Maiden Of The Sea

Beachcombing is a lot more eventful than you'd imagine.

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1. Maiden Of The Sea

      To see such a creature right before my eyes filled me with so many feelings. A feeling of shock, of worry and of awe. The gleam of that, who some would name a beast, reflected the sun to look as if to glow. A sight to behold that I'll never forget.

      I never wanted to lose the sight of it. Yet, I never wanted it to catch sight of me. That was the feeling of fear. Fear of what it might do; fear that it may leave and never come back.

* * *

      October 12th, 1814. My sixteenth birthday. I had woken up to a still dark sky. The earliest a morning could be, to me. My uncle was visiting my mother and I at our bungalow by the sea and he had promised to take me beachcombing.

      When he'd first mentioned beachcombing, I'd never understood it. Then he told me of many jobs that involved beachcombing, and I remember laughing so very hard at the term 'winkle-picker'. But I was only a little boy. He said when I was sixteen he would take me out beachcombing with him - as was his hobby - and suddenly, I became obsessed with the idea.

     I loved the sea. I loved the beach. To live so close was something I adored. But I stuck to a promise and never became a 'beachcomber' until my uncle showed me how. Not that I thought there was much to show. My mother agreed, however, that I shouldn't be going to down to the beach alone until I was of a more reasonable age. As a result, I spent most of my time helping my mum with house work and and visiting my friends during these summer holidays.

      When the time finally came round to it, I had my waders ready and bought a pair of gloves that I didn't wear until I needed them. A thick jumper was needed as it was cold before the sun came up. A bag for my findings. All other tools were carried by my uncle, consisting of a shovel a trowel and a rake. I looked at myself in the mirror with my rake, tall boots, jumper and straggly hair. My mother wasn't awake yet, but if she were, she'd have told me I looked just like my late father.

      The reason beachcombing was so important to my uncle was very much unknown to me. I had never realised the difference between fifteen and sixteen. But I trusted him enough, having looked after me and my mum for so many years after my dad passed away. Now it was almost like he was accepting me as an adult. So with bags and pockets-a-plenty, we left the house to the greyish blue sky of pre-sun mornings.

      It was barely ten minutes later to walk around the cliff edge and find our way down to the beach way. We were upwind for most of the journey to smell to strong sea breeze. Our beach was not as fine sand as they have on other beaches, but fine enough for rocks and pebbles to be scattered at distances. I stopped at the edge of the beach, looked up at my uncle and smiled. Speaking above the roar of the sea, he smiled back, wishing me a happy birthday.

      We watched the ground. Looking for something shiny was the best, but anything interesting could be picked up. We made our way systematically across the beach to the edge of the sea and even waded in a little. It wasn't the nicest of days, clouds were heavy but with no threat of rain. My Uncle got out a comb and started scratching the sea with it. I laughed a lot at how silly he looked.

      “What's with you, dear boy? Never seen a man combing the beach before?” He said as dryly as he could and we both shared the moment of laughter. At the time I had thought nothing of it, but out the corner of my eye, what looked like someone popping out of the water caught my attention.

      “Found something, have we?” My uncle asked.

      “Thought I saw something in the water, is all.” Was my reply.

      “Ah, they do have seals around here, my boy. Probably wondering what all the noise was on this morning.” He said as he got up to keep searching.

      I had found a few really nice shells and some drift wood. A vague fishy smell lingered and the tide must have been going out from the darker sand near the shore. We had gotten to a protrusion in the rock of a cliff when there was a little area of sand around the side. Something really made me want to go around there out of pure curiosity.

      “Where are you off?” My uncle exclaimed as I began to wander away from him. I turned.

      “There's a bit around this cliff I would like to search. I don't think I will be long.” I said, as if asking for permission.

      “Well, I wont be able to climb around that, my boy. But I'll be here when you're back. Wouldn't want to stray too far apart.”

      “Okay, thanks.” I smiled and ran to the edge of the rock, climbing round a few pieces that otherwise meant wading into the water up to my chest. After it shallowed I jumped into the sea and found the other bit of land. Then I heard a feather-light humming and peeked around the last piece of rock. There was an alcove beach of richer sand than before and I saw her.

      To see such a creature right before my eyes filled me with so many feelings. A feeling of shock, of worry and of awe. The gleam of she, who some would name a beast, reflected the sun to make her look as if to glow. Simply, she was beautiful.

      I never wanted to lose the sight of her. Yet, I never wanted her to catch sight of me. That was the feeling of fear. Fear of what she might do; fear that she may leave and never come back. She sat, on a rock combing her hair of a tangled mess. And oh what an abundance of hair! It was truly a sight to behold that defied explanation. Her peach coloured skin contrasted against her scaled tail that balanced her around a rock. Flecks of gold, blue, green and silver could be seen to mix a fantastic colour and her voice was soft.

