After writing a story for Brick Moon that didn’t really work out so well, and my editor tells me that most writers had trouble with the same prompt, I needed a “hangover story” to get me back on track. This is that story. The concept of this was based on one simple image: a woman singing on the shore while a mermaid secretly listened in. From there things got interesting, and a lot more dark than I expected.
I submitted this on the spur of the moment to a literary SF quarterly I’d recently been made aware of, but sadly it didn’t fit their needs. So here it is for you fine people.
The November sea was cold as death. It almost made me laugh.
You couldn’t fight it. The cold would sap your limbs, draining your strength. The waves would make you lose your way while your sodden clothes pulled you down. No one would last long.
No one human.
Human, like the woman perched on the nearby rocks. The human who watched me, smirking. This irritating human, I thought.
“Don’t be stingy,” Carol said. “I’m not asking for an aria. A few notes is plenty.”
“Never,” I said. “I won’t sing for you.”
She wasn’t deterred. “A little is fine, isn’t it?. I could tie myself up like in the stories.”
“Stories aren’t real,” I said, aware I was mythical too. “They don’t say the listeners became addicted and destroyed themselves. Trust me, they did.”
Part of me wanted to do as she wished. The part as deadly as the sea, if not deadlier. Mermaid, sea witch, siren, they’re all my kind. But I pushed the instinct down.
“That’s how it is, then?”
“That’s how it is,” I said. “So stop asking.”
“Fine”, she said with a pout, then shivered. The water’s edge was cold this time of year. She didn’t care, meeting me here almost every day. “I’ll let you off the hook since you’re so cute.”
“Cu-!” I felt myself flush, spines along my back rising up. “I’m not cute, what are you talking about!”
I dropped into the water so only my eyes were visible. I knew how humans saw me. Not a beauty from a fairy tale, but a horror from the deep, made to lure and rend my prey. Human prey.
“You’re making fun of me,” I mumbled under the water. She laughed.
“Oh Natia,” Carol said, not hiding her giggles. “A little teasing and you act like a shy teenager. That’s so cute, regardless of looks.”
I turned my back and huffed, making her even more amused. If I were human, I’d have blushed. As it was my skin took on vivid tones of blue and green.
Carol’s banter was embarrassing, but superficial. Like a thin drape over something painful she wanted to hide, something I found alluring.
When I first heard her, I could only sense the emotion. I swam for days following a lure made of raw pain, the songs becoming ever clearer. It took days to find her alone on the rocks. I listened in secret for weeks before revealing myself. Her songs were softer then, but infused with the tantalizing allure of loss.
“If you want songs, why don’t you sing?” An innocent question. A big mistake.
“No,” she said immediately, pain in her voice. I shuddered, but not from embarrassment. “I can’t.”
I should have let it go. Didn’t I reject the same question? But the taste of hurt was too delicious. “Only one song. I want to hear your voice…”
“Stop it!” She jumped to her feet. “I won’t sing! Not for anyone!”
She was crying, and a need stirred in me. “Why?”
Her voice trembled and she shrunk back. “All my songs are hers…you can’t have them.”
So that’s how it is.
Now I understood. Pain and desperation, to a mermaid those are more attractive than beauty – I was no different. I was enraptured by her trauma and pretended she would return my feelings. But none of it was for me.
You never saw me that way. Only as a tool.
“Carol,” I asked. “Why do you want me to sing?”
Her expression was painful. The emotions – and intentions – were all too clear. “I didn’t have the courage to end it myself.”
“You wanted someone to make the decision for you. I was…convenient.”
“Yes, as bad as that sounds. I couldn’t move forward or back. But when I saw you, I remembered the stories and thought you could…take care of things.”
The ache in her eyes thrilled me. “I wanted to hear your sing. But there was something I wanted more.”
Rising up without a word, I dived to the sea floor with a mighty splash. I deserved a little spite.
I heard her calling from the rocks. “Natia, wait! Please come back!”
Love comes in many forms. Carol would never return my human love. But a mermaid’s love need not be be returned, played out in addiction, blood and death.
If I can’t love you your way…
Without a ripple I rose to the surface and the first ethereal notes drifted across the waves.