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OK, let’s start the episode.
Welcome to Easy Stories in English, the podcast that will take your English from OK to Good, and from Good to Great.
I am Ariel Goodbody, your host for this show. Today’s story is for intermediate learners. The name of the story is The Other Mermaid. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Mermaid. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Mermaid. This contains the full story, as well as my conversation before it.
So today’s story is kind of a sequel to a previous episode, The Little Mermaid. You can listen to the previous episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Little. The Little Mermaid is a famous fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen and the most famous version is the Disney film. However, I like to think that my version of the story was quite as well, and you seemed to all enjoy it as well.
So today’s story references The Little Mermaid a lot. You don’t have to listen to The Little Mermaid to understand it, to enjoy it, because really it’s a completely separate story, but it might be good to at least know a bit about The Little Mermaid before we start. So, just in case you haven’t read the story or you haven’t watched the film, I will just summarise it, OK?
So in The Little Mermaid there is a mermaid, a woman who is a fish, who lives under the sea with her family, and secretly she really wants to go to the human world because she falls in love with a prince. So she makes a deal with a witch, a woman who does magic, to turn her into a human, but she has to give up her voice. If she can make the man fall in love with her, she will be a human forever, but if she does not, then she will turn into seawater.
And unfortunately, in the original story and in my version of The Little Mermaid, she does not get the man to fall in love with her, and she ends up turning back into seawater.
In the Disney film, there’s a much happier ending, but um, I like sad endings as you know. So in my version she has a sad ending.
Fortunately, this story is kind of the opposite of the The Little Mermaid. It starts off very sad and then gets very happy at the end. So if you prefer happy endings, you’ll definitely like today’s story, I think.
Actually, I wrote this story originally during one of the live streams. By the way, remember that there is a live stream, a special birthday live stream for me, uh, on the eighth of May. That’s Saturday at 1pm British time. Go to EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Stream to find out when that is and to set a reminder.
So I wrote the story during one of the live streams and of course I had the help of all of the people watching, because they gave me ideas and we worked together to make the story. I think it came out a very nice story. So thank you all for coming to the stream! And thank you for contributing to the story if you did. I think it was a lot of fun.
And it just goes to show you that sometimes weird ideas can actually make a great story, because one of the people listening suggested that the main character likes juggling, and at first I thought that was stupid, but then I put it in the story and it ended up being a really good detail that came up again later. If you don’t know what juggling is, I’m going to explain it a bit later, so don’t worry.
Anyway, thanks again to everyone for watching the stream! You can go to EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Stream to find out when the next one is at any time.
OK, I’ll just explain some words that are in today’s story.
A mermaid is a magical creature. It is a woman who is half-fish. The top half of her body is human, and the bottom half is fish. She has a big fish tail instead of legs. There is a famous Disney film called The Little Mermaid about a mermaid called Ariel.
A wizard is a man who does magic. Some famous wizards are Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, Dumbledore from Harry Potter and Merlin from English legends. Wizards usually wear long purple clothes with stars on them, they have big white beards and pointy hats, and they are very old.
Cast a spell means to use magic. You wave your hand, or a magic wand, and say magic words like ‘Abracadabra!’ or ‘Expecto patronum!’. Wizards and witches cast spells.
A curse is an evil spell, evil magic. When you curse something, you change something about it, and the curse must be broken to get it back to normal. For example, a witch or wizard might curse a prince so that he dies on his eighteenth birthday. To break the curse, the prince has to have true love’s kiss.
Juggling is when you throw three balls into the air and catch them. You keep throwing them so that one or more balls is always in the air. You can also juggle with bottles or swords, for example. It is difficult to juggle, and you have to practise a long time to juggle well. If you go to the circus, you might see a clown juggle.
Wallow in self-pity is when you are feeling really bad about yourself. You think you have done something really stupid, so you have lots of self-pity, you pity yourself. You pity yourself so much that you are wallowing, rolling around, in it. For example, maybe you lost your job and you spend all day crying and saying, ‘I’m so useless! I can’t do anything!’ That’s wallowing in your self-pity.
