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.
As murderous and beautiful.
As strange and mysterious.
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.
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.
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.”