There are varying degrees of pain in life, each unique in one way or another. A sudden trauma is like crashing without a helmet, and waking up with road rash. Immediate, and sometimes deadly. A loss is like quicksand, slowly sucking you down, and never knowing if you’ll ever manage to get out.
Another kind, however, is forever being stuck between two existences. I’m not exaggerating when I say forever, either. I mean, I am immortal. Immortally doomed, anyway.
I’ve read the original The Little Mermaid, and through the marvels of modern technology, I was able to see the movie. The latter is wishful thinking to the extreme. I’d call it crap, but it’s for kids and not adults. The first is closer to the truth, but still off.
“Mornin’ Lykke!” A voice boomed over the docks, like someone beat one of the those big drums in an orchestra. A large man waved at me from the end of the last dock for the little town of Haven Cove.
“How’s the bite?” he asked, once my boat was flush with the dock.
I tossed him the rope to tie up Sea Witch, but didn’t disembark.
“Active east past Acker’s Rock.”
Jeff whistled, a high, ear-piercing shriek that tore into my ear drums, and I flinched. He gestured for a couple of the dock workers to hop aboard and unload the catch.
“You don’t say? Mind if I pass it along? Been a slow day for some of the guys.”
“Sure, but I’m not sure how good it’ll be now,” I warned.
Jeff let out a great bellow of a laugh, and his belly shook with chuckle tremors afterward.
“Fished it out, eh?”
“Something like that,” I hedged. I may be in exile from my kin, but I still had my magic, and I could call upon the Sea and Her bounty. Granted, I did so sparingly, and never took more than I needed.
“Well, thanks anyway.” He ran a seasoned eye over my trawler. “You know, I never see the Witch in dry dock, and yet she’s always lookin’ dandy, and never needs to repairs,” he observed suspiciously. “I’d love to get in contact with whoever does your repairs.”
“I’ve told you before, Jeff, I can’t give you his name. If I did, he’d never help you, and he’d abandon me. Then what would I do?” I scolded, and put my hands on my hips.
Just like humans, the Sea Folk came in all shapes and sizes. As someone who spent most of her time swimming to the surface and exploring, I was all lean muscle and slender, so I didn’t have much to put my hands on. My most striking features were my–you guessed it–ruby red hair, and my eyes the blue of the Mediterranean.
“Alright, alright,” Jeff said, holding his hands up in surrender. Then he tucked his thumbs behind the straps of his orange bib overall, and gave me a giant grin, showing off one of his missing molars in the back. “You can’t blame a man for trying.”
I harrumphed, and we both waited for the dock workers to finish their offload. Jeff wrote the receipt out, and handed it to one of the workers.
“Go and fetch the lady’s funds,” he growled, “and I will be countin’ it once it comes back.”
The worker mumbled something and scurried off.
“Problems?” I asked, watching the other worker watching the interaction between us.
“Nah, he’s a good lad, strong back, just doesn’t always mind his manners around temptation.”
“Why can’t she turn in her own hand receipt?” asked the other worker. He was young, and new, and had that gangly look about him that teens had. The one where they weren’t used to their longer limbs. The skullcap was pulled low over his brow, so I couldn’t see his hair, but his eyes were a warm brown, and curious.
“None of yours,” Jeff said, the growl this time not as biting. “Start taking in the haul to Ned.”
The kid walked away, sneaking glances at me. I’d put my chilled hands in the pockets of my blue parka, though I could have worn a bikini and not been bothered by the chill October air. I did it for show–for the humans. Nothing outed you as strange like wearing shorts in a blizzard. So I made sure to pay attention to the weather, and had on my knee-high rubber boots, angler pants, and a knit cap to help tame the hairs not contained by the braid that fell to my lower back.
Jeff didn’t know the story, just that I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, leave the boat. He chalked it up to some quirk or another, maybe a phobia, though the word was likely beyond Jeff’s ken. He was a simple man that was willing to work with my eccentricity, as long as I brought in the catch.
Little did he know I couldn’t step foot on land, or in the sea, or risk dying.
The other worker came back, and as Jeff said he would, he counted the bills and had the man hand them down to me. Jeff boasted arthritis in both knees, that left him to waddle his sturdy form up and down the docks. His days of climbing in and out of boats was over.
I thanked the men, they tossed me the bow line, and I puttered my way back out to the ocean on the Witch to find somewhere to tie up for the night.
It was a little after midnight, and I was sitting on my bed and downing a shot of liquor from a flask given to me by a Shaman. He was an interesting character. One of many I’d met over the years. Then dripping water pattered over the deck.
I sighed and flopped back. “If you’re here to kill me, do it. I’m already bored,” I said, and ditched the shot glass. The flask was supernaturally warm against my lips, and I took a long haul, trying not to lose my cool and sputter.
“Why ever would I do that?” a soft voice asked. “It’s so much more fun to watch you suffer,” he hissed.
I groaned. “You don’t have permission to be on my boat, you slimy sea snake.”
The Beisht Kione hissed at me. I turned my head to the side, and his long, thin form was silhouetted in the doorway against the light of the full moon. Imagine an eel, whose head was black, while the rest of him was a murky brown. He was twelve feet long, and his tail remained in the water, dipping in and out as the boat rocked. There were spiked fins along his spine which he could collapse, starting at the base of his skull going all the way to the tip of his tail, as well as out the sides of his face. They were flared out, and his mouth was open, showing off dozens of razor sharp teeth.
“I may not be able to touch you while you are on this boat,” he spat the word, his phlegm eating through the wood of my small table, “but one day you will slip.”
“Literally? Because I’m pretty sturdy on my feet. I’ve had lots of practice over the years.”
I couldn’t help but poke fun at him, just as he couldn’t help but want to kill me. We were eternally bound, he and I. Both of us doomed to spend our lives alone. He had a few motivations for murder: I’d killed his brother and his boss, the actual Sea Witch. She’d also originally bound the brothers Beisht to my aura, and they could track it with their eerie, yellow glowing eyes. I’d named the boat after her, because she was the reason I was stuck like this, forever. If I touched the land, I’d turn to dust. If I touched the water, I’d be ripped apart by the Beisht Kione.
All because I didn’t manage to get one lousy kiss. Falling in love with someone who doesn’t love you back is bad. Falling in love with someone who’s engaged to be married the next day, and you didn’t know that but the Sea Witch did? That is the epitome of crap with a side of shit.
“I will taste your flesh, Lykke, and we’ll both be free. Do you not grow tired of being confined to this cage?” he crooned, his voice almost as slippery and smooth as his skin.
“Not today I’m not. Now get out of here. You’re ruining my drink,” I said, and held up the flask. “A toast to us, Beisht, for continued health and happiness.” With that heaping dose of sarcasm, I took another gulp to kill the tightening of my throat.
“One day,” he promised. “I’ll join you for that drink, but only after you’re in my gullet.” Then he slid noiselessly back into the black waters.
The ocean rocked the boat, and I remained silent. “Not today,” I whispered, closing the flask and tossing it to the floor. It clattered somewhere, and I’d regret having to find it later, but I couldn’t muster a care.
For the first time in days I rolled over and tried to fall asleep, hoping the liquor would grant me dreamless slumber. As usual, though, my dreams–or rather nightmares–were filled with dreamy blue eyes the color of a cloudless summer sky, soft, coal black hair, and a kind voice overlapped by the cackle of an evil woman I’d killed.