Under the weight of the shadow, the sea lavender she was admiring sharpened to deep purple, its sweet pink buds now a dull burgandy. The sea lilies ceased their rhythmic swaying, and Ariel felt a vague, diffusive anxiety overcome her. Only the large and imposing blocked the sun at this depth; scores of images swam by her. Almost reflexively she began to sing softly to herself, her voice taking on colors only concern could reach.
"Midnight--" she started timidly, "On the waaa-ter, I saw. . . the Ocean's daughter." Slow graceful arcs of her hand carried her farther away from the sea lettuce she was eyeing moments before as a lo-cal breakfast salad. But the shadow kept its pace with her. "Walking on the waves chicane, starting as she called my name. . . ."
Had someone summoned her? Oh great! she thought, her shoulders drooping, her hands letting the clusters of sea grapes float from her arms. Daddy! Siccing the secret squadrons on me again!
The mermaid swirled around indignantly, arms akimbo, curled fists on her hipfins. "Honestly!" she spurted, her eyes shut in mock agitation.
Ariel opened her eyes in just enough time to see the uvula of the great whale Monstro roiling in a huge intake of tuna, sea onions, coral berries, Key Biscayne license plates, and stray mermaidens who should have thought twice of straying from their vocal auditions.
Fighting the flush and rush toward the belly of the beast, Ariel smacked her tail against the shattered hull of a ship dubbed the Pequod, reached up with her arms at full distention and held tight to the whales dangly dongus at the back of his throat. She had heard of Monstro, of course, but until this moment he had existed merely as the stuff of fishwives' tales, something to keep good little merpersons in line. Now, however, he seemed a little more real.
And a little more slimy than she'd been led to believe. From her perch she stole a quick glance into the gaping maw of the whale's belly. . . her next destination if she found herself incapable of maintaining her grip on this slippery throat appendage.
Hoping to buoy her spirits she sang again. "Breakdown, on the shoreline. Can't move, it's an ebbtide. . . . Morning don't get here tonight, Searching for her silver li-i-ight...."
"And I can't get it out of my head," answered a plaintive voice from beneath her. "I can't get it out of my head...now my whole world is gone for dead--"
"NO!" Ariel shouted. "It's ' My OLD world is gone for dead'--you're gonna sing it, sing it right!"
Suddenly it struck her--someone had answered her cry. From the darkness below. Someone was alive down there.
"A critic, everyone's a critic, can't exercise a little dramatic license, not even in the gut of a gutless vonder. . . ." the voice groused with a slight accent.
"Well what have you got to complain about?" another voice chimed from the watery hole. "You've still got your tools and your dang cat and your fishing boat and fishing pole. Me? What've I got? Squat! Zippo! Even God's peeved with me. I'm so sick of your moanin', Geppetto, why don't you go carve a girlfriend....."
"Vell, hoo hoo hoo," the one named Geppetto shot back. "Listen to Mr. Fancy Schmancy Jonah--I tink he's gettin too big for his britches here, Figaro--"
"You want a piece of me, Old Man, right here, right now?"
Feeling herself slip another couple inches, Ariel set her jaw firmly and shouted with all her mermaidenly vigor. "If you think--" she screamed, silencing the dueling duo, "I'm going to spend my waking moments listening to you two petty little--" she stammered, looking for an expletive expressing her anger while still retaining the propriety of a princess. "Petty little POOHS, think again!"
Her outburst calmed the raging waters. For a moment even Monstro seemed stopped in the wake of her anger. Sensing her newfound power, Ariel squared her shoulders.
"Do you know who you're dealing with here?" she enunciated carefully yet loud enough to reach the whale's consciousness.
A huge tongue lapped at the roof of the whale's mouth, and Ariel felt a sharp suction pull at her. Instantly she knew Monstro had gulped, perhaps realizing the heinous error he had committed in nearly swallowing her. It was common policy in Atlantica (Article VII, Paragraph 2B--or not 2B, that had become a question of late) that members of the Royal Family were not to be trifled with, let alone eaten whole. Such things were frowned upon. And the resultant disembowelment (with Triton's Trident, no less) was ample added inducement to obey the ratified rule.
"Hey, Monstro!" the one called Jonah called. "I think you got more than Chicken of the Sea this time out!"
And with that, Ariel nearly lost consciousness. The last thing she recalled, ever remotely, was a tremendous wind accompanied by an ear-splitting HOCK, and the feeling of seawind carrying her away, high into the wispy clouds where Scuttle took wing.
"Sitting til the sun goes down," her mind sang, "In dreams the world keeps going round and round, And I can't get it out of my head, no I can't get it out of my head . . ."
When the clouds parted and her head cleared, Ariel peered up to see a canopy of reeds and thin green fronds. "High on a hill in Eldorado," she murmured with a shy smile.
Standing at her feet and at her side were six humans. The portly gent in a blue shirt and white pants leaned down and patted her arm.
"You just rest, little lady," he said, casting a reassuring look around the room at a stiff-lipped couple dressed in expensive finery, a redheaded woman with hooded eyes, another younger woman wearing pigtails, a scholarly white-shirted man who reminded Ariel of her history teacher Professor Portofino, and a gawky little man sporting a red shirt and a dopey grin.
"Jeepers, Skipper," the gawky gawker spit out, hunching his shoulders. "What do we do now?"
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Shad Z. Daly
This page last modified Thu, Mar 9, 2000.
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