Written by Elise Forier Edie / Artwork by Marge Simon
In the Grotto

































Marie found the monster under the 59th Street Fishin’ Pier in her second week of cross country training. The night
before, a storm had whipped Ocean City to tatters. Ropes banged on the flagpole outside her house; waves from
the bay crashed over the lawn; lights fizzled and went black. Marie thought she heard someone screaming. Her
mother said it was just the wind, but the shrill keening went on and on. In her room, by candlelight, Marie listened
while goose bumps rose on the back of her neck. Someone was lonely. Someone was afraid. She stared at the
candle flame until, every time she shut her eyes, a ghost light burned in the middle of her forehead. But the
screaming went on.

Next morning, Marie ran on the beach, alternating sprints and jogs like her coach had taught her. Scary-looking
waves curled, glass-green and high as houses, smashing on the sand, grabbing at her feet. Storm flotsam lay all
over, covered in flies: smelly piles of seaweed, dead fish, shells, logs, a couple of shoes and hundreds of glutinous
jellyfish, arranged in slimy swirls. High above, clouds of ravenous seagulls swooped and shrieked, tussling over
gobbets of garbage.

Marie finished her run at 59th Street and cooled off in the Fishin’ Pier’s long shadow. Rickety wood pilings
staggered drunkenly into the ocean. The bait shack, perched on planks, looked poised to tumble into the waves.
The storm had knocked a sign askew. It said:

FOURTH OF JULY KIDZ DERBY HERE!
For Rent: Pole’s, Net’s, Bucket’s
For Sale: Bait, Ice Cream.

She sat underneath, on a pile of rocks. This had been her secret place since third grade, when she had spent a
whole summer pretending to be Ariel, the Disney mermaid. She would arrange herself on barnacle-studded stones,
legs in a sort of tail shape, pretending the arcade at the Boardwalk was a palace, and Prince Eric waited in a
sailboat, out beyond the waves. Marie had crooned the movie’s soundtrack, acted out all the parts from the movie.
She had combed her hair, and wished it foamed around her shoulders like Ariel’s cartoon tresses. The planks above
thumped hollowly whenever anyone walked on them; and the pilings thrummed if ocean waves smashed especially
hard. No one ever found her. It was her own private sea grotto and even though she didn’t pretend to be Ariel
anymore, Marie still liked to go there.

On the day she found the monster, huge waves chased each other through the lattice of pilings, and sent hissing
rivulets into the rocks. Marie sat above them, exulting, breathing in brine, sweat cooling, heartbeat slowing. When
she curled her back against a barnacle-sharpened rock, she heard a low moan, barely audible underneath the
seething of the sea. She craned her neck and at first couldn’t figure out what she saw. It lay among the rocks, big
and barely breathing. She thought, “pink nylon bag;” she thought, “spiny blowfish;” she thought, “hairless dog.”
Then her brain put it all together, and she knew what she was seeing, and she screamed and screamed, and so did
the thing she was looking at, and its mouth was wide and stuffed with awful, slime-covered teeth, like a shark’s.

~ * ~

Marie ran away and collapsed on the sand, a few yards from the pier, skin crawling. Her mind raced in circles. No
way she had seen it—she had—but that thing couldn’t be real—she saw a dead dolphin, or a shark, or something—
no, no, it wasn’t any of those—her father was a marine biologist at the Chesapeake Bay Conservation Center—she
knew what sharks and dolphins looked like—this thing had arms—it had arms and fins on its head, and trailing
tentacles, and gills—it was pink, and brown, and fat—no it wasn’t—yes it was—and no way, no way, no way, no
way, no way—

After a while, she staggered back to her feet and tiptoed back under the pier, legs aching from her run, chest
clenched from being so scared. A cold breeze wafted from the grotto, bringing with it the smell of fish and blood.
Her spine prickled. She told herself, chicken, chicken; she told herself, come on, if it’s a mutant, albino dolphin,
don’t you want to save it?