A shipwreck is a ship that hit a rock, or an iceberg, and sank under the sea. In stories, shipwrecks are often at the bottom of the sea and have lots of treasure and gold inside.
An octopus is an animal that lives in the sea. It has eight arms, called tentacles, and these tentacles are very sticky, they stick to things easily. When an octopus is in danger, it sprays ink, throws ink, at its enemy.
Spin, and the past tense is spun, is when you move something around in a circle. When you drive a car, the wheels spin. When you put clothes in a washing machine, it spins them around to clean them. There are some office chairs which you can spin around on, and it’s very fun to do so.
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OK, so listen and enjoy!
The Other Mermaid
You have probably heard of a certain mermaid, who came from Denmark and fell in love with a human prince. She made a deal with a witch, turned into a human and tried to win his heart, but she was unable to. So she turned into sea water and disappeared.
Well, I’m sorry to say that the mermaid in this story does not fall in love with any evil prince living in a fancy castle, nor does she turn into water. If you’re looking for a sad ending, you’ll have to go elsewhere.
But this story can promise a sad beginning, that much is certain. For our mermaid, the Other Mermaid, did not live in a castle under the water, surrounded by her loving family, but in the park of a large city.
For, you see, she was a statue. Every night, when nobody was looking—and the park could hardly be considered popular—she transformed, breaking the stony shell of her statue and swimming around the pond in the park. As long as the moonlight touched her, she could remain in this form, but once it disappeared, she would turn back into stone.
Her name was Alejandrita. She had long, purple-red hair, and she loved nothing more than to swim around the pond and dive down deep into its waters. Still, the water did not go deep enough to satisfy her desire, and she wished with all her heart to return to the ocean.
For although she did not have such wonderful beginnings as the Danish mermaid, she had originally lived in the deep blue sea, like all the others of her kind. It was through a series of bad decisions, and even worse men, that she had arrived here, cursed to live the daylight hours as a statue.
Just like the more famous mermaid, she had fallen in love with a man, though this was no prince, but instead a builder. A kind, earthy man who surely would hurt no woman on purpose. She made a deal with a sea wizard to turn herself into a human, but every night she had to turn back into a mermaid, swim back into the sea and live in the wizard’s house, cooking and cleaning for him.
She was a talented girl, skilled at both singing and juggling, but it was her beauty and charms which made the human builder fall in love with her. Nevertheless, true love’s kiss had no magic in her case; she still had to return to the sea every evening. And one day, the builder found out about her secret and flew into a rage. He would never hurt a woman, but before him he did not see a woman but a monster. He beat her and locked her up in the basement in a pool of water. Then he called all the world to come and look at her, like a zoo animal. In particular, they loved to watch her painful transformation as the sun set each day.
The wizard, furious that his slave had disappeared, came to the human world to find her. Seeing that she was trapped, he offered another deal to her, so that she could escape.
‘You must come and live with me. Day and night. You will cook and clean, and teach me to sing and juggle as beautifully as you do.’
‘And what then?’
‘You will be allowed to leave.’
So Alejandrita accepted his offer, spending several painful years passing on her skills to him. Every day, she turned back into a human, and had to crawl back onto the beach, sleeping in the sun until her tail grew back and she could go to teach her student. He liked her that way, tired and inflexible, as it meant she couldn’t escape.
After five years of this setup, Alejandrita spoke to him.
‘Now you sing as beautifully as a songbird and juggle like a master. Can I leave now?’
The wizard paused, as if he was seriously considering whether to set her free or not. Then he said, ‘Yes, but you must promise to never sing or juggle again.’
‘That wasn’t part of our deal!’
‘A talent is only as worthwhile as it is unique. I can’t have people hearing me and thinking that I did not create it myself! Anyway, if you do not obey me I will find out.’
‘Aren’t you at least going to turn me back into a full mermaid again?’
‘Only if you promise to not use your talents.’
