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Chapter One

One-Hundred-and-Ten Tails

     “Ow,” whispered Zara Zyon. The white and pink shell she had treasured since she was young smashed in her hand, and as it cut her, bright blue blood trickled out. Zara quickly scooped the broken shell pieces into her palm and closed her quivering hand into a fist. She tugged off the finely braided string that held the shell from her wrist and scanned the front of her eighth grade class for observers. A human would only see red blood but the other creatures would see blue. She knew her enemies, the creatures of the three other Realms, could be lurking around in human form, just like her.

     She knew that seeing blood wasn’t the only problem; it was the scent too. The scent of her blue blood would travel as far as one-hundred-and-ten tails in every direction. The soles of her shoes ticked against the floor as her legs shook under the desk. Silas Novic sat next to Zara and his usual friendly smile was missing. For a split second, Silas’s eyes met hers and she questioned what he might be. His stare caused a chill to shoot up her spine. Her pulse quickened. Zara casually tried to divert her attention back to history class where Ms. DeMoulder was still talking about the Battle of Gettysburg.

     Zara knew she was breaking the Code of Existence by living in hiding on land and mirroring the life of humans; she was supposed to be living in the tides of the world’s oceans with her people, the Aquatians. Zara took a long slow breath but struggled to get her composure back as the blood continued to dampen her palm. Her feet tapped louder against the floor as her eyes searched the rest of the room.They are only humans, she thought, repeating the lie in her head. She turned to the back and Brittany Bain scowled at her. Zara shook her head, turned to the front, and put her other hand up in the air.

      “Ms. D, can I get a bathroom pass?”  Zara asked.

      In one sharp movement, Ms. DeMoulder turned her chin up and squinted at Zara. “Yes, of course, Zara,” she replied.

     Zara’s chair squealed across the floor as she got up.

     “Oink, little piggy,” Brittany said, loud enough for only a few to hear.

     Zara turned around to face Brittany who glared up at her with crossed arms. “You’re a jerk! I’m not even—”

     “What is wrong with you?” Silas interrupted as he stood up.

     He stared down at Brittany. The corners of Zara’s mouth curled up. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing.

     “That’s enough!” Ms. DeMoulder said. “I don’t know what is going on back there, but stop disrupting my class!”

     Zara nodded in silence and walked to the front of the room. She took a deep breath in and smelt her own blood. If she could smell it, the creatures of all four Realms could too, and they would know what she was not— a human. Her dead grandmother’s voice rang in her ears.

       “Never ever bleed above the sea, your blood leaves a trace which will cause a chase."

     Zara grabbed the hall pass from Ms. DeMoulder with her free hand and headed out the door.

     “Make it quick,” Ms. DeMoulder called out to her.

      Zara ran down the hall. Her heart pounded exactly as it had four years ago when Zara’s grandmother led her family and friends out of the ocean to land, to escape the war that the malicious Empress Atillix Viren and her adherents of the Infernal Order had manifested. The war took over Zara’s ocean home, the Dorudon Seamount, and forced the Aquatian people to battle against each another. The Infernal Order won and the defeated Aquatians were forced to find new homes in other parts of the ocean. Some Aquatians, like Zara and her family, fled the water and sought solace on land amongst their enemies.

     While Zara charged down the hall, fast footsteps marched up behind her. She turned immediately. It was the guidance counsellor, Mrs. Woodward, who bent down and leaned in toward her. Mrs. Woodward’s grey eyes and smooth pale complexion were uncomfortably close. She clenched her fist tighter and the shell fragments pressed hard into her skin which made her flinch.

     “What’s the hurry?” Mrs. Woodward asked.

     “I’m going to the restroom, Mrs. Woodward,” Zara replied.

     “Don’t run.”

     Zara nodded, took a step back, turned, and walked away while Mrs. Woodward watched her. 

     “Zara, what do you have in your hand?” Mrs. Woodward asked.

     Zara turned to her. “Just a bathroom pass,” she replied.

