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Can someone be saved by a mere voice?
Fishermen aren't the richest people in the world, are they? No, especially if they live in such a desolate place like Kogum. Kogum could only be described as small; tiny houses line the tiny streets, where tiny lampposts light the way for the tiny donkey-carts. The only large thing about Kogum is the sea, which stretches out for miles and miles from the harbour with ant-sized boats bobbing about on the horizon.
Donkey-carts are the only way to travel in Kogum; some people sell milk from the cart and others just trot up and down the roads. Either way, the donkeys aren't always the cleanest in the world, just like the streets and the houses. Scruffy as Kogum is, the people are rather happy living this way.
The family I am going to tell you about is a family that is just as poor as all the other families in Kogum, but whose small daughter is rather the most talented of all small girls who lived in Kogum. She was born at her own home to two loving parents. They lived in a cottage, where only a street separated them from the beach. Floral curtains hung gracefully in the windows, making the house a cute-looking home.
Her name was Kate, and she had sparkling eyes and the most silky brown hair anyone could ever have seen. She was pretty as a picture, not to mention clever, and was content to entertain herself when her dad, Sam, was out fishing and her mum, Margaret, was working at the Laundromat around the corner.
In fact, by the time she was three, she could make crumpets for herself in the morning, a yummy sandwich for lunch, and could fry herself an egg for supper. It wasn't that her mother didn't care for her, but that she couldn't. She had had to start working more to earn more money, and she was comfortable that Kate was clever enough to be at home on her own.
It was when Kate was merely a baby that a tragic thing occurred. She was lying in her floral cot, a lace pillow beneath her tiny head, when the doorbell rang. Her mother was heating milk on the stove, and she got up and opened the door. There stood the most formal-looking gentleman Kate had ever seen! He wore so many golden badges on his navy blue suit that it was bound to blind someone, and on his cap was embroidered a soaring eagle. He tipped his hat as he came in, and uttered a small, "Morning, ma'am."
Kate's mother stepped back with a curious frown; she had obviously not been expecting a guest! She hastily pulled out one of their rickety chairs and offered the officer a cup of coffee (obviously not the finest on sale).
"No thank you, ma'am," he shook his head, and opened a small wallet, flashing a piece of golden paper with another one of those eagles across the front. "Officer C. J. Gingham's the name."
"O-Of course," Kate's mother sat down in the opposite chair, pulling her knitted shawl tight around her shoulders as a breeze blew through the ajar door.
Kate was watching all this from her cot with much anticipation. If she was able to utter a word it would have been to ask why he had called so unexpectedly.
The officer sighed a long, solemn sigh then, almost in a whisper, said, "There's no easy way to tell you this, Margaret, and I didn't volunteer. Your husband's crew on board had to stop to gather food supplies at an island, and they only realized about 60 miles after leaving that he wasn't on board. They'd left him behind. Unfortunately, they couldn't turn back as a storm was brewing... he could still be on the island. The storm was bad, and after arriving they sent two life-savers out to the island, but they didn't see a sign of him. I'm sorry, ma'am."
Kate's mum was completely shocked, and didn't say as much as a thank you to the officer as he walked out the door, leaving her alone. Though Kate understood nothing in this conversation, she burst into a flood of tears anyway, and her mother had to comfort her with shaking hands.
Years later, Kate's mother was still managing to care for her only child on her own. Though Kate couldn't remember her father, her mum had written down many stories of all the times he had gone fishing and told her of his adventures, and Kate couldn't get enough of it.
Only once did she show her daughter the fishing boat, and that was when Kate was three years old, but she never did again. The boat had been brought back with the other fishermen but never used again... it was said to be haunted! It sat, chained in the harbour, bobbing above the surface day after day.
Now, at the age of nine, Kate was sitting alone under the old oak tree outside her house while her mother worked at the Laundromat. She was reading the pages and pages about her father's adventures for what must have been the thousandth time. She began to hum a tune, and again thought about the singing lessons that she had been wanting to attend for at least a year now. She didn't feel that she could ask her mother, as she was earning just enough money to buy food every day. It just didn't seem right that she could ask her to give up so much money for a mere triviality. She was even lucky enough to attend Kogum Junior School, which most children couldn't!
It was just then that she spotted her mother coming up the street, shopping bags loading her down. Kate rushed up to her before she had even reached the veranda!
"Gosh, mum," she gleamed. "What's in those packets?"
"A surprise, dear," Margaret chuckled, snatching a packet away from her daughter before she could get her hands in it.
