Leo the Mer-Guy! Chapter Fourteen: Down He Goes

Leo’s plan was met with seven wary expressions and seven sets of bugged out eyes.


“Uh. What?” Tinashe asked.


“I have to go in the pond,” Leo said. “That’s what the wish was telling me. That’s where the answer is. What my magic is.”


Silence followed his proclamation. 


“Dude, I think there are, like, pesticides and brain-eating amoebas down there,” Ruby said.


“Not to mention you can’t breathe underwater,” Juan said with a frown. “Are you planning on retrieving the stone? What are you going to do when you’re in there?”


Well. Those were a bouquet of annoyingly good points. Still. Leo doubled down.


“The water is calling to me. It will show me the way.”


“If you feel that strongly,” Ash said with a shrug.


Yasmin stepped forward. “I’ll warm you up when you come back,” she said. “No hypothermia for Leo.”


Leo smiled. “Thanks.”


He stepped towards the edge of the water.


The weirdest part was that it did call to him.


Ever since Leo was a toddler, he’d been drawn to bodies of water, stepping in fountains and veering off bridges before his parents could snatch him back to safety.


The call of the void was back. He wanted to go in the water. Even if it was gross and full of goose poop.


He thought of the people behind him, the rag-tag group of witches that would help him if he needed it. He really hoped he wouldn’t need it. He hoped he wasn’t being absolutely insane right now.


No time like the present.


Leo took a deep breath. He leaned down, dipping his fingers in the pond. The water was cold, really cold, but it didn’t feel goopy or sticky or oily like he’d feared. It just felt like water.


Without glancing back at his new coven, Leo took his shoes off. Then his socks. Then everything except his boxer briefs. He covered his chest with his arms, shivering in the cold.


“You got this, Leo!” Tinashe shouted.


Leo sure hoped she was right.


Despite the way all of his muscles were screaming at him not to, Leo walked into the water. Step by step, it grew colder, choking him in a vice, making his movements stiff. He stumbled, but he kept going, the water slowly rising around his feet, his calves, his thighs, his hips, his chest, his neck, and finally, his head.

Leo the Mer-Guy! Chapter Thirteen: Who You Are

Ash cleared their throat, brushing a navy blue strand of their rainbow hair out of their face. “So, um, yeah, that’s cool that you get it now, but we still have to figure out… this,” they said, gesturing toward the pond.


Yasmin called her moon back into her hand, some of the gentle light leaving the glade. The bonfire was burning lower, too, leaving things in a red-orange darkness.


“For me, I just had to trust,” Ji-fu spoke up. “And the truth came to me.”


“I’m not… much of a truster,” Leo hedged. “I don’t know if I can just believe hard enough and make it happen.”


“It’s not about belief,” Juan said. “It’s healthy to question things, to have doubts and worries. It’s about trust. Trusting yourself and trusting us to make sure nothing bad will happen to you.”


“Wait a minute. Something bad could happen to me?”


Juan’s eyes went big. “No, I mean, well, not recently–“


“Not recently?” Leo squeaked.


“Alright, alright,” Ruby spoke up, her loud voice echoing through the glade and making some small creature skitter off through the trees. “Leo, what do you think it means?”


“I-I don’t know. I don’t really have a manual for this kind of thing.”


“This ain’t DND, we don’t need no stinking manual!” Ruby barked out. “Trust in me, dude. Trust in Yasmin’s crazy magic. What could it mean?”


“The wish had to do with me, who I want to be,” Leo said tentatively. Juan smiled at him, encouraging him to go on. “And the stone shot out of the fire and into the water. So maybe it has something to do with… water?”


Tinashe nodded. “Good start, but I didn’t figure out my public speaking abilities by saying that it maybe had something to do with my vocal chords.”


Leo flushed. “I don’t like fire, I do like water,” he continued, scrambling for some kind of connection. “Maybe I need to change who I am to be more like water, to be more fluid. More accepting.”


Onyx giggled, face still neutral. Leo had never seen anything like it.


“What Onyx means is, while that’s good therapy, L, it doesn’t really have to do with magic,” Ash said. “What kind of magic do you have?”


Leo didn’t know. He didn’t have any clue.


Maybe that was the clue.


“I know where I’ll find out,” Leo declared with a confidence he didn’t actually feel. “In the pond.”

Leo the Mer-Guy! Chapter Twelve: No Way

Leo froze, eyes wide.


The stone had moved like it had a life of its own.


That definitely wasn’t normal.


It didn’t make sense. He tried to think of some logical explanation, some rational reason why the fire would spit the stone into the lake. But he came up empty-handed.


