*This is a revised part of a longer story I've been fiddling with over the last year, enjoy!*
I may have given into flights of fancy. I am chasing nightmares, illusions, make-believe.
I may be chasing my own death.
Amma scolded me for it ever since I was a girl. Such traits do not make a good wife. Husbands want their wives to be docile creatures, girls who stay home and knit pot holders and lock their dreams away in little wooden boxes.
You know what they call a girl who wanders the woods and believes in sea monsters?
Then she pinched me so I would remember it.
Aysha was never accused of being mad. Aysha understood better than I did. It was almost as if my sister knew what was expected of her before she even learned to walk.
She sewed her own wedding veils. She poured tea without spilling any. She baked the most sumptuous simits--batch after batch of round breads with holes in the middle, covered in toasted sesame seeds and the inside--the inside soft and white and warm when you tore it open. All of our village knew her for it. They would knock on our door at odd hours of the day asking if there were ‘any of Aysha’s simits left?’
And Aysha would smile in her gentle, knowing way, just like she did when Mehmet came to the house one afternoon with hat in hand, the most handsome man in all of Nava, asking my father’s permission to marry her.
Aysha knew he would find her. It was always just a matter of time. Her entire life had been spent preparing for such an event.
She told me in the twilight hour with the sea drinking at our feet: Ilea, tomorrow I’ll be married.
The next morning, she drowned herself.
I still can’t believe it. No, I do not want to believe it. Because until the very last moment, my sister was the happiest girl on earth. Flour on her hands, gold in her hair, stars in her eyes.
She was perfect.
And then something took her.
Amma would punish me if she knew I was out in the dark at this hour, prowling the misty, deserted seabank like a homeless spirit. She’d have a fit. But her twisted back puts her to bed early. And by the time she wakes up, I’ll be back in my bed playing good girl and hiding my dirty soles under the sheets.
Sometimes I can’t help myself.
It’s always the same place. I go where the bank slips down into the mouth of the sea and the tide rushes in like a whisper.
If I listen very carefully, I can almost hear someone singing. An eerie, sad hum that lures me to the edge and makes me look across the starless water.
A shadow cuts through the fog. Silent and tall and almost human shaped.
The singing ceases. But it is all wrong, too wrong to be human. Its head too oddly shaped, its body long and listing to one side, its arms too heavy.
If I get too close, I will see its face. Its teeth. Its claws.
Fear prickles the hairs on the back of my neck, up along my arms. I’m a fair swimmer, but I’m also wearing a dress. A stupid, too-heavy, too-long wool dress handed down from my dear departed sister.
The shadow eases closer. I move back, my feet sinking in mud. I hear them squelch.
Amma was right. My imagination will be the end of me, the ruin of me. It’s caught up to me, the very thing I feared has come to life.
And maybe it’s not some thing that took Aysha after all but my fear of a thing itself.
Sea monsters can’t move on land. Can they? They are bound to the sea.
The moon slips out from behind the clouds and turns the sea silver and now I can see everything and the shadow is no longer a shadow but it is not a monster either.
I let go of the breath I have been holding tight.
That’s all it is. All it’s ever been. A flimsy, wooden rowboat with two familiar men inside.
I bite down on a laugh at my own foolishness.
There are no monsters here, only the monsters in my head.
Amma’s word wafts after me.
I’m glad she’s not here, that no one is here to see me jumping at shadows. I will be an old maid at this rate.
But there are worse fates.
My father jumps out of the boat and tugs it ashore, the tide pulling at his ankles. My older brother hops out after. Together, they haul the net.
It catches over the side of the boat, nearly tipping it over.
“Ilea, is that you?” my father calls without so much as a backward glance. “Quick, we need more hands.”
I start toward them, but something stops me short.
The night is dark--but not dark enough to hide what lies inside the net--something squirming, writhing, fighting.
“Ilea, where are you?” my brother snaps, his voice strained with the effort.
I force myself to stumble toward them, mud splattering my dress. My legs refuse to move faster. As soon as I reach them, I lurch back.
Hands grab for me, sticky webbed hands. They tear at my dress and reach for my ankles. Jagged, black teeth gnaw through the netting as easily as though it were kelp. Too many teeth for one mouth. Too many eyes for one face--wide open, staring at me, bursting with purple blood vessels.
With a snarl it snaps free, a giant, formless monster, lunging for me, driving a scream from my throat.
“Ilea, what’s gotten into you?” My father is at my side, consternation wrinkling his damp brow. “Get up. We have work to do.”
He pulls me up gruffly from where I’ve fallen. I’m wasting his time. I feel the calluses on his palms. Calluses from years of working off the water. From dropping and hauling the nets night after night after night. He never misses a night.
Not even for a funeral.
Even if it was an empty casket.
“Thanks for nothing, Ilea,” teases my brother. Usually, I’d elbow him in the ribs. But nothing is usual anymore, not since Aysha.
Steeling myself, I look down.
Fish spill from the net, their silver bellies glinting under the moon.
Fish. Just fish.
“We had good fortune tonight,” my father comments. “Must be the full moon.”
“Take a bucket,” my brother shoves one into my arms. “Make yourself useful.”
I ignore him, looking over his broad shoulder and into the sea. The sea, where the clouds have fallen again, turning everything a ghostly white.
“Ilea, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be so hard on you,” my brother says after a minute, mistaking my hesitation. He puts his arm around me affectionately, awkwardly, like I’m still the ten-year-old tree-climber he used to chase down for dinner and not the grieving, scrawny, strange looking sister who has not said a word since Aysha was taken.
I offer him a smile, even though it feels wrong on my face. It will always feel wrong as long as she is gone, even if it’s pretend. I wipe the smile off as I start to scoop the fish into the bucket, guilt seeping in as strong as the stench at my feet.
My eyes wander to the water, rippling dark and silent. But I know its secrets. I will find her.
Aysha is out there, in there, somewhere.
She has to be.