“I’m not obsessed with mermaids, I just think it’s a fun reason to get out of town,” Eric pleaded as he brushed his teeth. Lara climbed into bed and looked at him.
“It’s just weird. This is the first time we’ve both had a long weekend in forever and you want spend it driving to some weird sea town in Maine”.
“It’s not weird it’s beautiful and rugged,” Eric said with a mouth full of toothpaste.
“Why can’t we go somewhere closer or just stay home?” Asked Lara. Eric spit his toothpaste and walked over to the bed.
“Clark says this mermaid festival is a once in a lifetime event that happens on this super low tide that only occurs once every 100 years or something. It’s going to be insane.” Eric said as he climbed under the covers next to Lara.
“No offense to your brother, and I’m very glad that Clark has been able to keep his job at that merchant marine company for longer than a week, but this sounds like a scam.”
“A scam! There is a big dock party and everyone dresses up like mermaids and they try to beckon real mermaids to leave water for land. Clark’s buddy from his job is from the town so we can get the VIP experience from his grandma. Who knows, maybe you could even write an article about it.”
It had been a while since her editor had sent her on a long assignment and a good travel piece might give Lara an edge in getting the chief correspondent position. “How long is the drive?” Lara said as she acquiesced.
“I knew you’d do it! Google says 16 hours, but Clark says he can get us there in 9 if we do some weaving.”
They turned off the lights and slept through the night in each other’s arms.
The next day, Lara and Eric packed up for the long weekend and waited on the curb for Eric’s brother, Clark.
Ten minutes after he texted “pulling up”, Clark pulled in front of their Brooklyn apartment in a rusty black pick up truck with a bunch of loose tools in the bed. He was dipping and smoking a cigarette at the same time, with his remaining mouth space he sang along to Nickelback. “Eric! Lara! Welcome aboard!” Yelled Clark.
“Clark! We’re so excited I’ve never been that far north before” yelled back Eric. Eric was like his older brother in a lot of ways. He was fun and nice, but much smarter.
“Well my last voyage took me to the Arctic Circle but I’ve heard sea tales of this place and they sound legit. We might see real mermaids! What do you say Lara! Real mermaids!” Clark exclaimed as he beamed at Lara.
“Hi Clark.” Lara said as she tossed her bags in the truck bed.
They climbed into the truck and drove off. Clark drove like a maniac as they worked their way out of New York City and onto the interstate. They drove all day until the sun set in their rear view mirror.
“We just passed Bangor and we’re headed towards the coast,” announced Clark. Lara checked her phone, and it said no signal. They drove for 2 more hours and then pulled onto a dirt road through a thick coniferous forest and rolled down that for another hour until they pulled out onto a small headland illuminated by the full moon. A few dozen little houses sat atop the rock with lights coming out of their windows. Below the houses was a small marina a large dock. Well-used fishing boats were moored in the calm waters of the fjord that the headland jutted into.
“Here we are. Waterville” announced Clark.
“This place is sick!” said Eric.
“Where are we staying?” Asked Lara.
“My buddy Dan said we could stay with his folks, they live in the biggest house. His mom is like the mayor of the town.” said Clark.
They pulled up to the largest house on the one road through town. It was red and old, with cracked paint. It looked like no one had lived there for a long time. Clark knocked on the door.
“Mrs. Fensterman! It’s Dan’s friend Clark” The door creaked open and all they could see was the light of a candle. The light rose until it illuminated the face of an old woman. Her face was weathered brown from wind and sun. Her hair was white and long and parted in the middle. She had a scar running from her brow to her chin that crossed her nose and left her with one functional eye, a piercing blue dot that oscillated focus from Clark to Eric and settled on Lara.
“You must be Dan’s friends. It’s so wonderful to see new people,” she croaked. “Please come in, I’ll show you to your rooms.”
They entered the house. The inside was as run down as the outside. All the furniture was made by hand and the only light came from a wood-burning stove. The old woman silently led the three to a back room with three cots in it.
“You may stay here, the celebration has already begun down at the dock, if you brought a costume you may change into it now”. She closed the door and they were left in the dark room. Clark lit a candle on the wall.
“Pretty cool right?” Asked Clark.
“Cool!? This is fucking awesome!” Said Eric. “I mean it’s so authentic I can’t wait to see the celebration. Here I brought you guys some outfits. I have them left over from the mermaid parade at Coney Island”. Eric rummaged in his bag and produced three mermaid bikini tops and shiny green dress bottoms. “I think everyone will think this is hilarious.”
