This is a response to Vol 16 John 2 ("LoveLand")...
[This is part nine of "Dolphin & Melanie"]
There were few mornings that he didn't spend thinking about mermaids, yet it was on just such a morning, as he reached the crest of a bright green hill, that Dolphin suddenly found an ocean stretching out before him. This was the very ocean that had called to him from beyond the door, and in the distance he spied an island, and on that island sat a magnificent sand castle, a castle the size of a mountain!
Dolphin raced to the beach and there he found a young couple lying together on the sand. The distant castle gleamed in the sun and black birds circled its turrets.
"Who lives in that castle?" said she.
"No one knows," said he.
"Shall we swim there, do you think?"
"No swimmer in all of Loveland has ever been able to reach it."
Dolphin did not wait to hear more but dove into the water and swam with all his strength. The two lovers wondered at the splash but saw nothing more.
It was a great distance, and the water was more bitter than any he had ever tasted, but Dolphin was a great swimmer and before the sun had risen to its zenith, he had gained the shore. The castle sprawled across the entire island and soared marvelously high. It was the color of sand, but hard as marble, wonderfully intricate and strangely familiar.
Dolphin mounted the stairs and proceeded through hall after hall. He seemed to know in advance when a staircase would appear and where it would lead. At last it dawned on him that this castle was very like the final castle he had built as a young man before taking to the sea in search of mermaids. It was the ideal castle that he had been trying to build all his life. Dolphin smiled for the first time in months.
The castle was magnificent, but it was also quite empty. Each room echoed, and the endless stretch of sand-colored floors began to seem like a desert. When at last he reached the grand ballroom at the center of the castle he stopped and the silence covered him like water. It filled the room until he began to feel like a pile of bones lost on an ocean floor and crushed by the weight of unseen forces. Here he was at the very center of his boyhood dreams, and yet what good is an empty castle?
Hungry for sound, he moved to a window and strained to hear the whispers of the ocean far below. Another sound came instead. It began as a kind of tapping, so faint and distant that Dolphin wondered if he could be hearing his own heart beating within the glass on the other side of the mountains. But as the sound grew it became more familiar until there could be no doubting it: the sound of running footsteps! The sound came closer and closer, a great clattering gallop that resounded off the walls. Suddenly a little girl burst through a doorway and threw herself into his arms, shouting "Dolphin! Dolphin!"
She spun him around and hugged him till he fell to his knees. Dolphin was so astonished that he couldn't find any words at first. But at last he held her face in his hands and cried "You can see me! How is it that you can see me?"
At this the little girl looked sad and she hugged Dolphin more tightly than he had ever been hugged before. "It's hard being invisible, isn't it?"
Dolphin suspected that this girl knew more about being invisible than he did, but before he could try to answer her question, she lept up and ran for the nearest door. "Come on!" she cried. "Catch me if you can!"
Dolphin ran after her and she led him on a merry chase. "What is your name?" called Dolphin as he raced around a corner. She flew up the stairs calling "Jena! Jena!" And then, from somewhere above, came peals of laughter. "Oh Dolphin! Don't you know anything?"
It was wonderful to hear another voice, to speak and be spoken to after all the lonely months. Dolphin felt reborn, a child again, and the two of them raced up and down the halls, and danced around pillars, and slid down bannisters, until they could hardly breath. And the next day they went swimming. And the day after that they had a picnic. The days slipped through their fingers like sand.
She was a very mysterious child and she swam like a fish. When Dolphin asked her how she had come to swim so well, she said "I am my mother's child." "Your mother must have been a great swimmer, then," said Dolphin but Jena only smiled. It was a most mischevious smile and it came across her face every time he asked her about her mother.
"Where is she now?" asked Dolphin.
"It's not time yet," said Jenna with that same smile. And the word 'time' rang like a chime in her musical voice and suddenly Dolphin understood that it was Jena's voice that had called to him from beyond the door. Maybe it was her voice he had been hearing all along. They were in the middle of the cove and Dolphin reached for her, thinking he might hold her up in the sunlight and see if the light would shine through, but she slipped away from him and was already half way back to the castle.
Jenna seemed to know Dolphin's castle even better than he did. As the days wore on she showed him every corner and pillar. It was never 'my' castle or 'your' castle, but always 'our' castle. She behaved like a steward who had watched over the property for many years and was eager to show her returning master how well it had been kept. Together they climbed every tower but one, and she was ever joyful and full of mischief, until one day Dolphin chanced to ask about the birds which circled the easternmost tower.
"Each bird has a name," she said, "terrible names that sound like screams. And their feathers are black and sharp. If you touched them, Dolphin, your fingers would bleed."
"How do you know these things?"
"I'm the one who named them. Don't ask me more. It won't matter in the end."
But Dolphin would not be so easily swayed.
"Why do they circle there so constantly? Where did they come from? What do they hope to find?"
Her face became white as foam.
"They hope to find my mother."
Dolphin stared at the little girl. Full of concern, he was, yet tired of riddles.
"I think I'd better climb that tower myself and have a closer look."
"NO! Oh Dolphin, No. If you climb those stairs something bad will happen."
"What more could happen to me?"
"But nothing has happened to us yet! We've lost our hearts is all, and you will find them for us. But not yet. I don't want be alone again."
"I don't understand you. What are you afraid of?"
"Those birds can carry you away. They are terrible."
"I am not afraid of birds." The two of them were standing in the western tower looking east. Far beyond the circling birds rose the Mountains of Love's End, an encircling wall that seemed all but insurmountable now. Jenna was shaking and Dolphin realized that she was trying to cry, but like him, could not cry without a heart. Dolphin's voice became more gentle.
"I will promise not to climb that tower if you will answer me one question, but you must answer me true."
The girl nodded her consent.
"How did you come to lose your heart?"
"I didn't lose it. My mother gave it away."
And with that Jenna hopped down the spiral staircase and would never say another word about birds.