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Authors: Sarah Porter

waking storms

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Table of Contents

Title Page

Table of Contents

Copyright

Dedication

Epigraph

Each to Each

The Voice on the Cliff

The Paper Boat

The Diver

The Rowboat

A Glass of Water

The Queen

The Jacket

Little Ditties

The Beckoning Wind

Nausicaa

Enough

The Grays

Darkness

Prisoners

Departures

Ice

The Lost Island

Voices Remembered

Something Real

Forgetting

Being Human

Breaking Voices

Strange Queens

Till Human Voices Wake Us

Acknowledgments

Sample Chapter from THE TWICE LOST

Buy the Book

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About the Author

Copyright © 2012 by Sarah Porter

 

All rights reserved. For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003

 

Lyrics for “Pensacola”:
Words and Music by Michael Doughty, Sebastian Steinberg, Mark Degliantoni, Yuval Gabay, and Ava Chin.

Copyright © 1998 WB Music Corp.
Published by Our Pal Dolores, and Ava Chin.
All rights on behalf of Published by Our Pal Dolores.
Administered by WB Music Corp.
All rights reserved.
Used by permission.

 

Harcourt is an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

 

www.hmhbooks.com

 

THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS HAS CATALOGED THE PRINT EDITION AS FOLLOWS:
Porter, Sarah, 1969–
Waking storms / by Sarah Porter.
p. cm.
Sequel to: Lost voices.

Summary: As a mermaid versus human war looms on the horizon, Luce falls in love with her sworn enemy Dorian and assumes her rightful role as queen of the mermaids.

ISBN 978-0-547-48251-4 [1. Mermaids—Fiction. 2. Supernatural—Fiction. 3. Love—Fiction.] I. Title. PZ7.

P8303 Wak 2012 [Fic]—dc23
2011027322

 

eISBN 978-0-547-82273-0
v2.0513

 

 

 

 

For Jennifer Lemper,
land mermaid

 

 

 

 

Oh pride is not a sin,
And that’s why I have gone
On down to Walmart with
My checkbook, just to get you some
.
Like waves in which you drown me, shouting...
Soul Coughing, “Pensacola”

1

Each to Each

The last words he had absorbed were the ones about Lazarus, come back from the dead to tell everyone ... everything. That was all wrong, bogus. If you’ve seen death from the inside, Dorian thought, you keep your mouth shut. You don’t say a word to anybody. They wouldn’t understand you anyway.

“Dorian? Can you continue?”

He looked up, blank. Images of plummeting bodies still streaked through his head.

“‘Shall I part...’” Mrs. Muggeridge prompted. Dorian pulled himself up from terrible daydreams and forced his eyes to focus on the page in front of him. Acting normal was a way to buy himself the privacy to think not so normally. He found the line and cleared his throat.

“‘Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?’” His voice sounded too flat. He tried to squeeze more emotion into it, though the words seemed uninteresting. “‘I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.’” Now Dorian saw what was coming in the next line and started to panic. He struggled to suppress the memory of those dark eyes looking at him from the center of a wave, the gagging taste of salt, that unspeakable music. Did Mrs. Muggeridge have any idea what she was doing to him? “‘I have heard the mer...’” He choked a little. “‘The
mermaids
singing, each to each.’” Now there was an audible tremor in his voice, and something rising in his throat that felt like a throttled scream.

“Please read to the end.”

“‘I do not think that they will sing to me!’” Dorian spat it out aggressively and dropped the book with a crash. The rest of the students in the tiny class were staring, too shocked to laugh. But what did they know, anyway? “This poem is garbage! It’s all lies!”

“Dorian...”

“If he’d heard the mermaids singing, he wouldn’t be blathering on like this! He would be
dead!
Is this poem just trying to pretend that people
don’t have to die?”

Mrs. Muggeridge didn’t even look angry. Somewhere between alarmed and amused.

“If you could read on to the end, Dorian, I think you’ll see that T. S. Eliot isn’t trying to evade intimations of mortality.” Students started snickering at that. She always used such weird words. It was a mystery to him how Mrs. Muggeridge had wound up in this town. She was even more out of place than he was, with her dragging black clothes and odd ideas.

“No!” Dorian didn’t remember getting out of his chair, but he was standing now. His legs were shaking violently, and the room seemed unsteady. Mrs. Muggeridge looked at him carefully.

