After a traumatic car accident, Luke Rendel returns home from college, trying to escape survivor’s guilt and piece his life together. But when he takes a job as the night guard at the town aquarium, he meets an enigmatic, mermaid-like creature named Urhoa trapped in a tank who claims that his grandfather owed her a debt–and it’s time for Luke to pay. As Luke searches for the pearl, mirror, and comb that will free her, he discovers that their worlds are more intertwined than he could have imagined. He must use what he learns to face monsters of the ocean and his inner demons, and keep his wits about him, for not everything is what it seems.
Targeted Age Group:: Ages 14+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
When I went on a class field trip to a sleepover at the Tampa Aquarium in the 12th grade, I didn’t expect to find inspiration for a novel. But waking up to a scene of pink coral and butterfly fish, I wondered, how can they possibly account for all the fish that are in this tank?…What if there was a creature in the tank that they didn’t know about? I had a vision of a mermaid peeking out from behind the rocks. Nine years later, Watermark is the result.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The characters arrived naturally. Although Luke is the narrator and protagonist, the central conflict, for me, were the characters of Urhoa and Ihle. Urhoa is pensive, and a bit on the conservative side. She wants to abide by the laws, but does reprehensible things in self-interest. Ihle, on the other hand, was always caught between two worlds, and never felt like she belonged to either, so wanted to make a world for herself and the others like her, laws be damned.
I kept on looking at the mark on my arm. I had cherished it as my special bond to Grandpa after he disappeared. Guess he’d fooled me. I inhaled deeply. I didn’t understand how he lied so easily to my face. I searched my memories, trying to remember if there was ever a subtle double meaning to his words, if his tone had been off, a facial expression that seemed strained. I couldn’t think of anything. He had been the perfect grandfather. It was part of the illusion he built me. I exhaled.
I had to ask myself the question: what if his disappearance wasn’t accidental? What if he’d “disappeared” so he would be free of the burden he’d brought upon himself? It was terrible to think that. He wanted nothing but the best for me…And I was back to where I started, my mind wandering in widening circles of confusion and despair.
Why me? Why now? No matter what it took to get the answers, I had to know.
When I reached the aquarium, I marched straight to the coral reef tank. I banged on the glass.
“Don’t you know you’re not supposed to tap the glass?” Her hair rose over the rocks first, then her face, and the rest of her body followed in one smooth flick. It’s traumatizing for the poor little fish.
“You know what’s traumatizing? Almost getting eaten by a killer whale,” I said into the conch.
“You received my sign,” she said with delight.
“It wasn’t subtle.”
“Now is not a time for subtlety.”
“I get it,” I said. “You have great magical powers. Do you expect me to cower in fear?”
“I expect that you are a reasonable man.”
I stepped forward so that my nose almost touched the glass. She floated above me like an anvil waiting to drop, hair streaming out behind her, large eyes watching my every move. I had to pretend I wasn’t scared. “That wasn’t a sign. That was a threat.”
“I don’t believe in threats. Why threaten if you can do it? I believe in either signs, or consequences.”
“My friend was out there with me. Whatever you do, it has to stay between you and me,” I said.
A giggle leaked from the conch.
“My friend was out there!” I shouted. “She could have been seriously injured.”
She glided back and forth along the length of the tank, dragging her battered tail, as though she were pacing. “Consider the coral, Luke.”
“What do you mean?”
“The living forest, the coral. Made of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of small creatures bundled together in displays of artistry that are as beautiful as they are strong. But when one of them dies, it affects all the coral around it. We do not live in isolation. We are like the coral, my dear seal-pup. You and I are bound together now, and all the other people in our lives move with us. So this is not, as you say, between you and me. This is between your world and my world.”
“Other people have nothing to do with this.”
“We are two players in a game, and each of us has game pieces at our disposal. I have three orcas, and you have your family. Everyone in your village is a game piece. Do you understand how this works?”
I groaned. I had to sit down in a rocking chair. The spider legs had clamped down on my brain and were not going to let go. My head felt like it was full of water; barracuda, sharks, and poisonous jellies swam around and hissed at me. I closed my eyes and imagined the consequences. If word of deadly attacks got out, the tourists would leave and we’d be a ghost town. I could hear a whum, whum in my head. I had wanted to march in here, demand answers, and be done with this nonsense. But it seemed that I wouldn’t be getting my way, at least not today. “You’re holding people’s lives, and this town’s future, hostage to get me to pledge service to you. This is despicable.”
“I can think of worse. Would you like me to exercise my imagination?”
The orca’s teeth had been so many and so sharp. “No, no…I’ll do it, as long as you can promise that no one else will get hurt.”
She seemed to consider this. “I can only promise that no harm will come to others through my hand.”
Not a satisfying answer. “What do I have to do?” I said.
“Repeat after me: Fakahr div chae.”
“What does that mean?” I said.
“I am accountable only to you.”
“Fine. Fakahr div chae,” I repeated.
“I will become the hunter.
When the moon is full, I will seek each treasure in turn:
And the mirror–
I will present these treasures to my tilbehar, Urhoa of the Wataga clan
To be used for whatever purpose she deems fit.
Should I complete my task, may the ocean see that I am released from my bond.
Should I fail, may the ocean take my bones to the Murk.”
I finished repeating after her, and said, “Fakahr div chase.”
“Grasp the conch with your fingers pointing inward, as if gripping the edge of a cup. Raise your arm above your head. I did as she said. Now invert the conch.”
I turned it upside down, and yelped as water came out of the conch and splashed my hair and clothes. The shell cracked and shattered into pieces that scattered on the carpet. Water dripped into my eyes but I kept staring at her. She stared back. The silence spanned several seconds. Then a sharp pain worse than any I’d felt before jolted through my left arm, making me double over.
“What the hell?” I yelled. My hand spasmed and my fingers twitched uncontrollably.
“Your Mark has responded to the telbehar.” She smiled. “Congratulations. You are now in my service, telbehen. May our days be long and merry.”
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