Denzel was trying to untangle his line again. When Ben didn’t respond he looked up and stared intently at him. “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding. You do know, so why haven’t you told me?”
Ben had known ever since he’d been sent to the Principal’s office and ended up going through the portal to Lushaka where he’d learned he could transform into a dragon. He couldn’t tell Denzel the truth, but he couldn’t lie to him either. If he tried, Denzel would know because he was really good at reading people and finding out what they were trying to hide.
“Denzel, I can’t talk about it. You need to wait for Miss Templeton to tell you about the library.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Denzel voice was several decibels louder than normal.
“I…” Ben was spared the need to make a response when a fish came hurtling out of the water and hit him on the side of the head. He sat there stunned as he watched Denzel pounce on the fish flopping around on the bottom of the boat. Denzel was holding the fish in his hands when another one sailed into the boat and struck Ben on the chest.
“I can’t believe this,” Ben said.
Denzel put the first fish in the cooler and jumped on the second one. “No one’s going to believe this happened,” Denzel said. “You don’t even need to put out a fishing line when the fish want to be caught so badly they jump into the boat.”
Ben looked in the direction the second fish had come from and saw a head pop out of the water, followed by an arm which threw a third fish toward them. This one hit Denzel on the shoulder.
“That one’s yours,” Denzel said, as he opened the cooler a second time. He dropped the fish he was holding in and waited for Ben to catch the third one. As he held the lid he stared in the direction the three fish had come from. His mouth fell open, he closed his eyes and shook his head. “For a moment I thought I saw someone in the water; but of course, that’s crazy. Who would be out there throwing fish at us?”
Denzel had just put the fish Ben passed him in the cooler when a fourth fish landed in Ben’s lap. He grabbed it and handed it to Denzel to put in the cooler.
Ben stared over the waves at someone he knew well. He couldn’t imagine what Charla was doing on Earth. He caught her eye, put his fingers to his lips and shook his head as he pointed at Denzel. Ben hoped Charla understood she couldn’t reveal herself to Denzel. Finally she nodded her head, pointed at Ben, then herself and then the beach behind them on the small island.
Ben folded his hands, closed his eyes and laid his head sideways on his folded hands. He hoped she understood he would come later in the night. When Ben opened his eyes it was to see Denzel staring at him with a puzzled look on his face.
“We should go back,” Ben said and started pulling in the fishing line.
“What! We haven’t caught any fish yet,” Denzel said.
“We have our daily limit of Chinook in the cooler,” Ben said as he continued reeling in the line.
“We could throw them back.” Denzel opened the cooler and looked at the fish. “They look like they’re still alive.”
“Those salmon would likely die after landing in the boat and then being manhandled by you. Besides, I have homework to catch up on.”
At that moment seaweed hit Denzel on the back of his head. Next, Charla used her tail to splash seawater into the boat. The water drenched Denzel and to a lesser degree Ben.
“How did that happen?” Denzel asked as he pulled seaweed out of his hair. “Did you see anything?”
Ben shook his head no, but kept his head down and didn’t look at Denzel.
“I can’t believe it. Fish and now seaweed! Have you angered any mermaids lately?” Denzel laughed nervously as he looked around. “I guess we’ve got to go in now that I’m soaking wet, but at least there will be salmon on the menu tomorrow night.”
Ben looked over his friend’s shoulder to see Charla floating just under the waves, laughing. Ben felt a burning pain deep in the pit of his stomach and a faint wisp of dragonfire smoke came out with his words. “I can’t believe this either. It will be a very cold trip back to shore, and any mermaids out there, need to be aware that humans don’t do well when they’re cold. I’ll be lucky if I don’t need to take to my bed and stay there all night.”
On hearing those words Charla flipped her tail again and splashed water at the boat, which hit Denzel’s back, but didn’t reach Ben. She then disappeared under the waves.
Denzel was shaking and his teeth were chattering as they sped towards shore. Ben was relieved that Denzel couldn’t continue to question him about the forbidden library.
Later that night, when all was quiet, Ben snuck down to the dock. He looked at the boat bobbing in the moonlight and thought how much easier and safer it would be if he could just transform into a dragon. Miss Templeton, Fairhaven’s Principle and Earth’s Watcher had asked Ben not to use his ability to transform. So far he had kept his promise, although he was anxious to use his wings again. He’d only used them once, on the day he learned he could. He wondered if it made sense to keep this one promise when he was about to break the rules and take a boat out at night without permission. He would be a rule breaker for a much shorter period of time if he became a dragon. Taking a boat out at night wasn’t safe because there were rocks hiding under the waves that were hard to see in the daytime, let alone at night in a boat without running lights. There was also the problem that someone might hear the boat motor. Not for the first time Ben wondered why he hadn’t told someone about seeing Charla.
