This story is by Meagan Joy and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
They exist. Hidden from the world.
Salt water splashed into the boat as a wave hit its side. Another day of fishing. I inhaled and allowed the air to course through me. My father stood at the mast trimming the sail. He wanted to get an early start. I cast my net into the ocean and waited.
Our village bustled with rumors of a mermaid being seen off the coast. Men who claimed to have seen her were later found dead. Rumor was she enchanted them and also used magic to scare fish away. All lies. I knew the mermaid they spoke of. She wasn’t like that.
Her name was Marta. I first met her when I was a boy. I was playing in the tidepools when she sent a wave that accidentally pushed me into the ocean. I almost drowned, but she saved me. We were the same age and became close friends. Whenever I would go to the tidepools to play she would be there to play with me. She even taught me how to swim.
Once I was old enough to go fishing she would come along to talk with me. That’s when my father saw her, but he didn’t mind since she never scared the fish away. Since then we’ve always had a bountiful catch. As we got older I grew to adore her. She was the most beautiful mermaid I’ve ever seen. Her eyes were the bluest blue, almost fathomless like the ocean. Her tail was black as obsidian. What I liked most is that we could communicate by mere thought. We weren’t bound to say things aloud.
“Garenth,” my father said coming to me, “I have long feared the day when Marta would be spotted. She is not safe and the knowledge we have of her is dangerous to us.”
My father wasn’t the same since the rumors started. Once the king started searching for her, he became more watchful.
“Dangerous? How so?” I asked.
“The king is obsessed with mermaids,” he explained. “They are rare and their rarity makes them valuable. The king views mermaids as his crown jewel. He also believes they are a source of power. And a man obsessed is dangerous. The mermaid the king has imprisoned is dying and he’s searching for a replacement.”
“And you believe Marta will be that replacement?”
“If she is captured, then yes,” my father said sadly.
Suddenly I felt the net go taunt. Leaning over I saw that it was full. We grabbed the weathered rope and pulled.
“Marta,” I gasped!
“Garenth help me,” she pleaded tugging at the net. Her tail caught in its web.
I slipped towards her and grabbed my knife. Without a thought I began cutting the net. Water and fish sloshed onto the deck as I worked to free her.
“Please hurry! He is not far behind,” she said.
“Who?” I asked.
I froze. As a child I heard stories of the Hunter and the thought of him filled me with fear.
“I was afraid this would happen,” my father said.
We worked quickly and once she was free we placed her back into the ocean.
“Why don’t you swim away. Far away from here,” I implored.
“I wish I could, but I am bound to these waters by other powerful forces,” she said dejectedly.
“Other powerful forces? What do you mean?”
“Oh how little you know about the world, Garenth. Thank you for your help. It means
everything to me,” she said as she disappeared into the water.
We continued with our work when a large vessel approached. It bore the coat of arms to the king of Plethorma. A man dressed in dark colors stood towering over the bow. Once the ship came alongside he boarded our boat. His presence filled me with fear.
“You there,” he bellowed, “I’m on the hunt for a mermaid and saw her swim this way. Have you seen her?”
“A mermaid,” I said, glancing at my father. He shook his head no, signalling me to be silent.
“The king has sent me to look for her,” he stated.
“And who might you be?” my father asked.
“I’m known as the Hunter. I almost caught her, the devious little beast, but she evaded capture. If you do see her, under decree of the king she is to be reported to me,” he said, handing my father a piece of parchment.
My father glanced over its contents then cast it aside. “We know nothing of the mermaid.
Come Garenth, we have work to do,” he said.
Then a man came up behind the Hunter and whispered something in his ear. The Hunter looked at us, his lifeless eyes lit in unnatural excitement.
“This man believes otherwise” he said motioning to the man beside him. “He says as of late you have had a bountiful catch. Whereas the other fishermen in the village are struggling to find fish. It’s as if…their lot was cursed and… you’re blessed by a mermaid.”
“That’s not true,” I said as I grabbed my net. Hoping he wouldn’t see my hands trembling. “We don’t know anything about a mermaid.”
The Hunter gazed into my eyes and clenched his fists. “Tell me where she is or I will kill you.”
“He doesn’t know,” my father spoke.
“So you admit, you know she exists,” the Hunter said turning to him.
“I admit nothing,” my father replied.
“I know your son has seen her,” he continued, “I can see it in his eyes. He is under her spell. Look. Look into your son’s eyes.”
My father looked to the ground and turned away. With a quick movement the Hunter stabbed him and threw him down with contempt. My father cried out in pain as he fell.
“Father!” I screamed. Enraged, I grasped a fishing spear and swung at the Hunter. He yelled in painful fury as the hook pierced his shoulder. He reached to his side and drew a sword.
Suddenly a voice commanded, “Stop!”
We turned and there was Marta. Her eyes glowed in anger.
“Here I am you fool,” she taunted. “If it’s me you want. I dare you to get me. I’ve evaded you more than once and I will do it again.”
The Hunter clenched his sword and went towards her.
“No,” I yelled, barring his path. All of the sudden I felt a blow on my head and I went unconscious.
When I awoke I heard the terrified screams of the villagers echoing across the water. Looking towards the sounds, I saw smoke and flames billowing in the sky. My father lay slain next to me. Another scream pierced the air louder than a nor’easterly gale.
I searched for her, but she was gone and so was the other ship. Quickly I sailed back to the docks and saw the Hunter pulling Marta across the wooden planks by her hair, her beautiful black hair, as she screamed in agony.
“Marta,” I cried!
“Don’t.” Her voice rang in my head. “There is nothing you can do now. You must protect the others.”
I watched in horror as the Hunter threw her into a cart like a feral animal and drove away. I tried to bring my boat in closer, but with what power she had left Marta sent a wave that pushed me further away from the shore.
Exhausted I fell to the deck floor and yelled in frustration. Anger filled me. My village, my father… they didn’t deserve death. All for what? I bowed my head and wept.
Then an unfamiliar voice filled my head, “Because they knew about the existence of mermaids. Marta now takes my place in the castle. I did my best to protect her, but in protecting you she set me free. What power I have left I give to you. It is up to you to protect the others from him.”
The wind began to change. I could feel it. A storm was coming. I gazed at the burning village and the ocean spreading endlessly before me. Anger filled my heart. Suddenly power surged through me and my eyes were opened to see with unlimited sight. I could see anything I wanted to. I could see other mermaids. I could see Marta.
I knew what I had to do. There was nothing left for me here. I had to leave Plethorma and find someone who could teach me how to fight against the Hunter. A powerful force flooded my head and I saw the man who could make that possible. I had to find him.
Mermaids do not deserve to be imprisoned. Like the realm they live in, they should be free to do as they wish, for they are boundless creatures. I vowed to protect them with my life just as Marta protected me with hers.
They exist. Once hidden they are now found.