The sun was midway overhead as a chill wind blew through the trees. The forest was a riot of gold and red as the leaves changed color in preparation for winter. Heavy showers of brightly colored leaves fell from the trees as the wind snatched them from the branches. The air carried the smell of damp and rotting leaves, familiar odors that brought warm fires and hot cider to mind. However, there was something else to it, something undefinable and mysterious, that signaled great changes were about to happen.
Along the main highway, a bright red convertible mustang, with the top up, was traveling by. The visitor was none other than Megan, a now successful businesswoman who worked for a great firm in the great city. The twenty-two year old brunette was known as a determined woman with a knockout figure. She had successfully fended off the advances of her male colleagues, treating them with a slight derision magnified by her contempt for their pathetic advances. Eventually, it seemed, they had gotten the hint and left her alone. She did not particularly miss them, as she had her work to consume her. Her only friend in the firm was Cindy, a pretty young Asian who worked as a mail-room attendant. Her bubbly personality and cheery outlook on life annoyed Megan sometimes, but Cindy could make her smile on even her darkest days.
It had been a long drive and Megan was very tired. As she made the turn off the highway and onto the road to Red Leaf, her cellphone rang.
"Answer." She says very clearly. The blue tooth computer acknowledges with a light ding.
"Hey girl!" said Cindy, her best friend. "Got some news for you."
"What's up?" asks Megan.
"Well, it seems that big dog daddyo is going to throw a big Halloween party this year. If you are coming back, you're going to need a costume." came the voice.
Megan groaned, just what she needed. She hadn't even wanted to make this stupid trip, but had desperately needed to pick up things from her mother's house. Now she would have to pick up a costume to score points with her infamously ill-tempered, tight-fisted boss.
Like a gift from Heaven, a sign on the right said: Enchanted Threads, next right. That would put it near the lake. However, she wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth. "I'll grab a costume and be there in time for the party." she said.
"All right girl." came the chipper voice on the other end. "Just make sure it's something sea style. Then we can match!"
"Oh, what are you going as?"
"A mermaid. Hey, you should pick up a mermaid costume as well, and we can go as a couple of sirens!"
Megan laughs at her friend's enthusiasm. Agreeing that it would be nice to go together, she says goodbye and orders the car to hang-up. She found her turn and began traveling down a bumpy dirt road. The trees seemed to close in overhead, blocking out what little light came from the sun. A thick carpet of wet leaves coated the road, making driving difficult. She had to concentrate to keep the car from fishtailing. Finally, she came to the end of the road and stopped the car.
Luna Lake stood flat and calm, looking like an enormous mirror. Distantly, she could see the dark grey smudge of the far shore. The lake was one of the largest in the state, shaped much like a kidney as it was wrapped around a burr in the mountain range. The lake, she knew, was fed by several mountain streams from the melting ice on the mountains. It drained down Luna River, which twisted past the town of Red Leaf and meandered back and forth until it reached the distant sea.
Megan spotted a fairly large shack set on some pilings at the edge of the lake. A large parking lot was set up in front of the shop. A little too large, in her opinion. There was only one other vehicle in it, a battered old Ford pickup that looked like it had definitely seen better days. There was so much rust on it that there was no way of knowing what the original paint job had been, one window was covered by plastic and the other ones all had cracks in it. She idly wondered if it could even run. The shop was little better than the pickup. The outside of the shack was old weathered would that desperately needed some fresh paint. The old wooden sign above had been covered up with a banner proclaiming that Enchanted Threads was now open. Some grand opening, she thought, as she opened the door.
The inside of the store was in complete contrast to the outside. Fairly bright bulbs lit the carpeted room clearly, leaving no shadows. The walls were covered in macabre masks of villains and ghouls from a variety of shows and songs. Against the back wall, nearest the dressing room, there stood a Frankenstein monster and, she was surprised to see, a Purple People Eater costume. The rest of the room was packed with costumes on various racks. On the very right was a counter where an elderly gentleman stood with a slight smile on his wizened face.
"Good day, miss." He croaked. "Welcome to the opening of Enchanted Threads, where the costumes are so real, you'd swear they're magic. My name is Roland, how can I help you today?" He was fairly tall, and also clearly old. If Megan had to guess, he had to be in his sixties or seventies, perhaps even in his eighties. She supposed that he was just a retiree looking to make a few extra dollars in his spare time. He was dressed fairly warmly, with a thick-knit turtleneck sweater and she could see the collar of a tee underneath. A pair of black slack pants and large gold belt-buckle in the shape of a cauldron completed the ensemble.
She smiled at him. "I'm looking for a great mermaid costume," she said. "One that is as real as it can possibly get."
"Oh?" the old man raised his eyebrow.
"I have an important costume party back in town that I need to go to," she explained, "and my friend is going as a mermaid. I thought that it would be nice to have matching costumes."
The old man nodded, tapping the end of his nose in a conspiratorial fashion. "But one that will outshine hers a bit more, eh?" he said. Megan nodded. Why not? If this got her noticed by the boss, then it was all well and good. And if not, well, it was no skin off of her nose.