Feeling sick, Alejandrita swam away. She could not accept the deal. She went to a human city, and at night, she swam in the river and hid from human eyes. She belonged to neither world entirely, and with no other choice, she turned to her singing and juggling skills to make money. Every day, she wandered from street to street, performing for coins, but she never escaped from poverty while she was there.
One night, when she dove into a pool at a certain park, she saw a familiar face staring up at her from the darkness.
‘You broke the deal,’ hissed the wizard.
‘I never agreed to it!’
She tried to climb out of the water and get away, but he grabbed her tail, dragging her down.
‘I should kill you for your rudeness. But I am a kind master. I will give you one last chance. I will turn you fully into a mermaid, and you will come and be my wife.’
Alejandrita felt sick. ‘Or…?’
‘Or you will be cursed to remain here forever.’
‘I would rather die than marry you.’
She slapped him in the face with her tail and jumped out of the water. She only made it a few metres before he reached out his hand and cast a spell on her. She fell to the ground, and a strange sensation passed through her body.
‘What did you do?’
‘You will see soon enough,’ the wizard said, chuckling. ‘Good night, you nasty little creature.’
Soon, the sun began to rise, and Alejandrita learned that there are some punishments far worse than death, as her whole body turned to stone.
Nobody could tolerate such an existence for long. Alejandrita wallowed in self-pity for several months, living on food the humans threw away, before she decided she had to get out of there. She had tried swimming down into the pond, and it connected to some tunnels, but as soon as she went away from the moonlight she began to turn to stone. If she turned to stone down there in the dark, she would be trapped forever.
So the poor mermaid did the only thing she could do during the daytime: she watched. She watched the people passing by, the parents and children, the businessmen, the homeless and the police. She searched for someone remarkable, someone who could help her, and eventually she noticed a certain man.
At first glance, he looked just like the others. He wore a suit and tie, and he walked with his head down. But after several days of observing him, she noticed that his beard was quite large, much thicker than was fashionable at that time. And his tie was a deep purple colour, standing out compared to the blacks and greys around him. One day, when the street was quiet, she watched him wave his hand over a leaf and send it flying in the air.
He was a wizard, no doubt about it. He hid it well, but wizards were never fully able to hide their natures from the rest of the world. She didn’t particularly want to ask for help from another of his kind, but what choice did she have? She would make another deal and get out of here before he could curse her.
So she waited patiently. At night, she tried to make interesting shapes with her body, so that when she turned into stone she might catch his eye. After several weeks of this, apparently completely failing to capture his interest, he stopped in the park one afternoon and sat on the bench in front of her statue, deeply absorbed in a book.
He was so fascinated by it that he didn’t even notice it getting dark, and as soon as the moon appeared she fell onto the ground beside him.
‘You have to help me,’ she said, dipping her tail into the water.
‘Hmm? Oh! You are a mermaid.’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘But I am trapped here. Another wizard cursed me, and I can only remain in my true form under the moonlight. By day, I turn to stone.’
‘ “Another” wizard?’ He blinked. ‘How did you know?’
‘You don’t hide it that well, you know. Now, I know that this pond connects to some underground tunnels, and I think they lead to the sea. But if I try and swim through there, I will lose sight of the moon and turn back into a statue. I need help getting through.’
‘Hmm,’ said the wizard, smiling. He seemed to be enjoying this. ‘I could put the moon in a jar.’
‘Perfect!’ she said.
‘But I want something in return. It’s not an easy spell.’
Alejandrita’s heart began to beat fast. Here it was, the moment of truth.
‘Deep under the sea there is a pot. I want you to get it.’
‘A pot? That’s it?’
‘Not just any pot! It is a magic pot, covered with eyes, eyes which see into a person’s future and past.’
‘Oh, I see.’ As far as Alejandrita was concerned, thinking about the future was a waste of time. ‘You know, seeing into your future won’t make you any happier.’
‘Who said I was thinking of looking into my future? Anyway, it doesn’t matter what I’m going to do with it, I just need you to go and get it for me. I’ll even undo the other wizard’s curse so you don’t have to turn into a statue anymore. So, is it a deal?’
