Once I recover from the shock of the freezing water, I relax a bit, close my eyes, and make a little telepathic sigh as the individual cells in my tail draw in the saltwater like a sponge. I feel so free! It's like being back home in Pacifica, swimming with Carla beyond the reef.

Oh, Carla! I swallow the lump that forms in my throat. Neptune's Beard, I miss her so much. Now I have to live on land and sleep in a log cabin with Shelly Sharkweather, piles of pink fabric, and gallons of perfume. On the upside, the stench will probably ward off wild animal attacks.

I dive to the bottom of the bay and swim through a thick meadow of eelgrass. The soft long green ribbon-like leaves sweep against my body, awakening every nerve ending. For some weird reason, I think about Pierce.

Pierce! Holy crab! I'm down here acting like a fingerling who's never left the lagoon when I have to get to that yacht before Shelly mauls Pierce, or Pierce munches Shelly, or some combination of the two happens.

A horrible image of Pierce and Shelly making out in some gaudy gold-trimmed, mirrored yacht bedroom flashes through my mind and makes me queasy. The vision is so vivid, it includes: a zebra-skin rug (totally gross by the way), a scarlet bedspread and a lavender-scented bubbling Jacuzzi. If you remember, I'm only one-eighth fairy, but sometimes my visions come true. Okay, maybe a vision came true only one time, but that doesn't mean it can't happen again.

I tighten the straps on my backpack and blast into turboswim. I'm going so fast, that even with my enhanced mermaid eyesight, I barely notice the oily shimmer floating in the eelgrass. But as the shimmer intensifies, I feel a prickling sensation on my skin, sort of like a mild jellyfish sting. I decelerate enough to notice that there is no marine life nearby. The eelgrass is thinning and brown, the kelp is slimy and decomposing.

I like to think I'm the kind of mermaid who can appreciate all types of ocean decor, I mean, not every square inch can be a coral reef, but this place is totally unpleasant. It is unlike anything I've ever seen.

I turn around, and I'm about to shove off when a telepathic shriek explodes in my brain.

"Aaargh," I reply. Neptune's Beard the screech is loud. It sounds like someone's in trouble. Will I ever get to the party? I look around for anyone else who might help, but nope. It's up to me. Great!

"Where are you?" I telepathically holler.

I get no answer other than more of the high-pitched, brain-scrambling noise. I clench my teeth and continue looking for the source. The screaming gets shriller, the oil gets oozier, and the burning sensation on my skin becomes almost unbearable.

The scream intensifies. I see an enormous limestone rock jutting from the floor of the bay.

"Can you please stop screeching, and tell me where you are?"

The noise coalesces into words: "Stay away from the cave. Save yourself!"

"What cave?"

"Go away before it's too late."

"I could get out of here a lot faster if you'd shut up and tell me where you are." I know I'm not sounding all heroic and patient, but at a time like this, you really need the victim to at least try to help with the rescue, plus my skin feels like I'm being boiled in a hydrothermal vent.

I flit around the limestone wall and see an eerie light emanating from a fissure in the rock. I peer inside and gasp.

The water inside the cave is a pulsing kaleidoscope of indigo, yellow, pink, chartreuse, orange and teal. It is beautiful, but scary at the same time—like a jellyfish or a sea anemone or a stingray.

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