A Little Mercy

A modern day re-telling of The Little Mermaid.
[Option Two in the Co-author Competition.]

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1. Part One (Rhapsody)

 

Sometimes I wonder whether the world really is as simple as some people believe it to be.

I mean, surely our existences can't be so painfully perfect. They can't be so clean cut- sliced to perfection with a razor blade and folded tight with a neat little bow. If they were, then there wouldn't be any murders, or robberies or frauds. If they really were, then there wouldn't need for the saccharine-sweetened promise of a Heaven because there should already be one on Earth.

Why can’t people realise that? Why can’t they even consider opening their minds to the agonising truth of reality? Are they afraid of it? Are they terrified that such a revelation could disturb the army of skeletons that lurk under their closets and beneath their beds?

Do people really think that's it's all that easy? Do they really think that there’s a thick, impenetrable wall between good and bad, between black and white? 

Maybe it's the blind, smothering belief that everything will be okay. That whatever happens, everyone will skip off into the sunset along the yellow brick road of dreams with rainbow dust sprinkling from above and confetti tumbling from unicorns' horns. Even Judgement Day has a happy ending, with the righteous prancing their way up to Heaven and wicked dancing the flaming tango of death and destruction into the fiery pits of Hell.

Maybe we all just swallow our problems, pack them nice and tight into a patent leather suitcase. Just leaving them brewing inside of ourselves like a thunderstorm, a twisting swarm of inky blackness that grows and strengthens like magma beneath a volcano.

Eric says that’s how bad things begin. How they twist and mutate into monsters- war and murders and theft and a laundry list of other excrescences- and how they rip people apart from the insides out and then stitching them back together all wrong.

He also says that he doesn't really care about it. People are people. Money is money. And people are also worth quite a bit of money if you know how to play your cards right. If you know how to play people perfectly

Eric gives that smile again as I sit down opposite him- a small one, identified only by the slight curl of his lips, an endearing concoction of arrogance and sarcasm that doesn't quite make his pale eyes glimmer, yet still manages to make my heart stutter.

The leather squeaks protestingly as I perch on the very edge of the couch, hands placed delicately on my lap, feet crossed and placed to the side. Just as my mother taught me, how she taught her little princess.

I accept the drink he offers me politely as he rests his own drink on the coffee table that squats intrusively between the two couches. Again, just like my parents taught me. They’ve raised me to be the perfect child since I was born- checking off a mile-long tick list of exactly how I should walk and talk and smile and behave, just like a proper little princess. They had the money and the means to shower me in the complete works of Shakespeare, Dickens and the Brontés; to submerge me in the labours of Florey and Chain, Paré and Lister. I can recite the first sixty seven numbers of Pi without my brain panicking, or forcing me into taking a second breath in order to calmly continue the sequence.

My parents’ schemes weren't exactly subtle. They didn’t hide their programmes for my future behind guilty smiles or in their pockets whenever I joined them for dinner. They had decided that I was to be the food-deliverer, the money-earner. It was pretty clever, really: the whole idea that soon enough I would be the one who would be funding their flamboyant partying and ostentatious activities.

The fact that I was just perfect for showing off at said parties was simply another perquisite.

Sometimes- usually just before I agree to throw myself head-first into another criminal act- I wonder whether my parents hate me for what I’ve done. The whole abandoning them after all of their employees’ hard work and dedication, not the whole joining whatever criminal organisation I’ve found myself in. That’s a completely different kind of betrayal. I can deal with the little bundle of guilt that I’ve stuffed into my pockets. That guilt is like dust- only really there if I’m searching for it.

One of the many things that I can do is read people, pick out each subtle nuance of body language and fix them into a giant jigsaw puzzle, and right now Eric is practically screaming that he wants an answer to whatever question he’s just asked me. I can also tell that he’s used to this happening far too many times for his liking, but it’s more his fault I get distracted.

“Pardon?” I say, girlish sweetness practically dripping from my tongue like poison. I shouldn’t push my luck. I shouldn’t. Too many people have disappeared in the last few weeks for me to do something as foolish as that. As suicidal as that. And as much as I’d like to the man in front of me being above the average homicidal maniac, I’ve borne witness to one too many convenient ‘accidents’  as he’s stood by and smiled.

There’s a window right behind Eric and rain clouds are brewing; white surging into grey tumbling into black. The shadows cling to the bags beneath his eyes, hanging off the sharp ridges of his cheekbones.

It takes a split second for him to lean over the table and grab my shirt collar, yanking me from my seat. “Listen,” he hisses, the silken cordial of his voice grating against my ears like sandpaper. I suddenly remember how much danger I’m in, how this man could snap my neck, leave my broken body in a ditch and flit past any repercussions without a second thought. But instead I realise that I’m suddenly so close to him and even though I should be terrified, all I can think of is this skin-tighteningly, mouth-suddenly-dry, heart-hammering closeness.

“What I need you to do is exceptionally important. If you fail… all my plans, everything I’ve worked for… all for nothing. You understand?”

My heart’s pounding- the atmosphere thickening, growing and flexing around us like a pulse.

When I speak my voice cracks. “What do you want me for?”

His grip on my blouse loosens enough for me to breathe.

“I want you to steal,” he says. “To steal someone’s face.” 

  

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