She leaned her head back while his rugged hand traced her jaw, curled around her ear and tangled in her matted hair. Every nerve tingled inside of her as she anticipated what would come next. She had waited too long for his touch, for his embrace. A sigh parted her lips as she closed her eyes, and his mouth was warm and soft on hers. She pressed her body into his; pulling him down to her.
Then, a loud clatter jolted Serena out of her reverie. Ropes followed the sail in another swoosh and thud. Serena pushed away from the hull and dived deep into the depths of the ocean. Her heart pounded against her chest as she swam circles under the ship; trying to get a grip on realty. If she were ever caught by these humans, it would certainly be the death of her. However, she couldn’t resist the temptation of the one man who had haunted her dreams since he set sail in her waters over a month ago.
She came to know him as David. Serena had never seen a man like him before. She was a mermaid cursed to the sea, and he was a human destined for the shore. It was easy to live out her curse when men were lying, cheating thieves and deserved their watery graves. However, the moment she set eyes on David, her desires swayed, and she no longer had a passion for the song. Instead, her heart swelled for something more than the lyrical poison could ever give her.
Tales were told of mermaids love for men, and many had died in pursuit of these pesky emotions. Serena thought of herself as a smart, level-headed mermaid that would never fall for the traps of men. That all changed the day she began her pursuit to kill every single man on board his ship. She waited until the slumber lulled the sailors and lights dimmed before she ventured up to the deck for a stealthy attack. That’s when she saw David.
He sat beside a small flame with a feather in hand and a journal in his lap. He was alone; his head bowed while the scratch of pen to paper tickled at Serena’s ear. She opened her mouth to sing but paused when he looked up to the moon and stars overhead. She had never seen such a beautiful man before. A wayward dark curl fell over his forehead, his chiseled jaw tightened as a thought sparked an idea. His large hand guided the quill to a small vessel, and with a dip and a tap, the feather twitched against paper, again, and Serena slid into the shadows.
She stayed close to the ship and didn’t understand the feelings that had pulsated through her entire being. She was taken by his smile right away. Each time he laughed, his eyes sparkled and the corners of his mouth turned upwards. He had a full belly laugh; so hearty that Serena felt a giggle form inside of her each time she heard it. His smile was so contagious that she couldn’t help but smile, too. She couldn’t even remember the last time a smile ever formed on her full lips. She began to feel an intense desire to be the woman who would make David smile. She craved it down to the depths of her soul.
It was as if no other man on this ship existed. You could say that David had saved the men from certain death. For, if it wasn’t for these feelings that Serena battled with, she would have been in her right mind to drown every single soul on board. She knew she had lost all reason. It didn’t matter how hard she tried to accomplish her task. As if by magic, he would appear before her, and she would swim away, miserable and unfulfilled.
Serena stopped swimming circles around the ship and glanced up. Anger stewed inside of her as she thought of her close encounter. How could she get so lost in a daydream all because of one man? She wanted him beyond any desires that she had ever known, but she didn’t want to lose herself in the process. This battle seemed like it would never end, but his pull was like an addiction she could not break. This must end, Serena thought, but how can I take his life when his smile worked on me like a magical charm?
A splash overhead disturbed Serena’s thoughts. She swam out a distance and peaked above the surface. The early morning sun was just barely above the horizon, but its rays sparked flashes of light along the still water. The sparkle reminded her of the collection of baubles she had hidden in a small cove. She missed her collection. Until now, there was nothing more irresistible to a mermaid than a shiny object. The small craft could be seen floating alongside the large ship, and a lone man climbed down to jump into the vessel. Serena narrowed her eyes and glided toward the boat. She felt the blood lust return as she seethed in her own anger. There was a single soul that she can feed upon without the distraction of David’s smile to thwart her. If this is how she was to destroy these men, then she will do so; one wayward sailor at a time.
The man gathered the rope and pushed off the ship. He grabbed an ore and sat in the middle of the boat. Serena picked up speed and swam closer to the vessel. She stopped short when a lock of hair fell over his forehead, and he smoothed it back with his large hand. This man was none other than her David. She dived back into the water to hide from him. She was caught between the two boats. She could go back and call out to each and every soul on the larger ship into their deaths, or she could continue to pine over David.
Misery stabbed at her heart. It was a tough decision. As desperate as she was to be rid of the men in her waters, her curiosity and desire for David was overpowering. She followed him until his ship was no longer in sight and to a small uninhabited island. Serena ducked behind a large rock as she watched him pull his boat close to shore, set anchor and jumped into the knee-deep water. He waded through until he reached the shoreline, dug the journal out of his pocket and cracked open the spine. Then, David disappeared into a dense thicket of trees, and Serena swam out from behind the rock. No man had ever visited this island in the past, and she wondered what had brought David here. Maybe something in his boat could yield a clue to his arrival.
