A mermaid tale

In the spirit of challenging myself, I decided to write a short story about mermaids. I honestly don’t know why I haven’t used them in a story before now. I love fantasy and many of the fantasy “monsters.” I do feel like mermaids are the more unexplored monster in modern fiction, but maybe that’s just because I haven’t read or watched very many stories about mermaids. I’ve only ever seen them portrayed three ways:

As innocent and beautiful.

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As murderous and beautiful.

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As strange and mysterious.

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Even in this small pool of examples, these mermaids are as varied as the many stories about vampires, werewolves, and ghosts. It just serves as a reminder that anyone can adopt a mythical creature, use some of the basic legends recorded about them, then add random twists or facts, and make it work for their story. So this is me, adding a little twist of my own. Hope you like it. I’ve titled it: Entering the Deep.

 


 

I’ve had the same dream for as long as I can remember.

I’m floating in a basket somewhere at sea, tossed and spun by the waves. Thunder peals, shaking the basket around me. A moment later, a crack of lightning streaks across the sky, and illuminates the water. I can see the remains of a ship in the distance. Pieces of wood drift around the torn hull, which is slowly being swallowed by the sea. Crates, clothes, and food bob along the surface of the water. I can hear screams but I don’t see any people.

I’m crying, waving my little arms and legs, hoping someone will hear me.

Suddenly, a head pops up from the sea before me. It’s a woman with raven black hair clinging to the sides of her face. Her pupils are dilated to an abnormal size, with only a thin ring of blue to surround them. Her full lips are slightly parted, revealing pointed teeth, and her brow is crinkled in concern.

She casts a quick glance over her shoulder at the wreckage and then ducks back down into the water. The basket moves underneath me, propelled by a mysterious pressure on my back. The sinking ship becomes smaller and smaller until it’s completely obscured by the rolling waves.

Then I wake up.

I know I’m not my parents’ son. Father has a big, round chin, blue eyes, and fair hair. Mother has a pointed, little nose, green eyes, and curly red hair. I have brown hair, brown eyes, a nose that’s too big for my face, and a pointed chin. Mother and Father won’t tell me where I came from. They insist I’m theirs and become upset when I press them for answers. I’ve often wondered if this dream actually happened, if this is the story of how I came to them?

Maybe my story’s simply too horrible for my parents to admit.

I love the sea. I love the way the moon’s reflection glows over the surface of the water. I love the sound the waves make when they crash against rock and sand. I love the wet feel of the water, elusive to my clutching fingers.

Mother is afraid of the ocean. She shouts and cries whenever she catches me near the beach.

“Why do you live here if you can’t stand the sight of the sea?” I asked once, angry at being dragged away from the water yet again.

Mother stiffened. Assumed her school-marm stance. “The sea is dangerous.”

Father, silent and meek, followed her lead, often catching me around the middle and throwing me over his shoulder whenever I tried to sneak out to the beach.

“You’re not ready yet,” he said over my protests.

“Not ready for what?” I demanded.

Then he looked away or distracted me with a treat.

But he never answered.

Today is my sixteenth birthday. I want to spend it in the water. I haven’t felt like a child in a long time, mostly because of the hair sprouting all over my body and the stomach-flopping feeling I get whenever a pretty girl smiles at me – but also because of the calluses on my hands and the aches I experience after a long day at the tuna canning factory. I’m practically a man, and men deserve to know where they came from.

“Father,” I say after another day’s hard work. “I want to have my birthday dinner on the beach.”

Father processes this in his methodical way, turning the keys of his car over and over in his hands. “All right,” he says at last. “I’ll talk to your mother.”

And they do talk, from the moment we walk in the door right up until dinner time. I pace in the sitting room, glancing occasionally at their locked door. I fight the urge to press my ear against the wood. Mother hates it when I eavesdrop. I run a hand through my hair, still damp from bathing. After an hour of this, I sink into the armchair by the fireplace.

Then the door opens. I sit up. My heart thumps so loudly in my chest I’m sure everyone can hear it.