“Maybe you should step out of the room for a few minutes?” He couldn’t understand why she had to react so
calmly.
It wasn’t fair, not when she’d made him read those horrible lines. He stalked out of class, leaving his English anthology with its pages splayed and crushed against the floor. In the hallway he pressed his forehead against the cold tile wall. His breathing was fast and hungry, as if he’d just come up from under the deep gray slick of the ocean.

He could hear Mrs. Muggeridge serenely reading on. “‘We have lingered in the chambers of the sea, by sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown. Till human voices wake us, and we drown.’”

He felt like he was going to faint. But at least the poem got something right. Maybe he’d survived the sinking of the
Dear Melissa,
but he still felt like he was drowning all the time. Every time his alarm clock went off, he lunged bolt upright in bed, gasping for air.

When the class finally poured out into the hall, he straightened himself and trailed after them to chemistry. It was such a suffocating, sleepy, ragtag school, with only sixty students and three teachers. His high school in the Chicago suburbs had been twenty times the size of this place. Everything felt crushingly small.

Other students turned to stare at the two men in dark suits standing near a drinking fountain, but Dorian didn’t notice them. He was concentrating on fighting the wobbly sensation of the floor.

The men noticed him, though. Their eyes tracked him intently as he walked away, sometimes leaning on the row of lockers. A few minutes later Mrs. Muggeridge emerged, gray corkscrew curls bobbing absurdly above her head as she chattered to another teacher, the scarlet frames of her glasses flashing like hazard lights. “I suppose I’m behind the times. Apparently now it’s politically incorrect to make your students read poems with mermaids that don’t kill people. What a thing to get so upset about!”

The suited men glanced at each other and followed her.

***

Dorian kept trying to draw the girl he’d seen. If he could set the memory down in black ink, slap it to the paper once and for all, then maybe he could finally get her out of his head. He drew exceptionally well, but every time he finished a new picture he couldn’t escape the feeling that something was missing. The drawing he was working on now showed a towering wave with a single enormous eye gazing out from under the crest. The eyelashes merged with curls of seafoam.

He couldn’t understand why he hadn’t been afraid at the time. The fear had come much later, after he was obviously safe, and the fits of nauseous terror that seized him were infuriatingly senseless. But when the ship was actually crashing, wrenching up under his feet, and people were dying all around him, he’d felt perfectly composed and confident.

He also didn’t know where the instincts that had saved him had come from. If he’d done even one thing differently, he knew, he wouldn’t be the sole surviving passenger of the
Dear Melissa.
He’d be as dead as the rest of them, as dead as his whole family. If he hadn’t faced down that girl in the waves—or that thing that wasn’t a girl, not really, but a monster with a beautiful girl’s head and torso—if he hadn’t sung her own devastating song right back at her, then it would have been all over. She would have murdered him without a second thought. But sitting under the cold fluorescent lights of the chemistry lab, he knew that singing in the middle of a shipwreck had been a bizarre impulse. Inexplicable. How had he known?

Who would have ever guessed that the way to stop a mermaid from killing you was to
sing
at her?

She’d dragged him out from the wreckage, swimming away with him clasped in one arm. They’d raced at such speed that the blood had shrieked in his head. The foam-striped water had rushed across his staring eyes. He’d struggled not to inhale it, and he’d failed again and again. Salt burned his lungs, and the cold water in his chest swelled into a bursting ache. But every time he’d thought that he was really going to drown, she’d pulled him up above the surface and let the water hack out of him, fountaining down his chin. She’d let him
live.
Only him, out of all the hundreds who’d set sail together.

She’d even spoken, once. Now that he had time to think it over, he realized one of the weirdest things about it all was the fact that she’d used English instead of talking in some kind of mermaid gibberish.
Take a really deep breath, okay? We have to dive under again.
Her voice was gentle and much too innocent-sounding for something so utterly evil.

He hadn’t answered. He’d been too pissed off to speak to her, though now looking back, he realized that he hadn’t felt nearly furious enough. He’d felt the kind of anger that would have made sense if he’d been having a fight with a friend, say. As if that monster with the silvery green tail was just a girl he knew from school or something. Worse, as if she was someone he
liked.

She’d belonged to the pack that murdered his mother and father; his sweet six-year-old sister, Emily; his aunt and her husband; and all three of his cousins. He should hate that mermaid girl more than anything in the world. He should dream about dismembering her with his bare hands.

