I don’t know what stranded me here, the maelstrom or the shipwreck.
See how the water is grey, moody, unforgiving against the jagged natural barriers of jutting rocks that line the speckled sand there, holding each at bay? How the sky moves in half-time to the waves, a lighter shade of dark than the water, but only ever so? How the deceptively soft blanket of clouds roll continuously parallel to the horizon?
There will be no calm, again, today. I can feel it in my bones.
That gutted ship, down that way -- the one with the ornate mast and blown-out stained glass -- squatters live there now. They pretend they built that ship, that it is still a brilliant and vast vessel worth of envy. They know that I know better, that I used to guide that berth to shore. They occasionally still scream in my direction, as if I ever forget that they’re hiding in the rotting, mildewed shadows, but the wind strips their voices of any substance. I stopped listening so long ago.
That’s the ship that first lead me here, to this place, this otherworld.
That other one, though, just before the bluff on the edge of this cove? That one is newer. It showed up while I was gone from here, before. I can’t tell you much about it; I’d only ever seen it from afar. The wood of the hull still smells fresh of sap and gentle rain. It should have held strong. Maybe the trees were still too young when they harvested them for lumber, the shipyards-men too eager to be on their ways, out on the open sea with the rest of us.
Whichever the reason, the bow should never have blown out like that, splinters everywhere. There was no explosion, no battle fought. Just the elements.
Just water, in the powerful, forceful hands of the gods.
Storms on the surface are different than they are below, at least I think so. Currents run fast, sure, light turns green and fades too quickly for night. So rarely did you ever see a whirlpool. You just learned not to get too close to the surface. That’s where the real damage would be done, where the real danger lay.
I braved it, once. I remember how the air tore at my eyes, how the rain kept me wet but in a chilling, defeating way. How disorienting it all was, everything heaving and retching, unable to keep upright. No balance, no center. The sounds of the wind and the clouds as they bashed together, a deeper bellow than the groaning of the waves against the gallows of the ships. The only light came in flashes, and gone again before it could be of use for vision.
I saw men lose themselves. Swallowed whole into the storms or the ocean, or both. Neither were forgiving. Neither exercised restraint, or mercy.
I could never unsee it, even if I wanted to.
I watched that ship sink into the darkness, full well knowing what would happen to its inhabitants and contents when it inevitably reached the bottom. Not that I could have stopped it, no. But I didn't try, either.
And now it’s washed ashore, here, on this beach. I live in its shadows, in this cove. It loomed there, just like that, when I found myself here. I am inexplicably drawn to it. Maybe it’s a misplaced responsibility -- if I couldn’t save it before, I can at least watch over it now. Keep the squatters and the seagulls and the scavengers at bay. I listen to it groan against the tides, ever shifting and settling into its sandy bed. It is a comforting reminder of when I had a purpose, a meaning.
At least I think it’s the same ship, the one I watched sink. It all blurs together sometimes, I can’t always keep them straight. Things are different here, you know. The air is heavy and thick and hard to breathe more often than it is not. It leaves my head foggy and throbbing, dark around the edges. I lose whole segments of time. This must be what it feels like for you, to exist where I come from.
Learning to stand went much like you’d imagine. It was adapt or … perish. I wasn’t ready to give up just yet, though I guess I had plenty of reason. If you have to know, I filleted myself. The piece of broken anchor I used to slice myself in two was hard and dull for that kind of work, but I made do. We are ever resourceful, after all. We have to be. It was a mess, don’t get me wrong. But I survived. I’m standing, aren’t I?
Now I stand here and I stare at the horizon, where the air meets the sea. I watch the ships pass in the distance and the storms roll in and out and back around. It’s always a circle, a cycle. Things always come back around. Never quite the same, but they do.
I barely remember what it was like out there, anymore. I never belonged there, not really. Too in love with the dark brooding depths of the ocean, with it’s sea glass edges kissing these shores. Too aware of an entire world beyond the one I’d always known. I still stayed and did my job and I worked hard and for what? It was probably one of your kind who left me here, confused after that storm and that ship, thinking me something else, someone I’m not. I know how you see me. I’ve stood here long enough to hear the stories. I know I’m lucky to still be alive at all.
This place is nothing like I imagined. It’s clear what I am at first glance, I can’t change that. Your kind make it known, too. They think I wrecked these ships, that that’s what we do. All I ever wanted to do was guide them back home. Show them how to navigate between our worlds and take it back with them, grant them a safe harbor.
I want to believe that’s still something real. A safe harbor. I haven’t quite been robbed of that, yet.
This is where I live, now. Between here, and there. Among the wreckage and the dirty sand, the suffocating air and the torturous waves. I don’t know how much longer I’ll stay, not that I have anywhere to go to. The land is so rough and unforgiving, tirelessly so, when you’re not built for crossing it. I am so heavy and slow, here. But the sea -- I can’t go back to the sea. Look here, you can see where that rusty anchor, the one I used to split me, failed to carve out my heart, after it jaggedly shorn my hair in mourning, a sacrifice to the whispers in the waves your kind rarely ever hear. Here are the scars on my throat where it cut deep enough to steal my voice, for a while. How did you think the point became so dull, before I crudely fashioned these desperate, primitive legs?
No, I don’t think I could go back. It’s too clear now what happened, what I’ve become. I would be relegated to the outer reefs, a monster they’d use to scare the hatchlings and the guppies. The sea would never have me, now.
Besides, I haven’t even told you the most tragic detail, yet.
I can’t recall how to swim.
And who wants to watch a butchered mermaid drown?