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"Chelsea's Courage"

Written by: Astrid Delphine  

astrid_delphine@hotmail.com

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Prolog

       My daughter, Chelsea, was an accomplished figure skater (winning the junior championship last year), cyclist, and varsity basketball & volleyball teams last year in school & earned her G1 before her 17th birthday.
          Chelsea has always been great with kids. She had been awarded a scholarship to university but something had happened to put that on hold.
          … Wait, why am I telling? I’ll hand this over to Chelsea for her side of the story. I’ll be back later.

                                                          -Cassandra, “Mom”

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Chapter 1: Before

        My name is Chelsea Sage O’Hara and I slept through my 18th birthday. According to my mother, Cassandra, I had been in the hospital in a coma for those three months. I had no memory why, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

When I was born, there was nothing special about me except that I was born with an exceedingly rare blood type (called M [created by O+ meets AB-]). My parents discovered that I had great stamina for sports when I was a young child. In the beginning, my mom had signed me up for swimming lessons but when I was six, I fell into the deep end and nearly drowned. Cassandra pulled me out of that and put me into figure skating instead. That turned out awesome as I won the junior championship last year.
       I never went back to swimming. Ever since the accident, I had nightmares periodically and every time, I woke up in a cold sweat. I wouldn’t even go boating and even walking onto a dock scared me. When I got to high school, I missed out on the seniors’ camping trip so I tried therapy, hypnosis, acupuncture, even went to the water park to feed dolphins; I tried everything to break my fear of the water but nothing worked.

       I was all set to go to State U in September that year with a sports scholarship. Thinking back, I can remember that I was driving home from a visit to State U regarding a residence interview, when I got into my car accident.

Chapter 2: COMA

        Cassandra told me after-the-fact that the injuries I sustained were so severe; the doctors gave my mom little hope of my walking.

       My accident happened on April 17th, that much I remembered but what happened afterwards, I had either no control or knowledge of.
       My accident was described as
“absolute worst case scenario”. First, the breaks on my car failed; I crashed into a construction fence, then a drunk driver t-boned me on the driver’s side, then a gust of blew a 10 meter concrete pipe loose of its crane tether and it came crashing down on top of my car, missing my head by millimeters. Instead, I was crushed forwards onto the steering wheel. According to the newspaper clippings, they had to crane haul the pipe pieces off my car and use the Jaws of Life to just be able to see me. The article claims that I was still breathing when they pulled me out. The chief rescuer was quoted to have said “that this was a God-honest miracle that she was not DOA (Dead on Arrival).”
          I was completely out as I was wheeled into the ER and immediately into the OR. According to my mother, I had crushed ribs, punctured lungs, crushed pelvis, both legs broken in eight places each (excluding the feet & toes, which were all crushed practically beyond recognition) and my heart was failing. My rare blood type made organ & blood donation near impossible but the science of bio-animatronics organs had come a long way & the doctors gave my mother only one option to save my life: organ transplant with bio-animatronics lungs (& possibly a heart) and extensive (experimental) reconstructive surgery on my legs all in order to save my life. At the time, only my mother knew of the extreme details of the procedures and all my friends at school knew was that my surgery would last 12 hours.

       My best friends, Michael & Diana, arranged it with our school to hold a candle-light vigil in the school’s gymnasium. I learned later that Michael, Diana & my entire senior class held that vigil for the whole 12 hours of my surgery. They took their candles home & kept them lit until I was out of Recovery. For the next three months of my coma, my class would light the candles every night at 6pm for one hour. Diana, being Catholic, attended Mass every week & lit a candle there for me. In the second month, Diana bought me a blue & white rosary and intertwined it into my left hand.

       I’ve always been a rare breed, what with my blood type and all. I am now one of few people who can recall their coma dreams:

Chapter 3: The Dream

        I am sitting, crouched, on a beach, looking out at a lake or ocean. I continue to fear the water even though I knew that this was a dream.
            Suddenly, a little brown fish hopped up out of the water and called out to me:
“Come Chelsea! Come and play with me!” I shuddered & called back: “No thank you little fish. I am afraid of the water & cannot swim.” The fish appeared sad at my refusal and said: “Well then, it will be a long wait. A storm is coming. You’d better build a shelter; you’ll need it.” With that, he swam away and just as I finished making a tent out of a piece of canvas, a really bad thunderstorm came from over the sea.

Every night for the next six nights, a fierce storm hit the beach. Every morning, noon & night, a meal appeared for me on a picnic table on the beach. A week after the little brown fish, a young swordfish came and asked me to play. Again, I turned her down. She swam sadly away and the storms returned.

During the next week, I worked on a canoe; each morning I find it bone dry regardless of the night’s storm and find that someone has helped on it. On the Thursday, I discovered a beautifully carved paddle and on the Saturday (when the canoe was done) I found that the canoe had been painted with a waterproofing sealant.

On the third Sunday, the brown fish came back and asked me to play. Again, I shook my head & said: “I am really sorry but I cannot swim. I have made a canoe so I can row out to sea but not very far.” He sadly swam away & the nightly storms continued.

I started self-teaching canoeing on Monday with a short tether rope. I managed to get in the boat & to the end of my rope before my fear got the better of me. Each day, the rope got longer & I got further out to sea. By the Saturday, I had the brown fish & the swordfish swimming under my canoe.

On the fourth Sunday, my one month mark of being there, a dolphin came onto the beach. He asked me to come & play but I turned him down. He sadly swam away but my curiosity was peaked. “Why is this happening to me?” I wondered.

 

For the next week, I continued my canoeing efforts. By the end of my fifth week, I was able to canoe without a rope. I had learned all of the currents & had created a mental map. However, the nightly storms continued as well, but by now they had gotten worse.

On the fifth Sunday, a beautiful young mermaid came up on the beach, asking me to come and play. Although she was beautiful and the idea excited me, my fear of the water was too strong and I turned her down. She got really mad: “A curse upon you selfish girl!” As the mermaid splashed away & the storm rose, I felt a little queer as I took shelter.

The next day, I took ill for the first time; the storm raged during the day and night. I was so ill; I could not bring myself to eat anything other than some ginger ale and soda crackers provided at lunch. By Tuesday afternoon, I felt much better so I took a calming walk on the beach. Although I was still afraid of the water, I was feeling very lonely and wished that the fish would come back so we could talk.
            As I walked along the water’s edge, I wondered what the mermaid meant by as a curse. I knew that it was ok to wade in the ankle deep water but as I stuck a toe in, something began to happen: fish scales dotted everything from my belly button to my toes, all in a gray-blue colour. These also appeared on my breasts & wrists. Out of confusion, I backed away then ran from the water. I was not sure what to do as the scales would not go away but I did eat dinner that night with my back to the sea.
            The next day, the scales still had not gone and I had no clue as to what to do. I walked down the beach and found it gleaming with beautiful seashells. I was overcome with an uncontrollable urge to hurry down & collect a bunch of these shells. I picked up wentle traps, scallops, clams, oysters (some even had pearls!), snails, and 7 inch conch shell just to name a few. I piled them onto the picnic table and (using the left over twine from my tent) I made two necklaces and one bracelet. The next day after the morning meal, still covered in scales and wearing my necklace & bracelet, I took out to my canoe in an attempt to draw out the mermaid with the 2nd necklace but she was too smart for that.

I did not see any of the fish until the sixth Sunday when the mermaid came back. She wickedly smiled when she saw my scaly legs. “Will you now come and play Chelsea?” I was pissed. “Not until you tell me what this is all about,” I scolded. She shook her head, “The longer you refuse to come & play, the longer you’ll be here and the more you refuse, the more awful the storms will become.” With that, she splashed away leaving me still covered in scales and absolutely miserable.

I was not able to canoe on Monday or Tuesday as the storms raged day and night. Not that I wanted to because I fell ill again. On the Wednesday, I walked the beach again but this time I was shocked & surprised to see the brown fish, the swordfish & the dolphin all watching me from the shallows. I pretended not to see them so I could hear:

Brown fish: “See? This is what I meant. Doesn’t she look like the other?”
Dolphin: “Oh yes, Daniel! Do you think that she’s ready yet? Will it be soon? How much longer must we wait, Diana?”
Swordfish
:
“Calm down, Michael. She will come when she’s ready; unless she becomes careless on the beach. Then it will be forceful & she’ll reject, just like the other one did.”

            Now, I was not sure of what I heard but I thought that I had heard my little brother’s name & my two best friends’ names. Instead of worrying about it, I accepted it and waved to them. When they saw me looking, they all swam away. At least now I knew what to do when I was ready.
            For the remainder of that week, I paddled in my canoe. On the Friday, I felt guilty about using the 2nd necklace as bait so I paddled out as far as I dared, plunk-dropped the necklace into the water & hollered:
“For you mermaid! I am terribly sorry!” I watched as the necklace sank into the crystal-clear sea and a dark mass grabbed the necklace as it swam off.

