I died. Mom and Dad won’t talk about it. Suits me fine. Thing is, dying wasn’t the worst part. What happened next, well, that’s why Mom’s got me downing anti-psychotic drugs with my daily dose of vitamin D enriched orange juice. Me though, I can’t stop thinking about what happened next. Turns out, I can’t even die like a normal person. No amount of meds are able to stop the memories—or the voices in my head.
Today is the day I take control. Twenty minutes into my usual morning breakfast Mom asks her usual, “They working?”
She means the meds. I know for a fact my mother goes to the city to get my prescription. It wouldn’t do, in my small town, to have the pharmacist’s daughter be a confirmed nut case. That’s not part of the image my mother likes to project of our supposedly idyllic family.
I blink, nice and slow. Practice makes perfect. I watch the clock on the wall. It takes twenty minutes for the meds to kick in. I know that now. “Sort of.” I stuff my mouth full of oatmeal. I hate oatmeal.
“Give them a few more minutes, honey, and they’ll make everything all right.” She says it like she means it. Nothing makes it right anymore, but even when I told her that, she didn’t buy it. In her world, a pill can make anything and everything perfect. Nothing in my world will ever be picture-perfect again and that’s why today I’m not swallowing her hope or her pill. It’s all BS.
Mom’s eyeing the door, getting ready to begin her day. I nod. Quick peck on the cheek and I’m alone. Immediately I spit out the meds into the way too-gooey oatmeal and dump it into the organic bin. Rinsing out my mouth with water, I begin my day.
“Leave me alone. Leave me alone. Leave me alone. None of this is real. The voices will go away. None of this is real,” I mumble my daily mantra, hoping the power of suggestion will prevail. It isn’t helping either, but being stoned from the meds and zoned out with no feeling in my body is worse than confronting or even thinking about what happened.
Come back to the sea.
That whisper, that beckoning I hear like a favorite song over and over again in my head makes me wince with pain. And how sad is it that I’m getting used to that pain.
A shiver of agony radiates from my toes and travels up my spine. I gasp and count to ten in my head, willing it to pass. When it does, I focus on packing for school and that’s when the shakes start. Now I know how addicts feel, trying to kick the habit. I keep repeating my mantra as I grab the straps to my backpack and open the door. Today, like every morning, I try hard not to glance at the ocean and as usual, fail. Our house is about five hundred feet from the sea. My body has a mind of its own. More than anything else that has changed since I drowned, there is this yearning to return to the sea, but I’m not ready to deal with that just yet. But for a second I get sucked into the hypnotizing waves.
Two girls are playing in the water…no, they are dancing…dancing on the foam in the waves. But why do they have tails? I shake my head, and drag my eyes from the ocean. The fact those girls start calling my name, Gemini, makes me wonder if spitting out my meds was a good idea. Mermaids are not real.
My fingers are trembling by the time I’ve got my earphones pressed as hard as I can into my ears. Hitting play, I crank up the ultra-hard Japanese rock band I found last night on the web. It’s loud and I have no idea what they’re saying, but I’ll take that over what my mind hears every time I step out of my house.
Come back to us, Gemini. This is where you belong.
As usual, I ignore the weird stuff even when my right hand goes numb from a blast of pain. My body likes to torture me. Ever since the accident, or the “incident” as my mother likes to refer to it, my body hasn’t been working properly. First came the headaches, then the whispers in my mind in a language I couldn’t understand. But even that’s changed. That dull ache in my head has lessened, and somehow I’ve mastered that foreign language. It was better before, when I couldn’t translate the taunt of those seductive words. I haven’t told mother that latest news, nor do I plan to tell my shrink. Those sessions, though quiet and somewhat tolerable, are useless. He can’t tell me what’s going on with me. No one can. Because no one will admit I died and changed. They all think I suffered a delusional episode. They’re all wrong. I died and changed into something I don’t want to think about.
I wait a good five minutes at the school bus stop, and my heart plummets to my feet when I see the usual gang waiting for the bus.
