She didn’t remember. Glace knew that her mind would forget him. He knew that she wouldn’t be able to come back and see him again without Gladys leading her back home. It didn’t make the pain any less though. “Myra.” Gladys waited by the bank, looking up at the sky. The stars were coming out, and he had a large decision in front of him. Even though it had been some time since they had seen each other, it wasn’t as far back as she believed it to be.
“You didn’t come home.”
Glace watched as his mother popped up out of the water. “Mother.”
“What is it? What’s wrong, Glace?” She swam over by the shore. “I know you, something’s wrong. Tell me?”
“Myra came back.” Those three simple words made his mother nearly fall backward in the water. “She needs help.”
“Gladys actually told her the way back here?” His mother patted his leg. “Wonderful! She should be just the right age. Does she have someone?”
“She didn’t . . . I don’t think she even remembered me. Let alone how we left everything.” It was just a pipe dream anyhow. “I can’t think about that anyhow. She’s a princess and I was just her guard. It was my desire for something more that led Gladys to taking her away from me.”
“That’s not true. Gladys could not pack her up in one night. Gladys must have been doing something for weeks.” His mother patted his leg again. “Things aren’t hopeless.”
“It’s been six years.” Glace bent down further, almost wanting to crawl into the comfort of the water. “I bet her whole life has changed. She must be done with high school by now. Off to that human thing called college or working. She has a life now, and I don’t know anything about it.”
“Didn’t you ask?”
“I sent her away. I needed time to think.” Glace stared up at the moon. “She is still just as beautiful as the first time we met. Her hair, it’s even getting some of the royal silver and white crested into it. It’s light, but I see it. Her eyes are as beautiful as the rippling waters of an ocean. They feel like home.”
“Why did you send her away so quickly?” his mother asked him. “Glace. You don’t want her to go far away and forget again.”
“I warned her if I wasn’t back by morning to see her, that mean I wasn’t coming back.” Glace shook his head. This would not be easy for his mother to hear. “King Sandolias III has a death mark on her.”
“What?” His mother exclaimed. She hopped onto the dry land, her fins half in the water. “What do you mean?”
“Somehow, she angered him. The Castles of the Sands can be a cruel world. We know that.” He met his mother eye to eye. “Being as a human in the Castles of the Sands, I believed her always to be safe. She accidentally knocked down one of their castles they had claimed. They must have sensed the truth of her.”
“She is dead then.” His mother looked down into the water. “I am sorry. I know it’s been six years since you last saw each other, but I know you cared so deeply for her.”
“I can’t let it end this way.”
“There’s no choice, Glace.”
“I won’t let it end this way.” Glace said his words stronger yet. “I am her guard. I was destined to be her guard.”
“Glace, no. You were to make her aware when she became older. To help keep the ties of the water near her heart. Not this.”
“I can’t let her just die.”
“You weren’t meant for this!” His mother cried out heavier. “Not this.”
“I was trained to fight for her. I was taught how to speak with her. I learned everything to protect her, and I can’t turn my back on her.” Glace stood up. “I just wanted to let you know. I think I knew even before I asked her to wait for me. She’s haunted my dreams ever since I was a child, and she haunted me even more when I lost her.”
“You’ve already lost her,” his mother begged. “She is a dead mermaid walking. She is marked. All this will do is get you killed too!”
“I can’t let it end like this.” Never. He closed his eyes and saw it. He saw her all over again. From the last day they met all those years ago, to that day. “She didn’t remember, but her cheeks. They were just as rosy as that day.”
“Memories. Everything was only coming back to her. Like you said, it’s been six years.” His mother did everything she could to keep him there, but Glace couldn’t do it. Maybe she was right. Maybe she never would have the same feelings for him. Maybe they were never destined for any kind of a happily ever after.
“I would rather die and save her, then live knowing she isn’t in this world anymore.” He moved away from the water. “Goodbye. I love you, mother. It is likely this will be the last time we meet.”
This was it. A part of him stirred with excitement, and another was absolutely scared out of its wits. He would do it though. For her. For the princess of the mermaids of the Castles of the Seas. He ran across the bridge, past the middle point, and beyond. “For Myra!”
