The moon was full and high in the sky that night, giving off a glow of light to the beach. It allowed me to see the board walkway that led nearly to the water’s edge, stopping only a couple yards away. The sound of my shoes falling on each wooden board seemed louder as I walked further out, as if a warning that I was getting closer and closer to the end.
When I reached the end of the walkway, I couldn’t help but look behind me at the shadowy path. The size of the beach was even more evident to me now, large and looming all around me. I could barely make out the candle lit street lights, the tall stone buildings of the town with their dim lighting in the windows and smoke flowing out of their chimneys.
After taking in the sight of the town, I turned back to look at the ocean. The sound of the sea crashing on the shore was calming and welcoming. I looked up to the sky at the moon again; it seemed to have grown in size just in these last few moments. The stars dotting all across the black blanket of the night were beautiful. They called to me, asking to take me away from this world and bring me somewhere better.
I turned my face down to peer at the beach and the last step I’d have to take before touching the sand. I found myself not caring at all about my lack of appropriate footwear; my fine dress shoes shone in the moonlight, the recent cleaning I’d had done for work making them gleam brilliantly against the old, rugged wood. I wore one of my finest suits that I only brought out for a special occasion. The high-waisted black slacks and black tailcoat paired well with the black vest adorned with golden buttons. The tie, black as well, stood out against the white shirt. I had a tall hat to go with the ensemble, but realized I must have left it behind at the table of the restaurant. The restaurant where I was supposed to meet her. But she never showed, and I was instead given a letter. The hat didn’t matter anyway; I wasn’t going to need it.
I reached behind to the back of my waist and pulled out the flintlock pistol I had received as a gift from my father-in-law some time ago. I looked at the wooden carving of leaves and branches in the handle of the pistol. The mechanical working of the weapon was all made of gold. A fine gift it was, and a fine tool it would be as well.
I turned my gaze again to the sea and took the final step onto the sand. It gave way a few inches with each step, giving my shoes a grainy feeling as I made my way up to the water, just out of reach of the tide. I removed my tailcoat and folded it up before placing it on the ground. I lowered myself onto the sand and pulled my legs in tight against my body, wrapping my arms around them. I stared out at the ocean and watched the waves come in and out for a few moments, listening to the roving of the cold water as it came up just a few inches from my feet.
Out of the corner of my eye, the small paper I’d tucked in my jacket pocket flapped in the wind. I had read that note countless times in the past thirty minutes. Each time, the note made less and less sense to me. It filled me with pain and sadness, yet left me feeling empty inside, as if I had lost all purpose. I could feel myself wanting to read it again, yearning to remember the words that seemed to slip from my mind as soon as I turned away from the paper. I kept questioning if I had read it right in the first place, or if there was some other meaning behind it that I was missing. My discomfort grew as I continued to look at it, and soon my eyes began to fill with tears. The note was taunting me, and I couldn’t stand to look at it any longer. I snatched the folded paper from my jacket pocket and held it in my right hand, the pistol still clenched in my left. I could feel my grip tighten on the weapon, as if I was trying to crush the wood in my hand.
Anxiety crept into my mind, and my heart raced just thinking about reading it again. I knew I was only torturing myself, but couldn’t help from wanting to. I sat for what seemed like an hour debating whether to read it again, weighing the good and bad that could come of it, the effect it could leave on me for the rest of my life.
The thoughts sat heavy on my mind as I tried to think of something else. But I could not break from it, not until I heard a splash. It was as if something had just dove into the water like a fish. I looked out to see if I could make out what it was, but couldn’t find anything living out there. My eyes scanned back and forth across the water, searching for what could have made the noise. After a minute, I caught a glimpse of something moving. I could see the light of the moon reflect off the water and give shape to the rocks that stood tall out of the ocean. One of the rocks seemed to be bumpier than the rest, as if it had heads poking out from the other side of it. I stared at the bumps for a few seconds before closing my eyes and taking a deep breath. After opening them again, I returned my gaze to the rock, only to find it was normal again. A sense of relief washed over me as I realized it was just a trick of my mind.
I closed my eyes and filled my lungs, drawing in another deep breath to calm me. Now that the distraction in the water had disappeared, I started to think about the letter once more. As the feelings began to wash over me again, threatening to pull me under, I was interrupted by another splash. I opened my eyes slowly, expecting to see heads on the rock again, but found that it was just as before, with nothing there. Instead, I found something different. A head poked out in the water – a human head with large eyes that seemed to glow yellow in the dark. The eyes were fixated on me, and they did not blink or move. The top of the head was the only thing visible out of the water, long red hair flowing on the surface around it.