Mother’s eyes are red. Her mouth trembles. She marches straight into the kitchen without looking at me and puts on her apron.

Father looks tired. He’s still in his dirty work clothes and boots. He smiles at me. “Your mother is going to make us a picnic basket. I’ll bathe and then we’ll go.”

I nod because my mouth is suddenly dry. I can’t speak. Father goes outside to pump water from the well. I lean back into the armchair and watch Mother work. The picnic basket is packed and Father returns to the sitting room, clean and dressed in fresh clothes.

Mother stands away from the dinner fixings. She signals me to come to her. Pulling me into a tight hug, she whispers, “You’re still my boy, Jacob. You always will be.”

“It’s only a picnic, Mother,” I say, surprised by her emotion.

She steps back and presses a handkerchief to her mouth.

“Come,” Father says.

I grab the packed dinner basket and follow him outside.

Father and I walk down the hill and across the beach. The seagulls call out to us from the sky, their bodies rising and falling in the invisible breeze. The waves are strong today; they smash hard against the sand. The water rushes across the beach, hungrily reaching for our feet before the tide tugs it back to the ocean.

I grin and begin to unlace by shoes.

“Jacob,” Father says. I straighten up. He stands a stone’s throw away from me, pointing at the bend of the island in the distance. “This way.”

Confused, I glance back at the water. “But—”

“Trust me, son,” he says.

I obey.

We walk along the sand for a long time. The sun, which hugged the horizon when we left home, has officially been swallowed by the sea. The stars wink at me from the heavens. The night becomes darker and darker every moment we walk.

“Father, should I make a torch?” I ask.

“No need,” he says. “We’re almost there.”

We reach a wall of rock, the side of a cliff that hangs over the ocean. Father leads me to the entrance of a cave. There he takes out two long, white candle sticks and a box of matches from our picnic basket. Once lit, he hands me one of the candles. Then we continue into the cave. Black walls reflect the light from the candles; sparkling stones in the ceiling mimic the twinkling of the stars.

“Watch your step,” Father says as we navigate the slick and uneven stone.

We come to a hole in the middle of the ground, full of water. The sloshing and whispering of the sea echoes all around us.

“What is this place?” I ask.

“This is where we found you,” Father says. “This is where she brought you.”

I look around, as if she will still be here. “Who?”

“You’ll see,” says Father.

Then she pops up out of the hole in the ground as if she’s been there this whole time, waiting for an invitation. I skitter back in surprise.

A few feet out of the hole, suspended in air, seemingly, is the woman from my dream. The black hair. The impossibly large blue eyes. That smile full of sharp teeth. Sea weed is wrapped around her chest. Green scales grow across her abdomen. I can’t look away.

Seeing that she’s startled me, she lowers herself back into the water until only her head is visible.

“Is that a—?”

“A mermaid? Yes.” Father sets the picnic basket down, as calm as if he sees things like this every day. “Her name is Alga. She can understand you. Go and speak with her.”

I approach the hole in the rock with caution, holding the candle out before me. Wax drips down the stick and burns my knuckles, but I can hardly feel it. My heart stutters. My mouth is dry. I force out some words. “Did – did you rescue me from the wreckage of a ship when I was a baby?”

She nods. “I pushed your little basket to shore and hid you here. I fed you from my body, taught you how to swim, sang you the song of the sea.”  Her voice is melodic, a chord struck on a harp. “Does it call to you still?”

“It does. Why?”

“Because once you hear it, you can’t stop hearing it.” Alga rises from the water, reaching out as if to touch me. “I gave birth to a son mere weeks before I found you. He had no heartbeat. I thought I would lose my own heart but you restored me.”

She lowers her hand. Glances at Father. “You needed the humans so I let them take you. But now you must return to the Deep.”

“What do you mean?” I ask with a nervous laugh. “How can I live in the sea?”

“You were over a year old when we found you in this cave,” Father says, drawing my eyes to his face. “For months, you survived from her milk. You grew up as a creature of two worlds; the land and the sea.” Father puts a hand on my shoulder. It feels heavy to me. “But no longer. Once you’re submerged, you’ll become like her.”

