Thalassa washed up on the sand with a crashing wave, the water still pushing and pulling at her body before receding into the ocean. The late afternoon sun gave her skin a natural glow, even underneath the fine layer of sand. Small vibrant shells and strings of seaweed surrounded her like a shadow. She lifted her head in the slightest, her hair draping over her shoulders in slick strands.
Crouched between jagged beach rocks, a young man rinsed his hands in a small puddle of salt water. Every time a wave splashed over it, some of his blood soaked into the wet sand and bled into the ocean. The scent tumbled in the waves, mixing with the sea spray, and finding its way to her.
His blood was how she tracked him to this thin strip of beach.
He stood, wiping his hands on his tan trousers. Red scratch marks ran along the back of his hands, up his forearms, and disappeared under his rolled-up sleeves. The saltwater rinsed away the blood and helped heal the wound, but it wouldn’t erase the act that caused both.
He glanced out at the ocean towards the horizon, his eyes traveling over the water until they landed on her.
Thalassa smiled internally. She was bait, and he was about to take it.
The coppery scent of his blood drifted in the breeze, mixing with the salt air as he approached. She craved it.
A faint smile broke out over his face as he ran a hand through his tousled blonde hair. His shiny eyes roamed over her pearl skin and her obsidian tail which shimmered with flecks of metallic green in the sunlight. By his expression she could tell, he’d seen mermaids before, but not a siren, otherwise, he’d stay clear. Cautiously he stepped closer, his hands outstretched to show he meant no harm.
She wanted to roll her eyes. They always meant harm, whether they realized it or not.
“Are you okay?” he said, a hint of worry in his voice as he crouched down.
A faint layer of stubble coated his face. His eyes were as dark as the deepest part of the sea, easy to get lost in and never to resurface.
“I got washed out,” she said, her voice shaking.
“Can I help you?”
She nodded. Wondering what his idea of help was.
She reached out, gripping his scratched arm. He winced but didn’t pull back. She readied herself to pull him into the water. Drowning him before drinking his blood and devouring his body.
“You are stunning,” he breathed.
She hesitated. He deserved to decay at the bottom of the ocean. With the fish breaking off tiny pieces of him until there was nothing left except bones. But she liked compliments and didn’t hear them often enough.
“Your skin is so smooth. Your hair is so very long. Your eyes piercing,” he said, looking down at where legs should be. “But your tail is the most exquisite.”
She flicked some of her hair back, exposing the charcoal scallop shells that held her breasts.
He swallowed. “I must sketch you.”
She waited for him to say he’ll go find some pencil and paper.
“I can take you to my home, it’s on the coast and part of the ocean flows into the underparts where my office is located.”
She scolded herself for even thinking it through, but she had all the time in the world. Her reward would come when she drowned him, but maybe she could have some enjoyment before then. Let the anticipation build-up.
“Is it okay if I…” He motioned to her body.
“Yes,” she said. He placed his arms under her tail and behind her back, then gently lifted her, positioning her until he had a comfortable hold. She threw her arms around his neck, he stiffened in the slightest. Then walked along the beach at a steady pace.
She expected him to want to stop to rest his arms, maybe catch his breath. But he held onto her like she was light as a shell, he adjusted his hold now and then, like he was used to carrying objects this far.
A square tower protruded from an array of rocks, the waves splashing onto the stone walls. Sea moss and algae cover the bottom half, while the top part was bleached by the sun and worn by the elements. It appeared to have been abandoned until recently, he’d thrown broken furniture onto a pile near the worn front door. The wooden pieces rotted and deteriorated.
“What a nice home you have,” she said with a sweet smile.
He smiled back. “It’s not much, but it keeps me warm and dry.”
He opened the door to a kitchen with a single table and two chairs. The cabinets were closed and the walls bare. A shell of a house. Stairs curled up and down, he took the latter.
They opened into a cavernous space. Part of it was stone floors, with a large table piled with papers and curiosities. Another table covered with a cloth stood against the wall. Next to it was a closed door. The other part was like a miniature indoor tidal pool with a few steps leading into the water, which moved from waves pushing in saltwater.