“Hello?” I called out to what seemed to be a human girl. “Hello?” The girl did not respond, but instead disappeared completely underwater. Unease grew in my chest, and I couldn’t shake the feeling now that somebody was watching me. Or maybe a group of people, out there in the water. It felt like I had stumbled into some kind of show, that they all knew why I had come out here and were waiting for me to go through with it; to watch the lonely man on the beach and see if he had the guts.
I lifted the pistol and gazed at the design once more, taking in the craft and the memories it held. Memories of my father-in-law giving it to me on our wedding day, telling me that every man needs a stick to protect him and his family. Or the day after, testing out the pistol within the nearby woods of his home. I could still see the joy on his face when he saw I could hit the tree thirty-five yards away on the first shot. It was one of the few times he had given me a compliment, and I remember finally feeling as though he was happy to have me as a son-in-law.
I stared at the gun for a few seconds more before raising it under my jaw, making my head face up to the stars and moon in the sky. They were still calling out to me, and this time it seemed to be louder, like a mother calling for her child in the street to come home. As if they were still waiting for me to join them up there with the rest of them – those souls that float up. At least I had some hope that I would travel the same path. That God would understand why I must do this.
“Please, God, forgive me,” I said as I cocked back the flint, hearing the distinct click. It was ready to set me free from this damned world I lived in. I placed my finger on the trigger and closed my eyes, expecting it to be the last time.
“What are you doing?” said a soft female voice.
My eyes shot wide open and I wondered if I had truly heard a person’s voice, or if I had passed over into madness.
“Sir?” There was the voice again – gentle in the quiet hush of night.
I pulled the pistol from under my jaw and looked to where I heard the voice. To my surprise, I found a naked redheaded female laying on her stomach in front of me. She held her head in the palms of her hands, keeping it lifted above the ground to peer up at me. Those hands were a mix of human and fish, shaped like that of a human but covered in scales with webbing in between the fingers. Her skin in the moonlight was a shade of pale blue, giving her a haunting, ethereal look.
I sat speechless for a moment as I tried to take in how this female ended up here. How she did not make a single noise, as if she just appeared out of thin air. “I… I… I can’t do it anymore.” I said as tears filled my eyes again. My breath began to pick up in shallow, heavy rasps.
“I can see the pain in your heart; the sorrow in your eyes. They speak of the loss of someone dear to you. Someone that meant more to you than life itself. Your heart breaks when you think of her. Your eyes, even now, fill with tears. You question everything you did, from when you met her until now. It eats at you and makes you feel empty inside, like nothing means the same as it did before. I know this pain, because I have experienced it many times over in my life. I have loved many people, but I could never keep them,” she said to me. “Can you help me?” I asked as I struggled to catch my breath.
“No. The only person who can cure the feeling of this loss is yourself. But I can help you get there.”
“By giving you the love that you need.” She reached out slowly to me with her hand. I could see the bright green and blue scales that covered the top of her hand and forearm, shining in the moonlight. The webbing between her fingers was almost translucent. I found myself breathing slower now, taking in deep breaths at a steady pace. I was fixated on her large, beautiful, mixed-color eyes. A sense of calm washed over me as the gentle wind blew past. The sand now felt smooth to the touch under my feet. I started to wish this moment would last for the rest of my life.
I could hear soft music playing in the wind as her lips began to move.
“Upon one summer morning, I carefully did stray. Down by the walls of wapping, where I met a sailor gay.”
“Ease yourself, my love. Do not cry; do not worry. I shall help you on your journey to find the cure.” I could feel her fish-like hands touching my arm. The sensation surprised me; instead of the slimy, scaly feeling you get from pulling a fish out of the water, she was dry and soft to the touch. As if it wasn’t this female, but her who was touching me. As if it was her hand that was reaching out to me.
“My heart is pierced by Cupid, I disdain all glittering gold; there is nothing that can console me but my jolly sailor bold.”
“What does that paper say?” she asked.
“It’s a letter from the one I lost.”
“Read it to me,” she said as she grasped my right arm and raised it up to my face. At the same time, she used her other hand to lower the pistol.
I opened up the letter with my fingers, my eyes dancing over the words I had read so many times before. I began to read aloud.