Kate opened the kitchen door for her and she dumped the packet on the pine table. Turning her back on Kate, she turned on the radio, which was announcing the afternoon news. Kate hurriedly reached inside the packet and pulled out a small, velvet teddy bear with a red ribbon tied around its neck. She gasped with joy, and her mother instantly spun around and laughed, "I knew I couldn't keep that a secret for long. It's your Christmas present, darling. Merry Christmas!"
"But Christmas is in a week's time!" Kate gasped.
"Well, I found it on sale, and I thought of how much you'd like it," Margaret said.
Kate was ecstatic, but her mind turned again to her singing lessons. Her mother had spent even more precious money on a beautiful teddy bear for her; now it seemed even harder to ask her...
That night, she snuggled up with her velvet teddy bear, feeling its soft fur against her cheek. She'd never had a teddy bear of her own, she'd always had to borrow one from her friends. But this one was special, and she vowed that she'd keep it forever and ever!
The moon was especially bright that night as its reflections danced over the sea. Kate could hear the rush of the waves outside her bedroom window. It seemed to be tempting her, even as she slept, calling her to it. Still asleep, she pushed off her covers and, taking her teddy with her, slipped on a pair of slippers. She walked out into the dark kitchen, past the table and to the door. She turned the handle and stepped out onto the wooden veranda, feeling the cool breeze on her face. She stepped onto the street, crossing it towards the sea. The roads were empty, and the darkness was barely broken by the dim light of the street lamps. Kate felt the sand beneath her feet, then the touch of the cool water on her toes...
Suddenly, she turned to her right and walked the length of the beach. She could hear the sides of the boats colliding with the edges of the quays. She felt the moss of the quays on her feet. She seemed to be climbing into a boat and lying down, all the while still asleep.
It must have been the bright rays of early morning sunshine glistening around her that awoke Kate the next morning. She was almost blinded for a few seconds, but suddenly she realized that she didn't recognize her surroundings! She wasn't lying in her bed, covered by comfortable, warm blankets, but on a bare deck of a fishing boat, with only her velvet teddy bear for company.
Her mind spinning with confusion, she realized what must have happened the night before; she must have sleep-walked all the way to the beach and climbed on a boat in the harbour! And this wasn't just any old boat, but her father's! She slowly stood up from the wooden floor, hugging her teddy as if it would make all that dizziness in her head go away...
"Kate! Kate, where are you?"
A far-off voice was calling...
She looked toward where the sound was coming from and saw her mother standing in front of their house, the door wide open, her hands cupped at her mouth. She was calling worriedly.
She was just about to climb out of the boat and make her way back home when a person appeared out of nowhere and, covering her mouth so that she could not scream, dragged her through a trap door! He climbed through it after her, and shut it behind them!
The darkness in the cabin of the boat was overwhelming, and it took a while for Kate's eyes to become accustomed to it. When she did, she realized that she was seated in a dingy room, where a tiny bed was all that occupied the moss-strewn floor. She was sitting on the ground, her leg aching horribly from the drop from the ceiling's trap door to the floor! The figure whom had dropped in behind her switched on a dim light.
Kate was too frightened to utter a word, but as she looked at the man standing in front of her she felt like she had seen him before somewhere...
"Dad?" she asked in utter disbelief.
He looked almost exactly like he had done in the old, black-and-white photos in the albums at home, but he had become slightly wrinkled and grey. He had the same blond, shoulder-length hair as in the photos, but now it was most dishevelled! His eyes were a sky-blue, but looked almost washed-out as though the sea had swept some of the colour away from them. He wore baggy, brown trousers and a torn, white shirt.
"Yes, Katie," he nodded. "Must be like seeing a ghost for you, isn't it?"
Kate was so shocked she could barely reply.
"B-But you were on that island, a-and everyone t-thought you were... were...." Kate stuttered.
It was indeed like looking at a ghost, as though she knew him so well but didn't know him at all.
"Yes, that's what everybody must think, darling. It's amazing coming back to my old fishing boat, after being separated from it for so long... and it's amazing seeing you. The last time I saw you was when you were so small you couldn't even crawl. You look well!"
"I-I am," Kate's head was spinning again.
"Look, I need some help from you."
"You can sing, right?"
"I-I think so..."
"Great! You need to come underwater with me."
"Underwater? Dad, are you alright? You're talking like a mad man!"
"Okay, let me explain," and with a sigh, he sat down beside her on the floor. "When the crew forgot me on the island, I supposed that they'd come back for me. But after two days they hadn't returned! So, I had to try and survive on the island, drinking from the coconuts and so on. But on the third day something most unusual happened; I was taking a swim in the sea when I felt something tugging at my ankles. I was dragged underwater, where I found it surprisingly easy to breathe, and was taken to the most fantastic place I had ever seen in my life! It was like a fortress, with stone walls and giant clams floating like bubbles above me. It would have been the most wondrous experience of my life if only my captors hadn't been so unpleasant!"