Marie braced her hands on the rocks, folding her lips over her teeth to keep from screaming. She peeked. Ugh. It
was definitely a monster. Either that, or some poor deformed sea creature, maybe washed down from the Hope
Creek Nuclear Power Station. Her knees buckled, but she pressed her palms into the barnacles and held firm. It had
the shiny black eyes of a seal, and a seal’s blubbery body, ending in a smooth, speckled tail. Instead of flippers,
flabby pink arms sprouted; instead of a seal’s cute, doglike face, humanoid features, smashed ugly and flat, gaped
at the planks above, everything dominated by that awful, awful mouth, as wide as its face, and lined with jagged
teeth. Marie stared and took shaky breaths. The thing’s torso rose and fell in tandem with hers. A gash in its side,
crusted and black on the edges, gaped and oozed blood. Something was wrong with one of its hands—
appendages? Pseudopods? Whatever the fuck you called them—it looked mangled and bloody, probably broken.

A part of Marie’s mind said, “Mermaid. Actual, frigging mermaid-monster-thing. Washed by the storm onto the
beach. Wow.”

Another part focused on the monster’s wounds and said, “Must have banged itself good on the rocks in the storm
last night. It looks really hurt.”

But the loudest part of her mind just bleated, “Ew! Ew! Ew! Ew! Ew!” over and over again, like a berserk fire alarm.

~ * ~

Footsteps thrummed above—a couple of kids galloping to the bait shack. These were followed by the more sedate
rhythms of parents or grandparents, strolling behind. Fine sand filtered down, along with splinters of sunshine. The
monster averted its head, so flakes wouldn’t fly in its shiny eyes. It caught sight of Marie again. It didn’t scream
this time. It just looked at her and she looked back. Long whiskers, or tentacles grabbed at the air around its face.
Marie shuddered as the thing shifted feebly and a gout of thick blood burbled from the wound in its side. She could
see fat, white and glistening in the peeled back layers of skin.


Behind her, the waves teased just out of reach. The tide was receding. No water would swirl back in the grotto for
hours and hours.

The monster looked away. More footsteps rumbled above.
It was Fourth of July weekend. Kids, grown-ups, by the hundreds, by the thousands, would crowd on the pier in a
couple of hours. The annual Kidz Fishin’ Derby would begin, a bloody affair of dangling nightcrawlers, bludgeoned
perch, sunburned shoulders. Wooden planks would be smeared with blood and popsicles. The WBEC radio disc
jockeys would set up a flapping tarp, and blast music over the Boardwalk. How soon before someone else found
the monster pinned here? And then what?

Marie had vivid memories from when she was ten years old, of her dad trying to fend off bystanders, wanting to
poke and pet a terrified dolphin, mired in mud on a cold, February day. Dad kept yelling, “Please. This is a wild
animal.” But people kept coming, shouting like the seagulls. One woman wanted to sing to it. A guy brought a
flensing knife to butcher it. Another man brought his kids and got really pissed when her father told him they
couldn’t just hug the dolphin and play with it.

A reporter had snapped pictures. Marie had been on the front page of the Coastal Dispatch. “Scientist fights to
save beached dolphin,” the caption read, and there she was, clear as day, dark head bent next to her father’s, the
terrified animal between them, everyone else just rain slickers in the background.

Her dad would know what to do to help. He had been living a hundred miles away in Annapolis with his new
girlfriend Greta since late January, but Marie was pretty sure a mermaid would bring him home. Greta was twenty-
three, taught sailing, and had a butterfly tattooed on her ankle. But a mermaid was a mermaid, right?

“Hold on,” Marie said to the monster.

~ * ~

Before leaving, she collected seaweed in disgusting armfuls and piled it, wet and dry, on the rocks. A discarded
plastic sack made a kind of glove, which Marie used to pick up jellyfish. These she arranged on the rocks, hoping to
provide a painful deterrent for any curious children. The monster hissed and bared its horrifying teeth as she
worked but Marie kept her distance and averted her eyes. Then she ran home as fast as she could.

Marie found her mom ransacking the kitchen, with her boyfriend Gus and a teenaged boy, someone new. “Are the
phones still out?” she asked.

“Hello to you, too,” Gus said, as he carried a cardboard box out to the garage. He wasn’t smiling, or joking. He was
being a dick, like always. Marie resisted the urge to give him the finger.

Her mom said, “Hi, honey. How was your run? This is Jessie.” She indicated the blond boy by her side. “He’s Gus’s
nephew, visiting for the summer. Right, Jess?”

The boy nodded. Almost everything about him drooped, from his long blond hair, to the laces of his black Converse
sneakers. Only his eyes roved, gaze crawling all over Marie’s chest and thighs. She crossed her arms.

“We’re going Gus’s place today,” Mom went on. “He has a generator, so there’s electricity. I guess no one knows
when they’ll get the power back on. Could be a couple days, even.”

