Gertie and Bridget go on a field trip
Thanks to the success of the bake sale, largely driven by Vivien’s school-famous cupcakes, the entirety of Flories Boarding School’s Magic Club was going on a field trip.
At six am sharp on a Saturday morning, the twenty or so students filed onto the bright blue school bus. It pulled out of the parking lot, and the club began the three hour drive to the coast.
Gertie took her seat next to Bridget, with Vivien and Ernest taking the two in front of them.
“I can’t believe how long this is going to take,” Ernest said, pulling out his phone to decide what music to listen to.
Vivien rolled her eyes and sat up on her knees to look over the back of her seat and talk to Gertie and Bridget. “What do you think it’s going to be like?” she asked. “I’ve never been out of the country before. This kind of counts, right?”
Bridget nodded. “I mean, we did have to bring passports.”
Mr. Jerson, the Magic Club’s faculty advisor, was talking with an unfamiliar man whose hair had been dyed a bright green. He nodded to Mr. Jerson, and stood at the front of the bus with a microphone attached to the bus PA system.
“Hello, everyone,” he said. “My name is Will, and I’ll be your tour guide on the way to and in the Mermaid city-state of Daallu.”
Vivien’s eyes widened and she sat back down to pay attention.
“Daallu, like all Mermaid cities, is on the ocean floor in international waters.” Will grabbed onto the closest seat to steady himself as the bus jolted. “That means that even though Daallu is close enough to our fine country of Crescyth to be accessed by underwater tunnel, the government here in Crescyth has nothing to do with Daallu. Every Mermaid city-state has its own government, and we’re very lucky that Daallu lets in human visitors. Not all coastside ones do, and for some of the deeper cities, you need all sorts of special visas, even for a day trip.”
The bus came to a halt again, pitching the tour guide back, and Will sighed. “You know what? I’ll tell you more when the traffic dies down.”
He sat back in his seat and turned off the whining microphone.
“This is so exciting!” Vivien said, bouncing in her bus seat.
“Yeah!” Gertie agreed. “I’ve never seen an animoid before! I have so many questions!”
“It’s possible you’ve met an animoid using a transformation spell,” Charlie Nessing said matter-of-factly, standing to lean over the seat back and correct Gertie. “And you just didn’t know. You shouldn’t make assumptions.”
"Was I talking to you?" Gertie snapped back, flushing. He was right.
"I'm just saying you shouldn't act like they're a zoo exhibit. It's rude."
"Who are you to call anyone rude, Charlie?" Vivien asked.
Charlie just glared and sat down again.
Bridget pulled out a deck of cards from her bag. “Want to play something?” she offered Gertie as a distraction.
Three hands of “Fox of Spades” later, Will stood up again.
“I have a list of things I’m supposed to remind you.” He pulled a folded piece of paper from his pocket. “First, while the native Mermaid language is Mmeerruuk, they are much better at foreign language education in Daallu than most Mermaid cities, so you should be able to speak to everyone. They won’t accept your paper money, so I hope everyone followed the advice of the email Mr. Jerson sent out and went to an exchange for occozh, the Mermaid currency, if you want to buy any trinkets. Lunch and dinner will be provided, and we’ve taken into consideration all of your listed diets.”
Gertie grimaced. She was known to buy way too many souvenirs, so she and Bridget had opted to not get any occozh so they wouldn’t be tempted.
“You’ll be leaving your phones behind in the lockers, because I’m pretty sure you don’t want them to break, but if anything’s wrong, there are miraculously still payphones in Mermaid culture! Go to one and dial 753 for non-emergencies and 951 for emergencies. The Department of Outreach has been informed of our trip and will be able to contact me by emergency bubble. Hopefully you won’t need to, but it’s good to know just in case. This was all on the waiver you signed, and emergency numbers are listed on the payphones.”
Will stepped toward the bus dashboard. “Now we’re going to watch a quick film with more information for your visit. Before you get mad at me, it’s required.” He pressed a button and the TV screens throughout the bus flickered on.