“Whatcha listening to?” asks Jimmy Baker. All the kids call him “LJ which stands for Little Jimmy.” There’s nothing little about this bully. He’s repeated grade 11 twice, is built like a brick truck and always has greasy blond hair. He has a reputation for drinking on the school grounds and seems rather proud of that accomplishment. I’ve never known him to be nice to anyone, and he certainly doesn’t make an exception for me.
I ignore Jimmy. He’s looking for a reaction. I simply make my way to the back of the crowd wishing to disappear, but before I can brush past him, he yanks out my earphones.
“Hand it back,” I say, gritting my teeth.
“Whatcha gonna do to get it back?”
An image of me drowning flashes through my mind and I want him to suffer that pain. “Cut it out. Give it back.”
The drone of the bus can be heard. I’m fairly certain my sanity will leave me if I can’t stop the voices in my head.
“Make me,” he says, giving a crafty grin, which makes my skin crawl.
I want to hurt him until he bleeds.
“Christ, give it to her, LJ. The bus is coming. You can pick on her later,” says Tim Oakley, who I’ve often thought a total jerk until today.
“Fine,” says LJ, throwing my headphones into the mud.
I pick them up, snap them into place, and instantly relax.
“You are so freaking weird,” says Tim.
Good to know my first thought of him still rings true. I don’t need to be able to read his lips. He shouts it out to the gang for a good laugh. Nothing new here.
The bus stops and they all jostle into place, letting LJ go first. I choose my usual front seat and prepare for the forty-five minute drive to high school. I should have walked. I could do it in twenty minutes, if I took the coastal route, but with how my morning’s going, I’d be begging them to lock me up by the time I got to school.
I manage to get through three periods, but by lunch, I’m a nervous wreck. A lot of that is because of the stupid math test Mrs. Zed threw at us. Why she feels the need to give random tests, to gauge how well we are doing in math, mystifies me. She knows exactly how I’m doing—not great, and that’s an understatement. In all honesty I probably failed, again, which will tip Mom over the Richter scale. She doesn’t like it when my marks aren’t A’s. Fact is, she feels it’s a personal affront to her when I fail a test, blunder my way through sports, or basically be just average. That’s not her ideal daughter. Her ideal daughter would be captain of the cheerleading squad, a straight A student and be dating the captain of the hockey team. The fact she was all those things when she was in school isn’t lost on me.
I slip away from the crowd of teens eagerly pairing off into groups and couples as they make their way out of the school for lunch. I’m the misfit. I never felt like I belonged, but since the incident that feeling has quadrupled. As usual, I find myself moving toward the inlet, which is less than half a mile from the school. The fog’s thick as pea soup, as my girlfriend, Kara, used to say. I always made fun of her when she said those old-fashion sayings.
Kara is a full-blown Mi’kmaq, as she proudly will tell anyone who cared. Her mother left the reserve and is the only RCMP native I’ve known. Kara is the complete opposite to her mother, who you would swear grew up with a gun as a toy when she was a child. The only similarity is they both have long beautiful black hair. Give Kara a gun and she’d faint. My friend is a pacifist and from the first day we met, we bonded. Kara’s father died when she was little so we’ve been close for as long as I can remember. Now, she rarely speaks to me anymore.
I miss her more than words can convey.
My glasses, something new I’ve had to wear since I died and miraculously came back to life, are a total nuisance. I head away from the crowd, making my way to the large boulders that line the embankment of the beach to plunk my butt on one. I should have brought tissues. I have to wipe my glasses with my shirt, and large smear steaks form on them, which makes them so useless it’s sad.
Honestly, I can’t see more than a foot in front of me and I love it. There is something soothing, a calm reassurance to the salty brine smells that waft up from the area. Dried seaweed and sea urchins, whose once meadow green shells have dulled to a pale purplish hue, along with smashed open mussel shells, litter the small beach. It’s not a picture-perfect place, but it’s private. No one from high school ever comes here—except me. My perfect paradise and as long as my Japanese music blares as loud as a foghorn in my ears, I’m totally immune to the haunting melody of the waves. Not bothering to wear my smudged glasses, I lean more into the boulder, to enjoy the cool wet mist on my skin.
