Submitted into Contest #83 in response to: Write a fantasy story about water gods or spirits.... view prompt




Imogene climbed the steps to the Beach Watch Office and let herself in. She put the coffee on and waited for the three volunteers to come and sign in. While she was waiting she listened to the weather forecast – another warm day with a gentle offshore breeze.

She loved this summer job. Although paid the minimum wage from the beginning of May to the end of September free meals, coffee and travel expenses were included. She had inherited her parent’s home so these earnings covered all her basic costs for the year. Out of season she painted scenes that she had witnessed and selling these meant she could afford any extras.

(She and her brother inherited the house but as he lived in London he transferred his half to Imogene. In return he expected to bring his wife and children there on holidays.)

She told the team they could look forward to a busy day. They thanked her for the coffee and went down to the beach where they would spend their shift warning people against using rubber dinghies and rubber inflatables on the sea. If anyone got into difficulties a volunteer could swim out and rescue them.

Imogene took her binoculars and the phone onto the veranda and sat down to scan the beach and the sea. It was still quiet so she focussed her binoculars on the rock at the corner of the bay. He was there as usual sitting looking out to sea. He had long blond hair and a blond beard and she thought he wasn’t wearing any swimming trunks. She wondered where he came from and how he had so much time to just sit on the rock day after day. She though he was in his late twenties or early thirties so must have either a well paid part time job or a private income.

The morning passed without incident. Her lunch was delivered and she ate it on the veranda. After lunch she made a mug of coffee and sat at th­e window inside. She regularly scanned the beach and the sea. She saw one of her team talking to a family who had put their dinghy into the sea and were putting their young child inside. Imogene radioed to see if the volunteer wanted help. The volunteer replied that she had persuaded the father to tie one end of a rope to the dinghy and the other round his wrist. 

There were no other incidents. By six the beach was almost empty and the tide was on the way in. Imogene scanned the bay. Tthe man on the rock looked round, as if checking that all was clear, and slipped into the sea. She never knew which way he went. She wondered where he had left his clothes – he certainly would not be able to walk into the town without them.

She locked up and went home. After a snack she began to sketch the scene of the family and with the dinghy.  In the winter she would use this and her photographs to paint the ­incident. Owners of hotels and restaurants would pay well for paintings like this.

Friday was changeover day for most visitors, there were usually no day trippers and few locals had time to go to the beach. So there was no beach watch on Fridays.

The man on the rock bothered her. Imogene had seen him every day since the beginning of May. She resolved she would go and talk to him on her day off.

On Thursday evening Imogene asked the boat hire owner if she could have a boat for Friday. She knew they too took Friday off so she said she would store it in the beach watch car park.

On Friday Imogene parked her car at nine o’clock and carried the light boat down to the sea. It took her half an hour to reach his rock and as she drew nearer she could hear him singing – she thought it a beautiful sound. She knew he had seen her but he did not swim away. When she was a few metres away she called a hello and he responded by waving his arm.

She, skilfully, brought the boat to rest against the rock. He leant over and took hold of the painter so he could help her keep the boat steady.

“I have seen you sitting here every day and I wondered where you come from?”

“I live on a small island far out to sea. I could take you there... My sister is on the island so we will be chaperoned?”

“I need to be back by six.”

“No problem. If you hold the boat steady I can get in and I will row you to my island.”

He climbed in and took the oars from her. She went and sat on the stern seat. As soon as she sat down he pushed off and began rowing. The boat moved swiftly out to sea. He started singing again. It was a beautiful restful tune and with the warmth from the sun and the steady movement of the boat Imogene soon fell asleep.

When he reached the island he ran the boat on to the sand. The jolt from the grounding woke Imogene up. He jumped out and pulled the boat up the beach. Imogene thought the island incredibly beautiful. The sand of the beach was bright yellow and where the sand ended there was lush green grass and trees. She could see what looked like the opening to a cave through the trees and that was where he seemed to be leading her. As they got nearer she saw that a woman, of about the same age as herself, was standing in the entrance. Like her companion the woman was not wearing any clothes. She was a little taller than Imogene and had beautiful, long, red hair. Imogene was struck by how similar the woman was to Botticelli’s Venus.