Ben closed his eyes and imagined himself as a dragon, but when he opened them he was still a fourteen-year old boy. He closed his eyes again and concentrated harder, but when he opened his eyes he was still human. He couldn’t understand why it wasn’t working because this was all he did on Lushaka. Perhaps knowing Miss Templeton would not approve was getting in the way. Miss Templeton had powers he was just beginning to understand and he was afraid she might know if he transformed.
Ben looked up at the school where two or three lights were still on and hoped no one was looking out the window as he stepped into the boat and pulled the starter cable on the motor.
Mariah Templeton stood at one of those windows watching Ben. There was little that happened on Earth she was unaware of. She also knew much of what was happening on the other five worlds. She had linked minds with the Watcher of Lushaka when Charla arrived on Earth and it became clear the mermaid was trying to keep her presence a secret. Lea Waterborn had enlisted her help because she believed the wayward mermaid had the potential to become one of her brightest and best, and she wanted to avoid expelling her from Fairwaters, the school where the Guardian’s Lushakan heroes were trained. Miss Templeton could not expel Ben. Theoretically, she could erase his memory and send him away, but what would happen if the dragonborn side of his heritage re-emerged and there was no one to tell him what it meant. For better or worse Ben had to stay at Fairhaven. So she looked out the window and watched as Ben got into the boat and motored away, hoping that something good would come from this forbidden adventure.
The coastline, with its many small islands, was confusing in the daytime and Ben was starting to wonder if he would ever find Charla as he took one wrong turn after another. He wouldn’t have known he had finally arrived if a voice hadn’t spoken in the darkness.
“What took you so long?”
“I got lost.”
“I figured.” Charla swam to the stern of the boat and levered herself up and over so she could sit in it.
“What are you doing here, Charla?” Ben asked.
“I’m sitting here talking to you, and just for your information this is my first time in a boat.”
“No, I mean what are you doing on Earth? Did Lea Waterborn send you?”
“Not exactly,” Charla said.
“Are you telling me that Lea Waterborn didn’t send you to Earth?”
“Only if you want me to.”
“What I’d like is the truth.”
“You sure about that?”
“Lea Waterborn doesn’t know you’re here, does she?”
Charla silently stared at Ben.
“Charla, what were you thinking? This could get you into big trouble. You could be expelled.”
“She already threatened to expel me, which is why I’m here. I decided to travel through a portal before my memory is erased and I’m sent away.”
“Why did she threaten to expel you?”
“It wasn’t my fault. Some of the other Chosen were picking on Jared and I defended him.”
Ben thought of the friend he’d made on Lushaka, who’d been accepted as the first human Chosen in centuries. He could well imagine that some of the Mer were unhappy about the presence of a Lushaken human. Initially, Charla herself wanted nothing to do with either Ben or Jared because they were humans.
“I’m sure Jared can look after himself. You need to go back, before Lea Waterborn knows you’re gone,” Ben said.
“I’m not going to do that.”
“You can’t stay on Earth.”
“I don’t want to. This water is too cold and too salty and it makes my skin crawl. I understand why Earth has no mer-people of its own. I’ll go back as soon as I’ve been to Vancouver.”
“You want to go to Vancouver?”
“I want to go up Grouse Mountain and see the city from there.”
Ben remembered telling Charla about taking the Skyride up Grouse Mountain as they struggled to climb into the heart of a mountain on Lushaka.
“How are you going to get there?”
“That’s for you to figure out.”
“I’m not going to do that. I could get expelled.”
“You owe me big time. You’d be dead as dead could be if I hadn’t saved your life over and over again.
Ben rolled his eyes. “You didn’t save me over and over again.”
“I saved your life lots. There were the sand creatures, the spiders, the uglies—and without me you’d never have gotten out of that cage.”
“Okay. Okay, you saved my life more than once.”
“If you help me now, we’ll consider it even and I’ll never ask you for another thing. Besides, if I have to look for Vancouver and Grouse Mountain on my own it will take a whole lot longer. The longer I’m here the more chance I’ll get caught and be asked a lot of awkward questions, especially when my legs transform back into a tail.”
“I should just go and tell Miss Templeton you’re here.”
“What kind of friend would do that?”
“A smart one.”