“But…” My head is spinning. I can barely breathe. Suddenly, it comes to me. Mother knew. She’s known all along. That’s why…I swallow hard. “Will I see you again?”

Father smiles with tears in his eyes. “We’ll always be here, son.”

I throw my arms around him, fingers digging into the back of his shirt. He embraces me for a moment and then gently pushes me away. I wipe at my stinging eyes and face Alga. She sinks down, allowing the sea to swallow her whole. Her eyes stay open and fixed upon me as she descends into the depths, her hair moving in the water like ribbons in the wind.

The ocean rises, whispering, calling.

I take a deep breath, and jump in.

The water wraps me in its cold, refreshing embrace. The shock of it steals my breath. For a moment, all I can see is a cloud of bubbles around me and dark blue beyond. Then unbelievable pain grips my legs, as if a flock of angry woodpeckers are attacking me. I scream and double over in the water. I reach out to swat away the invisible creatures tearing into my flesh and bone.

Has the mermaid deceived me? Has she lured me to my death?

I expect to see holes in my skin, blood in the water.

But there isn’t any.

My trousers have torn. My legs are covered with midnight blue scales. My ankles and knees are drawn together suddenly, bone grinding against bone. Writhing in the water, I let out a sob and then greedily suck in a gulp of air.

Air?

I momentarily forget about the pain. Have I been breathing under water all this time? With a snap, the transformation is complete. A long, fish tail has replaced my legs; a thin, web-like fin sticks out from the end. I can feel every movement of the water against my scales, the subtle pressure changes. I can’t feel the shocking cold of the water anymore; it’s become muted and comfortable.

The world sharpens into focus around me. Colorful stones covered in fuzzy algae pepper the ocean floor. I spot bright orange starfish, pink coral, and strange ocean bushes with tentacle-like-branches swaying in the water. Different kinds of fish dart all around, avoiding me. Alga floats among them, smiling.

“Welcome,” she says, “to the Deep.”

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Concerning dirty dishes and interruptions

Quite unexpectedly, my husband and I found ourselves attending a marriage conference last Friday. My husband’s cousin and his wife just so happened to have extra tickets to the conference and invited us to go with them. We hadn’t seen them in a while, plus we’d never been to a marriage conference before, so we went. The four of us drove over to a church I’d heard about but had never actually attended. The large auditorium was full with several hundred people. After some announcements from the hosts and a short introduction, the speaker, a Dr. Randy Carlson, came on the stage.

His points and insights, although familiar, were good reminders of things married people can do to create a happier marriage. Saying ‘I love you’ every day, listening without interrupting, abandoning criticism, forgiving one another, using words of affirmation, and etc. He called them Love Habits. By the end of the hour and a half, he challenged us to pick one thing we could do for our spouses for thirty consecutive days. Stopping bad habits and creating entirely new ones can be daunting, but doing one thing is all it takes to start the process. Or at least, that’s what he said.

I sank in my seat when Dr. Carlson mentioned listening without interrupting, sure he was talking to me. It was just too coincidental that he would mention it days after my husband himself pointed out this bad habit of mine. I don’t interrupt to be malicious or to hog the spot light. Sometimes, as he speaks, ideas or opinions pop into my head and I verbalize them so that I don’t forget. Half the time, I don’t even realize I’m doing it. During one conversation, it got to the point where my husband just stopped talking. Once I was through with the point I wanted to add to the conversation, I turned to him expectantly, waiting for him to finish whatever he had been saying before. When he didn’t, I asked if there was anything wrong. He admitted he was frustrated with me and was trying to collect himself. Surprised, I asked him what I’d done to upset him.

“You kept interrupting me and I kept having to repeat myself,” he said. “I don’t like repeating myself so I’m just not going to.”

Feeling like a jerk, I apologized and promised to work on it.

After the marriage conference, I used my added guilt to make that committment. I was going to be a better listener. I was going to be more considerate of my husband and that was that.