They shook hands and the wizard cast his spell. He pointed at the moon and muttered to himself. The moon grew bigger and bigger, filling up the night sky, and soon Alejandrita realised it was coming down to them. Just as it seemed the moon would crash into the Earth, destroying everything in its path, it began to shrink, and, holding out a jar that had appeared out of nowhere, the wizard caught the moon and closed it in the jar.
He handed the shining jar to Alejandrita with a self-satisfied smile.
‘I’ll meet you at the beach. See you soon!’
Alejandrita dove down into the pond and swam faster than she ever had in her life. It was dark in the tunnels, and she hit herself many times, but she was determined. As she went, she began to smell the salt of the ocean, and within a few hours she was outside.
She burst out of the water. Now that she was out of the city, the sky shone with thousands of stars, although it looked odd without the moon. She laughed and dove back into the water. She waved at the fishes, ran her hands through the seaweed, and fell back in love with the smell and taste of the sea.
When she finally returned to the beach, the wizard was waiting. He was sitting on the sand, dressed in modest black wizard clothes and the traditional pointed hat.
She handed him the jar, and he opened it up. The moon flew into the sky, so small that she quickly lost sight of it, and then suddenly it ballooned back to its normal size.
‘You look like you’ve just run a marathon,’ said the wizard.
‘Where is this pot?’ She was free now. She had no intention of wasting time here joking around with a wizard.
‘It is hidden in a shipwreck a few hours from here. Quite amazing luck that you showed up like that, really. Anyway, I will remove the curse now.’
He clicked his fingers.
‘That’s it? I can move around in the day now?’ She couldn’t believe it was that easy. ‘You know I could just leave you here? Why do you trust me?’
The wizard smiled. ‘Yes, you could just run away. It’s really up to you. But equally, I could hunt you down and curse you again.’
‘Yeah, yeah,’ said Alejandrita. ‘I’ll meet you back here.’
‘Don’t you want to rest first?’
‘I want to get this over with and get back to living my life.’
She swam down to the shipwreck. Her tail ached, given that she hadn’t swum so much in months, but she was driven by a strong desire. She would get this pot and then return home. Oh, how her family must have missed her! She went red thinking about how her mother would shout at her. Could she really go back? She wasn’t sure if they knew everything that had happened to her, and all sorts of rumours could have started since she left…
These thoughts swam around in her head as she swam down, and before she knew it she saw the shipwreck in the distance. It was a small, modest boat, but she could sense the power of the treasure inside.
‘This will be a piece of cake.’
But as she approached, something dark appeared from behind the ship, waving ghostly tentacles in the air. It was a giant octopus, as black as the night, with frightening red eyes.
‘Of course it’s guarded by a monster. Just my luck.’
She stopped swimming, and the horrible creature gradually revealed its full body. It had thirty long, powerful tentacles, each holding a rusty sword which must have been rescued from various shipwrecks. It waved its tentacles about, and it took her a moment to realise that it was juggling the swords! From inside the ship, she saw the shine of the pot.
But the monster had seen her, and was glaring at her, daring her to come closer.
“Hmm,” she thought. “If he juggles, maybe I can speak to him…”
It was unlikely to work, but she didn’t particularly want to get her arm chopped off trying to steal the pot.
So cautiously she swam forward and called, ‘Hello!’
A deep, dark groan came from the octopus as it spoke. ‘Do you seek my treasure?’
‘Oh, no!’ she said. ‘I just saw you juggling and, well, I love juggling, too.’
‘Oh?’ The octopus threw five swords towards her. She jumped out of the way, and then realised that he did not intend to hurt her. They flew slowly through the water, and spun around so that their handles faced towards her. ‘Show me.’
Alejandrita picked up the swords. They were covered with seaweed, which made them slimy and difficult to hold. She was used to juggling with balls, but she would have to do her best.