Ben and Charla sat in silence staring at one another as Ben thought about what Charla was asking him to do. She was one of the most determined people he knew and if he didn’t help her she would try to do it on her own. If she were caught it would create problems not only for Charla, but for everyone at his school. Finally he sighed. “I suppose you brought a disguise with you?”
“Yes, I make a beautiful human girl.”
“Okay, I hope I don’t regret this, but I know a man who flies a float plane between here and Vancouver. He runs a fishing lodge that’s the school’s only real neighbor. I’ll talk to him and see if he’s willing to take us. If he’s not, then there’s no way it can be done, because this place is isolated and there’s no other way I can take you to Vancouver.”
“He’ll be willing, I know he will.”
“Follow me and I’ll stop by and talk to Kevin on my way back to Fairhaven. If he can take us, I’ll show you a cove where you can wait.”
“You won’t regret this.”
“I already do.”
A PLANE RIDE
Ben motored over to the fishing lodge and tied the boat to the dock next to the float plane. Kevin Seaton’s two Labrador dogs started to bark, but settled down when they saw who it was. Ben woke the older man from sleep when he knocked, but Kevin brushed aside his apologies as he stepped outside to talk so they wouldn’t wake his wife. Kevin agreed to take Ben and a friend to Vancouver when dawn broke. He told Ben he had been planning to go anyway and it was no hardship to take two passengers.
Just before daybreak, Ben picked up an attractive human girl from an isolated beach in a two-person kayak. The school had many kayaks that looked similar to one another and a missing one was unlikely to be noticed.
Charla had put on a blond, shoulder-length wig, which Ben didn’t think she needed. The mermaid’s own spiky greenish blond hair reminded Ben of the cartoon character Lisa Simpson, but from what he saw on the streets of Vancouver, girls dyed their hair a variety of colors and did all kinds of weird things with it.
When he looked at what Charla was wearing, Ben thought she must have chosen the wildest clothes she could find. Her short skirt was neon green with yellow and pink swirls, while her tank top was yellow with orange polka dots. People would see her coming from miles away when what Ben wanted to do was blend into the background.
When they arrived at the fishing lodge Kevin stared at Charla with his mouth pursed and furrows in his forehead. “You must be freezing.”
Ben realized his mistake. On the ocean a jacket was needed in early morning every day of the year, even in June, and both Kevin and Ben wore jackets. Charla was poorly dressed and yet she didn’t appear to be cold.
“You wouldn’t happen to have a jacket my friend could borrow, would you?” Ben asked, hating that he was about to lie to his friend. “She took hers off for a moment, and it dropped over the side of the kayak. There must have been something heavy in the pockets because it sank right away.”
Charla’s mouth fell open.
“My clients often forget things. I have a box of their stuff. I’ll see what’s there.” Kevin hurried towards the house.
“What are you doing?” Charla asked. “I don’t need a jacket.”
“Yes, you do, if you’re going to pass yourself off as human.” Ben put his hands in the pockets of his jacket.
Kevin returned with a blue sweater and a long, gray raincoat and insisted Charla take both. She put the sweater on and carried the coat. Only a small amount of Charla’s skirt showed below the sweater, which made Ben happy.
In the plane Ben sat beside Kevin and Charla sat directly behind the pilot in the second row of seats. As the plane took off Charla squealed. “I never actually believed it was possible to fly. What magic your world has,” she said breathlessly.
“Come on Charla, stop pretending you don’t know what a plane does, you’re going to make Kevin think you’re a space alien,” Ben said, forcing a laugh. In less than a minute Kevin was laughing along with him.
When Ben looked down at the space between his seat and Kevin’s, there was a mermaid tail. He was afraid Kevin might look down and see it so he unobtrusively pushed it backwards toward Charla. He also pushed back the shoes that had popped off her feet. When he next looked the mermaid’s tail had turned back into two legs. Throughout the flight Ben could hear faint gasps and mutters from the backseat as Charla watched the world go by. He was glad the loud engine made it difficult to hear what was said in the backseat. He was surprised when he realized how much he was looking forward to spending the day with Charla. She made life challenging, but interesting.
“I want to leave here by seven o’clock,” Kevin said as he landed in the Vancouver harbor.
“We’ll be back by then,” Ben said.
Ben jumped out to secure the plane when they arrived at the dock. Charla appeared at the door a few moments later. Ben reached out a hand to help her with the step between the plane and the pontoon, but was half expecting Charla to knock his hand aside. Experience taught him she didn’t like to admit to needing help. This time she took his offered hand and held it as she stepped onto the pontoon. She stood and stared at the high rises that are part of downtown Vancouver’s sky scape.
“What are those used for?” she asked.
