By Christina Monroe, age 18, Tipp City, Ohio
“I’ve got it!”
Aura pulled out the bobby pin and opened the door to the closet and there, sitting on the floor, was a locked chest.
“Shh,” said Ada, her strawberry-blonde haired friend, “they’ll hear.”
Aura and her friend Ada were in the attic of her grandma’s house after overhearing a conversation between her and Aura’s mum talking about a mysterious chest in the attic in their turquiose living room…
“Mum, Aura is still too young. I don’t…”
“Lola, the magic is almost gone. It needs to be now, or it will be too late: The dam will be finished, and the chest will hold no more value.”
Then Aura’s grandmother added softly, “Besides, don’t you want to see them again—especially him?”
“No buts—we do it now!”
But what did they mean “now”? What was so special about the chest, and what did the dam have to do with it?
Ada was tugging at Aura’s arm, pulling her out of her revery, pointing at the chest.
Aura breathed in sharply. The chest was glowing.
“Aura, d-do you see t-that?”
Ada’s voice was shaky and sounded scared.
The letters were hovering above the chest in bright, scaly green.
Both girls screamed and spun around to view Aura’s grandmother looming over them.
“Might I ask what you two are up to?” Aura’s grandmother raised her eyebrow, but her voice was soft and even a little sad.
“I’m sorry, Grandma. It’s just…well…we wanted to see the magic chest!”
Ada was nodding her heading furiously and offered a smile.
“How do you know about the chest?” said Aura’s grandmother.
Aura’s Grandmother sighed and spread out her hands.
“All right, Aura. I’m going to tell you something, but you must promise not to tell anyone. You too, Ada.”
“We promise,” said Aura and Ada in unison.
“Aura, do you know what your name means?”
“Err…s-something invisible surrounding a living creature, like a sensation or feeling.”
“Yes. It comes from Greek, meaning breeze or breath: On the day of your birth, your father carried you out to the sea and let the air kiss your newborn cheeks and flow through your hair. It was so beautiful, my dear, like the breeze was hugging you all around.”
Aura felt a wet tear trace across her cheek as she whispered, “M-My father?”
“Yes. A wonderful crea—person.”
Aura’s grandmother stopped herself before saying “creature.”
“But when your mother’s father found out what happened, he was so furious that he dammed up the rivers in hopes they would disappear and never return. He was only partly successful.”
“But I don’t understand. Where are they now, and who are they?”
“They are freshwater merpeople. When merpeople lose the water of which they were born, they travel to find new waters, but if they cannot, they just…fade away. But…”
Aura’s grandma stopped suddenly, and Aura practically shouted, “What-t do you mean ‘But’?”
“But if the water of which they were born touches water again, the legend goes that they will return. That water is the water in which you and many others were born in, and it’s no ordinary water.”
“W-What will happen to me if that doesn’t happen?” whispered Aura.
Aura’s grandmother looked away sadly, and all was silent for a moment.
“We don’t know.”
“But I thought mermaids only came from the sea. Remember the Little Mermaid?” protested Ada.
Aura’s grandmother shook her head and smiled.
“There are saltwater merpeople, yes, but Aura’s father was of freshwater descent, who are smaller and have no gill for filtering out the excess salt.”
“Then we have to get the rivers back; we mustn’t let them dam the rivers.”
Aura’s grandmother sighed again. “That’s the problem I’ve been trying to solve for months—getting people to sign petitions, hold up signs, walk in the parade. But nothing worked.”
Aura leaped to her feet, balled up her fists, grinned.
“Yes, but you didn’t have us.”
Ada followed suit.
But Aura’s grandmother was shaking her head.
“This isn’t a game, girls; this is serious.”
Aura reached over and gently squeezed her grandmother’s hand. “We know. Besides, I think I have an idea. Let’s go, Ada.”
Before Aura’s grandmother could finish her sentence, Aura and Ada were gone, racing down the attic stairs, out the screen door, and onto the sidewalk, not stopping until they were across the street from a construction zone. Ada was bending over, clutching her knees.
“Aura, h-hold up. What’s your big idea anyway?”
“I’m not sure…yet.”
Aura was tugging at a loose thread on her dungarees and frowning at different signs posted on a wooden board outside the construction site:
Save the fish habitat.
Animals need drinking water.
Birds NEED food.
“Just think, Ada, the dam won’t just be terrible for the m-merpeople…”
Aura fumbled over the word as if it had a peculiar taste.
“…but the fish and the birds and the raccoons and everything and everybody. If we could somehow unite everyone’s individual voice into one large protest, well…maybe we might be heard, you know?”
Aura looked over at her best friend, her eyes shining with newfound hope.
Ada grinned and said, “Well, it’s worth a try. Besides, to have a shimmery tail would be wicked cool!”
“Come on, I know just the person who can help.”
A few minutes later, Aura arrived at a brown house shaped like a square and hugged with thousands of green plants that sprouted brightly colored flowers gleaming like jewels in the early morning sun.
Just as Aura shouted the name, an old woman with silvery, shiny hair appeared around the corner of the house holding a little, brown bunny.
“Aura, dear, how are you feeling?”
