| The Woman in the Water
By Christina “DZA” Marie
“They’re monsters, all of ‘em,” the sailor declared, slamming his ale down on the table with a thunk. It
splashed across the wood, onto Erik’s shirt. The sailor blushed. “Beggin’ yer pardon, milord.”
“It’s not the first stain on the evening,” Erik assured, chugging back in his own ale. The plates of food
and cups of ale drifted across the table as the ship went up and down the Atlantic waves. Erik’s stomach
moved with it. He frowned at his ale, deciding to slow down.
“Merfolk ain’t real, Andrew,” the first mate said. “No Neptune, no nine princesses, no merfolk.”
“They’re as real as you and me!” Andrew protested. “I seen one! With me own eyes!”
“Yer eyes are useless!”
“They ain’t. I rather face a pack o’ sharks than one mermaid. Their eyes are white, soulless voids, and
their teeth are sharper than any man’s blade.”
The first mate scoffed into his ale.
“I seen what they do to men unlucky enough to fall in their traps,” Andrew said, lowering his voice to a
near whisper. “The women sing siren songs to lure men to their death, smashing their ships against the
rocky shores. Then they take all sailors—living and dead—and feast upon their flesh. Don’t even bother
starting a fire to cook it up proper. They tear into ‘em like nothing ye ever seen, ripping flesh from bone
and gorging themselves until there’s naught but bones at the bottom of the sea.”
“Merfolk ain’t real!” the first mate said, snapping Erik back into reality. He told himself it was the ale that
was getting to his head, and the nervousness of going to his new lands and new responsibilities in
Jamaica, and the loneliness of being at sea so acute that he—an English lord!—was willing to share
drinks with a couple of sailors. Not these ridiculous stories.
Then the ship lurched, wood shrieked against stone, water gushed into the hold, and Erik had other
things to worry about.
“What the hell happened?” Erik demanded. He had to shout over the wind that was going from gusty to
dangerous, with storm clouds overhead.
Perfect. He was knee-deep in water above deck, below decks were flooding, and now a storm was
“We hit something!” the captain shouted back. “We think it was a reef!”
“We need to abandon ship!” the first mate cried, just before a particularly vicious wave hit them on the
side, almost turning the ship over. It stayed slanted. The crew had to scramble up the slippery wood and
grasp onto anything in reach—rope, the rail, the mast, anything—to stay aboard. Another good hit and they
would turn over completely.
“Abandon ship!” the captain agreed. “Get the life boats! Abandon ship!”
Through the cracks in the wood, Erik could see the glow of a fire beneath their feet. Something must’ve
caught while dinner was cooking. No matter. The water would soon take care of…
“The gunpowder!” a crewmate warned.
Erik didn’t even have time to curse their rotten luck, before the world exploded in white and then deep
Erik awoke, rather surprised that he could, clutching a piece of driftwood that had once been the ship.
Seawater lapped at his face. He shook the droplets from his hair and lifted his heavy head.
The ship was gone. The only piece of wreckage that remained was the piece that Erik was hanging
onto. Only his torso fit on it, his legs dangling in the water.
Whether the rest of the ship was scattered throughout or deep beneath his feet, Erik didn’t know.
It was noon. The storm was long gone. The sun burned his back and bounced against the water,
There was no land. Everywhere Erik looked, nothing but endless, eternal water.
Erik pushed down the panic that threatened to rise and engulf him. He took a deep, steadying breath,
and then another.
Plan, plan, I need a plan.
They’d been going from the British colonies of the mainland to another colony, Jamaica, but had yet to
come across Cuba, which was owned by Spain. Cuba was much larger than any island out here, and his
father’s name should get him to Jamaica if he managed to wash up on its shores. Therefore, he needed to
go to Cuba.
Going east was out of the question; there was nothing between here and England. They had gone far
enough south that they were much closer to the islands than the mainland, ready to turn west to go around
Cuba within two days. He would not go north. Straight west was bad; Erik didn’t know how far it was until
the colony of Mexico. Straight south would lead to Cuba. Therefore, he needed to go south.
Erik looked at the sun, directly above his head. He couldn’t tell which way it was rising or falling, not for
another few hours.
