So I’ve been working on a short story lately and though I would share a snippet or two with you as we go. I’m not sure what will come of this just yet, but for now it will simply be a short novella, and as you can guess by the title, a mermaid’s story. Enjoy! And naturally, I would love some feedback. Because what writer doesn’t want to know what her readers think?
Seagulls cried overhead, dove with breathless dips into the ocean before breaking the surface again. Every tilt of their wings seemed so effortless and calm against the troubled waters. Not even the remnant gusts of the storm kept them from their prey. Instead they danced with the wind, rode upon it and molded it to fit their will. For now they were the masters of their world.
Watching them made the young woman want to spread her heavy arms, move her rubbery legs and fly too. She seemed to remember flying once, or something very like it. But the feeling was more of an echo than a memory and something kept her mind from finding the image clearly. Instead she let the wind continue to blow her naked skin into an itchy dryness while trying to remember.
For a long time she watched the sea with a near and terrible longing. Her water tinted eyes caressed the bleak gray horizon with trepidation, followed the clouds in their western retreat to distant shoals. Thunder rumbled still, trying to shake its last shudder. Waves crashed upon the rocky beach, sprayed refreshingly tempting mist on her drying skin. How simple it would be to step into the water, to let it fill her up forever.
Lowering her gaze, she watched the clear freezing waters rise to shift time worn stones and barely graze the tips of her bloody toes. It was the temptation to step in that made her pick up her bare feet and turn to keep walking down the beach. Even though her skin prickled the cold never seeped below the surface. Even though the rocks cut her fresh skin she did not recognize the pain, too lost within herself to notice.
Something tickled just at the corner of her mind, like a thought that is forgotten but refuses to be ignored. After wandering this long without any clarity, she was convinced this one thought would explain everything if she could only catch it.
Her ears picked up the sound long before it pierced the solitary cocoon she had wrapped herself inside, a sharp bark that sounded so familiar but wrong. She moved too quickly, this time felt the rocks dig into the soles of her feet and nearly fell, searching for the source of that sound, and stumbled into the wet sand and the sweet, oh so sweet, tug of water on her toes. Instantly she felt the shivers lace up her legs and through her body, the tug and pull of flying so near she could taste it on her tongue.
Only the barking was closer and had risen in pitch as a warning. The sea retreated and she blinked aware, surprised she had shut her eyes. She turned her head to follow the bark and cried in terror at the creature now growling at her feet. Its body was covered in a thick fur that was quickly soaking in the tide. It stood easily to her waist and if not for sheer size alone she would have backed off from the look in its yellow eyes. With the creature darting and leaping between her and the sea, she had no choice but to stumble backwards. Only after she backed away from the waves did the beasts’ growls cease and an even stranger sound fell upon her ears for the first time.
“Mags! Get away from the poor girl! Come along!” A high pitched whistle sliced through the air after and the furry creature instantly cowered.
Her breath caught in her throat, still layered with water and disuse, when a tall figure hobbled up to them. She couldn’t help but to stare at the two legged being and distantly recalled the tales she had heard of human kind. Such strange skins he had, she thought, with his outer coat and covered legs and the flat fabric smashed over his head. The brim shaded his twinkling eyes, weathered hands gripping his walking stick for added support. Yet it was the hair growing on his face that confused her most, gray with white patches. It must be very uncomfortable.
“Sweet Jesus!” the human exclaimed upon catching sight of her. He paused to catch his labored breath with a hand against his chest. As much as she took him in, his periwinkle blues swept over her naked form in return. She watched his cheeks redden and wondered if it was the wind and the sea that made them so. He shook his head and those piercing eyes met hers again as his mouth tilted into a sun-creased grin. “Lord knows what the child’s been through…”
She frowned when he tugged his outer fuzzy skin away and promptly wrapped her inside of it. The skin was course on the outside but soft within, soothing to her dry skin. Gray Hair ushered her back the way he had come, a steady hand at her back.
“Suppose you won’t give me a name or your story, lass?” His lips moved and a pleasant gravelly sound escaped them she wished she understood. Brow quirked, he eyed her side along and sighed before whistling again and calling back to the beast darting back and forth from land to sea, “Come Mags!”