He descended the steps until she was covered in water, then let her go. She drifted back, aware of his eyes on her as she sunk underwater and resurfaced, water drops rolling down her skin.
He smiled. “I’m going to go change. I’ll be back.”
She smiled back sweetly, waiting for him to be out of sight before dropping it.
It was easy to deceive men. Usually, they were too full of themselves and their ideas to think someone would have the indecency to challenge them. Over time a few proved to be able to think outside themselves. To care.
He was not one of those men.
Maybe that’s why a part of her was so intrigued by him. He was himself, with no filters or pretenses.
An open book with blank pages instead of warding runes.
Her body floated from side to side as the waves crashed outside, stirring the water. She wondered how long she’d be able to keep this up. At some point, she had to complete what she set out to do.
“I brought you this.” His voice broke through her thoughts.
She pushed her tail under the water and floated towards the steps. He placed down a plate holding several small cakes. Probably bought from a nearby village. Their colors of crushed beige shells with hints of pinks, blues, and greens. Their sickly-sweet aroma drifted to her nose. Vanilla with a tang of something more potent. Maybe he was trying to poison her.
She spent most of her time in the ocean, but when the opportunity to go on land represented itself, she took it. Learning more about life on land. She still had some memories of being human, but they were faded and eroded to the point where she wasn’t sure if they happened in real life or her dreams.
“I’m not sure if you can eat human food. But I thought it was worth a try,” he said. “Otherwise, I can go catch you some fish?”
He would have difficulty catching what she liked.
“This will do just fine.” As long as she didn’t overdo it.
He breathed a sigh of relief. Then he sat down in front of her, stretching out his legs and crossing them at the ankles. He picked a cake at random and bit into it. Chewing as he watched her. She picked a cake and took a small bite. The sweetness made her want to gag, but when the initial sugar dissolved in her mouth, it became rather pleasant.
“Do you like it?”
She nodded with a shy smile. Licking the last of the crumbs from her lips.
“Mind if I draw you now?”
She shook her head. Then ran her fingers through her hair as he stood and retrieved a sketch pad and pencil from the table. He sat back down and started to sketch, his eyes moving from the paper to her and back again.
Thalassa liked being observed with such admiration and detail, she just hoped he was skillful at putting her on paper.
When he was done, he turned the pad towards her.
Her eyes widened. He was good and very detailed. But it wasn’t a sketch of art, but rather an illustration. Words floated around her, thin arrows from her tail to a small paragraph of description. Next to it was a drawing of her torso, but with human legs.
Bile rose in her stomach. A bad feeling spread through her veins.
“What do you think?”
“It’s very realistic,” she said.
He ran a hand through his hair. A strange look clouded his face, one which she had difficulty analyzing. “I can make it a reality,” he said, his eyes gleaming with the possibility. “I can make you into a human.”
His words caught her off guard. “Oh, is that so?”
He walked to the closed door, unlocked it, and disappeared inside.
She’d heard it all before. Somewhere in the mountains lived a witch that could cast a spell. Or a cave with clear water which granted immortality. Sometimes a rumor about a lamp that granted wishes. She didn’t doubt that any of those probabilities existed. But finding them and using them were two different things. Even so, she didn’t want to be human.
She had been once, and that had been enough.
When he came out, he wasn’t alone. He dragged a young woman in, her mouth bound, and hands tied behind her back. Her auburn hair was a mess, and dried tears stained her eyes.
“Look,” he said. Then lifted the woman’s skirts, revealing long slender legs of porcelain. “Aren’t they spectacular?”
She was silent.
“They would look even more spectacular on you.”
There it was. His insanity. His genius idea. A mad scientist at work.
She tilted her head. “I agree. Unfortunately, I do not wish to part from my tail.”
He scrunched up his face. “Then we can be together. We must be together.”
She nodded with an unsure smile. He dragged the woman into the adjoined room, her crying muffled as he locked the door.
