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  • Melissa McTernan

Missing Maren

Here's a little snippet from a paranormal-romance novella I've been working on...



Daniel walked along the shore, his small feet leaving indents in the sand that were immediately washed away by the frothy surf. His dog, Tinker Bell, ran ahead of him, darting in and out of the water. Now that he was seven, he was allowed to walk her on the beach all by himself, which of course made him very proud.


He watched the seagulls swoop and dive in the cold October sky. He and Tinker Bell were the only ones on the beach. No one came to the Cape this late in the year, but his family had a house in the dunes, and they had come for an off-season weekend. His mother said the sea air was good for them. Currently, the sea air was whipping at his face, and Daniel was eager to get home. Maybe he could ask for some cocoa if he claimed to be properly chilled.


“Tinker Bell!” he yelled into the wind. “Tinker Bell, come on girl!” Gosh, he hated that name. His dumb little sister had been allowed to name her. Who trusts a five-year-old girl to name something as important as a dog? He had been allowed to name the cat, which he named George—a very respectable name for a cat—but had he known a dog was coming the very next year he would have held out for that. “Tinker Bell!” he called out again.


Tinker Bell, was a tiny, scruffy thing of indeterminate breed that they had picked out at the shelter. She was cute, but not much of a listener, and if you asked Daniel, not the sharpest tool in the shed either. At the moment she was sniffing around the large rocks that were exposed at low tide. She began barking excitedly as Daniel finally caught up to her.


“Come on you dumb dog,” he said, a bit out of breath and now thoroughly chilled to the bone. But the dog would not quit. And that’s when the dark head popped up from behind the rocks. Her hair was so dark, Daniel at first glance thought she was one of the seals that liked to warm themselves on this beach, but upon further inspection, he realized she was a human girl. She looked up at him with huge black eyes.


“Hello,” Daniel said politely.


“Hello,” the girl said, eyes darting nervously back and forth from Daniel to the dog yapping wildly at his side.


“She won’t hurt you. She’s just yappy. My dad hates yappy dogs, but this is the one we picked so now he loves her,” Daniel informed her. The girl slowly began to unfurl herself from her crouch between the rocks and this is when, much to his horror and grave embarrassment, Daniel discovered the girl wore not a stitch of clothing. Now having a little sister, this was nothing that young Daniel hadn’t seen before, however, he was old enough to know that you shouldn’t be out on the beach naked in broad daylight.


“You’re naked!” he exclaimed, startling the poor girl once more. “Where are your clothes?” he asked, growing more uncomfortable by the minute.


“I don’t have any,” the girl replied, looking down at herself and then at Daniel’s warm sweater and sensible corduroy's his mother insisted he wear today due to the wind.


“Don’t move,” Daniel told her before dashing back down the sand and up the weathered old stairs to the beach house. Although to call it a beach house, might be a bit of an overstatement. The house was somewhere between a cottage and a shack and had been inherited by Daniel’s father when his uncle, who happened to be an artist and also incredibly gay, left it to him, the only one of his nephews accepting of his eccentric lifestyle. It was into this small decrepit building that Daniel now raced.


“Mom!” he bellowed, which was really quite unnecessary since the house was only three rooms, and if his mother wasn’t in the kitchen/living/dining room then she was obviously in the bedroom.


“What is it, Daniel?” she answered, emerging in her paint-covered apron, wiping her stained hands on the front of herself.


“I need some of Molly’s old clothes.”


“Clothes? For what?”


“I just need them,” he told her, and since his mother liked to give her children a reasonable amount of freedom, and because she was right in the middle of something, and since she had been meaning to get rid of that bin of old clothes for a while now, she pointed her son in the direction of the clothes and went back to her painting.


Daniel raced back to the rocks, this time leaving Tinker Bell inside. He found the girl right where he left her.


“I brought you some clothes.” He handed over the neon pink hooded sweatshirt, the words “Cape Cod” scrawled across the front in white script and the equally bright purple sweatpants. The girl took them and put them on.


“Okay. Good. You can come out now,” Daniel told her, feeling much better now that everyone’s modesty had been preserved.


“Thank you,” the girl said, smiling shyly.


“What’s your name?”