She held her breath and threw the swords into the water. At first, she made some mistakes, but gradually her skill came back to her. It was different with swords—she had to be more careful, and their weight was more varied—but after a while she was throwing the swords upwards and catching them like it was nothing.
Oh, it felt good to juggle again! She started laughing, and then, unable to control herself, she sang as well.
‘Oh, what a wonderful day to be singing
and sending all these swords a-swinging!’
She made up the words as she went, and she started doing tricks with the swords, sending them spinning in impressive circles.
‘Wow!’ said the octopus, his eyes sticking out at her. ‘I’ve never met anyone who juggles as well as you. Do you have any advice?’
Alejandrita put down the swords and took on a serious expression. ‘Yes. When you juggle, it’s really important for your mind and body to be free. You can’t have any unnecessary things distracting you.’ She tapped her chin as if she was deep in thought, and then said, ‘Ah! Take that pot, for example.’ She pointed at the shipwreck. ‘I bet it’s so distracting, all those eyes looking at you. If you got rid of it, you could juggle much better.’
‘Of course!’ said the octopus. ‘I can’t believe I didn’t think of that!’
‘I would be more than happy to take it from you.’
The octopus stuck its head into the ship and pulled out the pot, throwing it in her direction. She caught it and smiled.
‘Well, enjoy your juggling!’
Laughing to herself, she swam back up to the beach. It was daytime, and the sun shone brilliantly, warming her skin.
The wizard was waiting on the beach, watching the clouds calmly.
‘Here!’ she said, throwing the pot onto the sand. She hadn’t taken a good look at it before, but now in the sun it looked horrible. It was covered with big, blood-red eyes, looking in every direction, and some of them even stared directly at her.
‘Careful, you’ll get sand in its eyes!’ he said, brushing it off. ‘Thank you. Was it easy?’
‘Oh, I just had to fight a big, black octopus with a bunch of swords. No big deal.’
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t know there was anything down there.’
‘It’s fine. Am I free now?’
‘Of course,’ said the wizard. He stared happily at the pot. ‘I wish you all the best.’
But there was one thing she wanted to ask him before she left.
‘Maybe it’s none of my business, but… why did you want this pot in the first place? Most people who want to look into the future have evil plans, but you don’t seem like the kind of guy.’
The wizard sighed. For a moment, he said nothing, and then he spoke. ‘Long ago, in my past, I made a big mistake and hurt someone. I’ve always doubted myself and what really happened. I was young and I fell into dark magic. I don’t remember that period very well, if I’m being honest. I want to look into my past and find out what really happened.’
‘Oh,’ said Alejandrita. That was a much more serious answer than she’d been expecting. ‘You know, you can’t think about the past too much. Believe me, I made some stupid mistakes, but I’m free now. That’s all that matters.’
The wizard looked very surprised, and then laughed. ‘I think you’re right. I need to focus on the present.’
Carefully, he put the pot down and waved his hands in the air. The pot shrank down and transformed into a ring. He picked it up and held it out to her.
‘Would you like this?’
Her eyes went as wide as the ones on the pot. ‘Are you asking me to marry you?’
‘Yes!’ he said, as if it was obvious.
Alejandrita stared at the ring and then said, ‘Look, you’re nice, but I barely know you.’
‘Oh,’ said the wizard, and he went bright red. He looked down at the ring. ‘This was a stupid idea, wasn’t it?’
‘A bit much for some mermaid you just met. Why don’t we start with something a bit more simple? I don’t even know your name.’
‘Lovely to meet you, Juan. I’m Alejandrita. Why don’t we meet here tomorrow night, for dinner?’
‘Perfect,’ he said. ‘I love cooking.’
‘Great. But no seafood!’
So the mermaid and the wizard met on the beach night after night. Gradually, they came to know each other very well, and they fell deeply in love with each other, as deep as the ocean.
Juan never turned the ring back into the pot. He never found out what really happened in the past, because it did not matter. His present was much happier. And one day, when they were both ready, Alejandrita accepted his ring.
And they lived happily ever after.
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