Dropping that necklace changed something in me that day. It felt like the weight of the world & all of my fears seem to melt away.

When the mermaid returned on my seventh Sunday, she was wearing the necklace I made and my response was so different that she appeared shocked: “Can I have some time to think it over?” Her face lit up with excitement as she nodded and swam away. That night, for the first time, there were no storms; it was a clear starlit night as I lay on my back, on the picnic table. The stars appeared the same here as they did at home but as I lay there, quiet and calm, I thought that I could hear my mother’s voice:

“I am so sorry Chelsea for putting you through all of this. Today is your 18th birthday sweetheart. Although you are the one meant to receive the presents, I beg of you, just one little sign that you are still with us. A squeeze of my hand or a twitch of the eyes; anything, will do baby-girl.”

I lay flat on my back, fully aware that this was a coma & concentrated on an image of a hospital room. I could practically feel my mom holding my right hand and something else (the rosary) in the other. I fought though extreme pains to give a little squeeze in my right hand. As soon as I had done so, I returned to the beach, hearing my mom excitedly say: “She did it! She squeezed my hand! Henry (my father), she can still hear us. Oh Chelsea-baby, don’t leave Mommy!” I concentrated hard & squeezed a different hand, then came back to the beach completely with no further voices.

(NOTE: I found out later that as soon as I responded to my mother’s request, the doctor came in & told my parents that this was a good sign, that my surgery was accepted by my body.)

I thanked the stars for letting me hear my mother’s voice. I made a pact that night that in the morning I would attempt to swim with a tether rope but wished for the curse to not take effect.
            When I woke, I found a bathing suit, towel & a waist floatie (like what water skiers use) all on the picnic table and magically the scales on my legs were gone (but not the ones on my hands). After I ate breakfast, I got into the bathing suit and the floatie, tying one end of the rope to the picnic table and the other to the hanger strap of the floatie.
            As I walked into the sandy bottomed sea, although I felt nervous, the cool water seemed to calm my nerves. My rope kept me from going too far out and my floatie kept me from sinking. Swimming was a wonderful sensation and because I was floating, I felt no fear of drowning. Suddenly, something grabbed on to my foot & pulled down. I looked and saw my fish friends, all except for the mermaid. They came up to the surface and told me how excited they were to see me swimming. While I was distracted, the swordfish (called Diana) chewed through my rope. The dolphin (Michael) came up under my arm. I grabbed his dorsal fin and he pulled me along. It was so much fun, I could not stop laughing. He told me to hold my breath & he dove down, forcing the floatie to sink with us. As soon as I realized what was going on, I let go and the floatie took me up.
            When the others surfaced I told them:
“I am very sorry but I’m not ready for that.” I swam for the shore & walked to the picnic table. My fish friends came up as far as they could without being trapped. They seemed happy about something; I looked down to see that the leg scales had returned (but the ones on my breasts were gone for good).
            They looked at each other, nodding. The little brown fish (Daniel) spoke:
“Originally, we were sworn to not tell you but we feel it’s too important for you to not know. The mermaid’s curse involves a lot more than just your scales; it consists of your complete transformation into a mermaid yourself; tail, flukes, fins and all.”
            I was in shock and dismay. More than anything, I became scared. “When will these happen, do you think?” I asked. Michael the dolphin shook his head. “We don’t know exactly when but we do know it will be soon. She can speed things up so don’t get on her bad side. And whatever you do, DO NOT tattle to her that we told you. If she asks, you figured it out on your own.” With that, they all swam away.

I did not go back swimming until Friday. I brought everything with me to the picnic table for easier access. I gave up on the floatie as I no longer feared drowning with my fish friends there with me. Michael was all excited as I bolted for the water. I expected for something to happen but nothing. I remained my scaly-legged self. The mermaid was still not seen as I played with the others. Michael took me down and this time I was prepared but not for what happened: Daniel swam-slammed into my back. I exhaled in surprise & inhaled out of instinct. I began breathing the water! I could now breathe just like my fish friends; there was now NO possibility of my drowning! Daniel swam over excitedly: “Yay! Chelsea can finally come and play!” He swam in a corkscrew around me and I laughed as his fins tickled my bare skin. Diana said: “Your transformation must be a gradual one. Every time you swim, you might get some new ability. Maybe that is how it’s meant to happen.”

Just then, I had a realization and I told my friends: “Ever since I started swimming, the storms have been practically hurricanes. My suspicion is that the mermaid is trying to scare me off the island and into the sea. I will bet that there will be more to come. I’ve already had to relocate my shelter from my tent to a dry cove-growth of Mangrove trees. They have provided better shelter & it brings me closer to the beach. My only fear is that the next storm will be so bad that the waves come crashing into my place and cause the transformation to take effect prematurely.”
            Daniel swam up to me & asked, “Why else do you think that we take turns on watch duty every night?”

Diana came closer to me & whispered: “Can you keep a secret?” I nodded excitedly. Diana looked around, making sure that the mermaid was nowhere to be seen, then she dove into a field of kelp and I followed with Michael & Daniel close behind.

When Diana was sure that we were alone, she began telling me a little more about this mermaid: “She is very crafty and very magical. We are not normally like this; we are merfolk ourselves but Casey (the mermaid) has cast a spell on us. She said that as soon as you were permanently transformed, we would return to our old selves as well.”
            I gasped, “That is so very evil of her to do that! How dare she ruin the lives of others for her own twisted gain? … Wait, what do you mean by ‘permanently’? Do you mean while in this coma dream or about what is going on the outside?”
            The three of them exchanged nervous glances. “Only Casey can answer that and she only comes out on Sundays,” said Michael with a grimace. I understood their hesitance about telling me. I promised to accept her offer on the next Sunday.

The remainder of the week went by quickly. On the Sunday morning, I had psyched myself up for what I expected and cleaned out the Mangrove shelter, piling everything onto the canvas tarp, and carrying it all down to the beach. After breakfast, I quickly got dressed into my bathing suit. Then I tied one end of the rope to the canoe and the other to a piece of cinder block that I found while walking the beaches. Then I placed the bundle of tarp and the block into the canoe; I got in and paddled out a good distance away from the shore. I took up the block and dropped it straight down and waited for Casey to come.
            While I waited, I wondered what it would feel to be a mermaid. I guessed that it would be like Friday except that my legs would be one solid mass instead of two.
            Suddenly, Casey popped up out of the water and leaned onto the edge of the canoe. She was beaming excitedly.
“Are you ready to come and play?” she asked. I stood up in the canoe & slowly nodded. Casey backed away, smiling & nodding coaxingly as I prepared to jump. I waved to Diana, Daniel & Michael; I took a deep breath and catapulted myself into the sea.

*The transformation took hold & felt like it took forever except that it was just a few minutes. My bathing suit bottom practically melted into as my legs were meld together, slightly lengthened and formed a 4ft wide tailfin from my feet. My bathing suit top changed into a pale pink seashell bra and the wrist scales disappeared for good. Instead, I had this pattern of blue lines appear on my forehead in a crown-like design. Breathing underwater was practically second nature to me from Friday’s adventure.
            When the feelings of bliss subsided, I explored my new form. The tail allowed me to move in so many different ways that were impossible just moments before. I could flex my back & tail so much so that the tailfin could rest on the top of my head. I could do figure eights & the corkscrew, even chased my own tail just to see what all the hype was about!*

Casey was ecstatic to see my reaction. She turned to the other three and said, “I am very well pleased with your assistance. You will now return to your true selves.” Casey sprinkled them with sand from the floor. Almost immediately, all three were transformed back into merfolk. Daniel was a child merman of about (the same age as my little brother) 8yrs, a green coloured tail & on the scales on the wrists. Diana was a young teen with a red coloured tail & had the arm fins. Michael was also a young teen with a navy blue tail & the finger webbings.
            I could tell that the three were so happy to be themselves again. I, myself, felt so alive & happy I began dolphin jumping up out of the water. That really got the adrenaline pumping! Soon the others joined me and our jumping took us out to sea, further than I had dared to paddle.

Casey led us to a sunken ship graveyard. She explained that she had already removed the skeletons to a separate cemetery a few hundred miles away and hundreds of fathoms down. She said that she left everything else as is so we could each stake a claim to a ship of our very own. These five ships were placed on this huge round slab of rock, all in a starfish pattern. Casey had already taken the one at the 12 o’clock position. (I had chosen the one on Casey’s left; going clockwise next came Diana, then Michael and then Daniel.)All around the back of the rock grew 50 ft tall kelp. In between the ships, grew a whole bunch of different kinds of aquatic plants such as sponges, sea anemones, sea fans and shorter kelps & seaweed. In the very center grew nothing but low corals, sand dollars and very short sea grass.