      The shouting waves and cawing gulls seemed to fade into silence. She didn't draw me towards her, but I could not take my eyes away. I had never known these creatures were to exist. Suddenly, she jolted upright and sniffed the air as if she'd caught a scent and her eyes reflected every ounce of fear she owned. Immediately, I thought she had smelt me. I panicked and ran back, I ran around the cliffs splashing cloves on seawater into my mouth and almost tripping on a sea-weed that kept upon my foot. My uncle looked so surprised as my apparent worry spread through him.

      “What is it, what?” He shouted as he took my shoulder in his hand trying to steady me and my darting gaze.

      “I saw this wonderful, thing, uncle. It had a tail and I think it saw me watching it and... and...” As I was saying this I saw my uncle relax and I knew he had no idea. I would not be able to make him believe what I saw as I could not explain it. Something made me keep what I had seen to myself.

      “Boy, seals are nothing to be worried about. They could give you a nasty bite but keeping your distance is wise at any cost. Really gave me a fright, you did!” My uncle tried to calm me. We carried on roaming the sand for another hour with this wonder lingering in my head. My uncle tried to explain to me why he was so worried about me going off on my own.

      “How old were you when your father passed away? Do you remember anything of him?” He asked me. Of which I was only four so had no true memory. “On the day he went missing, he went off to the beach on his own. Wouldn’t tell anyone why, but it was often he decided to go on his own. One day, like in some fairy tale, he never returned.”

      I hadn't said much in reply, but I had never heard this story before. I wondered if what I had seen was the same thing that took my dad, and if searching for something of my father's was why my uncle beachcombed. I was crossed between allure and fear. Walking back into the warmth of home, I hadn't realised how cold I was. After a meal with my mother she had scraped the money together for; a few games and smiles from people at the local village followed and I went to bed. With a present in my mind the likes I couldn't have dreamed.

* * *

      Despite a yearning to re-visit her as soon as possible, my uncle didn't leave town again for another three days. I knew he wouldn't let me go alone. So I waited and spent my time with him while we was here. He was riding to Bristol docks eventually, so wouldn't be back again for a long time.

      Going against his wishes did make me feel bad but, as soon as he left, I went down to the beach. I told my mother that I was going to see some friends in the village and she gave me the usual worried look that she gives whenever I leave home on my own. Times were dangerous, but living so far out of town felt safer than roaming streets at night. Either way, I went out to the beach to find this woman of the sea that and after an hour of searching one side of the beach to the other, she was no longer there. I slumped down to the sand in dismay. Of course she wasn't there. Was I expecting her to sit on the rock forever and always be there when I went back? It was a ridicules idea.

      Shifting over to move something uncomfortable from under my bum, I pulled a comb from the ground. It looked just like my uncles comb that we laughed about the other day. I figured he must have dropped it, so I put it in my pocket and went home.

      It wasn't until I was nearly home and fingering the comb in my pocket that what I had seen sprang to my memory. My uncle had mistaken what I had seen for a seal, but what if it wasn't? What if that was the maiden just then? She must have known we were there. I figured maybe she heard our laughter and come to see what the noise was. I decided there was enough light time left for me to get back down to the beach so I ran to my heart's content in the hope that I could see this creature once again, though not without fear that it might see me. I had no choice.

      I found the spot where we were. I shouted, laughed and thumped as loud as I could and generally caused a disturbance among the sand, kicking up all kinda of smells; covering my boots in wet sand. When I didn't see anything popping up, I realised I should head back before it got dark. Just as I turned around, I dropped the comb I was twiddling and it made a minor splash amongst the incoming tide.

Bending down to pick up the comb, I saw something move in the corner of my eye, though before I could double take, nothing could be seen. I stayed staring a little longer to no prevail and needed to return home. It was only then when I considered that a comb touching the water might have been the link.

      I decided to leave as it didn't seem like I had much of a chance of seeing anything. But it was as I was walking past another indent in the rock that I heard the beautiful humming. And peering around the corner, her skin gleamed as much as her tail did. This time I really looked at her and, again, it is nothing I can explain to look at. From her nose to her breasts to just below the navel looked so much like the most wonderful human and yet, the tail that clearly held so much power lingered on her lower half.

      I can honestly say at this point that despite the nakedness, there was not a drop of lust. I just wanted to be around her. To look at her. To meet her. After a little too much after dark, I got home though the window and pretended I had come home sooner without my mother noticing.

* * *

      To make myself feel better about lying, and without giving the reasons why, I worried my mother by telling her I was going to the beach. Considering what I had seen on the previous day, I didn't think it would be worth my not trying at least a second, or third time. So I picked the most tattered looking comb from the bathroom. One that almost look like it was designed to have needless spines, so it didn't matter that it was missing or lost. Then I headed to the beach.

      This time, I seemed to care less if it saw me, I don't know why but I seemed to trust it. And so I didn't want to miss it's initial bump in the water. I sat directly at the edge of the tide, holding the ruined comb. Dipping it into the water, I combed the tiny waves three times and stared out to as much horizon as possible.

      What splashed up out of the waves was definitely not shy as a whip of jet black hair sprouted a fountain of water into the air that took a while to settle. Even from so far out I could feel it staring directly into me. The eyes covered darker than the hair on it's head and made a direct contrast from how bone white it's skin was. This thing was much thinner and definitely not the same creature I had seen twice before.