“The city of Daallu has been around for centuries,” a droning narrator said over stock footage of a beach. “Originally a garrison against human invasion, and then a mere trading outpost, it is now one of the most prosperous Mer-cities that still allows outside visitors.”
After fifteen minutes about the wonders of Daallu and Mermaid culture, Ernest put his earbuds in and Bridget pulled out a book.
“‘Quick’, yeah right,” Faye Nessing muttered, pulling up a puzzle app on her phone.
Despite her best efforts, Gertie’s eyes closed and she fell asleep. But Vivien held onto every word.
After what felt like an eternity, periodically interrupted by commentary from Will, the beach appeared. The bus pulled off the highway and into a small parking lot in a special “buses only” designated spot.
“And everybody off!” Will announced as the doors opened.
The students stepped off slowly, their legs stiff, taking in the sparkle of the beach and the brine scent in the air. Off to the right of the parking lot was a modern-looking wooden building with “Daallu Entrance” across the top. A glass hallway extended from the side, sloping into the water and beyond.
Will and Mr. Jerson led the way. They took care of all of the paperwork that needed to be done, handing over the stacks of forms that the students had filled out to the attendant at the front desk. The students milled around in the meantime, looking at the photographs of the city on the walls.
“The buildings are all round,” Gertie remarked, looking at the cityscape.
“Probably better physics,” Bridget said.
Vivien read the placard in the middle of the pictures.
“Wow, they use enchanted sand as their building material,” Vivien murmured. A series of the pictures showed the process - using glowing blue runes to melt down sand into gray blocks, stacking them together in the proper formation, and then using white hot magic to fuse them together. “Imagine if everyone in our society had the capacity to use magic like that all the time.”
“All right, we have two things for each of you,” Will announced. He held out two plastic boxes. In one was a bunch of normal-looking orange inhalers. In the other, what looked like small, round clothespins.
“The first is the Ambifion inhaler,” Will explained. “You take a puff and hold your breath for ten seconds. Then you do it again. It will grant you the ability to breathe underwater for two hours. When you start to cough orange, you’ll need to do the whole process over, or you won’t be able to breathe underwater anymore. That would, obviously, be very bad.” Will waited for the severity of that possibility to set in, then continued. “Wait until you’re in the entrance chambers to breathe it in for the first time, so you get as much underwater time as possible.
“The second is the waterproof clip. You get one for you, and one for your backpack or purse or what-have-you if you want to bring it. It will make your skin, hair, clothes, glasses, etcetera waterproof. We cannot guarantee it will fully work on cell phones, earbuds, tablets, laptops, non-magic cameras, calculators, or anything electronic. You will leave those behind in the lockers in the entrance chambers. You’ve all signed a form indicating you understand this.”
“Everyone take what you need,” Mr. Jerson said, and the students rushed forward.
Gertie put her inhaler in her pocket and affixed her waterproof clip to her belt. Bridget had a clip on her bag strap and one on the edge of her sleeve, and stuffed her inhaler in her bag.
“One more thing!” Mr. Jerson pulled a stack of papers and a bundle of pens from his satchel. “For fun, Will and I wrote up this little scavenger hunt. I waterproofed the paper and pens, don’t worry. You’ll just have to answer questions about places in the city that you can learn if you explore and ask questions. If you answer them all correctly by the time we get back on the bus, you get a Daallu postcard.”
Peter Nessing raised his hand.“Can we work in groups?”
“Sure, why not? Groups of four. Everyone needs to fill out a sheet though, and write who you worked with on the top.”
Bridget and Gertie took their scavenger hunt sheets and read them over.
“This could be cool,” Bridget said.
Gertie grinned in excitement. “I want a free souvenir! Let’s do it!”
“Bet we finish it before your group,” Charlie said challengingly, motioning to his two siblings.
“You’re on!” Gertie replied.
Mr. Jerson started through thick wooden doors that had been propped open and into the hallway to the ocean. As each student filed through behind him, they stopped and showed their passports to the security guards on either side, who checked them off a list. Gertie, Bridget, Ernest, and the Nessings had all qualified for entry much easier than their peers due to their standing in the practitioning community, and held up their magical passport cards without needing to wait in line.
