Blood smeared on the damp rocks as she dragged herself up on to the land. Her hands tore themselves apart on the jagged edges of the Scottish coast line, ripping deep welts into the pale, white, ghostly skin. Thick, black hair clung to her features, glinting in the moonlight like seaweed, cemented down her skull and neck. Muscles rippled as she pulled herself up out of the water, shoulders heaving against the weight of her own body. Fingers clinging into the cracks of the rocks, she scraped her tail along the rough land and finally landed, completely out of the water. Lying gasping on the harsh rocks, the siren looked up at the sky, the stars fighting out against the pollution of distant cities. Her chest rose and fell rapidly, the air stinging at her limbs. If she had to die, she would die on the coast. On the land. She would die achieving everything she ever wanted to gain.
And she nearly did. Until a wave soared up - impossibly high - and crashed down on top of her, slamming her skull into the rocks. It crushed itself under the weight of the water, and the force of the impact. She went limp; her unmoving frame slipping back into the water from whence she came.
The legends of how the mermaids came to be vary. Some say they were born from the women sailors threw overboard, back when the world was imbued with magic and the ocean sang for humanity. They claim the legs of these women were tied together, and as they sank, the rope turned to scales, and their screams ripped their throats, turning the gaping wounds to gills. Some suggested they were children of the gods - or of the sea itself, born into existence due to a forbidden love affair between sea and land, man and water. Some think that they are us, that when someone with an affinity for sailing, or a great love for the sea, dies, they are reborn with a tail and gills, allowed to live in the domain they loved so much. No one truly knows, but no one denies their existence.
Mermaids aren't a visible phenomenon. They don't sit on rocks, brushing their hair and looking pretty as the ancient legends thought, but are as bloody and violent as any humanoid. They kill us by the thousand, lurking beneath the surface and capturing us when we drop our guard for a fraction of a second. We know they exist, we see evidence of them - the bloody handprints and broken scales left on deck after a captain goes missing, and the song that drifts over the water, pulling us endlessly towards them. Mermaids haunt our world, but do not join us in it. They belong in the other, in the shadows. Out of sight, but never out of mind.
When I was a child, my mother would never let me near the shore. We lived as far in-land as was possible on Britain, and I had never so much as seen the sea. I wasn't even allowed near the river unattended, for fear that I might have been snatched away by some daring mermaid that had swum to the centre of Britain, just to grab a child. She would never explain why she was so paranoid, and my father didn't help matters either.
"If it appeases your mother, Eve, just do it." Was his favourite phrase, often delivered from the armchair in the lounge, without even looking up from his book. He was always reading a book. Never the same one, but there always was one to hand. I have almost no memories of my father out of that chair, he almost becomes part of the chair in my memories.
My mother on the other hand, is everywhere in my memories. At school gates, in my bedroom doorway, kitchen, lounge, cinema, classroom, car, park - anywhere I went, my mother had been too. Normally fussing and panicking, but it was endearing in a way. There was never any doubt that my mother loved me. There was that at least.
It wasn't until I was 16 that I decided that I wanted to have more to life than the land. It wasn't until I was 16 that I left home, and moved in with this reserved old woman who lived on the West coast of Scotland, barely a stone's throw from the sea. It wasn't until I was 18 that I truly realised how dangerous the mermaids were.
One day, the old woman and I were walking along the beach. This had become a habit of ours, as she needed to stretch her legs - she claimed it helped with the arthritis - and I had Tuesdays off work, and both of us enjoyed the release that the harshness of the climate provided. The wind ripped through our hair, blowing mine into my face, causing the strands to whip and scratch at my eyes. It tore straight through any and all layers, ripping into our very bones and replacing them with ice, and, whilst Daisy claimed she didn't feel the cold, caused my new friend to shiver every few minutes. It was as we wandered along the cold beach, kicking sand up with our toes, and flinging the odd pebble out to sea that we saw it. A corpse lain half in the water, half on the frozen sand. An arm lay out-stretched still, blue fingers reaching endlessly towards us, sand pushed far beneath the fingernails. Four deep welts lay in the sand in front of the body, as though the victim had tried to cling on to the land, slow its painful death that would arrive if they entered the water. Lifeless eyes still stared at the sky, mouth lying slack on the sand, as though they had died screaming. Daisy stopped far before I did. She drew away from the body, retreating from the sea cautiously, but I drew nearer still.
