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  • In the days when magic lived in the world, yesterday, or the day before, a boy named Jacob spent his days gathering crabs and clams. He lived with his fisher-folk parents in a little shanty by the sea. ILLO: Jacob handing over his catch to his parents who are drying nets outside the shanty.

    Even then, some folks thought magic had gone from the world, but Jacob knew better. He had seen merwomen and mermen rise out of the water, clasping the flukes of leaping dolphins, and had often wished he could do that, too. He knew that the word mer simply meant sea. These were the sea folk, who were blessed, in these days of fading magic, with more magic than the landfolk.

    One day, when Jacob had bagged his clams in nets and set them in a shallow tide pool to stay alive until later, he went exploring, as he liked to do. He swam out to a little island with a rocky cliff around it. He saw no way up the cliffs, so he swam to the other side. The waves there crashed hard on the rocks, and Jacob almost turned back, but he saw a crack in the rocks, and swimming hard against the power of the crashing waves and the suck of the undertow, he slipped through the crack to a small beach.

    A boy his own age was sitting on a rock in the water staring at the sky, and he turned to look at Jacob, and smiled. "I've been waiting for you," he said. I was hoping you would come."

    When Jacob swam close, and sat beside the boy, he saw that the boy was a mer child. Under the water, which was clear and still in the tiny bay, Jacob could see that the boy had a tail instead of legs. He sat in the water beside him.

  • "You,” said the boy, “are not the 7th son of the 7th son, but you have the seed somehow, in spite of this discrepancy. You have the sight, the ability to learn magic. That happens only extremely rarely, so you are truly blessed."

    "I thought magic was leaving the world," said Jacob.

    "No. It's going into a hiding. That's almost the same thing. But the sea witch has seen you seeing us, and she knows. She will visit you soon, if you give the word."

    "What is the word? And what will happen?" asked Jacob.

    "Have you heard of the great fish?

    "You mean the whale that swallowed Jonah?"

  • "Not exactly," explained the boy. "My name is Merjon Marlin. You can call me Jon. I am the seventh son of a seventh son, something that doesn't happen often, even among our people. We have fewer children now that we are withdrawing from the world. So seven happens very rarely. According to our people, a great fish is dreaming the world. It is he who dreamed your sight. He swallows people, humans and mer people, and they ride in his belly and learn to see the world in a new way. Then he either digests them, or spits them out. It depends on what you see from inside him.

    “Did you ride inside him? Yes. What did you see?”

    “I am forbidden to say. Everyone sees something different, according to his or her nature.”

  • “But how will I know if it is safe?"

    “You won't. But if you do it and succeed, we will be friends, and you can swim under the sea and play with me, and I can walk on land and play with you.

    "I can't promise anything," continued Merjon, "but I can tell you this: the point of being swallowed by the fish is to test you for magic, and even though you are not the seventh son of a seventh son, I know you're magic, because you're sitting here talking to me. Non magical people can’t see us, hear us or talk to us. You can see the merfolk, and always have been able to, since you were tiny. Do you see anything flying overhead?"

    "Yes, said Jacob, “there are eight miniature winged dragons, about the size of seagulls. Only they are all the colors of the rainbow and flying in rainbow formation, red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet."

    "We call them dragonets," said Jon.

  • "Okay,” Jacob said, “I will risk the test. I am not eager to die and I am not without fear, but I will do it."

    The next day, Jacob went crabbing and clamming as usual. When he returned to the fishing shanty for lunch, he sensed a presence outside the door. He knew right away that it was the sea witch. He could see her, right through the door of the shanty, in her flowing blue and green gown. He knew she had come for him, but he was frightened, and left by another door.

    He continued his clamming and crabbing, always aware that sea witch was waiting for him at the shanty. She floated, unmoving, a few inches above the stoop, waiting, patient. At dinnertime, he returned to the shanty through the back door. When his parents returned with their catch of the day, he suddenly remembered the sea witch who was waiting for him. All afternoon, he had been working to not think about her, and it was difficult.

