LOST AND FOUND
It was early morning in Atlantica, and Ariel had just finished supper with her family, when Flounder rushed up to the girl. "Ariel!", he called; then, seeing the King was still close-by, the little fish whispered in her ear,"I saw Humans! In a little boat!"
Ariel's eyes lit up. "Where Flounder?!"
"Not far from Scuttle's nest", answered her friend. "I've never seen a little boat this far out before! You think they're lost?"
Ariel's expression turned from excitement to worry. "I hope not! It won't be long before dark! Can you take me to them?"
Flounder hesitated. "Well,...yeah. I guess so. I just don't want you gettin' into trouble with your father."
Ariel glanced by at Triton, who was still finishing up his seaweed tea. "If I get in trouble; it'll still be worth it: Those Humans might need help."
The girl swam out of the dining room, and Flounder followed, reluctantly, behind her.
As they surfaced near the boat, the sun was just starting to turn red, as it lowered on the horizon. Ariel looked in wonder at the little white boat; it was just big enough for one sail right in the middle. Then she saw the Humans! There were three of them: a man and a woman and a little girl. The girl looked to be only four or five. Ariel could see that the man was worried about something; the way he turned this way and that, as if unsure of what to do. The woman held her little girl tightly in her arms.
"Don't get too close!", urged Flounder, "They're gonna see you!"
"They're,...they're lost", whispered Ariel, almost to herself. "The man doesn't know which way to go. And the,...woman is holding the little girl,..."
"What can we do?", asked Flounder, anxiously.
"Which,..which way is land? It's that way; isn't it?" The girl pointed toward's Eric's kingdom.
"Uhh,..I think so", agreed Flounder.
The girl looked down at the little fish. "You stay here, Flounder." She dived under the water, then surfaced right next to the little boat!
As the family stared, open-mouthed, at the girl, Ariel pointed towards land. "Go that way! Your home is that way!" Without another word, the girl vanished under the waves.
Flounder was shaking with fright, as she returned. "How could you do that?! They saw you!"
Ariel smiled, slyly. "Aww,..Humans don't believe Merfolk are real! What harm will it do?" The girl peeked towards the boat. "Let's see if it did any good!" Ariel could see the man and woman talking urgently. Finally, the man turned the boat towards the direction Ariel had pointed, and the little boat sailed off.
Ariel grinned. "See! It did help! Now; let's get home before Daddy finds out I'm missing!"
The young mermaid was heading for her bedroom, when Arista came swimming up to her. "Father wants to see you, right away! And boy; does he look hot!"
Ariel tried to control the queasiness in her stomach, as she turned to her sister. "You don't know what,...it's about, do you?"
Arista smirked. "Knowing you; it could be anything."
Ariel rushed to the throne room. Her father was talking with Turbot; his captain. When the King saw her, he motioned, sternly, for her to approach.
"Repeat to the Princess what you just told me", he commanded the merman.
Turbot cleared his throat, "I saw Princess Ariel and Flounder swim up to the surface and approach a Human vessel."
Triton's angry eyes turned on the girl. "Ariel; Is this true?!"
"They,...they were lost, Daddy! I,...I had to help them!", stammered the girl.
Triton's face turned red, as he dismissed the captain and glared down at his daughter. "Where have I failed in teaching you about Humans?! How many times must I warn you to stay away from them!"
"But they needed help!" insisted the girl. "They had a little girl with them,... Her,...mother was holding her."
"The Human's foohardiness is no concern of ours!", thundered the King. "This constant disobediance must be stopped. As punishment, you will not be allowed to attend Pearl's party, next week. Perhaps that will encourage you to take my rules seriously!"
Ariel shuddered with pain and rushed out of the room, in tears. The King put his face in his hands and sighed.
Ariel lay on her bed and wept. How could Daddy be so cold? To let those Humans,...die out there! A mother and father with their little girl! Ariel could still see the woman holding her child. Her hand was on the little girl's hair; stroking it gently. Her mother was speaking to her; soothing her fears,... The child had looked up at her, and the fear had left that little face. Ariel had felt the emotion between them; had wanted to reach out and share that emotion,...
The girl stayed on her bed, until darkness fell over the ocean. When Ariel finally fell to sleep, that night, her dreams were laced with something she couldn't quite remember.
The next morning, Ariel didn't go to breakfast with her sisters. Instead; she wandered over to Flounder's home, which was closeby to the palace. The little fish was still eating breakfast with his family. Ariel waited, shyly, outside as they finished-up. She could hear Mrs. Guppy talking to her children: "Molly; finish your milk. That's a good girl! Wipe that seaweed cream off your mouth, Halibut. That's right,..."
Ariel smiled, as the mother guppy talked to her big family. She was so quiet and gentle and understanding! Why couldn't Daddy act like that?, thought the girl. The more she listened, the sadder she became. She felt her belly churning again,...like it had done the other night. Why did it do that? Ariel didn't understand what she was feeling. The girl swam off before Flounder had even finished; she suddenly wanted to be alone.
When Ariel returned to the palace, Arista was there with a big smile on her face. "Father wants to see you! And he's not happy,..."
"What else is new", snapped Ariel, as she turned her back on her sister.
Arista looked at the girl, with surprise. Ariel sounded,... so cold.
The mermaid swam into her father's study room, and he looked up at her with his bushy eyebrows. "Why weren't you at breakfast", he asked.
"I wasn't hungry", said Ariel, with a lifeless voice.
Triton could hear the change. "Are you sick, Dear?"
Ariel sighed. "No,...I'm not sick".
"Then you need to eat. I'll have Otto fix you some breakfast."
"I'm not hungry, Father", answered the girl.
Triton leaned back in his chair. "Oh. I see. You're pouting about yesterday. Do you know why I punished you?"