You must be wondering why I haven’t shown up for dinner yet and why the waiter has given you this letter. I must confess to you that I am no longer in love with you. I still love you for the man that you are, but I have fallen out of love with you. The past couple months of our new marriage have been trying for me, filling my heart with pain and sorrow instead of the love we shared when we first started our journey. I am no longer happy with what we have. I am moving back with my father and I wish for a divorce. I will be breaking the news to my parents when I arrive, so I expect it not to be long before the papers should reach you.
Those words had echoed in my heart for the past few hours since I had gotten the news. It had caused me such pain and sorrow, but now it seemed to not inspire anything. As if reading it again now made the words seem different.
I lowered the paper and looked into the lady’s eyes, feeling like she could peer into my soul.
“She left you with this pain to fall into darkness. Allow me to set you free from this and find you someone else to love.” She grasped both of my arms and began to stand up, guiding me to rise with her as my eyes remained fixed on hers. I felt as though I was lost in a trance, one I wished would never break. I started to feel happy again, and felt love in my heart once more.
The sound of her beautiful voice echoed in my head as if she was singing again, but her lips did not move.
“My heart is pierced by Cupid, I disdain all glittering gold; there is nothing that can console me but my jolly sailor bold.”
She started to step back slowly into the water. Each step felt as though all my sorrows were going to be over – that this girl was now who I was meant to love. That she would be who I spent my final years with. I did not care if I could not swim, or that I could not breathe underwater. I simply felt the sense of belonging with her, growing stronger with each step.
The chill of the water did not phase me, nor did the waves as they started to reach up to my face. The taste of the ocean water was more sweet than salty. I found myself waist-high in the sea as she pulled me closer to her body and held my hands.
“Love is something that all manner of creatures wish for. But only humans may keep it for a lifetime,” she said as she leaned in to kiss me. Her lips were warm and sweet, and somehow familiar. Without breaking her lips from mine, she gently wrapped her arms around the back of my neck and leaned backwards, pulling me into the water and into her world.
We slowly sank together into the water that suddenly felt deeper than mere seconds ago. With each passing moment, the love between us grew. As if time was meaningless to us and we were stuck in this descent to the bottom of the ocean. I could hear the sound of other creatures swimming by. The light of the moon faded as we fell deeper, until it was all but gone, and the only sense I had left was touch. The touch of her scaly soft skin. Her body against mine as we drifted. The feel of her lips against mine.
But then I heard her voice in my head. “You were never mine to keep; never mine to hold for the rest of our days. You do not belong down here with me. You belong to someone else. Find her – for me.” She then began to let go of me, and the pressure of the ocean started to take over. My ears popped. My chest felt as though it was being crushed and air was slipping out of me and being replaced with water. I could feel myself fade away as the seconds ticked by, until I felt nothing at all.
Soon after I faded, my senses came back to me. First was sound – the soft whoosh of the waves crashing on the beach. Then came touch – the rough feel of the grainy sand against my hands and face. Then smell – the scent of the salt water in the air filling my nose. Finally my sight came back to me, and I could see I was back on the beach.
I pushed myself up from the sand and stared out into the water, going over everything that had just happened to me in my mind. I thought back to sinking with the fair girl, and before that, meeting her on the beach. Then, I thought of her: my soon-to-be ex-wife. To my surprise, thinking of her did not bring me pain as it did before. Instead, I felt nothing at all. Contentment settled over me at the loss of her as my wife, and I realized I felt at peace with it. My love for her remained, but I did not feel hopeless anymore.
I stood up, and as I did so, stepped on the pistol I’d left on the ground. I looked down at it and remembered why it was there. I leaned over and picked it up, staring at the carved handle and gold components. I looked back out to the water again in hopes of seeing the fair girl, but did not see any sign of her.
“You were never mine to keep, my fair mermaid,” I said in a hushed tone before raising the pistol to the sky, tilted in the direction of the water, and pulling the trigger. The shot set off black powder and sent the bullet flying out of the barrel. The sound traveled far across the quiet beach – across the ocean.
I lowered the weapon and reached around to store it where I’d had it before, behind my back. I picked up my tailcoat and dusted it off before putting it on. I walked back over to the wooden pathway and stopped just before stepping onto it, looking down at my shoes now covered in sand, then once more at the water. Again I did not see her, but I felt her out there somewhere, if only in my heart.
I took a deep breath and smiled as I stepped onto the path and made my way back to town.