These days my parents are either freaking out about my behavior or the way I dress. The clothes are my shield and I like it black. Gone are my cute pink shirts. Long, black shirts and dark hoodies comfort me. Anything that will let me slide deeper into the shadows. My parents stopped bugging me about the clothes last week because honestly, they’re more worried about my sanity. I don’t blame them. Not like I get to control my body anymore when the strange, almost epileptic fits take hold of me. Thing is, I’ve had every test imaginable. I’m not epileptic. According to the doctors, there’s nothing wrong with me, physically. The psychiatrist, well, I’m fairly certain he thinks I’m the best thing ever to hit his private clinic.
I hear clashing; the sound of steel on steel, which sounds like it’s coming from the beach. I jerk up to a full sitting position on the boulder. The sounds cause me to lean forward into the heavy mist, which is now obstructing my view of anything in front or behind me.
“Get back, you!”
The shout jars me. I jump down from the boulder. My jeans stick to my legs because of the dewy mist. I run a hand through my hair to push it off my neck. I know my long hair is stuck to my head. If I cared about my appearance that might bother me, but lucky for me, I don’t.
“Who’s there?” My voice rushes out, only to be consumed by the misty veil.
“I said get back and I mean it.”
I squint. The voice sounds commanding and a tad annoyed. The echo of steel hitting steel slams again through the fog. I move toward the commotion.
“I don’t follow your edicts on land, Guardian,” says a second voice.
My curiosity gets the best of me as I make my way toward the voices.
“Well, since you are not out of my waters yet, you will. This is your last warning. I will put you in your place or kill you.”
“As if living in these cursed waters isn’t already doing that. I would rather fight…”
The loud echo of more fighting, and what sounds like curses in that weird foreign language I usually hear in my head, overrides my common sense. I inch my way blindly toward the two people who are obviously arguing and twist my right ankle in the process. Damn, that hurts.
“To the death,” says the gravelly voice.
I break through the mist and a window opens to a world I’ve never seen. I gasp. There before me, half in the water are two beings that must be a figment of my whacked brain. One is a large, lizard-like creature totally outfitted in a costume straight from World of Warcraft while the other looks like a teenager, about my age, but he doesn’t have legs. Where legs would be is a massive fin. His chest is bronzed while green armband tattoos circle his thick biceps.
They turn as one, taking a quick look at me. My heart’s beating so fast it’s a wonder I’m not hyperventilating, but since I know they are only a figment of my overly active imagination and a product of weaning myself off the anti-psychotic drugs, I keep edging toward them.
“What is that?” asks the lizard one.
The teenager, whose long, jet-black hair falls to his shoulders, stares at me. I blink. He looks like a rock star. The mist starts to weave its magic around them once again, snaking up from the ocean to cover them. Not before I notice how handsome the boy is. Emerald colored eyes lock onto mine.
“It’s only a human,” he scoffs, flashing a mouth of shiny pearly whites at me. Even sneering he’s cute.
“Be gone.” He waves his hand at me, like I’m a flea supposed to follow his command.
This is the most hilarious hallucination yet. I start to laugh. That happens when I get nervous, but given my choice of laughter or tears over the fact I can’t control my mind anymore, chuckles it will be.
Before I can comprehend it, the boy plunges his sword straight into the lizard’s heart. A keen wail of surprise and abject horror rents through the air. Green colored blood pours out of the wound the minute the boy removes his sword. In a casual manner, like he’s done that a hundred times or more, he dips the sword into the water to clean it.
“I told you to go back, but you chose not to listen. You cannot and will not go to the land. The law must be upheld.”
“You are a bastard,” hisses the lizard a moment before he crumples face first into the sea.
“Shame that’s true.” Then the boy with the large fin turns his full attention to me. “Why are you still here, human?”
“Well, usually when I have one of these attacks they fade away after a while,” I say. I know I’m gawking, but can’t help it. The sea has completely reclaimed the lizard creature.
“Attacks?” he asks. Using his large finned tail, the boy glides over the water toward me. Before I can even blink, he morphs from a sea creature into a teen, complete with distressed designer jeans, two hundred dollar sneakers and dimples to die for. Instantly, I hate him.