They walked down the hall with the rest of the club lagging behind. While the tunnel started on the beach, giving a view of the sand and waves, it soon descended into the depths of the ocean. Gertie and Bridget stared out through the glass, admiring the various fish that milled in and out of the waving forests of seaweed and kelp.
“Give me some room, kids!” Will said, scooting around them to lead.
Charlie and Ernest frowned at being called “kids”.
“This hallway was built forty-seven years ago, as a way to regulate entrances to the city for trade,” Will explained. “Before then, anyone could take an Ambifion potion - though, back then you also would have had to drink them and that’s much more of a shock to your body - and sink into the water and try to get into the city. ‘Try’ being the operative word. Mermaids were, and are, very protective of their land.”
They took escalators down a particularly steep drop, and soon there wasn’t much to see in the dim, murky water. Occasionally a large fish would approach the hall, made visible by the interior lights, and the students would jump before it vanished again.
Eventually, the club reached the end of the hallway. There was a line of metal doors, each with a green light above it signalling they could enter.
“Your teacher will go in first, and then you all can follow him and meet up on the other side.” Will instructed. “Put everything you’re not bringing into the lockers. They’re water proof. Breathe in your potion last so you don’t accidentally lock it away. Then press the big red button on the outside door.”
Mr. Jerson stepped forward, opening one of the doors. The light above it changed to yellow as he prepped. It took a few minutes, but it eventually flipped back to green.
“Okay, all of you, one by one, into the chambers.”
Gertie and Bridget went into separate rooms. The left wall of Gertie’s chamber was entirely composed of lockers with keypads. As she stepped in, Gertie saw the locker that had been filled by the student preceding her slide backwards into the wall, and was quickly replaced by another. Gertie put her phone, earbuds, and keys (just in case) into the locker she chose, closed it, and typed in a code she often used for such things. The keypad was quickly replaced with a camera that snapped a picture of her face.
In Bridget’s chamber, she blinked away the flash, having opted to just put her entire bag into the locker at the last minute, minus the scavenger hunt sheet and her inhaler.
There was a lit sign above the exit door that said, “Please take your Ambifion potion.” Bridget held the inhaler to her lips and pushed down on the top, breathing in the bitter potion as the puff was released into her mouth. She held her breath for fifteen seconds - five longer than Will had recommended, for good measure - and repeated the process before stowing it in her pocket again. The sign went dark, and the big exit button filled with light.
Bridget reached out, and pushed the red button.
Immediately, the room began to fill with water. It was at her knees before she could react, but she realized she wasn’t feeling the cold and her shoes didn’t feel soggy. The waterproof charm was working.
She instinctively held her breath and closed her eyes as the water covered her lips, even though logically she knew the potion should be in effect.
Bridget waited a moment for the anxiety to settle in her stomach. Then she opened her mouth and took a deep breath. It felt just like breathing air. She opened her eyes. She could see perfectly clearly.
The room finished filling, and the front door opened.
Bridget stepped onto sand. Despite the waterproofing clip, she sank a little. She waddled forward until she was standing in the growing group of students surrounding Mr. Jerson.
“I know it’s a bit disorienting,” the teacher said. Bridget could hear him normally, despite being underwater. “You’ll get used to it.”
Gertie followed quickly after Bridget, grabbing her wrist as she pitched forward, not used to walking on wet sand. The waterproofing clip made it a lot easier, but there was still more resistance than walking through air.
Soon the entire club was in place, and turned to wait for Will to emerge from the entrance chambers.
When the door opened, to their shock, their tour guide swam out of the entrance chamber.
“One thing I should mention,” he said as his tail hovered just above the sand. “I’m a citizen of Daallu. I use an Anthroform transformation potion and a work visa for Crescyth in order to act as a tour guide.”
