Estimated reading time — 7 minutes
It is on a cold November night that I wander into the café, exhausted, but unable to sleep. My hands are shaking as I pass my change to the bored cashier. Of course, I manage to fumble about half of it on the floor. My face burning, I bend to pick it up. As I am crouched on the floor, gathering my spilled coins, I turn, and she is there. My hand bumps hers, as I stare, mesmerized into her eyes. The first thing that strikes me is her beauty, her flashing green eyes, so vibrant against the dark flame of her hair, her lips full and red, against her pale skin. So pale, is the second thing, and cold, like ice. “Poor circulation” She explains, incorrectly guessing the reason for my shock, “It gets so bad in the winter.” I continue to gape, and she smiles, standing up gracefully, eyes dancing. She is tall, almost my height, and slender, quite fragile looking. She gestures toward the counter and asks me if she can buy me my coffee, and if I have time to stay and chat. I say yes to both, cheeks still flaming, and excuse myself to grab us a table.
Finding one near the electric fireplace, I settle in, and stare at the chipped table top until a laugh snaps me back to reality. Sitting down, she slides my cup to me, and asks me my name. “Matt”, I reply, “Pretty generic guy name. What’s yours?” Another laugh. “I’m Clara, nice to meet you Matt.” I chance a look up at her, and her eyes catch mine. I could swear I see her smirk, but when I try to speak, to ask what’s so funny, she leans closer, and the words die in my throat. “What brings you here tonight?” She asks, and her voice is like bells, pulling me in. Suddenly, I am falling, sinking into a mist of green, and there is nothing else, nothing but her eyes and her voice, filling my head like a dream. I can feel something wrong, something off about my consciousness, an uncomfortable wriggling sensation, something that doesn’t belong. The shock, the feeling of violation is so profound, I whimper aloud, and in that instant, I am myself again. “Something wrong Matt?” Clara asks, amusement plain in her voice. I’m embarrassed again, this time beyond belief. My insomnia must have caused me to micro-nap while sitting right here at the table. I feel groggy, and can hardly keep my eyes open as I mutter an excuse before fleeing the coffee shop. Her laughter follows me out, tinkling in my ears like wind chimes.
At home, I flop into my bed, ready for the tossing and turning that is my nightly routine. Instead, the girl, Clara, fills my mind, her voice whispering unintelligibly, and I fall asleep within 5 minutes, My dreams are full of her, everywhere. Her eyes staring out at me from fathomless darkness, glittering though there is no light. Her hair, a curtain around me, dragging me into icy waters like a net, her pale slender hands grasping my arms, tearing into me, fingers sharp like knives. I wake tangled in my sweat soaked sheets, gasping for breath. The light in the room blinds me, and turning towards the clock with growing dread, I see that it is precisely 3:00 pm. I’m over 4 hours late for work. And, despite having just slept for more time in one night than I sleep in a week, I am absolutely exhausted. I fumble for the phone on the nightstand, knocking it to the floor, and I hear it. That laugh, like bells. I straighten and whip around, but no one is there. Shaking my head I scoop the phone off of the floor and shakily punch in the number for the office. Ringing. A voice. My boss, asking if I’m ok, and I answer yes, but he can hear the exhaustion in my voice. “Take a day off Matt. Take 2 if you need it.” He’s a nice guy, and knows all about my insomnia. “I actually slept longer than I ever do last night”, I say, and he chuckles. “Well, maybe you’re finally getting over your issue. You do have a lot of catching up to do.” This idea is a revelation, so I mutter an affirmative and we say our goodbyes. Click, and dial tone.
I sit and stare at the phone in my hand, and then toss it aside. An urge is growing, the need to find this girl, just to see her again. I try to shake it off, to put the idea aside and rest for the day, but I can’t stay in bed.I find myself wandering, absentmindedly to the door. It is only when I find myself outside that I am aware that I have put my coat and shoes on, and my keys are in my car door. Sighing, I relent, and drive to the café where I had seen her. It is like Clara is waiting for me, sitting at a table outside in the snow, and I park, not taking my eyes from her. Click, and the door’s open, I’m out, and I head straight across the street, not bothering to walk to the cross-walk. Cars honk, and swerve, I pay them no heed. There is only her, like emeralds, dark fire and pure white snow. She’s smiling, and beckoning, and I go to her. There is no option. Her lips part, and her bell-like voice rings out, clear in the icy air. “How did you sleep last night?” I study her face, and can tell that Clara knows. “Like a rock”, I say anyways. “Want to go for a walk?” She nods, the laughter gone from her face, asking quietly if we can walk by the river. “It’s the prettiest right now, all white snow and black ice.” I agree, though there is a feeling inside of me, growing, making my stomach heavy. We walk, silently, and I can’t shake the feeling.