Instead he dreamed about her dark eyes watching him as he sprawled on the shore gagging up a flood of sour, brackish liquid. She hadn’t swum off right away after she’d shoved him up onto the beach, and he’d had time to memorize her pale face and dark jagged hair set like a star in a gray-green curl of sea.

He dreamed about her song.

***

“Charlotte Muggeridge? We were wondering if we could speak to you for a few minutes.” The taller of the two men folded back his suit lapel to show her his badge. Mrs. Muggeridge goggled at him in absolute confusion.

“Anyone can speak to me!” She was alone with the men in the teachers’ lounge. The grubby vomit orange sofas sagged in patches like rotting fruit. Inspirational posters urging them to strive for their dreams had faded to anemic tints of jade green and beige. No one sat down. Instead she swayed a little, staring from one glossy, polite face to the other. Both the suited men met her gaze with bland determination. Both had empty blue eyes and freshly shaved cheeks. “You can’t actually be FBI! That is, of course you can speak to me, but ... I couldn’t possibly have anything to say that you might find interesting...” She trailed off, then glanced up at them with new sharpness. “I hope none of our students is in trouble.”

“No one is in any trouble, ma’am.” Mrs. Muggeridge’s eyes were darkening with a feeling of aversion for the tall man, though she couldn’t justify her dislike. He was perfectly well-mannered. “There was an incident in your third-period English class?”

That bewildered her, again. “Certainly nothing I couldn’t handle without help from the FBI!” She gaped at them. “Don’t you have more important things to worry about than an outburst from a fifteen-year-old boy?”

“In this case, ma’am, we think it might be important.”

“A tenth grader didn’t
care
for T. S. Eliot. Send in the feds!” Her voice was heavy with sarcasm. The agents were glowering at her.

“Just describe the incident. Ma’am.” The politeness was slipping now.

“Well ... It was only that we were reading ‘Prufrock’ in class. We reached the closing stanzas, about the mermaids. And Dorian Hurst became very upset, for some reason. He jumped out of his seat and started yelling. But he’s generally been a very good student since he enrolled here.”

The two men were obviously trying to keep their faces smooth and vacant, but something excited and a little disturbing started to show in the quick pointed looks passing between them.

“And what did Dorian say?” It was the smaller man speaking now. He had hanging jowls and a high, almost girlish voice. Mrs. Muggeridge thought it contrasted unpleasantly with his blocky gray face.

“He said that if Prufrock had
really
heard the mermaids singing, he wouldn’t have lived to talk about it.” An eager twitch passed through the shoulders of the taller agent. He leaned in on her, and his blue eyes were as brittle as hunks of ice. But why on earth did he care? “It was a peculiar detail to quarrel with, but Dorian seemed very passionate about it. He accused Eliot of pretending we don’t have to die.”

“I thought you said the name was Prufrock?” It was the shorter agent squeaking again. Mrs. Muggeridge looked at him with fresh outrage.

“T. S. Eliot is the poet who
wrote
‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’! How can you be so ig—” Mrs. Muggeridge stifled a number of extremely rude endings to the sentence.

“Did he say anything else?” The tall man sounded bored.

“That was all I
let
him say. He was being disruptive, so I asked him to step out of class.” The shorter man’s upper lip suddenly jerked up in sneer, as if Mrs. Muggeridge had just confessed to doing something extremely stupid. It was all too much for her. “Now, would you
please
explain why all of this is important?”

“We don’t discuss ongoing investigations, ma’am.” The tall agent turned abruptly toward the door, rapping a pen against his mouth.

“Do you know anything about Dorian’s family?” The short agent twittered the question in a shrill, malicious tone. His eyebrows arched suggestively. The tall one swung back around, shooting what was obviously meant to be a quelling glance at his partner, but the little man only grinned.

“His family? No, I don’t. I think someone mentioned that he doesn’t live with his biological parents, but that isn’t so uncommon.”

“They’re dead, is why. Sister, too. They all died in June.” He seemed to enjoy the look of shock on Mrs. Muggeridge’s face. “Drowned.”

Mrs. Muggeridge felt her mouth fall into an O of dismay as the tall agent jerked his partner’s arm and towed him from the room. She stumbled a few steps to the sofa and flopped down, leaning her head on her hands. “Oh, that poor boy!” She gasped the words out loud. “Oh, no
wonder
he was so upset!”

It still didn’t explain why they were so interested, though. Not unless they thought Dorian was hiding something.

