Once—in the time before cities and towns—a little girl stood at the edge of the sea and wept. As her salty tears fell to the sand, the moon itself eased closer, hoping to end her sorrowful cries.
But no matter how close the moon tried to come, it remained distant, unable to touch the child.
So the girl wept on.
Pulled closer by the moon’s silent plea, the tide rolled over the sand where the girl stood. Waves curled around the girl’s legs, trying to calm her.
Yet try as it might, the water could fashion no arms to hold her.
And the girl wept on.
A seal rode in on the tide. The silent creature pulled her body from the surf and rested her furred face against the girl’s cheek.
But although the seal had form, she had only flippers. She had no arms with which to hold the girl.
The girl wept on.
So the seal slipped from her sealskin, revealing her secret. She was a selkie, neither seal nor human, but both at once. She pulled the child into her arms and held her.
The girl stopped crying.
For a time, the moon smiled over the water, and the tide danced around them.
But dawn crept closer, and the moon and the tide beckoned the selkie-woman, reminding her that it was time to leave the shore.
The selkie-woman lowered the child gently to the sand and lifted her sealskin.
The girl cried out, ‘‘Mother!’’
The selkie stopped—sealskin only half-on. She had no pups of her own, no one had called her mother before.
The girl wrapped her tiny, furless arms around the selkie’s neck.
By now the moon had slipped away, hiding as the sun grew brighter; the tide had run further from shore, baring the rocky edge of reef.
The selkie could not abandon the sea, but she couldn’t leave the child either.
So she lifted her seal-skin and divided it into two pieces.
The girl eased her legs into that second smaller piece of skin and then smiled at her new form.
Their arms stayed furless, and they had no front flippers. There was enough for mother and daughter to both have a tail.
Together, they chased the escaping tide—away from land, beyond the reef, and into the welcoming sea where sailors would one day see them and call them ‘‘mermaids.’’
Melissa Marr is the bestselling author of the young adult Wicked Lovely series, and recently published her second adult novel, The Arrivals. Her first picture book, Bunny Roo, is coming in 2015.