“Most of them are office buildings, but some are condos,” Kevin said, as he stepped out of the plane behind her.
Ben could see that Charla was puzzled by Kevin’s response and was about to ask another question. “Lots of people work in those offices and then walk across the street to the condo where they live,” he said hoping to forestall questions that would cause Kevin to wonder just who Charla was.
“What kind of work would you do in a place like that?”
“All kinds. I myself was a financial manager. I made lots of money, but came close to crashing and burning, so I got out while I still could and bought the fishing lodge. Hard to believe, but it was my wife’s dream to own one.”
“Money?” Charla’s face brightened. “I know about money. It’s something you get in exchange for work that you can use to buy things you need.”
“That pretty much describes money,” Kevin said with a puzzled look on his face.
Charla took Ben’s hand, stepped from the pontoon down to the dock.
When she moved away, Kevin whispered to Ben, “How long has this girl been at that school of yours?”
Ben thought fast. The last thing he wanted was for Kevin to have questions about the school. “She just arrived from a very bad situation. Her parents kept her locked up and never let her go to school or watch TV or read any books,” Ben whispered back. “It was decided she needed a protective environment as the first step in adjusting to a world she knows little about. This trip is about letting her see some of the world outside the school.”
“I see,” Kevin said, sounding doubtful.
Ben was appalled. He could count the number of times he lied before today on one hand and still have most of his fingers left over. He’d started the day by getting Denzel to agree to tell everyone he was sick in bed. The lie would work for exactly one day, but he needed to be healthy by tomorrow or a medic would come and check on him.
Everywhere Charla looked there were things she never, in her wildest dreams, imagined, and humans came in so many different colors and shapes, and wore such a wild variety of clothes. It made her own world seem so plain and ordinary and drab. Mer all had the same color hair, the same dark eyes, and they dressed alike.
It would be so much easier to take it all in if things just stayed where they were, but everywhere she looked there was movement. Charla was overwhelmed by the multitude of things happening around her and was stunned into silence until they got on the second bus and started heading up to Grouse Mountain.
Charla found a place on the bench seat at the front of the bus and Ben stood beside her until the driver insisted those standing move toward the back of the bus. He obediently moved and missed Charla’s conversation with a young man who sported a Mohawk haircut. The tips of what hair he had was dyed bright purple and his face and neck were covered in tattoos. He had body piercings in his ears, nose and lips. Charla stared at him and he stared back with his chin held high.
“How do you like living on Earth? Do you ever wish you lived on another world?” she asked as she stared at him. The man looked at her in surprise and then his face turned red, and he swore at her.
“I know that word, that’s a human swear word, why would you say that to me?” Charla asked in a voice louder than normal. Loud enough it carried to the back where Ben was standing. “Did I offend you? I didn’t mean to. All I wanted to know is how you like being human.”
Instead of answering her question, the man got up and pushed his way through the people standing in the aisle until he was near Ben at the back of the bus. The seat was quickly taken by a woman who sighed in relief. Charla noticed the shoes the woman was wearing and bent over to get a closer look. The heel was high and spiked and the toes were pointed. Charla couldn’t imagine wearing shoes like that. She frowned as she stared at them and then looking up at the woman.
“Why do you wear those shoes?” Charla asked.
“I wear them because I like them,” the woman said.
“Don’t they hurt your feet?
“Don’t you have trouble keeping your balance?”
“No, not often, anyway.” The woman took out a book from her purse and very purposely turned her back toward Charla as much as the seat allowed. Charla tried to ask her what she was reading, but the woman ignored her questions even when Charla poked her in the arm.
Finally, Charla gave up and turned toward the older man sitting on the other side of her. She noticed him before, but had found the haircut and then the shoes more interesting. He had been snickering as she talked to the young man and then the woman on the other side of her.
Charla wondered if she was going about things wrong. Perhaps people didn’t like to answer questions until they knew who you were. “My name’s Charla. What’s yours?” she asked the man.
“I’m Gordon,” the man in the suit and tie said with a smile. Charla smiled back. This was going much better.
“I’ve often wondered if those punks are really human,” the man said.
“Punks?” Charla thought back over her lessons on Earth and its people and could not remember ever hearing the word punk used for any of the racial groups on Earth. “What’s a punk?”
“It’s a pain in the ass who doesn’t want to work and expects to be handed everything on a silver platter.”
“But humans have to work, that’s how they get money to buy the things they need.”
“Right you are, little lady.” The man smiled at Charla, and Charla smiled back.
This was going so much better than her other conversations and now she could ask the question she really wanted to ask. “How did you get a belly like that?” she asked.