***

His father’s second cousin once removed Lindy and her husband, Elias, had made it clear that they didn’t want to keep Dorian permanently. They were too old and tired to cope with a teenager. It was just their bad luck that they happened to live right in the town where he’d literally washed up and that his parents had included their phone number on some form they’d filled out. The result was that Dorian had been left with them more or less by default. They reminded him occasionally that this was just a temporary arrangement until something
better
could be worked out, but since nobody else was exactly clamoring to take over as his guardian, he had the impression that he’d probably be stuck with them for a while. They acted skittish around him, mincing and whispering in a way that made him queasy and impatient. The only good thing he could say for them was that they’d at least followed the psychologist’s advice to keep quiet about his connection to the sinking of the
Dear Melissa.
No one in his school knew he’d been on the ship, not even the principal, and he liked it that way. If everyone had kept asking him questions about it, he was pretty sure he would have gone insane.

He’d been asked way too many questions already, by a parade of out-of-towners flown in to investigate the ship’s crash. Therapists and cops, insurance agents, and even someone who claimed to be from the FBI. What had happened? Had he noticed anything unusual? And, of course, how on earth had he swum twelve miles alone in less than an hour? Some of them seemed to doubt that he’d been on the ship at all, though his name was right there on the passenger manifest.

He gave the same answers to all of them: he didn’t remember anything. He’d been standing on the deck, and everything had gone black. He’d come to on the shore.

It had turned into a kind of game. They asked the same questions; he gave the same answers. Like some kind of nightmare merry-go-round: I
don’t remember, I don’t remember, I don’t remember.

He wasn’t about to tell them that he’d been rescued by a killer mermaid.

His reserve wasn’t only because they wouldn’t believe him or that they might even throw him into an asylum for hopeless lunatics, though those were definitely factors.

It was all just too
private:
the mermaid girl’s painfully beautiful face, the searing amazement of those voices, the squeezing closeness of death. He wouldn’t have described it even to his best friend, much less to a bunch of pushy, self-important strangers.

For all he knew, he might be the only person on earth who had heard the mermaids singing and lived. The memory was
his.
It was all he had to make up for the loss of his family. The darkhaired mermaid’s song burned his sleep, twined through all his waking thoughts.

***

Over dinner Lindy asked him at least five times if he was enjoying his macaroni and cheese mixed with hamburger meat; every time she asked in precisely the same simpering, anxious voice. Pink scalp winked through the wisps of her fuzzy, apricot blond hair, and her pale eyes looked permanently frightened inside their red rims. She made Dorian think of a sick, senile rabbit.

“It’s delicious,” Dorian replied automatically. He kept looking over at the window, where early twilight glowed between red checkered curtains. The kitchen was prim, secure, and always extremely clean. A painted wooden bear in a chef’s hat and apron stood on the counter, forever frying a wooden egg. A game show host jabbered on the TV about how fabulous that evening’s prizes were. How long would it be before he could get away? “I’m going to go study at a friend’s house. Okay?”

Lindy and Elias both nodded so cautiously that it was like he’d just confessed to suicidal impulses and they were terrified of saying something that would push him over the edge. Not that suicide seemed like the worst idea ever sometimes.

Dorian scraped and washed his plate. It was important to keep going through the motions. Convince them that he hadn’t been driven totally crazy by the trauma. It was bad enough that he screamed in his sleep sometimes. They were probably already afraid that he was going to come after them with an ax.

He had to find the mermaid who’d saved him. Not to prove to himself that she hadn’t been some kind of hallucination—he knew what he’d seen. But she owed him an explanation at least. After all, what kind of reason could she have had for murdering so many people? Absolute evil? If that was it, though, why make an exception for him, singing or no? He didn’t deserve to be alive when his parents and Emily were dead.

He needed to talk to her, needed it urgently, and he told himself that it didn’t matter why. He just had to hear what she would say. But how was he supposed to find a mermaid? Steal a rowboat and go paddle around in the open sea like an idiot? He’d been brooding over the problem for weeks, and tonight he thought he might have found an answer. It was worth a try at least.

It was only the middle of September, but it was already cold enough that he pulled on a parka and hat before stepping out into the wild dusk, where the wind reeked with the weedy, fishy breath of the harbor. The smell always brought back the sickening taste of mingled bile and salt water horribly flecked with the sweetness of the previous night’s chocolate cake that he’d disgorged that day on the shore. His stomach lurched a little from the memory, but he did his best to ignore it.

