by Bernie Brown
Meera reveled in her life as a nixie. She had everything mortals had, and gills and fins besides. She lived in the diamond-bright water of Xena Lake and spent her days swimming and sunning on her favorite rock. Plus she had magic. By her touch, she could give a mortal the sight, the ability to see nixies. Even better, she could change a mortal into a nixie. She could even change him back. (But she couldn't imagine why she'd do that.) Yes, magic was a wonderful thing to have.
Today she planned to meet the mortal she had been watching for weeks, the runner who jogged the lake path every morning wearing a red baseball cap. Today she planned to give him the sight so that he could see her and get to know her and ... well, who knows?
With her hopes high, Meera waited on a bench next to the path. A man rounded the curve, making her heart flutter, but it settled down again when she saw he didn't wear a red cap.
Her impatience made her so restless that she left the bench to explore the woods behind it. She nearly missed the next runner, but the steady beat of his feet caught her attention. She turned to see the man with the red cap running past, and hurried to catch him.
As she prepared to touch the runner's shoulder, the power of her magic sent a thrill through her. She could stretch out her arm and touch him and make it possible for him to see her. Just like that. Still, there were dangers. What if he didn't like what he saw? Meera screwed up her courage and reached out, but grew afraid and withdrew her arm. Doubt held Meera back and the distance between her and the runner increased. He would soon outrun her if she didn't act fast.
This time, when Meera reached out, she touched the runner's warm, strong shoulder. Electricity shot through her.
He looked back, puzzlement on his face. He saw her and drew up short.
Meera stopped, too. "Hello," she said.
The runner gazed, the intensity of his blue eyes unnerving her. "Who are you?" His brow wrinkled when he took in the vines of her dress and the gills on her neck. "What are you?"
The challenge in his voice unsettled Meera. Her lip quivered as she explained, "I'm a nixie. I live in the lake. I've been watching you."
"You're a what?"
"A nixie. A water creature."
The runner scoffed. "A water creature? Is this some kind of joke?"
"You think I'm a joke?" Irritation nettled her. "I don't give the sight to just anybody."
"The sight? What do you mean, the sight?" His voice lost some of its demand.
"When I touched your shoulder. That's how we nixies give mortals the ability to see us."
The runner reached up and rubbed his shoulder, like he was making sure it was still there.
Meera had his full attention now. "Do you want to sit down?" Meera indicated the bench.
"I think I'd better." He took a seat. "You said you'd been watching me. Why? "
"Oh, it's nothing bad. I only watched you, well...." she couldn't finish.
"Well, because I like you." The words came out in a rush. With a smile, she added, "I like your red cap."
The runner touched his cap as if he had forgotten it. A frown creased his forehead. "I don't get it."
"What don't you get? Look, I like you. Don't mortals like each other? Don't mortals become friends?"
"Look, nixie . . ."
"My name's Meera."
"Meera, this is all happening a little fast for me. Could you just slow down?"
She sat down on the bench beside him, feeling the warmth radiating from his body, breathing in his tangy smell. "Look, why don't you come swimming in the lake with me? You could see the Roustabout."
"The Roustabout? What's that?"
Meera's hopes rose. She had piqued his interest. "It's a sunken fishing boat."
The runner nodded. He still hadn't answered her question.
She asked again. "So, do you want to come?"
This time he shook his head. "Look, Meera, I don't think so. Maybe if I'd been watching you like you've been watching me. But not just one minute, meet a nixie, the next minute, go swimming with her. I've never even heard of nixies before. You seem nice enough, but sorry, I just can't."
The nixie's heart sank. Looking into his eyes, she asked, "Isn't there anything I can say that will change your mind?"
He shook his head.
Meera sighed, "Well, I won't give up. You'll think about me and come back tomorrow and I'll be waiting."
"Don't count on it." The runner rose and looked down the trail like he wished he were on it. "Thanks anyway." And he trotted off.
Meera watched him go, then called after him, "Wait. I don't know your name."
"Skip. My name's Skip."
Meera repeated softly, "Skip. That's a good name."
Disappointment descended on her like a fog. She mused about magic and its power. She had thought it would give her control over life; but, as it turned out, magic couldn't control Skip.
The next morning, Meera sat on the bench sending Skip mental messages with her eyes shut. "Please come. Please come." Again, she nearly missed him. Her eyes jerked open when he spoke.
"Hi, Meera." He wore the red cap.
"Hi, Skip." She did her best to keep her voice light, to hide her joy.
He sat down. "I thought about you all night."
Meera resisted the desire to embrace him. "Really?" she murmured.
"Look, I think I'd like getting to know you. I'm sorry I was rude yesterday, I was confused."
