I looked up, passed the circle of women cluttered around me, telling me stories of their sightings with the mythical beasts.My pen had been scribbling frantically until now.It stilled as I met her gaze.
After every encounter with groups like these I would wade through the claims, for hours on end, researching the clues, looking for contradictions, all to see if I could even begin to sort fact from fiction.If I was to ever unravel the mystery of the mythological beast that I believed existed, I would doubtless face countless false reports of sightings.And I had.Believe me, I had faced false reports of sightings, fightings and even matings with these strange creatures.But I knew this was different.
Something in her eyes screamed truth.It chilled me to the bone.
I stared at her, my pen slipping in my moist fingers.I felt that my jaw had gone slack and closed my mouth.My tongue pled for moisture.
“You—you’ve—“ I stammered.It was the first time I believed someone, and she hadn’t even spoken yet.
“That’s right, Newsy.Do you want my story?”Her question was more of a challenge.
The other women in the circle around me snickered wickedly.They knew the story already no doubt.So this was their game. Lure in the fancy tabloid reporter and scare her pants off with a ghost story.My skepticism rose.
“Yes.”I said, once again poising my pen over the yellow paper pad.My courage, as well as embarrassment, fully intact.
Her return smile shook me. It was growing dark outside already, an unfortunate part of winter.She stood across from me.Lipstick so deeply red it looked crimson.Piercing blue eyes accentuated unnaturally inside her painted black-rimmed eyelids.A delicate silver ring hooped through her bottom lip.The color of her auburn hair didn’t appear to be tampered with; she sported a few grays.She lifted the left side of her loosely fitted plum shirt to reveal three azure lines slashing across her pale skin, arcing from her navel to her rib cage.I gasped audibly.
“He gave me something to remember him by.”
For some reason, I was terrified.I couldn’t slide my eyelids down to wet my eyes; my gaze was entrapped on those hideous blue scars.
“Still want the story?”She chuckled.
I managed to look into her eyes and dip my head in a tight bob; words bubbled up in the back of my throat, but my tongue wouldn’t move to release them.The nod made my point though.She threw back her head in a laugh.
Then she motioned to the curtains across the room behind me.I startled as I heard the slide of metal rings over the brass curtain rod.I turned in time to see the red velvet drapes swinging obediently shut.She slapped her hand against the air in front of her and the lights died.Then she brought her palm to her mouth and blew over it.The congregation of candles cluttering the room each grew a flame.
“Then you’ll have to stay a while.”She looked right into my eyes.
I knew I looked like a virgin at an R rated movie.The other girls settled comfortably in their seats as if their favorite scene was about to play.My stomach lurched.But this was the story I wanted.Maybe I wanted them to be fake after all.
“Not a problem.”I choked.My courage was but a boneless ghost.But I was in too deep to pull out now.
“You’ve heard about these, I’ll wager.”She stepped toward me with those long, lithe legs and pulled an ornament from her titian hair, letting it fall loosely to her shoulders.
She placed the object on my yellow pad, right under the title: Where are the Werewolves?It was small.Delicate looking.No longer than my index finger, but as thick.One end was flat, with sleek compressions resembling the face of the man on the moon.The other end was tapered into a sharp point.Its metallic sheen glinted in the candle light. Silver.
“Is that a--?”
“You’re quick.”Her maroon-painted lips slid into a smile.“Silver pierces their skin like a hot knife through butter.”
Soft laughs echoed my nervous titter. I swallowed.
“I figure, you’re already a believer, so you might as well hear the story from someone who knows the truth.There are liars out there.”
I nodded.Pen ready.Hands resting against my yellow college rule, to hide the shaking.
She walked into the center of the room and turned back toward me before she lowered herself to the floor.The rest of the women followed suit and scooted closer, forming a half moon around her on the rug.I slid off my chair and joined them.
“It was a long time ago.Circa—well, nothing you’d believe.”She looked right into my eyes as she started.
“I was alone that night.My partner didn’t believe in provoking the soulless beasts that we were trained to kill.I, however, had a more romantic idea of what being a member of the DarkFighters meant, and since our first twelve hunts had turned up empty, I was determined to make number thirteen lucky.I was young, and stupid.But nothing short of fear can break a stubborn streak like mine.
I didn’t want something easy.I was going after the big game.Werewolves.One of the big three of the soulless.No rookie had ever killed one.I was going to be the first.After all, acing the ambush and kill stages of my training had left me one of the cockiest graduates.That’s probably why they made stuff-shirt the rule-follower my partner, but then they didn’t expect me to break all the rules.There were three.Rookies hunting alone was one of the no-nos.Rookies hunting on a full moon night was another. They didn’t have to be worried about the third though, no one in their right mind would be that reckless.