“So, uh, I’ve never seen that before,” Ash spoke up. “I honestly have no idea what that means.”


Leo turned around to face them all, feeling kind of faint. “So… when you said magic…”


Tinashe snorted at the look on his face. “We didn’t mean making mud pies and wearing crystals,” she said. “We meant real, actual magic.”


“But magic isn’t real.”


“No offense, dude, but like, isn’t it obvious?” Ruby said. “Didn’t you just witness it yourself?”


“But it can’t be.”


“When I did my initiation, we got attacked by a bunch of pigeons,” Onyx murmured evenly. “They pooped on the ground in the shape of a perfect eye. That’s how I discovered my prophetic visions.”


“You can’t just say that like it’s something people say,” Leo said, feeling dizzy.


Ash came forward, laying a hand on Leo’s shoulder. “It’s okay, Leo,” they said. “Breathe.”


Leo took a breath. Then another, and another.


Ash smiled. “Do you feel better?”


Leo shook his head. “No.”


“Well, uh, don’t worry,” Ash said. “We’ll figure out what this means for you.”


“I can prove it,” Yasmin said. It was the first time Leo had heard her speak. At the look on his face, she added, “I can prove magic is real.”


“Yasmin…” Ash warned.


She held a hand up to Ash. Ash went quiet. She looked Leo in the eye. “So?”


Leo nodded, unable to find his words. He gestured for her to go ahead.


Yasmin smiled. The wind picked up, whipping her curly black hair around her face.


She held her hands together in front of her face. She lifted her hands up toward the sky, still clasped.


“Illuminate,” she whispered. Bright spears of white light escaped the spaces between her fingers, turning her skin an almost translucent orange with how bright the captured light was. She opened her hands, and a miniature moon floated out from between them, lighting up the glade in a soft light.


“Oh, my god,” Leo croaked. “Oh my god. It’s real.”


“Oh, thank god,” Juan said. “It took us two weeks to convince Tinashe.”


Tinashe hit Juan on the elbow. “Did not!”


“I know it’s a lot,” Juan said, ignoring Tinashe’s glare and fighting a grin, “but it’s awesome, I promise.”


Leo let himself smile. So, maybe his world had just been completely upended, and everything he knew about reality was now cast into doubt, but Juan was right.


It was pretty awesome.

Leo the Mer-Guy! Chapter Eleven: Initiation


Leo stood in front of the crackling flames all by himself.


Ruby shuffled forward, tossing a log that was as big as her onto the flames with a furious vigor. She looked up at Leo with a small smile. “Good luck,” she whispered, before slinking back into the shadows.


The rest of the witches were all behind Leo, watching him like an audience watching a stage performer.


“Think about yourself as you are now, what you look like and how you feel,” Ash called out, adopting their Gandalf voice.


Leo closed his eyes. He pictured his cobbled-together costume, his lanky shoulders and androgynously moppy hair. He felt the stress of the last day–the last month, the last year–and the increasing expectations being placed on him by his parents. He felt his exhaustion.


“Now think about where you want to be in the future. What you look like and how you feel.”


Leo stood up straighter. He saw himself as he saw himself. A brighter smile, broader shoulders. For some reason he was fixated with his arm hair. He’d always wanted to have hairy arms like his dad. He also wanted better glasses, glasses like Daniel Radcliffe wears. He saw himself as a well-meaning theater boy, someone sensitive and serious. Someone who felt confident, secure in their skin. Someone who was happy with where they were and had hope for where they’d be next. Not all of this confusion and uncertainty he felt now.


Ji-fu appeared by his side. He felt her presence more than saw it, blinking his eyes open and startling at her presence. “Jesus, you scared me!” Leo exclaimed.


She handed him a smooth, flat stone and walked away.


“Make a wish, and breathe that wish into the stone,” Ash said. “Then throw your wish into the flames.”


The little hairs on the back of Leo’s neck stood up, making him shiver. Okay, maybe he could get into the whole witch thing. The vibes here tonight were off the charts.


Leo cupped the cool stone in his hands, holding it up to his lips. He closed his eyes and whispered, “I want to be myself. I want to be accepted. I want to be happy. I want to be strong.”


He opened his eyes. He gripped the stone tightly in his sweaty palms and launched it into the flames.


He let out a breath. That felt good, really good. There was a kind of therapy to it. He felt more centered, more present in his body.


A loud pop emanated from the flames. A beat later, the stone launched itself out of the flames, arching across the sky, hot and molten orange. It fell into the pond with a steamy hiss and a muted splash.