Diana & Michael returned to the canoe with me to collect the clothes and the few things that I could keep. Michael flooded the canoe & dragged it down with us, after untying the tether rope. When we arrived back, Michael took off the seats & the center beam, and suspending it using the ropes to the ship’s beams, he said, “Now you have a hammock bed!” We all laughed and as it turned out, it was very comfortable. I was determined to live there for as long as possible.

Days & weeks went by so quickly. I kept busy by learning how to do things from my friends. Daniel taught me to build things, repair my ship & how to carve in wood. Michael taught me to hunt with a spear and how to cook my catch under the sea. He showed me how to make a bow & arrows out of strong drift wood and how to shoot them under the waters as well as on the surface. Diana taught me how to make my own seashell bras, weave blankets from kelp and salvage clothes from ship wreaks (I still refuse to take the clothes off of human bodies, even if they are already long dead and now only skeletons). Casey spent three Sundays with me, teaching me how to communicate with the sea life around us. By the fourth Sunday of my return to the sea, I could talk with a turtle, converse with a crocodile, dialogue with a dolphin, gossip with a gull, and articulate with so many animals; I’d need a dictionary and a marine biologist just to list them all. For some odd reason, all of the languages came naturally easy. All I had to do was hear it once under the sea and I picked it up right away.

 

However, it was not all fun and games. For one brief time under the sea, I began doubting my coming. It was a Tuesday, if I can recall correctly. Everything under the sea had seemed to go wrong. First I overslept & missed going hunting with Michael, and then I overcooked the fish when trying to make lunch. Then when I tried to take a mid-day nap, the ropes holding up my bed broke and I came crashing down. I was so upset & frustrated; I swam up to the surface and came to my beach. I saw that my picnic table was still there except now it was over grown with grass weeds and infested with spiders. I lay down on my stomach and just stared at that table, thinking about what I would be leaving behind if I were like this permanently in the real world. The more I thought about my family, the sadder I became. Finally it was too much to bear and I cried. I never understood why, but I could not stop crying. Perhaps it was for the wasted years in figure skating or learning to ride a bike or leaving behind my scholarship to State U. Maybe it was the idea of never seeing my family ever again. Possibly it was the idea of my disappearing from the face of the earth as I would be considered a freak. It could have been all of these reasons that I lay there, partly on the sand & partly still in the water, crying for the land I may never walk upon again. They say that you go through five stages of change. My best guess was that this was my depression. After this would be acceptance.

I really never knew for how long I lay there on the beach either on my stomach looking at the shore or on my back looking at the sky. As much as I knew, I had fallen asleep on the beach, hearing voices such as: “She’s a freak!” “I can’t believe you agreed to this!” “How could you ruin our daughter’s life like this?” “How can she lead a normal life?” “There’s nothing normal about this! How could you?” After my experience with the squeezing of the hands, I pretty much knew that these were voices from the other side. I also guessed that they were talking about me and I wanted to waken to speak with them but when I tried, I got nothing, not even a squeeze through this time. When I fully woke, I found that the stars had come out and the sun gone down. I looked to the picnic table one more time, and then jumped back into the sea.

When I returned to the circle of ships, no one spoke to me of my bad day or of my disappearing. Instead, I returned to my bed, reconfigured the ropes and got it back up. I ate dinner in silence and went to bed early without having spoken a word. For the next two days, I ignored lessons. Instead I surfaced and continued to lie on the beach, just staring at the picnic table. Occasionally a small crab or water spider would pass by as I continued to muddle over my predicament. Even though I knew that I was more beautiful and graceful as a mermaid than I ever was as a human girl, it still did not seem to matter. I was still depressed about leaving the land. [Keep in mind: I had no idea of the extensiveness of my injuries at this time.] It was not until my third day on the beach that I realized that the only way I would end up like this in the real world was that something catastrophic must have happened to me and my mother had absolutely no other options in order to save my life. At this realization, I came fully to terms as to what was going on and accepted it.

I returned to the circle of ships before dark and never returned to the beach. At dinner I apologized to my friends, explaining what had happened up there and that I was done. They were all happy & the next day, we returned to our lessons schedule.

It was my fourth Thursday under the sea when Casey & the other came to see me. Diana, Daniel & Michael were sad, yet happy. Casey said, “You are now ready for what lies ahead. I’d have to admit, stubborn but successful. We have given you the tools; what you do with them is all up to you. It’s time to wake up.”

Casey kissed me on the forehead & I opened my eyes to a hospital room.

Chapter 4: After Coma

When I first woke, I knew that I was alone and that something was different, yet the same.

I woke to find myself in a half body cast. Everything from my waist to my toes was in one giant cast while my arms & chest were in tenser bandages.
       I heard somebody approach and did not wish to startle so I pretended to still be asleep. The person walked in and sat down on the chair to my right. They said nothing at first then,
“Chelsea-baby, please answer to Mommy. It’s been three months. How much longer must we wait?”
       I lightly squeezed, looked over (eyes open) and said weakly,
“You don’t have to wait anymore, Mom.” She looked very tired but her face lit right up when she saw me awake. Just then, Henry & Daniel came in the room. Dad stayed stock still while Daniel raced out into the hall. He came back moments later with a doctor, a nurse, Diana & Michael.

Mom & Dad were so happy, they were hugging and Mom was quietly crying. Diana and Michael were texting on their cell phones (to my entire class), spreading the news of my “awakening.”

The doctor was very pleased at my recovery. The nurse prepped me for a full body x-ray so everyone was shooed out except for Diana. I desperately wanted to remember my coma dream so the nurse provided a notepad & pencil so I could dictate. I never saw those x-rays but it would not matter. All I knew was that the doctors were very happy with what they saw. My lower cast would be replaced with tenser the next day.

When I got back to my room, Mom tried to shoo everyone out again but I asked Diana to stay. Mom was unsure but I insisted.
       Mom sighed & sat down on my right.
[I’ll save time, this is when Mom told me all about the accident; Diana told me about the school’s vigil.] Then Mom told me about the extensiveness of my injuries and was just about to tell me about the procedure when my surgeon came in and pulled up a chair. I held tightly to Diana’s hand as the doctor held my folder of x-rays. He showed me the one taken just after my arrival. I could see that my legs and toes were destroyed. “How did you manage to keep any of it?” I asked, nervous to hear the answer even though I had a sneaky suspicion.

Mom held my right hand tighter. “With your blood type inhibiting organ transplant & your lower half, there was only one way to resurrect the situation.” The doctor showed me my latest x-ray. I could clearly see that I had new bio-animatronics’ lungs & heart and my legs had been fused to form one long limb, my feet were now one huge tailfin of 4ft wide (folded over in the x-ray). The doctor spoke in a soft, calm voice: “We’ve been adding a chemical to your lower half that will cause your skin there to simulate fish scales. So far, they are skin coloured. As soon as you chose a colour, we can start pigmentation right away via safe injections into the IV. It’s your choice and there’s no hurry but the sooner, the better.” I shook my head, “I already know what colour I want: the same gray-blue as I had in my dream. I was … beautiful, graceful, and totally free & did not want to leave but now I understand why I dreamt what I did.”

A moment’s pause, then I let go of both hands and started pulling at the cast. “Whoa, what are you doing?” squealed my mom. I stared at her blankly, “I want to see my tail.” It took a while but eventually my mom got me to leave the cast alone. Diana & I returned to my dream dictation and the doctor left the room.

The next day, the doctor started me on the pigment injections. Diana returned for more of the coma dream and my appetite returned. Although I would eat everything that I was given, I really craved seafood. I asked my mom but she said that the hospital would not allow on a count of allergies. On the same day, the doctor came to change the cast to a series of tenser bandages, which would allow for better circulation of the pigment colouring. I asked for my mom & Diana to remain as the nurse shooed my dad, kid brother, and Michael out of the room and closed the blinds.

