3 Years Ago
As dawn started to break on the eastern horizon, Caspian floated peacefully at the ocean’s calm surface. Sandwiched between his mother and father, he waited patiently for his grandfather to rise and call them forward to begin the day.
When Andori arrived, he took a deep, cleansing breath and turned towards the rising sun. He raised his head in the air and started to sing.
Lost in the sweet, haunting melody, Caspian felt the same peace he felt every morning as he sang along with the fourteen other members of his family. He looked over to his grandfather where he saw the elderly mermaid, Undine, seated contently on his back. Her eyes were closed and she was trying to sing along with the family’s song as best she could.
Suddenly the peace was shattered by a warning cry from Caspian’s uncle.
“Whalers!” Zenith shouted. “Everyone get beneath the surface!”
Before diving, Caspian stole a quick look at the swiftly approaching hunters. At the bow of the factory whaling ship he saw a man standing before the large harpoon gun. It was pointed right at them. An instant later, he heard the whooshing sound of the gun as the whaler opened fire.
Caspian felt the first deadly harpoon sail directly over his back. It missed him by a breath. But then he heard an agonized scream and realised he hadn’t been the target.
“Father!” He cried. Caspian swam closer and saw the end of the deadly harpoon sticking out of his father’s side as the tow line connecting it to the whaling ship was pulled taut. While the water around him turned red with blood, Caspian heard his father calling out to the elderly mermaid’s daughter, Colleen.
A heartbeat later, another harpoon struck Caspian’s mother. Her howls of pain and terror mixed with his father’s as both his parents fought to survive.
“Mother, no!” Caspian shouted. He didn’t know what to do; he was crippled with fear. Beside him, his father continued to howl in pain and thrash in the water. But on his other side, his mother became silent and still.
He swam over to her. But even before he touched her side, he knew it was too late. His mother was dead.
“Caspian, dive!” ordered his uncle Zenith. “Everyone, get down beneath the surface!”
Unable to think, Caspian followed his uncle’s orders and dove beneath the waves. Above him he could still hear his father’s screams as he thrashed and twisted against the tow line that connected him to the ship.
Before the rest of Caspian’s family could submerge themselves, the whaler’s murderous gun fired again and again. Three more members were struck by deadly harpoons. Their howls filled the air as their blood poured into the ocean.
“Father, no!” Zenith suddenly cried.
“Andori and Undine have been hit!” shouted another.
Caspian and two of his cousins rose to the surface. They were met by a sight more horrible than anything they had ever imagined. Their grandfather had been shot by a harpoon, but before it entered Andori, it had passed through Undine’s tail and impaled the elderly mermaid to his back. In his dying agony, Andori rolled in the water. As the harpoon line coiled cruelly around his massive body, Undine was caught in the line and crushed to his side.
Struck silent by the sight, Caspian and the others watched the terrible scene playing out before their eyes as one by one their family was slaughtered by whalers.
“Boys, get over here,” cried Zenith. “Help me with Zephyr!”
Caspian watched his uncle struggling to support his father’s head at the surface to keep him breathing. But as he arrived to help, there was a loud whine and a grinding sound coming from the whaling ship.
“They’re lowering the collection ramp!” Zenith panicked. “We must hurry. If they get everyone on board, we’ll lose them forever!”
Caspian couldn’t turn away from the murderous whaling ship. The blood-streaked ramp coming down into the water looked like a terrible, yawning mouth preparing to eat.
“Caspian,” his cousin Coral shouted. “Come on! Help us before they haul your father on board. He’s still alive and needs you!”
Tearing his gaze from the awful ship, Caspian concentrated on his unconscious father. Zenith was still at his head, while the other survivors were gathering around his wound.
“All of you,” Zenith ordered, “use all your weight. Push down on Zephyr’s tail. The tow line is still connected. If we push hard enough, it will tear the harpoon out of his side and we can free him.”
As if in a dream, Caspian joined the others pressing their massive heads against Zephyr’s side, forcing him deeper into the water. With the ship’s tow line drawing tighter, they watched the shaft of the harpoon slowly cutting its way out of his wound. In one final, tearing pop, the deadly, three-pronged point was torn free of Caspian’s father.
Once it was gone, two members of the family remained with the stricken whale to keep his head above the surface. The seven other survivors moved to free the remaining wounded members of the family: those who were still alive, but tethered to the whaling ship.