Leo the Mer-Guy! Chapter Ten: Magic

“Why don’t we go around the circle and introduce ourselves,” the rainbow-haired person suggested. “I’m Ash. They/them pronouns.”


The backpack kid was next. “Ruby. She/her.”


There was a very tall person with long, straight, black hair and makeup like they were a member of the band KISS. “Onyx. They/them.”


Next, there was a kid who didn’t look so different from Leo. They offered him a lopsided smile. “Juan. He/him.”


Leo also met Tinashe, Yasmin, and Ji-fu.


It was a lot of names and a lot of people all at once, but Leo was really hoping to get to know them all much better.


Much, much, better.


He wasn’t alone here after all.


He wasn’t the only gay kid, wasn’t the only trans kid. Here he was, huddled in the woods with a group of people that understood him. Not all of them looked just like parents and society thought a boy or a girl should look.


It was awesome.


Oh, and they were all clearly super weird. Like the actual weirdest.


Leo had never felt more at home.


Ash explained that they were a secret order of kids who all lived in the neighborhood. They went through the agenda, including discussing whose house would host the next meeting. Juan said his parents hadn’t finished cleaning the basement, but that it would probably work for next week. Tinashe offered to bring snacks since her mom worked at CostCo.


Ash also explained to Leo that they were all queer, they were all witches, and that they practiced magic. That this field and this pond was where the magic was strongest.


That was something new.


Leo had never really had a goth or an emo phase. He’d never worn crystals to school and chanted spells at home. He’d seen plenty of theater kids at his last school who did, though, and he wasn’t one to judge, he just didn’t know if it was for him.


But he liked them all enough and was lonely enough to start embracing his inner witch. It couldn’t be hard, right?


He hoped he didn’t have to wear black all the time, though. It wasn’t really his color.


“So, Leo,” Ji-fu said, twirling her braids around her finger, “you interested in joining us?”


“Oh, yeah!” Leo exclaimed. “I mean, if it’s cool with you guys.”


Ruby offered a thumbs up. Ash nodded. “You need to go through initiation, then,” Ash said. “If you’re serious.”


Leo nodded emphatically enough for his bangs to fall in his face. “Yes. I am. Super serious.”


“Okay, then,” Ash said, the gleeful smile on their face illuminated eerily by the orange flames. “Let us begin the ceremony.”

Leo the Mer-Guy! Chapter Nine: The Order of the Night

The group murmured in shock, glancing left and right, capes billowing as anxious bodies moved beneath them.


The rainbow-haired person pointed the flashlight directly at Leo. “We have been followed.”


All eyes turned toward him, glinting brightly against the flames in darkness.


Well. Leo did not wake up today expecting to get murdered. He’d braced himself for a crappy day, but this was just about as crap as crap could get.


Mouth dry, knees wobbly, Leo stepped forward and into the light. “Uh.. uh…” His thoughts were completely empty. He offered a trembling wave. “Hi?”


“Name yourself and your intent,” The rainbow-haired person demanded, voice echoing powerfully.


“I’m L-Leo. Leo Castellan. I just moved here and I thought–“


“Why did you follow us?” they interjected, the edge to their tone growing ever sharper.


Leo swallowed. “Because you seemed cool?”


“Excuse me?”


Leo cleared his throat. “Because you seemed cool, and my parents wanted me to make some friends,” he tried again, his voice a little louder.


The rainbow-haired person blinked. “Oh.”


The group of kids glanced at each other, some spooky nonverbal communication passing between them.


“I can, uh, just go, or–“


“No, hold on,” the rainbow-haired person said. Their voice was normal now, instead of the Gandalf-y tone and power from before. “Did anyone bring an extra robe?”


There was some shuffling, some silence, some footsteps, until a voice piped up: “I did, but it’s kinda small.”


Leo looked to the speaker, who he’d previously assumed was some kind of hunchback toddler. They threw back their cloak, revealing the truth: they were just really short with a really huge backpack. They set the backpack down, pulling out a cloak from under some potato chip snack-sized bags. They held it out toward Leo. “Here.”


“Oh. Thanks.” Leo stepped into the circle, feeling like he was breaking some unspoken rule. He took the robe from the kid, the flames making his eyes water.


He put the cloak on. It ended just below his waist. He looked over to the rainbow-haired person, who seemed to be the leader.


They shrugged and nodded. “Alright, everybody, make room.”


The circle widened by just enough to let one more person join its ranks.


Heart still going crazy, but no longer out of fear of his imminent death, Leo stepped between the backpack child and the rainbow-haired person.


“Welcome,” the rainbow-haired person said to Leo, “to the Order of the Night.”