“I don’t know Eric, I’m not getting Coney Island vibes from this place, maybe we should stay low key.”
“Nonsense!” Eric stripped down to his underwear and put on the costume. It did look funny and so the three of them set out for the dock.
The moon shone bright, but the town was shrouded in a blanket of fog. The three of them walked slowly through the cobblestone path that led through the center of town to the waterfront. Their scallop shell bikini tops were cold against their flesh and the mermaid tails became wet at the bottom from dragging across the cold moist ground. All the houses were dark, empty, and silent.
“It’s a little nippy,” said Eric. The temperature had dropped significantly and without clothes it became uncomfortable.
“Let’s just get to the dock,” said Clark, “I bet there will be food and warmth.” As they approached the dock they could see the full moon high in the sky and shining bright on the fog that hovered over the bay. There was a low humming noise coming from the waters edge and the dock looked like a dark blob. Then they saw it. The dock was packed with people in brown cloaks, their faces covered and they were all humming in a low pitch. Clark, Lara, and Eric descended the bank and stepped onto the dock. The mass of people parted as the three in the mermaid costumes walked down the dock. None looked up, but each step they took made the humming grow louder.
“Look at the water!” exclaimed Lara. As they walked they could see the tide going out. The boats that once floated on the water were tilted sideways on the mud. When they reached the edge of the dock the water was no longer visible, only wet mud remained, and the humming stopped.
The three visitors turned around. A small figure entered the empty space left by the townspeople. The figure removed its hood and they saw it was the old woman. Her blue eye gleamed in the moonlight as she opened her mouth. She let out a bloodcurtling screech that echoed through the bay. When she stopped she took a breath and then let out another. This time everyone on the dock screeched with her. Then she held up her hand.
“People of Waterville!” She announced. “Today is the day of the big spring tide. Today our family from below the waves returns to spawn. We offer our bodies to them so they may continue their underwater empire. Domus Nostra Est Aqua!”
“Domus Nostra Est Aqua!” The townspeople echoed. They continued to slowly chant as the old woman continued.
“We have three humans with us today: two males and a female. We need only two.” When she finished speaking two figures grabbed Clark and dragged him into the mass. The crowd of people decended upon Clark. He screamed for a moment but then all that could be heard was the gnashing of flesh.
“Clark!!” Screamed Lara and Eric. But it was too late, the crowd subsided and all that was left was a human skeleton. They had picked Clark clean. Lara and Eric trembled in their mermaid costumes. The old woman spoke again.
“With these two humans our kind can thrive for another 100 years,” yelled the woman. Then she threw off her robe. Her head, neck, and arms were that of a human, but below her torso her body became that of a fish. Her lower half was covered in scales and fins ran down her back and abdomen. Her legs were just two ends of a tailfin that could amble along the ground. The rest of the townspeople removed their robes to reveal a similar anatomy. They were not mermaids from fairytales, but stinky freaks. They moved to grab Eric.
“NOO!” Lara screamed as Eric got pulled into the crowd. “Do not fear, human. We will not harm him, we will just use his seed.” The old woman said. “You on the other hand have a more difficult journey ahead of you.”
Too scared to speak, Lara followed the gaze of all the merpeople on the dock. She turned to see that emerging through the fog were new figures, walking on the mud. As they came closer she could see that they were also hybrids, but instead of human torsos, they were the top half of fish. Their eyes were on opposite sides of their heads, their gills opened and closed grotesquely as their pectoral fins flapped back and forth. But their bottom halves were human legs, working hard to walk on the mud. The fish people reached the edge of the dock.
“Our family below the waves have come to obtain a new vessel. With you, Lara, they can perpetuate their species and continue their reign beneath the sea. Long will we tell the story of Lara, queen of the Merpeople!”
The fish headed people clumsily bumped and writhed against the dock as the fish bottomed people grabbed Lara and threw her off the dock. The fish topped people instantly swarmed her and wriggled across the mud to the open water as one carpet of slimy scales and legs.
“Lara!” Eric screamed. But it was too late, she was gone. Eric turned to the fish bottomed people, his mermaid dress sopping with cold sweat and urine. “Well,” said Eric “I guess this was a bad idea.”
The fish bottomed people began to shriek on the dock as they had before. In the distance their call was answered one last time before Lara was taken below the waves.
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