Monday, March 1, 2010

Chapter Seventy-Seven

Something brushes the wooden cheek of PInocchio. He stirs slightly at the touch. Everything is cloaked in a comforting, blurry darkness. He is cold and wet and feels... strange. Light. Almost airy.

Then the half-remembered images of swimming and falling and and fire and a deafening crack that tore apart the sky flood through his memories, and he gasps.

Only there is no air. He sputters and chokes and coughs out the mouthful of water, bitter water.

Then that thing - a pair of hands - touches his cheek once more, hands that are small and smooth and strong, reaching beneath his arms, and Pinocchio is flying. Is he flying? He's lifted, carried through a blanket of blue darkness, and above him the sky lightens like an egg, more and more, until he breaks the surface of the water and hungrily, desperately gasps for air.

“Are you all right?” says a voice, and Pinocchio can finally see, free from the confines of the ocean’s depths.

It is nighttime, but the full moon shines silver light over the water. It reflects and sparkles, a million tiny mirrors...

“The Mirror!” says Pinoccho, and he pats frantically at his chest. He smiles in relief as he feels the golden handle, still safely tucked into his shirt.

Beyond him lies land, presumably still Neverland, but of the pirate ship or his friends, there is no sign. How did he get here? What had happened?

“You're alive!” says the voice. “I’m sorry, I, I didn’t know you were real.”

Pinocchio turns around, splashing slightly, and he realizes he is still being held. The hands belong to a wide-eyed girl, more beautiful than any he’d ever seen. Her red hair flows and swirls and cascades down her shoulders with the ease of the ebbing tide.

“Hello,” she says, and chuckles in spite of herself.

“Hello,” says Pinocchio, somewhat shyly. “I am real. In a way.” How long ago he’d wished to be a real live boy. And now, a wish like that would be secondary - not to mention foolish - to his true heart’s desire.

“I found you under the water,” says the girl. “I thought you were a doll, and I took you with me. But then you started coughing, and I realized you're a land-dweller. But you seemed fine for hours beforehand.”

But Pinocchio is only half listening. He’d never thought about breathing, or why he didn’t need to - just as he didn’t need to eat or drink or sleep - but the gasp and accidental inhalation of water must have triggered something.

“Where are my friends?” he asks. He scans the surface of the water, but there is no sign of the Candelabra. And off in the distance, the Lion should still be waiting on the beach. But no one is there.

“Friends?” asks the girl. “I didn’t see anyone else. A ship had sunk, and I was just looking around for anything interesting. For my collectibles.

“Oh,” she adds, suddenly realizing. “You must have been on the ship. I’m sorry, I really am, but... I didn’t see any other people.”

“They weren’t people,” the puppet blurts. “They’re like me. One is a candlestick. And back on shore there's a clock. And a lion!”

Confusion clouds her face. “I don’t know what those words mean,” she says. “A lion? Like a,” she searches for the proper word, “giant... cat?”

“Yes," he says, incredulous. Who's never a heard of a lion?

“I’m sorry,” the girl says again. “But there was no one like that.”

“Oh,” says Pinocchio. He tries not to think about being left alone again, but it’s hard. The last thing he remembers is finding the pirate ship and being so happy, so close to finding his father, and now...

“There were some other things I found,” adds the girl quickly. “Maybe one of them is your candle’s tick. Or the clock.”

Pinocchio blinks, and feels a little better, a little warmer, at her smiling, hopeful face.

He nods, and she chuckles again. “Take a deep breath!” she warns, and then sinks into the water.

Pinocchio tries not to breathe as they speed through the murky blueness, down and deep. Then he realizes he doesn’t need to breathe at all, and watches eagerly.

The girl swims as fast as a bird flies, it seems, and Pinocchio is soon surrounded by her dancing red hair. And though he can only make out wavering shadows and the occasional glistening scale, she moves without any hesitation.

At last they come to a cave - an underwater cave! Maybe the Clock was right! But immediately, Pinocchio can tell this isn’t the same place as Gepetto’s shelter.

There’s no air, for one, and it’s too, too dark. How the girl can see anything is a mystery.

“Let’s see...” she says, looking around. Bits of metal and other items lie atop the coral. Some rest upon the natural ledges in the walls.

“It’s not much of a collection,” she says, and swims from shelf to shelf. “Just what I‘ve found since coming here.”

She looks at several of the items, then grabs one and brings it to Pinocchio. “Is this your friend?” she asks, and holds up a large, silver hook. It gleams in the murky light, elegant and menacing.

“No,” says Pinocchio. “That’s a hook.”

“Oh, right! A hook.” She darts over to another section of the cave, and that’s when Pinocchio let's out a bubbly gasp.

Instead of legs, she has a fishtail. Just like the creatures he's seen in the Mirror, the girl is a mermaid.