The small tan house stood on a narrow street that ran straight down to the tiny harbor. The hill was steep enough that the sidewalk was a staircase with broad cement steps. He could see the black masts of a few sailboats crisscrossing like chopsticks in front of the electric blue sky while farther up clouds sagged in a violet jumble. He walked between glowing windows, heading for the sea. It was obvious he’d have to walk for a mile or two, past the beach north of town where she’d left him, then up onto the low, ragged cliffs where a path wound through stands of half-dead spruce. The farther the better, really. She wouldn’t want to come too close to a town.

He didn’t want to care how she felt about anything, but sometimes he couldn’t help wondering if she still thought about him. Maybe she’d completely forgotten him in the three months since she’d swum with him in her arms.

Then he’d remind her. He wasn’t about to let her forget what she’d done. He’d show her what a big mistake she’d made by letting one of her victims survive. Especially since that survivor was him.

2

The Voice on the Cliff

“Luce? Oh, Luce, it is you! We’ve been trying to find you for weeks!”

The dreamlike thrum of Luce’s song dropped into silence, and she glanced up in surprise at Dana’s warm smile, already very close to her own face. Dana leaned back with her elbows on the pebble beach and glanced around the small cave with its smooth, rounded ceiling. Her long tail stirred under the water, flicking up glimmers of ruby and coppery shine. Luce’s cave didn’t have any cracks that could let the sun in. The only light came through the underwater entrance set in a deep crevice between cliffs, so that a nebulous, dusky glow refracted up through the water. The dimness didn’t keep Luce and Dana from seeing each other clearly, though; they could see without difficulty in any degree of darkness. Dana was stunning even by mermaid standards, with a mouth like a heavy rose and faintly luminous brown skin. As with all mermaids, a dark, subtle shimmering hung in the air around her. Her thick black hair was parted neatly in the middle and fanned out around her shoulders in a dozen puffy twists. Unlike Luce, who was completely naked, she wore a red bikini top. But at least, Luce thought, Dana wasn’t wearing a lot of stolen human jewelry the way she’d done before.

“It’s a nice cave. I was worried you’d just, like, taken off somewhere, but then Rachel said she’d heard your song in the water, really faint. I didn’t know if I should even believe her, but some of us started looking. And here you are!” Dana’s voice was too enthusiastic, trying to cover up the awkwardness that kept growing as Luce stayed quiet. Still, she felt better about Dana than she did about the rest of them. Dana and Violet were the only ones who hadn’t participated in the assault on Catarina.

“Hi, Dana,” Luce finally yielded. She couldn’t imagine why any of them would bother looking for her, though, unless Anais had something nasty in mind. Luce kept out of their way; they should keep out of hers. “Were you trying to find me so Anais can finally kill me?” Dana jerked backwards so sharply that Luce felt the shock transmitted through the water. Hurt widened Dana’s huge brown eyes.

“Luce, that is
so
unfair! I mean, I know you must hate Jenna now, and maybe you think she’d help Anais ... do something to you ... But why would you say something that paranoid to
me?
I mean ...
I
didn’t even touch Catarina! You know I didn’t! And I
always
stood up for you!”

Luce didn’t exactly remember it that way, and she didn’t much want to be reminded of all the times when Dana had been nice to her.

“You didn’t start clawing at Catarina, but you didn’t do anything to help her either. You would have just let the tribe rip her apart right in front of you!” Luce was surprised by the savagery in her tone, the sudden racing of her heart. She hadn’t realized how angry she still felt until she’d seen Dana’s beautiful face again. Dana was shifting from hurt to aggrieved now, her lips tightening and a golden heat in her eyes. Dim bluish light wavered on her cheeks.

“Like we had a choice! Me and Violet! Like, you think if we’d gotten in their way they wouldn’t have beat the crap out of us, too, or just killed us? Luce, everyone was
wasted.
We’d all drunk like a ton of scotch that day. And Anais got them totally crazy. Jenna and everyone, they didn’t know
what
they were doing.”

“You’re trying to tell me your own sister would have helped Anais kill you?” Luce’s tone was cutting, but in her heart she had to admit that Dana had a point. The mermaids
had
been out of their minds when they’d thrown themselves on Catarina; they’d been in an alcohol-fueled frenzy, wild with hysterical cruelty. Of course, Luce’s uncle had been drunk when he’d tried to rape her, too, back when she was still human. And no mermaid would have thought that was an excuse for
him.