The people sitting around them stopped talking and the girls closest to them giggled.
“What?” Gordon asked stunned.
Charla wondered if he understood her, so she poked him in the gut. “How did you get this?” Charla’s finger sank deeply into the man’s large round belly.
She was going to poke him again, but he grabbed her finger and bent it backward causing Charla to howl. Ben was already pushing his way through the crowded aisle and arrived just as the driver stopped the bus and stood up to see what was happening.
“I apologize for my sister,” Ben said quickly. “I should never have gone to the back of the bus and left her alone up here. I promised my parents I’d watch her every moment when they let me take her out of the group home. It breaks our hearts to see her like this because Charla was an ordinary girl until she was hit by the car that scrambled her brains.”
“What!” Charla howled. “He’s lying, my brains aren’t scrambled!”
The driver looked at Ben with sympathy. “Keep an eye on your sister so she doesn’t bother the other passengers.”
“I won’t let her out of my sight,” Ben turned his eyes toward Charla.
The driver returned to his seat and the man sitting next to Charla released her finger. “I’m sorry about that, little lady, but you need to learn to keep your hands to yourself.”
Charla scowled and clenched her fists. Her brain was just fine, but she couldn’t say the same for the humans around her. As her anger built, Charla could feel her legs starting to tingle. That was the feeling she got just before she lost a transformation. She grabbed the coat Kevin gave her and wrapped it around her legs, folded her arms, closed her eyes and tried to think happy, calming thoughts. She was starting to get a handle on her anger when the woman sitting next to her spoke, “Why does it smell like fish all of a sudden?”
Charla opened her eyes and glared at the woman. “It doesn’t smell like fish, nothing here smells like fish,” she said each word loudly and distinctly and then closed her eyes again. That was a good thing because she missed the woman next to her mouthing the words, “I’m so sorry” with her hand on Ben’s arm.
Charla imagined herself drifting in a calm, warm sea. As she did so, she realized how much she loved living on her own world.
Ben closed his eyes and wondered how many more times he would be forced to lie before the day was over. He really regretted agreeing to take Charla on a trip up Grouse Mountain.
A GIRL WITH A TAIL
They arrived at Grouse Mountain much later than Ben expected.
“We could have used one of these when we were trying to get to the top of Spencer Mountain,” Charla said as she stared at the approaching sky tram.
“It sure would have helped,” Ben agreed.
“Remember when I saved you from the uglies?” Charla asked.
“I was the one who saved you,” Ben corrected.
“I saved you first,” Charla insisted.
Ben rolled his eyes. She did save his life first, but from the spider crabs. He just wished she would stop reminding him.
“Any chance I’ll have to save your life again today?” There was a hopeful note in Charla’s voice.
“The only possible danger here is a bear or a cougar.”
“Are they more dangerous then what I rescued you from on my world?” Charla asked.
“Well,” Ben said, and then paused. “They can be dangerous if you meet them face-to-face when they are hungry or protecting their young.”
“How many people have been killed on Grouse Mountain so far this year by bears and cougars?”
“No one,” Ben replied.
“So they’re not so dangerous,” Charla said. “Not like the spiders and uglies, who would have killed you if I hadn’t been there to save your life.”
Ben glared at Charla who seemed determined to press home the point that he owed her big time.
When they got to the top of the mountain they walked over to the viewpoint and stared down at the city that stretched out below them to the north and south along the edge of the Pacific Ocean. They couldn’t see what was to the East, but Ben assured Charla that if they could they would be gazing on even more of the city.
“People have a whole world to live in,” Charla said. “Why do so many of them live right here? Is the rest of your world not very habitable?”
“Much of our world is habitable and there are cities like this all around the world—some are even bigger.”
“Cities bigger than this!” Charla’s mouth dropped open and she stood for a moment in stunned disbelief. “It’s hard to believe there are cities bigger than this,” she whispered.
“Come on Charla,” Ben said. “I’m hungry, let’s get something for lunch, then we’ll take a walk around before we head back to the harbor.”
When Ben excused himself to go to the washroom, he left Charla standing at the barrier staring down at the city. There was an announcement while he was gone, but the words were indistinct. When he came out Charla was gone, but the coat she borrowed from Kevin was hanging on the back of a chair.
At first he didn’t panic. He assumed she went to the washroom and would be back any moment. He waited several minutes, but Charla did not appear. The clock was ticking. They wouldn’t have very much time to look around if she didn’t come back soon. He picked up Charla’s coat and went to the front of the restaurant where he walked back and forth desperately looking in all directions—then he heard the announcement and knew exactly where she was.