“Maren,” she told him. Her voice was soft, and she spoke with a slight accent, but Daniel wasn’t much of a world traveler at this point in his life, so he wasn’t able to place it.


“I’m Daniel.” The two sat on the dry sand, with their backs to the large rocks, blocking them from some of the wind. “Do you have a house here too?”


“No. I don’t have a house anywhere,” Maren responded without a hint of sadness or despair to her voice. Daniel had learned about people who were less fortunate than himself at school, and he knew he was supposed to help people like that, but he had already given this girl clothes. Was he supposed to give her his house too? He wasn’t sure of the protocol. He decided to get more information.


“So where do you live then?”


“In the sea,” she answered matter of factly.


“In the sea? Do you mean like on a houseboat?” Daniel had recently read about houseboats in a book he got out of the library, and he very much liked the idea of them. If he just happened to make friends with a girl who lived on a houseboat, that would be fantastic. But Maren was shaking her head.


“No, in the sea. With the rest of my family,” she told him, inclining her head slightly toward the gray waves. Daniel looked at her quizzically. She must be playing a game like his ridiculous sister always was pretending something or another. Daniel wasn’t much into pretending. He preferred cold hard facts. His mother said that was the Scorpio in him, but his father said it was the scientist. Whichever it was, Daniel was not about to believe that this girl lived in the sea.


“That’s not possible. Humans cannot breathe underwater, and you would get tired of swimming all the time, and the water is too cold so you would get hypothermia and probably die.”


Maren looked at him with her liquid eyes and smiled again. “I’m only a human on land. In the sea, I am a seal.”


Now Daniel knew for certain that she was pretending. He also knew, from experience with his sister, that there was no use arguing about it. When he was only six and didn’t know quite as much, he used to get very angry at his sister when she was pretending and wouldn’t stop and he would yell at her, but that only got him in trouble.


“Okay, fine. You live in the sea,” he said, even while inside his brain he said that wasn’t possible. “Do you want to build sandcastles?”


Daniel and Maren spent the rest of the afternoon building sandcastles until the tide came in, and Daniel’s father called him for dinner. Other than her odd claims of living in the sea, Daniel enjoyed his new friend’s quiet company. And she was an excellent sandcastle builder, which ranked very high in Daniel’s opinions on what made for a good friend.


“Who was that you were playing with today?” his mother asked him as he sat down at the table, sandy feet swinging beneath his chair. The table at the beach house was smaller than at home. Everything was smaller at the beach house, the refrigerator, the stove. Daniel liked it. It made him feel larger in comparison. The sun was low in the sky already, reminding him that it wasn’t summer anymore and they would be heading back to Boston tomorrow evening. He looked at his mother, over his bowl of tomato soup and remembered she had asked him a question.


“Her name is Maren. She builds really good castles.”


“Oh isn’t that nice,” his mother responded, smiling at him.


“Does her family have a house around here too?” his father asked.


Daniel wasn’t sure quite how to answer that without sounding foolish, but he’d like to get a second opinion on his new friend’s odd ideas. “She says she lives in the sea with the seals,” he said.


“Cool! Can I live in the sea too! Please, Mom?” Molly said, excitedly waving her grilled cheese in the air.


“There’s no cartoons or grilled cheese under the sea,” their mother said with a smile. “So you probably wouldn’t like it.”


Molly nodded in agreement but Daniel was too old for such baby logic to work on him.

“Yeah, but that’s not possible, right?” he asked.


“Well, probably not,” his father confirmed, but his mother shot him a warning look across the table.


“If she wants to believe she’s a seal, she can be a seal, Daniel. It sounds like she has a wonderful imagination,” his mother said, wrapping a loose curl around her finger as she spoke. Her hands were speckled with blue paint and freckles.


Daniel frowned. This conversation was not clearing up his confusion. “Yeah, but I mean she doesn’t really live under the sea, right?” He looked imploringly at his father, who merely shrugged and smiled.


“There’s a lot we still don’t know about the world, Bud. Who knows what might be out there,” his father added. Coming from a marine biologist, a scientist for goodness sake, this was not a comforting thought. His father could see the worry settling on his face.


“But most likely she is just a girl with a very colorful imagination,” he concluded.


“And she sounds like a lot of fun,” his mother said with a laugh.


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