It was during the summer between their fifth and sixth years that they discovered that they were not like the human villagers.
It was true that none of the villagers looked quite like Aurora and Ambrose; the twins’ own bright, cool-colored hair stood out against all the other humans’ shades of brown, blond, and red. None of the villagers had the same delicate, translucent webbing between their fingers and toes.
The townsfolk had taken them in nonetheless, seeming to consider their bright hair and finger- and toe-webs merely interesting at most, and although no one knew who or where their biological parents were, the men and women of the fishing village of Cairnwell happily looked after them and kept them fed.
Aurora chased Ambrose one sunny day through crowds of people on the busy dock, giggling as she watched her twin brother’s bright head of aquamarine hair bobbing in and out of sight between the legs of working adults. “Wait up, ‘Brose!”
The workers carrying cargo to and from ships shouted at her as she tried to catch up with her brother, but she ignored them. She caught another glimpse of his hair just as he ducked behind a wooden cargo crate. “Gotcha,” she whispered to herself. Aurora lunged forward and somersaulted over the crate, landing right on top of her brother with a yell of triumph.
“Ow! Come on, you were supposed to give me a head start,” Ambrose complained.
Aurora grinned at him and shook her colorful locks out of her eyes. She picked up a chunk of her own hair and combed her fingers through the blue-green and violet strands with a grin. “I did, but you weren’t fast enough! My turn!” She sprang to her feet and took off running without waiting for him to respond, hitching her tattered skirts up around her dirty knees.
She had just rounded a corner and come to a less crowded section of the dock when she heard him yell. There was a resounding splash, and then the sound of water lapping against the poles below her feet. With a gasp, Aurora skidded to a stop and spun around.
Ambrose was nowhere to be seen. Aurora had heard more than enough stories of children drowning near the wharf to be afraid. She rushed back to where the ripples in the water indicated something had recently fallen in. The dock was wet and slippery; she spotted a tell-tale skid mark on the wooden planks. “Ambrose!” she yelled.
Of course, there was no answer. Aurora looked frantically to and fro. The busy adults seemed not to notice her; but she didn’t know most of the dock workers, and they had better things to do than pay attention to a screaming child. Especially an urchin child.
In a panic, Aurora did the only thing she could think of. She took a deep breath, gathered her courage, and jumped in after her brother.
She had never been in the sea before. Bubbles rushed up around her, the roaring sound of moving water filled her ears. Her ragged blouse wrapped around her arms, and her skirts threatened to pull her down. She thrashed in the waves; the massive breath of air she’d only just taken escaped her lips. She inhaled desperately and gulped in a mouthful of seawater.
She didn’t choke. Something rushed past the skin on her neck – into her neck – and pumped out again smoothly. Aurora flailed harder in her terror, and put her hands to the skin just below her jaw.
It felt like odd little flaps of skin under her fingers. She gasped in again and again, and found that she was able to breathe. A glance upward confirmed that she was, indeed, still under the water. Its mirror surface glinted above her.
A flash of movement caught her eye. She whirled around and saw Ambrose’s hair floating around his pale face in the murky depths. He stared at her and spoke right into her mind without moving his mouth, a type of communication they had used frequently since before they could remember. You have a tail!
With wide eyes, she stared at where his legs should have been. They had been replaced by a dark green scaled fish’s tail, smooth from just below his navel downward. His pants were nowhere to be seen – not that he could have worn any with his body in such a shape. She gasped again, and another silvery bubble escaped her mouth. So do you!
They beat their fins experimentally in the water and began to swim in circles, in figure eights. Aurora burst above the surface in a jump as they got acquainted with their transformed bodies, whooping with joy.
When they tired of swimming, the twins slowly drew up to the dock and wrapped their hands around the barnacle-covered poles, giggling with combined exhilaration and exhaustion. “I thought drowning meant you died,” Aurora said breathlessly to her brother. “I didn’t know this was what drowning was!”
Ambrose grinned at her. “All those stories the grown-ups tell, like it’s something scary!”
A man started to walk past them, then paused and did a double take. “Oi! Are you two all right?” He leaned down and reached out his arms to them. “Grab on, I’ll get you out!”
They latched on. “Thank you, sir!”
The man heaved and tugged them upward; they were halfway onto the dock when he let out a yell. “What in seven hells is that?!” He wriggled free from their grasp.
Both children slid off the slippery wooden planks and back into the water, confused and afraid. “What! What is it!” Aurora looked around wildly.
Ambrose began to search the water for danger as well, but he stopped after a moment and slowly turned back to stare at the man. He reached for his sister’s hand. Aurora looked over at him, then followed his gaze and suddenly realized – it was them the man was afraid of.
“Get back, demons!” He turned around and began to yell to anyone who would listen. “Freaks! Cursed, the both of them!” The man backed up as villagers began to congregate.
The twins stared at the hostile mob with wide eyes. “We’re not,” Ambrose protested. “We’re not demons!”
Another man drew a dagger from his belt as he stepped forward. “Get away from this place, beasts!”
The crowd began to chime in with yells and jeers of their own. Finally, terrified and dismayed, Aurora and Ambrose retreated back under the waves.
You can find the complete novel on Amazon in both print format and for Kindle. 📚