      What startled me more was the sharp teeth that darted my way, the speed it seemed to be swimming out-distanced any fish and before I knew it, it was ascending out of the waves covered in spines both pale and dark jutting from her shoulders and spread down her spine. Her fingers were webbed and tail was as dark as her hair. She used her arms to crawl out of the water which slowed her significantly. I was stuck, frozen on the spot, in absolute fear into the depths of my marrow. I had no idea what this thing was or what I had done.

      She loomed over towards me, span from head to tail must have reached eight feet as her size was overwhelming for something so bony and thin. Her chin was extended to fit her needle sharp teeth. As she got closer I could do nothing but stare into the endless black eyes of hers. She grabbed my foot and dragged me underneath her and unhinged her mouth to make somewhere in between a screech and a hiss. She looked as if to take a maul of flesh out of my face. I stared into the mawing abyss.

      What felt most strange was that beyond the stench of fish was her natural smell that was not at all unpleasant.

      Mouth agape I could see so close the cilia lining her mouth, a slimy drip slid from chin to nose, proceeding to drip onto my face and reflex shut my eyes tight. The next thing I knew was a thump above me and I felt less enclosed. Looking over, there was the maiden I had intended to find pinning this creature to the ground with one hand and the other scratching away. The screeching was sure to be heard for a long distance as they fought on the sand. Blows were shared, and the creature seemed to have the upper hand on the maiden. Using her spines as defence and to stick into the maiden with her shoulder impacting in her ribs. She spat a kind of black ink into her pretty face and begun to extend her jaw again.

      The maiden reached out a hand and tore at the creature's lower jaw, making it hang " fully dislocated. Stunned, the pale and black creature was overwhelmed by the tail of the maiden who slammed her onto the ground using mainly her tail. The maiden leapt up with surprising speed upon land over to me.

       I could not move, still, out of confusion and fear. The maiden was halted, dead in the sand, by the pale skinned creature digging it's sharp tipped fingers deep into the middle of her tail, tearing out a deep bloody mess. The maiden used the strength of her tail to retaliate and seemingly break something in the creature's torso enough to make her flee.

      Grabbing the spiked comb from my grasp, that had dug into my hand enough to draw blood.

      “Where did you get this?!” she hissed at me. Too frightened to speak I shook my head vigorously as if an acceptable answer. She paused, looking deep into my eyes, down my nose, to my mouth and chin. She looked as though she recognised me. She swept her hair to one side, revealing a medallion she was using as a piece of jewellery and placed it in my hand, closing my fingers around it.

      “This belongs to you. Never comb the sea again, understand? I might not be around next time if you call the wrong of us.” She calmed her voice. Her accent was implacable, soft and nice to hear as if she spoke with emphasis from the back of the throat.

      “W... What are y... you?” I blubbered, feeling as if I wasn't inside my own body but a spectator for the whole event.

      “That's a rude question, human boy.” She grinned a wide grin, losing some humanity. “You're just like your father was. We are mermaids as you are human.”

      “M... My father?” I struggled to ask.

      “Do you have my comb?” was the only reply. Harsh, but beautiful. Feeling all my pockets, in the back pocket I found I did have the comb from the previous day still there. I must have sat on it while calling the other mermaid and summoned both. I handed it towards her, my hand still trembling. She took it carefully and eyed me intently.

      “Thank you. For this, I shall grant you one wish. But then I must tend to my wound, and you shall never see me again.” she paused and waited for my quivering mess to think about what had been offered.

      “W.. Well then I wish to see you again. Once a year, I wish to hear your song.” I said. She looked at me for a few seconds as if considering this. She looked me in the eye and nodded once. Pressing my forehead with her lips, she kissed life into my wish.

      “Brave wish for such a cowardly being. You shall not see me, though you will hear my song on this day once a year. Pick up this shell and hold it to your ear, for at this action, you and only you will hear my voice.” With that, she proceeded to lift a shell from the sand, spiralling and pink, holding it to her mouth she sung loud and true for over an hour. This time had calmed me significantly. “Now avoid the sea for a long while, human boy. A summoned Mermaid can lurk at the shores for days.”

      Before I could say anything, she handed me the shell and turned, dragging her weakened tail into the sea with her. The blood did not mix with the water but the cut seemed to disappear instantly. I looked at the shell and slowly dragged myself home.

* * *

      Walking through the door, which felt more welcoming than ever before, I was greeted by my mother as white as a sheet. Seeming like she'd seen a spectre of some kind, I noticed her eyes beaming at the medallion I had worn all of the way home. I told her I had found it on the beach and she told me more about my father. I listened carefully and she shed a tear, holding the medallion to her heart. She peered towards my hands where I was cradling the shell.

      “What's that?” She quizzed, casually. I held it up.

      “Just something I wanted to keep.” I lied “Nothing special.”

      Shooting her a grin of sentiment. I put my arm around my mother as we sat.

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