Authors: Helen Dunmore
Tags: #Ages 10 and up
FOR ISSY CHEUNG
NGO AT NIGHT. IT’S NOT completely dark, though. The moon is riding high, and there’s enough light to turn the water a rich, mysterious blue.
I am deep in Ingo, swimming through the moonlit water.
Faro’s here somewhere, I’m sure he is. I can’t see him, but I’m not scared. There’s just enough light to see by. There’s a glimmer of rock and a green and silver school of mackerel—
Imagine being lost underwater in total blackness. I’d panic. But it’s dangerous to panic in Ingo. You mustn’t think of the Air. You must forget that human beings can’t live underwater, and then you’l find that you can.
Faro was here a moment ago, I’m sure of it. He’s keeping himself hidden, but I don’t know why. Even if it was totally dark, I expect he’d still be able to see me through the water. Faro is Mer, and he belongs here. Ingo is his home.
And I’m human, and I don’t belong.
But it isn’t as simple as that. There’s something else in me, the Mer blood that came to me and my brother, Conor, from our ancestors. It’s my Mer blood that draws me to Ingo, beneath the surface of the water. I’d probably drown without my Mer blood, but it’s best not to think of that—
“Faro?” Nobody answers. All the same, I know he is close. But I won’t call again. I’m not going to give Faro the satisfaction of thinking that I’m scared or that I need him. I can survive in Ingo without him. I don’t need to hold on to him anymore, the way I did last year when I first came to Ingo.
The water is rich with oxygen. It knows how to keep me alive.
I swim on. This light is very strange. Just for a moment that underwater reef didn’t look as if it was made from rock.
It looked like the ruins of a great building, carved from stone thousands of years ago. I blink. No, it’s a reef, that’s all .
Why am I here in Ingo tonight? I can’t remember clearly.
Maybe I woke up in the dead of night and heard a voice calling from the sea. Did I climb down the path, down the rocks to our cove, and then slip into the water secretly?
Don’t be so stupid, Sapphire. You don’t live in the
cottage anymore, remember? You’ve left Senara. You’re
living in St. Pirans, with Mum and Conor and Sadie. And
Roger is never far away. How could you have forgotten all
So how did I get here? I must have come down to Polquidden Beach and dived into Ingo from there. Yes, that was it. I remember now. I was in bed, drifting off to sleep, and then I felt Ingo calling me. That call , which is so powerful that every cell of my body has to answer it. Ingo was waiting for me. I would be able to dive down and down and down, beneath the skin of the water, into Ingo. I would swim with the currents through the underwater world that is so strange and mysterious and yet also feels like home.
Yes, I remember putting on my jeans and hooded top and creeping downstairs in the moonlight from the landing window. Stealthily unlocking the front door and then running down to Polquidden Beach, where the water shone in the moonlight and the voice of Ingo was so strong that I couldn’t hear anything else.
And now I’m in Ingo again. Ever since we moved to St. Pirans, I’ve been trying to get back here, but it’s never worked before tonight. There’s too much noise in St. Pirans, too many people, shops, cafés and car parks. But at night maybe it’s different. Maybe the dark is like a key that turns the lock and opens Ingo.
“Greetings, little sister.”
I turn in a swirl of water, and there he is.
“Faro! Where’ve you been? Why haven’t I seen you for so long?”
His hand grasps mine. Even in the moonlight his teasing smile is the same as ever.
“We’re here now, aren’t we? Nothing else matters.
Sapphire, I’ve got so much to show you.” He lets go of my hand and backflips into a somersault, and then another and another until the water’s churning so fast I can’t see him at all . At last he stops in a seethe of bubbles and grabs my hand again.
“Come on, Sapphire. Time to go. Night is the best time of all .”
“Why is it the best time of all , Faro?”
“Because at night you see things you can’t see by day.”
We join hands. There’s a current racing ahead, the color of the darkest blue velvet. We plunge forward. The current is so strong that it crushes me. I’m jolting, juddering, struggling in its grip, but I can’t break away. It’s got me, like a cat with a bird in its claws. It’s much too powerful for me, and it knows its own strength.