His shirt was still the same - a white button-up that seemed to be staying dry despite his lack of a waterproofing clip. He must have removed his pants in the entrance chamber, as his legs had fused into a green tail, seeming like a cross between a dolphin’s and an eel’s. Webbing had appeared between his fingers, its color a mix of his tail and olive skin. His green hair now matched the rest of his color scheme, and it floated back and forth in the water.
“We’re a bit behind on our schedule,” Will explained, swimming to the front of the group. “So you’re going to have to ask me any questions as we go. Come along!”
They walked along a path made apparent mainly by the presence of tall, unlit lampposts on either side of them. Small strings of lights wrapped between the posts, giving the appearance of natural sunlight.
“At night, the lampposts come on and the star lights go out,” Will explained. “Though letting outsiders come into the cities is a more modern practice, Mermaids have always ventured onto land. Many of the transformation potions that are used for a variety of purposes across the globe have their roots in Mermaid use. Anything that land dwellers had that Mermaids found interesting eventually developed a place down here, including light bulbs.”
Gertie and Bridget gasped as they entered the outskirts of the city. Immediately, the land went from empty sand plains to a bustling hub. The star lights were no longer solely on lampposts, but strung between buildings, crisscrossing upwards and resembling starlit clotheslines. Mermaids swam above the club in great layers and numbers; almost no one was down at their level. The rounded buildings had doors on seemingly every floor, allowing entrance no matter how far above the sea floor one was.
Fish swam alongside the Mermaids, in and out of buildings, apparently as ignored as a fly or pigeon would be.
“All right, gather around,” Will said, stopping in the middle of what appeared to be a city square. The sand had become cobblestone under the group’s feet, and it was a lot easier to walk. “That direction is the festival mentioned on the scavenger hunt.” Will pointed in one direction. “That direction is the downtown district, where things like the library and museums are.”
Mr. Jerson glanced at his watch. “It looks like we have two hours before our scheduled lunch.”
Will clapped his hands together emphatically. “Right. I’ll be leading a tour of the Great Daallu library, but if you want to skip that, feel free to go have fun and experience what Daallu has to offer. We’ll meet at the tower two buildings that way at twelve o’clock sharp.” He pointed at a blue spiral that stood above the other round buildings. “After lunch, I’ll take you on our scheduled tour of city hall and Daallu landmarks. That one is mandatory.”
The groups of students who chose to participate in the scavenger hunt ran off, but Bridget stayed near Will for a moment.
She read off of the scavenger hunt sheet, “What’s one of your favorite locations in Daallu?”
Will grinned.“Whirltown. It’s a theme park with the best rollercoasters.”
Bridget wrote down the answer with the waterproof pen Mr. Jerson had handed out. “Thanks!”
Gertie, Ernest, and Vivien were already huddled together, making plans.
“Okay, Ernest and I will go to the downtown district,” Vivien was saying. When Bridget raised her eyebrows, Vivien explained, “There are questions about the orchestra house and art museums. They’re our specialties!”
“Then we’ll take the festival and try to find these parks.” Gertie pointed.
“And we can all try asking the questions of people who live here,” Bridget said. “I got Will’s favorite location so we don’t have to ask anyone else that one.”
“They have roller coasters?” Ernest asked, upon reading Bridget’s sheet. “Nice!”
Gertie and Bridget moved through the city on foot, taking in the statues, the Merpeople, and the submarine-like vehicles that whirred above their heads.
“License plates are yellow and black,” Gertie wrote on her sheet, upon getting too close to a vehicle.
Even the food was different. It seemed to be mostly raw fish, and the girls suddenly worried about lunch.
The festival that the scavenger hunt sheet mentioned was spread across the sand plains just outside the city. Large, colorful tents had been pitched, each promising great food, fun entertainment, or souvenirs. Bridget pulled Gertie away from a stall with hats, reminding her she didn’t have any money anyway.
There were street performers with puppets and trained fish, child Mermaids swimming with their families, and music playing all around. The best part about the festival was that, since the tents were pitched on the ground, everyone was at their level down on the seafloor.