“Uncle Gus is always prepared.” Jessie smirked. A clump of acne, blooming the corner of his mouth, moved while he
talked.

“We’re organizing and heading over,” Mom said. She had piled five different frozen pizzas on the green-flecked
Formica counter and indicated a gallon of milk at her elbow, and a bag of squishy-looking Costco popsicles. “I don’t
want our food to go bad. So we’re loading Gus’s truck with everything in the freezer.”

Without electricity, the kitchen was strangely quiet, no refrigerator hum, no air conditioning kicking on. Marie could
hear her throat click as she swallowed. “What about the phones?”

“I think they’re still out too, hon.”

“Can I borrow your cell phone to call dad?”

“What do you want to call him for?”

“I found something under the pier at fifty-ninth. An animal in trouble.”

Mom shook her head. “Honey, leave it alone,” she said. “It’s Fourth of July weekend and the roads are a mess. Even
if you get hold of your father, he might not come down. The bridge will be a disaster.”

It’s a mermaid, Marie wanted to say, but Jessie was there. “It might be important.”

“And it might be dead by noon, too. Let it go, sweetheart.”

“Mom.” Marie glanced at Jessie again. He had cocked his head to one side and caressed his lips with a fingertip,
while he looked speculatively at the swell of her hips. He wasn’t even trying to hide it. He glanced in her face and
smiled. “Can I just call Dad to tell him about it? Please? Maybe someone else from the Bay Center will want to come
down and see.”

Her mother dug around in her dungarees and passed Marie her I-phone with a shake of her head. “We’re leaving in
a few minutes honey, so hurry.”

“Chop chop,” Gus added, returning from the garage. His khakis were crisp, his polo collar popped. Marie could taste
aftershave, chemicals and pine.

“I won’t be long.” She skittered around Jessie, and dashed up the steps to her second-floor bedroom.

Gus yelled after her, “Uh. We could use some help with the food, Marie.”

She shut the door to her room. She called her dad. He didn’t pick up. She didn’t know what kind of message to
leave on his voice mail. “I found a mermaid,” sounded stupid, like something a kid would say. “I need to talk to
you,” sounded better, but not urgent enough. Finally, she just said, “I found something on the beach and I think I
need your help.” She texted him, too. She called his office at the Bay Center. But the phone there just beeped at
her, probably because it wasn’t working.

Marie bit her lip. Should she guard the mermaid and keep it alive while she waited for her father? She thought of
the dolphin and the newspaper reporter, of her dad’s joyful expression when he finally realized what she’d found.
Dad would totally want to drive over Bay Bridge, even in Fourth of July traffic, once he realized the magnitude of
Marie’s discovery. So she racked her brain, trying to figure out what a mermaid might eat, and how she might help
it, until her father could arrive. Part of her was simply dizzy with wonder—it was all real! She had found something
truly amazing! It didn’t look like Ariel, but it didn’t look like any other sea creature, either! Her dad would shit when
he saw it! He would hug her to death and they’d be on television together! But another part of her was terrified.
What did she know about it? What did anyone? How could she really help it? And what if someone else discovered
it while she was dithering in her room?

She tried consulting her computer, but the wifi was dead. She looked frantically around, at her stuffed animals, her
track and field ribbons, her old books: Oz, Baby Sitter’s Club, Hank the Cowdog, Fairytales. She plucked the
fairytales off a shelf.

“Marie! We’re leaving,” Gus called up the steps. “Hurry up.”

She opened her bedroom door. “I’ll ride my bike down to the house later,” she yelled. “I want to take a shower and
stuff.”

“I need my cell phone back,” her mother chimed in.

She padded down the hall, pausing at the top of the steps. Mom and Gus stood framed by the front door. Gus’s
arms were crossed, his brow beetled, crew cut bristling. Mom just looked tired. That’s all she ever looked, since
Marie’s dad had taken off. “Can I have it a little longer?” Marie asked. “Please? I’ll give it back, I promise. I just
haven’t reached Dad, yet.”

“Marie, your mother asked for her phone. Don’t make her ask again,” Gus said.

“It’s okay,” Mom told him. She peered up at Marie. “You keep it for a little longer. Just…” She gave a hurt, little
smile. “Don’t be mad if your dad doesn’t answer, all right? He’s…it’s a holiday, honey. So don’t expect much, okay?”

“Thanks, Mom.” Marie waved at Gus’s deepening frown. “See you later, Gus.”

