1] A Chilling Dream
The sand runs over my feet with every step I take towards the ocean.
The village centre was alight with golden fire as it burnt to the ground behind me.
They never mixed.
Yet, no ash falls, no smoke flies as the attack is only… mental.
Only the water covering the sand gently seems to ignore the fire burning.
I hear him come back then, feet slipping through the sand – and I look over my shoulder.
I never see him.
But every time the illusion gives me a false sense of strength.
I face the ocean and continue towards the water that drowned my best friend.
Towards the place I let her drown when I was 8 years old; it was an accident, but it was still my fault.
I place my feet in the shoreline and one tiny river of what’s left of a wave, washes over my feet.
It’s the only moment I feel okay. It represents absolute peace.
The fire behind me doesn’t burn any more, it diminishes, only for splintering ice to crawl up my spine, freezing me to the spot.
It’s a chilling premonition.
But then I jolt awake.
Such an odd ending to my once peaceful reoccurring dream I had had many times, almost every morning before I woke up. I had never felt that chill before. I don’t think about it for long, though, as I wake up to the splashing and screeches of joy from the little baby mermaids who were allowed to practice swimming in the shallow rock pools just outside our shabby complex.
When I turn my head I see the light is shining over the other ten girls who are sitting on their beds, yawning awake. They blink at me and then smile at each other. They stand up from their straw beds, stripping naked as they walk to the open arched door way.
They head towards the ocean just outside.
I lean up on my elbows and look over the windowsill as they run into the water and promptly disappear when they reach waist length.
I gulp and lie back down.
“You know, Lily, this is the last week the water will be so calm,” I jerk my head to the side, I didn’t notice Halina was still here.
She’s rolled around in her bed behind the wardrobe hiding her form. She pokes her head around it and watches me with sadness in her eyes.
I avoid her statement by directing the conversation towards her instead, “…why aren’t you swimming?”
“Oh, just that time of the month,” Halina groans and disappears as she rolls back onto her bed. I sit up properly and watch her eyeing the patchy holes in the makeshift roof of palm tree branches.
I stand up and fix my green shift, sighing as I pull out clean rags from a box by the side of the hut wall, I walk to Halina’s bed and give her the rags while the ocean offends my ears behind me.
“Thanks, Lily,” Halina takes the offered help and I walk towards the other arch way leading out to the self serving kitchens, the fresh water baths… and the path between the two buildings that led to the dirt road that leg to the village centre, “Bring me back some sweets today, will you?”
“Sure thing,” I head to the clothes rack we made from a long bamboo stick and I pick up one of my favourite outfits.
Linen white shorts and a man’s long sleeved work top. I just happened to think it looked quite stylish.
I head out to the kitchens, retrieving some food for Halina to eat in bed before I head off to work.
Just another day with the same peaceful clans who worked together in the village. We called it a village but the entire place was far better deserving of another term. It was luxurious, with golden paths of shimmering yellow stones, which made up the buildings and bridges and water fountains.
I worked at a hospital, where I could help as a nurse. I didn’t enjoy the more serious tasks, rather the simple mind numbing tasks of wrapping up a wound or feeding someone who couldn’t feed themselves while they recovered.
I always stopped on the way home to watch the sunset from the bridge over the Belle river, then I would head home and talk to the girls.
We’d discuss what we’d do on the weekends – I couldn’t attend their swims in the sea. I usually only joined them if we snuck out into the village at night; which was strictly forbidden because of the Clans.
The island was full of precious Coral Mermaids in the morning. They were the most common kind who made up the members of the four Clans on the Island; Crest, Pavati, Pelagic and Firth. The girls on the island were known as Darvs, abandoned like me at birth because our scales were too dark. Any scales that were a deep green, a dark brown or a shade of obsidian were considered a bad omen. We were watched closely and housed safely in our little orphanage.
We were protected from the infamous Erebos; which were more myth than legend.
They were Mermaids who feasted on other Mermaid’s blood.
If Coral Mermaids were the dolphins of the sea, Erebos were the sharks.
As for our kind, we called females Mermaids and males Merka – just because they hated the maiden part and wanted to sound tough.
I reach the edge of the golden village stones and I see the village board has a new notice.
A yearly warning.
As the seas turn rough, the Erebos will return in greater numbers. All Mermaids and Merka of any Clan are advised to swim during daylight hours only starting from next week. When walking through the Island at night, always be accompanied by a friend. Erebos have already killed one Mermaid and one Merka this year, this number is expected to rise.
I shake my head in disgust, who would kill their own kind? Even if you were a different breed.
I didn’t understand it.
“Our Pavati Clan overseer has described some bad visions,” an elderly woman stops next to me, warning me while she holds bags full of oysters, bringing them to her seafood butcher shop we all knew so well in our village, “Tell your friends to stay behind their protected walls, do not venture into the night like I know you all do,” she speaks kindly enough.
“Yes, Mrs. Shellcase and I promise, we would never so such a thing,” I smile at her as she walks by, muttering disbelieving curses to herself.
“Hey, Lily,” I hear a Merka approach and I turn to one of the guards of our orphanage, “Why aren’t you swimming?” He knew I never did, the question was just to irritate me.
“I have patients to take care of, Aegir,” I try to smile for him but he would take it as the wrong idea if I looked at him too long, “Bye.”
I turn to leave and he keeps pace with me, fixing his wet red hair and tugging on my long sleeve.
I halt and he grins down at me.
“…do you want to risk coming out into town later tonight… you should bring your girlfriends?” he tries to ask it smoothly, “We want to do an Island walk, see if we can spot any ghosts.”
“I’ll tell them,” Aegir sighs in relief when I don’t say no and he finally walks off, “Looking forward to seeing you there, I’ll keep you safe, don’t worry!”
I wave him off and keep walking to the hospital.
I grit my teeth.
The girls already knew about it and they were already going. There was nothing I could do to stop them.
I think about Mrs. Shellcase’s warning.
Although I was kind to the Clans and their members, it didn’t stop the deep seated unease I felt for being abandoned by them. I didn’t even know which mother abandoned me. If I looked into any of the female eyes, it could be any woman. Any man, it could be my father.
Hell, Aegir could be my brother for all I know.
Hence, I didn’t want to risk dating any Clan Merkas.
I shiver with unrest and head towards my job.
I would listen to Mrs. Shellcase.
I would stay home tonight; where it was safest.
Only later on, would I find out how wrong I was.