"Eve," She called, a warning sharpness to her tone. "Come away child." I dismissed her concerns with a lift of my hand, and stepped closer. As the tide washed the water off the lower half of the body, the extent of the savagery was revealed. Where there should have been legs, there was only sand, stained red despite the washings of water. Embedded in the sand, pushed in deep enough to not be dislodged by the repetitive tide, yet still remain visible, was the outline of a tail. It was like a historic child's version of a mermaid's tail, made from sea shells and pink seaweed. There was an innocence in the tail, a childishness which made it all the more disturbing. Daisy called once more, and I turned back to her, hurrying away from the shore, a sudden fear running through me. It was no longer just the Scottish winds that were freezing my blood, but horror too. I clung to Daisy's arm - whether to reassure her or myself, I did not know - and choked down the bile which rose in my throat.
It wasn't until that cold Tuesday morning that I realised what the myths left out. The origins of mermaids were irrelevant, how they were born and created never mattered. The only thing that mattered was to stay as far away from their savagery as possible.
That evening, Daisy and I did not speak. We were deathly pale as we ate the stew on the rough wooden table. The driftwood that formed Daisy's table seemed to taunt us silently, a reminder of just what the sea could wash up. Daisy's hands shook when she stood, lifting the plates which trembled in her hands. The clattering of metal against ceramic, cutlery against plate, filled the small cottage and echoed throughout. The noise lingered in the silence, hanging by a thread of memory long after the sound ceased. The plates sat on the counter unwashed for a while, as Daisy did not move for a long time. She stared out the window, towards the rolling ocean, and gripped the counter. Her knuckles turned red, then white, as she clung as if for dear life to the solidity of granite.
"Maybe I should call in sick tomorrow," I voiced aloud, alarmed by my own voice. It penetrated the air like a thin, high whistle; painfully too loud, too abrupt. Daisy did not move her gaze from the water, but stared emptily. Slowly, she nodded.
The next day, I found myself stood on the shoreline, staring at the spot where the corpse had lain. Overnight the body had been sucked back into the void of the sea, sinking into the inky depths - I doubted I would ever see that body ever again. The sand was still stained red where he should have been; a crimson clot in the white sands. I couldn't tell you why I had decided to come to the beach again, I couldn't even tell you when I made the decision to come back. All I knew was there was something missing about this body - and not just his lower body. There was something wrong with the way he had been abandoned on the shore line, ripped in two and then taken again. A loud slap drew me out of my revere, and my eyes snapped to the sea. A ripple spread out from a point of calm, less than a hundred metres from where I stood. A warning.
I took a single, hesitant step backwards, moving out of reach of the lapping waves, but did not leave. The moment stretched out to eternity; a fly encased in amber, never changing, never moving. Until a head broke the surface of the sea, and shattered the amber of the moment irreparably.
"Leave," hissed the figure, her hair pasted to her neck like seaweed. The green-black of her hair and her sea made the white of her face all the more prominent. Glowing like the moon in a midnight sky, her face stood out from the surroundings. She was not hiding, despite the lowered tone of her warning. Her voice grated against the quiet lull of the sea, husky with salt.
The words bubbled forth before I could stop them.
"Why did he die?" The burning question ripped into the air. "Why take him back? I don't understand - why do you kill us?"
The mermaid looked at me with cold condescension, and slunk lower beneath the waves. One final warning floated over to me before she vanished entirely.
"Stay out of the water."