She whirled and flew back to her room. She could hear them talking behind her. Gus said, “You can’t keep giving in
like this. She walks all over you. She didn’t even help us load the truck.”

Mom said, “She’s fourteen and her parents are getting divorced. Talk to me about it more when you have kids,
Gus.”

Marie shut her bedroom door again. She leafed through the book of fairytales.

~ * ~

Hans Christian Andersen offered no practical advice about the care and feeding of actual mermaids. So she pictured
the monster’s jagged, sharp-looking teeth and decided it must be a predator. She thought of the arms, grabbing
at stuff and cramming food in the creature’s mouth. There were some old crab traps in the garage. They were a
little rickety and rusted, but usable. Her mom kept rotten chicken necks in the freezer for bait and these were nicely
thawed, thanks to the storm. They were super smelly, even through the plastic. Marie slid the gooey blobs into the
traps and, gagging slightly, lowered them into the bay behind her house. The sun drenched water glimmered, still
choppy from the storm. She hoped a few hungry crabs might have taken refuge by the sea wall.

They had. After showering, Marie dragged up three medium sized blues. One was a female, so she threw her back
in the bay. The males she tossed in a deep plastic bucket. They stalked around the bottom, feet scrabbling, claws
upraised, tough and scared.

“Sorry guys,” she whispered.

Before heading back to the Fishin’ Pier, she checked the cell phone. No word from her dad. Marie texted him that
she was heading to 59th Street, that she would meet him there, that he should come quickly. Then, after
scratching her head a little over how to get the plastic bucket all the way to the Boardwalk on her bike without
spilling, she crammed it in a large canvas rucksack. The bag had shoulder straps, and looked ridiculous, swelling on
her back like a huge hump. But it left her hands free to steer her bike and Marie figured as long as she didn’t tip
over, the crabs wouldn’t spill. She set off, wobbly but managing, heart hammering in her chest, but feeling
important, feeling like she mattered.

A light breeze bathed her face while she pedaled. The power outage had shut down traffic lights on Route One.
Clerks at roadside ice cream parlors lined the sidewalks in their colorful aprons (pink for Sherbet Scoop, green for
Giovanni’s), giving away cones and sundaes to passersby. A couple of good Samaritans directed traffic on the really
busy intersections, old guys in hunting vests, with cheap straw hats on their heads. A line of people snaked out of
a dark Clover Leaf grocery store, the electronic doors propped open with milk crates.

On the sand to Marie’s left, where the waves pounded, a few kites soared and dipped, just like always. Some brave
souls even jumped and swam in the giant waves, looking tiny as sandpipers. She could hear the surf crash, even
amidst the roar of car engines.

As she coasted over the little bridge by the Royal Farms Gas Station, keeping well on the shoulder, a car slowed
behind her and honked. Startled, she weaved into the grass, almost toppling. She managed to stop and turn,
awkward because of the huge rucksack.

Jessie waved from behind the wheel of Gus’s bright red Hennessey Velociraptor. He opened the door and stood so
he could call to her. “Need a ride?”

“I’m not going to Gus’s.” Cars inched by them.

“So? I’ll take you wherever you want. Hop in.”

For a second, Marie was tempted. She was alone after all, and not sure she was up to the job of saving a mermaid.
But Jessie licked his lips and ogled her T-shirt, where the knapsack straps had pulled it tight. So she just said,
“Nah. I’m okay.”

“Well, where are you going? So I can tell your mom?”

“She knows.” Marie waved and pulled into traffic. The line of cars was long and slow. Jessie wouldn’t be able to
follow in his shiny, red truck.

~ * ~

Marie’s breasts were new. So were her hips. They had both ballooned suddenly in the past year and had totally
fucked up her track and field scores. Before, Marie had been making steady progress on the triple jump, once even
hitting a 38, amazing for a middle schooler. But her new, high school body had a different center of gravity. Her
jump didn’t work anymore. Nothing worked anymore. This Spring, she hadn’t even qualified for Girls State. That’s
when her coach had looked her over, frowned, and said maybe she should think about cross country.

No one in her family approved of her new body, either. Her dad had stopped touching her. Just a few years ago,
she had still slept on his chest, when she was sick or scared, her cheek pressed warm and safe against his beating
heart. Now he hugged her like some old lady would, holding her away and kind of patting her back. Her mom had
started dropping stinging little comments. Gus did, too. Mom said things like, “Really? You’re wearing those
shorts?” and “God Marie, could your pants be any tighter?” while Gus’s comments were less direct, but somehow
pervier. “In other countries, your mom and I would be marrying you off right now. Think about that.”