I let out a melancholy howl.Nothing.Pushing my way deeper into the forest I tried again.Nothing.I knew my sorrowful call was near perfect.Any werewolf in the district would have perked.Crackling my way deeper into the dense shrubs of the thicket, I found a spot to wait.The moon was bright, so I flipped the switch to my flashlight, and my artificial light went out.I waited for my eyes to adjust.
I sent out one more mournful cry.Nothing.I sank to the ground with my back to a tree and waited.A chorus of crickets and tree frogs kept me awake at first.Then their monotony started to sing me to sleep.
My eyes popped open to the sharp crack of a stick splitting.Something was entering my thicket.I turned to look and felt the warm mist of breath against my neck.Fearing the worst, I closed my eyes and turned toward the heat.A resounding growl spurred my heart to beat faster.I opened my eyes.
Its serrated smile was inches from my face.Its breath was rank with the stench of blood, and sprays of red dotted its muzzle.I shivered.Goose bumps rose over my whole body, starting with my scalp and rippling down my legs.A werewolf.
I wanted to scream, but I was frozen.Slowly I inhaled.The breath I pushed out fueled the most bleak howl I’d ever mustered.It was perfect.Beautiful.The werewolf inched back and threw his morbid head back, stretched his unnaturally long neck and joined me.
Our voices mingled in bittersweet communion for an eternal moment.Then, he turned toward me, put his nose up to my throat and inhaled.He expelled the hot spray so forcefully that my shirt fluttered.A look of confusion enveloped his eyes.Then his brows lowered in anger.Fear shook my heart as he grabbed me and flung me over his shoulder
None of my kicking or scraping slowed his pace as we raced through the woods.My screams fell on deaf ears.He clutched me tighter and I felt his razor claws rip through my shirt and penetrate my skin.Still, I squirmed against his hold.
He took me to a dilapidated shack nestled under leafless trees.He brought me inside and tossed me like a featherweight.I landed with a jolt on a bed.The moonlight spilled in perfectly through the window and I could see him clearly.
He towered over me, standing on his grotesquely malformed hind legs.His ears twitched.He leaned closer to me and I found my scream.At the sound of it his head shot up.His ears sprung forward.Then his long neck arched toward me and his answering call was a growl so deep I felt it reverberate through my heart.His ears flattened.His lips curled.His teeth gleamed in the moonlight.That was the last clear image I saw as he struck.
His massive form encircled me and I screamed.Reaching for the silver weapon I had thankfully woven in my hair, I rolled out of the way.His jaws clamped around pillows.He launched after me, feathers clouding my view, I ducked.My silver weapon flailed clumsily out in front of me and I felt it catch.
He howled and staggered away from me.The feathers began to settle as I stared at him for a beat.
Shaking, he crouched low and whimpered.A trick.My head knew it was a trick, but my heart caused me to hesitate.He uncoiled and roared like thunder as he flew toward me.I ducked and skidded under the bed.He screeched as he crumpled into the wall.
Turning and looking around, he began to shake.He stumbled to the bed and fell atop it.It began pulsating violently above me.He screamed.He wailed.I held one hand over my mouth and the other gripped the silver spike.Tears wetted my cheeks and my body shook from hidden sobs of fear.I could finally feel the burn in my side where his claws had sliced me open while he clung to me and ran.
Then everything went still.The quietness enveloped me like a thick fog dulling my senses.I pulled myself out from under the bed.My blood smeared along the floor and I felt sick as I stood.I kept my back to him afraid the sudden quiet was meant to lure me out of hiding.
Slowly I turned.He was wet with sweat, lying on drenched sheets, naked.Vulnerable.My hands shook.It was now or never.
Courage gripped me and I thrust my hands above my head.Plunging them down, silver spike first, I felt the tip pass through his chest with ease.But I stopped.I had broken the third rule.I looked at his face.
It wasn’t the same.It was distinctly human.His whole body was.Slick with sweat, he shivered, but his eyes remained closed even as crimson leaked out around the silver blade in his skin.I couldn’t push it in farther.
He wasn’t a monster now.He was a man.A young man.Weak and cold.I could have finished it there.I could have killed him, but my conscience wouldn’t allow me to pass the blade that so easily penetrated his sternum any farther.
I pulled the stake out.His eyes shot open as if the silver leaving his system had awakened him.Shocked, he stared at me, pulling blankets around himself and moving away fearfully.His eyes fell on the blood at that dripped so freely off the weapon.Then his fingers touched his chest.
“Give it to me.”He said in a voice so hoarse I nearly screamed again.
I extended my hand and let the weapon fall onto the bed.