Serena hoisted herself into the boat, careful to leave here tail underwater. The warm sun kissed at her scales and was soaking up the liquid at a fast pace; a dehydrated mermaid was sure to be a dead one. Leaning over she poked through rope and netting as she investigated David’s intentions among his belongings. There was a small pool of water at the bottom of the vessel, and it swayed as the boat rocked among the waves. A glimmer among the sand caught Serena’s eye. She reached down to retrieve it, but her arms were too short. That bauble teased her senses, and she just had to have it for her collection. Serena shifted her weight and fell into the boat; flapping her tail wildly about until a searing pain from a sharp metal object startled her.
Serena screeched so loud that the ocean waves beating against the shoreline were silenced. She cried while blood trickled down her blue scales. She didn’t hear David splashing through the crystal clear water until he stood next to his boat. Serena lifted her head above the bow; tears glistened on her checks as she quivered.
“I won’t hurt you,” David said as he moved cautiously toward the boat. “I’m here to help. Are you with anyone?”
Serena shook her head and bit her lower lip. His voice was so soothing to her ears that, despite the pain, she found comfort in his words. Even though her instinct was to swim away, she knew she couldn’t.
“I’m going to come closer to the boat, if that’s okay with you,” David said.
Serena nodded her head. David glided over to the vessel and paused when he looked inside. His eyes grew wide, and Serena could see that they were the color of the earth, warm and inviting. There was no hiding her tail or the blood the dripped into the pool of water below.
“You are a… a woman of the sea,” David gasped.
Fear rippled through Serena’s body. If he knew of mermaids, then she was sure to be in danger. The only way to distract a man from violence and assure her safety, Serena needed to use her voice. “I cannot go back into the sea. The blood will attract sharks. You must take me to the land and let me dry my tail. It is the only way to save me.”
David’s brow furled, but he moved quickly to the other end of the boat. He lifted a lid to a wooden box and pulled out some white fabric. He tore at the cloth and wrapped a portion of it around the open wound in her tail. Blood soaked through as he securely fastened it with a knot. Then, David scooped up Serena from the boat and into his arms. She clung onto the man as he carried her to shore, and could feel his heart throb against his chest. She leaned her head into his shoulder and breathed deep. The smell of the sweet ocean mingled with sweat and musk was intoxicating to her. She smiled, in spite of herself. If this is how she was going to die, she would not have wanted it any other way.
David’s strong arms settled her into the soft sand as it crunched beneath her tail. She worked at the knot in the dressing and patted her tail dry. David stepped back, “What are you doing?”
“I have to die so you can heal me,” Serena padded the cloth on her scales and body.
“You have to die before you can heal? That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Trust me, you will understand soon,” Serena said. “Now, hurry please. Sit and hold me tight during this process. It is the only way.”
There was no time to explain. The hot sun worked its magic quickly, and she had to let the transformation take over; whether he could love her or not. It was the only way she could heal. Water droplets climbed into the air to form puffy clouds in the sky overhead. Golden light danced along the edges of her fin, shimmering up her tail as scales dissolved into skin. Serena took a deep breath and released a howl so loud that it traveled across the sea and deep into the ocean to still the hearts of merfolk below. For they just lost one of their own to another vile human for the sake of love; a disease that threatens them to extinction.
Serena’s tail split in two and fractured clear up to her womb. The transformation of tail to legs was more painful than she could have ever imagined and no amount of screaming could relieve her of this torture. Serena pressed her naked form against David; willing him to love her and free her from this tragedy. When the pain subsided, and her breathing slowed, David went to work tending to her wound. He ripped the sleeves off his shirt and cleaned the blood from the damaged area. Once the blood was removed, there was nothing more than a scar; an ugly memory along her calf muscle.
“We need to get you back to my ship,” David said lifting Serena to her feet. He removed his shirt and slid it over her head.
“I cannot go into the sea,” Serena said as she wobbled, trying to learn how to use her new limbs. “I was cursed a mermaid. Only my love for a man can make me human. The mermaid inside of me may be dead, but I am cursed and bound to the land that I stand on. If I step into the sea without love, I will become a part of the sea for all eternity.”
“This is insane!” David lifted his shoulders and shook his head. “I can’t just leave you here.”
Serena stepped forward, but her weak muscles gave way and she stumbled back into David’s arms. He lifted her to her feet as she steadied herself by wrapping her arms around his neck. Their eyes met, and she pulled him down to her level; brushing her lips to his mouth while the mermaid magic still lingered. It was what she had dreamed about for so long, but it was not what she had thought it would be. She wanted the kiss to change her fate, but it did nothing more than to reaffirm her fears.
“You cannot help me. This is my curse.” Serena stepped away and said, “You must go and find your heart.”
David stood stunned before her; unable to move from the spell’s stronghold. Serena’s legs carried her toward the waters edge. Another tear shimmered in the corner of her eye as she glanced back at David. Serena’s heart broke. She could not live out her days on the island knowing that David will never be able to join her; for he loved another and would never be able to love Serena in return. His kiss revealed this truth to her.
Serena stepped into the sea, allowing the water to rush in and engulf her newly formed legs. She maneuvered into its depths as it dissolved her skin into frothy foam and blended with her tears of misery, grief and a broken heart. If in death she can find release from the pain of an unrequited love, then death, so it will be.