She tried to imagine telling her mom about how Jessie looked at her, all hot and horny. That Gus did too,
sometimes. That her dad avoided her, probably because she reminded him of his girlfriend Greta, now. And that the
whole thing made her want to sink into the floor and die.

But Marie was pretty sure her mother would just say something like, “Well, what do you expect honey, when you’re
wearing shorts like that?”

It was no use reminding her mom that she herself had bought Marie’s track uniform. The striped Lycra short shorts
she wore for training were required for school meets. They were approved by the booster club.

~ * ~

She saw activity under the pier as she approached from the road and her body tensed. Drawing closer, Marie saw a
small collection of people had gathered. She could tell they were mostly boys, because they wore no shirts. She
could also tell they were doing something awful, because they shouted and keened in shrill, exultant voices. She
ditched her bike by a dune and started running, forgetting to be careful of the crabs banging around in the plastic
bucket on her back. Her feet dug so hard in the sand, it sprayed up behind her, while the bucket jounced and
bobbled.

“Hey!” she called, as she drew closer. “Hey get away from there!”

It wasn’t as bad as it could be. There were only a handful of boys, and she could see no parents, or TV cameras.
The jellyfish barrier had done its work, and so the boys were mostly scrambling on the rocks near the edge of her
grotto. Still, some of them had long sticks, and were trying to poke at the monster. One boy had collected what
small missiles he could—shells, stones, all too light, Marie thought, to do much damage, but dangerous and stupid,
anyway.

“This is a marine protected area,” she said, as they turned to look at her. “You can’t climb on these rocks.”

This was complete bullshit, of course. No marine protected area would be next to a boardwalk, and have a big
tourist pier right over it. But Marie was counting on the boys’ ignorance. Stifling her panting, quelling the shaking in
her voice, she borrowed language from half-remembered conversations with her dad and went on. “You’re
trespassing on government land. Any animals here are under the protection of the Federal Fish and Wildlife
Department. Stand aside.”

Most of the boys fell back, dropping their stones and sticks, but one tow-headed kid refused to give ground.
“There’s a sick shark,” he told her. His eyes glistened with excitement and he clutched a long, whip-like branch in
his hand.

“Not a shark,” she said. “An injured sea lion. And it shouldn’t be disturbed.” Sea lions lived in California, but again
she counted on the boy not knowing that. It had been her experience that most tourists, most people really, were
idiots when it came to wildlife. They thought opossums were kitties, and that blowfish were good eating.

“Who are you?” the boy asked. He whipped the branch back and forth.

“I’m a licensed volunteer.” Marie amazed herself as lie after lie jumped from her lips. “I’m here to protect the sea lion
until the veterinarian comes. Now get out. This animal isn’t a toy; it’s an endangered species.”

The whipping boy looked skeptical. She didn’t blame him. Marie was taller than he, but she was still only a few years
older, and dressed in her blue Stephen Decauter High track shorts and a tight white T shirt. There was nothing
official about her, except the language she used.

“We found it first,” he muttered.

“No. It was found while scientists were surveying the beach this morning.”

“Well, where are they now?”

“Putting together a rescue operation. I told you, this animal is under protection. Now leave.”

Marie loomed over him. He glowered up at her. Then he whipped his stick one last time and stood aside. The other
boys followed suit. Hoping she looked tough and hard, she started scrambling up the rocks.

“There’s jellyfish,” one of the other boys said.

“I know. You get used to them,” she said, stifling a cry as a dead sea nettle stung her hand. It was like fire on her
fingers, but she set her teeth.

When she turned to look back at them, they weren’t watching her anymore. They had huddled in a clump and
spoke in low voices that she couldn’t hear above the roar of the ocean. So she clambered to the mermaid, ducking
down out of the wind.

Between the rocks, the air was warm and peaceful and smelled of old shells and seaweed. The mermaid didn’t hiss
or show its teeth. It didn’t move or wiggle or threaten. Its horrible mouth hung slack. For a second, Marie thought
it might have died, and her chest clutched. But then its torso rose in a gasp and she sighed in relief.

