The Ocean Bride
Author's Note: Another old story of mine that I created a long while back. This one is a step in a different direction for me. I usually do fantasy, try my hand at horror and what not, but this is going for a more...romantic angle. I don't do this often, so I half-expect some negative feedback. Hope you all enjoy, folks!
Everyone goes through the joys and pains of finding true love. For many people, surprisingly, this happens at least a couple of times. For Gordon, the man who lived in the big house on the hill on Carino Island, he knew of true love only once. Always having lived on Carino, a small island in the Great Sea, hardly venturing out into the world, he did not think that he would be able to experience such a wonderful and terrible thing.
He met the woman who would become his lover the day after The Big Storm, as the natives of Carino called the massive squall that nearly destroyed more than half of their village. He was walking along the coast just beneath his house on the hill, surveying the amount of debris that washed up along the beach after the storm when he first laid eyes on her. She was laying underneath a great chunk of lumber, no doubt torn from an unfortunate ship that fell victim to the storm, with a number of cuts and bruises all over her body. She had a great gash on her forehead, just above her right eyebrow, stretching from the side of her head to just over her nose.
She was a pretty young thing, no younger than eighteen at best, with strawberry blonde hair and fair skin. What clothes she may have worn were nothing more than a handful of scraps now. Startled by the sight, Gordon ran to her to see if she was alive and was greatly relieved when he found her to be breathing. With his house closer than the village, he picked the poor girl up into his arms and ran back up the slope.
The hill on which his house stood was known as Hermit's Hill. His family had been there for at least three generations, but it wasn't until he inherited the house from his parents that the name was given. Gordon was a solitary sort of man, who kept to his own ways and very rarely visited the village, except to pick up groceries or to visit the doctor. He, a man now in his fifties, had never courted a woman and often turned down female suitors that crossed his paths.
Why did he never take a girl? That's what the villagers of Carino often wondered. Their elders knew of Gordon's family, they were good people, fruitful people, all of whom had found a love at a young age and prospered. With such a family history, they could not understand why Gordon could not follow them. They never thought of asking him, but he wasn't a man who enjoyed their company anyway, it was doubtful he would have told them.
Gordon took the unconscious girl into one of the spare rooms of his house, made her comfortable and called the doctor immediately after. The village doctor was older than he was by about five years and despite the rare visits, he was possibly the only person that Gordon could ever call a friend. He came to Hermit's Hill as soon as he could and examined the girl, treating her wounds with expert care.
"You say that you found her under a piece of a ship, Gordon?" the old one asked quietly as he went about his business.
The hermit, who had taken up a chair in the corner, nodded.
"She must have been from the Ranger, then."
"The Ranger, Doc?"
Doc nodded. "We were expecting a trade ship, called the Ranger, to come in and do business, but it went down in the storm last night."
"How do you know that?"
"We've been picking up pieces of debris all over the island. We've found pages from ledgers, pieces of rigging, some instruments and crates that floated on the waves, but most importantly, we found a chunk of wood that said Ranger. It must have been close to the island when it went became a victim of the storm and this young thing must have been on board.
"It's an absolute miracle that she survived, I must admit," Doc said quietly. "We haven't found anyone around, living or dead. However, I do expect the others to find at least a couple of floaters washing up in the next few days."
The room became quiet as Doc went about his work. Finally, Gordon asked, "How is she?"
"Well, nothing life threatening, I believe, so that's good news. I don't like the cut on her head though," he tenderly touched the area around the gash. As he did, the girl's eyes snapped wide open. "Oh dear, she's awake!"
Gordon shot up from his chair.
The girl seemed lost and disoriented. Her big doe eyes went around the room, but it was clear that she was confused, even scared. Her fear was amplified when she saw the doctor and the man who brought her. She cringed and gave out a frightful squeak.
Doc held up his hands. "Please, do not be scared, child. You are among friends, I promise you. You have been through a terrible ordeal, but I am a doctor and this man," he turned and pointed to Gordon, "found you, and brought you here to recover."
The girl looked at the two of them. Fear still lingered, but her excited breathing calmed down considerably. "W-Where am I?" she asked in a low voice.
"Carino Island," Gordon answered. "You're in my house on Hermit's Hill."
Doc looked at him, raising an eyebrow. He was surprised to hear him use that name. He turned back to the girl. "My dear, can you tell us your name, please?"
"Yes, child, your name?"
