of their cars and heading for the dock?


The Video

It was lucky that Zoe lived so far away. Even if she started driving right after school let out—and sometimes she did—Dorian would have at least an hour to sit on the beach alone without Zoe catching him at it. He didn’t see any reason to mention it either. It wasn’t like he’d even glimpsed Luce since the day they’d broken up, since she’d refused to drown him and left him dripping on the shore. He always sat in that exact spot now. It was funny, in a sick kind of way, to realize how much he still resented Luce for not murdering him. Maybe he should have been grateful. But it was hard not to think that, if she’d only loved him more, she would have gone through with it.

He was pretty sure Luce had left the area. If she hadn’t, wouldn’t she have come to look for him at least once? One time he’d even rowed to the shallow cave where she used to take him, just in case, although getting there and back in the rowboat took a full day of exhausting effort. It was dangerous, he knew, to steer such a small boat through the rough seas. But it wasn’t like he could do any of the things he might have tried with a human girl, like calling or sending an e-mail.

And even if he could call Luce, what would he say to her? That he was sorry; that he was still in love with her? They’d only have the exact same problems as before. It was ridiculous to think the two of them could have a future together.

His phone let out a burst of percussion and Dorian jumped. Just for a fraction of a second he was possessed by an irrational fantasy: that she’d somehow turned human again, that she missed him too . . .

It was his friend Steve, already talking as Dorian answered. “. . . got to come over! You are not going to believe this!”

Dorian groaned inside, but he kept his voice calm. “Believe what?”

“You’re the mermaid guy, right? There’s this video. It’s got to be fake, but—”

“You mean on the Internet?”

“What do you think? But, dude, she’s got short hair. Just like that one you used to draw all the time. She looks so real.

Dorian was already on his feet. His knees were trembling.

“Dorian? Are you—”

“I’ll be right there.”

“It’s got to be fake, but it really looks . . .” There was something strange in Steve’s voice, Dorian thought; it was a little too soft, too floaty.

“I’ll be right there, okay? Ten . . . ten minutes.”

Then he was sprinting, the gray road and tattered spruce trees veering around him, billows of mist parting around his face.

There were a lot of mermaids out there, Dorian knew. He’d met a few of them personally, and some of them besides Luce must have short hair. But this particular mermaid was also reckless enough to let herself be filmed . . . His heart surged and his stomach cramped, but he kept running at top speed all the way back to the village, his sweat instantly turning clammy in the fog. Then he was dashing up the low wooden steps and his outstretched hand slapped hard against Steve’s door.

He had to knock a few times, more and more loudly, rocking with impatience. “Okay . . .” Steve finally called from inside, and shuffling steps approached. The door swung open and Dorian looked in, across the living room and down a hallway and through another open door. A sliver of the computer in Steve’s room was visible. Even that partial glimpse was enough to set Dorian’s heart thudding quicker than it had from his run. Steve’s face had a stunned, foggy look to it. The rims of his eyes were red, and he didn’t even say hello as he caught Dorian by the elbow and hauled him down the corridor. As they got closer to the computer screen, the video stopped.

Steve’s hand was already reaching out hungrily to hit Replay as he skidded into his chair. Dorian stood behind him.

The video started normally enough. A few people jostling around on a dock, laughing, taping one another, and then turning the camera toward a pair of seals lounging on a sandbar off to the right. A little girl in a red windbreaker came wandering into view on the beach below. She kept looking back over her shoulder, obviously watching something, maybe under the dock, that the adults hadn’t noticed.

Then, off-camera, a woman screamed, and for half a second the camera lurched madly as she grabbed for it. There was a flash of blinding sun as the lens veered skyward. Voices were crying out: “My God! Nick, look!” and “What on earth . . .”

The camera swung sharply, pointing down into the shallow water, and Dorian’s insides wrenched at the sight of the silvery jade green tail whipping ten feet below the surface, the jagged dark hair. He heard himself crying out involuntarily, but Steve didn’t seem to notice. He was staring too hard at the image, at the rippling grace of the mermaid’s movements. But, Dorian thought, mermaids could usually swim much faster than that. Was she showing herself on purpose?

Incredibly, she broke the surface twenty yards out, right in a diamond-bright patch of reflected sun. Dorian wanted to shout at her, to tell her not to be so crazy.

Incredibly, she glanced back. Straight at the camera. She hesitated for a moment, almost as if she wanted to say something but felt too shy. And then Dorian saw something dark on the right side of her shining face, and his chest tightened as he realized that it was almost certainly dried blood.

Was she swimming so slowly because she was injured? That still wouldn’t explain why she’d done something so utterly perverse, though, coming so close to a human town and swimming right where people could see her.

Just as Dorian finished wondering that, Luce dived. Only a quick green smear showed under the low waves, then she vanished from the image. The camera went on staring blankly at the water for a minute. The people on the dock were absolutely silent, and Dorian realized he was crying. He hoped Steve wouldn’t turn around and see.

“It’s totally fake,” Steve muttered huskily. “Right?”

Dorian realized that he didn’t have to worry about his friend looking around at him. Steve was crying too, just as if he was the one who’d loved her.

The video was titled “Mermaid sighting? May 28th.” Just one day ago, Dorian realized shakily. Where was she?

It had already been viewed nearly a million times, and there was Steve’s hand snaking helplessly to hit Play again. Luce, Dorian thought, Luce, how could you? She’d always been so worried that humans would find out mermaids existed, and there she was blowing their cover herself. What conceivable reason could she have for doing that? The seals lounged, people laughed, the little girl in the red windbreaker looked at something with terrible longing on her face . . . Then the flash of sun and she was on the screen again. Luce.

It was her, it was her; there was no way it wasn’t her. Rippling, rising, glancing. Hesitating and then turning away again. She was too small for him to quite make it out, but it looked like something had happened to her ear. This time Dorian thought her movements definitely seemed like she was very tired. Maybe even sick.

“Where . . .” Dorian said. Steve didn’t seem to hear him, and Dorian rapped on his shoulder. “Steve? Does it say where she is?”

“Oh . . .” His voice was even more distorted by crying now. Dorian heard him gulping. “In the comments. They say it was outside Grayshore, Washington.”

Washington. Dorian was hit by a nauseating surge of disappointment. She didn’t care about him at all anymore or she never would have gone so far away. Unless . . . It seemed crazy to think it, but maybe she’d let those people video her because she’d hoped that he would see it?

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