Ah, that Little Mermaid – what did she know? They say the sand is always more appealing on the other side of the water’s surface. I lay back on the little wind-surfer board and let my fingers trail in the water. There wasn’t even a hint of a breeze; I was just drifting with the current. Dozing, on and off, in the heat of the noonday sun. Dreaming, drifting, northward. Foolish Little Mermaid, to trade her tail and fins and voice for a human.
I awoke, suddenly, to an icy splash of water and a noseful of the stuff. I must have tried to roll over in my sleep -a neat trick on a surfboard with a sail. The board got a little ways away from me, and I swam to catch it. Something grabbed me by the ankle, tugged, and pulled me under the water. I came up gasping for air, kicking, swimming in earnest. I felt it again, encircling my ankle, pulling me down harder, this time. I struggled, and opened my eyes in the murky, salty water to catch a glimpse of a grinning face – a pale chest – a shimmering – naaaaah, no, no way. I must still be asleep. That or I drowned, and hallucinations are just part of the dying experience.
Three powerful kicks, and I broke the surface again. I gulped air. The board was nowhere to be found. I spun around, treading water, expending what little energy the heat and too much sun had left me. To my dismay, the shore appeared to be about three miles away, and there wasn’t a shrimp boat in sight.
“Are you lost?” a deep, quiet voice behind my shoulder asked, sending a shiver down my spine. I spun around again, and there he was, grinning. His blue-green eyes were flecked with gold, the irises rimmed in rainbow rings. He was muscular, strong, but had a playful, kind expression – almost childlike. He extended his lower torso until that impossible tail – the glimpse I’d caught of it, it looked like more like a betta fish than a sea creature – curled under me to support my feet and give me something to stand on, so that I could stop wearing myself out with kicking.
“You jerk!” I yelled. “It’s your fault I’ve lost my board. What are you playing at? You trying to drown me?”
“If I were trying to drown you, I’d only have to do this…” he said, swiftly pushing me down with both hands and holding me underwater until I stopped squirming and fighting and played dead. He pulled me up twice as quickly, real concern evident in his breathtakingly beautiful eyes. He was lucky mine didn’t shoot laser beams, or he’d be blinded by my rage. “I’m sorry. I forget how fragile you humans are.”
“How many of us have you broken?” I asked.
“Accidentally, or on purpose?” he asked, his mouth twisting in a wicked smile that chilled me to the bone and made my teeth chatter.
It was then that he smiled, in all his shark-toothed glory, and leaned forward to bury those razor-sharp teeth in my shoulder. The pain was so intense I couldn’t catch my breath to scream. All the times I’d eaten fish came roaring through my mind like a tsunami, and I groaned softly. Drifted, in and out of consciousness as he held me afloat. The pain subsided. I sensed him letting go, as my body bobbed up and down with the incoming tide.
In the moonlight, I caught one last glimpse of him – waving cheerfully towards me as he followed the silvery path of a moonbeam to the shore. He climbed out of the waves, onto the sand. On two perfectly human, muscular legs.
I put a hand to my shoulder, where the gaping wound from his bite should be, but there was nothing – nothing but smooth skin. I tried to kick towards the shore, but my knees and ankles were bound together, and I could only undulate, like a wave, through the water. I moved surprisingly fast, this way, and the awkwardness of it wore off quickly. I dove under the cool, salty water and stayed there.
Next time I emerged into the moonlight, I dared to look down at the rest of me. Iridescent, I shimmered.
I hoped he’d found my shoes. He’d need them.
This short story was inspired by the photo prompt, at the top of this post. I’ve often wished to be a mermaid, and thought how silly the Little Mermaid was to trade her watery world for infatuation and spindly little human legs. But isn’t the sand always better on the other side of the water’s surface?