“I just want to announce one more time that a talk on Grizzly bears with Ranger Bob is about to start any minute. If you want to know more about Grinder and Coola follow the paw prints to the bear habitat,” the voice on the intercom said.
Ben had forgotten there were orphaned grizzly bears up here. It must have been what the announcement he couldn’t hear was about. He took off at a run and reached the bear habitat just as a collective gasp went up from the crowd. The ranger hadn’t noticed the girl behind him climbing over the wooden rails about to grab hold of the electric fence surrounding the bear enclosure.
“Charla, no,” Ben yelled, just as she reached out and touched the fence. Charla was jolted backwards and hit the wooden rail she just climbed over. She fell to the ground and the moment she did her legs turned into the tail of a mermaid. Ben took the borrowed coat and threw it down on Charla’s tail before he climbed over the fence.
He wasn’t fast enough and he heard a child’s voice say, “Did you see that momma? That girl has a fish tail.”
Ben was desperate as he knelt beside Charla and started patting her face rather forcefully. “You’ve got to wake up and turn back into a human right now,” he whispered.
Ben stopped speaking when Ranger Bob climbed over the fence and knelt down beside him.
“She all right?” he asked.
“She’ll be fine in just a minute,” Ben said, hoping what it was true.
“What was she doing?” Ranger Bob asked.
“She said she’d get my plane,” a high-pitched voice on the other side of the rail said. “It went over the fence and my mom said I couldn’t get it, so the girl said she would.” The voice belonged to a boy who looked about five years old.
“That girl has a tail,” said an older woman.
“I saw it too,” said a teenage boy.
“Me too,” said several other voices.
“Oh, come on,” Ranger Bob laughed. “What would a mermaid be doing up here on Grouse Mountain?”
“Take that jacket off her legs and you’ll see,” said a voice from the crowd.
Ben felt faint and didn’t know what to do. He could just imagine the newspapers the next morning. There would be no hiding that he broke the rules if everyone saw Charla’s fish tail. He reached out to stop the Ranger from removing the coat, but Ranger Bob brushed him aside and pulled it away. Ben closed his eyes. When he opened them, there were two perfectly normal legs.
“How did she do that?” voices from the other side of the fence asked.
“Okay, the show’s over,” Ranger Bob said. “Give this girl some privacy. There are other things to see up here, I’ll do the bear talk later.”
Some of the crowd left, but others stayed where they were. Ben could hear them telling one another what they saw. Two first-aid attendants came with a stretcher and put Charla on it so they could carry her to the first-aid center. Ben followed them.
“The manager will want to talk your friend’s parents,” one of the first-aid attendants said. “Do you have their phone number?”
“No,” Ben replied.
“You know her name though, right?”
“Charla. Her name is Charla.”
“We need her last name.”
Ben shook his head.
“I guess we’ll have to wait until she revives.”
Ben guessed Charla was just pretending to be unconscious. Otherwise, she would have a fish tail. He wanted to tell her to keep pretending, but the first-aid attendant was right there. The attendant picked up a magazine and was reading it when his walky-talky came to life and a voice on the other end told him a visitor had fallen and needed first-aid.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” the attendant said. “I’ll call an ambulance if your friend’s not awake by then. If anything changes go into the office next door and they’ll send for me.”
As soon as he left Charla opened her eyes. “We’ve got to get out of here,” she said.
“We sure do,” Ben replied looking around the office. “We need to change our appearance so we’re not caught getting to the Skyride. You can start by taking off your wig.”
“But my hair…”
“Won’t look out of place,” Ben said. “You saw the people on the bus.”
Charla took off her wig, and Ben put it in the bag he carried.
“Ditch that sweater and take my jacket. I’ll wear this.” Ben picked a ragged hoody out of a lost and found box in the corner. He pulled the hood over his head and then looked out the door to see if anyone was watching. The coast was clear and the two of them ran towards the sky tram. Before they got on, Ben took off the hoody and left it hanging over a barrier.
A DRAGON FLIES TONIGHT
When they were off the mountain, the bus was delayed. When they finally caught one, there were traffic jams. It was closer to eight o’clock when they got back to the harbor where they found Kevin in the pilot’s seat waiting for them. He scowled as they climbed into the plane.
Ben and Charla buckled themselves in as Kevin attempted to start the plane. The first attempt failed, so he tried again. He tried a second, a third, and a fourth time, but the motor refused to start.