For being stuck on a bridge nearly all his life, Glace had missed out on many things that humans experienced. School. Friendship with people who didn’t live next to the bridge. Strange girls ogling him. People laughing at him and pointing at his clothes. He was a mermaid, he wouldn’t have the latest fashion of humans. He ignored it all as he trudged along the open road. He couldn’t wait a moment longer. He knew Myra wasn’t far, she wouldn’t risk forgetting him again.
While he could have waited til morning to see her, he didn’t want to. For one, he wanted her mind to feel relief, even if he couldn’t win. At least she wouldn’t be alone and wondering if he would help her.
He was dying. He left the security of the bridge, and if he didn’t return back to it by the time night fell, he would die. Unlike Myra, he was just an average mermaid. He had no extra protection now. He wanted every last minute he could savor with her. Speak to her as long as he could.
Maybe, even maybe, he could save her. Trade himself in for her. He had never met King Sandolias III but he knew of the fury of the Water God. Casting sentence among the mermaids who had dutifully followed his every wish because of the action of a single mermaid. Gods were powerful and without remorse. Yet, maybe, the Sand God would show enough pity that he would be willing to make an exchange of souls to suffer.
If not, then . . . it didn’t matter. He wouldn’t make it out alive, if it wasn’t with her.
Glace brought his nose to the air again. He was right, she didn’t go far. Myra always had a beautiful smell to her. It wasn’t drowning in water and fish like other mermaids, but it wasn’t completely dry like a human. Moist and gentle to the nose. He had recognized her scent even as a small child. He always made his way to the bridge, even before she hammered out the first few notes of the Castles of the Seas song.
Among the humans, even behind the doors of the many houses that were pinned together as one, he knew which she had been in. He traversed the staircases to the second floor and moved until he found the strongest spot of her scent. 5d.
Myra couldn’t complain that she was sleeping when she heard a knock at her door. She wasn’t used to the neighborhood, but the rapping tune had matched the tune she always stepped out on the first part of the bridge. “It couldn’t be.” She moved toward the window of the door and looked out.
Impossible. Yet, there it was. Waiting outside was Glace. She had never remembered him even setting foot past the middle of the bridge. They had always met in the middle. Always. She quickly opened the door and stared at him.
Once again, his clothes still had a smell of dampness to them. She didn’t care though. Bad or good smells, Myra loved the scent of water. “Glace.”
“Good Morning, Myra.” He looked around a second. “I suppose, actually, it’s Good Night, Myra?”
“More like early morning,” Myra corrected him softly. “Very early.” She still couldn’t help a small smile from forming on her lips. How often had she wanted to see Glace away from the bridge? Too many times to count. “You left the bridge.”
“Please, Myra. I want to come in. We can’t make introductions all night.” He placed his hand on the door. “I want to try and save you.”
“You’ve never left the bridge.” Yes. Even though she dreamed of seeing him come away, Myra felt nervous. Something . . . something . . .
//“Good Morning, Myra.” Glace held his arms out like always. Myra solemnly came over and gave him a hug. “You feel extra down today.” He gave her a gentle kiss on the forehead. “What’s wrong?”
“You. I mean . . .” She felt her cheeks grow warm. As a child, she loved playing with Glace, but as she got older, things began to change. Even though she shared her whole life, sad and good with Glace, he never reciprocated. He wouldn’t tell her anything about himself. Nothing about his parents. Nothing about his home, his friends, or what he did all day. He never talked about school. He never even explained why he was always wet all the time, like he dunked himself into the water every time they met. In the summer it wasn’t so bad, but the winter time getting hugged by him was a pain. “It’s twenty degrees again. I’m going to catch a cold from you just hugging me out in this weather again.”
“Gladys said you’re responsible for over half of my colds.” It was probably false, Gladys never cared for him. Still, this was getting to be too much. “Why are you always wet?”
“Um.” Glace scratched his cheek gently. “How was your day?”
“Why are you always wet? I want to know.”
“The fishing is good.”
“Nobody fishes at this time of year!” she yelled in frustration. “Glace, tell me something! Tell me something about you? You’ve done this to me for so many years. I share everything with you, and you never share anything.”
