20 Jul Mermaid
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Estimated reading time — 10 minutes
I knew it, my friends all knew it, and everyone at school knew it. But, no one would believe us. School was quiet with the truth hanging everywhere. The other students silently drifted from class to class, no one really spoke all that much anymore. Between each period, there was a brief and hushed march of bodies before the halls died again.
All but a few teachers seemed to not really care- they enjoyed the silence. The teachers who did care did not know how to help, or even what to say.
It had started a few days after Zach Thompson drowned. His girlfriend, Mallory Andrew, said that someone dragged him into the sea; pulled him right off their boat. No one was there to see it, and she could not tell anyone what the person looked like, so when Zach’s body floated in, drowned but unharmed, everyone wrote her off. A few days later, Mallory went missing. No one had seen her since.
I did not really know Zach or Mallory. A few of my friends new them though, and they seemed nice enough. No one should ever have to drown. The thought of falling into the Atlantic, the darkness everywhere, the liquid pouring into my lungs… It terrified me. I hated to think what Zach felt as his legs flailed half a mile above the nearest ground. Did he just breathe in to get it over with, or did he keep holding his breath as long as he could?
My friends who knew them joined the first wave of mourning zombies that populated the high school. They all remembered listening to Mallory’s tear-stained story of the hand, and the splash, the screaming, the eyes.
A few days later, Matt Miller was found caught in the framing of his parents dock. Apparently, Matt had gone out in the night to look at the water and fell over. The police say that is when his shirt got caught.
I did not know Matt Miller that well either. He was never that nice to me. To be honest, he was an asshole. But you never hear about that stuff after the fact. You only get to hear the nice stories about what a great person they were. It was then that the school moved in a small fleet of councilors and social workers to help with feelings. The lines to talk to someone stretched out into the hall, at first.
It was maybe a week before Aubrey Strong drowned. She was found naked and bruised along the beach. Her lungs were filled with water. Her sister, Tammy, had been there when something attacked them. She told the police it had grabbed Aubrey and ran off. A few days later, Tammy’s story had changed from “something” to “someone”. Her body was found the next day at the same beach as her sister, still wearing the same clothes from school.
The city began hiring more lifeguards, strict curfews were put in place at all beaches, and students were questioned mercilessly by police and teachers. Students stopped going to the councilors. The meetings began to feel more like interrogations than anything else.
Then, Mark Sawyer and Ashley Corry died on the same night. I was with Mark Sawyer. He was my best friend. We were playing Call of Duty and eating pizza in his bedroom. He was winning. I had been tracking him for ten whole minutes across the desert and my sight was lined up on his guy’s back. Then, the lights went out. The T.V. made a weird whistling noise before falling black and silent.
“What the hell?” I said to him as he stood up and began messing with the light switches. He never had a chance to respond. I froze in terror when I heard it slap up the stairs and saw its hand reach around the door-frame. The smell- like under the docks. Mark could not move either as the net fell over him. I listened to him scream as he thudded down the stairs, one step at a time.
I ran home. I slammed my bedroom door shut behind me. I never said a word. The next day, Mark Sawyer and Ashley Corry were added to the list of people. Both of them were found in the shallows by a fisherman. Amanda Stoner had been with Ashley Corry when it happened. She spent all day being tossed around by councilors and police officers. Amanda told them about a man who ran at them and how they had struggled with him on the beach.
I could not speak to anyone; the words refused to leave my lips. Whenever I tried, I saw Mark fall beneath the net, his fingernails scratching at his bedroom floor, and then I saw him drowning, his legs kicking in an endless void of darkness. Did he breathe in, or did he hold on for as long as he could? The teachers looked on me with pity. They did not know what I had seen. The councilors made sure that I knew their doors were always open. They did not know I had been with Mark Sawyer.
I could not say a word to anyone, anyone but Amanda.
“Hey,” I said to her at a lunch table. We had never met. She was very pretty with dark hair and brown eyes and large, gorgeous lips; the kind of girl I would usually have to build up my courage to talk to; the kind of girl I probably just wouldn’t talk to.