Dana didn’t answer at first. She suddenly looked horribly sad, gazing down at the flash of her own scales under the water. “I think Jenna might have killed me then, actually. Yeah. I do.” Dana whispered the words. It took Luce a moment to understand her, and another moment to absorb the mournful helplessness of her tone.

“Dana, I...”

“Luce, that’s the
problem!”
Dana looked up, the golden light in her brown eyes broken by urgency and awful regret. “I mean with having Anais be queen. Having her
get
to people. Like, Jenna and some of the others, they’re just completely different now than they used to be, and I have to look at them every day, my twin sister and my best friends, and think how they’d probably strangle me in my sleep if Anais told them to!”

“Dana, I’m
sorry!
I mean, I’m sorry I blamed you...”

“I want you to be more than sorry!” The words lashed out. “I want you to care! I mean, you’re sitting here alone in this cave for months, when you’re the only one who could help us. And all you can think about is Catarina and how pissed off and, like,
superior
you are, but you don’t care about the rest of us at all. Everyone keeps acting crazier all the time, Luce. Like, as long as there were ships we could sink, it kind of took the pressure off, but now that the ships have completely stopped coming this way ... I keep thinking we might wind up fighting each other, or maybe some of the girls will go like Miriam!”

Luce winced at the mention of that name. Miriam’s suicide had left a crater of pain in her heart; it wasn’t right for Dana to use that pain to make Luce do what she wanted. Not that Luce was clear on exactly what Dana was after.

“What do you want from me, Dana?” Luce snapped. Dana looked surprised, then assessing.

“You’ve changed a lot, too. God. You used to be such a marshmallow.” Luce tensed with annoyance, but she didn’t say anything. “But maybe that’s a good thing. I mean, you’ll have to be pretty tough to go up against her!”

So that was it. “You think I’m going to get rid of Anais for you?” Luce asked.

A quick, contorted smile bent Dana’s mouth. “You’re right that she wants to kill you, you know. I’m not going to tell anyone where you are—at least, not anyone but Violet, she’s dying to see you—but if somebody on Anais’s side finds out they’ll come after you for
sure.

Luce halfway smiled. Did Dana think, if she couldn’t manipulate Luce with heartache, then she could control her with fear instead?

“Tell Anais not to bother. It’s a waste of her time.”

“Luce, you don’t get it! Anais knows you’re the rightful queen. And she knows we all know it, too! No one really talks about it, not straight out, but we all saw what you
did
... using your voice to move the sea...”

“I knew what you meant, Dana. You can tell Anais not to worry. Tell her I don’t even want to
look
at anyone in our tribe who hurt Catarina, and I definitely don’t want to be their queen. Tell Anais I think she’s the queen they all deserve!”

Dana reeled back so hard her shoulder banged the stone wall. Her tail slashed back and forth, kicking up small recoiling waves. “Just because they all broke the timahk, and you
didn’t
...” Luce flinched at that, but luckily Dana was glaring past her and didn’t notice. “What, you think that means you’re so much
better
than they are? You’re too good to even give them
orders
?”

Luce sighed. She still felt angry, but she understood that Dana was in an awful position, stuck with a psychotic queen. And it sounded like Luce’s old tribe might be on the verge of some kind of internal war. Dana was trying to do the right thing.

“It’s not
about
the timahk, Dana.” Luce’s voice was much gentler now. “I don’t know if I even believe in the timahk anymore, or not in all of it ... But I really loved Catarina, and she’s gone now, and there’s no way I can even find out if she’s alive or not. I can’t be around a bunch of mermaids who tried to kill Cat and just somehow pretend to feel
okay
about them!”

Dana stared hard at Luce, as if she couldn’t make up her mind whether or not to be mollified.

“Why didn’t you go with her, then? If you
loved
her so much?” Dana’s tone was still sharp, but Luce could tell that her heart wasn’t in it anymore. She was forcing herself to act angrier than she really felt. Still, the question made tears start up in Luce’s eyes, and she turned her face away. “Luce? Actually, that was what we all thought at first. That you and Cat had just gone off together. Even if it seemed weird after how bad you two had been fighting...”

“I wanted to go with her. She wouldn’t let me.” She looked back at Dana, whose face had gone blank with disbelief.

