Short Story – We Could Be Stars by Mollie Williamson

Short Story - We Could Be Stars by Mollie Williamson

If I was meant to reside in the sky, I’d want to be cradled in the crook of the night stars.  I’d have them cocoon me and envelope me in a black watercolor sky of mysteries.  But, unfortunately for me, I am not a god.  The sky will never welcome me as one of its own immortal celestial beings.  I am not destined to be divine.

Yet, that doesn’t stop me from breaking the sea surface to gaze at the twinkling lights once night falls.  The stillness of the ocean when twilight flickers into being is the most serene experience a mermaid can hope for.  During the day, we lurk far below in the watery depths lest any heathen human’s hook finds a way into our bellies, or worse, our precious fins.  I heard that those savages nail our tails to their shiplap walls as trophies.  They can only expect an equal reciprocation on our part.  Any human who unwisely sails through our waters by starlight will meet their well-deserved fate.

I won’t deny the fact that I have brought many a sailor to their watery end.  A small tremble of relish always ripples down my spine like a giant tidal wave.  The force flows all the way into my prized fins every time I watch helpless humans struggle to breathe in my watery abode.  I have even dragged the willful ones all the way to the ocean floor so they cannot escape.  Throughout the sea I may be known as the little mermaid for my small and slight stature.  But I am anything but delicate.  Sailors know to fear me, their deadly little mermaid.

Tonight, however, the sea is calm.  As I perch on my beloved rock that crests just above the sea surface to gaze at the stars, no ships sail to disturb my peace.  The gentle lap of the waves on my fins quiets my bloodthirst for once.  When I close my eyes, I concentrate only on the soothing slap of water.  And once my eyes flutter open, they stare at the beauty of the twinkling sky.  If only the stars and giant moon could pull me from this ocean, I wouldn’t have to worry about killing humans anymore.  But I am not meant to have a life of ease.  I am meant to struggle and fight to protect my home.  I fear what would become of the ocean if I ever did join the stars.  Still, it is nice to dream of what a quiet blissful life it would be in the heavens.

The waves have a sudden gust of energy that draws my attention back to the ocean’s fever.  The tide smashes against my fins harder than before.  Something is wrong.  I scan the distance and see a small boat rocking on the waves.  The boat is not grand and lavish like humans tend to flaunt on our water.  Rather it is small, personal, and far easier for me to destroy.  The sea’s energy continues to escalate as I slip back below the surface.  As I skim under the water, I never let my sight off the boat.  The wooden monstrosity thrashes back and forth as the waves gain height.  I rise and fall naturally with the tide never once going off course.  I let the might of the waves propel me through the water’s surface until I bob right alongside the small boat.

I watch a man working frantically to steady his boat against the unyielding water.  I can tell he is young, perhaps only in his twenties.  Such an age brings with it a recklessness.  But his youth is also shown in his lush black hair, which is only made more opulent by being doused with water.  His white shirt is plastered to his chest and, in fact, his whole body is soaked.  Even in the starlight I can see his eyes like beacons in the night.  They are a crisp shade of crystal-clear blue topaz.  He is rather handsome for being a monster.

I continue to rise and fall with the volatile tide.  I skirt around his boat barely touching the wooden boards with my hands.  A large amount of ocean slams the man back onto the desk and the boat loses complete control.  As he wipes his black hair from his face, his eyes finally land on me.

“Hey!” He yells, pushing himself up from the deck and waves his hands manically at me.  “Help!”

I have never heard a human ask me for help.  I have only encountered their war cries.  I watch the man’s hands flapping back and forth before the water thrashes him down once more.  And still I do nothing.  I have never hesitated before.  At this point, I usually haul my body over the side of their ships and drag them below the water with me.  Now all I do is bob in the water letting the tide push and pull me along.

But before I can act, the sea does.  A massive wave capsizes his boat.  Bits of wood are scattered throughout the water some of which are already sinking.  And the man is nowhere to be seen.  I scan the surface, but my keen eyes can detect no life.  I let the massive weight of my fins sink me as well.  Through the large display of bubbles and leftover boat shards, I see him.  I have seen countless humans thrash pointlessly not knowing that their struggle will only end their lives sooner and this man with his topaz eyes is no different.

As he makes vain attempts to swim to the surface, the water only smacks him lower.  His eyes find me once more.  A wild abandon only adds to their clarity.  He opens his mouth to call to me but only takes in water.  Consequently, his eyes start to gloss over.  And for some reason, I do not want his stunning eyes to fade.  They remind me too much of the stars.  My fins thrust me through the watery void towards this human.  I wrap my arms around his waist and heave him above.

