As I swam around the rocks at the end of the bay, the water became clearer and softer. It was like switching from grainy black-and-white film into color. The fat gray fish were replaced by stripy yellow-and-blue ones with floppy silver tails, long thin green ones with spiky antennae and angry mouths, orange ones with spotted black fins—-all darting purposefully around me.
Every now and then, I swam across a shallow sandy stretch. Wispy little sticklike creatures as thin as paper wriggled along beneath me, almost see-through against the sand. Then the water would suddenly get colder and deeper as I went over a rocky part. I swished myself across these carefully. They were covered in prickly black sea urchins, and I wouldn’t be thrilled to get one of those stuck on my tail.
Soon the water got warmer again as I came to another shallow part. I was getting tired. I came up for fresh air and realized I was miles from home; farther away than I’d ever been on my own. I tried to flick myself along, but my tail flapped lazily and started to ache. Eventually, I made it to a big, smooth rock with a low shelf. I pulled myself out of the water, my tail resting on some pebbles in the sea. A minute later, it went numb. I wiggled my toes and shivered as I watched my legs come back. That part was still really creepy!
Sitting back against a larger rock, I caught my breath. Then I heard something. Like singing, but without words. The wet rocks shimmered in the moonlight, but there was no one around. Had I imagined it? The water lapped against the pebbles, making them jangle as it sucked its breath away from the shore. There it was again—-the singing.
Where was it coming from? I clambered up a jagged rock and looked down the other side. That’s when I saw her. I rubbed my eyes. Surely it couldn’t be . . . but it was! It was a mermaid! A real one!
The kind you read about in kids’ stories. Long blond hair all the way down her back, which she was brushing while she sang. She was perched on the edge of a rock, shuffling a bit as though she were trying to get comfortable. Her tail was longer and thinner than mine. Silvery green and shimmering in the moonlight, it flapped against the rock as she sang.
She kept singing the same song. When she got to the end, she started again. A couple of times, she was in the middle of a really high part when she stopped and hit her tail with the brush. "Come on, Shona," she said sharply. "Get it right!"
I stared for ages, opening and closing my mouth like a fish. I wanted to talk to her. But what exactly do you say to a singing mermaid perched on a rock in the middle of the night? Funnily enough, I’ve never had that come up before.
In the end, I coughed gently and she looked up immediately.
"Oh!" she said. She gaped open-mouthed at my legs for a second. And then, with a twist and a splash, she was gone.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler. Copyright © 2004 by Liz Kessler. Excerpted by permission of Candlewick, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.