She looked up at me- dismissive. Then, she saw a look in my eyes. She reached out and took my hand in hers. “You saw them,” she whispered.
I nodded. Again, Amanda told her story. It was just like mine… The hand, the screaming, the eyes…
From then on, the two of us were inseparable. I sat next to her with my beige lunch tray and that was that. We waited for each other on the bus in the morning, we met again after school. At night, when we had to leave for our own houses, we sat on our phones. Eventually, we even began to talk about other things, we tried to forget… We had seen them. Everyone who saw them disappeared.
As the month went on, the drownings turned into disappearances. For some reason, the creatures were no longer happy just killing. They now took their victims away, never to be seen again. The sea left us with a new empty desk every other week or so. Amanda and I were not sure why the creatures from the water left us alone. Maybe it was because both our houses were inland, or maybe because we were the only survivors who banded together.
Fall came and the leaves transformed into brilliant New England reds and golds, leaving a sad magic in the air. When our town’s annual October Festival arrived, most people could not find the heart to attend. Our tragedy had become so long lasting, we barely even made the news anymore when a new child went missing, and a melancholy sunk its fingers into the entire town. But, Amanda and I went.
We walked close, passing beneath the large banner that hung above the boardwalk. Pumpkins and gourds and bundles of straw festively adorned the walkway, placed along the streetlights and the porches of the homes that looked out over the sea. Fishermen worked at large vending stalls, and craft displays sold wares all the way down to the docks, punctuated by the occasional carnival game or food stand selling funnel cakes and grease. But it was quiet…
Amanda took my hand and pulled me along to everything she wanted to see. We had both seen it every year before, but that day was different. When she took my hand, I felt my heart leap back to life, and when I won her a giant teddy bear, I could not stop smiling; neither could she.
Then, something happened. We began to laugh. The people around us smiled, and the moment of happiness infected everyone. The vendors began shouting to the people passing by, proclaiming their fish was the best, or how you could not find a necklace like theirs. People began coming out of their homes, the carnival games had lines stretching back into the streets, little children laughed as their parents swung them between their hands, and everyone forgot…
That night, as the sun set behind us and people began heading home, Amanda and I sat on a black bench, barely big enough to fit us both and her teddy bear, looking out across the water. I did not even realize that we had been holding each other’s hands all day. Then, she leaned in and kissed me…
It was short and sweet and when she stopped she gave me a shy, embarrassed grin. It was the best day I could remember.
In the coming weeks, the temperature began to drop and the first flurry of snow descended on our town. The disappearances began happening more frequently and sadness evolved into pure terror.
With the attacks growing in frequency, many people began to leave, some not even waiting for their homes to sell, and others leaving everything behind. I came home one day to my parents beginning a stack of cardboard boxes in the living room. Neither of them said anything, we all understood. But, all I could think about was leaving Amanda behind.
That night, awoken by the sound of a frenzied dog, I saw something from my bedroom window as I looked out across an increasingly desolate town. The front gate of the yard had been opened, its lock twisted off, the black iron smacking into the fence as the wind swung it back and forth along its creaking hinges. It walked like a man, with a slow, heavy stride. The creature was tall and bulky, its wide torso resting on legs as thick as tree trunks. I could not get a clear look through the darkness, but its eyes, the size of a small dinner plate, reflected flashes of light from the street.
I dropped to the floor and peered from the corner of the window. I watched as the thing walked towards the front door, quietly fiddled with the doorknob, and then began pacing along the first-floor windows. At each one, it tested their weights, figured out which windows were locked, and which ones were not. Then, satisfied, it walked back through the gate, back to the water.
I told my parents I had seen someone sneaking around the house in the night. They called the police; the police took my statement and a description of a large man in the shadows. My mom began packing faster that day, and my father put a hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eyes and promised he would protect me.
