A Horror Story
There is something constant about the sea.
Something alluring, dangerous yet reliable. The waves offer no promise of safety, no assurance of return once you push your boat out of the harbour and into the morning fog. The depths hold both blessings and terrors, and Fisher-folk may rely only on themselves, ther skill and that of whatever crew they might or might not have.
We rise in the dark, pushing our boats onto the waves under grey pre-dawn skies, the world still shrouded in morning sea-mist. We must. A single day can make or break us.
The fog hung heavier than usual, cold and dark, and I shivered, feeling as though cold fingers had just run down my spine. Sailors may be superstitious, but we have good reason to be. Even the wildest stories have a grain of truth to them.
Tales of seal-brides, as many of whom gift their seal-skins as are stolen, and how their husbands and children waste away when they leave. The wave-soaked Maidens of the Sea, women who were thrown overboard by fearful men, and rescued by those who became their sisters. immortal and vengeful. Storm spirits, who target the boastful to teach them a lesson they seldom live to regret.
The same superstition was why I demanded that my sister remain on dry land, no matter how much she complained of the chapped hands, hunched back and lingering smell of fishguts that came of working with the fishwives. No fisherman would welcome her as crew, and many would cease to trade with me if I brought her along in my boat. Whispers of witchcraft and curses were not something to take lightly, and people already attributed my luck to her tendency to walk the beach until I sailed from sight.
Reaching the place I had dropped my nets the previous evening, I began to haul them up. Cod and Bream had been plentiful the last few days, in this new fishing spot, and from the weight of the net, I had high hopes for another profitable day. A month of this good fortune, and I might actually be able to hire on an extra hand, or pay someone to take my fish to market for me.
My sister had told me to stay away, avoid whatever risk made others steer their boats clear of the area, but I ignored her.
I threw myself into hauling up the heavy net, but when it finally landed in the boat, I thought I was dreaming.
Tangled among the net was something I never expected to see in my lifetime. Certainly, I had hoped to never lay eyes on such a maiden, yet my eyes were helplessly drawn to the long tail, shining iridescent in the light of the rising sun. Broad strands of seaweed wrapped around her torso like a kind of vest, and her eyes were dark grey, like storm-clouds gathering on the horizon, and just as ominous.
I forced myself to break our staring match, and she smiled, revealing shark-like teeth sharper than any knife I owned. "One more step, and I'll eat you alive."
Unlike the fabled siren song, her voice was hoarse and rasping, like someone who had swallowed too much seawater before being rescued. For that fabled melody, sailors would gladly throw themselves before her and beg to be honored as her meal. Hearing her words, my only thought was to beg for my life.
I knelt awkwardly - her human half was not tall, it it took some maneuvering to bring myself lower than her - and bowed my head, "I did not set out to trap you. If I return you to the sea, will you spare my life?"
The shape of the boat would make it difficult for her to get over the side without aid. She examined her surroundings as I disentangled her from the net, and finally nodded. "You may live, but only if you never again set out upon the open waves. If ever you return, the fish will play among your bones."
The rest of my catch, coupled with my sister's earnings, would keep us a day or two while we figured out what to do next.
I couldn't return to the sea, and was too old to be considered for an apprenticeship, but I needed some way to earn a wage. My sister had a suggestion; that we switch roles, with her taking the boat out and me at the market, but I refused to countenance it. The Wave-Soaked Maidens would be on the lookout for my boat, and Superstition did not vanish so easily, especially when it had just been proven true.
There were a few fishermen looking for wives; that could be an option for her, if I needed to move inland to find work. My sister didn't want to marry, I knew that, and had rejected more than one offer before, but she may no longer have a choice. She claimed to need no husband, to be satisfied in her current state, but I dismissed it.
I tried to sleep on the matter, but not sooner had I closed my eyes than I jolted awake, the cold, hungry, storm-grey stare burned into my mind.
For two weeks, the pattern repeated itself.
My sister still walked the beach every morning, and each time I chased her down and stopped her from taking the boat herself, even as I shrank away from each wave that lapped toward my feet. She still refused to consider a husband. I couldn't sleep, seeing the Maiden's storm-dark glare every time I closed my eyes, driving me slowly toward madness.
She was everywhere I turned. The flash of scales in the carts of fish at the market made me think of her powerful tail, flopping at the bottom of my boat. I saw her eyes in dark clouds, her hair in a clump of seaweed, her teeth with every flash of a gutting knife.
Finally, I could bear it no longer.
I rose early, early enough that only one other boat, a new one I didn't recognize, bobbed on the waves, setting out to sea. My nets no longer sat in the bottom of my boat, but that didn't matter; I no longer needed them. Pushing my boat off the sand, I jumped in and set sail.
Soon enough, I reached the place where I had doomed myself only a fortnight ago. I didn't have to wait long before the Wave-Soaked Maiden rose to greet me. "I told you never to come back here. I should have known that your kind have yet to learn how to keep their promises."
I bowed my head, seeing more fluid shapes, as long and dark as the one who held me her prey, rise from the depths. "I ask only that your vengence die with me. My sister..."
The Maiden interrupted me. "Our sister, now. You kept her trapped for fear of how her success would impact you. Now, she is free, just as you both wished."
The boat I had followed onto the waves was nearby, and I saw a familiar figure, casting equally familiar nets. A seal burst from the waves, it's skin falling away to reveal a humanoid form. I spluttered, only partially due to the salt water that filled my mouth.
The Maiden laughed at me as she and her sisters dragged me down, "She knows who will benefit from their husband being lost at sea, and who is worthy of being kept safe. A pity you could not listen."
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