“I’m just a good listener. Not a good sharer.”
That excuse wasn’t going to cut it. Not anymore. “But I want to know about you. I don’t care if it’s even what you ate for lunch. Don’t you get it?” She wiped a tear from her cheek. “You’re the closest person in the world to me, but you don’t tell me anything about you. Ever.”
“I can’t share,” Glace said. “I’ve told you several times, Myra. I love hearing about you, I don’t mind not getting to share.”
“But why can’t you?”
“I just can’t.”
“What did you eat today?”
“I can’t really tell you.”
“How can I call you a friend when you won’t even tell me what you eat?” She shook her head, feeling more tears fill her eyes. “Friends share things. I’ve known you since before I can remember, yet you won’t even tell me what you ate for lunch. I mean . . . are we even friends?”
“Of course were friends,” Glace said. “I see you every day. I come to listen to you. I played with you when we were smaller. We are friends. I just . . . I have to keep my own life secret. That’s all.”
“Leave this bridge with me. Just for a little while. Come to my backyard,” Myra insisted. “Please?”
“I can’t. It’s too dangerous.”
“Why not?” She groaned. “Please, Glace! I don’t know what to think anymore. I can’t even get any friend information out of you, so how do I know if . . .” She felt her cheeks get warm. This couldn’t be happening. She was in the eighth grade, and she had reached a point where she started to like someone now. Her friends kept asking her who it had been, and they had each had at least one crush too. Sometimes it worked out, and sometimes it didn’t.
But she couldn’t share it with them. She didn’t even want to admit it to herself, but it was the one she had known since before ever. The neighbor boy who was always a mystery.
That always hugged her every time that met.
That kissed her forehead every time they greeted and left each other.
But, her heart was just messed up. Glace couldn’t even share what he had for lunch. He could never leave the bridge. Everything was always in her head. “Tell me why you won’t leave the bridge.”
“Because . . . I . . .” He rubbed the back of his head. “Myra, I just can’t. I wish I could explain, but the day I do, I resign myself to death. I’m sorry. I want to come over to you, I really do.” She watched the way his own cheeks were growing red. “I want to be able to go into your yard. I want to be a part of your life. I want everything you want. I think.”
“I want everything you want. I think.”//
“Death. You said you couldn’t leave because it would cause death,” Myra said, coming back to reality from her memories again. “Were you lying?”
His eyes found it hard to meet hers. “I don’t want to spend this time explaining. I want to hear everything that has happened to you. Your high school. Your college. You have new friends I suppose? I haven’t heard about you in so long.”
“You’re going to die.” Myra felt her forehead. “You can’t leave the bridge. You’re a mermaid, you can’t leave.”
“I can’t leave you again. I won’t do it.” Glace pushed his hands together. “Friends? Do you have friends? Do you have anyone that’s . . .” He stopped a moment. “That’s more than friends?”
A boyfriend. He was going to die and he was asking about a boyfriend? Why was he asking about something so simple? “No. I guess I haven’t felt much attraction to anyone.”
“No human at all?” he asked again. He shook his head. “Sorry, I mean, friends too. Do you have friends? What are you doing with your life now?”
“Running on two part time jobs.” He was doing it again. After all these years, he was asking only about her. “Get back to the bridge, Glace.”
“No, I refuse.”
“You aren’t going to die for me. Get back to the bridge where it’s safe. I asked for help, not for you to die.”
“I can’t help without risking the other.”
“Glace!” Myra yelled. “It’s dangerous. Please, go home. I remember what you said. I know you can’t be away from the bridge.”
“I can’t. I need to do this.” Glace looked at her, eye to eye. Such a strange haunting expression surfaced within them. “I had fish for lunch. I have fish every day for lunch. I have a mother, but my father and the rest of my family were eaten by a sea wendigo. Ever since I was a child, I have been able to come up to the shore to greet you because I am responsible for keeping ties to the ocean near your heart. I was there for you, when I myself could barely talk. I am your guard.”