I knew it would be back for me… Later on, just as the sun was beginning its decent, I packed a backpack, left through my fence with the broken lock, and headed for Amanda’s. The creatures had never attacked an adult, my parents would be fine. But for me, my home was no longer safe. They would drag me away like Mark…
“They scouted my house last night,” I said as Amanda let me inside. She was scared, we both were. She led me to her bedroom where we talked about my parents getting ready to move and she told me that her parents were planning to head up to New York.
“I can’t leave you,” she told me as we wrapped our arms around each other.
After dinner, she told her parents that I had left and hid me away in her bedroom. We stayed up late, lying on her bed, watching the movies she had on her shelves, and kissing whenever either of us built up the courage. Periodically, I would stand and look out her window to the town where the ocean fog obscured lights that lit empty streets. No one walked the stone pathways and most of the homes had all gone dark. If I stood at the right angle, I could spot the water from the ocean peacefully washing into the shore.
When we fell asleep, my arm was wrapped around her waist, and her fingers curled over my hand and rested in my palm…
The room was dark when I woke up to a dog barking in the distance. The light from the television cast the room in a pale, flickering glow. I reached out to touch Amanda, and when my hand felt nothing but the blankets, my heart began to pound in my chest. I shot up from the bed, the room smelled like stale water and the carpet was wet. I darted to the window, where along the beach I could see several figures dragging another…
Without a second thought, I raced down the stairs and slammed through the front door. By the time Amanda’s parents were flipping on the light in their bedroom, my desperation had carried me half way through town. Ahead I could hear the whispering roar of the waves, and Amanda… she was screaming.
“No,” I cried as my feet touched the sand. “Leave her alone!”
The creatures turned to look at me, stopping only a few feet before touching the water. Amanda struggled beneath the tangled weight of an organic looking fishing net, the rope of which resting in the clenched fist of the last creature. They were all large, muscled humanoids with massive webbed feet and hands. They stared at me with fish-like eyes and flattened faces; the cross between man and piranha. Each one carried a large spear that they aimed at me as I approached.
I stopped and lifted my hands into the air when one of them let out a hollow call like a whale and threatened me with a long, barbed weapon. The creature with Amanda protectively lifted her over its shoulder like she weighed nothing and held her away from me. One of the monsters moved towards me, its feet thudding against the ground and kicking up a wave of sand with each step. It stopped a foot in front of my nose and bared a row a sharp teeth, and with one of its great arms it motioned towards the net and then pounded its clawed fist against its scaled chest.
“No, no please.” I clasped my hands together and fell to me knees.
My begging did nothing as the creatures turned and continued their slow march back towards the water. I screamed for someone to help. When I saw Amanda struggle, digging her nails frantically into the sand I lunged forward only for the one who denied me to hurl my body away.
I smacked into the sand, shouting and screaming at them. Tears flooded over my face that twisted in rage.
“Take me,” I roared over the thunder of the ocean. “Take me instead.”
The creature I spoke at before turned to see me with my hands held out in front of me in surrender. It gave another hollow call halting its party.
“Take me,” I demanded again. It paused a moment, staring at me with its gigantic eyes. Then, it took a sharpened blade of corral and sliced through the rope that its companion held. Immediately, Amanda rushed from the net and flew into my arms. I held her for as long as I could, breathing her in, before the creature grabbed me by the arm and pulled me away.
Amanda screamed and chased after us only to be flung back by another of the terrible creatures. When she tried again, the one holding me aimed his blade towards her.
“Amanda, it’s OK,” I told her as my feet hit the water. “It’s OK.” The water came to my waist. “Promise me you will leave this place.”
She fell to her knees, sobbing.
“Promise me,” I yelled. She promised beneath a shower of tears and helpless screams. The water lapped at my chin as the monster continued to drag me below. I tugged back one last time to cry out above the cold blackness, “Amanda, I love you.”
Instantly, the surface shot away above me. I remembered Mark and so many others; how they fought helplessly as they vanished beneath the sea. Did they breathe in, or did they hold on for as long as they could? As I watched the world above me rip through my fingertips, falling deeper and deeper into the ocean, I could only think of Amanda. And I held on… I held on for as long as I could.
Credit To – Ryan Austin Gray
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