Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Annie who lived by the side of very big lake. Every morning before she went to school she would walk to the edge of the water and sit on a rock to watch her reflection while she combed out her hair. She liked the way her face rippled in the water and her normally pale hair looked all seaweed green and exotic. She would always stay there, sitting by the water, until her mother called to her that it was time to leave for school.
Then one day, just as Annie heard her mother calling and turned to go, she heard a splash behind her. Quickly, she turned around, but she couldn’t see anything. There was her reflection the same as always, but it seemed to waver a bit more than usual. Annie’s mother called again, and she hurried off to school, but all day long she could not stop wondering.
When she got home from school, Annie decided to try something. As soon as she had finished combing her hair, she moved her face very close to the water. She smiled. Her reflection smiled back. She frowned. Her reflection frowned back. She opened her eyes wide and puffed out her cheeks and wrinkled her nose. Her reflection laughed. Annie jumped back in surprise.
With a little swish and a splash, a little girl’s head broke through the water right where Annie’s reflection had just been. She looked very much like Annie, but she had hair the color of seaweed and very pale gray skin. The girl was still laughing, but she stopped when she saw how terrified Annie looked.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” the little girl cried. “I didn’t mean to frighten you. I never meant for you to see me at all, but yesterday I slipped and then today…and then…oh, you were just so funny!” She laughed again, so hard that tears ran down her face.
“Who are you?” asked Annie.
“I’m Ina,” the little girl said.
“But where did you come from?”
“From nowhere. From here. I live in the water.”
“You live in the water? How can you live in the water?”
“How can you live on land?”
“I…everyone lives…that is, I don’t know. I just do.”
“And I just live in the water. I never even knew that anyone lived up on the land in the air until one day I was hunting for snails when I saw you there combing your hair.”
The two girls talked for a long time. Annie told Ina all about her family and her house and what she learned at school, and Ina told Annie all about her home under the sea, a city built of carved rocks and sculpted sea shells. Annie couldn’t imagine anything more wonderful. She wanted so badly to see that city, but she couldn’t breath underwater like Ina could and she knew she could never hold her breath so long. When she said so to Ina, Ina smiled. She swam away for a moment and came back with a tiny pebble. She said that all Annie had to do was eat the pebble and she would be able to breath under the water until the sun set. Without a second thought, Annie ate the pebble.
Moments later, Ina had taken Annie by the hand and led her down, down under the lake. It felt wonderful to be swimming and swimming and never to have to stop for air. They passed beautiful fish in all colors of the rainbow. They picked a bouquet of underwater lilies. The swam some more, and soon Ina said that they were close to her home. Annie was so excited. She couldn’t wait to see the giant carved shell that Ina had said was her school. Just at that moment, two men swam out from behind some clumps of seaweed. They each had a long, carved stick, which they crossed in front of the two girls.
“Halt!” they shouted. “Where are you going?”
“It’s just me, Princess Ina,” said Annie’s new friend.
“We know you, Princess, but what is she doing here?”
“She’s my new friend, and she’s coming home with me.”
“No, Princess, it is forbidden for her kind to enter our city.”
Ina was shocked. She begged and pleaded. She got angry and yelled. She ordered the men to let them pass. But they only said the same thing over and over: “It is forbidden.” Finally Ina grabbed Annie’s hand and began to swim right at the men. They each waved their sticks, and Annie was afraid, but the men did not hit them. She was just about to sigh in relief when she felt a tendril of seaweed wrapping around her wrist. Somehow the men had made the seaweed grow and grow and it was tying her legs together and tethering each wrist. Annie tried to pull away, but the seaweed only pulled tighter. It began to wrap around her waist now, and then her shoulders. Annie was sure it was going to strangle her. The seaweed just kept growing. Annie’s chest began to hurt.
Then suddenly there was a blinding purple light, and the pain went away. It took a moment before Annie could see anything again, but she could feel the seaweed falling away. When the light finally faded, Annie saw Ina, both hands wrapped around a glowing purple stone, a look of intense concentration on her face. The two guards had disappeared. Annie did not know what to say. She just stared at her new friend as Ina carefully put the stone back into a pouch that hung from her belt.
Ina took Annie’s hand again. “I’m sorry,” she said, and this time as she swam away it was in the direction of the shore where they had met. It wasn’t until Annie was back on dry land that Ina spoke again. “I didn’t know that would happen,” she said. “I hope you will still be my friend.”
“I’ll always be your friend,” said Annie. And she always was. Neither girl ever saw the other’s home, but every day they would meet in the mornings before they had to go to school, right at the place where the land and the water meets.