The doctor (Joe Peterson, MD) gave me another dose of pigment into my IV as the nurse removed my blanket and prepared the tenser bandages. Dr Peterson carefully cut away the lower cast into smaller sections and delicately removed it from my unified limb. Dr Peterson placed these pieces into a large white evidence box until all of it was gone from the limb. I could see that my limb was still covered with a soggy cloth mass. Dr Peterson told us that these cloths were soaked with an agent that draws the pigment to the skin surface. “We’ll have to change these so you’ll be able to see what has been done so far. We don’t want you to get scared and we especially don’t want you to move too much.” I nodded & inhaled deeply as the thin layers were gingerly peeled away. When the nurse lifted the tail by the flukes, I could see that it was identical to the one in my dream and I could feel the weight was also the same. The only thing missing (other than the tail’s colour) was the decoration on the forehead and my hand-made seashell bra (instead, I was wearing one of my many t-shirts). My tail was still so very pale but because it has been 3 months since the surgery, all of the scars have long since healed and there’s nothing left. Dr Peterson warned us that there may be a possibility of the pigment turning those invisible lines into dark blue streaks down the entire length of the tail, front and back. I shook my head, “Don’t worry about that. I know that I’m not. If it happens, it happens. If not, then we move on.” I watched my tailfin as I used those same muscles to unfurl the flukes to their entire span. I felt no pain or resistance in doing this but when I tried to bend at the knee, I felt very stiff and my movements were clumsy & awkward. Dr Peterson was surprised at my level of ability. “Once the pigment has taken hold, we shall try you in one of our water birth bathtubs and see how you make out. Don’t worry, that’s not an actual birthing tub; that’s just what we call these oversized bathtub-pools on the first floor. The birthing rooms are two floors up from there.”

Now, I clearly knew this point of fact but he just kept going. Diana and I exchanged raised eyebrows as Dr Peterson cleared his throat and brought out the new soggy cloths. I watched as he would wring out the excess liquid and roll the cloth onto my tail just like gauze. Twenty minutes later, my lower half was wrapped like a mummy with the first layer. The only difference this time was that the flukes were not folded over; they were wrapped fully extended and flat. After the soggy layer came a short series of dry gauzes and then the final outer layer of tenser. [Do I really need to explain that they were having me pee into a plastic bag? I did not think so.]

Chapter 5: A Short Passage of Time

For the next couple of weeks, I had to be very careful of whom I told the truth to. I knew that I would not be able to return to my old life and I wanted to be remembered for how I was before, not like I am now.

The pigment injections continued, three times daily. Unfortunately, there was an additive that made me nauseous and I spend much of my time sick until they could find a replacement chemical. During this time, I ate little and was able to keep less down. I was constantly weak and kept postponing my class’s visit.

Finally on the last day of school in June, I was well enough to have them come. [By now, the pigment has taken complete & permanent hold and I am now no longer in any cast or bandages.] My mom used multiple layers of blankets to hide my lower half and it really could fool the naked eye, so long as I did not move. Although I had my own private room, it was still not big enough for everyone so they had to split into groups. my sports teams that I would not be able to play ever again. [They were

The jocks came in first. I was forced to break the bad news to all told that I would never walk. That was only a half truth: I would not walk but will swim! They think that I’m wheelchair-bound.] Then the cheerleaders came in and did a little skit/cheer to “raise my spirits,” as Tina the captain put it. Then the gothic group came in and gave me a hex of healing “to take the pain away leaving only good thoughts and feelings,” stately pointed by Ivy the priestess. She left me with a vanilla candle so strong that it did not need to be lit. Then the smart geek-like kids came in. [Every one of those kids have a science or math scholarship to one university or another.] They offered to tutor me this summer so that I could graduate with my class. Christina & Charlie (twin sister & brother) provided me with the first month worth of catch-up before leaving. Lastly, the rest of the class came in, leaving cards, flowers, balloons, assorted knick-knacks and one of my other best friends, Nicole, gave me a set of three night shirts. [She’s the last of my best friends that I told my secret to.]

After they had all left the room, except for Diana, Michael & my mom, we all got talking. We decided the smaller the number of people who knew of my condition, the better. We agreed to the tutoring but wished to limit the people to just two. Christina & Charlie were called back in as well as Leslie London, the vice principal. Mrs. London spoke first, reading out the school’s guidelines in regards to my situation:

“The school, H.S. 52, recognizes the seriousness of senior student, Chelsea Willows’ injuries/illnesses, and so offers one opportunity to graduate with her class. During the months of July & August, Chelsea is to be tutored by the two or more students of her choosing. On August 25th, final exams will be written and if passing grades are achieved, then said student will receive her diploma. As physical education is required, a compromise has been made. As since physiotherapy is to be attended regardless, the therapist has been instructed to provide bi-weekly reports. If adequate progress has been made by exam day, then the physical education credit will be awarded as a fair 80%. If student fails to achieve said above, then student is required to repeat the entire semester that was missed. Private accommodations can be provided at that time.”

I believed this to be very fair, and on the encouragement of my mother, I named Christina & Charlie as my tutors and signed the agreement.
       I repositioned myself on the bed as Diana closed the curtains. I looked to Christina & Charlie and said,
“What you see here does not leave this room. You are not to speak of this to anyone until instructed to do so, is that perfectly clear?” Christina & Charlie appeared shocked but quickly recovered.
       I nodded to Diana; she drew back the many blankets as I stayed still & watched for a reaction. Charlie gasped as Christina turned her head away. After a strained moment of silence, they found their voices.
“Oh Chelsea, I am so very sorry.” And Charlie said, “I can’t believe what they have done, and yet there you are… a mermaid.” When their shock finally wore off, they became excited. Both hurried forward, asking me a whole lot of questions at once.
      
“Whoa! Slow down, one at a time. Yes, this was the only way to keep everything from my hips down. No, the colour is not real fish scale; just a special pigment that they gave me. Yes, I did get to choose my colour. Yes, I do remember my coma dream and I had Diana write it down for me. Yes, I should be able to swim like those in the movies. As for what happens after the hospital: that has yet to be determined.” Christina & Charlie were now sitting on the end of my bed; my tail was drawn up closer to me. They were reaching to touch my tail but appeared nervous. I smiled & wiggled my tailfin encouragingly and when they finally touched, I was pleasantly surprised at my tail’s sensitivity to touch. As for breathing water, I did not know.

It was not until then did I notice that someone gave me a fish tank containing salt water and a 14cm juvenile flying fish hiding in the fake seaweed. I totally ignored the people in the room and completely undeterred by the limitations of my tail, I got out of my bed, onto the floor and dragged myself towards the tank. To be completely honest, it took less time than I expected. The little fish looked at my face, then the tail and then back to my face. “What are you? You’re different than the others.” I could hear the fish speak in my head & could understand. I stuck my hand into the tank and answered, “Yes, I am different. I am a mermaid. I have a gift of languages so I can understand you & visa versa. Do you have a name, little fish?” The little fish was so excited, she leap-breached a couple of times and came to rest near the middle of the tank. “The one who brought me here said that my name is Skye-Stella; it means ‘sky star’.” The fish was very friendly and would nip on my fingers, which tickled a lot. Next I leaned towards the surface of the water & waited; Skye-Stella came up and we touched lips (kiss).

My mom & friends were shocked to see and hear me speaking to a fish. “How did you learn to do that?” asked Christina. “Coma dream,” answered me & Diana at the same time. Skye-Stella gave us another leap-breach my attention returned to her and I laughed as she continued to “fly” over the surface of the tank.
       As I watched Skye-Stella, I began wondering what would happen to me after the hospital. Just then, the doctor and an army of volunteers came in. “
Ok Chelsea. It’s time that you were moved to your new room. Let’s see if your friends can help us.” Dr Peterson came over to me & helped me into a nearby wheelchair and then, back into the bed. My mother re-covered my tail with the blankets as Diana, Michael, Christina, Charlie, Daniel and Nicole gathered up my gifts into carts provided by the volunteers.

Diana carefully placed the lid onto Skye-Stella’s tank and placed it onto the bed on my left, in-between my body & the side rail. Skye-Stella became very nervous but as I hummed a tune taught to me by Casey the mermaid, Skye-Stella calmed down significantly.

With help from my friends, the move to the second floor was a quick one. My new room was slightly larger than the old one, mostly to compensate for the in-ground-oversized-tub along the back wall. Around this tub hung a translucent shower curtain of ocean blue on a track system in the ceiling. There was a place for a bed but the room was void of one. Instead, there were two 3-seat couches, a small coffee table, a private washroom, & a miss-matched 2x4 drawer dresser set on wheels to be placed at the foot of the bed.
       As soon as they put my bed in its place, Diana took the tank, removed its lid and placed it on top of the mini dresser. Michael & Daniel hung all of the cards onto the corkboard behind the bed as Christina & Charlie piled the books onto the coffee table.

I became really excited, just seeing that tub. I wanted everyone to leave the room. I turned to Christina & Charlie, “Thanks for your help. I’ll give you guys a call when I am ready to begin the tutoring.” They exchanged raised eyebrows but said their good-byes and left the room. It took Diana a moment but then she realized what was going on and hastily dragged Michael from the room. My mom was dumbfounded as Daniel nodded & quietly left the room.