“The mechanics have gone home for the day so I won’t be able to have the plane looked at until at least tomorrow. Who knows how long it will take to fix. I may be able to find you a ride over to the island with another pilot, but no one flies to where you go to school. Do you want to get a room and see what happens tomorrow? It might be best for you to take a ferry and then catch a bus to Campbell River. I have a friend there I can call to drive you to the other side of the Island and someone can pick you up at the Gold River dock.”
“Ben knows people,” Charla said. “They’ll help us get home, so you don’t need to worry about us.”
“No…I…,” Ben began.
“Good,” Kevin said, clearly relieved. “I’m glad to only have myself and my plane to worry about. Do you need anything else? Money?”
“No,” Charla quickly answered.
“Good, I’ve got a friend I can stay with on the other side of the city.” Kevin walked quickly down the dock away from the plane. Ben grabbed Charla by the arm and tried to catch up to Kevin. They almost had when Kevin hopped into a waiting bus that promptly closed its doors and went on to the next stop.
“Why did you tell him I know people?” Ben asked.
“You do, don’t you.”
“Not anyone in Vancouver I would want to call.”
“We don’t need anyone. You’re going to transform into a dragon and fly us back to Fairhaven.”
“I can’t do that.”
“First of all, Miss Templeton has forbidden it.”
Charla laughed. “And you think she would approve of you being here with me.”
Ben ignored Charla’s comment. “Secondly, I tried last night and couldn’t do it.”
“I don’t know. I just couldn’t.”
“I suggest you try again, right now.” A couple walked past them arm in arm. “Well, maybe not right now, but as soon as we find a place where you won’t be seen.”
“Okay, I’ll try,” Ben said. “But if that doesn’t work I’ll have no choice but to call my dad, which means I’ll be in big trouble. You don’t have to stay, you can transform and swim back to the portal near Fairhaven.”
“No, I can’t. I wouldn’t know where I was going and I’d be in the water too long. Mer can’t tolerate the high salt-content and the pollution in your oceans for extended periods of time. Not only that, but there are dangerous predators. Sharks and giant squid, even your orcas have been known to look at mer as a food source. No, I can’t swim back, even if you tell me where to go.”
“But I thought you said that if I didn’t take you, you would go by yourself.” Ben could feel himself getting very angry. The dragonfire in him was waking up and his gut was beginning to burn. If he didn’t get control of his anger it would be dangerous to be in human form.
Charla just shrugged, which made Ben even angrier. At the very least she should have apologized. He grabbed hold of Charla’s arm and dragged her behind a large evergreen tree. The pain caused him to buckle over and cry out in agony. He imagined himself as a dragon with every fiber of his being. When he heard Charla cry out he opened his eyes to discover he was still holding onto her arm—but not with his human hand. Charla’s arm was held in his claws.
A voice on the walkway they had just left called out, “Is everything okay? Do you need us to call the police?” There was fear in the voice.
“We’re fine,” both Ben and Charla said.
“I need to be sure,” the voice said. “What is…” the voice trailed away as a dragon lifted off the ground carrying a girl on its back.
They were over Seymour Narrows, where several seamen had died before the Canadian government blew the twin tops off an underwater mountain. The area still claimed the occasional life because of strong currents and hidden rocks. So when Ben heard screaming below them he spiraled down to take a look.
A boat was being overwhelmed by the high waves and the strong current. Water was flowing over the back of the boat and causing it to sink. The man at the wheel turned it towards shore, but instead of changing direction it leaned over to the side and capsized. Three men and a woman jumped just before it did, but the man standing closest to the motor ended up with a rope wrapped around his leg. Unfortunately, there was an anchor tied to the other end. The anchor and the man disappeared.
“Help the others! I’ll get that one!” Charla swung around and dropped from Ben’s back into the ocean. By the time she hit the waves her legs had been replaced by a fish tail.
Charla swam underwater towards the boat. Ahead of her, fishing equipment and personnel items were sinking. The boat was carried along by the current as it slowly sunk. The anchor was dragging it down, but was not long enough to catch on the bottom of the ocean. She found the man who was tangled in the anchor rope. He was trying to reach over and free his leg, but his life jacket made that kind of movement impossible. So he unzipped it and took it off and it popped up to float on the surface. It was too late for the man, he’d run out of oxygen.
Charla grabbed the rope, but he anchor was heavy and she had nothing to hold onto. At first it dragged her down, but she flipped her tail several times as hard as she could and managed to drag the anchor upward with one hand while pulling the man out of the now loosened rope with the other. When he was free, she dropped the anchor and came up behind him, put her arms around his chest. When they surfaced, Ben was nowhere in sight.
