I watched as my little sister, Sirena, flicked her tail, pushing herself higher in the water. Within a few minutes, we had reached the surface. The sky was black and littered with white stars. Sirena glanced around frantically, looking for something.
“Sirena,” I said, grabbing her attention. “What are we doing here? We’re supposed to be in bed.”
“Oh, please, Marana,” Sirena said. “If we weren’t here, you would be reading.”
“What are we doing here?” I repeated, annoyed that Sirena had figured out what I did each night.
“I saw humans here, Mara. Real humans. I wanted to show them to you.”
“Oh, come on, Sirena. Seriously? Humans don’t exist. You should have stopped believing in them years ago. Humans are a fairytale made up to scare merkids.”
Sirena groaned. “No, they’re not. I saw one. You have to believe me.”
“I’m going home,” I said.
I swam downward to our ship house. I snuck in through the window and slid under my seaweed blanket. I heard Sirena slip in as well and get into her bed.
“Good-bye!” I called out to my mother.
I had to go to mermaid school where I learned to sing and take down my enemies, such as sharks or rogue merpeople. I met my best friend, Shellie, on the way. We both had our hair in swirling curls, but she wore pearls in her hair. We talked about what we thought we would be doing in class.
We fell silent as we entered class. Our teacher, Ms. Neaco, stood in the front of the classroom. There were four Sirens, two on each side of Ms. Neaco. One had blonde hair, and the other had brunette. There were rumors that said that the Sirens sacrificed the weak, ugly merpeople to the Kraken to help keep it at bay, but I never listened to those tales.
Sirens were the protectors of the ocean. They kept us safe from the seas’ dangers, including the Kraken. However, they were never in town, unless they were on extremely important business. Most importantly, they were never seen in schools. Sirens were chosen from the most beautiful — by looks and voice — and by how well they could fight.
Shellie and I quickly took our seats as their gaze landed on us. I squirmed wanting to know why they were here. As if answering my plea, they began to speak.
“Where is Marana Derman?” one of the blonde haired Sirens asked.
I slowly got up from my seat. “Here.”
Her eyes seemed to penetrate into my soul. “My name is Jenynsia. Come with us, Marana Derman.”
I could hear the quiet rumors spread through the classroom as I followed the Sirens out of the school. We started to leave tow. I started to worry. What if the rumors were true? What if they were about to sacrifice me to the Kraken to help keep it at bay?
“W–where are we going?” I asked timidly.
Jenynsia, probably the Sirens leader, didn’t even bother to glance over her shoulder. “You have passed all of our tests, Marana. You are becoming a Siren. To prove your loyalty, you will have to sink human ships at the Jagged Cliffs.”
I could now tell that we were headed for the ocean’s surface. “I thought that humans were only in fairy tales.”
“That’s what we tell other merpeople so that they don’t worry about their own safety. Sink ten large ships, and you will be a Siren. You will even get your own Siren name.”
My mind finally registered what they were saying. Me? A Siren? I almost laughed. Sure, every little mermaid thought that they could one day be a Siren, but I never actually thought that I would get the chance to be one. I had always thought that Shellie would become a Siren. She seemed far more fit for the role.
“When do I start?” I asked.
Jenynsia smiled. “Right now.” She broke the water’s surface. “Good luck, Marana Derman. We will be watching you from afar. Don’t get caught. We will not come to your rescue.”
The Sirens left. I pulled myself out of the water and sat on one of the rocks. Unsure of what I was supposed to do, I started to sing.
Sleep away from the bay
Deep down far we’ll play
Far away from the shore
We will never ever war
Come with me tonight
We can swim to great heights
When the ships do sink
We will come to the brink
I saw a ship coming closer, entranced by my song, when a head poked out of the water. I stopped my singing and looked closer. A net was thrown over the figure and pulled up onto the ship, revealing a mermaid.
“Marana!” the mermaid yelled. “Marana, where are you?”
“Sirena?” I said, my voice quiet, then I started to yell. “Sirena! Sirena, is that you?”
I jumped into the water and chased after the ship. I got to the side and listened to what they were saying.
“… at that. It’s a siren, trying to sink our ship,” someone said.
“I-I’m not a Siren. I’m a mermaid, and I wasn’t trying to sink your ship. I was looking for my sister. Someone said that she was looking for me.”
“That’s what they all say,” one person said.
“Not really, cap’n,” another human said.
“Be quiet, Darran,” the first human — the captain — said.