“You shouldn’t be able to see me but you can. Tell me, what is your name, human?”
“Gemini.” I blink rapidly and force myself to stand my ground. He moves closer. “How did you do that?”
He smiles. It’s totally disarming. Two dimples frame his face making him look devilishly charming, but his green eyes look cold and unforgiving.
“Daughter of Eve, this is not good. No humans must know of us.”
I laugh. Can’t help it. His speech is straight out of some bad movie.
“Why do you laugh?” he asks.
He’s standing a foot away from me, but you can’t fear an illusion. I’ve learned that too. Too bad this illusion smells so good. Salty with a mix of my dad’s Old Spice mixed in for good measure. It has me almost wishing he was real. It takes me a few minutes until I can compose myself. “Honestly, what would you have me do? Better to laugh at this warped-out psychotic episode than cry. Anyway, I’ve got to get back to school, so since you’re not fading away like usual, guess it’s my turn to leave, which adds a new twist to this. But if you think for one minute of showing up in school, I will pretend you aren’t there. I’ve already freaked out once in class—and trust me, if I have a say in it that will not happen again.”
I turn to leave, but his hand on my arm stops me cold. No illusion has ever touched me before. Heat surfaces through me. My cheeks bloom bright red and I’ve got weird tingles sliding through me, which flash me back to the pain I experienced when I drowned.
“How is this possible?” asks the boy.
The boy’s shocked expression probably mirrors my own. Shrugging off his hold, I look at him, which forces my head up because he’s taller than my five-foot nine frame. “Buzz off, buddy. Like I said, not happening. I won’t allow it.”
This time when I turn to march back to the road he doesn’t try to stop me. I can’t figure out what’s worse. The feel of his large hand so real it tested my rational mind, or listening to his haunting laughter. The sound cascades through me. Shivers of awareness and if I didn’t know better, desire, slide through my body. I don’t want to acknowledge him. It takes a lot of willpower not to turn my head to see if he’s still a solid hallucination. I trudge up the road, determined to end this day with some of my sanity intact.
She is no Daughter of Eve. She can’t be. How can she see me? The better question is probably—what is she? Or what is she doing? She’s got her head stuck in a toilet. That can’t be good. Between rounds of expelling her stomach, she keeps looking around, almost like she knows I am here. I know she can’t see me. I might have been solid at the beach, but the only way I can skim along the land for more than a few minutes without my queen’s blessing is to let my molecules turn to mist. As always, I hate the dry world. Years ago, when I had to venture into human territory as part of my training, I learned enough about the humans to know they are beneath us. The fact my queen keeps sending me back once a month to keep my education up is a waste of my better talents. The gods did right in keeping us separate and I, for one, like the status quo.
“I know you’re here so leave me alone,” says the girl, in between her vomit marathon.
This place is disgusting. It reeks of garbage and urine. The girl’s knees are on the filthy floor. At one time, the ceramic floor had been white. Now it’s been mopped to dullness with not one speck of shine on it.
She looks my way again and sighs heavily. I find myself checking my form, which angers me. I’m mist. She can’t see me. But if she were a Siren, my Titan presence would alert her that I’m near. There are no Sirens missing from my realm. I watch her throw up again. Finally, she staggers slowly to her feet and goes to the tap to wash her face. She wipes off her glasses, pulls more of her long black hair off her face to twist it into a tight, obeying ponytail and looks at herself in the mirror. She’s tall for a girl and pretty enough, but I can tell from her oversize shirt and jeans she doesn’t care about the way she looks. Her face is chalky white. Whose wouldn’t be after that purging? But those eyes of hers are beautiful. Big, bright blue eyes. A stark contrast to the typical green colored eyes of Sirens.
Her hands are trembling and for one minute, I feel something. If I didn’t know myself better, I’d swear it was empathy for her. Inwardly, I stifle a laugh. The only emotion I’m still capable of is anger. The rest got sucked out of me more than a century ago.
Another human walks in to talk to her. I find myself lingering to listen to their conversation even though the pull of the sea grows strong within me.