This is like the moment when you get onto the most terrifying ride of all at a theme park and you’re strapped in, helpless to escape. The ride begins to move and you see a mocking smile on the face of the attendants and you realize that they don’t care at all . But Ingo is no theme park, where people lose their jobs if they kill the customers. Anything can happen here. If I die now, no one will ever know. They’ll only say that I drowned, like they said Dad drowned.
Don’t panic, Sapphire. Let the current take you where it
wants. Wherever you go, you’ll be safe.
Reassuring thoughts echo in my head, and I’m not sure for a moment if they are my thoughts or Faro’s. Are we sharing our thoughts again, the way we did last summer?
Relax, let the current
take you. Don’t resist it, or you’ll get hurt.
Jolts of force shake me.
I’m afraid, I’m afraid, I can’t breathe—
Don’t ever think of breathing or not breathing. Air is
another country, and it means nothing here. Think of now.
Think of Ingo. Here. Now.
The words beat in my head like a pulse.
Here. Now. Let
go of everything and see what comes to you.
I’ve done it before, but it’s never been as hard as this. Ingo at night is so dark, so vast. Not a safe playground but a wild kingdom.
You could so easily lose yourself here. A tingle of pure fear runs through my body.
No, no, Sapphire, that’s not the way.
Panic is making you deaf and blind.
I stop fighting. It feels like coming out of a cage. I am free and safe in the heart of the current. There’s Faro, a little way ahead of me. His tail gleams blue in the moonlight. I can’t see his face, or his hands, or any of him that seems human.
Only the strong tail, like a seal’s tail, driving Faro through the water. We are traveling faster than I’ve ever dreamed of swimming, flying through Ingo in darkness.
By the time the current swerves away from us, throwing us off into calmer water, we must be miles and miles from land.
I’m exhausted. It seems that even Faro’s tired, because he pulls my hand, and we swim down and down to the seabed.
Here the sand is deeply ridged, and we sink into one of its sheltered hollows to rest. It is almost totally dark down here.
“Where are we, Faro?” My voice echoes strangely.
“Close to the Lost Islands.”
“Why are they lost?”
lost. Some of them still rise above the surface. There are still humans living there. But the largest islands came to us hundreds of years ago, in a single night.”
“Came to you? What do you mean? Was there a battle?”
“Yes, there was a battle, but not with guns or swords. The water rose, and the islands felt to Ingo.”
“But Faro, what happened to the people who were living there?”
“Some were lost,” says Faro with cool indifference.
“Some took to their boats and made for the nearest islands that were still above water.”
“Why did the sea rise?”
“It was time for it to rise, I suppose,” says Faro. I can’t see his face clearly in the gloom, but his voice is maddeningly calm.
“Faro, please don’t talk like that. As if everything is… well …
We should be able to make things better.
Change the future. Those islanders could have built a seawall , couldn’t they, to keep the sea out? That’s what people do in Holland. They build dikes and ditches.
don’t drown. They’re brilliant engineers.”
“So I’ve heard,” says Faro thoughtful y. “They’re very obstinate, those people in Holland.”
“The point is, Faro, that countries don’t
Holland proves it. It’s the other way round there. They
land from the sea. Did you know that?”
“For now they take land from Ingo,” Faro reflects, “but that doesn’t make it theirs. What works today may not work tomorrow. Weren’t you saying just now that we should be able to make things better and change the future? I agree. It would make things better for the Mer if Holland were to grow…smaller.”
“But why, Faro? Why? Isn’t Ingo strong enough already?
The oceans are greater than the land. Don’t you know that?” Dad taught me that. He took me way out in his boat, the
, until I could clearly see how small the land looked, and how insignificant, compared with the hugeness of the sea.
“Why do you want more and more and
“You humans are the ones who want more,” says Faro fiercely. “You want the whole world to bow to human desires.”
Faro’s argument is making me uneasy. “Can we—could we go to the Lost Islands?” I ask quickly.
“Everyone’s going to the Lost Islands tonight.”