The girl sat there, eyes moving back and forth again, as if she were looking for something. Her face scrunched up, her hands flew to her head and she began to sob. "I don't know," she whimpered. "I can't remember my name, I can't remember anything!"
Doc took her by the shoulders. "Shh, shh, it's alright, dear. Calm down, please, it will do you no good to get all excited. You've been through a lot, so don't push yourself."
"My head...it hurts..."
"Excuse me, dear." Doc stood up and moved to Gordon in the corner, lowering his voice. "That gash on her head must have been more damaging than it appears."
Gordon glanced at the poor girl. "What do you mean?"
"Have you ever heard of amnesia, Gordon?"
Gordon shook his head. "Can't say that I have. Who is that, a woman?"
Doc held back a chuckle. "No, old friend, it's not a name of a person. amnesia is a medical term of when someone loses their memories. It can last either a short time or it can be a very long time until she can recall anything of her life."
"What causes amnesia?"
"A number of things: psychological things, such as a traumatizing event or something physical, like a blow to the head."
Gordon took another glance at the girl. She was still sniffling, but she seemed to have calmed down and taking her time to look about. His eyes soon locked on the gash.
"I have a theory," Doc continued. "You said you found her under a pile of debris, correct?"
"When the Ranger was lost to the storm, she must have been thrown about something fierce and at one point..." he slapped himself on the forehead so hard, the girl on the bed looked at them.
"What do you suppose we do then, Doc?"
"Not much we can do, really, Gordon. This is my first case of amnesia. All other times, I've read about them in medical books."
"Okay, well what did the books tell you to do?"
"Like I said, not much we can do. We must keep an eye on her though, should that injury worsen her condition. I'll make constant visits to check up on her-"
Gordon held up a hand. "Visits? Here?"
"You want her to stay here?"
Doc nodded. "Gordon, I know that you prefer to be alone and I respect that, but if we were to move her into the village, it could do more harm than good."
"Shipwreck victims are always a popular bit of gossip in a village such as ours. Even if I tell them to stay away, I believe the villagers will try to crowd around her and visit, hoping to get some juicy story out of her. No one bothers you up here, Gordon, she can stay here and recover peacefully.
"I'm perfectly aware that I'm asking much of you, Gordon, but you've done so much by bringing her here already, surely you can find it within your heart to help her out a while longer?"
"Hrm," Gordon tapped his arm thoughtfully. "You say that this thing of hers could be anywhere from short to long term?"
"What would I have to do?"
"Well, first of all," Doc gave a short cough, "I would suggest finding her some clothes."
"How am I supposed to do that?" Gordon hissed. "When I inherited the house, I got rid of all the old clothes to free up space. Where the hell am I supposed to find women's clothing?"
"I could ask my wife to help us here. Yes, she's a much older woman, but she knows clothing better than either of us. She's a good soul and will keep quiet about this girl to help out. You can expect her to drop before the week is through. Until then, I would suggest you keep her in bed or give her a robe to wear, unless you wish her to roam around in the nude.
"Anything else I should know?"
"According to the texts, they say that you can retrieve lost memories if you show the amnesiac something familiar, something that they would have seen before the trauma. I'll collect some of the debris from the shipwreck and bring it by. If she's lucky, the girl will be able to regain her memories quicker that way."
The two of them spoke for awhile longer and after passing on what they had discussed to the young lady, Doc left the house on Hermit's Hill. That night, Gordon gave the girl one of his robes to wear until Doc's wife came by with her own clothes and walked with her around the house. The house, though large, was actually quite simple and gave clear evidence of a bachelor living alone: a library filled with books, an observation deck on the upper levels so that one may look out at the sea or the village below, a kitchen with a small amount of supplies, a collection of men's clothes filled only half of a wardrobe and the air itself was heavy with pipe smoke.
"I don't have many visitors," Gordon said after a time, watching her look around. He wasn't sure why he said that, but he felt an urge, as if he had to come out and say it, to explain the environment.
"It's a lovely home...Gordon, was it?"
"Aye." A thought came to mind. "You don't remember your name, right?"
She nodded slowly.
"If you like, I can give you a name?" he offered. "You can use it until you get your memory back. It's better than me having to call you 'girl' or 'woman' everytime I see you, I think."
She turned to him, her big eyes looking up at him. "What name would you give me, Mister Gordon?"
"Calla." It had come to him so fast, it was like a lightning bolt. "What about Calla?"