Dr Peterson came in carrying a clipboard, accompanied by a lady physiotherapist named Lorelye (and she looks identical to Casey the mermaid from the long blonde hair, to the custom seashell belt; except for the legs instead of a tail). I saw that under her lab coat, Lorelye dressed very provocatively: a green-blue string bikini & matching mini skirt that came nowhere close to her knees. It was not until she removed the coat, did I realize that her legs from the knees down had the same pigment treatment done as I had. The one thing that made the whole observance more meaningful was the fact that her colour even matched the dream. It was all becoming a little much for me. When she saw me staring, she waved it off, “Oh don’t worry. It’s not real. I guess you can call me your living guinea pig. They tested your process on me first. I specialize in water therapy so it kind of puts me into a character for the children. Dr Peterson believes that I’d be the best choice for you, Chelsea. Don’t worry; I am not here to judge you, just to help.” I raised an eyebrow. “Are you & Dr Peterson related somehow? You both talk too much & tend to repeat yourselves. Enough chit-chat; get me into the water.” I tossed back the blankets and swung my tail over the right side of my bed. Lorelye anticipating my actions placed herself to catch me before I jumped into the tub. “Whoa! What’s your hurry, girl friend? We should be taking this slow,” she said excitedly.

Now, I was already a mermaid trapped on land and here I was, within 2ft of my goal, and yet I was being held back. I had not taken this from Casey the mermaid and I was not about to take it from Lorelye the coloured-skin therapist. “No!” I screamed. “I don’t want to take it slow. I took it slow in the coma dream and had you been there, you’d know that.” [By now, I’m back on the bed.] “It took me seven weeks to get over my fear of swimming & the water. If you had taken the time to read the notes of my dream, you’d understand.” By now, I was in tears, the flood of emotion that came with the words were too great to contain. My mom, who had taken the time to read my notes, came over and hugged me, then picked me up & placed me on the edge of the tub.

My tailfin touched the water’s surface first and as it sank, I could just feel the water take the weight away. It felt just as it had in the dream! I flexed the tailfin flat against the tub as I wiggled into position to jump into the water. I gently squeezed my mom’s hand before letting go and making my leap of faith. Getting back into the water was like being re-born. I felt like myself again; the self that experienced those four weeks under the sea. I had taken a deep breath before going under so I let myself sink to the bottom of the tub (about 3 ½ ft deep). Even though this time was not quite the same, I did feel a difference: my lungs were still breathing even though my mouth was closed & my nose plugged with my fingers. That was when I let go of my nose and gently ran my fingers over my neck to find two very little flaps of skin, open to the water. The little holes on the inside feel very smooth, almost plastic. That was when I realized that these were “gills” in as sense, triggered to activate when water contact was made. I did not have to do anything; my new lungs (having been designed with two halves; one for air, the other for water) sucked in the water & absorbed just enough oxygen and pushed the rest out with the access water. All of it gave odd sensations and did not feel like the fluidness of the dream but I had to remind myself that those were a dream & this was the real world.

I must have stayed down too long because Lorelye called to me, “Hey Chelsea! Is everything ok?” I came up to the surface, my gills closing up as soon as they touched air and my lungs switching back. I looked at them excitedly, “I can totally breathe water! Mom, I have gills when I am completely under!” My mom only smiled, as if she already knew that this was true. The others knew, of course, but were amazed at how quickly I came to accept this. Heck, I was way past acceptance and on to embracement. I was really starting to dig my new form! [My only disappointment was the fact that I was still only wearing t-shirts and not bikini or seashell tops.]

Dr Peterson had set up a video recorder while I had been down. I looked at it curiously & defensively, “Why are you planning to video tape me? Going to sell the tape to the highest bidder on EBay once I’m gone from the hospital? Did you even think to ask for my permission?” Dr Peterson only shook his head and spoke gently, “No Chelsea. This recorder is not for me. The tapes labeled ‘waters’ are for you & Lorelye to document your physiotherapy. Those I may wish to use as little clips for my teaching classes, I will ask first. The tapes labeled ‘words’ are for you, alone, to use as your video diary. I will only watch the ones that you give me permission and I will never share anything unless you say it’s ok.”

After considering this, I knew I could trust both Dr Peterson & Lorelye and so I had relaxed my mood. Dr Peterson finished the set up of the camera as Lorelye attached a pole across the width of the tub. Before I could ask, Lorelye explained that she wished to start with a baseline record of my abilities. Dr Peterson took a seat on the west wall couch while my mother sat on the south one and they began a hushed conversation. I could not hear a thing over the tub’s jet stream pumps.

Lorelye asked me to hold onto the pole with both hands and start kicking my tail in a dolphin-like way. I understood that this was a baseline but still; my dream taught me how to do all of this so my “baseline” would come out above average. Regardless, I bit my tongue and did as she asked. Five minutes later, she stopped the jets and took my vitals & other pieces of data (such as a stress spit test, mental math & mobility [‘Follow my finger with only your eyes.”]). She wrote all of this down on her own clipboard with extreme interest. Next, she sat on the edge of the tub with her feet in the water. Taking up her clipboard, she asked me to describe the sensations I was feeling with her feet in the tub, ignoring the colour on her legs. I asked her, “From which person, me or you?” She seemed surprised, “Start with me, and then you.” I took a deep breath, “Ok, you are feeling very excited about something. Perhaps it’s my high baseline or perhaps it’s because your boyfriend is taking you out tonight & you’re anxious to get out of here. You’ve been together for a year, even through your experiment and you’re wondering if he’s going to pop the question.” Lorelye was shocked that I got it correct, right down to the boyfriend taking her out. I took another deep breath & backed off a little, “As for me, I feel anxious, apprehension, and defensive. I’m nervous about you coming in and getting too close to me. I want my personal space.” Lorelye wrote this down on the clipboard’s papers then placed it under the tripod and removed a slide panel from the south side of the tub. She explained that this was a special high speed camera and asked me to put on this black harness around my stomach. The straps were short nylon cord with two metal rings that ran freely along the pole. The harness also had waterproof cables that ran to the outlets on the panel of the new camera. She explained that these read my heart rate, gills intake & release rates, lungs absorption rate and total distance swam. The camera records my swimming method and replays in slow motion. “We’ve already done this to a bottlenose dolphin so we have something to compare with,” she told me with a smile. I said nothing as I went under and began my five minutes. I’ll tell ya, being wired up like that felt really weird. Sure, the dream prepared me for my new form and survival after the hospital but not for the tests & experiments that would come along with it.

When those five minutes were up, Lorelye told me that I could remove the harness as she connected the monitors to a laptop (of Lorelye’s scale matching colour) that was on the bed. I took off that harness so quickly; I nearly tore at the cables. As soon as it was off, I immediately sank to the bottom and tried to rub the feelings away. Lorelye saw me & smiled, “It’s ok Chelsea. We are done for today. You may return to your bed or remain in the tub a little longer. The controls for the jets are here [on the west edge of the tub] if you wish to stay. Dr Peterson & your mother have already left the room.” I nodded but stayed down. Just like in the sea, sounds were magnified under but outside was dull & muffled; I barely heard the door close. It was so nice to be alone with my own thoughts for a while.

Chapter 6: Summer School & Swimming

For the next two weeks, I spent every other day working with Lorelye in the tub. Those days, we worked twice as harder and twice as longer than the first day. By July 4th (a Tuesday, I think) I was totally ok with Lorelye being in the tub with me. When we would stop for a break, we would have my video diary recording while we talked.

That same day, I took to moving Skye-Stella’s tank to the west edge of the tub so I could see her as I did my above-water exercises. She would whisper little words of encouragement as I worked my tail and every day I became stronger.

By that Saturday, I was ready to start the tutoring. My mom gave Christina & Charlie a call. They would start on the following Monday, in the mornings with Lorelye coming in the afternoons.

[By now I had also been taking to wearing bathing suit tops (string bikinis in the tub) and skimpy tank tops while on the bed & around the room. If ever I had to leave the room, like say for an x-ray, I’d put on a t-shirt over top. Christina asked, on behalf of her brother, for me to wear a t-shirt during my lessons.]

Early on Monday, I dressed in the bikini top, and then put on one of my oversized t-shirts & added a belt to make the shirt into a dress. Christina & Charlie each sat on their own couches while I was on a pile of pillows on the floor. We started where I left off.

For the next month, I spent the most of my time either swimming with Lorelye or studying with Christina & Charlie. By the end of July, I had caught up with 2 months of school work and I was so strong, I could swim four hours straight with the jets set to five. Lorelye was ecstatic with my progress (and with my permission) she invited a group of doctors, marine biologists, and oceanic researchers to come & meet me. I had prepared a couple of video clips from the beginning and readied myself for a demonstration as they entered the room, on that Thursday morning.