It was getting close to when Gertie and Bridget would have to leave and meet up for lunch, and they had filled out a good third of the scavenger hunt sheet, but no one knew the answer to the question they had come to ask.
“Hello,” Gertie asked a Merman tending one of the stands that sold food. “Which mayor founded this festival?”
The Merman grunted and shrugged and continued helping a customer.
“Excuse me, ladies,” a Mermaid swam up to Gertie, making direct eye contact so the human couldn’t act like she hadn’t heard. She was the only Mermaid they had heard speaking their language other than Will. “Would you like to buy some souvenirs?”
“No, thank you,” Bridget said, knowing Gertie would want to buy everything and they didn’t have a way to pay. She started to walk away, but Gertie didn’t move an inch.
Bridget glanced at the Mermaid, and was shocked to see that her irises appeared to be an unnatural purple. Bridget felt compelled to follow her, even without eye contact.
It was her enchanted left eye that kept her from completely falling victim to the charm. With it, she could see things that couldn’t normally be seen - enchantments, visions of the future, ghosts and the like. And it could see the spell radiating from the Mermaid’s eyes, all of its energy focused on Gertie.
“We have some of the best deals on wares,” the Mermaid continued, a picture of the ever-persistent saleswoman.
“Yes, thank you,” Gertie said eagerly, walking into the tent the Mermaid pointed towards.
“Gertie!” Bridget followed her sister.
“What?” Gertie asked. “I want to see what they have!”
“We-” They walked into the tent, cut off from the electric light of the outside, and were shocked by what they saw.
They had been inside other tents in the festival - ones with food, acrobats, or books. They were all filled to the brim, trying to cram as much as they could into their allotted space.
This one was empty.
Gertie finally seemed to realize something was wrong as the Mermaid’s spell wore off.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
There was a noise behind them and they turned. The tent’s flap had been pulled closed, and now three Mermaids, including the enchantress who had lured Gertie inside, were blocking their exit.
One of them had a gun.
“Hand over your money, tourists,” the gunman said. “And we’ll let you go.”
Gertie stared in shock at the gun. Could it even shoot underwater?
Bridget inhaled sharply, upon seeing the layers of enchantments on the weapon that allowed it to work in the sea. Gertie took her reaction to be a very bad sign.
“We don’t have any money,” Bridget said. Gertie nodded, and reached for her pocket. The gunman’s arm jerked to point the gun at her and she froze.
“I’m taking out my wallet,” Gertie said, trying to keep her voice even instead of shaking in fright.
The gunman nodded his permission.
Gertie pulled her billfold from her pocket and threw it to one of the other Mermaids. As soon as it left her hand, it lost the effect of the waterproofing spell and became soggy.
The enchantress caught the wallet and pulled out the soaking dollar bills that were worthless in the sea.
“What do you have?” the gunman turned the gun on Bridget.
She put her hands up, and tried to tell them that she had left her entire bag, including her wallet, in the entrance chambers. But instead, she coughed orange.
Gertie’s eyes went wide. “Bridget, the potion!”
Bridget coughed again, a cloud forming in front of her mouth.
“What’s going on?” the gunman said. “What are you keeping from us?”
“It’s just-!” Gertie started to shout, but then Bridget held up the orange inhaler as explanation.
“Is that a weapon?” the other Merman exclaimed frantically, reaching into his jacket.
The gunman pointed the gun purposefully at Bridget, panic and anger in his eyes.
But before he could squeeze the trigger, the Merman yelped and dropped the weapon. As it slowly fell to the ground, the metal took on a warm yellow color. By the time it landed in the sand, it wasn’t a gun anymore. It had been transformed into a banana.
The gunman fell forward, almost hitting the girls, as Peter Nessing tackled him. He’d used a speed spell to run through the tent flap and attack the mugger.
Gertie turned toward the other Merman, who had pulled out a knife and was heading towards her. She took a deep breath, and thought of the only spell that would help in this situation. The one she used to make ice with only a mini fridge in her dorm room.