“I didn’t—I wasn’t—You were a monster!”I cried.Tears streamed again as I coughed on my own thick spit.
He looked at my red-stained, shredded clothes and closed his eyes.His fingers wrapped around the silver, his knuckles turned white and blood dripped from his fist, oozing out from between his fingers.Then his eyes opened.He looked at me.Into me.I swear his gaze reached my soul.Before I realized what he was doing, it was done.
He slumped back against the headboard, the silver sticking from the hole I had started.His eyes remained open, but they read the intimate thoughts of my soul no longer.A desolate ululating echoed in the distance.Moonlight broke through the clouds, filtering through the window, kissing his face.His shadow spilled out beside him, the shadow of a wolf.
“I ran.” She finished her tale and I exhaled. She was obviously pleased with my attentiveness.
I stared at the small weapon on my paper. It looked so innocuous. Wait.
“You took the weapon back before you ran?” I’d caught her. She was lying. I could have sworn she spoke the truth to me though! She was so convincing.
“I knew you’d be clever enough.” Her rich red lips stretched into a smile. “No. I left the weapon. Where it was.”
“It wasn’t long enough to pierce through his heart.”
Love is the answer to everything. It's the only reason to do anything. If you don't write stories you love, you'll never make it. If you don't write stories that other people love, you'll never make it.
Sydney loved the sound of water quietly lapping against the smooth shoreline. In and out. In and out. The waves moved placidly under the pull of the tide. Rocks sometimes clicked together when the heavier waves dragged them over one another. Smooth rocks. Perfect for collecting.
Sydney’s yearly collections fed her winter hobby. When Sydney caressed the different rocks from Superior’s floor, she could feel the distant pull of the tide, or sense the glide of water against her skin. Building sculptures with the rocks kept Sydney from missing the water too badly. Winters grew long in the small town of Munising on Lake Superior’s sandy shore.
She always knew summer was approaching when the rocks in her room began to dwindle. She’d managed quite a collection today. Rocks of maroon and cerulean and teal and the dark gray ones that lost their deep color when the moisture left them. Another haul to drag home and sneak into her bedroom closet.
The sun was dipping lower toward the horizon, soon to be swallowed up by the massive lake. Its gold glittered elusively across the top of the water. Summer was magical here. Summer felt endless here. The whole of Summer was captured in one moment here. But soon, Sydney wouldn’t feel the warm sand on the soles of her feet. And the water that had taken months to warm would chill. In summer the water was alive. Fresh. Uninhibited. But it wasn’t tame.
Superior was never tame. Still, the only thing that could call it to submission was the cold. But it was a false submission, for Superior raged in protest against icy winds and cooling air. It collided against the high banks in anger as the freezing wind tried to still its fury, as the winter tried to calm it into slumber. But when the warmth returned, Superior rejoiced and shed its shell of ice to freely lap at the shore again.
Now it shone for the sun in bright blue and glittering green. It waved soft whitecaps for the sun and danced like a partner in the wind. All summer long.
Sydney’s mother was from the water. So it was said. And so Sydney believed. She only knew her mother from the few pictures on the wall at her great uncle’s home. Dusty pictures with tattered edges made mystical by sepia hues and her mother’s own distant stares.
There were three pictures of her mother in the house. All of them told Sydney everything she knew about her mother. And everything her uncle didn’t want her to know. The first picture was of her mother’s back. A young girl, she was, with spindly legs dangling over the edge of the dock, reaching for the summer water below. The second showed her mother’s distant smile as she stood on Superior’s shore with her hand held up to her forehead shielding her eyes from the setting sun as she peered over the water. The third picture, Sydney’s favorite, is just her mother’s face, smiling. Sydney’s uncle had it blown larger, for her birthday, and in her mother’s bright eyes Sydney could see the dancing whitecaps of Superior. Windows to her mother’s soul.
“Look at her.” Mike Knave stood on his front porch, overlooking the water below. He swore under his breath and turned his pipe in his hand. His wife glanced up from her stitching and eyed her husband.
“She just stands there, on the beach, day after day after day!”
“Mike, most kids go to the beach in August. It’s warm and—“
“Don’t tell me it’s like other kids, Sophie. You see what I see. I know you see it, even for your lack of looking!”
“And you see?”
“What do you want me to say, Mike? I see.” She paused for a long time showing emotion he thought had been lost to her years ago. “There’s no way to stop it. You already knew. You knew the moment we found her. She’s just like her mother.”
Mike turned his eyes back out to the shore below and the child he loved like a daughter. She walked along the shore picking up rocks as if they were pieces of gold. Hording them away for winter. “She doesn’t know.” He whispered.
“It doesn’t matter. She’ll find out. They always find out.”