“Aye, aye, cap’n,” Darran said, saluting.
“What are you going to do with me?” Sirena asked.
“What do you think, Darran?” the captain asked.
“Well, cap’n, I’m not quite sure, if you ask me.”
“Useless. How about we take you to the fair on the mainland? You would earn us lots of money. We could even give you your own little water tank,” the captain said.
A crewmember looked over the side of the ship and saw me. I jumped into the water and swam away as the captain’s name was called. Captain Jack Morgan. I swam to the Sirens.
“Y-you have to help me. They have my sister,” I said frantically.
“Sink the ship then,” Jenynsia said.
“I doubt that they’ll fall for that trick again. Besides, even if I do crash their ship against the rocks, I could hurt my little sister and possibly kill her. I’m not risking that. I’m sorry, but I can’t,” I said.
“Good luck living a normal life then,” Jenynsia said, turning away.
The Sirens began to swim away, but I stopped them. “Isn’t there any way that you can help?”
One of the other Sirens threw back a white, glittering river stone. I grabbed it before it could fall into the depths of the ocean. They wished me good luck one more time before swimming away.
I inspected the river stone, hoping to discover something that wouldn’t necessarily be seen at first glance, but I couldn’t find anything. I sighed and swam up to the surface. The ship was nowhere to be seen. I swam in circle around myself. Then I found a black dot on the horizon, headed toward the mainland.
The ship kept getting farther and farther away as I swam forward. Then it just stopped, and I could get closer to it. It wasn’t until I was a hundred meters away from it did I realize that it was at a dock. I froze and nearly sunk to the bottom of the shallow bay from exhaustion.
I saw them carry a screaming Sirena off of the boat. I cautiously swam to the shore and dragged myself onto the beach. I clutched the stone close to my chest. My tail turned into legs. I wore scale pants and a T-shirt that had a giant seashell on it.
I tip-toed on bare feet over the sand. The pirates were talking to someone who was pointing to the ship. Sirena was in the glass tank, hitting against the walls. Her wailing screams were muffled.
“There are no carnivals here. Put your ‘mermaid’ back on the boat and take her elsewhere. Don’t come back either; pirates are forbidden.”
The human who was talking turned and walked away. Captain Jack Morgan motioned for some of the crewmen to take Sirena onto the boat. I started to walk to them, trying not to fall over on my Jell-O legs and patted my hair to feel shells.
“Um, hello?” I said. “Are you … Captain Jack Morgan?”
The captain turned toward me, his chest puffed out. “Yes. Yes, I am. How can I help you, m’lady?”
I tried to keep myself steady. “Um, I need a ship to the carnival. I heard that your ship was the fastest around, so I thought that I would ask you.”
“How thoughtful of ye! We’d love ter take ye aboard, m’lady,” the captain said.
He held out his arm, so I took it, glad for the extra support. He led me up the gangplank and onto the ship’s deck. All of the crew froze to see the unusual girl on their boat.
“Crew! We’ll be takin’ this ’ere lovely lady ter the carnival. We’ll be treatin’ ‘er with respect. Right, crew?”
The crew snapped to attention. “Aye, aye, cap’n.”
“Get bak ter yer work. We set sail now.”
The captain led me down a flight of stairs on our right. He opened the door on the left, revealing a small room. It had a tiny porthole and cot. There was a mirror, the size of a hand, across from the cot. There was also a desk that almost looked like a small stool.
“Best room we ‘ave. ‘Sides my quarters, that is,” the captain said, scratching his head. “If ye want ter stay on this ‘ere boat for free, you’re gonna ‘ave ter help with some chores. You can cook and clean, right? You can start ternight. Dinner needs to be made by sunset. The kitchen is right across from yer room.”
The captain left. Unsure of what to do, I sat down on the cot. I needed a plan to save my sister. I jumped to my feet when the door opened again. It was the captain.
He scratched his head. “Um, sorry, but I fergot ter ask ye yer name.”
“U-um. My name is M-Marana,” I stuttered.
Captain Jack Morgan grunted then left once more.
“Ye can come up ter the deck if ye want ter!”
I hesitated before scuttling out of my room and up the stairs. The yellow sun was bright in my eyes, and the sky was blue. Not a single cloud marked the sky. I smiled and drank in the sunlight.
It was getting easier to walk on two feet, so I began to look around for my sister. She had to be around here somewhere. I ran over to the captain.
“Um, captain?” I asked.
