First published in Crack the Spine, Issue 156, reprinted with permission in Crack the Spine: XIII
A short fiction piece about a young girl who befriends the deadly mermaids that live in her backyard.
I was never scared of the dark when I was young. In fact, I loved the dark; I thrived in it. I never imagined monsters or murderers lurking in the shadows, because I could hear mermaids’ voices lulling me from the lake in my backyard. And I knew, knew without a shadow of a doubt, that nothing could hurt me with the mermaids around. In the summer, I would sneak out of the house in only my white cotton panties stained yellow near the crotch, and feel the grass tickling the soles of my feet and stones digging into the space between my toes, and I would run toward the lake, smiling like a wind goddess. I could feel my hair whipping behind me as I ran, as wild as the mermaids’ hair in the water where they waited for me every night. And when I got to the edge of the lake
I would stop.
I would stop just close enough to send a shiver up my spine when the water lapped gently at the tips of my big toes, little waves from the mermaids’ aquatic gymnastics. Crouched down so that the breasts beginning to bloom on my chest were pressed against the downy fuzz of my thighs and my knuckles were pressed in the mud like an ape, I stared into the water. It was like an inkwell in the nighttime, with a rippling bowl of milk in the center, growing and shrinking as the mermaids got hungry and the moon hid away. Because the mermaids were not always kind.
One day, I crouched next to the lake and heard them giggling from where I couldn’t see them in the dark. I saw their tails flash from the surface at the corner of my eye, but when I turned my head all I saw was a ripple fading away. That was the first day they were hungry. It was only a matter of time before not even the moon could face them. It was only a matter of time before I brought them food.
“Okay,” I whispered to them, inching my fingers into the water. They put their hunger inside of me so I knew how it felt to starve, to need. I could feel it just below my stomach, a hollow aching that rippled in my veins like their tails in the water. “Okay.” I stood up and ran back to my house, swerved around it, and stopped in the middle of the road. “Help!” I called. “I need help!” I held my breath, waiting for a reply that never came. “They’re hungry.” But footsteps did come down the staircase in the house across the street. The door swung open just a crack and Keegan Price slipped outside. He stood on his porch with the door ajar behind him, his socks bright against the wood of his porch damp from the rain the day before. The skies wept from terror when they heard the mermaids’ cries.
I stared back at him, my eyes blazing. He couldn’t resist them. Hesitantly, he stepped down from the porch and toward the road. His arms were outstretched but they dropped to his sides when he stopped at the curb.
“What are you doing?”
“My friends are hungry.” I held my hand out to him. Waited until his grin mirrored my own. “They gave their hunger to me.” He took my hand and ran with me back to the lake. He wasn’t a merboy though, not like I was a mergirl. He couldn’t keep up and I had to jerk his arm when he started to lag behind. Had to pull him to a stop at the edge of the lake. They would eat him alive. I would take only what was needed.
“Why are you naked?” he whispered, fear quivering in his voice.
“Why are you wearing socks?”
He looked down at where his socks were stuck to his feet in muddy, sludgy wrinkles, same as the hems of his flannel pants. His gasp blew across my face when I pulled him toward me. I planted my lips on his and let him think my friends weren’t real. But I could hear them. They were just out of sight, cackling, ready to feed. He didn’t know what to do with his hands, but he knew what to do with his mouth. I had let go of his arm and had him by the shoulders. And I waited. I waited for their cackles to turn to thrashes in the water. And then it was just me on the edge of the lake. They took him by the ankles and their thrashing became him thrashing, my heart pounding in my chest became the ghost of his mouth pounding against my lips.
And then the thrashing stopped. The wind died down and I washed the mud from my feet in the water now that the mermaids were appeased. There was no more cackling, not until the next year and then after that not until the next month. The next week. The cackling turned to giggles in the time in between, the same giggles that sounded when the last bubbles ascended from the bottom of the lake after the boys went swimming.
I was never scared of the dark with the mermaids around. When I was in the mud of the lake, the dark was scared of me.