Caspian went over to help free a younger cousin. But as he worked, he caught sight of his mother’s body being drawn out of the water and hauled up the ship’s tall ramp.
“No!” he cried. Leaving his cousin, he swam over to the ramp and leaped onto the end, trying to catch hold of her. He couldn’t let them take her. Not his mother. But he was too late; she was beyond his reach.
Sliding back into the water, Caspian howled in unbearable grief as he watched the faces of the men at the top of the ramp. Holding their vicious cutting blades, waiting to receive his mother’s body…
Come to Herm now or you’ll die…
The memory of her uncle’s warning haunted Lori as she lay curled against the cold window of the Boeing 757 on its transatlantic flight from Toronto to London. She couldn’t sleep. There were just too many disturbing questions spinning around in her head. Sitting up, she angrily punched her pillow, adjusted her blanket and struggled to find a comfortable position.
“You all right, kiddo?”
Lori turned to the concerned face of her father. His eyes betrayed what the rest of him was trying very hard to conceal. He was frightened for her.
“I’m fine thanks,” she said, a little too eagerly.
He nodded, but wasn’t convinced. “Then settle down and try to relax. We’ve got a long flight ahead of us.”
When he looked away, Lori studied him a moment longer. He was trying desperately to believe in her, to convince himself that his thirteen-year-old daughter wasn’t going insane. But it was difficult. Even Lori was finding it hard to believe she wasn’t crazy. And she hadn’t told him everything that was happening.
Letting her eyes drift away from her father, she looked across the aisle to her aunt Anne, who was seated between her two older brothers. Her seat was reclined and she was asleep. Danny was curled against his window and snoring. Lori’s oldest brother, Eddie, was awake. Feeling her eyes on him, he turned to her and smiled brightly. “Hey, Bug, won’t be long now.”
Lori offered a weak smile back and nodded. Her brothers and aunt had no idea what was happening or why they were suddenly flying to England. Back when it all started, her father had thought it best not to tell them too much until they got to the bottom of the mystery. All they knew was that their mother’s brother had been in touch and sent them free tickets to come to Herm, a small island in the Channel Isles.
They were blissfully ignorant of the strange voice that had suddenly arrived in Lori’s head; with its dire warning that if she didn’t contact her mysterious uncle on Herm she would soon die.
She turned back to the small window and gazed out at the night sky. Are you there? She silently called with her mind. Can you hear me?
There was only silence. The mysterious presence was there; somehow she could feel it. She just couldn’t reach it with words at the moment. But even when she could hear it, it was never very clear.
Shivering from nerves and not the cold window, she pulled the airline blanket tighter around herself, lay her head down and tried to sleep.
Lor-lie, wake up!
Lori woke with a jolt; she hadn’t been aware that she’d drifted off. Sitting up, she suddenly felt a sharp cramp cutting through her lower abdomen. She glanced over to her father. His seat was reclined and he was snoring softly.
Lor-lie, can you hear me?
The voice was back, booming in her head – louder and clearer than ever before. “Yes – yes, I can,” she answered.
“Who are you?”
Lori was terrified. The strange voice now had a name. This confirmed her worst fears. She was well and truly insane. “Caspian?” She looked around the small cabin to see if anyone was watching her. “Where are you?”
I’m here. But I am there with you too. We are connected.
“I don’t understand,” she whispered back. “You’re just a voice in my head. You’re not real!”
Lor-lie, I promise, I am as real as you are. In time you’ll see for yourself. But right now there’s no time to explain. Just listen to me. It’s starting. You must be extra careful now. You are in such terrible danger. You mustn’t let yourself get wet. Do you hear me? You can drink, but for heaven’s sake, don’t get wet! As soon as you arrive at the airport, tell your uncle Jeremy that I told you it’s starting. He’ll know what to do. The time of your Trial has arrived. Tell him Lor-lie. Your Trial has arrived.
“What’s arrived? What trial?” Lori pleaded as fear rose in her voice. “I haven’t done anything wrong, why am I on trial?”
It’s not that kind of trial. It’s more like an ordeal. We just call it the Trial.
“But what is it?”
The change. You are changing Lor-lie.
Before Caspian could answer, another fierce cramp tore through her lower abdomen and down her legs. Lori also became aware of the terrible ache in her feet and rising nausea in her stomach.