Once we both break the surface, his head lulls onto my shoulder.  I am both repulsed and fascinated to be holding a human.  But I won’t deny that it takes everything in me to swallow the rising bile of revulsion and swim us to the nearest shore.  The beach is covered in white sand, part of it shines like diamonds in the night, but the faintly rising sun slowly turns their purity to a blood orange color.  I tilt the man’s head up to the sky and part his lips expecting to see fangs.  Instead I see teeth that look like tiny pearls.  I press on his chest several times before he spits up a river of water.  I hiss as the ocean evaporates on the dreaded human’s land.  My noise must have roused him because he opens his eyes.  His mouth is still covered with drool, spit, and ocean yet his eyes are as alluring as they were in the storm.

I could do it now.  I could rip out his heart and take what the ocean so clearly wanted.  But for the second time in my life, I hesitate.  The man struggles to sit up and I slither away from him like a snake would on land.  I submerge myself halfway in the waves so my fins are hidden.  Who knows if this handsome monster has a knife strapped to his legs?

“Please,” he croaks.  “Don’t go.”

The water slaps against my back demanding that I return to my rightful home.  The man manages to fully sit up but that only triggers a coughing fit.  Now would be the perfect time to escape.  I would only be a phantom in the night to him.  His lore would probably make him believe I was some winged grace who whisked him away from death rather than demon monster humans believe me to be.

He wipes his face on his drenched shirt sleeves while scooping his black locks out of his topaz eyes.  “My name is Jensen,” he says.  “What is yours? Or must I simply call you my savior?”
The thought of actually speaking to a human dries my throat.  I swallow several times to bring the salt of the sea back into my mouth but to no avail.  Jensen makes an attempt to rise and I retreat further into the surf.

He stops his advance and remains seated on the sand.  “Why don’t you come out of the water.  You must be as cold as I am,” he says.

“I don’t know what it’s like to be cold.”

The words slip between my teeth before my better judgment could cage them in.  My response brings a frown to his face.  His brows knit together as he puts his eyes to work.  I watch his topaz eyes roll over my body.  His eyes trail over my clamshell bra and my bare belly.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he sees the few bits of barnacles attached to my arms or the tiny stubborn sea star clamped to the bottom of my right eye.  My eyes are not extraordinary like his.  Just a muted green like the sea can be.  My long brown hair has started to dry in the heat from the rising sun making my locks look like octopus’ limbs.  Though I am just sixteen, I am the greater threat.  He must sense this because he takes a wise scoot away from me.

“You’re a—”

“Mermaid,” I finish.

The air around us grows pregnant as we each watch our demon.  We are both monsters to each other and that is the only thing we have in common.  Fortunately for me, the man is unarmed as far as I can tell.  He has brought out no knife as of yet, and I feel that he would at this point.  He is again at my mercy once again.

“Why did you save me?”

That is a question I am grappling with and cannot bring myself to answer.  My silence only seems to spur his superstition for I see him inch further away.  He stops his movement when he sees me watching, his topaz eyes becoming wide with fear.

Avenge the ocean, my mind whispers.  Make there be one less human to threaten us.  And still, I wait.  Our eyes collide as opposites should.  We are a rather perfect match.

“I saved you because of your eyes,” I finally answer.

A frown crosses his face once more.  “My eyes?” Jensen asks.  “What would a mermaid want with my eyes except to tear them out of my head?”

“Mermaids are interested in human eyes.  It’s your hearts we’re after,” I say.

“Then again, how could I have such good fortune to be spared because of my eyes?” Jensen presses.

“They remind me of the one thing I truly love,” I say.

“I wasn’t aware that mermaids could love.”

“Don’t be so foolish as to think that only humans have feelings.  Merpeople feel things, too.  The one that we share the most with humans is pain.”

“And yet merpeople still manage to love?”

“Just as humans are still able to,” I say.  “I suppose we are more similar than what we may realize.”

“I suppose,” Jensen says, though caution ripples like a giant wave through his voice.  “And what it is you love, savior?”

The title hits me square in the chest.  I have always imagined myself a champion for my people only interested in saving merfolk and yet here I am a savior to a human.  Bile singes my throat once more.  I manage to swallow the vile sensation back into my stomach.

“The stars,” I answer.  “I love the stars.”

Jensen bows his head failing to hide a smile.  His small laugh stands my hair on end.  Bubbles scatter across the surface of my bare arms.  “What is so funny?” I hiss.

“It’s just that I love the stars, too.”

I never thought I would have to share the desire of my heart with another let alone a human.  I have always thought the stars were mine alone and yet this human longs for them as well.  “Humans should have no business with the stars,” I say.

“How could you say that?” Jensen asks.  “Why I have used the stars countless times to bring me home, to guide me safely through my night journeys.”

