Merrow Front Cover - A Novel by Louise Cooper

Published by Hodder Children's Books in their Bite imprint
ISBN 0-340-88145-3

Kiran has gone missing—and, worried about his state of mind since the tragic incident when a girl drowned at a local beach, his friends Jay and Robyn want to find him fast. When Robyn suspects that he might be hiding out at an isolated cove, she insists that they must waste no time but search for him immediately…

There were still plenty of people on the main beach and two separate barbecues were going on, one with what sounded like some pretty good music. But Robyn ignored it all as she strode along the road towards the beach's westerly end where the coast path began. Jay, following, was starting to feel as if  he had been caught up in a Surrealist movie. To their left the futuristic lines of the art gallery were rose tinted by the evening light; the car park behind it, he noticed, was full.
            Not looking where he was going, he tangled with a walking family group, and by the time he had apologised and extricated himself Robyn was well ahead.
             'Slow down, will you?' he called after her.
            She stopped and waited impatiently for him to catch up. 'You were the one worrying about the daylight,' she reminded him. 'Come on!'
            The beach fell behind them; past another, smaller car park and they were on the coastal path, which curved away around the low headland. Soon the only sound they could hear was the unceasing hiss of the sea, broken occasionally by a faint roar as a larger wave broke on the rocks below them. There was hardly a breath of wind tonight; the scent of gorse was heavy in the air, mingling with the fresher brine smell. The sun was in Jay's eyes, making him blink; Robyn, though, hardly seemed to notice. She was walking faster, almost jogging, and he concentrated on the ground under his feet, wishing he had something more sensible on than his usual flip-flops.
            The cove was a little over a mile from the town, and at the pace Robyn set it wasn't long before they saw the cleft of it, like a fold in dark velvet. In the distance the caravans and tents of a holiday camp were visible, but Robyn didn't so much as glance at them. She turned off the main path, and headed along a narrower and more overgrown track towards the beach.
            The tide was half way out, and the angle of the sun turned the water to a mercury-silver glitter. As the beach track turned downwards, something caught Jay's attention. He paused, shading his eyes. Something in the sea… A seal, maybe? Or was it just a half submerged rock?
            It was neither.
            'Robyn!' His call brought her up short and he pointed. 'Someone's swimming down there.'
            She followed his direction and drew in a sharp breath as she, too, saw the figure in the water. Jay knew what she was thinking and for a few moments he thought it, too. Kiran. Could it be?
            Robyn said sharply, 'Come on!' and would have set off on the path again. But Jay caught her arm, stopping her.
            'Hold on a minute.' He had narrowed his eyes and was peering harder against the glare. Robyn hesitated, then looked too.
            The swimming figure was coming out of the sea. It emerged from a breaking wave, stood up in thigh-deep water, and Jay suddenly had serious doubts about his first assumptions. Whoever it was had long, dark hair, tied back the way Kiran often tied his. But a lot of other things were wrong. The stance, the movement: they weren't familiar. The build looked wrong, too; slighter, smaller than Kiran. From this distance and with the light so difficult, any certainties were out of the question. That shape could be anyone.
            In fact he was beginning to suspect that it was female…
             Robyn said, 'It isn't him.'
            The words were emphatic; even if Jay couldn't be sure, she was. He glanced at her. 'So who is it?'
            'I don't know.' Her mouth set in a hard, tight line. 'Let's find out.'
            She ran on down the path, and Jay went after her.
            They took a few risks on the steep descent, but even so it took them several minutes to reach the sand. When they did, there was no one in sight.
            'He's gone!' Robyn' said in dismay. 'We should have kept watching as we came down!'
            'And broken our necks because we weren't looking where we going? Don't be crazy.'
            She ignored that and scanned the sea, but no dark head broke the water.  'How the hell did he do it? There was nowhere to go! No path on the other side, and he couldn't have come this way or we'd have seen him.'
            'Or her,' said Jay.
            She gave him a peculiar, searching look. 'Her?'
            Jay shrugged. 'I couldn't be sure, but… I thought it might be a woman.'
            He could see Robyn considering that, though her inner reaction was impossible to judge. At last she uttered a sharp laugh, without humour.
            'I suppose so,' she said. 'Really, it could have been anyone, couldn't it? A bloody mermaid, for all we know.'
            'A merrow,' said Jay.
            I don't know why I said that. It just came out, without my wanting it to. But it had been lurking around in the back of my mind. Something I read or heard somewhere; a word, an idea. I should have kept it to myself. But it's too late now…
            'It's another term for a mermaid,' he said uncomfortably. 'Irish, I think. Merrow.' He looked down at his own feet. 'I know it sounds totally crazy, but… There are legends, superstitions – you know the sort of thing. About merrows latching on to a particular human being and… kind of luring them, snaring them...'
            I can feel the words collapsing. Robyn's staring at me as if I'm totally barking mad, and I don't blame her. Mermaids and legends – it's even more off the wall than the haunting theory. Why can't I learn to keep my mouth shut?
            But in spite of the expression on her face, Robyn wasn't mocking him. For a few moments she went on staring. Then at length she said, quite quietly, 'Kiran's merrow. You're right; it is totally crazy. But in another way, it sort of fits, doesn't it?' Her shoulders hunched. 'I don't know where the hell you got that from, Jay, but maybe you've just summed up what's going on in his head.'
            'Have I? How?'
            She shook her head. 'I don't want to start analysing it now. This isn't the time or the place; we've got something more important to do. Like finding out who that was in the sea, and where they've gone.' She turned slowly on one heel, her gaze raking across the beach. 'No sign of anyone. Not even any footprints, except ours… This is weird. You know what; if I was as nuts as you, I could almost start believing in merrows.'
            It was an attempt to lighten the mood, but it didn't work for either of them. Jay studied their surroundings again. There were a few small caves here, not to mention the tumbled rocks. Unlikely, but… 'Let's check the beach out. You never know.'
            She nodded.  'OK. I suppose it's all we can do now.'
Jay was emerging from the last and smallest of the caves when he heard Robyn shout. She was on the other side of the beach, climbing among the rocks near the tideline, and she had something in her hand which she was waving at him. He broke into a run and reached her as she jumped down on to the sand.
            'What have you found?'
            'This.' She dropped a small object into his hand. A decorative leather-and-bead wristband. 'It was stuck between two rocks but I managed to get it out.' He realised that she was shaking, and then she added, 'It's Kiran's.'
            A cold sensation washed over Jay's skin. 'Are you sure? How do you know?'
            'Because I made it for him. So there isn't another one exactly like it in the world.'