Congratulations to the winners of the little BIG Book Competition!
The BIG category winner is Nicky Anderson, 15 years old from Perth, England and her story 'Storm Song.'
No little category winner for this round.
My favourite colour is Ocean Blue, which is lucky, since I’ve been surrounded by lapping waves my entire life.
My favourite smell is baking bread, which I make every Sunday, rain or shine, without fail. The smell reminds me of my mother, and the hours she would spend in the kitchen; brewing, boiling, and baking her worries away.
My favourite memory is of three years ago, the night of July the fifth, when I was eighteen. On that day my life changed forever, and I found a love so strong, it set me free.
I was born on an island to a woman who was afraid of the outside world. My mother, for reasons she never told me, was terrified of the lands and people beyond our island, so had chosen to raise her daughter far away from them, where she would be “safe.”
Sometimes she would mention my father, but moments like that were rare, and always laced with fear. She would never tell me anything about the lands beyond our island, no matter how often I begged.
I was curious, at first. I wanted to explore the world for myself, instead of visualising it in daydreams. But as the years passed, I started to believe what my mother told me - that she had hidden us from the world because there was nothing for us out there but hate, danger, and pain.
My mother died soon after my eighteenth birthday, leaving me only her fear of the unknown. And so, I was alone . . . sort of.
Every week, a tradesman by the name of Mo would travel to my Island on a rowboat with a box of food, water, clothes and other useful items. In return for these things, my mother, and now me, would make nets out of twine and mend the old ones Mo would bring to be fixed.
My mother and Mo had come to an agreement, that they would never speak to each other, no matter what, and I kept this promise now my mother was gone. So, in a way, I was alone.
Until the girl came.
It started like any other day.
It was evening, and I was sitting in my mother’s old rocking chair, its old wood creaking as I rocked back and forth, mending old fishing nets and making new ones to sell.
My fingers, long and nimble, were perfect for stitching and weaving, and the nets I made were strong. I tested each net myself, normally catching a few fish for supper as I did.
As I sat on the rocking chair by the window, I glimpsed the weather outside. Storm clouds filled the sky, and thunder shook the walls of my old wooden house. The waves, once so calm and peaceful, were now punching and beating the rocks around my island with all their might. This was unusual for this time of year. Storms normally came in winter, not summer, as it was now.
Looking back down at the net, I felt a sudden urge to head out into the storm; to feel the rain against my face, to watch the sea rise and fall around me. The wind was blowing so hard it would knock me off my feet, I knew this, but I didn’t care. I loved watching storms, I loved seeing the waves turn wild and unforgiving. It made me feel free.
I shivered with excitement at the thought of braving the storm, and put the fishing net down. The nets could wait. I had a whole week to make them, and I knew, deep inside, that if I didn’t go out, I would miss out on something extraordinary.
I stood and draped an old brown trench coat over my wide shoulders, and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror that hung by the door.
My skin is dark ebony, and my hair an unruly tangle, yet as soft as feathers. My arms are strong from years of fishing by the shore with nets I keep for myself, from rebuilding the parts of the house that break with age, and from the life that I have made.
“A lonely life,” my inner voice whispered, sad and melancholy, yet endurant. “But a life, nonetheless. What other choice do I have?” I wrapped my coat around myself and, taking a deep breath, walked out into the storm.
When I reached the shore, the storm was stronger, with a gale that screamed its fury under dark clouds. The few gulls still flying were tossed like paper in the storm, flashes of white in the grey, tumbling as they struggled against the force of the tempest.
I started to sing. I don’t know why I sang then, but it felt like the right thing to do. The sound of my voice relaxed me, and made me feel less alone. For a moment, I thought I felt the storm calm.
But soon my hair was drenched, and my fingers numb. I turned to go inside, to get warm, ignoring the embarrassment I felt at singing to a storm. Then I hear a sound - a cry of pain. One long note piercing the darkness.
It came from the other side of the island, behind one of the lonely trees. At first, I thought I must have misheard it, but then I heard the voice again; wailing, sobbing, crying out in pain.
Slowly, I walked across the island, leant my head around the trees blocking my view, and gasped at what I saw.
Wearing a top made of shells and woven nets, with golden bracelets around her wrists, and eyes the colour of honey, I saw a girl. A more beautiful girl I have never, and will never, see again. Her skin was the golden brown of a sunset, and her ringlets twice as long as my own afro, and as black as night. But none of this was as shocking as her tail.