She kept a wary eye on the creature, Mags. For now it appeared content to look up adoringly at its master with its long pink tongue hanging from its mouth.
To her, Gray Hair inclined his head. “Our cottage is just over that rise there, farthest from the harbor…” He frowned and leaned more heavily on his stick. “Come to think of it, you’re an awfully long walk from the docks to this beach. How’d you come by it?” He waited patiently for a reply she didn’t know how to give and then smiled to himself.
“Ah, never mind. Looks like you’ve been through enough. I trust you weren’t in that blasted storm last night? My wife Letty, she’s the one who will take care of you. Didn’t have much time to make a better plan, you just popped in on my afternoon walk, after all…”
She was too busy snatching her hands away from the beast now sniffing at them to notice the human’s eyes on her bloody feet.
He cursed silently under his breath. Her skin was clammy and icy cold and the fact she gave no hint of her pain gave him greater cause to worry. He took in the almost translucent pallor of her skin and blue circles under her eyes and prayed he wasn’t too late.
She would never know how she had looked to him, standing bloody naked on the abandoned rocks with her fiery red locks tossing about the wind. Immediately he crossed himself and prayed she was nothing worse than a lost spirit, at best a lost girl. His wife’s mother had locks of a similar hue, rippling curls of fire he called them, that lasted through her old age.
His bad leg kept him from carrying the young woman. Now his leg throbbed the warning of a rough night ahead after tracking a trail of bloody foot prints.
“I’m Seamus, by the way,” he offered. She accepted his arm and they leaned on each other to climb the rough shoreline. His old sheltie, Mags took to running ahead of them happily with pluck for her age. And to keep his mind away from the queer look in her wide, sea colored gaze, he did what his wife claimed he was best at.
“My son, Flynn is a sailor aboard the Dauntless, fasted ship in Her Majesty’s fleet it is. My wife, Letty thought poorly of the sailor’s life and told our boy as much when he signed up. But I says, ‘tis far better to serve aboard a royal vessel than to spend his life fishing off these shoals like his pap! And don’t I miss Flynn’s help these days, with my hands weathered and knotted as my old ropes.
We haven’t heard hide or hair from Flynn in six months, now. Letty worries herself ill at times, but I would feel it in my bones if something had happened to our boy. There is all sort of badness in this world and I’d rather think on the good.”
Once they climbed the hill together, the path was much easier. Tufts of tall grass sprouted in patches around them and tiny crabs occasionally darted underfoot. Mags darted ahead of them, over the crest of another slope ahead, barking all the while. She listened to the gruff yet lilting way the man spoke and while she could not understand him, she could sense his meaning. She could sense his pride and underlying sadness. And she smiled when he reached over with his free arm to pat hers gently.
“Ah, but don’t you worry, girl. My wife, Letty will see you fitted in proper clothes and fill our bellies. No one knows how to turn a clam like she does.” He paused to take a sudden breath and they stared up at the final hill before them. “Our cottage is just over this rise. I think we can manage together, aye?” He shivered slightly when she turned those eerie blue eyes to him. Again he caught a sense of something other about her and pushed the thought back down.
Seamus huffed as they began the final climb. “I suppose you don’t have a name we can call you by?” When she gave no answer he grunted. “No matter…names aren’t always important. In fact, a man could live his whole life without a name if he pleased. Lord knows my wife hasn’t called me by my proper Christian name since the day we said our vows.”
By the time they made it to the top of the sandy dune, both she and Gray Hair were gasping for breath. But the sight before her eyes made the pang in her legs and sting in her feet worth it. A small gray cottage waited for them just ahead, orange winking lights promising comfort and relief from the cold wind. The same wind had somehow made her heavy red hair an even brighter and lighter thing as it dried. She lifted a curious hand to thread her fingers through it and glanced up at the gray clouds above. For a moment she was carried back to shrieking winds and black clouds framed by rocking thunder.
“No grander sight than that of your own home, wouldn’t you say?” Gray Hair sighed as he led her down the path to his cottage. She drew closer to him, her grip on his arm tighter and again drank in the sights and his warmth. She did not want to remember the storm that brought her here.