     Mrs. Woodward looked at her with an arched eyebrow and a wry smile. “The other hand, Zara.”

     Tell her, just tell her... Zara thought. Ok—Mrs. Woodward, I’m bleeding bright blue blood because I’m what you would call— a mermaid.

     “Zara?”

     “Oh, ah, it’s a girl product, Mrs. Woodward,” Zara said and watched Mrs. Woodward’s reaction closely.

     “Alright— you can go,” she said and waved Zara away.

     Mrs. Woodward’s straight strawberry blonde hair whirled around as she turned in the opposite direction. Zara charged down the long beige hallway and turned the corner. Stopping at the entrance of the girls’ restroom, Zara tried to detect the flapping wings of an invisible Aireon, the scratching of a Terranean’s roots against the cement floor, and the suffocating smoke of a Fireite’s energy floating through the air. To Zara’s relief, she only heard silence.

     She banged the girls’ restroom door open so hard that it echoed against the green and cream concrete walls. She sometimes forgot how much stronger she was compared to humans. Zara ran to the farthest sink and turned on the cold water. She peered down at the dirty floor. Her waist length hair was both a blessing and a curse, and under no circumstance would she ever use it as a broom. She scooped her black waves to the front, pressing them against her chest, and then bent over to check for feet in the stalls. Zara’s stomach relaxed. I’m alone, she thought.

     She opened her hand and dipped it under the blasting tap. The cold water felt good against her skin. She watched the blue blood circle the drain while the water healed her cut. The water danced between her fingertips while she inspected the broken shell fragments with care. Never in a century would Zara believe that her shell could smash into nine pieces. The center of the shell was all that was salvageable; it was the size of a baby’s finger and she stared at it. I’ve had you for so long that I don’t remember a time without you. Losing you is like losing a piece of myself, she thought and an ache swelled in her chest.

     The Pacific Ocean air flowed in from the window above, cooling her cheeks. The Californian coast was warm except for the early and late months of the year. She inhaled the salty spring breeze and turned her head up to peer out. The window was high and all Zara could see were the clouds. They were thick, dark, and hung heavily over E.A. Martin Middle School. The cold and darkness were reminders of the ocean home that she used to have and that she couldn’t go back to; tears fluttered down her cheeks.

     Before leaving the ocean, Grams had told them, “Land is your safe haven. For now, you must not stray. Only on full moons may you swim along the shore and tether with the tides.” These words echoed in Zara’s head.

     Some safe haven, Zara thought, but she knew that Grams was right, eternally right.  Zara looked down at her hand and the cut was gone. She looked one last time at all of the shell pieces and let the eight unsalvageable pieces wash away. They ticked and clicked down the metal pipe. She went into a stall and wrapped the last piece in tissue, placing it in her pocket.

     Four years had passed since moving to land, and not one cut, scrape, or fall. Zara was prepared­ to heal first to stop the tracks, and then to run, run as fast as human legs could move. Zara paced the room and stopped under the windowShe looked up and took off her shoes. Placing one foot on the sink, the other hand on the window ledge, she then propped herself up. Both of her feet were resting on the sink’s ledge as she was looking out of the window. Her stomach twisted and turned. Everything that she was taught cautioned her to run, but instinctively she had another idea. Zara jumped down from the sink, put her shoes back on, and patted her tissue filled pocket.

     Leaning in closer to the mirror, Zara squinted at what she saw — the temporary human body, which masked her true half-human, half-fish figure from the world. She placed her hands on her neck where her gills would be, looked down at her legs where her tail would be, and took a deep breath in. She put her hand on her stomach. The painful knot in her belly was gone, but was replaced with a heat sensation. Zara didn’t know how she was going to change her life and keep everyone she loved safe, but she knew in her heart she had to stay and survive. She gripped the porcelain sink with shaking hands and faced her reflection. ­

     “Scales, skin, and a tail, I just want the freedom to be myself.” 

Copyright © 2016 Melissa Ann Peters

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Ask your local bookstore to order it through CreateSpace. This novel is available through all sales channels