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Beagle Covid-19 Lockdown writing competition: Sharna Long

Down by the River by Sharna Long The day started out just like any other Saturday. Cars full of visitors to the Eurobodalla occasionally parked along the curb to meander their way through the crowds, on the hunt for a freshly made meal, or ‘that shop we visited last time'. The continual hum of traffic moves through the town, navigating around pedestrians and the like.

The Moruya Markets draws a lot of attention, with stalls propped up and filled with something for everyone. The surrounding carparks are overflowing, the sidewalks teeming with children, pets and friendly faces. The local children can often be found by the water, playing on the wharf or fishing with friends.

That was where the similarities to any other Saturday stopped. The local children were there, on the wharf, but so were all of the market-goers. The entire crowd could not fit onto either of the small wharves alone, so they spilled out onto the road and along the grassy edge of the water. My curiosity was nudged, watching them all shuffling and standing on tip-toe in their attempts to see the commotion.

I had been sitting quietly in the shade of a lonely tree, relishing in the fresh air and the aromas of the food stalls. I’d been considering heading to the heart of the market for a slice of Moruya market’s finest pizza, when I heard yells of beckoning between the water and the market.

In the distance, I heard sirens. Whether they were ambulance, fire brigade, or police, it was too early to tell, especially not knowing the cause of the uproar. So I bookmarked the page of my current novel, slid it under my arm and headed down to the growing crowd. A small dog broke free of their owners grasp and ran towards the now-empty market, no doubt enticed by the smells that were still lingering around the food stalls.

I made my way over to the left side of the wharf, staying close to the side of the local swimming pools outer fence. As I ventured closer, I realised they were not shouting at someone, or something, but amongst themselves. They were looking for something.

“Next to the posts! The furthest one!” Shrieked a young girl standing on the newer wharf. There was a collective gasp as the crowd tried to lunge forward. A middle aged man was elbowed and he stumbled backwards into the water.

My eyes skimmed the water, it seemed peaceful aside from the water curling around the posts and lapping at the granite. A flicker of movement caught my eye, but not near the post as the young girl had exclaimed. Further up the river, towards the bridge, a blonde head snuck carefully around the rocks, difficult to discern in the bright reflection of the sun on the water.

Intrigued, I turned and made my way back towards the front of the pool, at a normal pace so as not to arouse suspicion. Nobody gave me even a side glance. Once I had made my way around the building, I placed my book on the bench closest to the pool and crept towards the water’s edge.

Pulling myself down to my hands and knees, I peered over the grassy bank. I was sure I’d imagined seeing a head in the water, until a pair of terrified, sea-green eyes met my gaze. I almost slipped, thrusting my hand out to the side to steady myself just in time.

Their head jerked backwards, their eyes anxiously observing the crowd of people, before pressing back against the granite.

“Are you okay?” I asked quietly, so as not to frighten them. “Do you need help out of the water?”

They shook their head, and when they spoke it was as soft as a gentle breeze.

“I cannot leave the water, I am bound to it. But I was caught in fishing line cast out by those young children and I am hurt.” They winced, before continuing, “I fear they saw me and know what I am.”

I paused. Bound here?

No wonder everyone was down by the water. I looked down, and could make out the shape of a tail floating below the surface, a mottled blue-green colour with flecks of gold. Locks of long, pale hair swirled around in the current, shining under the rays of sunlight.

“Okay. How can I help?” I cast aside my shoes, my smartphone, and my keys; hiding them in the long grass. I then slipped down into the water as casually as possible.

I noticed as soon as I was next to the mermaid, just how badly they were shaking. A gash twisted its way around their tail, and I wondered how long they’d been trapped in the fishing line. Nervously, they turned and looked at me.

“I’ll need to get help elsewhere. How good are you at swimming?” They asked, a faint smile playing at the corner of their lip.

I smiled. The water seemed to grow calm around us.

“I can swim like a fish.”

Photo: Moruya River captured by Moruya Books

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