“Soon, I just need to make a few more preparations,” he said, his smile determined.
When he disappeared up the stairs, she sank under the water. Swimming in the direction of the waves through an underwater tunnel. The water was fresh and livelier as she approached. Before she could swim into the open ocean, a steel barrier blocked her escape.
She should have known. Should have checked. She pulled and pushed on the steel, but it was stuck, even with the rust that ate it.
Thalassa’s demeanor slipped, and a pearl of fear formed in her chest. It was all fun and games, but now it was serious. She was trapped.
The next day the cloth which covered the table was removed. The sleek metal was unnatural amongst the damp rocks. Next to it was a smaller table organized with his medical instruments. The scalpel lay next to a knife, which lay next to a saw. Each one was worse than the other. Just thinking of them piercing into her flesh made her clench her fists. She took shallow breaths, trying to stay calm.
She had thought it through. Even if he managed to cut off her tail and sow on legs, who’s to say they would work. What if she bled out? What if she was a torso for the rest of her life? What would happen to her tail?
She imagined him placing it in resin and displaying it against his wall. Triumph worming through his veins every time he glanced at it.
His hair was tousled and stood out at different ends like wild seagrass. She was far less human than him, but the glint in his eyes was more feral than her own.
She waited for him to near her, to bend down and pull her out of the water. Instead, he walked to the door and unlocked it. From inside the dark room came a whimper. He stepped in, out of sight for a moment. Then reappeared, gripping the woman by her neck, and pushing her into the room.
“This will go much quicker if you cooperate.” He guided her to the table, and she lay down obediently, her whimpering silenced. He bound her one arm to the table. “First, I’ll give you a sedative so that you won’t feel me cutting off your legs.”
Her whimpering started again.
He gave a frustrated sigh, then turned to face Thalassa. “Then it’s your turn.”
A movement behind him. The woman sat up slowly, removing something from her pocket. Her eyes met Thalassa’s with urgency.
He made to turn around.
“Wait,” Thalassa said. “What if it doesn’t work?”
He smirked. “It will.”
The girl lifted her free arm, her knuckles white from gripping the rock, and brought it down on his head. Once. Twice.
He stood frozen, then tumbled to the ground like a wave had crashed over him.
She didn’t care about revenge anymore. Didn’t care that she promised to cut his lifeline. She just wanted to get away. Be free of this physical and mental prison. The open ocean called to her. Yearned for her and she desired its embrace.
The woman could barely stand, Thalassa wasn’t sure how either of them would be able to escape. If at all. The woman pushed herself up, using the table as support. She groaned, her body almost limp, yet some energy manifested, and she stood. Her darting eyes found Thalassa and she headed over with a slight limp. Thalassa glanced behind the woman. He still lay unconscious on the floor. She thought she saw his chest rise and fall. An urgency bloomed within her, and she tried to urge the woman on with her eyes.
When she finally reached Thalassa, she was out of breath.
“We have to go,” the woman said, each word a struggle.
Thalassa swallowed. “You can barely manage by yourself. How will you be able to help me?”
She shook her head again, a persistence in her eyes. Thalassa figured either she would die by the man’s hand or take her chances with the woman. Neither thought was pleasing.
Thalassa pulled herself up onto the steps. The woman bent down and grabbed her under the shoulders and pulled her out of the water. She picked her up under her tail and back, lifting her with some difficulty and strength, Thalassa didn’t think the woman possessed.
Thalassa wished herself as weightless as possible. They made it to the wall, the woman paused, leaning against the wall to catch her breath. She took another step, but her balance was off. Thalassa felt her stumble to the ground. The woman caught herself, they still fell on the stone floor, but not with as much force.
This wasn’t going to work.
Thalassa took a deep breath. “There is a way both of us can walk out of here alive.”
The woman looked at her with expectation but also a frown that asked why she hadn’t said something earlier.
“You’re saving my life, and for that, I owe you a wish. If you take the wish now and ask for strength. We’ll be able to leave.”