Him. He finally told her about him. Myra couldn’t speak at first. She could never even get an answer to what he ate for lunch, and he finally told her that and so much more. He had a mother. He had no father, brother or sisters anymore. “Why were you given the task of doing that?”
“I was just chosen. I was a random merman chosen to watch over you.”
“Do you have mermaid friends? Or mermen friends?” She didn’t know the right words.
“Not many. I spent most of my time in the safe waters behind the bridge.”
“So you don’t . . . you don’t have a wife or anything?”
“No. There’s never been that kind of thing..”
“No. Just for me, there’s never been anyone in the water.” He shifted his feet. “Your memories have almost all come back if you remember the bridge.”
Almost? “They aren’t all back yet?” Myra asked. “At what age did I really leave? I remember, like, sixth grade. Maybe seventh?” She looked away again, finding herself facing a mirror. She felt horrible for being able to forget Glace. He was her world, and not just when she was young. Who doesn’t remember friends from the sixth grade? Seventh? She touched a strange silver strand in her hair. Weird. She ignored it and looked back toward him, waiting for an answer.
“You’re silver hair is growing in.”
He noticed? “It’s supposed to do that?”
“Silver is the color of the royal line. When you reach the right age, your hair will be all silver.”
Myra didn’t know how she felt about that. Silver hair. “It’s like white. Women with white hair. They aren’t young.” She shook her head. “No one dyes their hair white.”
“White and silver,” he said again. “I have always looked forward to the day your white and silver hair would come to you. Even just the simple strands give you such an enigmatic beauty I can’t put into words.”
Those. Those weren’t words of a friend. “Thank you.” Then again, maybe they never were friends. They were always so close. Hugging. Sharing. The best of friends, or maybe?
Maybe there was even something more.
“Right here, this was where we built the sandcastle.” Myra looked out toward the ocean. She didn’t want to be anywhere near the beach at that time, but they didn’t have time to contemplate taking it slow. By sunrise, they were out where she first encountered the god of sand. Glace was bent on talking reason into him, explaining her origin, or the worst case scenario.
Myra didn’t want the worse case scenario. Why did Glace have to be punished for something she messed up on? It wasn’t right, and she would plead that to the god of sand if he tried to explain. “The sandcastle is long since gone.”
“We will move back a little further,” Glace answered back. He started to dig strange symbols into the sand. “We will make sure they understand we are building this castle for them. It should inform the King of Sand we are ready to talk now.” He looked back toward her. “I don’t build sandcastles. This will be up to you, but I can help if you show me what to do.”
Myra had built sandcastles several times, but she had a feeling the grander the castle, the better the reception to it. She didn’t want to spend the last day of her life building a sandcastle though. Maybe about as big as last time.
As unpleasant as the task was to build the sandcastle that she might die in was, it felt good to build it with Glace. Ever since she was a child, she dreamed of the day that she could go to different places with him. She wanted to introduce him to friends, her school, everything. Helping Glace with building a sandcastle for the first time. It helped to take the sting out of the day.
“Your mind doesn’t go back that far. Neither does mine,” he admitted. “I think my mom said she put me out toward the bridge and watched me trundle across it. She was careful I didn’t make it too far, while you were trundling from the other way.” He chuckled and let the hand slip through his fingers. “This is the first time we actually get to do something together.”
“Yeah. Besides knock knock on the wood, or how many nails are in the bridge,” Myra laughed. That day. Even though it could be the worst day of her life, right then, it was wonderful. The boy she had always wanted to play with, spend time with, or move from that bridge to spend real time with? Was there. “It was also my fault.”
“What was your fault, Myra?” Glace asked.
“All of the colds I got as a child.” She patted the sand softly. “Ever since I knew you, you greeted me with a hug and a kiss. I remember, I used to try doing that with my first friends. They still dog me about it to this day.” Normal kids didn’t hug each other and kiss each other on the head. It took until starting school that she had learned that. “Even winter time, it was worth it.”
“It’s just what my kind have always done,” Glace said to her. “It’s a meeting out of water. When we are out of water, we greet each other physically above water to be aware of the others intentions.” He glanced toward her. “The closer the relationship, the closer that physical touch remains. I’ve always been close to you. I was born to be your guard.”
