Born of Water
I remembered the day the merfolk surfaced. I remembered what I was doing, what I was wearing and what I had been eating in that stuffy little diner absently watching the local college football game on TV. I wasn’t a local, I was just passing through, eighteen years old, fresh out of high school and driving across the country thinking that maybe along the way I could find myself. I was watching the game for lack of anything better to stare at, absently picking at my onion rings and I remember thinking that they were a bit too greasy when the news bulletin cut off the game. The locals around the counter all issued disgruntled noises as the news emblem was replaced by a wide-eyed news caster. I remember the sinking in my gut as I looked at her eyes and through the screen I could see her fear. I got up from my seat and drifted over to the counter almost in a trance, caught by her eyes and her heaving chest.
“We’re at war,” she almost whispered and the whole room fell silent. The only sound was the hiss of the deep fryer from the kitchen.
“Hal, you’d better come watch this,” the waitress behind the counter said and a big man in a stained chef’s coat came to stand beside her.
“This video was taken in Boston Harbor this morning,” the news caster continued, “Viewers are warned that this material is graphic and not suitable for children.”
Then the feed cut to a grainy cellphone quality video that showed three figures riding some sort of fish coming in on a red wave. It only took me a moment to figure out that what they held in their arms were bodies and that the red was blood. If I had eaten more than a few bites I would have thrown up. The riders crested a wave and with a jolt I realized that they weren’t riding anything, they actually had tails. They were mermaids, mermen… some sort of fish creature. The camera shook violently and people on the beach started screaming. The creatures dropped their grizzly gifts into the surf and pushed themselves up with their hands into an almost standing position.
“This is an official declaration of war,” the one in the center said in accented, but understandable English. “For too long human beings have used the ocean as their garbage disposal, today is the day we say enough. If you continue to poison our home we have no choice, but to react in kind,” he finished and then the three of them turned tail and disappeared back into the depths of the ocean. The video cut back to the news caster.
“There have been confirmed sightings of these creatures along the coastlines of all the major world powers. No official statement by our government has been made. More information will be forthcoming,” she said and then the program cut back to the football game, but the cheering of the crowd sounded too loud and cheery in wake of the news we’d just received.
“Oh God,” the waitress behind the counter said, breaking the silence that had descended upon us. I walked back to my table, and looked down at my barely touched onion rings. I felt bile rise in my throat. I grabbed at my backpack and dug around for my wallet. I pulled out some crumpled bills and dropped them on the table. I was out of the diner before anyone else even had time to breathe. I half sprinted to my car and cramped my tall frame into the little passenger compartment. Soon I found myself on the highway going back the way I came.
My parents lived by the ocean.
The whole world was in chaos when I made it home two days later, having broken every speed law, running on caffeine and gallon after gallon of gas. Various governments were trying in vain to contact the mer-people, but since the declaration, the oceans had been eerily quiet. Some were even starting to believe that the whole thing had been some enormous, heinous hoax. I tried to brace myself in those first few days, but there was really no way to know what war with the ocean would look like. After all we humans knew how to war with one another, we knew how to kill one another, but how do you fight something that’s all around you? We were not used to fighting our planet. We were just used to destroying it.
It was one week after the announcement the first attack happened. I remember waking up in the morning, the sun was shining, the sky a perfect shade of blue. I was home, I felt comfortable and safe, my blankets were knotted around my feet, and the hum of my celling fan was muffled by the crashing of the tropical ocean water against the golden sand. My parents had come to Florida on vacation and never left. When I was younger I hadn’t seen the beauty of this place because it had been the only place I’d ever lived. I remembered watching from my bedroom window as the ocean rippled and hundreds if not thousands of figures appeared on the horizon and rapidly approached shore. I’d thrown open the back door and stepped onto the beach watching in awe as they stopped in a line about a twenty yards out. They stretched as far as I could see up and down the horizon line, their armor glimmering in the sun wrought in some blue-green metal. I remembered thinking that they reminded me of roman soldiers. Then they started to sing.