From the waist down, she had a purple and blue fish tail, long and glimmering even in the darkness of the storm around us. A deep gash dripped blood down the side of her tail, and scratches marked her body.
I’d read stories of mermaids and mermen, but hadn’t believed them. Who would? But here was a mermaid, with eyes the colour of honey, and lips as pink as the broken shells around us.
Slowly, I walked forward, keeping my hands out in front of me to show her I meant no harm. She heard me approach and looked up; eyes wet with tears, curious but fearful.
No creature this beautiful deserved pain, so I smiled and knelt down beside her, keeping my voice soft, but loud enough that she would hear me over the gale.
“Hello,” I said. “You’re hurt, will you let me help you?”
She didn’t reply. “Can you speak?” I asked, kneeling down beside her. She looked at me, confused, her tears shining in the light from the windows of my house.
I motioned to her tail, and the gash dripping blood, and then pointed back to my house, trying to make her understand that I could help her.
Her eyes let me know she understood, and with a nod she wrapped her arms around my neck as I lifted her.
I took her back to my house and laid her on the sofa, draped a blanket over her shoulders, and brought out the medical kit I kept in the kitchen.
I stitched and wrapped her gash, and once I’d finished, I dressed the rest of her cuts and gave her one of my jumpers to keep her warm.
I sat beside her and pointed at my chest. “Hazel. My name is Hazel.”
The girl nodded. Her voice was racked from disuse, and each sound took a lot of effort. “H… Hazel?”
“Yes!” I smiled. The girl smiled too, then pointed at her chest. “M... M... Maeve”
“Maeve,” I repeated, then we smiled together.
Maeve spent the next few weeks living with me as she healed, hidden from Mo’s sight inside the house. I cooked for her; Jollof rice, jerk chicken, fried plantains, and my other favourite meals, all of which she relished. I told her about the life I had made, and what little of my past there was to know, about my mother and my life growing up alone. Slowly, as time passed, Maeve learned my language, as it turned out Merpeople have their own. As she learned to understand and be understood, I learned more about her.
She didn’t have a family, and had been swimming alone out in the ocean when she was caught in the storm, cutting herself on the rocks around my island. If I hadn’t gone outside and sang to the storm, she would never have heard my song, and called out for help, and I would never have seen her.
“You. . . have beautiful. . . voice.” She told me one day. “Heard you . . . sing . . . beautiful. . .”
As she healed, I started taking her to the sea, and we swam together. It was wonderful to watch her laugh as her tail healed, and to have someone to talk to. In return for my kindness, she taught me how to swim stronger and faster, and she told me stories of the world beyond my island.
The day we had our first kiss, I realised I was in love.
One day, a year after we first met, Maeve asked me a question. “Why do you stay on this island?”
I took a deep breath, and told her the secret which I had even denied myself. “I could leave. I could build a raft and never look back,” I said, holding her close as we sat by the shore, watching the sunset turn the blue sky to gold. “But I was scared that my mother was right - that it is dangerous out there, and there is nothing and nobody for me. But now. . .”
I turned and look into her honey-coloured eyes. “Now I know that, if I could leave, I wouldn’t. All I need is here with you, Maeve.”
“It is dangerous,” Maeve said. “But everything has a small amount of danger. The world can be a wonderful place, as long as you know where to go.”
We sat in silence for a moment, until Maeve said. “What if there was somebody who could show you the world? Would you go?”
“. . . yes, but only if it was you,” I said, and we kissed.
A week later, Maeve said she had to go, but she wouldn’t tell me why. “I will come back to you, I promise,” she said.
I believed her, and, even though it almost broke me to do so, I let her go. I couldn’t make her stay. I loved her too much for that.
For weeks I felt nothing; no joy, no sadness, just loss. Nothing was interesting enough to keep my attention. And I spent every waking hour watching the shore for Maeve.
As I walked to the shore to spend another day watching for my lost love, I heard her voice - Maeve’s sweet voice as she called my name. I ran to the shore, heart pounding, and there she was, tail flapping in the water, one hand holding a rope attached to a small rowing boat.
“When you’re ready,” she said.
“I can’t, what if I don’t belong out there?” I cried.
“Sometimes we must lose ourselves to find ourselves,” she whispered, gripping my hand tightly in hers. “And it doesn’t matter what other people think. You deserve to belong.”
With tears in our eyes, we held each other close. “Thank you,” I said, pressing my forehead against her own. “Will you stay with me?”
“Always, and forever,” she replied.
“Then. . . I’m ready.”
And so, my story began.