“She wouldn’t
what?
No way, Luce! There’s no way any of us would just swim off alone like that. Not if there was any choice! I mean, with how dangerous it is ... and not having
anyone
to help you...”

“Catarina did, though.” Luce could hear how bitter her voice sounded. Dana was right; she
had
changed a lot in the months since Miriam’s suicide and Catarina’s near-murder. “She even tricked me. She waited until I went out to look for food and then sneaked off. To stop me from following her. Because she knew I would.”

“Crazy! You didn’t think of chasing after her?” Dana wasn’t asking it to be cruel, Luce knew, but the question still grabbed her stomach in a knot of shame. The fact was she couldn’t completely explain to herself why she hadn’t done exactly what Dana suggested. Catarina had been battered and terribly weak when she’d disappeared. If Luce had rushed south after her, searching all the caves she’d passed, there was a good chance she could have caught up with the wounded ex-queen.

Something heavy and sad and secret had urged her to let Cat slip away, to linger where she was. In her darker moments Luce accused herself of disgusting cowardice. But, if she was completely honest with herself, the truth was something even worse than that. Luce suddenly realized that her own silvery green tail had started swishing nervously without her being aware of it.

“Luce? I guess I should admit I was kind of lying before. Saying that Anais would come after you. I was mostly trying to scare you.” Luce looked up, smiling in sheer relief that Dana wasn’t pursuing the question of why Catarina had left alone. “I mean, Anais would practically cut off her own fins to see you dead, like killing you would be the most amazing thing that ever happened to her, but the thing is ... there are probably only a handful of girls who’d go along with it now. And she knows that.” Luce noticed that Dana refrained from mentioning that one of those girls was almost certainly Jenna. “The tribe is barely holding together, and if Anais pushed everyone to kill you for no reason ... I don’t know, a lot of us might just leave her, or fight on your side. She’s not going to risk it unless she can come up with some really good excuse.”

Luce watched Dana’s wide brown eyes staring off into a corner of the cave. Delicate curls of blue light flickered across Dana’s irises, and Luce had a sudden flash of insight: more than anything else, Dana was afraid that she’d wind up fighting her own twin sister, maybe even killing her. Dana must know that if Luce challenged Anais there would almost certainly be a battle, mermaid blood unraveling through the water. And Dana was prepared for that, ready to face her own worst fears for the sake of the tribe. It was stunningly brave of her to come here and to say these things. Luce almost felt ashamed of herself, but she still wasn’t ready to give in.

“It’s wonderful to see you, Dana. I really missed you.” Luce was startled to hear herself say it, and just as surprised to see Dana suddenly grinning back at her with the same open-hearted warmth she’d had before everything in their tribe had gone so hideously wrong.

“You know I’m not going to stop bugging you, Luce. About the whole queen thing. Now, you just
know
you want to take that screwy blond bitch down! Admit it!”

Luce burst out laughing. Then she realized with a hard jolt of sorrow that it was the first time she’d laughed in three months.

***

It was already twilight by the time Dana left, and Luce drifted over to the nearby beach where she usually foraged for dinner. Tall rock formations protruded from the water there, sheltering her from view in case any boats came by. They were at that juncture in the early Alaskan autumn when the night began to swing as if it were on hinges, closing steadily in on the daylight. By December the days would be no more than a dim grayish haze seeping through as the door of night was briefly knocked ajar. It was the first time Luce had really wondered what it would be like to spend a deep northern winter out in the sea. She’d only been a mermaid since April, after all, but she had a vague recollection of Kayley saying that in years when the ice got bad the tribe would be forced to migrate south for a while, out past the Alaskan Peninsula, slipping through the Aleutian Islands. She could just make out the Aleutians from here, a dark uneven band wrapping the southern horizon. Maybe she should just leave now and look for Catarina.

She knew she wouldn’t, though. As she leaned between two boulders and cracked oysters for dinner, Luce admitted to herself that there was still something holding her here. Not that she had any reason to believe that the boy with the bronzeblond hair would have stayed in the area. It was highly unlikely, in fact. Assuming his parents had been with him on the cruise ship Luce’s tribe had sunk in their furious grief over Miriam, then the boy would now be one of the lost kids, just as Luce herself had been, dumped on whatever grudging relatives could be persuaded to take him in or else passed around from one foster home to the next. He could be anywhere in the country. What were the odds, after all, that he’d have family on this desolate stretch of the Alaskan coast? She should picture him living in Montana or New York or Georgia: anywhere but here. That was simply logical.