“You okay, Gemini?” The girl asking the question is stuffing her face with a chocolate bar. It’s one of those bars loaded with nuts and by the gods, they are good. I guess I do have a few fond memories of my time on land. Chocolate and ice cream are two of my weaknesses.
“Like you care. I’m just peachy now, Kara.” Her clipped tone would cause anyone to back away. Not this human, she’s too busy with her chocolate bar to notice Gemini’s not interested in chit-chat.
“I do care. Are you having another migraine?”
“Yeah, that’s it.” Gemini is obviously lying, but her friend doesn’t seem to care.
“Mrs. Zed asked me to find you. She wants to speak with you.”
Gemini digs into her pocket, pulls out a minty candy and pops it in her mouth. “I just bet she does.”
“You know, you really don’t look good. You should go home.”
Gemini laughs, but it’s not a funny snicker. I watch her eyes turn cold. “Yeah, like that’s going to help me. My mom would have a field day with me going home, alone. Thanks, but I’d rather face Mrs. Zed than Mom.”
“Your mom’s just worried about you. We all are.”
Gemini turns to confront Kara. Her eyes dart to the side like she knows I’m standing there watching them. It is eerie how she does that.
“I thought you ditched me, Kara. I thought being near me would ruin the image your trying so hard to have these days. Anyway, don’t bother worrying about me. I can take care of myself.” She directs her voice at me, not Kara.
Her friend stutters something and her face turns red. She dashes out of the washroom, but not before I see the hurt look that flashes briefly across her features. These two girls must have been friends for a long time, but something or maybe someone came between them.
The pull of the sea pulses through me. I will not be able to hold this form much longer, but I feel reluctant to leave her. Gemini is an enigma and one I find myself longing to unravel.
Gemini takes another moment to compose herself. At the washroom door, she turns to where I am standing. Her eyes narrow and there is no mistaking her mouthed words, “Go away and leave me alone.”
Tactile shivers skid through me. I have to remind myself she is incapable of seeing me. Or can she? I would like to follow her, but my time on land is up. Through sheer willpower, I make it to the beach, with little time to spare. I welcome the power of the sea as it covers my body and, transform immediately into a sea dragon to make my way back to my realm.
I do not shirk my duty, though. My senses are alert to more sea creatures trying to leave the realm. With the plague spreading throughout the sea and more sea creatures from Poseidon’s realm attempting to flee, my loyalties are, as always, divided.
By the time I report in to Thebes, my queen, I am back in my Titan form, but my mind is racing. Do I tell her about the girl? Or should I wait until I find out more information about her? The minute I get close to her, she dives off her ebony marble throne to face me. I try to remain calm. My stoic warrior’s guise slips on easily, but dealing with my exiled queen is always taxing.
“Where have you been?”
Ensuring my mind-shields are firmly in place, I reply, “Guarding as usual.”
She circles me, like a shark, teasing its soon-to-be meal. It makes my skin crawl when she stops at my back. No warrior likes to place their back to their enemy. As much as Thebes is my queen, she is also my worst nightmare.
“Is there something you are omitting?” Silk entwined with rusty steel, her voice slips past my outer mind-shield. I gulp and shiver.
“My, what is this? Or maybe the question should be who is this? I advise you now, Ash, disclose all before I take it from you. There is no betraying the stench of human on you. Tell me all, now.”
For a moment, I consider lying. That will get me nowhere. I realize I might as well tell her about the girl. After all, it’s not like she means anything to my plans. Just the fact I don’t know what or who she is, might keep her safe from Thebes’s touch.
A few minutes later, with sweat sliding down my back, Thebes calmly sits back on her throne. The cold of the Arctic waters are sinking into my pores, but I learned a long time ago not to acknowledge that the frigid temperature bothers me. A good whipping from her is not on my agenda today. These cold, blue waters have been home to Thebes for a hundred years. I know why she’s exiled, but she doesn’t know that I know. That’s one of many things I keep secret. Not like I have a choice, anyway. I could leave, but I swore a blood allegiance to her a long time ago. Leaving her is not going to happen—unless she is dead.