Meera's spirit soared. "Oh, that doesn't matter." Nothing mattered now.
"How should we start?"
"Well, do you like to swim?"
Skip nodded. "I do like to swim, but I'm sure I'm not as good as you."
In spite of what he said, Skip had a strong stroke, and Meera didn't have to hold back much. If Skip became a nixie—as was her deepest wish—they could swim side by side forever; but she kept that to herself.
They reached the spot above the sunken boat. "If you want to see the Roustabout, you'll have to dive down. Can you swim underwater?"
"I can for a little while."
"Well, if you need to come up for air, just point like this." She jabbed her finger upward. "And we'll surface."
Meera dove first, then Skip. When they reached the boat, Meera squeezed between broken timbers to get inside the cabin.
Skip followed her, but one of the timbers shifted and pinned down his legs. Meera turned to find him struggling to free himself. She saw his predicament and tugged at the timber, too, but it stuck fast. She tried until her movements became frantic. Skip had to get out. He couldn't stay underwater. She had to free him or he would drown.
Panic contorted Skip's face. He gave the signal to surface, jabbing the water repeatedly with his finger.
Terror and hopelessness warred within Meera. She tore again at the timber, hurting her hands.
She had nearly given in to despair, when hope flashed through her. Of course. She could save him. Fear had filled her as she watched Skip struggle, and she hadn't thought of the one answer that would help them both. She could make him a nixie.
"Skip, I can turn you into a nixie and you'll be safe. Can you hear me?"
Skip's head bobbed weakly up and down.
Meera had wanted Skip to choose to become a nixie because he wanted to be with her, but the circumstances didn't allow that luxury now. Skip's body drooped, as if his life were draining away.
She had no choice, she had to use her magic. And she did.
Gills appeared on Skip's neck and fluttered to life, as if they had always been there. He raised his head, opened his eyes, and smiled at her. Together, they gripped the timber and shifted it to free first one leg and then another.
Relief flooded Meera. She hugged Skip, and they left the cabin and surfaced. Beneath the sky, their delighted laughter rang out over the water.
Meera explained, "Making you a nixie was the only way I could keep you from drowning. Even though it is something I've wanted to do since I first saw you, I did it to save your life, not for my own happiness."
"And am I glad you did! I thought I was a goner." Skip put his hands up on either side of his neck and felt his gills. "What do I do now?"
"Well, why don't we go for a swim?"
And they did. They swam all afternoon, exploring secret underwater places like the cove filled with rushes and abandoned otter nests. At last, they got out and sat on the bench where they’d first met. Meera took Skip's hand. "So, do you like being a nixie?"
Skip traced the lines on Meera's palm. "It's wonderful, but it's also strange, being underwater with no need to stop for air."
"Now you can stay with me forever."
Skip held her hand to his face while he looked deep into her eyes, his voice grew serious. "It's not for me."
Meera drew her hand away. "What do you mean, it's not for you? Of course it is, it's for us. We can be together."
"Look, Meera, I just came back today because I was curious. You've known about me all along, but I just found out about you yesterday. You are a rare and wonderful friend, but I don't want to live this life forever. As much as you love swimming, I love running. I'm a creature of the land. I'm so thankful to you for saving my life, and giving me this unbelievable experience, but can you change me back now?"
Meera was tempted to lie, to say there was no going back; but she couldn't. If he remained a nixie against his will, neither of them would be happy. In silence, she nodded her head and Skip became a mortal again, as mortal as if he'd never been anything else.
He reached up to adjust his cap, which had somehow remained on his head through the entire afternoon. Then he rose, studied her, and said, "Goodbye, Meera the nixie, I'll never forget you." He turned and jogged down the path.
Before he rounded the bend, he stopped and came back.
Meera's hope rose. Had he changed his mind? Had he decided he couldn't live without her?
Skip came and stood beside the bench. He took off his red baseball cap and handed it to Meera. "I'd like you to have this, if you want it."
Meera hadn't really believed he'd changed his mind. She accepted the cap, breathed in its tangy smell, and put it on. Resigned to her fate, she looked up at Skip. He made a slight adjustment in the way the cap sat on her head, then he gave it a playful pat, and was gone.
To forestall the tears she felt coming, Meera ran for the water and dove in. The cap drifted from her head to a spot just in front of her. Of its own accord, it flipped over and emerged as a silken red fish. Awed by this transformation, Meera gulped some water and spluttered a cough. When she recovered, the crimson fish remained. Besides the spell the red baseball cap held over her, it seemed it possessed some magic of its own. Perhaps Skip had left her with this magical fish to say that part of him had wanted to stay.