But she couldn’t shake the sense that he was still somewhere nearby. “Wishful thinking, Luce knew. The kind of lonely delusion that would send her out of her mind if she let it. She wasn’t sure which was stupider: imagining that someday she’d see the boy she’d saved again, or
wanting
to see him. He must hate her utterly, and it would be a violation of the timahk, the mermaids’ code of honor, for Luce to speak to a human at all.

It had also been against the timahk for her to save his life, of course, no matter how she tried to rationalize what she’d done. Luce knew there were good reasons for the law she’d broken—the one which demanded that any human who heard the mermaids singing had to die—but she couldn’t think about those reasons now without feeling a surge of rebellious stubbornness. Her resentment of the timahk’s insistence on murder had been in the back of her mind when she’d spoken those reckless words to Dana:
I don’t know if I even believe in the timahk anymore.
In retrospect, Luce knew it was a terrible idea to say that out loud. She’d been living in dreamy isolation for so long that she’d forgotten the importance of keeping her most dangerous thoughts to herself.

There was a nudge at her hand. Luce looked down, glad to be distracted. It was one of the two larval mermaids who lived beside this beach: little girls, maybe eighteen months old, who’d changed into mermaids before they’d even learned how to talk right. Now they were stuck being that age for as long as they lived—and for most larvae that wasn’t very long. Larvae were slow, awkward swimmers, easy prey for orcas; Luce was glad that these two were too babyish to understand that. They squealed and tumbled together in the water, nuzzling Luce so that she wouldn’t forget to crack extra oysters for them. Sometimes she’d sing them to sleep, even tell them half-remembered fairy tales. Not that they understood anything, but they loved the attention.

“Here you go. Wait. Want a few more?” The larvae crooned wordlessly, snuffling at her and gobbling up the shellfish. One of them was pale, but the other was probably Inuit, and gazed at Luce with eyes like black pools. Sometimes Luce thought of giving them names but then thought better of it. That would only make her feel worse when they died.

Late twilight brushed the cresting waves with strokes of indigo, moody purple, slate gray. A few scattered islands cut black patches from the blue-glowing distance. The spruce-fringed slopes of the coast began to call to Luce, and she felt the tidal pull of desire to give herself to the sea. To spiral out through the night blue water, caress each wave with soft curls of her own song, and then maybe—just for a little while—float farther north, out past the fishing village where she’d thrown the bronzehaired boy onto a pebble beach. Not that she expected anything to come of this expedition besides some painful memories...

She was careful to keep her singing quiet as she swam out, even though hardly any boats seemed to come through this way anymore. Probably the crews had finally gotten spooked by all the shipwrecks and decided that this part of the coast was simply unlucky. Every time Luce noticed a big commercial fishing boat or a cruise ship, it would be swinging out toward the horizon as if it wanted to avoid the area on purpose. That was fine with her. She knew, though, that Anais and the others had to be seething with frustration, watching their prey repeatedly glide out of range. Still, there was the occasional small fishing boat or kayaker, and Luce couldn’t take the risk of anyone hearing her sing. She played with the water as she swam, sculpting it with rivulets of music. Several months before, she’d discovered the secret of controlling the waves with her voice, and she’d been practicing obsessively ever since Catarina had left. Now as she skimmed along the surface she let out a series of high, bright, concentrated notes, calling up a row of perfect jets of water that splashed down again as she swirled away. Then she dipped below, still singing, opening ribbons of air inside the sea.

She could even make small blobs of water levitate now. She’d been working on sculpting water in midair with tiny variations in her song, shaping transparent fish and seabirds, stars with dangling tentacles, human faces...

A spangle of shining windows to her right marked the fishing village set back in its small crook of harbor. Luce reflexively edged a bit farther out to sea. Even if no one saw her, human settlements always had an air of discomfort around them, a subdued menace. Farther on was the beach where she’d left the boy, followed by a wall of low, uneven cliffs thick with half-dead spruce. Luce swam in closer again, gazing up. Trees stripped naked on the windward side tilted forlornly out of jags in the rust-colored rock, their bare tan branches like decaying lace. She caught the flash of something white and plummeting, probably a hunting owl, and heard an animal’s cry from the edge of the woods. It was loud and determined, and Luce stopped singing to hear it better. Maybe a rabbit was screaming as the owl carried it gripped in piercing talons.