The melody was hauntingly beautiful and it invaded my ears and I could feel it tugging at my gut. “Come to me, my wayward child, sink deep into my embrace,” They sang and I took one halting step forward. I listened to the music and suddenly it all made sense, I didn’t want to live on land anymore. I wanted to dwell deep in the ocean…
I heard a voice command and I actually looked around to place it before I realized that it was my own head trying to fight the effects of the music. Looking around to my horror I saw that I was up to my chest in water and I wasn’t alone.
“God,” I whimpered and backpedaled out of the water my chest heaving by the time I reached land. I could still feel the pull of the song trying to work its way into my head, but fear had control now. “God,” I repeated as I scrambled to my feet and watched as whole families walked straight into the ocean. I grabbed the nearest person to me, she was a woman who looked to be in her mid-thirties. Her dark hair was a mess and she was still wearing pajama pants. Her blue eyes were lifeless, like someone in a trance.
“Stop, don’t you see what they’re doing?” I begged her, but she just pushed me aside and continued on her way into the water.
“Stop,” I screamed holding my hands up to my ears. I looked over at the line and although they continued their song some of them closest to me watched me with something that looked like interest. “Stop,” I screamed again grabbing at another person this time a young man. He was dressed casually in blue Bermuda shorts patterned with little red and white sharks, and a plain white t-shit with a little stain on the collar. On his back was a backpack. “Don’t you get it? You’ll die,” I screamed at him, but he only frowned for a moment, his green eyes flickering before pushing me aside. That was when I realized that I was all alone, everyone else had gone to the ocean.
“Andrew,” she said, and I looked up into her deep brown eyes filled with a hunted concern. Her name was Mira and she was one of the few people who could fight the song like me, and had seen the death…like me. 123.3 million. They hadn’t been soldiers or warriors, but they were the first victims of war none the less.
“You got that far away look again,” Mira said and I just blinked at her. Mira was around my age and pretty in an average sort of way. Maybe we would have dated if the world had been a different place.
“I was just thinking about them,” I said and Mira sighed.
“I used to love the ocean,” she said, sounding wistful. I looked over Mira’s shoulder at the concrete walls of the storm cellar we were in, along with some others who had escaped the song. The military was coming to relocate us today; two weeks after. They’d told us to stay here, where the song couldn’t reach us and that they would soon move us inland.
Away from the ocean. Away from them.
I stood up suddenly and Mira scrambled to her feet as well.
“Andrew?” she questioned and I looked at the thin metal stairs that would admit me into the outside world.
“I have to see it one last time,” I said and watched a shiver run down Mira’s spine.
“Why?” she whispered choking on the word.
“You know why,” I spat back pushing past her and swinging myself onto the stairs. The others only glanced at me with hollow, hopeless eyes. They were normal people, the kind you would see at a bus stop or at the supermarket. I didn’t know their names, I didn’t want to know their names. The twenty of us had been crammed into this storm cellar, and never once had anyone done anything except cry. They should have been angry. I was furious.
“Andrew…” Mira trailed off then swallowed hard. “It won’t bring them back,” she finished and I felt that block of ice I’d been nursing slide firmly into place over my heart. My lips twitched into a frown.
“This is something I have to do,” I said and then without a backwards glance I clambered up the stairs and twisted open the door. Light spilled in and I could hear the people behind me shrink back in fear. I stepped through the door and closed it behind me.
It was odd to see the beach empty on such a warm, sunny summer day. I walked along the surf staring at the unbroken sheet of blue that I had once associated with home. There were mangled towels, and all sorts of beach litter that most of the time is toted home with sunburnt families at the end of the day. Now everything lay half buried in the sand, umbrellas like tombstones to their fallen owners. Seagulls had picked over the remains of picnic lunches and now wrappers clung to everything, the sun glinting off them and stinging my eyes as I walked through the reflected patches. I reached down and picked up a slightly crushed, sandy soda can and threw it into the water.