“Lori? What’s going on?”
Her father was awake and staring intently at her.
Every time Lori had spoken to her father about the strange voice, he’d become upset and angry. In the tight confines of the aeroplane, and feeling as she did, she couldn’t bear it.
Instead she rubbed at her legs and said, “I really don’t feel well. The pain starts in my stomach but then shoots all the way down to my feet.” Suddenly she felt she was about to be violently ill. “Dad, let me out, I’m going to be sick!”
Her father stood and let her out of her seat. Lori raced down the long aisle to the toilet. Falling to her knees, she started to throw up. Before she’d finished, she felt her father’s reassuring presence behind her.
“It’s all right, I’m here,” he gently offered, as he held back her long auburn hair. “Get it all out of your system.”
When she’d emptied her stomach, Lori struggled to stand again. “Dad, I don’t know what’s wrong. I feel awful. I’m aching everywhere. Even my feet are killing me.”
Her father reached past her and turned on the cold tap. “Here, throw some water on your face.”
Don’t do it Lor-lie! For heaven’s sake, don’t do it!
A deep frown cut across her brow. “Why?”
“Because it’ll help,” her father offered.
Lori looked up to him. “I wasn’t talking to you. I was speaking to Caspian.”
Lori shrugged apologetically. “I’m sorry Dad, but the voice is back. He said his name is Caspian and that I shouldn’t get wet.”
“He?” her father said fearfully. “The voice in your head is a man?”
“I–I don’t know,” Lori answered, feeling she was about to be sick again. “I think so.” She concentrated on the voice. “Caspian, why can’t I get wet?”
If you do you will change. And there on the aeroplane, the change will kill you.
Lori looked desperately up to her father and shut off the tap. “He says if I get wet, I’ll die.”
Her father’s concern turned to anger. Shaking his head, he looked at her reflection in the mirror. “What is going on here, Lori? Who is this Caspian? Why can you hear him when no one else can?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know anything any more. There’s this weird voice in my head that says I’m going to die. Uncle Jeremy won’t tell us anything but sends us plane tickets. I’m so sorry I called him.” Tears rushed to her eyes. “We shouldn’t be here, Dad. You should be at home in bed and I should be in an asylum with all the other crazy people.”
He pulled her into a tight embrace. “Oh baby, it’s not your fault and you don’t belong in an asylum. I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have raised my voice. I’m just frustrated by what’s going on.”
“Me too,” Lori agreed. “I keep getting the feeling that something really awful is about to happen. But I don’t know what, and no one will tell me –”
“Brian, what’s wrong?”
Lori’s aunt Anne was standing at the door.
“Our girl’s got a bit of a bug,” her father explained. “She’s not feeling well.”
“Let me take a look,” Anne said. “You go back to the boys and let them know everything is all right.”
Backing out of the toilet, Lori’s father said, “Just in case, don’t turn on the water again. Not until we get to the bottom of this.”
“I won’t,” Lori promised. When she was alone with her aunt, she sat down on the edge of the toilet.
“What’s all this about water?” aunt Anne asked as she put her hand on Lori’s forehead.
“Nothing – ”
In that instant, Lori ached to tell her aunt everything. But her father had warned her not to. Anne was a surgeon. She only believed in things that could be seen, touched or analysed. If they told her about the strange voice, Anne would insist it was puberty playing tricks on her and refuse to come. But her father wanted a doctor along just in case something really was happening.
“Well,” Anne said, as she finished her brief examination, “Your temperature is a bit high. I’d say you’ve got yourself a fever.”
“But I never get sick.”
“I know,” Anne agreed. “But it’s probably the excitement of the trip. Stay here for a moment. I’m going to see if I can scrounge up some Paracetamol from the flight attendant.”
Left alone sitting on the toilet, Lori felt fresh waves of cramps starting in her stomach and flowing down her legs. “What’s wrong with me?”
It’s the Trial, Caspian softly called. I’m sorry it hurts so much. If I could take the pain away, I would. But I can’t. All I can do is say I’m here for you.
Lori heard the caring in his deep, gentle voice, but it didn’t help. Caspian and his cryptic warnings of death terrified her. “Who are you?”