She shrugged off the rucksack. One of the crabs had died on the journey. Another stalked around its broken claw.
Dammit. Her eyes stung a little as she plucked the dead one out. She set it aside on a boulder, its white belly
pathetic; it’s legs slack and spread, starlike. She grabbed the live one out of the bucket, and—being mindful of its
claws and the monster’s hideous teeth—dropped it on the creature’s chest.

She hoped the mermaid would use its uninjured arm to pluck at the crab and eat it. But the creature didn’t
respond, not to the crab or to her. It just took another hitching breath. The crab scrambled away. Marie grabbed at
it and threw it back on the monster. Again, the monster ignored it.

“Come on!” She urged. “You need your strength!”

But the mermaid just stared up and the crab gamely scrabbled off.

Fuck. Marie wondered if the creature’s skin needed to be bathed in seawater. Dolphins got really sick if they dried
out. Marie picked up the bucket and started clumsily back over the rocks to fill it. The boulders by the shore were
slippery with seaweed and she had to tread carefully.

Something struck the side of her face, hard and brightly startling.

“Ouch!” She was more surprised that hurt. But she slipped and scraped her thigh while the bucket bounced down
on the sand. “Shit!” She felt stinging heat and looked over to see the whipping boy stooping down to fire another
missile.

“What are you—” she couldn’t even finish before another rock banged on her teeth. Her skull rang. Tears bloomed
in her eyes. “Stop it!”

“I found the it first.” His friends had all scattered, but he stood defiant, his skinny fists clenched. “It’s mine.”

“The fuck it is!” Blood drenched her leg, her lip stung and her head rang. Without thinking, Marie grabbed up a
large stick and leapt. The anger in her felt like a light in her chest, white hot and pulsing. The kid cowered, but Marie
thwacked him on the shoulder anyway. When he cried out, she hit him again, this time on the ass. “How do you like
it?”

“Don’t! Ow!”

She smacked him across the back. Splinters flew from the stick and a big red stripe appeared on his golden skin.
“She doesn’t belong to you, stupid! Get out of here.” She felt a kind of horror, mixed with glee, fiery and heavy, all
at once. Her eyes stung with tears. But she was happy too, and wanted to beat the shit out of him, right there,
right now. She raised the stick for another blow.

The boy turned and ran. She watched him go, breathing hard. “She’s not a shark, you dumbass! This is Ariel!”

She turned back to the mermaid. The mermaid did not give a shit if she cried, so she did. Her sobs sounded like
screams in her ears and the aching hole in her chest was so big, even the sea would never fill it.

~ * ~

The mermaid didn’t respond when she dumped a bucketful of seawater on her awhile later. A couple of seagulls
flapped close though, so Marie banged on the rocks with her stick until they flew away. She checked the phone.
Sometime in the last hour, she had managed to crack the glass. Her mother would be pissed. Her father still hadn’t
called.

Marie figured he might be on his way to her. But he also might be just fucking with Greta, his phone forgotten, his
life forgotten.

In the end, she made a kind of nest for herself among the rocks, like she had when she was little. She crooned
“Part of Your World,” while surf pounded in the background. She rested her back against a boulder, and propped
her feet on another one. Dried white bird shit had dripped down in a white cascade. The dead crab still lay where
she left it, belly turned to the dock above. Marie closed her eyes and listened to the surf and the pilings thrumming,
as people walked back and forth, back and forth, reeling in fish and killing them.

She had remembered to bring food for the mermaid, but not for herself. She thought about hiking to the
Boardwalk and get a hotdog. She could buy a cold lemonade there, too. While she was there, she could call The
Maryland Coast Dispatch and ask them to send someone to the 59th Street Pier for the story of a lifetime. She
could take a picture of the mermaid right now and email it to the Huffington Post, or CNN. Post it on Instagram, it
would probably go viral by sundown. She should do it. People would want to know there were real mermaids.
Scientists would want to study this one. It was ugly, but it was magical.

Time passed. Marie just sat and stared at the bird shit until she fell asleep.
      
~ * ~        

The phone buzzed in her hand and she woke with a start. The sun had moved way behind her. It burnished the
ocean and tinged the clouds with fire. Marie stared at the phone’s display. It said Gus was calling. She answered.

“Honey, are you all right?” her mother’s voice sounded worried.

“I fell asleep.”

“Where?”

“At the pier. I’m sorry.” The mermaid looked dead, really dead. It wasn’t moving, or breathing. Its silver eyes had
gone cloudy. Marie felt her throat swell. “It’s dead, Mom. I think it’s dead and Dad never called.”