Erik patted himself down, looking for something, anything to…ah!
He pulled his hunting knife from its sheath. It’d been a gift from his uncle before he’d set out for the
islands. Dangling from the handle by a piece of twine was a small compass.
Thank God for Uncle Edward.
That way. Erik turned his piece of driftwood and started paddling.
Something bumped against his knee.
Erik froze. The water was dark beneath the reflective waves. He prayed it wasn’t a shark. It was
probably a shark.
Erik continued to paddle, more slowly this time. No fins breached the surface, and no teeth sank into his
leg. Just his imagination, then?
Erik stopped paddling to rest. His legs felt like they were burning. No, that was his skin, which was
actually burning. It had gone from pale to deep pink in the few hours he’d been out here. By the time he
reached Cuba, he’d be as red as a lobster.
If he ever reached Cuba…
If he didn’t get attacked and ripped apart by sharks. Or captured and killed by pirates. Or lose his
strength and drown. Or die of thirst. Or die from giving in to thirst and drinking the toxic water swarming
Erik rested his chin against the wet wood. It took him a minute to realize the wetness on his cheeks was
Please, God, he prayed. Please, God, let me live. Let me get to the colony alive and whole. Let me find
a wife and have children to carry on my name and look after my land. Let me argue with my father and
smoke a pipe with my brother. Please, God, please…
Something definitely bumped against his leg.
Erik gave a full-bodied jerk. He looked down and around, trying to see the sharks, but he couldn’t.
He turned back to the front, ready to paddle again, and froze.
A woman’s head stuck out of the water, not an arm’s length away.
He could only see her eyes, white as pearls. Everything below her nose was still submerged in water.
Her skin was blue, like a drowned corpse. Yet she blinked, and was very much alive.
She lifted herself further. Her nose was like a snake’s, completely flat against her face. There were gills
in her neck.
If the water hadn’t been so dark, Erik would’ve been able to see the tail, too, long and twisting like a
He swallowed and pulled out his knife.
The mermaid came closer. Erik slashed with his knife. She jerked back just in time and glared at him.
Erik’s knuckles were white around the handle.
With a loud splash she vanished into the water.
Erik looked over his piece of driftwood, trying to see into the depths, when he felt her hand smack his
He jerked, instinctively kicked. He hit nothing but water.
She smacked his other leg. Her tail tickled his thighs. She tapped on his boots. No matter how much
Erik kicked and lashed out, he couldn’t hit her.
With a roar, he let go of the driftwood, cutting the water with his blade as he was submerged. She
grabbed his wrist with one hand and his shirt with the other, pulling him so they were eye-to-eye. Her fury
was paralyzing. The saltwater burned his eyes. He tried to struggle out of her grip, but she held him under.
His lungs screamed at him.
His knife slipped out of his numb fingers. His vision went black.
Then suddenly, air. Erik gasped, gulping down the blessed air as the mermaid held him above the
surface. His limbs were so weak that he couldn’t fight her even if he wanted to, even if he saw any more
point to it.
When he’d gotten his breath back, the mermaid hoisted him upright so they were eye-to-eye again, this
time above the water. She raised her eyebrows at him and gave him a look that was startlingly similar to
his mother’s, when she’d catch him and his brother arguing. She’d step into the room and quiet them with
that look that said without words, Are you ready to behave now?
Erik nodded, lowering his eyes.
The mermaid glided through the water, Erik in tow, and deposited him on the piece of driftwood. Erik’s
fingers were still numb, but he managed to hold on.
The mermaid slammed his knife into the wood, making him jump. He stared at it. Hadn’t he dropped it?
The mermaid raised that damn eyebrow at him again. Well?
Erik grabbed the handle of the knife, hoisted himself into a better position on the driftwood, and nodded.
The mermaid grabbed the driftwood and started swimming. Her tail wove beneath the water,
occasionally bumping into Erik’s legs. The tail itself was longer than a man was tall.
Erik didn’t struggle, didn’t move, just hung onto the wood. He didn’t even know if they were still going
south. The mermaid could very well be taking him to her abandoned island to eat him. Or to a cove filled
with ravenous other merfolk.