Well, it’s been more of a challenge than I thought. I’ve found myself literally biting my lips to keep myself from interjecting. Worst of all is trying to really listen to what he’s saying while I’m trying to remember what it was I wanted to add. Who knew something so simple would be so difficult? I’ve messed up a couple times and spoken when I should’ve been listening, but my gracious husband has forgiven me every time. I’m happy to report that it is getting easier! I just have to keep focused.

My husband had been having some trouble thinking of one thing he could do for me. Not to brag or anything, but he’s pretty awesome and he does a lot of the things Dr. Carlson mentioned in the marriage conference. I cook every evening (with the exception of those rare mornings when I get up early and make dinner then or when we’re having lasagna and I can just leave a note for my husband to throw it in the oven an hour before I get home from work). But I also wash the dishes 99% of the time. I hate having a dirty kitchen. It immediately sucks the energy out of me when I come home from work to see a pile of dirty dishes on the counter. I finally expressed my frustrations to my husband, who gets home three hours before I do.

“I’m sorry, babe. I just don’t notice when the house is dirty,” he admitted. (Which is hilarious because he can spot a finger smudge on my car window from a mile away while I can go weeks, even months, at a time without washing my car.)

Men and women are different; I’ve seen evidence of this all my life. I never realized just how different they were until I got married. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I believe it’s perfect. We complete each other this way. But it’s so easy to allow those differences to drive us insane! I expect certain things from my husband because, to me, they’re obvious. I mean, why wouldn’t he notice the dishes? It’s the first thing I see!

It takes a lot of selfless love to be able to set our expectations aside and see someone for who they truly are, how they operate, how they think and feel. I’ve decided to let my expectations go, face reality, and try to see my husband for who he is, not necessarily who I want him to be.

My husband decided to make his one thing washing the dishes every day, even if there’s only a handful of plates in the sink. He doesn’t care about the state of the kitchen so long as there’s food in the fridge. But I’ve told him it bothers me, so he’ll do it for me. A whole week has gone by. My counters are clean. The sink is empty. The dish drainer is full. And I’m considerably less stressed. It’s amazing how something so small can make such a difference. I’m so thankful! I hope my one thing is making a difference in his life as well.

So, married folk, what’s your one thing going to be?

Public Speaking

She sits in a circle with her coworkers

An informal meeting has been called

It’s a time of sharing positive experiences

Encouraging one another

Reminding each other why they do the work that they do

She feels like a child among them

Awkward and shy

They are wiser, stronger, more courageous

More adult-like than she

She’s afraid to speak and betray her immaturity

So she listens and smiles and nods

She’s touched that they thought to include her

Touched that they thought her worthy

Even as she doubts it herself

Always she’s felt like an outsider looking in

Now she sits among them

Does she truly belong?

The voice of a childhood bully still whispers at the back of her mind

It joins the voice of Insecurity, chants the same lies

“You’ll never fit in. You don’t matter. Nothing you say is important.”

She has been told the truth

She is loved

She is appreciated

She is important

Still, she wrestles with these deprecating voices in her head

There is a lull in the conversation

An idea forms in her mind

Presses against the back of her throat

Turns into words

They cry out to her, begging for release

Heat rises around her neck

Spreads across either side of her face

 

Her mouth is very dry

Her heart pounds painfully against her chest

She swallows and opens her mouth

The words spill out, tumbling over each other

In their haste to escape

She can hardly hear them

There is only the powerful rush of blood in her ears

Coworkers nod and hmm in support or agreement

At last the deed is done

Her words, once captives, drift across the room and dissipate

She closes her mouth, forces herself to breathe evenly

Waits for the criticism

It doesn’t come from them but from within herself

“You should’ve spoken more slowly.”

“You should’ve raised your voice.”

“You shouldn’t have spoken at all.”

Despite the thoughts that cut deep

She is relieved, elated, overjoyed

Because they didn’t laugh

Her coworkers smile at her

As if what she said mattered

As if they’re glad she spoke

She smiles back because they can’t know what they’ve done

They can’t know how much this means to her

That they would listen

That they would care

She is so thankful

She wants to remember this feeling

Maybe, next time, she’ll speak again