Lorelye was dressed in the first pair of jeans I had seen her in; meanwhile, I wore a bikini top custom made to match my tail. The guests were wearing lab coats & medical masks. [I was very much offended by that but held my tongue again.] I was more than a little nervous as they crowded my bed. What was even worse: they started talking about me like I was not even there! They kept directing the questions at Lorelye even though I was fully able to answer. Finally, I got my chance to speak up when one of them got his masked face a little too close to my face. I tore off this mask so hard, he nearly lost his thick-rimmed glasses, and I threw the mask onto the floor. “I may be different now than what I was 4 months ago but don’t undo what I’ve done by treating me like the freak I am. I am still a person and wish to be treated as such. And I don’t care what the nurses, doctors or Lorelye told you; I am not contagious, you don’t have to wear masks while here.” All but one removed; she said that she had a terrible head cold & wished not to pass it on and I allowed, especially since she suffered a coughing fit & had to sit down.

I invited them to sit on the couches as Lorelye moved a TV into the room & popped in a tape, turning it to mute. I would be telling this story, myself. I re-arraigned myself so that I was now sitting on at the foot of my bed, leaning onto the foot rail, my tailfin hanging over the side.

Long story short, the guests were very impressed with my baseline. [I had a little pay-back with Lorelye so when I used her laptop to make the video; I stuck in a clip from one of my “words” tapes: we (me, Christina, Nicole & Lorelye) were goofing off one day and were doing this fashion show with Lorelye in her scale-matching string bikini & lab coat, strutting like a model on the cat walk.] [Video was paused.] Lorelye’s face went beet-red & I laughed, but then explained that this was not about Lorelye; it was of what I was about to do but could not cut Lorelye from the sequence without ruining the whole thing. (Resumed play & pointing to the video’s tub.) (I will explain what is happening in my speech.) “Here, it is now my turn. I wanted to do something different so… here I am, splashing a bunch of water onto the floor… and there I go, pulling myself onto the floor… and using the water to slide without getting tile-burn!” We watched as I lay on the floor, changing my poses as Nicole held the camcorder and Christina held a camera (no film but very strong flash), pretending to be paparazzi. We watched as I played into that, while Lorelye was on the (west) couch, laughing, and then bolted to join me on the floor. The clip ended with Lorelye & me splashing each other. I turned the tape off & spoke, “The whole point of that clip was to show you how strong my tail really is, above water. I know, I’ve had my worries too, but I can assure you all [with Lorelye’s help, I stood standing on my tailfin], my tail is ready for whatever you can dish out!” Suddenly, I leaped backwards onto the bed – swung around 180o – stood on the tail again – crouched down onto the floor – dropped into the tub and sank to the bottom. Even though it was all muffled, I could still hear them scramble towards the tub. One of them even shoved my bed out of the way.

I nodded to Lorelye; she turned the dial to 3 and as the jets got up to speed, so did I. They were amazed that I was swimming like that without a rope, handle or harness. When Lorelye stopped the jets, I told them that I can (so far) do 5 without help but only for a short time and 6, I still require the pole.

All in all, they were very happy with the progress and promised to speak to their committees about creating some kind of collaborated council to over see more of this kind of research. One of them said something that made my jaw drop: “She’s far more advanced than the other. What did you do differently this time? Could she help him in some way?” Lorelye hastily escorted them out as I hopped onto the SW corner of the tub. When Lorelye came back, I confronted her. At first, she denied it but after a while, she confessed.

Chapter 7: “The Other”

“About a year ago, a 19-year-old boy had been brought here after a terrible farm accident. The barn where it happened was very old wood. That day, it caught on fire & he went in to save the animals. The wood was so dry that it burned quickly and it came crashing down on top of his legs. It was so heavy that the roof & 12 inch beams crushed his legs, just about as severe as yours. He also inhaled too much smoke, his lungs were burnt. The most amazing coincidence was that you both have type M blood. His body took the change but not his mind. He refuses to swim and every day, he grows more & more despondent with me. Only his mother visits & the hospital refuse to release him. I am at my wits end here, Chelsea.” She needed not say anymore. I could see the frustration on her face.

I sat quietly for a moment, and then just knew what had to be done. I grabbed the nearby wheelchair – got in, putting on a tank top & wrapped my tail in a blanket – and headed for the door. Lorelye followed quietly until I asked her to show the way to his room. She took hold of the chair’s handles and guided me around the left corner, twice before stopping in front of a door like mine. She pressed the é button & wheeled me in.

If my room was all about the sea, his was all about the land. His tub was drained and filled with clothes, pillows & blankets. The bed was shoved against the east wall & a wheelchair was within arm’s reach of him. The boy was lying in said fabric tub with his lower half covered with blankets & wearing a tattered black t-shirt, and he was looking at a Playboy magazine with a set of headphones. The boy’s mother was quietly sitting on the single-cushion chair, knitting & just watching him as we entered. She dropped her knitting in surprise as Lorelye closed the door quickly. I spoke to the woman gently, “Do not worry, Misses. I have come to help your son.” I removed the blanket to reveal my own tail and the mother knew.

Even so quietly, I laid myself on the floor, a huge pile of magazines, books & clothes hid my tail from his view. He was so completely immersed into his magazine & music; he did not notice Lorelye sneaking up behind him. I stayed hidden as the boy hollered for his headphones back. Lorelye only smiled & said, “You have a visitor, Lewis.” He stretched his back as I rose up on my elbows. Lewis rolled his eyes, “Oh great! The first cute girl to visit me in months is to know me as a freak.” He tossed back the blankets from his tail to see that it was a simple solid navy blue colour. I looked at him with a naughty smirk, “You’d better be more careful of whom you speak to about being a freak. If you’re the prince of freak, then that makes me the princess.” With that, I popped my tail over the pile & watched for his reaction. Lewis’s jaw dropped when he saw my tail! I slid myself towards the edge of his bed-tub. [By now, Lorelye had taken Lewis’s mom from the room & asked her to trust us.] I sat up on my tail (like kneeling) and slowly removed the t-shirt & throwing it onto my chair. I had Lewis completely mesmerized at this point so he did not argue as I entered the tub.

Cassandra has returned! I’ll leave the rest of this chapter to your (own age brackets’) imagination but am leaving you with three rules of merfolk courtship taught to Chelsea by Casey the mermaid:

1) You can’t be picky with boys. Once you find one, get to first base.

2) If he accepts your first base, go all of the way. The first time is only your mating, nothing more (if you know what I mean).

3) Tell NO-ONE for 3 months, and then fake an engagement. Then after the wedding, every time you go all of the way, a trueborn child of the sea will be conceived.  < (I think that it means every child Chelsea has will be a real mermaid or merman.)

Chapter 8: Courtship & Company

With my help, Lewis overcame his misery & depression. I lay on his bed as he sorted the stuff from the tub into piles on the floor. Two of the volunteers took away the huge pile of hospital pillows & blankets as his mom gathered the clothes into laundry baskets. Lorelye took the 3 month to 1 yr old magazines out to recycle as another volunteer took down all of the farm pictures & posters, replacing them with pictures of coral reefs and posters identifying different kinds of fish. Every now & then, Lewis would pause to either squeeze or kiss my hand that over hang from the bed. Lorelye tried to press me for details but I kept refusing. “I am sorry, I can’t tell; the mermaid’s code.” Lorelye especially left it alone when I told her that I could tell her in due time.

Lewis went back to sleeping in his hospital bed & ordered to have his tub refilled. However, he would only swim if I were there. With my study schedule, this became difficult until Lewis moved into the room next door to me; the one with the hidden-panel-connecting-doors!

My school studies continued as did my physiotherapy (with Lewis now lying where Skye-Stella’s tank would be) and of course, so did my relationship with Lewis. As a birthday surprise, Lorelye got us both an out-patient day pass. My mom had rented an outdoor pooled community centre for the whole day. It was on a Wednesday so Christina & I studied extra long the night before, while Lorelye took advantage of a full sized pool for both me & Lewis. She had us race laps but as it turned out: I was trying to let Lewis win because of his birthday however; he was trying to let me win because I was “a lady”. When the race ended in a tie (and us holding hands), every single person there was laughing [My mom & dad, Daniel, Nicole, Diana, Michael, Christina, Charlie, Lewis’s mom and Lorelye].