The old man walked around from behind the counter, revealing thick work boots on his feet. That struck Megan as a bit odd. A sales clerk with heavy boots? But whatever. She wasn't one to judge. "I'll be right back." He said. "I've got something special just in the back." He disappeared into the sea of costumes.
Megan idly looked at the costumes nearest her. There was what appeared to be a roman legionnaire costume, complete with a helmet and red plumes. Next to that was a medieval barmaid costume, with a neckline so low she wondered how anybody could fit in it decently was beyond her. Beyond that was a green dragon costume, with fuzzy green wings sticking out of its back.
The sound of heavy footsteps announced the return of the shopkeeper. The man held a mermaid tail under his arm.
"Ooh" Megan breathed. "I love the color!" she said.
The man held out the costume, offering her a better look. The tail was a very vibrant purple, with a delicate silver undertone that dazzled Megan.
"I'll take it." She said.
"Of course." The man said. He went to the register and rang up the sale. She passed the man her credit card, and he swiped it. The ancient receipt printer gave a grinding whine of protest before spitting out two copies of the receipt. One she signed and handed to the man, the other she put in her purse.
"There's a dressing room in the back if you want to try it on and see how it looks." The man offered.
"Thanks." Megan said eager to try on her new purchase. The man escorted her to the back of the store. There was a small dressing room set aside there with a thin door. The back was just the inside of the outer wall, while tall panels of particle board made up the other four walls. The door was, she suspected, a public restroom door the man had gotten at some state auction. Sighing in disgust, she gave considerable thought to waiting until she got home. The costume proved irresistible to her however, and she eagerly stripped out of her pants. She shivered slightly in the cold air, goosebumps forming on the flesh of her smooth legs. She grabbed the costume and slid it over her feet. The inside seemed to have padding, which made it warm! Excited now, she quickly pulled it up over her black lacy panties. The back of the costume held the zipper, so she reached back and zipped it up. She looked down; admiring the way the costume looked on her. The way the costume's scales caught and reflected the light.
Pain blossomed unexpectedly around her legs and feet. She gasped slightly in distress, it felt as if her entire lower body was cramping, from each of her toes to her hips. Her hand darted towards the back, trying to find the zipper, but her fingers scrabbled on scales, and what was more, it felt like she was scratching her skin! She twisted her upper body around and found the zipper, lying on the seat having fallen off the costume when she wasn't looking. The pain in her lower abdomen and legs eased off and she sighed in relief. Now all she had to do was find a way to get the costume off!
As she turned back around to look at her tail, she screamed in agony. Now her upper body was on fire! She gasped hard as the pain spread to entire upper body. She fell off the seat and writhed on the floor. She felt something sharp on her neck, like a knife slashing her skin. She felt an incredible tightness in her chest as the internal organs rearranged themselves and her lungs expanded. The pain faded away, leaving her gasping like a fish. The bra she had been wearing was incredibly tight around her expanded figure. Stripping bare, she removed the restrictive cloth and breathed normally. Still, it didn't feel quite right. Something was missing.
Megan breathed slowly in and out, forcing her trembling muscles to obey. Slowly she came down from the peak of insanity as the increased oxygen calmed her. When the fear faded to a more manageable level, she started pounding on the door.
"Hey!" she shouted. "Roland! I need to talk to you about your costumes!"
The door gave way under her pounding and she froze, her heart leaping into her throat. The entire shack was deserted. There were no costumes, no counter, and no light. Where the counter once was, there was a banner that said: NO RETURNS. It faded away, even as she watched.
Now frightened, she had no idea what she should do. She couldn't walk to her car now! Her cell! She could call for help! Eagerly, she grasped her purse and pulled out her blackberry. To her horror, her phone told her that it could receive no signal.
"Now what?" she muttered to herself.
Suddenly, the sound of lapping water reached her ears. A powerful urge to be in the water filled her. But how to get to it? Looking down, she saw the surface of the lake beneath the floor. So close. She could feel a hunger for the water, twisting her belly. She began to feel a bit frantic, looking for a way down to the water. Then she spied a ring in the middle of the shack floor. Excited, she began crawling towards it. Using her hands, she pulled herself along the floor, her tail flailing slightly. When she got to the door, she tried to open it. The trapdoor opened easily. Below was a set of stairs leading to a dock underneath the pylons. The high water of the lake meant that the water was only a few feet down. She slid off the edge and fell into the water.
The water felt like a whole new world. Her body felt sleek and powerful, perfectly adapted to her environment. She felt a slight itching sensation on her neck. Raising her hands, she felt the sides of her neck. She was startled to feel gill slits on her neck. Surprised, she risked opening her mouth. The feel of water flowing down her throat and out her gills was strange, yet felt like the most natural thing in the world to her. Bubbling underneath her consciousness, she felt the instincts of the mermaid kick in. Smiling, she gave herself to the mermaid.
More than a week passed. Search parties had scoured area between the highway and the town, but could find no trace of her. A tip phoned in eventually led the investigators to an abandoned shack near the lake. There they found her car, bag and clothes, but no sign of Megan. Taking everything for evidence, the detectives finally left the lake.