“But they betrayed you last night,” I say.  “They do not truly belong to you.  The night sky is for merpeople alone.”

“Don’t assume that humans cannot admire the brilliance of the stars.”

“Admire all you want,” I say, “but you cannot claim them as your own.  Humans have everything else but merpeople will not willingly give you our stars.”

“Aren’t you content with just having the ocean?” Jensen asks.

“Aren’t you satisfied with just having land?” I counter.

The lapping of waves fills the void our silence has created.  The water is insistent that I return and yet I remain waiting for what else is to come from this battle of wills.  Can humans and merfolk ever be equals without trying to conquer each other?  We must be the only two beings of our kinds to hold such civil conversation.  And yet distrust is inherent in us.

“Tell me your name, savior.”

“So you can spread it across the land and put a bounty on my head as if I didn’t have one already?”

“I’ve told you my name,” Jensen says.

“Which was your mistake.”

“Do you intend to tell your people to hunt me down should I ever set foot in the sea again?”

I scoff at his foolishness, which only knits his brows together.  “Why would I need others when I could kill you myself?” I ask.

Jensen spreads his arms out wide.  “Then kill me now,” he says.

The challenge sends ripples of energy through my body.  My heart pounds at the taunt as if he does not believe I could rip out his heart and feed it to the sea.  His audacity is exactly why our people cannot get along.

“Do it now!” Jensen exclaims.

I slither over the sand so fast it makes him jolt back in shock and fear.  His topaz eyes are wide when I slam his back onto the sand and place my right hand over his heart.  It calls to me.  How can I let this human get away?  My fingernails pierce through his soggy shirt and puncture his flesh.  Slits of blood form around my nails, his chest stills though his heart gallops.  It wants to be set free.  I release a war cry and remove my hand from his chest.  Blood sticks to my nails and fingertips.

“Do not tempt me again,” I say.

Jensen sits up.  Sand is now dusted throughout his black hair and plastered on the sides of his face.  His chest heaves until it collapses.  Jensen releases a shuddering breath.  My right hand trembles as it still longs to wrench his heart from his body.  Instead, I set both my palms flat against the sandy shore and let the ocean clean the human’s blood away.  Bits of blood still cling to the underside of my nails, though.  A memento.

“The stars have saved you, indeed,” I spit, clenching my hands into fists.

“No,” Jensen shakes his head.  “It’s not the stars who have spared me.  It is you.”

I glance at him from the corner of my eyes.  “Should I take that as a compliment?”

“I would never dare to tell you what to think of anything I say,” he replies.  “But what I said I meant genuinely.”

I bow my head looking at nothing other than the sand.  “Have you ever wished to be immortal?” I whisper.

Jensen shifts snapping me to attention.  He shuffles over with his arms raised in surrender.  “Only every minute of every day,” he says.

“It just seems like there is so much more than living a life of fear and revenge,” I say shifting my gaze to the sky.  “I can only imagine what a paradise it would be to live amongst the stars,” I breathe.

His hands cover mine making me jump.  “Then let’s make it a reality,” he says.  “Meet me here tonight and we will join the stars.”

“How?” I ask.

“You just need to trust me.”

My eyes fall to his chest.  Blood has soaked into his white shirt.  I can see the puncture wounds from where my nails sank into this flesh.  Slowly, I nod.  “Tonight,” I say.

He squeezes my hands and my arms tense for an ambush.  Instead, he releases my hands and struggles to his feet.  He looks up and down the coastline looking for something I cannot detect.  Human dwellings speckle the coastline, yet no witnesses from open windows whisk down to the shore to kill me.  Odd how abandoned the buildings seem to be.  Or humans are still blissfully sleeping their fears away.  Something golden glistens in the sun from the distant dwellings.  He sucks in a breath when his eyes catch in the light from the glowing building.  Jensen glances back flashing me a charming smile.  I take that image with me back into the water.

I do not journey to my home.  Instead, I let the tide roll me around the watery depths while still staying close to the shore I left Jensen on.  Every now-and-then I return, cautiously peeking my head from the water, looking for any signs of Jensen.  But the beach remains deserted all day.  However, something disturbs my peace of mind even though I am safe in the ocean.  I blame it on jittery excitement, but there is an ominous sense to the sea, almost like something is coming for me.  In order to distract myself, I find the nearest grotto and watch from its slight opening as the sky changes hues.

The bright blue of day slowly fades into the dark indigos of night.  Fuchsia clouds speckle the night sky before letting the stars take their spot.  And when I see nothing but a canopy of twinkling lights, I emerge.