The one who loves you, Caspian responded. Lor-lie I know this is hard for you to believe and that you’re very frightened of me right now. But you don’t have to be. You and I are joined. We have been connected all our lives. And I know you’ve only just started to hear me, but I’ve always heard you. We’ve grown up together. I’ve heard you like my father hears your mother, or like my cousin Coral hears your cousin Miranda. One day my sons will hear your daughters.
“Daughters?” Lori repeated. “What are you talking about? I don’t have any daughters. I’m only thirteen. I’m just a kid.”
Caspian chuckled lightly; I don’t have any sons either. I’m just a kid too.
Lori shook her head. “I still don’t understand. What’s happening to me? Why can we hear each other?”
Because, Lor-lie, you are unique. I wish I could tell you more, but your mother says I should wait until after the Trial.
“Wait a minute,” Lori said. “That’s the second time you’ve mentioned my mother. What’s she got to do with this? She’s gone. She ran away from us years ago and hasn’t been back.”
Lori heard a sound that might have been a long, deep sigh. Lor-lie, you’ve been angry with your mother for so long, but you’ve been wrong. She didn’t abandon you and your family. Your mother is trapped in a terrible, dark place. She’s been living a life of misery in unbearable loneliness, praying for the time of your Trial when I could finally reach you and tell you what happened to her.
Lori’s head was starting to spin. Everything was happening too fast. She frowned. “No, you’re lying. She ran away. She told us she was going on a work conference. But there was no conference. When Dad called the police, they tracked down her flight to Africa. She left us alone and didn’t come back. So don’t tell me you can talk to her because I know you can’t!”
Lor-Lie, please believe me. What you thought happened to your mother was wrong. She is trapped and has been waiting for the day when you can finally free her.
“Free her from what? Where is she trapped?”
I know you are anxious, Caspian said gently, we all are. But this isn’t the time to tell you. Concentrate on yourself first. Just get to Herm and complete the Trial. Then we will tell you everything.
This was getting her nowhere. “Well, if you won’t tell me where she is, will you at least tell me what the Trial is?”
The Trial is when you will become your true self.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Lori winced as a fresh wave of cramps ran down her legs.
Please Lor-lie, forget everything else and try to relax. Tomorrow is going to be a very special day.
Lori crossed her arms over her chest. “You know, for a mysterious voice, you’re not very helpful!”
In response, she heard Caspian chuckling lightly.
The return of her aunt cut off further conversation. “Here you go, sweetheart.” She held out two tablets. “These should help with the pain and bring your temperature back down.”
Lori took the pills and followed her aunt back to her seat.
“You all right, Bug?” her brother, Eddie, quietly asked.
“She’s fine,” her aunt answered. “Just a small case of air-sickness.”
When she was seated, her father leaned closer to her. “Really, how are you?”
“Truth?” Lori asked. When he nodded, she said, “I feel rotten.”
“I’m so sorry. Hopefully you’ll feel better by the time we arrive.”
Lori nodded and settled back down to rest. Caspian said she would understand everything tomorrow. All she could do now was wait.
Several hours later, Lori woke. The pain in her stomach and legs was greatly diminished. Activity in the cabin was picking up and breakfast was being served.
She yawned, and gazed out the window. The sun was well up above the aeroplane, but beneath them dark thunderheads blocked their view of the sea.
“Looks like there’s a big storm beneath us,” she said to her father.
He leaned over and peered out the window. “The news did say London would be rainy all week.”
Lor-lie, you must be very careful! Caspian suddenly warned. Don’t let yourself get wet. It will kill you if you do!
Lori’s expression darkened and she felt herself shivering. It was starting again.
“What is it?” her father asked.
“It’s Caspian. He keeps saying I’ll die if I get wet.”
“What is it with him, you and water?” her father demanded. “What’s so dangerous about it?”
“He won’t tell me,” Lori said. “He said we’ll find out when we get to Herm. But that I shouldn’t get wet before then.”
“I don’t like this, Lori. What’s all the mystery about? Why can’t he just come out and say what’s going on?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know. He just says that we’ve got to talk to Jeremy.”
“Oh don’t you worry about that,” her father said darkly, “we’ll talk to your uncle all right. Then maybe we’ll find out what is going on.”
Above them, the seatbelt sign burst to life as the captain’s voice came over the speaker and announced that they were approaching Gatwick Airport.
“We’re starting our descent,” her father offered, as he reached out and took her hand. “It won’t be long now.”