Kate was staring at him in awe, completely entranced by his story.
"You see, these creatures want to be human, like you or me. But the only thing that can transform them is the beautiful song of a human being. They swore that they'd only set me free once I'd sung and transformed them, and I tried. But the 'beautiful' part of the song wasn't there. I can't sing to save my life, Katie! So, they aren't transformed... yet."
"Yet?" Kate asked.
"Yes. When I couldn't sing, they said they'd give me nine years, and if I still couldn't sing, they'd ask me to come and find you (they found out I had a daughter) so that you can sing and set them free. They warned me that if I couldn't find you, they'd make me their prisoner forever, or worse! I've worked myself to the bone since I was trapped; serving them and all, and it's truly horrible! I would have escaped by now, you know, but they put some sort of spell on me so that I can't get too far away. So we're agreed, you'll sing for me?"
"O-Of course," Kate replied. "But if they become human, where will they live?"
"Oh, that's the other part of the deal," he looked a little guilty. "They'll live in Kogum, and everyone who lives there now will have to go somewhere else."
'What?" Kate wanted desperately to save her father, but she couldn't help thinking about everyone in Kogum, her family and friends, who would lose their homes. Could she do that to them?
But her father seemed decided, and Kate didn't let him know of any of her sceptical thoughts.
So, they agreed that it would be wise to go down to the underwater fortress right then. As soon as Kate dived into the cool, salty water with her teddy bear she felt as though her lungs were growing, and suddenly she could breathe! Her eyesight became less blurry, and they didn't sting wildly every time she opened them! Her father motioned for her to follow him. The underwater sea-world flashed by; schools of fish, green, swaying seaweed, and packs of dolphins heading for the surface so that they could hop out of the water.
It seemed to take hours, but finally her father landed lightly on the sandy floor and pointed to the most beautiful place Kate could have imagined! It looked exactly as her dad had described it, with pieces of green seaweed sticking out of the jutting rocks of the fortress, and the pearl-white clams floating almost magically around them. It was a rather big shock when a bizarre creature darted toward them; it had gills on the sides of its neck, and its hair seemed to be made of seaweed! Its skin was slimy and scaly, and its fiery, red eyes had dark circles around them. Its hands were webbed like a frog's, making it the most extraordinary creature Kate had ever seen!
"Ah," she said stroking her webbed hands across Kate's pale cheeks. "She is indeed beautiful."
Her voice seemed far-off, as though she were talking from a mile away instead of right next to her.
"We cannot waste time," she said.
She began to blow large bubbles, which floated up and surrounded them. Suddenly, many of those curious creatures had appeared, and they all surrounded Kate and her father.
"Sing, child, sing!" the first creature chanted, and immediately chants of, "Sing, sing!" sprang up from the crowd. Kate gulped. She hadn't yet made up her mind what she cared about most: her father or the people of Kogum... what could she do? She was breathing heavily. Her heart was beating wildly.
She could feel her father also whispering in her ear, "Go on, Katie, sing!"
She couldn't take it any longer... her voice rang out like a beautiful bell, enchanting everyone around her. The crowd seemed to go into a trance...
Bright lights burst out in a flow of colour behind her and, still singing, she turned around and saw her father being surrounded by a thing that looked like a rainbow. It burst into thousands of tiny bubbles, and there stood a much younger-looking father, his blond hair showing no signs of grey and his face free of wrinkles. But the slight colour that had magically surrounded her father was nothing compared to the bright colours that were circling the crowd in front of her; she could have sworn that, through the blinding lights, she could see their webbed hands vanishing and growing into long, pale-skinned fingers, their seaweed hair turning into average curls, and their red eyes turning green and blue before her.
"Kate! Kate! Stop singing! NOW!"
It was a shock to be brought down to earth from the magical transformations by shouts from her father, and Kate immediately stopped singing. The lights surprisingly didn't disappear around the crowd; they hovered in the water, trapping the crowd inside forever.
"Let's get out of here!" Kate's father grabbed her hand and began to swim toward the surface.
It was only a matter of time before they spotted a welcoming Kogum before them. As they clambered onto the quay (Kate dragging a soggy teddy behind her), Kate was extremely relieved to see her mother running toward them, her eyes wide in disbelief!
Needless to say that after the intial shock had worn off and her father had settled back into their lives, Kate finally got her dream: singing lessons were arranged!
So, the small town of Kogum remained safe and sound, with its small lampposts, small roads, and small houses... thank goodness!
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