    He opened the back door, not the one where the witch had been waiting earlier, but the one he and his parents had used. A woman dressed in the rags of a peddler stood on the stoop. Her face was wrinkled and old, her eyes hidden in many layers of skin. But they were bright and piercing.

    "Who's there?" asked Jacob's father.

  • "A peddler woman," Jacob said, turning to his father, and holding the door wide so that the woman could be seen. But his father was busy cleaning fish and did not look. But Jacob saw a hoary old merman standing on two scaly legs in a cloud of mist and knew it was the Sea Witch’s consort. He wondered how he knew this. The witch and the merman seems to speak inside his head, not with words, but with knowing.

    "Ask her what she is selling," suggested the father, without looking up from his work. Jacob's mother, too, was busy. She was peeling potatoes.

    Jacob looked the peddler woman in the eyes and said, loudly so his father could hear over the sounds of his work, "What are you selling?"

    The woman wasn't there. One moment, he'd been looking her in the eye, and the next moment, she was gone.

    “She's gone,” Jacob said. “She disappeared." He felt a simultaneous rush of both relief and disappointment. Now, he might never have deep magic. But he would not have to face the fish that would swallow him.

    "Nonsense," his father said. "She just gave up because you took so long to speak to her. Step outside and catch her."

  • Jacob stepped outside and looked down the cobbled path for the peddler woman or the sea witch, but saw no one. Instead, he saw a whirling waterspout, a combination whirlpool or tornado, and before he could move or speak, it lifted its tail toward him, opened its mouth, and swallowed him.

    The waterspout dove into the bay carrying Jacob in its belly, swimming like a fish. It swam deep into the ocean, moving faster than a bolt of sea lightning. In almost a single instant, coral reefs appeared around them. Jacob had never been far enough south to see coral reefs. But somehow, he knew what they were. The fish talked to him, not out loud, and not in words, simply in knowing.

    The fish that Jacob rode in was as transparent as if it were made of glass. The glass was colored, like the stained glass of a church window, and the colors changed, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly. ((A red-winged blackbird is eating crabapples)). The colors seemed most often to be yellow and a pale but bright orange. Red, blue, green, purple and other colors shimmered through. The more Jacob watched the shifting colors, the happier he felt.

    Suddenly, Jacob was flying. He soared like an eagle. He remembered flying in his dreams. Maybe this was just a dream. He wondered if he could find Merjon Marlin. He pictured Merjon, as he has last seen him, sitting on a rock the shallow bay. Whoosh, there he was. But Merjon was standing on the rock with two human legs. Jacob landed beside him.

  • "You passed the test," Jon said. “Let’s play.” And he dove into the water.

    Jacob dove in after him. As they swam deeper into the water, their legs joined into a strong tails. Jacob whipped his tail back and forth to catch up with Jon, who already knew how to use his tail. As Jon swam deeper and deeper, and Jacob followed, it occurred to Jacob that he should have to breathe, to go up for air. But he didn't feel out of breath. The magic breathed for him. He smiled. A great fish swam up and swam along beside him and sent him soothing feelings, making Jacob feel peaceful, happy and safe underwater.

    Jon took him to meet the merfolk and they welcomed him as a friend and emissary from human land. "We will teach you the great secrets of magic," they told him. They gave him crabs and clams and a huge tuna to take home to his family, in order to give him more time to visit them.

    “I’ll take you dolphin riding tomorrow,” Jon promised.

    When Jacob returned home, his parents were waiting. "Did you enjoy the sea witch?" his mother asked. His parents smiled. They knew his secret, and they didn't seem to mind. He was glad, and wondered if they too had met the Sea Witch.

    The end.

    Mary Stebbins Taitt

  • This story came from two things: a dream and writing practice. There were many asides of observations while walking--I removed all but one in service of keeping it short.

    I've included some sketches. This whole project is in a very early stage.

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