Ever since Lewis & I met, our mothers spent a long time talking in secret-like whispers. I suspected that this had something to do with me & Lewis and any possible life in the sea. They had continued those whispered talks until my father brought out a cake with 20 candles on it. The cake was made to look like a green tropical island with beaches and surrounded by “ocean”. The little green candles were special made to look like palm trees and someone had added a tiny plastic red buoy. Once Lewis blew out the candles, he broke off a piece of ribbon from the nearby balloon bundle, took the buoy from the cake (licking off the icing), threaded the ribbon through the poles of the buoy, and then tied the ribbon to my left wrist. A chorus of “Awe!” followed as he kissed my hand.

Let me tell you how much I love Lewis: I was telling him about one time when I had a bad experience with very sugar-rich coloured icing {“I might as well have been drunk because that’s how I was acting! Totally off-the-wall hyper; they had to hold me down on the floor for 2 hours as I was laughing hysterically, telling the whole room about my type M blood and that the ‘M’ must stand for ‘monkey’!”} He saw that this cake was 40% sugar-rich coloured icing so this is what he did: he cut two pieces from the blue waters, scrapped all of the icing from both onto one plate and the one piece of cake onto the other. He cut the other cake into half, keeping one, giving me the other, and planting a kiss on my cheek. More of the “Awe’s” followed and I blushed as I hastily at the loaf pieces of cake.

After the cake came the opening of presents. Diana, Michael, Nicole, Christina, Charlie & Daniel chipped in together to give him two small matching green nylon canvas backpacks. Lewis found them wonderful and very useful. He held them both, and then handed one of them to me. I held up my hand to stop the “awe’s” from starting. Lewis’s mom gave him a bundle of 4 brand new plain light coloured linen shirts, 3 vests, 5 men’s undershirts and two long-sleeve shirts. I gave Lewis this amazing black nylon cord belt. It had a huge gold buckle and down its entire length, gold grommets. “It fits pretty much all sizes and you can use the other grommets to hang stuff from.” I gave him my cheeky-seductive smile that he loves so much. He laughed and then gave me a big hug.

My parents gave him a real archery kit (bow, four sets of strings, 5 arrows and shoulder-quiver bag of brown canvas). The kit was designed so that the bow & arrows could still be decoratively engraved, and the quiver had to be assembled by weaving pieces of darker brown cord. I looked at the instructions and figured that it would take me only about an hour or two to put together. For some reason, my parents appeared flustered; then my mom finally spoke, “I’m sorry, Lewis. That was meant for Chelsea. Your present is the other long one still on the pile.” Lewis handed to me the bow as he took the second cylindrical present from the pile. When he opened the packaging, his face lit up “like a roman candle”: a brand-new stainless steel – short-bladed sword and a brown-nylon-canvas scabbard. It was a lot shorter than the one I learned to use in my dream (but we really focused on my archery skills, which were much stronger).

I was so proud of Lewis for his sword and I was thrilled that the archery was really meant for me but there had to be a catch to all of this. I was very suspicious and my mother could tell. I stared her down for about a minute & a half before she gave in. She bolted from her chair & knelt in front of me, taking the hand without the bow. “The doctors & nurses are talking of two things only: a possible new arrival and the both of you going underwater permanently.” I jerked my hand away quickly and dropping the bow, I slid back into the pool & sank to the deepest part of the deep end. I heard Lewis splash in after me and as he held me, those awful feelings from the beached part of my dream came back like a wave crashing. This time, however, I had Lewis to confide in. We talked together for about an hour before returning. No-one pressed the issue and left it alone. The mood of the party was pretty much ruined after that; all I wanted to do was swim really fast circuits around the pool with Lewis going in the opposite direction as me. The friends & little brother tried to have fun in the center of our circuits, at least were failing, until Lewis & I started having our own fun: leap-breaching, pulling down of the ankles and the swimming in-between of the legs. Diana was always squirmy whenever I asked her if she wanted to touch my tail underwater so she squirmed & squealed the most when I ever so gingerly touched my tail fin to her legs.

Lewis & I were more than just a little curious about this possible new arrival but were more than just at little nervous about going under for good. Our return to the hospital came about 3 hours after the bombshell.

Chapter 9: The Exams

I studied my scales (hee hee) off for the next three weeks as I prepared for my school exams and my final proficiency with Lorelye, which would come the next day. Mrs. London arrived early on Aug. 25th with me dressed in a t-shirt & my tail covered with blankets again. Another long story short, my math & English exams were a breeze; the science was a little tricky and my French just barely scrapped a pass. The next day, I beat my swim record of dial 8 (of 10) for 2 hours and no harness. Lorelye gave me a wonderful review, which in turn gave me my passing phys education mark.

On Aug. 27th, Lorelye showed up in my room carrying a tiny present box and a red envelope. She had me open the present box first. Inside was a beautiful blue-beaded tiara, made to match my dream’s forehead tattoo. I put it on and laughed as Lorelye bowed to me “as the first mermaid princess”. Next, she handed to me the red envelope. As I tore it open, my heart raced in anticipation of my test results.

According to the letter, I ended up with a final average mark of 92%. My excited squeal could have been heard all of the way to the main elevator and up & down 2 floors each.

My mom came running in, her face showed worry. “What is it? What happened?” She was a little taken back by the new tiara but recovered quickly when she saw the letter in my hand. My mom is a quick person but ever since my physiotherapy went into 2nd gear, I had grown stronger & way faster. Before my mom could make a move for the letter, I was off the bed – in the pool – and I was on the backside of the tub. I taunted the letter for a moment, then I placed it onto the wall-mounted soap dish on the north wall and I sank to the deepest part of my tub. I just sat there and watched as my mom went “red in the face”, yelling at me to hand it over… well, that’s what I guessed that she was yelling about. As I was underwater, she sounded much muffled to me. When she finally stopped, I surfaced & asked, “Are you done?” She sat down on my bed & calmly nodded. I retrieved the letter, swam back over and handed it to her. By now all of my friends (Michael, Diana, Christina, Charlie, and even Lewis) had entered the room [Lewis came through his connected door]. Needless to say, the letter’s contents pleased everyone in the room. Lewis was so proud of me, I guess that the usual kiss on the hand was not enough. He planted that kiss on my lips and held it long enough that it made my mom’s eyebrows go a little too high. But I did not care; Lewis was my match; tail or no tail, above or below the water; as long as I was with him, I was happy.

Chapter 10: A Longer Passage of Time

       The months flew by with very little change of hospital routine. All of my friends (Michael, Diana, Charlie and Christine) all went away to their colleges after my “graduation” ceremony on the 3rd of September. Mrs. London came back to present me with my diploma and everyone was in attendance; even Lorelye & Dr Peterson. I stayed in contact with my friends via my new laptop; a gift from my parents. Through online correspondence, I was able to continue my studies. At the last minute, I had my major changed to Marine Biology and my minor to Oceanography. Both programs included a six-month internship with researchers out on the oceans, either in the coral reefs of Australia or the volcanoes of Hawaii. Lewis loved both places and I laughed. My mom was not so sure that it was a good idea. She knew that it would not happen until the final semester of my second year so there was plenty of time to worry.

September made way into October, then November, and then December. I achieved a 98% average in my first semester, which even surprised me. Sure, I learned a lot from my dream but was it really that much? The comments from my teachers were things like: “Well researched, very thorough,” / “Knows subject exceptionally well,” and one even wrote “Have you actually been living under the sea? When I read your assignments, I feel like I am actually experiencing it!” When I read that, everyone burst out laughing.

Christmastime came and I spent as much time as possible with my friends. By now, Lewis & I were more than just friends too. He ordered the nurses to move him in with me because he could not stand to be without me for a moment. I consented but I don’t think that my parents were too thrilled.

He finally (officially) proposed to me on December 12th. He had somehow secured a beautiful gold ring encrusted with a gorgeous aquamarine-blue precious stone and could not have chosen any better of a time:
       I was sprawled on my bed, just chilling & talking with Diana & Christina. Lewis was in the tub, Michael & Charlie were sitting on the edge of the tub with their feet overhanging. The stereo, next to the couches where the girls sat, was playing Christmas music quietly. None of us had much to say as we were, I guess, “all-talked-out”. Christina turned up the volume, absent-mindedly as the commercials ended and the music started. I did not know about Lewis, but I know that I was a little unnerved by listening to these songs. “
Walking in a winter wonderland,” and “…riding in a one-horse, open sleigh,” would no longer be possible for Lewis or me.
       Instead of voicing my thoughts, I began dancing & making fun of the songs. Diana & Christina joined, laughing at my enthusiastic lip-syncing with the songs and my acting out of other things. Christina tossed to me one of the markers from the coffee table and I pretended that it was a microphone as I continued my “recital”. When the commercials came back on, all three of us burst into laughter. I was still in fits of giggles as I sat up to breathe. Diana subdued her hiccups with a sip of her cream soda pop.
       That was when I finally noticed Lewis sitting (as if kneeling) next to the end of my bed. In his hand, he held a tiny red box. We all pretty much knew what was going to happen. Lewis barely had the lid open before I saw the ring. My voice just would not work. Either that or I did not trust it to say what I wanted to say. He did not have to but Lewis asked me the question and all I could do was smile & nod enthusiastically. When the ring touched my finger, I found my voice again,
“Oh Lewis, its beautiful!” He was so nervous & at my sudden words that he nearly dropped the ring! A quick flip of my wrist kept the ring from falling and Lewis managed to get it on, and then kiss my hand. I (purposely) dropped to the floor and squashed Lewis in hugs as the friends laughed & cheered. Lewis & I decided to wait until after Christmas for a wedding date.