Before I know it we are there, at the river. Trees around us block out the fading winter daylight, and all at once, I recognize the sensation. Fear, deep and terrible fear, like an animal caught in a trap. The words are out of my mouth before I can consider. “What are you?” Laughter again, this time slightly mocking. “Well, I can’t resist terrifying you, so I’ll give you a hint. You may be sorry you asked though. It would have been more peaceful not knowing.” I can’t look at her, I won’t, but I have to. It’s like an invisible hand is lifting my chin, turning my head, forcing me to look into her eyes. I can see with a clarity I did not possess before, and behind their glimmering emerald surface, her eyes are cruel, cold and black, pupils like the depths of oblivion. She sighs, twirling a lock of hair around one pale finger, and begins. “Well, for one, my true name, my given name, is Sorcha, and I was ‘born’ in..” Her eyes hold me, and I cannot speak, but she answers the demand in my mind. “Oh, alright, we’ll skip that. Men these days, so rude.” Her voice is like steel, and, too late, I regret the interruption. “What am I? Well, I’ve been called many things. Siren, kelpie, drowned folk, faerie, Berberoka, dryad, the ‘Pipers Daughter’, Rusalka, mermaid”, More mocking laughter, “A mermaid, can you believe it?” I can’t, and I feel like laughing, except somewhere in my mind an alarm is ringing, deep and primal, the urge to run. “Don’t even think about it”, Clara says, and looks away from me, out over the icy river, and continues, telling me that humans have lost touch with the Earth around them, with the deities they once worshipped and sacrificed to. And the deities in return have agreed to give reign to the creatures of nightmares, the ones once warded away by offerings to the gods. Clara turns back to me. “There are so many of us, it’s better not to fight. Now come.” I follow, helpless, as she vaults over the fence lithely and dances off through the snow, leaving no prints. Her feet are bare, I notice belatedly. I stumble behind her, sliding on the ice.
We are near the estuary, where the ice thins and the river meets the ocean, and soon I begin to hear the ice cracking under my feet. I beg and plead with my mind, tears freezing on my face, but she doesn’t look back. We walk, and I expect to fall through any minute, but then Clara stops, and turns to me. “Oh, my poor baby, don’t cry. You are the start of something special. The dawn of a new era”, she says, pouting at me, taking me into her arms and cradling my head as I slump downwards. Clara is sitting on the ice, so thin you can see the water rushing underneath, and she takes her jacket off and wraps it around me. “You comfortable?” I look up, unthinkingly, and see that she is in nothing but a thin slip of a dress, as black as night. My teeth chatter, and I nod, because what else can I do, and she smiles, showing sharp teeth. Clara glances up at the sky, and as she looks up, so do I. The sky is dark, the stars are out, unreachable spots of cold light through the dark. “Soon, Just be calm. Remember, there is nothing you could have done. It was your destiny to be the first”, she croons, and begins to sing. The words are in a different language, beautiful, terrible and sad. A thump, from beneath the ice, and I jump. She hushes me, and continues singing. Her voice is enchanting, and somehow, I feel safe. My terror has be consumed by a mist of calm, and I cannot feel horror or sorrow for whatever is to come. Clouds swirl above, lightning flashes, and the snow falls faster.
The ice breaks beneath me, and I plunge into the water, the frigid shock jerking me suddenly back to myself. I surface, gasping for the air to scream, but my scream is cut short. She is there, standing before me on the ice, and her smile has vanished. All pretense of humanity, of Clara, is gone, and she pounces, diving into the cold water beside me. There is a moment of silence, of pure terror as I panic, trying to escape the icy water. I scramble for the edge of ice, but it just keeps breaking, tearing at the frozen skin on my fingers. The wind has whipped the snow into a blinding screen, and I can see nothing of the shore. A noise behind me, and I stop struggling, not wanting to turn around. A splash, and a cold hand caresses my face, forcing me to face her. “Shh, shh, you are our beginning” she whispers, “This won’t hurt for long.” Her hand slips around, cupping the back of my head, and I am kissing her.
She tastes of the sea, of night and death. I can’t breathe, her other arm locks around me, and we go down. Down into the frigid water, and her hair is all around me, my eyes are open and I can see her eyes, a predators eyes, savoring her kill. She pulls her face away, and I wonder how I could have ever thought Clara was human. I should have never left the house today, or yesterday. I should have gone to work, or told someone. I don’t believe in fate, or destiny. It’s so clear, as her teeth tear into my throat, and I float into murky darkness carried along by the currents in the water, that maybe it is better to die now anyways, before the darkness consumes the land. My very last feeling before my consciousness fades, is a deep pain for the sorrow and terror humanity will soon know. For the world of nightmares our ignorance has unleashed upon us.
CREDIT: Danielle Elizabeth
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