When they reached the entrance he introduced his sister as Aphrodite. The women shook hands and Aphrodite took Imogene’s arm and said she would give her a tour of the island while her brother prepared lunch. But first, she suggested, Imogene might like to freshen up. She took her into the cave and through a doorway which lead to Aphrodite’s rooms. Once Imogene had freshened up Aphrodite suggested that Imogene might like to leave her clothes on the bed.

“Nobody wears clothes here. It’s too warm and humid.”

Imogene surprised herself by quickly taking off her clothes. She did not feel at all self conscious even when they passed close to Aphrodite’s brother on their way out of the cave. The women walked round the whole island. Aphrodite pointed out the plants and trees and told Imogene what they were. When they got back to the cave he had spread a large blanket on the ground and in the centre were dishes of fruit, tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce. They sat down and started to eat.

Imogene said to him, “When I came to your rock this morning you seemed to be expecting me?”

“I was. I have watched you watching me and knew you would want to meet me.”

“But I was more than a mile away and I needed binoculars to see you.”

“My father is an archer and has excellent long-distance vision which I have inherited. I could see you sitting outside your black hair showed up against the white front of the building.”

When they had eaten she helped clear away. Aphrodite brought her a drawing pad and a set of pencils.

“My brother tells me you are an artist. He thinks you may be better than I am so perhaps you would draw something for me?”

“I’d like to do a sketch of you standing by that large shell. I could take it home and use it to paint you and if I could visit again next week bring it with me?”

Soon Imogene was busy sketching Aphrodite but in her sketch Aphrodite was standing in the seashell. While she was drawing the brother and sister sang softly. The time passed quickly and when she thought she had enough information on her paper Imogene asked Aphrodite what she thought.

“I’ll wait to see your painting – a sketch is after all just a sketch.”

They sat back to enjoy the sun eating cake and drinking sweet liquid. Aphrodite started singing very softly and Imogene fell asleep. When she woke up she was sitting, fully dressed in her car. The boat was back where she had taken it from in the morning. Imogene wondered if it was all a dream. She got out of the car opened the car park gates and drove out before shutting the gates. Getting back into the car she saw there was a large roll of paper on the backseat. She picked it up and started to unroll it. She only had to unroll it a little way to see Aphrodite looking at her. So it wasn’t a dream, but how had she got back to her car? And who had dressed her?

When she got home she set up her easel, pinned the sketch of Aphrodite up on the wall and started to paint. She decided not to include the shell (she did not want it to appear that she had copied Botticelli) so instead painted her standing in the entrance to the cave, where she had first seen her. As she painted she thought about the day. She wondered where the island was. Surely Aphrodite was another name for Venus? How had she got back to her car? She had no answers and she still did not even know the name of the man she had spent the day with. She would question him when they met again on Friday. By bedtime she was happy with her progress and was sure the finished work would be ready to take with her.

Nothing unusual happened during the week and Imogene made the same arrangement with the boat hirer as she had the previous week. Friday morning she set off in the boat hoping to find answers to all her questions. She had stowed her painting, in a waterproof bag, under the stern seat. She was only wearing a bikini, having left her dress in the car, she thought this would be easy to take off and not as embarrassing as undressing like she had last time.

She reached the rock and he climbed in taking over the oars as he had last time. Once they were under way Imogene took off her bikini.

“I hope you don’t mind that my parents will be on the island today?”

“Oh! Perhaps I should put my bikini back on? I don’t want to embarrass them.”

“They’d be more embarrassed if you did. They never wear clothes.”

Imogene settled back and as before was lulled to sleep by his singing. She woke just as the island came into view. This time she helped pull the boat up the beach. Then she walked towards the cave where she could see a beautiful woman, who looked scarcely older than Aphrodite and a tall man who could almost be her companion’s brother. They all shook hands and then his mother suggested that she and Imogene should join Aphrodite in her room while the men prepared lunch.

Aphrodite was so pleased to see Imogene she gave her a hug. Her mother asked Imogene if she played an instrument. Imogene said she had learned to play the harp but had not played recently.

“Well then we can enjoy playing some music together. I play the lyre and Aphrodite plays pipes. There is a small harp for you if you look in that cupboard.”