“I hope you all die,” I screamed. Then I flinched because in some ways they were right to hate us, but I just…it just seems to me that we could have talked first, come to some sort of agreement or something. No one had to die. My family, hundreds of other families.
I walked along the beach sand spilling into my sneakers and collecting on the hem of my pants. Then I saw it, a flash of green midst the blue. My heart jumped to my throat and I picked up the nearest thing to me which happened to be a little red plastic kid’s rake. There had been a storm three days ago. Trees down, massive waves.
I took a few steps forward and laying there in the water was a girl with a tail. At first I thought she was dead because she wasn’t moving, lying face down with a net tangled around her green fins. The other side was pinned to a rock not three feet from me. Her green hair floated around her. I picked up my kiddy rake and poked her with it. Her tail twitched, the fins flapping against the water weakly. Slowly, she moved like someone waking up from a deep sleep. Her body dipped lower in the water and she turned so she was facing me. Even through the water I could see the fear in her eyes as she saw me standing there. She shot up to the surface and started to sing. Her voice was beautiful and I could feel the magic want to take a hold, but I resisted.
“Stop. Your magic won’t work on me,” I said and she swam backwards incredibly quickly so she was as far as the net would allow. She sang louder and the desire got stronger.
“You’re wasting your time,” I said, “Besides, even if you did get me into the water, do you think I would drown before I choked the life out of you?” Then she shut up. Her eyes were bluer than anyone I’ve ever known; they watched me fearfully, as if I were the creature here. As if I were the monster.
“Are you going to kill me?” she asked in an English that was so accented that I hardly understood her. She looked so human, so normal, fish tail notwithstanding.
“You would have killed me,” I pointed out and the girl shivered, making her tail shimmer.
“It would have been a painless death, a good death, like going to sleep listening to a lullaby,” she said quietly, almost sadly, like she was willing me to believe it. I felt my lips twist into a sneer and tightened my grip on the kiddy rake, the hard plastic digging into my palm.
“I’m supposed to believe that, honestly. You killed thousands of people. How had babies hurt you, mothers, fathers? You can’t justify that,” I said and the girl flinched.
“Your weapons don’t choose the guilty either,” she hissed, suddenly more animated. Her tail thrashed in anger. Tangling it further, she gasped and brought her hands down to try and loosen the webbing. Red blood began to fill the water around her.
“You started it,”
“Did we?” the girl snarled and then said something in a language I’d never heard before. “You land dwellers are as exactly as they taught us. Selfish and stupid. You think we wanted a war, you think we wanted to murder children? No. You and your kind have been killing us for generations, poisoning us and pilfering our food. We’re dying, those that aren’t sick are starving. We’ve tried to make you stop. Hid the fish, broken your boats, clogged your pipes, but you, Just. Kept. Coming. Don’t you get it, war is the only thing you understand. We needed you to understand,” she sank back into the water submerging up to her neck. I didn’t know what to say. I mean, what can you say to something like that?
“We didn’t know,” I said finally as a weak excuse and the girl just yanked at the net around her tail.
“You knew you were poisoning the ocean, you just didn’t think that the ocean could fight back,” she said dangerously.
“Now that you’ve declared war, no one will talk, they will attack you when they find you,” I said and the girl gave me a sad smile.
“They will never find us,” she said with certainty.
“What’s your name?” I asked her.
“Marlowe,” she said.
“You know they are going to find you here?”
“You know they’ll kill you,”
“Unless I help you,” I said and Marlow just blinked slowly at me. “I shouldn’t help you,”
“I know,” She whispered.
I looked out over the expansive sheet of blue water. The sun glinted in the waves as they lapped slowly against the darkening sands. I had seen this view a million times. This had been my home, I had played volleyball only a few feet from this rock. I had made sandcastles and eaten sandwiches with actual sand in them. My heart bled for the view now. It was so terribly beautiful.