Pause. “He’s awfully busy, honey.”

“With what?” Marie asked. Her nose was running and she wiped at the slime impatiently. “Why doesn’t he come see
me anymore?”

“You’ll have to ask him.” Her mom’s throat sounded tight. She added, “What if we come and get you?”

Marie squinted at the ocean. The sun made it so bright, it hurt her eyes. “Yeah.”

“We’re having a cook out. Gus got crabs.”

“I’m right by the pier.”

“I’m sorry it died. What was it? A dolphin?”

Marie looked at the mess on the rocks, the gaping mouth, now ringed with flies. A tiny white crab inched over the
creature’s tail. Marie flicked it away. She said, “I don’t know. It’s nothing.”

“We’ll be right there,” her mom said.

~ * ~

By the time Jessie found her, the sea was much higher and the sun was setting behind the Boardwalk. A cold wind
whipped at the red, white and blue flags decorating the pier. The mermaid had begun to stink. Marie stood on top
of the rocks, balanced like a ballerina, throwing dead jellyfish back into the sea, her hands white and red from all
their stinging.

“Hey,” Jessie said.

“My mom didn’t come?”

“She’s dealing with dinner. They sent me.”

Marie nodded. “Can we stop and get a lemonade? I’m thirsty.”

“We can stop and get whatever you want, Marie.”

They hiked up to the Boardwalk and bought a lemonade from an Eastern European exchange student in a bright
yellow hat, who told Marie to “Smile!” The lemonade was ice cold and soothed her parched throat. The electricity
must have been restored while she slept. Around them, arcades beeped and bonged; music blasted from shitty
clothing stores; a whole pack of fat kids pounded into the Laser Tag building. Under the neon, Jessie’s face looked
orange and then green.

He had parked the truck in the public lot, still pretty full at this hour. Marie climbed inside, sucking on the lemonade.

Jessie started the engine, “How old are you?”

“Almost fifteen.”

“Sophomore next year?”

“Yeah. You?”

“I flunked my senior year at Choate. My parents think Uncle Gus is going to straighten me out.”

“Will he?”

“I’m a problem child.” Jessie sounded pleased. He pulled into traffic, heading north. The sun sank lower behind him.
Big hotels up ahead reflected bronze light in their windows.

“What were you doing down there at the beach all day?”

“Trying to save some kind of animal. I think it was a new species, but it died.”

“New species. Really?”

Marie said, “The ocean’s big. It’s got a lot of things in it that no one’s ever seen. Maybe I saw one today. I don’t
know. It doesn’t matter. It’s dead.” She swallowed the lump in her throat.

Jessie said, “You get high?”

She didn’t. She never had. She was an athlete. She was a good girl. She tried hard. She always had.

Her lips moved. “Yeah. I get high all the time.” The lie came easy, like the ones at the pier about the Fish and
Wildlife Department. She thought of those boys. She thought of smacking one hard with a stick.

When Jessie lit up a hand rolled cigarette, Marie took it between her fingers, resting her feet on the dashboard. She
stared at the car’s plastic ceiling. Gus kept his truck nice, the way he kept everything nice. Her dad’s Jeep was
always sandy and smelly, rubber masks and fins rattling in the back with a tackle box. But crossing the Bay Bridge
with the top down in summer was like flying. At night, the bridge lit up like a fairytale castle, and the dark water
swirled black and silver below.

Jessie said, “Man. I thought this summer was gonna suck. Things are looking up, huh?”

Marie didn’t answer. She put the joint to her lips and sucked instead. The smoke hurt her chest and stung her
eyes. She blinked hard and didn’t cough at all.

Jessie smiled. The sun had slipped behind his shoulder. She passed him back the joint, let her head fall back against
the seat. To her right, the ocean pounded. Up ahead was everything else.
THE LORELEI SIGNAL
Elise Forier Edie is an author of fantasy novels, stories
and popular plays. Her most recent publications
included "Heard" in Metaphorosis Magazine, and
"Mother Night" in the Omnium Gatherum anthology,
"Winter Horror Days." Her paranormal romance novella,
"The Devil in Midwinter" was released in 2014 by World
Weaver Press. Elise lives in Southern California with her
actor/writer husband, Keith Edie, and their two dogs,
Krypto and Jubilee. You can learn more about her at
her website:
www.eliseforieredie.com