"If you don't like it, I'm sure we-"
"No, I like it!" she said hurriedly. "Until I get better, you can call me Calla, Mister Gordon."
"Just Gordon, please. The mister part makes me feel old."
"But...you are old, Gordon."
For the first six months, Gordon had a hard time adjusting to his new housemate. It wasn't just because that she was in a delicate condition, but it was because he was so used to living alone, he wasn't exactly capable of sharing a house with someone that wasn't direct family. Even with Doc, Gordon was uncomfortable with him around and he had known him for many years. Gone were his peaceful evenings of reading his books, the late nights when he would be out on deck and stare up at the stars while smoking a full pipe, and especially the early morning strolls he'd take along the beach. He did not hate Calla, he certainly couldn't hold any hard feelings to the girl, but with constant watch over her and the numerous attempts to jog her memory and put her on the path of recovery, his patience was tested.
Calla had a long road ahead of her. Gordon observed, through the time he spent with her, that she was a very intelligent lady. She could read, write and could point things out on the maps in the library quite well. As a man who didn't know a thing about amnesia, he wasn't sure what to expect of this girl when it came to her knowing things, but strangely, it made him feel good that she wasn't slow-witted. She came with him on his morning walks along the beach (something that Doc had suggested) in attempts to help her remember her stay on the Ranger, but it seemed to do more harm than good. Whenever the surf came towards them, she always found herself moving around Gordon, wanting nothing to do with the sea-water.
"I'm amazed that she can actually get clean with a bath," Gordon said to Doc one day when he and his wife came to visit.
Doc shrugged. "Can't really blame her for having a phobia, given the circumstances, but we can take this as good news."
"This is another theory I've been working on, but perhaps the aquaphobia she has is connected with her amnesia?"
"What do you mean?"
"When the storm came, the Ranger was destroyed and she washed up on land. I can tell you, it's frightening for many to be anywhere near water when a storm like that rages on. Can you imagine what it was like for her? Being tossed and turned about like that? There is still much of this field of medical science that is yet to be studied, but maybe, just maybe, if she can overcome her phobia, it could unlock something from her past?"
Gordon looked at him in disbelief. "What the hell are you suggesting, Doc, that I pick her up, take her down to the beach and throw her into the sea like a fisherman tosses back a bad catch?!"
"SHH!" Doc waved frantically. "Nothing of the sort, old man! It's merely a suggestion, something we could try to work towards."
"Sure!" Gordon sighed. "Why not? Throw it on the pile of ideas we have, let's see what happens."
Of course, word got out about Gordon and his pretty housemate. All sorts of rumors swamped the village of Carino about the two of them. Inevitably, Gordon began to notice visitors crowding around the road on Hermit's Hill, staring at his house. Doc explained to them what he was doing, but that didn't keep the curious from trying to sneak a peek at Calla.
Gordons care for Calla carried on for a number of years and the people of Corina began to notice a tremendous change in the hermit from the hill. He came down much more than usual, often in the company of his house guest and actually seemed more friendly and open with the villagers. The people of the island could not believe when they saw it, but when they saw it, they knew exactly what it was.
It was love.
Somehow, and to this day no one in the village knows for sure, during Gordon's caring for the shipwreck survivor, he began to care for her in a whole new way. When those brave enough to venture up to the old house on Hermit's Hill looked inside the windows, they would often see him kiss Calla on the cheek. She would laugh and wrap her arms around him, giving him a long kiss on the lips. Miraculously, this girl, this child no less, managed to thaw the heart of Gordon the Hermit on the Hill.
On the ten year anniversary of The Big Storm, things had changed drastically for the household. Calla and Gordon, having grown to love one another, had wed eight years earlier and were now the proud parents of three happy, healthy children. For the first time in his long, empty life, Gordon was truly a happy man. He had, for once in his life, experienced the joys of true love and the love of being called father.
Unfortunately, on the tenth anniversary of the storm that brought his wife to him, Gordon fell victim to the pains of love. The day had started well enough, but Gordon had noticed a sudden change in his wife. She seemed quite sad about something, but she could not tell him why. She began to tear up and pushed him away when he got closer to ask her. Worried, but unsure of who else to go to, Gordon went down the hill to visit Doc.
Doc, now sixty-five and a widower thanks to his wife passing on from a sudden illness, was retired from the clinic and lived in their house alone. Gordon told him about Calla and expressed his concerns. Doc rubbed his hairy chin as he listened to his friend.