“Just my guard?” she questioned. “You listened to all of my problems everyday. You never shared anything with me. You were closer to a living journal than anything, Glace.” Did he only think of her all those years as his duty? Is that why he was doing this?
“I was born to be your guard,” Glace said as he patted the sandcastle again, “and I was born to be your friend. Even though we were from different worlds, all I ever wanted was for us to be from the same one.”
“So we could play.”
“So we could talk.”
“So we could interact more than just on the bridge,” Myra confessed. “I always wanted to go to school with you. I dreamed about it more than once. You’d show up at my house with a science book, still dripping wet, but determined to come to school with me.” She smoothed out the sides. It was almost complete.
“Building a sandcastle together was the best way to ever need to go,” Glace said as he stepped back. He grabbed Myra’s hand gently. “Of all things to regret, I will never regret this.”
Myra stood up with him and stared at their sandcastle. “I wish I could have been with you, in your world.” She wished she hadn’t messed this up. She would rather have had him hidden over by the bridge for the rest of his life, then enjoy that day if it was his last. I won’t let it be his last. No matter what.
She watched as the sandcastle started to sink into a whirling pool of sand. The whirlpool increased and Glace and her were scooped up together, forced to go into the drowning hole of sand.
Glace did his best to explain the situation to the King of Sands. So many details even she hadn’t knew came up, and she realized with great reason why. There was no way he would have wanted to tell her when she was so young. The burden of responsibility would have been too great.
Glace gestured toward her as he continued to explain and plea with the king.
“I am her guard. She did not know or understand what she was doing because of my own inept ability to warn her anymore.” He was trying to take the wrap for her. “If anyone deserves to be punished, it’s me. Send me in her place.”
“No.” Myra couldn’t accept that. “He heard your case, Glace, but you aren’t doing that. You’re getting back to the bridge before nightfall. You aren’t dying because of me.” He gave her a half annoyance, half warning glare he used to use on her as a child. “I said no. I will pay whatever price, you aren’t sticking yourself in my place.”
“Our world is always fraught with those who make it then destroy it. Living here is never easy. Even now, someone could knock it down while you are in here.” The King pointed toward the Mark on Myra. “You are eternally cursed, and your mother eternally cursed the mermaids by making the God of Waters so angry. Do you know his power?”
Myra shook her head. She knew of nothing, so very little.
“All water. All seas. All rivers. All types. Warm, cold, he controls everything about them.”
Myra watched as the mark disappeared on her.
“You are already cursed to die. You must face him one day, and make him feel enough somehow to allow the mermaids back over. If you don’t, they just remain here. Like everyone else. Knowing that your death is practically inevitable is good enough for your crimes.” The King of Sands looked toward Glace.
Glace then had a mark on him.
“As a guard that cannot reach her, I understand your plight, however justice is called for.” The King gestured to the mark. “This mark will save you. You cannot go back to the water. You will not take on your original form nor will you die for one whole year.. The only way to remove it, is for Myra to do what she needs to. Confront the Water god, and bring the Castles of the Seas back to her kind, so that I can concentrate on letting my own kind live in my Castles of the Sands.” He grumped. “This situation has been irritating, but I have felt good recently.” He simply smiled. “I found someone. She’s pretty. I am trying to make her my queen, and it’s just left me in an overall good mood. Plus, she loves sea things. Fish and such, she loves them swimming around.” He laughed. “Still. I am no pushover. Do not ask for any more of my grace.”
A mark? Myra quickly moved toward Glace, looking at his mark. “What if I lose?”
“Your challenge to the Water god alone will be enough that his mark will leave,” the King of Sands declared. “Whether you live or die.”
“It’s okay, Myra.” Glace pulled her close to him and gave him their traditional kiss on her head. “You are safe, and I have a whole year to spend with you in your world. I could never ask for anything more.”
Glace had made everything sound so solid, he was so sure he’d die that day. Yet, the King of Sands showed a whole year’s worth of mercy instead of killing him right away. There was a chance. A great chance.
She would do it. Somehow, Myra would do it. Within one year, she would face the Water god. Win or lose.
In the meantime, what should she do with her old fishy friend?