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The Little Mermaid

Sawterra, who thinks she looks as terrible as her name sounds, wishes to become beautiful

Sawterra had a terrible name. She wished she had been called something beautiful, like Janis or Jasmine. But no. She had to be named Sawterra.

Sawterra, I am sorry to say, looked exactly like her name. She had matted brown hair, muck-green eyes, and a sallow, drooping face. She had a height of nearly six feet, but was far wider than she was tall. She was flabby and sallow and drooping, and she wished more than anything to be beautiful.

One day, as Sawterra was walking along, dragging her feet in the mud, she came across a stone gargoyle stuck deep in the ground. It was a tangle of scaly gray legs and arms and claws and tails, and its huge, gaping mouth looked wide enough to swallow a bowling ball. Sawterra took a great liking to it, as it looked so much like herself.

“I feel sorry for that gargoyle,” she said aloud, though no one else was around. “I know what it feels like to be ugly.”

And she pulled the gargoyle out of the ground and carried it home in her thick, floppy arms.

*          *          *

Sawterra’s parents were very rich, and very strange. They, unlike their daughter, were both very thin and hated other people. Her mother had stringy gray hair and pale blue eyes and unnaturally pointy eyebrows; her father had shiny black hair and a dashing black mustache. They were loving parents, and they always encouraged Sawterra to play practical jokes on the neighbors. Oh, and also: they adored frogs so much they filled their house with them. Frogs in the pantry when Sawterra went to fetch the sugar. Frogs in the frying pan when she tried to make breakfast. Frogs, frogs everywhere.

Sawterra liked frogs too because, like her, they weren’t very pretty. Sawterra didn’t like pretty things. She felt jealous of pretty things. Because didn’t she deserve to be pretty too? Why did some things get to sparkle and glitter and shine while she was stuck being ugly and plain?

Sawterra filled her room with ugly things, many of them even uglier than her. It made her feel good to actually be more beautiful than something. “The man I marry must be even uglier than me,” Sawterra would often announce. Because, after all, anyone less ugly than her would have to find her utterly disgusting. (Besides her parents, of course.)

*          *          *

Sawterra was sitting in her room, gazing lovingly at her gargoyle. It was nighttime, and she could see the stars through her skylight. Sawterra’s parents didn’t care when she went to sleep, so she stayed up as late as she wanted.

Sawterra felt something cold and damp pressing against her hand. It was a frog, of course. She bent down and smiled at it. This frog’s name was Warty, and he was her favorite because he was especially slimy and warty and gross.

Sawterra stared longingly through her skylight. One star was especially bright. She would have liked to be that star. That star was beautiful.

“Staaar liiighttt, staaaar briiiighttt . . .” she began to sing. “Fiiiiirstt staaaaar I seeeee tooniiiighttt . . . ”

Then she paused. What should she wish for? She looked at the gargoyle, its sweet little eyes gazing dreamily into space. And she knew.

“Wiiiiishh I maaayy, wiiiiiiiiiishhhh I miiiighttt, haaaave the wiiishhh I wwiiishh tooniiighhttt . . .”

“I wish,” Sawterra breathed, “I wish my gargoyle were alive.”

At first, nothing happened, and Sawterra thought it wouldn’t work. Oh, how could she have been so silly? The gargoyle was made of stone. It wasn’t alive.

Sawterra stared longingly through her skylight. One star was especially bright. She would have liked to be that star. That star was beautiful.

But then the gargoyle seemed to stir, and its lifeless gray scales shifted into bright, shiny, silver diamonds along its body. Its eyes glowed, its mouth opened, and . . .

“WHAT CAN I DO FOR YOU, O GREAT ONE?” it asked in a huge, booming voice.

“Make me beautiful,” she answered.

And so the gargoyle did. Or . . . he tried. He mumbled a spell under his breath, and suddenly Sawterra felt a coldness inside her. She gasped. She hurt all over. Her hair writhed and grew, changing from a drab, unattractive brown to a striking, shiny black. Her face twisted, transforming her features, changing them from ugly to beautiful. It hurt more than anything she had ever experienced before. Her mind went numb. She couldn’t think, she couldn’t breathe.