I swim under the surface to the spot where Jensen and I were last.  I remain partly submerged in the deeper part of the water still wary of an attack.  For all I know, he could be returning with a horde of men intent on cutting my fins off.  So I remain out of reach.  My shoulders fall just like my hope the longer I wait.  But my heart jumps into my throat when I see a dot in the distance approach the shore.  I sink lower in the water only leaving my eyes exposed.  Soon, the dot takes on a human form and I know it is Jensen.  I swim onto the beach still letting my fins hide in the water.

Jensen runs faster when he sees me.  He has a canvas bag slung over one shoulder.  He wears fresh dry clothes but is barefoot not caring that his feet get wet the closer he gets to me.  Jensen drops the bag on the sand and falls to his knees besides me.  He takes both my hands in his making my heart tremble.

“I wasn’t sure you’d actually come,” he says.

“It wasn’t you I came back for,” I say.

“Well I must have made some impression on you.  Perhaps it’s my star-like eyes?”

Jensen does have a handsome smile.  I much prefer it to the frowns we shared earlier today.  And his smile does manage to bring a smile to my own face.  To my surprise, he not only squeezes my hands, but brings them to his lips and kisses them.  My heart skips several times in my chest not knowing how to process the gesture.

“Tonight, we become stars,” he whispers.

But a distant noise reaches my ears.  A scream that humans cannot hear, but I do.  I whip my head back to the sea.  They are coming.  I knew I felt a disturbance earlier today.  Other merfolk must have picked up on Jensen’s blood that I washed into the ocean.  Now that it’s night, when we are strongest, they are coming for him.

I rip my hands from his grasp.  “Go!” I cry, trying to push him away from the water.

But the ocean has taken hold of his clothes.  His pants are soaked once more and acts as a glue.  I try to heave him away from the water, but I can’t get too far away from it or else I will die.  The ocean has other plans, though.  A strong waves tear to the two of us apart.  It sucks me down like a riptide.  I have never fought the ocean before, but I struggle against its might like every futile human does.  In the distance, I see Jensen’s body plummet into the ocean.  He sinks into an awaiting circle of three sirens.  They are far deadlier than merpeople are, which only makes me struggle even more.  But the ocean sends a giant ripple through the sea that slams me against the ocean floor and pins a rock coated in corral to my fins.

I try to move the rock away only to get my hands shredded by the corral.  I curse but still make every attempt to get to Jensen.  He is being pulled down to the ocean floor by the three sirens, each clawing at his clothes with their scaly arms and nails.  Blood rises in the water from where they are as Jensen gets cuts too many times to count.  Once more, his eyes find me only this time he does not cry out.  He just gives me a weak smile.

The largest siren hovers over him while the other two pin him to the floor.  Their jaws hang agape as if they wish to devour Jensen whole.  The large siren does the job I could not bring myself to do.  She plunges her hand into his chest and rips out his heart.  She holds it before the other two sirens like a prize.  I give a shriek so loud I’m sure the whole ocean shudders with it.  The sea releases the rock from my fins fearful of my wrath and I thrust myself towards the sirens.

“Hello, princess,” the large siren says, bowing like she should.

The other sirens bow as well and release the lifeless Jensen from their grasp.  His star-like topaz eyes are fully glossed over now.

“A gift,” the siren continues.

I take Jensen’s heart from her.  Holding it in my hands only makes my own heart pound like it wants to escape my chest and join Jensen’s heart.  I curl my fingers around his heart and do the one thing that no merfolk has ever done before.  With a final shriek, I rip off each of the sirens’ fins.  I shred their scales to pieces with my nails.  The sirens sink in shock to the floor like helpless worms.  I stop when Jensen’s heart falls out of my grasp.  I gasp and grab it before it gets lost in the eternal shift of the sea.  The sirens screech in the horror I have bestowed on them.  They pull out their eel-like hair and scratch their faces ashamed that I took away the most prized thing to both merpeople and sirens alike.  Their scales turn to ash as the waves roll over their remains.

I allow my fins to sink me to the ocean floor as well.  The water moves my brown hair in front of my eyes, the perfect canopy to hide my tears.

“I suppose it doesn’t matter now,” I say to Jensen’s heart.  “But my name is Emma.”

If I were to crush Jensen’s heart, it would feed the ocean, make it grow more powerful.  Instead, I shift sand aside.  When I create a crater big enough, I lay his heart inside and cover it with the sand.

Once his heart is covered, I feel a pulse ripple through the ocean from it.  I turn and look at his lifeless body drifting in the gentle tide.  Before my eyes, he turns into seafoam.  The bubbles rise and I chase them all the way to the surface.  When I break through the water, the seafoam continues to rise until it is beyond my reach and soars to the sky.  A new bright light flickers into being as the seafoam evaporates.  Now Jensen truly is one of the stars.