Part IV

The trip to the Swimming Hole was a blur. Michael’s mind was racing and his legs and lungs were on fire. He hadn’t bothered to take a car. A straight hike from the mill would have taken the same amount of time as driving since there were no roads that lead directly to it. But he didn’t hike; he ran. With a full, unrelenting sprint, he ran. His body would scream to him in pain, and he would trip and fall, gashing his skin on rocks, briars, stumps and twigs. But he didn’t stop, not for a moment. His skin just sealed over and his legs kept going. He couldn’t stop, he didn’t need to.

He made it to the opening of the valley leading to the Swimming Hole. When he was about fifteen feet from the edge, the same place he was the first time Shara saw him, the water began to ripple. Michael stopped and took a long breath, then fell to his knees. “Shara?” he whispered. His face was twisted with terror. He was afraid and confused, desperately needing an explanation.

The ripples in the pond gave way to the top of a person’s head, with long, dark hair that shimmered blue in the sunlight and eyes closed. The hair continued down into the water, covering the figure of the person it belonged to, it swirled and danced just under the surface. Ripples in the water and the hair were the only things moving in the deafening silence of the moment. Then the eyes opened and Michael had to turn his head.

“Shara!” Michael said his voice trembling. “My hand. My arm. They were broke. And on the way, my legs and arm, they got all cut up, but they’re fine. I’m fine.” He held his hands out and stared at them. “What’s happened to me?”

Shara suddenly sprang up out of the water. I broad, impish smile spread across her face. “I know, silly! I told you that men become immortal with a mermaid’s kiss!” Her voice danced into his ears. It was soothing and bubbly. But most importantly it was real. She was real.

Michael couldn’t help but feel an air of pain at first. As the mermaid emerged from the water it seemed to bleed away. But it wasn’t gone; he could still feel it. It was just more obvious when it was only her eyes breaking the surface.

Michael stood up. “So I’m going to be able to heal like this forever? I won’t die or nothin?”

“Kind of,” Shara replied. “You’re like me now!” Her voice was as sweet as Michael had remembered and he smiled at hearing it again. “I was just a normal girl before I was kissed. Only your body doesn’t change like mine did. Men don’t get to become as beautiful as us.”

“But it’s really forever?”

“Mostly.”

“What do you mean ‘mostly’?” Michael’s voice began to rise.

“Well,” Shara’s voice continued to be just as innocent and absentminded, “let’s see. If your body isn’t completely destroyed then you’ll live forever. But you won’t always be able to heal. Just like us, after a time you’ll need to eat to make new skin.”

“But I eat all the time, so I won’t have to worry about that, right?”

“You have to eat eternal food, silly! You don’t even need normal food anymore.”

“Eternal food? Like what?”

“Don’t worry so much,” she giggled and splashed him with her tail. “I have plenty back in my den. I always like to keep plenty because you never know when you’ll need it. It’s nothing you need to worry about. So let’s play!”

Shara giggled and swam alone as Michael stared on in bewilderment, exactly as they did the first time they met. But this was different from the last time, now Michael had joined Shara as an immortal being. He stood there for long time, running all the events over again in his mind. After more prodding from Shara he finally joined her in the pool, just happy to be with her again. And they played until night fell.