Thursday, October 18, 2012

Becoming a Two-Footer

To illustrate age 18 for the October Memoir and Backstory Blogfest, Kim Van Sickler introduces you to the backstory of her main character's mother, Veronica.
(upper MG or maybe lower YA mermaid tale, Beached.)


Now that the time to leave her underwater kingdom is here, Veristycla wonders if she's making a terrible mistake. Yes, she's dreamt of swimming out of Tasnea, and stepping onto land with her very own pair of legs, ever since she could remember. The queen's whispered stories about two-footers, enhanced by growing up amidst two-footer detritus, and furtive spying missions on the surface, has sparked her love affair for everything Above the Sea.

What could it possibly be like to walk and move about upright? How would it feel to breath through a nose? Wouldn't it be fun to select the clothing to adorn her two-footer body?

Her mother's hand intertwines her own. They have arrived at the garish underwater home/hospital of Dr. Taddethal. The structure, a monument to recycling, is made up of chipped bricks and stones shoved in between sheets of aluminum siding, segments of ceramic tile, and deep-grooved sheet metal. The walls are high enough to house a whale. Comfortably. The entire amalgamation is fuzzy from a coating of seaweed.

The slender doctor has everything waiting for the transformation inside.

A practical jokester, Dr. Taddethal wears an oversized pair of lens-less glasses and a helmet today. His eyes soften when he looks at the princess. "You can still change your mind, you know. Everything we've done so far will unravel with time. But once you arrive on the surface, and apply the poultice to your face, there is no turning back."

Veristycla nods solemnly. "I understand. I'm ready."

But is she? Is it really her overwhelming desire to experience life as a two-footer, or just a convenient escape so she doesn't have to rule Tasnea? She tries to think objectively if she'd still be doing this if merkin law didn't mandate that the oldest child must assume the role of the father. With no way to bow out gracefully of a life of ruling others, she is destined for a life she doesn't want. And with a younger sister eager to assume the throne, leaving does seem to be the simplest solution.

The doctor gives her a final dose of medicine, masked in the seaweed flavor that accompanies most everything eaten in Tasnea. "I'll miss you, Princess." He bows slightly and offers up the satchel containing the poultices she'll need to apply on the surface. He'd offered to do it himself, but the queen wouldn't hear of it. She wants Taddethal to be able to say that he didn't assist in the transformative last step.

The queen and her daughter make their way through the cliff-side tunnel leading out of Tasnea, through the open water, and to the surface. Two palace guards escort them. Their journey is a quiet one. The queen has already spoken her mind, and given her reluctant blessing. Unspoken between them is the king's extreme reaction to his daughter's decision to leave.

"If she abandons her home, she is dead to us. All ties end the moment she reaches land." The king ran one hand through his chest-length beard and pounded his trident against the side of his coral throne with the other.

Father's pronouncement merely turned the reality of what she was doing into law. As a former mermaid, she could not physically travel to her underwater home again.

But she is eighteen pulsars old, and it's time to make her own life. And she knows her life is destined to take place Above the Sea.

The mermaids and their guards break the surface of the ocean to greet a frown of moon and a sky dripping with stars. The queen holds her breath and applies the salve to her daughter's face, to the area where a nose must grow. It's an excruciating process.

After the nose appears and the green goop is washed away, the queen grasps her oldest, her favorite, by the shoulders and looks deeply into her eyes. I will come here looking for you, the queen speaks with her mind. Return here often so I may rest assured that all is well.

Veristycla almost doesn't have the strength to pull away. Although the words had never been spoken between them, the daughter knows her mother wishes she could leave too. And Veristycla knows something else. That she won't venture out to sea to visit her mother. She knows it will be too dangerous. Better to allow memories of her to fade, and for her mother to move on.

The cool night air caresses her face as she swims towards shore. She knows what she must do: apply the poultices and grow legs. From her experience birthing a nose, she knows how painful this will likely be. She wishes her mother was here with her. But she's alone. Alone to forge a new life for herself, doing whatever it is she wants to do.

What have I done?


  1. Kim: I so enjoyed this novel. I hope you're still working on it.

    1. Yes. Still tweaking and looking for nibbles. Thanks!

  2. This wasn't in the version I read some time ago. Have you added it (perhaps as a preface), or did you do this piece just for the blog challenge?

    1. Just for the blog challenge. The book starts with the daughter at 14.