“Freeze now,” she said in the magical language of Laux. She held her hands out, shooting the magic from her palms. The spell froze the seawater in a line as it whirled towards the Merman. It wrapped him up with ice, until all that was moving was his eyeballs.
The enchantress swum out of the way of the spell, looped through the tent and began to summon a hex in her hands.
Bridget sprayed the second hit of the inhaler into her mouth, and, while holding her breath, jumped up to grab one of the horizontal poles that served as the skeleton of the tent. She swung and kicked the Mermaid as she came around, sending her into the fabric wall that bounced her to the ground.
As Peter held his target in a headlock, causing him to pass out from lack of oxygen, Bridget walked over to the enchantress, looking for something to restrain her.
A vision flashed before her eye; the Mermaid had a knife.
Just as the Mermaid reached up to stab Bridget, she jerked out of the way and caught the hand the blade was in.
“Nice try,” Bridget snarled. She stood on the Mermaid’s tail and twisted her arm until the knife fell to the ground.
Charlie Nessing walked in from the opening of the tent, where he had stayed after rendering the gun useless. He cast a spell that lit the sand under the enchantress blue. It began to shift, and though she struggled, the Mermaid sunk right into it. Bridget jerked back from the heat of the transformation, now understanding why the Merman had dropped his gun.
Charlie finished the incantation and the heat dissipated. The Mermaid struggled, but remained stuck in the sand. She snarled, and began shouting at the students in Mmeerruuk.
Gertie ignored her and went to Bridget, putting her hand on her sister’s shoulder. “Are you alright?”
Bridget nodded warily, the familiar fatigue of seeing a vision taking its toll despite her adrenaline rush.
Charlie, as well, was worse for the wear. He panted from the effort of his spell and let himself collapse onto the sea floor, taking deep breaths.
Gertie kneeled in front of him. “Thank you so much for helping us.”
“Please. Like we were going to let you get shot.” Charlie rolled his eyes. “What were you thinking, looking straight into a transfixion enchantment? You’d be dead if we hadn’t seen you.”
Gertie shook her head. Even when saving their lives, Charlie had to be a jerk. She just said, “Thank you,” right as the tent flap burst open, revealing three uniformed Mermaid police officers, ready to cast incapacitating magic.
“Freeze!” one shouted.
Charlie, Peter, Gertie and Bridget all raised their hands in surrender.
Gertie struggled not to giggle at how one of the Mermen was already quite frozen. The relief was getting to her.
The police swam in, Faye Nessing behind them.
“Oh thank goodness you’re okay.” She ran up to Peter and threw her arms around him. “Mom and Dad would have killed me!”
The police placed handcuffs on the unconscious gunman. After studying Charlie’s handiwork, one of the officers threw her hands to the ground with a spell, and the Mermaid Charlie had sunk was uncovered, only to be immediately taken into custody.
The policeman stroked his chin as he studied the Merman Gertie had frozen.
“Is he alive?” he finally asked.
Gertie nodded. With the last remaining power she had, she cast the spell that would release the Merman, the one she used to thaw frozen meat before cooking at home. The ice cracked and melted, leaving the Merman shivering, but alive. He too was cuffed and led out of the tent.
It was then that Will and Mr. Jerson burst into the tent. Their eyes were wild, and they only started to relax when they took in everyone’s calm posture.
“Is everyone okay?” Will asked.
The students nodded.
“How’d you know where we were?” Faye asked.
“Magic bubble,” Will said offhandedly, pulling aside one of the police officers to speak to him.
The last officer wrote down the students’ statements and took pictures of the scene of the crime. “Surely you know you should be more careful in cities,” she said to them.
Bridget glared at her. “Surely you’re not saying it’s our fault that we almost got mugged.”
“Come on,” Mr. Jerson said, gesturing the students away from the tent. He didn’t want the Mermaid officers to start pointing fingers at humans. “Let’s get back to the meetup spot. It’s time for lunch.”
“One second,” Gertie turned to the police officers, and whispered so the Nessings couldn’t hear. “Do you happen to know which mayor established this festival?”