The woman’s eyes gleamed with possibilities, and she nodded.
Thalassa touched her tail, feeling for a loose scale and breaking it off. She handed it to the woman. It was round and shiny.
“Place it on your tongue and make a wish.”
The woman did and closed her eyes as if it would enhance whatever she asked for.
Thalassa waited in silence, a wave of fear passing over her. What if the woman asked for something else? She had so many options. Yes, strength and health were important, but she could heal with time. Instead, she could wish for something that would leave Thalassa stranded, and she won’t be able to do anything about it.
The woman opened her eyes, an unsure smile on her face.
Thalassa frowned. A tingle spread over her tail. She observed with wide eyes as her tail split into two, becoming obsidian scale-covered legs.
“What have you done?” she said to the woman, but her eyes remained on her legs.
The woman pointed to the stairs.
Thalassa had so many questions. Will her tail grow back? What exactly did the woman wish for? But her thoughts all stopped with a groan behind them.
The man was waking up. She could just kill him right there and then but killing on land was not something she wanted to do. She left that to land creatures.
The woman stood and held out her hand. Thalassa took it, and together they headed up the stairs, into the kitchen, and through the front door.
The ocean breeze broke against her skin, and she inhaled it deeply.
She stood at the edge of the waves, and as the sea foam spilled over her feet a tingling started again. She reached down and broke off another scale, handing it to the woman.
“Thank you,” Thalassa said. She turned and walked into the waves until her feet lifted from the sand and twisted together into her tail once again. The woman stood on the shore, giving a small wave before disappearing into the tree line beyond.
Revenge was lost.
Yet, there was a small part of her that thought otherwise. That if she did it the right way, he’d get what he deserved.
Instead of swimming into the big blue, she stayed. Near the rocks where he had found her, she draped her arms over one coated with limpets and acorn barnacles. Careful to let the sharp rock edges and shells cut into her skin.
She waited and waited. The sun cast new shadows every hour. It took everything in her not to sink into the water to wet her hair and skin.
Footsteps approached. She could tell it was him by the sickly-sweet scent of cakes and poison.
She knew his eyes had found her by the hesitation in his steps.
Something hit her shoulder. A rock.
He was checking if she was conscious.
Then another. She ground her teeth together.
More steps. And then a hand on her arm.
A smile spread over her features. He yelped, and she felt him loosen his grip. Thalassa snatched out her arm, fingers grabbing him. Latching onto his shoulder. He let out a scream, trying to free himself.
Her eyes met his. The innocence in them was replaced by her feral side.
Her other hand gripped his other shoulder and pulled him down. He lost his footing, stumbling forward. His body hit the rocks with a thud.
“Let go!” he yelled. Struggling against her grip.
Her nails grew into sharp points, piercing onto his flesh so he couldn’t escape. He winced as blood dripped from him.
“Why are you doing this?” he cried.
“Except for the fact that you almost mutilated me. I was asked.”
His breathing was ragged. His face became paler by the second. “By whom?”
“Your dead wife.” She sneered at him.
His face blanched.
“You drowned her in the ocean. You thought you’d get away with it.”
“You talked to her?”
“I am the Siren of Souls. I carry the drowned souls to the afterlife and grant them a wish. Your death was hers.”
He shook his head. “No, please. I don’t want to drown.”
She laughed. “Your window of drowning has closed. And my window of starving has opened.”
Her teeth extended into fine needle points, sharper than her nails.
Before he could scream, she sunk her teeth into his neck. Savoring the coppery taste as she dragged him underwater.
To the bottom of the ocean.
Felicia Change graduated with a BA in Creative Writing and her work has appeared in the YOU magazine and Coffin Bell. When she isn’t carving stories, she is traveling, exploring museums, or on the lookout for a dog to pet. You can find her online @feliciachange
While you’re here, you might want to check the submissions guidelines and our new experiment: Rural Fiction Magazine.
Pingback: The Chamber Magazine for December 2, 2022 – The Chamber Magazine