“Um, sorry to bother you, but I heard that you caught a mermaid. Can I see her — it?”
“Sure. She’s in the cargo bay. Take the stairs ter yer room but keep goin’ straight. Ye should reach ‘er eventually. Please don’t touch it.”
“Thank you, cap’n.”
I ran off back toward the stairs and found my way to the cargo bay. There were one or two small portholes in there, too. Sirena’s tank sat in the center of the room.
“Sirena?” I whispered. “Sirena, are you in there?”
“Marana? Marana, is that you?” Her voice raised as she spoke.
“Shh!” I said. “I’m going to find a way to free you. I promise.”
“I’m dying, Mara,” Sirena whispered. “There’s not enough water. I think that there’s something in it too. I think it’s killing me.”
“Hold on for me. I’m so close. I’ll be back at midnight. We will escape. I have to go before they get suspicious,” I said. “I love you, Sirena.”
“Love you too, Mara. See you later,” Sirena said.
I left my sister behind and climbed the steps onto the deck. She was relying on me. Captain Jack Morgan was standing at the top of the stairs, waiting for me.
“Time to start workin’ on dinner,” he said.
I ducked my head and slunk into the kitchen.
I had finished making what they wanted two hours later. By then, it was only eight o’clock. For the next four hours, I worked on making my cot easily portable. By midnight, my hair was a mess, and I had taken the cot down to the cargo bay. I gently reached in to shake her awake, but the water burned my hand.
“Sirena,” I whispered. “Sirena, wake up!”
Sirena weakly opened her eyes. “Huh?”
“Sirena, it’s time to go. We’re going to go home,” I told her. “We need to get you out of the water tank and into the ocean. Can you come up to the surface?”
Sirena could barely grab the edge of the tank and push herself up. I grabbed her and put her onto the wheeled cot. Her skin had turned rough and wrinkled. I carefully took her up the first set of stairs. We were halfway up the second set of stairs when I saw a figure looming above me.
“Ye wanted a ride ter steal my mermaid, did ye?” Captain Jack Morgan asked. “Is that what ye are doin’? Is that why there is a ship nearing ours?”
“There’s another ship?” I asked, honestly confused.
“Don’t ye play innocent with me. I ain’t blind. Ye are from my emenies. Enenies. Ememies.”
“Don’t correct me. I know what I say. Ye brought my enemies ter me, ye evil creature. The men were right ter tell me not ter let a girl on my ship,” the captain said.
“Um, just because I’m a girl, it doesn’t mean that I’m evil. Now, my sister and I are going home, okay?”
“Don’t even think about it. My mermaid is going back to the cargo bay. Ye and yer sister are going to the brig. Go.”
“What if I say no?”
“Then I’ll take ye by force. Now, go.”
“No one’s going anywhere, Cap’n Jack Morgan,” a female voice said, holding a sword to the captain’s neck.
Captain Jack Morgan froze. He obviously recognized the voice. He dropped to his knees and held his hands up in defeat. “I’m sorry, Zhu Shih. Please forgive me.”
I tried to stifle a gasp. Even the merpeople knew about her. She was the most feared pirate of all time. She had discovered the merpeople when she was a young girl. When she became a pirate herself, she defended the merpeople. She knew that when people discovered the merpeople, they would become a part of the carnivals.
I nodded to my life-long hero and wheeled my sister the rest of the way up the stairs. We went to the side of the ship, and I rolled the cart off of the plank. I looked back at Zhu Shih one more time. We gave each other a curt nod before I swan-dived into the water. I swam down to my sister and grabbed hold of her before she sunk too far.
Jenynsia swam up to me. “Marana, you have passed our test. You were willing to save your sister, even when this great opportunity was put on the line. You may join the Sirens.”
I looked at them, confused. “In order to become a Siren, you have to be lied to? I don’t want to be a part of a group that lie to each other. I refuse to be part of your group. I am going to take my sister home. If you find your morals again, I’ll let you come back.”
My sister and I went home. My parents showered us with questions about where we had been. We ignored them, went to our room, and slept. Over time, Sirena’s wounds healed physically, but we refused to tell anybody else about the experiences that we had. No one would understand if we tried, so we kept our ‘insane’ tales to ourselves.
Makayla Tolman, 14, attends Summit Academy Independence. She has two older brothers and two younger sisters and lives in Saratoga Springs, Utah. She competed in the Scripps National Spelling Bee and got up to the regional level. She plans to make it to nationals this year and is also competing in some Science Olympiad events.