But she wasn’t trying to kill him now. He’d wait. He’d regain what little strength he could, and bide his
time until he saw an opportunity. She’d even been kind enough to return his knife.
Satisfied with his plan, Erik drifted off the sleep.
Erik awoke to the mermaid yanking on his ear.
“Mother Mary, what are you doing?” he croaked. Lord, he needed something to drink.
He was about to go drink some seawater, but stopped himself just in time. Poisonous. Deadly. Don’t
He looked up at the mermaid who had so rudely awoken him. He clutched the knife tighter, not having
let go even in sleep. It was the middle of the night; he couldn’t see anything besides the moon’s reflection
on the mermaid’s wet skin and white eyes.
She held up a dead fish.
Erik stared at the fish. His stomach groaned.
He reached for it. The mermaid held it just out of reach.
Erik almost sobbed. He wanted food, and a warm bed and his mother’s voice and some goddamn
The mermaid put her hand over the knife and pried his fingers away. She yanked it out of the wood,
flopped the fish down, and started cutting.
Erik watched her, a bit of drool dribbling from the edge of his mouth. He didn’t care that she was
probably only interested in fattening him up so he wouldn’t be so stringy when she ate him. He just wanted
When she finished slicing off a fillet, she laid it in front of him. Erik snatched it and sank his teeth into the
cold flesh. He spat out scales and bones, it was bland and in desperate need of some spices and fire. It
was the best meal he’d ever had.
The mermaid threw the guts and head of the fish away and took a bite out of her own fillet. She had no
qualms about swallowing bones and scales. And this close, less than a handspan away, Erik could see
that her teeth were like little white needles.
She caught him staring, and gave him a grin, showing off every single one of her needle-teeth.
Erik thought about what those would feel like digging into his own flesh and winced.
When they finished their paltry meals, the mermaid put the knife back in the wood for Erik to hang onto
and continued dragging him along.
Erik could barely lift his head from the driftwood. His fingers were permanently curled around the handle
of the knife. His skin was sloughing off of him, starting with his hands and probably his feet, too, from being
too long in the water. The mermaid had had to force-feed him the last fish, scowling the whole time.
Sorry your meal is dying, but isn’t that rather the point? Erik thought, watching the back of the mermaid’
s head. In another day, maybe two, it wouldn’t matter that she hadn’t killed him yet, that she’d fed him. If he
didn’t get any water soon, he was dead.
To Jesus Christ I give my soul, Erik prayed, closing his eyes. To Jesus Christ I give my soul. To Jesus
Erik’s eyes shot open. He’d dreamed that voice, hadn’t he?
No, other shouts were echoing it. Someone was giving the order for rope. Someone else ordered the
life raft lowered.
It took extreme effort, but Erik managed to raise his head.
It was a fishing vessel. Beyond that, he could make out the rugged line of land on the horizon.
A laugh burst from Erik’s chest, hoarse and raw. Thank God.
…where was the mermaid?
Erik looked around, thinking she’d been scared off by the board.
Something bumped against his legs.
He looked down. The mermaid was just beneath the surface, hidden from the ship. She smirked at him,
her arms crossed. Well?
Erik was still laughing. Now he was crying, too. He reached into the water, and cupped her cheek. She
put her hand over his and squeezed his hand. Her skin was soft.
The ship had lowered the life raft. Two men were paddling toward him.
The mermaid gave Erik’s hand one last squeeze before letting him go. Her tail bumped against his
legs, almost playfully, before she vanished into the ocean depths.
|About Christina "DZA"
My name is Christina
"DZA" Marie (the "DZA"
stands for Dragons,
Zombies, and Aliens,
which is also the name of
my blog). I have four other
short stories published or
about to be published in
various magazines: "The
Second Battle" (Luna
Station Quarterly), "The
Last Meal" (Quantum Fairy
Tales), "Beauty the Beast
Hunter" (The Horror Zine),
and "Snow Witch"
(Bewildering Stories). I'm
currently working on a
novel, which I know
especially when you
consider the fact that I'm
still in college, but I need
something to do during
lectures. I also knit, watch
and read anything Game
of Thrones, and argue
with my sorority sisters
over which Doctor Who is
better. Yes, I am a huge
|To read other short stories,
click one of the titles below.