"What theories do you have this time, old man?" Gordon asked finally, exasperated. How things had changed over these ten years; Gordon was often annoyed at the doctor's theories, but here he was, wanting to hear something.
"Perhaps it's the anniversary," Doc suggested at last. "With a day as important as this, something may have jogged her memory finally?"
"But why ten years after and not a year after?"
"I'm afraid I can't tell you, Gordon. Like I told you all those years ago, there are still many things to study in that field, and I am retired. Right now, the only thing I can suggest is that you go back up to your house on the hill, take your children and you surround the woman that gave you the best years of your life! She sounds like she's frightened, and if that is the case, then she is going to need all the love that her family can give to her. I've seen victims of battle, depression, and all kinds of things who looked like they were going downhill, but they ended up being saved thanks to a loved one."
Gordon nodded. "Thank you, Doc. I'll go and do just that!"
"Best of luck, my friend!" Doc called after him as he left his house.
The former Hermit of the Hill bolted up the road from the village to his house and called out to his wife and children, but no one gave an answer. All he heard was the familiar silence of an empty home. He called again, but when nothing came back to him, he began to worry. Fear gripping his heart, he rushed through the house, hoping to find his children and wife safe and sound, but also fearing that he would find them all in an unthinkable way. That fear grew when he reached the observation deck and found nothing.
Movement below caught his eye just as he turned to leave. Looking through his telescope, he saw his wife lead their children into the waves, each one holding onto each others hand.
"Dear God!" he turned on his heel and dashed madly out of the house and down the slope. "Please, God, don't let me be too late! I've never asked you of anything, Lord, so grant me this one request, I beg you!"
He reached the beach, the exact spot where he had seen the four of them wading into the surf, but the only sign of them he could find were their footsteps in the sand, which were already being washed away by the sea-foam. His feet soon engulfed in the sea, Gordon began to scream out the names of his loved ones. He screamed until he began to cough from the stress on his throat and fell to his knees, crying.
Both furious and saddened to a point he had never known before, he began to punch the sea and the muddy sand around him. He knew it would do no good, that he could not harm a great force like the ocean, but it was the only thing he could think of. He went on like this until his tears ran dry and his armed ached to a point where he could no longer lift them. He lifted his head up to stare at the horizon and saw something ahead of him.
His wife and his children were there, floating on the waves, staring back at him with big, sad eyes. "Calla?" he croaked, rubbing his eyes to make sure that he wasn't imagining things. When he realized she was truly there, he climbed to his feet and yelled out, "CALLA!"
None of them said anything to him. The five of them stared at one another for what felt like an eternity before the children and their mother lifted their arms and waved at Gordon. Although words weren't spoken, he knew what that meant.
"No! Don't go! Don't go, Calla, please!"
She shook her head and looked to her babes. The four turned and dove into the water, but to Gordon's great surprise, each one of them were sporting different colored fish tails! Gordon stood frozen, his arms hanging limp at his sides. Stories from his boyhood came flooding back to him and he knew what he was seeing.
His wife, the one he had found ten years ago on this very beach, was a mermaid! He knew all kinds of stories about the merfolk, whether it was from books or word of mouth, but he had never seen one before in his life. He stood there, staring out at sea, completely oblivious to the time passing. It wasn't until late at night that he came to his senses and realized that his family were long gone from the island.
For years to come, until Gordon passed away at the age of eighty, people would often see him standing in that spot, looking out at the waves. Sunny days or stormy weather, he was always there, and no one but Doc would know the reason why. After the first night, Gordon found himself stumbling back to Doc's house and told him everything that had occurred. Doc was there for Gordon until his last days and he was the last one to leave the graveyard when the funeral service was over.
"I'm sorry you had to go through such a thing, Gordon," he said, placing his hand on the grave marker, "and although you felt the greatest pain, you at least felt the greatest joy anyone in this world of ours could ever feel. I pray that you will find the peace and happiness you were looking for."
As he was leaving, he felt a strange feeling. Something in the back of his mind told him that he should turn back around. When he did, he saw that he was not the only one to visit Gordons grave. Standing around the marker, dressed in black cloaks were four people and in each of their hands, they held a single red rose. They stood there for a time and then as they turned to leave, Doc saw their faces. Oh, how they looked so much like his dear friend! The oldest of the group, a woman he hadn't seen in years, caught him staring at the two of them.
After so many years, she had come back to pay her final respects to the man she once called husband.
His ocean bride.