Since I am all about keeping my options open, I am working on that, too.
Thebes snaps her fingers. From the adjoining rooms, three Titan guards appear. Their glazed-over expressions as they cluster around her do not impress me. “I thought you said you had enough.”
She tsks at me, like I am a child. “Three more won’t hurt anyone.”
No, only their families. I keep that thought to myself. Her new recruits, like the old ones, have been zombiefied, which is a human term, but aptly sums up what’s happened to them. Their red pupils are clear indications they are under her spell. Long ago, Thebes tried that on me. Thanks to the Sea Witch’s curse, I am immune. Or so I told her. If she knew the real reason why she cannot control me, I would be dust. Since that is not something I want to experience, I keep that secret locked tight.
“You are to go back and find out more information about this girl. In the meantime, I will seek more information for myself. One never knows, she might be the key I seek.”
I nod, but keep my mouth shut. Thebes will never get back her throne, but it is not my place to tell her. She turned the last Titan to face her furious wrath to ice and then smashed his frozen molecules to smithereens. No, thank you.
It’s on the tip of my tongue to remind her of my limitations. I cannot go on land for long because of my curse. But Thebes approaches me. There is a look on her face I can’t discern. Her eyes are wide and beguiling, as usual. Her long, kelp-colored hair streams around her. A classical beauty who looks like she is in her late twenties, she is a powerful sight. As a Siren from the North Seas she has that perfect, ivory-colored skin, emerald eyes, and her tail is a mix of greens and blues that blend seamlessly together to create a textured tone. Honestly, I don’t know her age, but she is a lot older than my four hundred years, something I am not ever going to mention to her.
She stops an inch from me. I blink, forcing my eyes to change from Titan to dragon-sight. She hates when I do that, and that is why I do it. Her right hand moves in a circle and she chants words I never expected to hear from her.
Did you think I would leave you unprepared Ash? She purrs the words into my mind. A slap of her control over me, but lucky for me she can’t penetrate all my shields. That is why I’m still alive.
Silence is my best weapon, because by the gods, that is exactly what I thought. She slips a necklace around my neck. Immediately, I am swamped with immense power, the type that causes you to close your eyes in ecstasy. The small, delicate looking opal hanging now from my throat is a tear from Poseidon himself. He only bequeaths the jewel to those he crowns as rulers. I had thought the Seven Seas Council had taken it from her. Should have known better.
Thebes’s powers have not dimmed with her exile. If anything, they have grown. Since my life is intertwined with hers, more than I like, I am forced to deal with her quest for political power. Some would say that trait is inherent in her Siren nature. I think for a second about the young woman on the beach and wonder about her.
“Tomorrow you will go back to that girl.”
“I’m supposed to meet with the Guardians at mid-tide,” I remind her.
Thebes raises her eyebrows at me. It is a move that reminds me for a second of Gemini. I blink and almost shake my head.
I force myself not to cringe when she uses her finger to tilt my chin up toward her eyes.
“Well then, Ash, you had best get me information fast. We wouldn’t want to keep the Council members waiting, now would we?”
I gulp. Being a member of the Council, makes me a Guardian. I hate the Council members almost as much as play-acting I care for my queen. The Sea Witch’s curse, however, has given me certain powers. That is why I sit on the Council. I’m an oddity. If there’s one thing Guardians desire, it is to guard and watch those with power they can’t control. A no-show means death from one of their own.
“You are dismissed. Do not disappoint me.”
With a flick of her jeweled hand I depart, thinking, You have been a disappointment to me since the day I was born.
“Did you say something, Ash?”
I turn and face her, insuring my mask is firmly in place. “Nothing, my queen.”
She glares at me, but luckily—or unluckily depending on what one of her new recruits has to say to her—she gets distracted. I slink away before she can fully penetrate my mind-shield and do not dare take a breath until I have once again transformed. This time I welcome the change to sea dragon. In this form I am invincible. It is my number one quality keeping me in favor with both Thebes and the Council. I let my beast roar with that feeling of satisfaction, knowing later I will regret this euphoric bliss.