Ben had picked up the woman and one of the men in his claws and flown into the air with them. There was land close by on both sides of the narrows, but he wanted to put them somewhere that would make rescue easy or where they could walk out on their own if they had to. On the Vancouver Island side, he spotted a trail that came out of the woods so that hikers could look out over the narrows. He followed the trail to a place close to a small cove and put the two boaters down before flying back to rescue the others.
Charla was waiting for him with a man slumped over in her arms. He hovered over Charla and picked up the man she held, and then snagged a man who floated nearby by his life jacket. He carried these two to where he left the others. This time he landed and transformed into a human boy.
The boaters were shivering with cold. He doubted that any of them would be able to act to save their friend’s life. “Please collect some firewood, if you can,” he said.
“Who are you? What are you?” they asked through chattering teeth.
“That’s not important. You get the wood, and I’ll see if I can save your friend’s life.” Ben began to perform life-saving maneuvers on the unconscious man. He pinched his nose and breathed air into his lungs. He continued on for about five minutes and then the man coughed and started breathing on his own.
“A lot of good this wood is going to do when we have nothing to start a fire with, and even if we did this wood is not dry enough,” one of the men pointed out.
Ben grabbed a few more pieces of wood and threw them down where the others had put theirs— “Step back,” he said.
Ben transformed into a dragon and let out a mighty blast of dragon fire. The wood sizzled and popped and then burst into flames.
“I have to leave now. Someone will likely see this fire and come to your rescue, but if they don’t, you’re only a couple of miles from the road. Please do me a favor and don’t tell anyone what you’ve seen.”
“Who are you? Where do you come from?”
Ben ignored their questions and leapt into the air. He plucked Charla out of the ocean and took her to the shore where she could transform into a human. She climbed onto his back and they were soon winging their way over to the west coast of Vancouver Island.
Ben landed on the dock at the fishing lodge. A dog barked from within the house and Kevin’s wife told it to be quiet.
Charla sat on the side of the dock and transformed her legs into a tail.
“Are you going through the portal tonight,” Ben asked quietly, as he sat down beside her.
“Yes. Hopefully, no one will be there when I get back. They are normally only watching when a Chosen from another world is expected, so if I’m lucky I won’t be seen.”
“I hope neither of us is expelled,” Ben said.
“You should never have agreed to take me.” Charla slapped the water with her tail as she said that.
“I didn’t want to.” Ben could feel himself getting angry. “But you said you’d go on your own if I didn’t. You said I owed you for saving your life.” Ben voice had gotten loud. A dog barked from within the house. Charla slipped into the water and Ben climbed into the kayak and they moved away from the dock before speaking again.
“We might have done something really bad when we saved that man’s life,” Charla said.
“What can be bad about saving someone’s life? That’s the work of the Guardian and Chosen go to other worlds to save lives all the time.”
“Yes, but we go because the Guardian sends us. The Guardian didn’t send me and I don’t know if what I did has brought good or evil to your world. How have we changed the timeline of Earth by saving the life of a man who otherwise would have died? Perhaps he will do some terrible things or give birth to a monster who will kill a lot of people.”
Ben stared at Charla. He could tell she was serious, and wondered if she was right. Could they have changed the timeline in a way in shouldn’t have been. Yet he knew if he came upon someone in trouble again, he wouldn’t hesitate to save their life.
“Yes,” he said hesitantly, “but perhaps he’ll do something that will save a lot of lives instead.”
“And maybe one of the lives he saves will create a weapon that destroys your world.”
“Charla, we were there and those people were in trouble. We couldn’t just fly away and leave them, because that’s not who either one of us is. We are chosen heroes of the Guardian for a reason.”
“You’re right, but from now on when I come through a portal it will be because the Guardian has sent me. It is the only way to be sure that what I do helps a world instead of hurts it.”
They silently moved through the water, each lost in their own thoughts until they reached the place where the Portal to Lushaka was located. “Good-bye Ben, I hope we meet again.” Charla said as she swam toward the spot between three rocks.
Ben was surprised to find himself hoping he would see Charla again even though she was a very annoying mermaid. But one thing for sure, he would never let Charla or anyone else talk him into doing something he knew he ought not do again. More than ever he knew that being a Chosen of the Guardian meant a commitment to what was right and true. It meant using your gifts as a Chosen not for your own pleasure, but to work for peace and justice on one of the Six Worlds.
With their two wayward Chosen returning, the Watchers on Earth and Lushaka breathed a sigh of relief. Miss Templeton thought about the conversation she’d have tomorrow with Ben, and wondered how long to make his detention.