“We have to use your typewriter. It’s an emergency,” blurted out Aura.
The old lady raised her eyebrows. “Oh, really?”
Aura nodded her head.
“Well, come along, girls, I’ll lead you to it.”
That was the good thing about Ella: She didn’t ask a lot of questions. If you needed anything, she’d provide.
A few minutes later, Ella and the two girls were standing in a mint-colored room where oddities from different countries and exotic places were everywhere. Through the laced-draped windows, the sunlight drifted in like a pale golden waterfall.
Ella brushed off a few trinkets on a brown desk to reveal a shiny black typewriter.
Ella brushed off the front of her pink apron and sighed with satisfaction. “Well, I’ll let you two girls get to work while I fix some sandwiches, hm? Boiled cabbage or watercress…?”
Ella’s voice trailed off into the other room as Aura sat down at the equally shiny black chair.
For the next two hours, Aura’s fingers flurried across the typewriter, and Ada’s eyes danced across the pages, pointing out different words or phrases. The finished result consisted of one creamy piece of paper with black letters:
LIVING WITHOUT WATER
There is a town where all the rivers are dammed up, where the sound of trickling rivers is no more, and where singing birds no longer bathe in the cool pools of water. Instead, it is replaced with a thunderous sound of a dam, void of all living creatures, instilled to create energy to fuel our artificial energy needs. Are there no other methods of creating energy that a dam MUST be purchased at the price of Mother Nature’s creations? The roads no longer lead to rivers: They only lead to MAN-MADE things. Rachel Carson said, “Man is a part of nature,” so why do we feel as though we can dominate it? Please stand with our fellow friends in nature because there is STRENGTH IN UNITY, and if we stand united, we can SAVE OUR OWN RIVERS FROM BEING DAMMED. Spread the message. Whisper it into your neighbor’s ear. Shout from the rooftop. Write to a friend. Protest our town’s energy being used at the price of lost homes and habitats of living things.
“But what do we do now?” wondered Ada aloud.
It was beginning to grow late, and the golden sunlight had faded from the room.
“I have a plan,” replied Aura mysteriously, “but first we have to use Ella’s copy machine.”
The girls printed off a thousand copies of the creamy pamphlet.
Satisfied, both girls hurriedly ate the sandwiches Ella made for them and waved good-bye, intent on pursuing Aura’s one last mission…
The very next morning, every street corner, pocket, and person’s hand held the pamphlet written by Aura and Ada. The girls had stormed the town, tossing the pamphlets off rooftops and placing them on doorsteps, in mailboxes, on doors, on shop windows—over, under, every which way.
But there was one place Aura could never have guessed…
The desk of the mayor of Blossomville!
“This is an outrage! And to think there was a dam being constructed without MY permission! What were they even thinking? We don’t even need the energy power harnessed by a dam—that money-grabbing, scandalizing git will surely not get away with this!”
The mayor paced up and down his pale green office and demanded to be taken at once to the construction site of the dam.
Aura and Ada were the first to spot the mayor’s black car coming down the paved road and stopping at the dam’s edge.
Mr. Moore, the man in charge of the dam, Aura’s grandfather, looked frightened and jittery.
“M-Mr. Mayor, w-what a pleasant surprise.”
“Is it?” snapped the mayor. “I’ve been told that you’ve been constructing this abominating structure without permission and at the risk of the wildlife. If it had not been brought to my attention through this pamphlet, whose authors I am very grateful for, I would have never known.”
Aura grinned at Ada at the mention of “authors.”
“Mr. Moore, I order you to tear this abomination down this instant.”
A few hours later, Aura’s butterfly of a heart was fluttering in her ribcage as she gripped Ada’s hand.
The construction of the dam had been torn down, and Aura’s grandmother had poured the chest’s contents into the river. Now they were just waiting and watching…
“Aura,” said her grandmother gently, “just put one toe in the water.”
Aura’s mum, her grandmother, and Ada were sitting at the river’s edge, anxiously awaiting Aura’s next move.
Aura’s voice seemed distant and unsure, as if she’d forgotten how to speak. Then Aura gently stuck one toe in the water, and suddenly, silvery scales started to appear on her tan foot.
Suddenly, Aura plunged into river, and they all sat in silence, listening intently to the river as gentle waves rippled across its surface. But instead of Aura reappearing, a green, scaly tail appeared and started bobbing up and down. Then Aura’s head broke the water’s surface with her silky hair fanned out around her.
“I’m the best friend to a MERMAID!” said Ada. “This is awesome!”
They all laughed, loud and hearty.
The voice sounded clear and light, like a million tiny bells in the breeze, and at the sound of it, the laughter died away.
Aura turned quickly around and faced the mighty, green-tinted face of a golden-bearded man.
The man held out his hand, and Aura gently pressed her palm into it.
“Aura, I have so much to show you, but first there is someone I must see, whom I haven’t in a long time.”
The man’s eyes strayed to Aura’s mum near the edge of the water, who in turn was whispering a name over and over again.
Moerot. Moerot. Moerot.
Aura and her father swam, hand in hand, back to the riverfront, gently swishing their tails, up and down, content and happy.