I noticed that Lorelye wanted to say something so I asked her what was wrong. She did not wish to spoil the mood but I insisted. She sighed & said, slowly, “Well, the newcomer won’t be able to join you. She died in the operating room twenty minutes ago. I’m very sorry; please excuse me.” Lorelye left the room rather hurriedly. Neither Lewis nor anyone could say anything. Everyone was very solemn & quiet. I don’t know about the others but I was reciting a prayer that Casey the mermaid taught me: Nova costella, gazé olla sisal ova tetra shekel Harholt.” Roughly translated, it reads: “North Star, guide our sister-of-the-sea Home.” Sure, this was bad new but from here it only got worse.

Chapter 11: Danger, Escape!

It was two days later, while Lewis & I were looking at wedding magazines, sitting on the floor. Suddenly, Lorelye came barrelling into the room, out of breath. Hurriedly, she told us of how one of the employees had leaked photos & photocopies of files to the media. She showed us the front cover of the newspaper, “EX-posed”. It was splashed with a photo of Lewis in the tub & me, lying on my stomach of the tub’s south edge (the bed moved away). I knew this picture to be one of four Polaroid pictures in our file. The headline slashed the words: “EXCLUSIVE MEDICAL MIRACLE MERMAIDS”. We all knew that it was no longer safe for Lewis & me to stay at the hospital, especially if they found out about the unfortunate new girl.

Lorelye came back with Dr Peterson & another young man. Lorelye explained that he was the emergency helicopter pilot. She needed not say anymore. We all knew that the time had come.
       As Lewis & I prepared to leave, my mother was practically begging for more time. I knew how she felt and I hugged her as Diana finished packing my little canvas backpack for me, with my direction. I, personally, took all six bikini tops, 3 tank tops, 3 t-shirts and one long sleeve shirt; plus my archery set but the only jewellery that I brought with me was my tattoo tiara & of course, my ring. I allowed Diana, Christina & Nicole to take their favourites of my old clothes & other jewellery. I did remember to pack 2 old bed sheets (one to use as is and the other to make the seashell bra straps with, among other things).

[Mom returns again. I provided Chelsea with those bed sheets a while ago so no, she was NOT stealing them from the hospital.]

Within the hour, Lewis & I were escaping from the hospital. One of the nurses rolled in the laundry bin & closed the door. She was a friend & wanted to help in any way she could. She, Lorelye, Michael & Dr Peterson helped us into the bin, carefully hiding our things and us; our friends said their final good-byes by making it look like they were leaving. Our nurse pushed the bin from the room after a short delay, and we could hear our parents also pretending to say good-bye & leaving. On top of that, Lewis & I could see & hear the cameras through the bin and there were a lot of them!
       I could feel the elevator go up for quite a while before stopping. We rounded a few corners and then stopped. Lorelye’s voice whispered,
“All clear,” Lewis & I came out of hiding. Lorelye had two stretchers, blankets and even two oxygen masks. Lorelye explained that only the pilot was in on this. The co-pilot & attendants were not. All that they knew was that they were transporting two cancer patients to their hometown hospital for recovery. As Lorelye was telling us this, she was strapping us to the stretchers, skilfully hiding our stuff. She also explained that her cousin, Nurse Julie, would be meeting us at the drop off, be transferred to ambulances and taken to the coastline. “My cousin has a cottage on the beach. She’ll help you get there but once you’re out to sea, you’re on your own.” Lorelye appeared very sad. I sat up & hugged her good-bye, and then I laid back down putting on the mask.

 

Long story short, the air-lift went very well. The attendants were annoyingly nosey and kept asking us questions. Eventually both Lewis & I pretended to be asleep and they left us alone.
       Julie was very much Lorelye’s cousin as they both liked to wear skirts and tank tops under their lab coats. We learned from Julie that both drivers were in on this & so was the male nurse who rode with Lewis. As the vehicles drove, we were busy preparing for the final stage. Julie knew what had been done but I think that the initial surprise of my tail wiggling underneath the sheets startled her anyways.
       This being December, Lewis & I figured that we would need the long sleeve shirts but when we got to the cottage, even though we were still very north of New York City, we felt like we were in Miami! With help from two toboggans, Lewis & I were toted down the snow covered beach to a waiting yacht. The ambulance drivers helped us on board, and then were gone. Julie’s brother, Jamie, drove the boat out to deeper waters, pulled a 360 degree turn, and hurried down to help us into the water before it froze over.
       They did not have to tell us twice! I ploughed into the icy cold ocean. We may have been a little protected but not that much. I told Julie that we’d be spending winter in Florida’s coastline oceans & be back here around May. She laughed as waved as Lewis & I swam away.

Epilog

       So here I am, lying on the beach of Julie’s cottage. Today is June 10th; a little more than a year has passed since the accident and I hold no regrets or injustice. I’ve never been happier!

Our families are due to arrive any day now but Lewis & I are not planning to stay long.
          We married ourselves on Christmas Eve, the Statue of Liberty (& a group of very surprised tourists) as our witnesses. Although I am not yet with child, it is only a matter of time. Lewis & I have decided, for the good of the world above, we would sever all ties to the human world. That is why I’ve written this book: for those friends & family who we left behind. To tell the world our story, to tell that we are not to be feared but loved like any other creature in the ocean. Oh, we will still let our presence be felt… boats caught in nasty storms are our favorites! But do not come to us, we will come to you and only if we feel safe.

“Betel talc whey sateen tetra manacle ado phaeton tact tetra wassail.”

(“Bless those who support the mermaids and peace to the world.”)

THE END
(… of the book written by Chelsea.)

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Thurs., Dec. 26th, 2021           New York Expositor      Pg. A3

Tourists See Mermaid Wedding In NYC

“The most amazing Christmas miracle I’ve ever seen!” –Quote

New York City, NY – Leslie Messer -The last group of visitors to the Statue of Liberty were surprised with the discovery of two real-life mermaid & merman. Witnesses describe the girl as dressed in wedding-like clothes. Sadly, the couple was only on the surface long enough to give their names (Chelsea & Lewis) and was gone. Very few of those interviewed were able to capture good quality pictures, with the exception of one. Ted Jones, of Key West Florida, was there with his wife and two young daughters, Mary (6) and Elizabeth (4). According to the family, Ted’s brand new professional camera was an early Christmas present and had been learning to use it in the past week. They were more than happy to supply a copy of their “soon-to-be famous” picture.

As for the true identity of the two swimmers, there’s only speculation. Many are claiming it to be a hoax and the couple was merely living out their dreams. An intensive search for the couple by the NYPD & coastguard came up empty and was called off by late night.

Anyone who recognizes the couple, are asked to call the NYPD’s hotline at 1-000-000-0000 or the Crime Stoppers at 1-800-000-0000.

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12/28/21                              New York Expositor

Mermaids Exposed by Gossip Newspaper

New York City, NY – Leslie Messer – Thanks to a group of loyal readers, the original article from the so-called gossip newspaper, was brought to the surface. It is the belief of many that the couple who were spotted at the Statue of Liberty was one and the same.

Chelsea O’Hara & Lewis Taylor were, according to the original article, were the victims of their own tragic accidents: Chelsea, a terrible car accident; Lewis, a barn fire. The article goes into great depth talking about the fact that both have all of the abilities of a dolphin, from the swimming capabilities to the being able to breathe underwater. Their families have been contacted but, refuse any & all interviews at this time. 

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June 10th, 2022

Dear Family & Friends,

            Lewis & I are still ok. We found friends with a young couple on a yacht off the coast of Florida. I am with child. The baby is due in September. I could not tell until recently when I suffered three days of morning sickness. The couple happen to have a few of those home pregnancy tests onboard and allowed me the use of one. That is how I was able to confirm. I am ecstatic while Lewis is unsure. We will try to send word as soon as the baby is born. I am sorry that this is so short but we cannot be on the surface very long. Lewis fears for my safety more now than ever since we found out.
      Please, share our news with the world! Lots of Love, Chelsea & Lewis

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