Sawterra had no idea exactly when the change ended. Gradually the pain and coldness retreated, and everything was dark. Why was it so dark?

Then she opened her eyes, and light came pouring in, blinding her.

The gargoyle was bending over her, an expression of sorrow on his face. “OKAY, SO THAT DIDN’T GO QUITE SO NICELY AS I HAD EXPECTED,’’ he rumbled apologetically.

Sawterra leaped up, her heart racing. “But—am I beautiful now?!” she cried, and her voice sounded different: high and singsongy, and nothing like her own.

The gargoyle sighed. “YOU’D BETTER GO LOOK IN A MIRROR,’’ was all it said.

She raced to the bathroom, glanced in the mirror—and screamed. Her reflection, staring right back at her, was nothing like her own; it might have been beautiful once, but it was far too damaged to tell. It was twisted and maimed, burned in places, coated all over with sweat and blood. One of her eyes was missing, leaving a dark hole where it should have gone.

“HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?!” she screamed at the gargoyle, who shrank away from her in terror. “MAKE ME BEAUTIFUL—AND THIS TIME, MAKE IT WORK!” she demanded.

“Y-YES, MASTER,” the gargoyle trembled, bowing so low his head touched the floor. And then he mumbled a few more words under his breath, and the pain started up again. But this time it was worse. Her bones rattled. Her joints ached. Everything hurt. Her throat was sore and her stomach felt queasy. Her hair changed from brown to gold to silver. Her face bent and creased and wrinkled and changed and made her want to cry out from the pain, but she couldn’t make a sound. Her eyesight grew fuzzy, her mind grew dim, and she couldn’t hear a thing.

Finally, finally it stopped. But it still hurt. She hobbled over to the mirror, and then she burst out laughing despite herself. Because the face she saw in the mirror, looked about a hundred years old. Sure, it did look as if it had been beautiful once—but that must have been a long, long time ago. Sawterra was hysterical.

Hee hee hee, she giggled. “WHAT DID YOU DO TO ME?!” Hee hee hee. “ARE YOU CRAZY? THIS IS EVEN WORSE THAN BEFORE!” she screeched.

The gargoyle looked ashamed. “I-I MADE A MISTAKE. I’M SORRY, MASTER.”

“WELL, MAKE ME ACTUALLY BEAUTIFUL!”

The gargoyle stared down at his toes, and when he finally spoke, his voice didn’t seem so big and booming anymore. “I can’t, master. I can only cast three spells in my lifetime—that was two, so I can do one more, and if you regret that one too, you will still be stuck that way forever.”

“Can’t you at least change me back to normal?” Sawterra pleaded.

The gargoyle smiled proudly. “THAT I CAN DO, MASTER.”

And then he mumbled a few more words under his breath, and the transformation began. But this time it felt nice, like when you hold your breath for a minute and finally you can breathe normally again. Sawterra’s face softened, her features bounced back to normal, and her senses sharpened. And when it was over, she looked in the mirror and saw . . . herself. She looked exactly like she always had, but she looked beautiful.

“I guess that gargoyle’s spell worked after all,” she breathed.

The gargoyle cleared his throat. “AHEM . . .”

“Oh yeah,” said Sawterra. “Thank you, Mister Gargoyle.”

The gargoyle smiled and bowed. Then the air began to swirl, and great clouds of dust rose up. Sawterra hacked and coughed, and when it finally cleared, the gargoyle had vanished. It was nowhere to be seen.

Sawterra plopped down onto her bed. Maybe, she thought, maybe this was all a dream. Maybe she would open her eyes to the bright light of morning, and lose all memory of it in the foggy haze of sleepiness, and she would go downstairs still wishing to change. But for now, she was happy, and that was all that mattered.

Rose Amer
Rose Amer, 10
Belmont, MA

Rebecca Wu
Rebecca Wu, 9
Medina, WA

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