Meanwhile, Megan had been adapting to her life as a mermaid. The bottom of the lake proved to be a perfect place for her to swim and feed. Although the taste of raw sushi had been less than appealing for her, she had quickly found that it was actually quite tasty. She had also been supplementing her diet with berries and other flotsam that fell into the lake. To sleep, she had found a submerged log that was truly comfortable. It acted just like a giant bed for her. The water, icy to humans, was warm and tropical to her. Her larger lung capacity allowed her to breathe air above water, while the gills allowed her to breath under it. She discovered that, if she was above water for an extended period of time, the gills would seamlessly flatten on her neck and actually disappear. She also found that the greater lungs allowed her to sing better than she ever had before. She shied away from human contact however. She feared what would become of her if she was discovered.
More than a month had passed since she had become a mermaid, and the late November winds were howling on the lake. The fish had taken to hiding at her approach, so she had to scrounge a lot for food. She was on such a scrounging excursion, looking for spare food when she found the humans. There were two of them, a little girl of about seven and an older girl of about seventeen. They were dressed warmly in thick winter coats, and heavy clothes underneath. Megan felt that she should run, but she simply hid under the surface and watched. The youngest girl was running along the side of the lake, giggling while the elder girl was keeping an eye on her phone. Megan felt a hot flash of jealousy. Her phone worked, but when Megan needed hers it didn't! That was totally unfair.
Megan was distracted from her mental rant by the little girl running onto a large boulder that sat on the water. From above, the boulder looked very sturdy. However, Megan saw that in reality, the rock was sitting on the edge of an underwater abyss. The lakebed here dropped rapidly away until it reached the bottom, some eighty feet below. She turned above and watched the girl with fearful eyes. The girl was spinning near the edge of the boulder. Dimly she could hear the girl speaking through the water.
"Wheee. Look at me sis! I'm queen of the rock." The girl giggled happily.
"Uh-huh." Came the reply, the older girl not paying attention, totally engrossed in her phone.
The younger girl turned around with a sniff and looked down at the water. She let out a gasp. From her position, she could clearly see Megan down there. Megan realized that she had been spotted and gave a powerful thrash of her tail, propelling her away. Suddenly, she felt a splash and froze in horror. Somehow, the girl had fallen in! With all those heavy layers on and thick boots, she would drown.
Megan turned around and swam back as fast as she could. She was a torpedo, the wake of which was kicking up sediment and sending a pressure wave ahead. She could see the girl still near the boulder, thrashing in the water but starting to sink from the waterlogged clothes. Megan put on a burst of speed and then flared her tail to slow down. She spun down towards the bottom before turning up. She quickly caught the struggling girl and propelled her to the surface. The two girls were launched into the air from Megan's speed.
Time seemed to slow for Megan as she felt herself flying through the air. She could feel the world around her acutely, as if all her senses were heightened to superhuman level. She could feel the individual droplets of water that cascaded off her tail. She could feel the damp polar-tech jacket of the kid as she clutched Megan. Her eyes could pick out the seams of the jacket and see the look of terror on her face. Beyond that, she could see the shocked expression of the older girl as she knelt on the top of the boulder, staring. From her position, Megan thought she might have been trying to help the little girl.
Suddenly time resumed its normal pace, and Megan found herself falling back into the water. Just before she hit, she rolled around the kid to prevent her from getting hurt. They hit with a giant splash that sent water spraying high enough to hit the other girl who sputtered. Megan felt like she had been hit in the tail and back by a giant hammer. Her body twitched from the sting, but she quickly resurfaced, holding the girl.
"Laura, Laura." Screeched the voice on the top of the rock.
"Mara." Croaked the girl in Megan's arms.
Megan waved to show that the girl was all right and swam for the shore. To Laura, it seemed as if they were moving at incredible speed. To Megan, it seemed as if she were moving slower than molasses because of the dead weight.
"Kick a little will ya, kid?" she puffed. To her relief, the kid began kicking the water.
In a very short amount of time, they were at the lake edge. Mara splashed out into the icy water and almost snatched Laura from her grip. Holding on to her sister tightly, she sobbed how sorry she was over and over into her hair. Laura was starting to shiver from her wet clothes, something that Megan noticed immediately.
"Quickly, get her to shore and get her into dry clothes." She instructed. "Then take her home and keep her bundled up. Otherwise, she could catch hypothermia. In fact," she mused, "It might be better to take her to the doctor and have her looked at."
"Thank you. Oh, thank you." Babbled Mara to Megan as she waded towards shore. "You saved her."
Megan felt a blush form from the praise. But her old fears returned, and she quickly hastened to address them.
"You're welcome. But please, don't tell anyone about me. I don't want anyone looking for me right now, okay?" she asked.
"Okay, and thank you." Mara agreed. Laura was shivering too hard to do more than nod.
Megan watched as Mara quickly took her sister up the shore into the treeline. She supposed that they had a car or something parked up there. A supposition confirmed by the sound of slamming car doors and an engine firing up. She wondered if they would keep their promise not to tell anyone about her. She dearly hoped they would. She did miss stuff about her old life, but like drawings upon the sand they were slowly fading from her mind as she became more and more the mermaid of Luna Lake.