“I won’t go through this again.”
“Then don’t.” Sophie’s gaze snapped to his face, he could feel the heat of her eyes. Eyes that forgot how to cry. “You knew when we found her it would be the same, the same as her mother.”
“I know, but she—what was I supposed to do? Leave her there? Spit and image of her mother?”
“She is her mother! All over again! There is nothing you can do about it. Please, Mike, I’m staying with you. No matter what, I’ll be here when she’s goes. Because she will go. If the last one didn’t teach you anything, perhaps this one will. There is so much hurt here. Promise me you’ll put the house up for sale this year and we’ll leave, it’ll be someone else’s problem then.”
“You would just leave then? Leave her? Leave Laura?”
“Yes. Because Laura left us. And Sydney will too. Look at her, she has but one year maybe.”
“Sophie! How can you talk like that? I see Laura in every summer sunset, in every dancing whitecap!”
“Mike. I cannot stay here. I will not stay here.”
“I can’t leave them, Sophie.”
“You can’t leave Superior.” She said coldly. It wasn’t a question.
“It’s all we ever dreamed of.”
“No. You love that lake more than you love me because—because she gave you what I couldn’t!”
Sydney watched the last of the sun disappear over the edge of the world and sighed. There weren’t many more days of summer. The evening chill tickled the tops of the waves, but the water was warmer than the sky after sun’s descent. Sydney knew it was time to go home. But the water called to her tonight in a way she didn’t want to leave. The beach was deserted but for her. She should have let the sand dry her feet as she walked away, but the waves called to her for one last dip while the still red sky lingered above.
She didn’t realize she was walking back into the water until it rose up around her ankles. It was so warm still against her wind-kissed legs. She glided farther in, passed a clumping of smooth stones and onto a sand bar. The water rippled around her knees.
“You’re wrong Sophie.” Mike whispered to the empty front porch swing. “She doesn’t have one more year.”
The waves lapped against her thin cover-up and Sydney removed it, letting a warm summer breeze swirl around her. She looked back at the shore, but it was farther away than she thought. The night air was growing darker, she knew she should turn around, but she didn’t want to. The water was so much warmer than it should have been. It was comfortable, perfect. Her feet slid along the sandy bottom, but she wanted to swim. Pushing off, she dove her head underwater and sped forward.
Something soft brushed her face. Her eyes opened. It was her hair, she moved it from her face and saw a light up ahead. Sydney pushed back water with her arms and sailed toward the light, but she sped faster than she expected.
The water was like silk, and swimming was suddenly as easy as walking. She neared the light. It was in front of her and below her at the same time. Down below a dip in the sandy floor. Sydney thought momentarily that she should go up for air. She looked above her and could not see the top of the water.
Panic seized her for a moment as she pushed herself upward. She sped toward the top, but where she thought water would break it hadn’t. She kept swimming.
“Where are you going young one?”
Sydney stopped and looked around her. She was suspended in the water. The foolishness of opening her mouth to answer kept her lips sealed shut. One by one they surrounded her. Curious faces peering out from the hazy blue around her. Human faces.
“I think I’ve died.” Sydney said at last, realizing there was no burn in her lungs from holding her breath.
“You haven’t.” One of the newcomers swam closer to her. Sydney recognized her at once. The waves danced in her eyes. Her mother, with a face still as young as the pictures. “You’ve come of age.” She smiled. “You’ve come home.”
“Home?” Sydney asked. Her mother reached out a hand and Sydney took it letting her mother lead her toward the light.
“When the sun sets above, it is day here.” The golden light of the sun danced below the water’s edge, as if following the sun along its path to the other side of the world. Sydney looked down over the cliff in the lake and saw a vast city below. It felt like home.
Mike put his house up for sale. The town was sad to see him leave, but Sophie had already gone. He told his friends she’d gone to the new home, Sydney with her. They believed him, but it didn’t matter if they didn’t, Sydney had no birth certificate. No adoption papers. No record of life or death. He sold his home to a young couple who wanted to live near the water.
“Got any young ones?” Mike asked the question as casually as possible.
The young woman hung her head.
“No.” The young man answered. “No, we—we probably won’t have any kids.” He said.
“Just don’t walk the beach on a full-moon night in August.” He tipped his hat and ignored their surprised glances at his arcane message.
It didn’t matter. They would. And maybe just because he’d said not to. Maybe it was wrong of him, but he repeated what the old man that sold him the cottage had said to him those thirty some years ago. It seemed fitting to say now. It took the right kind of person to raise a mermaid. And Mike knew when those two walked the shore in a few weeks, the full moon would shine down and the tide would reveal a baby. A baby with eyes the color of Superior herself.