Imogene opened the cupboard and lifted out a beautiful golden harp. She was surprised how easily she was able to join in. With no music she had to play by ear.

The meal was ready. They sat in the shade and enjoyed the meal and each other’s company. Once everyone had finished eating Aphrodite asked Imogene if she had finished the painting.

“Yes. I’ll fetch it from the boat.”

When she got back from the boat she was amazed to see the meal had been cleared away – she was sure it had only taken her a minute or two to collect the painting. She took it out of the waterproof bag and held it up for everyone to see.

“Perhaps my brother is right and you could teach me something.”

Everyone admired the painting and then Aphrodite’s father said it was time that Imogene was told the truth.

“I am Apollo, my wife is Circe, and Aphrodite’s brother is Orpheus. I can see that you have heard those names before and realise that we are not humans, like you, but Gods. Our children have not been able to be completely truthful to you as they could not reveal who they truly are without my permission. Orpheus and Aphrodite enjoy each other’s company but they would each like to have a closer companion. Orpheus has set his heart on you but as you are human it cannot last – unlike us -you will age and die.”

Imogene looked shocked.

“Sorry to be so blunt but you need to know the truth. I know you have wondered why you fall asleep on your journey here and how last time you were here you arrived back in your car with your clothes on. Because you are human you cannot know the way here so sleep prevents you from knowing the journey. As for your miraculous journey back last time that is exactly what it was. A miracle worked by Orpheus.”

“So you’ve all been playing with me? I thought I was having fun and had found some real friends when in fact I am just a plaything.”

“No! Orpheus would like you to be his companion and Aphrodite would enjoy having you as a sister. The painting and the music you played this morning were tests. We had to know if you had enough talent to be accepted as part of the family. Happily I believe you are good enough.”

“Oh thanks! Glad to know I’m good enough for you!”

Circe was perhaps the only one who had any idea how Imogene was feeling and she took over from her husband.

“Apollo perhaps has not explained very well. For you to be a companion for Orpheus you would need to become immortal. The only way that this can happen is for you to be presented to the Gods on Olympus. If they, not us, consider you are fit to become a goddess you will be a member of our family.”

“Circe is correct. Of course the Gods may not accept you and you will then return home and remember nothing that has happened to you since you first saw Orpheus. To be fair I must point out that if you become immortal your human life will no longer exist.

“You have a year to think about this. You may tell no one about us – if you do you will not see any of us again and you will forget about us. You have to decide if you want to go back to your old life with, I hope, fond memories of us or join us and become immortal. You can row out to the rock and tell Orpheus of your decision this time next year. Now if you just close your eyes I will make sure that you get home safely, the boat will be there for you to return tomorrow and your car will be outside your house. Oh! You will have your clothes on as you are a respectable human being.”

When she opened her eyes she was sitting at her table at home and Apollo had thoughtfully served her favourite hot meal. After eating she sketched each of the family before going to bed.

Over the next few months she painted several pictures that included members of the family. When she took one to the gallery the owner said he would take one to his cousin in London. When he next saw her he said that his cousin would like to mount an exhibition of her work.  He thought her paintings had a quality that suggested she had personally met all the subjects. Imogene smiled she could not tell him she had met them.

Imogene went to the exhibition opening with her brother and his family. The opening was a Friday evening so she stayed the weekend with them. She enjoyed taking her niece and nephew to the Science Museum and Madam Tussauds. She met many critics and artists, at the opening, who all said she must not give up beach watch as it was obvious that this contact with real events made her paintings special.  All her paintings sold on the opening night. Imogene was now comfortably well off and if she continued painting she would be able to enjoy luxuries that she had never dreamed of.

She still had six months till she met Orpheus again. She realised she would miss her brother and his family, and the beach watch volunteers if she became immortal. She would also miss the enjoyment she got when people bought her paintings.  She knew that as a human she could live to a very old age and need looking after or could die because of a disease or an accident  at any time– nothing was certain. She hoped she would be have time to question Circe before she made her choice. She wanted to know what life as an immortal would be like. It sounded good to live forever and remain young but would it be too predictable? She thought Circe would understand her worries.

March 05, 2021 11:53

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