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Kickstart

Mermaid, Pool, Motorcycle

By Tiffany MercerPublished about a year ago Updated about a year ago 4 min read
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Kickstart
Photo by Jandra Sutton on Unsplash

The chlorine in the motel pool made even the water feel as dry as the rest of the dusty desert town; the sort of dryness you can feel at the back of your throat and in your sinuses. Still, it was one of the few places Cordelia felt at home, her bleached and brittle hair a testament to hours spent beneath the surface. The teenager spent nearly every moment she wasn’t working behind the motel’s counter swimming in idle circles around the nearly-always-empty pool, including this afternoon.

Drifting on her back, she ran a tongue over chapped lips as she pondered the word “languish”— a wet-sounding word that somehow still suited how she felt about the town that drained her energy as readily as the cracked earth greedily gulped down the rain. Thunderclouds gathered overhead, preparing to overthrow the sun with a summer monsoon and end her swim as collateral damage.

At first she thought the growing rumble was the first wave of thunder, but when it continued to grow she moved upright, treading water as she peered towards the parking lot. A lone motorcycle was turning in to the motel, heading for the office. She swore quietly and swam for the ladder closest to the lounge chair adorned with her discarded uniform— she had only meant to take a brief dip since she’d finished all her chores and the motel was practically unoccupied, but she’d be in trouble with Marco and Belinda if a guest had to wait for service because she wasn’t at the counter.

They weren’t her parents, biologically or legally, but they were the closest she had. Over a decade ago she had wandered into the motel lobby— barefoot, severely dehydrated, and with no memory of who or where she was— and they had taken her in. Sometimes Marco wondered aloud whether they should have tried harder to find her real family, but neither of them were fond of the police and Belinda had been overjoyed to step into the role of mother and teacher, homeschooling Cordelia with the help of PBS television shows and a tattered set of encyclopedias. Once she turned thirteen they had paid her to help them run the motel, and she had her own room-turned-apartment. She was allowed to go anywhere in town, but she seldom did; she had no friends, and there was little of interest for her in the few shops and single, wilting park the town boasted.

Cordelia was still squeezing water from her hair as she entered the motel office, and saw that the motorcyclist had beaten her to the counter. Their eyes met, and she froze.

With her motorcycle helmet tucked under her arm, the stranger’s long, turquoise hair fell in waves to her waist. Instead of leather, her jacket and boots were made of a shimmering, scaley green material. Alligator? Snake? No, neither of those seemed right. She wasn’t exactly beautiful, but there was something captivating about her.

Entrancing, Cordelia thought. Her eyes… are the pupils larger than most? They’re so blue!

Before she could speak, the motorcyclist’s face broke into a grin, and she gave a squeal so sudden and high it nearly hurt. Her hand shot out, gripping Cordelia’s wrist, dragging her at a run back towards the pool.

“What—?” was all Cordelia managed to gasp before the stranger gripped her in a tight hug and fell backwards into the water.

“Sister!” the stranger cried, pulling back to examine Cordelia as they both floated beneath the surface, her expression a mixture of heartache and joy. “Oh, you’ve grown so much and so little.”

Cordelia’s incredulous exhale sent bubbles obscuring their shared gaze, and she struggled to return to the surface. The stranger’s grip tightened.

“No,” she said firmly. “Breathe. This water is terrible, and you’ve been separated from the sea for much too long, but you can do it.”

There was a moment of hesitation, but something in the stranger’s eyes made Cordelia comply. Water flooded her nose and throat, and she began to choke, certain she would drown… until she didn’t.

“Sister?” She asked, exhaling the word like sea foam dragged back across sand.

The mermaid’s grin widened. “Sirena.”

“Cordelia.”

Sirena cupped her sister’s face in both hands. “Thank goodness you remembered that, at least.”

They broke the surface and swam for the stairs, hand in hand. The sky had darkened prematurely, and the first droplets of the storm joined the pool water. Marco and Belinda stood at the gate, their expressions somewhere between blank and flabbergasted, but moved back as the girls approached.

Pausing for a moment, Cordelia considered hugging them both, but somehow it didn’t seem appropriate. She nodded deeply, felt her knees bend, and realized the action had become a curtsy. To her surprise, they both returned it, looking equally perplexed.

Sirena and Cordelia continued on to the motorcycle, where Sirena produced an extra helmet and fastened her own into place. Perhaps it was the lingering chlorine, or something else at the back of her throat, but Cordelia tasted saltiness as they sped through the rain towards a home she couldn’t remember, yet somehow knew.

Fantasy
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About the Creator

Tiffany Mercer

Just your basic, garden-variety fiction dweeb. :-)

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