Ariel didn't answer.
"Do you know why I punished you?", repeated the King.
"Because I helped some Humans", answered the girl.
"No. I punished you because you disobeyed a very important rule."
The girl's eyes didn't look at him.
"If I made a rule", continued Triton, "that you must not stick your hand in a shark's mouth, would you think it was foolish?"
Ariel hesitated,...then nodded weakly.
"You'd think it was foolish because you already knew better. Well; I know that Humans are much more dangerous than sharks,...and if you knew as much as me, you wouldn't need my rules to stay away from them."
"Can I go now, Father?", sighed the girl.
Triton nodded, "But think about what I've said."
The girl fled her father's room.
Flounder caught up to her, as she was wandering aimlessly outside the palace. She was holding her belly. "Ariel! I've been looking all over for you! Why didn't you wait for me?"
"I,...I don't know", answered the girl.
"My mom wants you to come over for supper tonight! Think you can come?"
Ariel looked at the little fish, with a strange expression. "I,...I want to be alone, Flounder. Please."
"Are you okay?", asked the fish, as he touched her shoulder.
"Something,...is bothering me. I've got to find out what it is,..."
Flounder looked at her; puzzled. Uhh,...okay. So I guess I'll tell my mother that you're not coming, huh?"
"Your mother,...Tell her I'm not coming,..." The girl wandered away.
Flounder swam back to the palace to find the King. Something was wrong with Ariel!
As Triton was studying some papers, his daughter's face kept returning to his mind. Something was wrong! He laid the papers down on his clam-shell desk, and stroked his beard. There was something more to this,... The King was about to have Flounder summoned to him, when the little fish came darting into the room, in a cloud of bubbles.
He blushed immediately, and hung his head, "Sorry, Your Majesty, for disturbing you, Sir!", he blurted, "But it's about Ariel."
"What about Ariel?", asked Triton sharply; full of concern.
"Well,...she's been acting,...strange all morning. I'm worried about her."
Triton nodded. "That makes two of us. This all started after her little "adventure" with those Humans."
Flounder blushed even harder.
"I want you to tell me everything that happened, Flounder. All that you can remember."
"Yes, Your Majesty."
Ariel wandered, absent-mindedly, through the swimways of Atlantica; watching the Merfolk going about their business, with vacant eyes. There was a merwoman kissing her child goodbye, as he swam off to school. Ariel watched the little merboy swim off hurriedly; trailing his lunch-sack behind him. The merwoman watched him go, with a gentle light in her eyes. She loved him; Ariel could tell.
The girl's mind went back to Flounder. What had he said? His mother had wanted her to come to supper that night. Ariel remembered when she first met her dearest friend. He thought she was a big fish out to eat him! The first word she heard him say was "Mommie!!", as he bolted for a hiding-place. He must depend a lot on his mother. But he was still very young. Guppy #35! Ariel smiled, as she remembered her friend. Then she looked up, and saw that the merwoman had gone back inside. Ariel felt her belly knot-up. Why was it doing that?!
After Flounder had told everything he remembered of their encounter with the boat, he saw Triton's face grow pale. "What is it, Your Majesty?", he asked fearfully. "What's wrong with Ariel?"
The merman lowered his eyes. "Something that I've always feared might happen." The King shook his head,...then rose up. "We must find my little girl. She,...needs me now more than she ever has."
Ariel never noticed it when she swam past the last house in Atlantica. The girl just wandered among the corals and seaweed; as if she didn't even see them. She felt,...lonely. She felt empty inside. Something was,...gone.
The girl came upon a colony of oysters; they were all chatting noisely with each other, but stopped when they saw the girl. With frightened snaps, they all shut their shells tight; blowing a wave of bubbles over the girl. The little bubbles looked like pearls; like the oysters were blowing their pearls at her.
"Don't be frightened!", urged the girl, but the oysters stayed closed-up tight. "Don't be afraid", whispered the girl, as she wandered past them.
Pearls,...Pearl. "We were so worried about you, Pearl!" It was a woman's voice in Ariel's thoughts. Then she remembered: Pearl's mother had said that. When they had gone off to Eel-ectric City. And Pearl had said "You were?" She'd never known. Her mother had really loved her all that time. Ariel felt her belly cramp with pressure. This time it didn't stop. Tears welled-up in her eyes and spilled down her cheeks. The girl shook with weeping that ran through her whole body. She knelt down, alone and helpless, and cried.
Triton went through his city; asking everyone if they had seen his youngest daughter. That was how he learned that she had wandered away. The King stopped on the outskirts of Atlantica, then looked down at Flounder. "I'm sorry, Flounder. But you can't come, this time. We need to be,...alone."
Flounder gulped, and nodded. He didn't know what was wrong, but he could hear the seriousness in the King's voice.
Triton wandered, as Ariel had wandered. His heart held a pain that he knew he wouldn't be able to contain, when he saw his daughter again.
He found Ariel. She was sitting in front of a wall of coral; alone. She was looking at the sand. Triton's heart ached. She looked so small. "Ariel,...Dear?", he whispered.
The girl looked up at him; with an expression that almost broke his heart. "I,... I don't have a mother!" Her lip quivered and tears ran down her cheeks. "Daddy,..I don't have a mother!"
Triton took her in his arms and held her. "I know", he whispered.
The girl sobbed, helplessly; then she felt her father shudder. She looked up and saw that he was,...crying!
"I'm,...sorry,.." he sobbed. "I've tried the best I could,...but I know I can never replace your mother."
Ariel heard the pain in his voice,...and with it, came understanding. He had known! He had known what she was going through! He had tried so hard to be a good father to her; and make up for the mother who had been taken away from her. Overwelming love and understanding flooded into her heart. She hugged her father with all her might.
"I love you! I love you Daddy!"