Dinah had never seen a mermaid before. She always hoped that she would, but she could never believe it would ever happen.
Oh, she knew what they looked like, of course. All the girls in their village knew. They had been told about the mermaids from childhood, from the beginning of time it felt like! As peasant children, none of them had been taught to read, but once a book had been discovered in their small village. It had likely been lost from the great castle close to their village and it was filled with beautiful pictures that they would pour over for hours. The other children would gasp and exult over the pictures of strange animals, wild waterfalls and faraway lands, but Dinah focused elsewhere, on the stories of the seas and the creatures that lived within. Her favourites were the mermaids, with their flowing her, pretty faces and the melodic songs they would sing. She wanted to be just like them when she grew up. Growing up near the cliffs had always allowed the children to wonder about life across from the cliffs and the sea, of life beyond the capital city, and to wonder about different countries they had only heard rumours about. Dinah had never wondered such things, though. Dinah had always only been fascinated by the seas surrounding them.
Ever since she was a young child, she had been drawn to the water. She had learnt to swim at a young age, wanting to live her dreams of becoming a mermaid and she didn’t care that it was thought to be unbecoming for a young lady, or that it was dangerous. She had always retorted back that she was the daughter of a washerwoman and a blacksmith, she was not a young lady living in the castle and she never would be. Such a life didn’t exist for her, and it never would, and even if it did, she wouldn’t want it anyway. She rebelled against her parents; running fast with her skirts whipping around her legs, plunging in the freezing water, gazing out at the horizon at the seas that just would never end. There was something magical about being in the water, something so freeing. She felt like she was supposed to be out there, and maybe that’s why she was so fascinated with the idea of a mermaid. She was supposed to be a mythical being who lived in the oceans and could swim anywhere she lived, escaping the sad, sorry existence that her mother and grandmothers before her had to live. She was different to them. She would be special.
Once upon a time, a long time ago, a man from their village had disappeared overnight. It was said that his demeanour had changed weeks before he disappeared; he seemingly was happier and would talk about being in love with a beautiful woman whose song was the most melodic and gentle he had ever heard. No one had ever seen her, but he was so in love that people let him wander around speaking about her, thinking she was from another village. When he disappeared, it was thought he and his mysterious young lady had moved to her village to marry, however, when a disembodied, bloody arm was found on the beach, there had been rumours that a creature from the sea had murdered him. There had been tales of fish women emerging from the water and dragging men back under the shore in order to devour them. The tales were meant to be scary, but Dinah had never been scared by them. The idea of the mermaids had fascinated and excited her as long as she could remember. When she vocalised this to her mother, as she innocently did one day at the age of six, her mother slapped her hard around the face, screaming about how her daughter was a foolish girl who would not learn from the tales of their ancestors, and how Dinah needed to get all that mermaid nonsense out of her head. The sea was dangerous, and Dinah needed to stop dreaming of it. That didn’t stop Dinah dreaming of mermaids, however. She just hoped she that one day, she would see one.
One night, the night before her sixteenth name day, Dinah awoke. It was the dead of night, and no one else was awake. Carefully, making sure not to wake her family, she tiptoed out of the house to look outside. The night was pitch black, and the stars shone down on her. She felt special, magical even, like this was supposed to happen. She didn’t know what had awoken her, but there was a nagging feeling in the back of her mind. You have to get up, she heard a voice that wasn’t hers say in the back of her mind, we have to go. She didn’t even question where she was going. She would be going to the sea.
As her feet traced the familiar tread to the cliffs, she started to hear the most beautiful music. She couldn’t quite describe what she was hearing; the music was beautiful, so uplifting and melodic and within the chorus of harps and violins she could hear a voice singing a single, unbreaking note. Dinah didn’t even wonder where the music was coming from, she just followed it through the village until she reached the cliff edge.
Exhaling deeply, Dinah looked around, feeling the mud and grass of the cliff squelch between her toes. The music was stronger now, and she was starting to feel sleepy, but she forced herself to stay awake. Her eyes had never felt wider; as she gazed out, she tried to take in as much of the starlight raining down on the sparkling sea as she could. The water was so beautiful and inviting, she thought to herself, and all she wanted to do was to run into it.
Then, suddenly, something changed. Dinah blinked, and somehow, there was now someone in the water, someone she had never seen before. It was a woman, a pretty, comely woman with curled, black hair. Her skin glittered in the moonlight and she smiled as she beckoned to Dinah. With a start, Dinah realised that she was the one who had been singing. Such a beautiful song, and all Dinah wanted to do was join her. She leant forward, but then realised where she was, and carefully took a step back. She had to be careful. She had to remember where she was.
But something made her look back. The woman seemed sadder now, and she cupped her hands around her mouth. “Dinah!” She called, and something in the cadence of her voice caused Dinah to turn back and go to her and then-
Dinah landed on the beach, her limbs broken and mauled before all recognition, blood dribbling down her face into her eye. Her head was spinning, and she could barely see. And the pain! It was like a fire ripping through her body, tearing down her natural structures and defences, leaving her a broken shell on the sand. It hurt so much, all Dinah could do was cry, weakly and pathetically. She had thought herself so brave, so capable, but now? Now all she wanted was her mum.
Trying to calm herself, Dinah turned herself towards the sea, hoping the waves would calm her. She had almost forgotten entirely about the woman, until her vision cleared somewhat. She could see the woman coming towards her, but she wasn’t walking. No, it looked more like she was pulling herself along by her arms. How peculiar, Dinah thought to herself, an uneasy feeling settling in what used to be her stomach. And as her vision cleared even more, she realised that the woman wasn’t a woman at all, but instead she had changed into some strange, monstrous, horrific thing. Her skin was black and taut, with slits across her neck. Her eyes were small and milky, with what looked like a light hanging in between them. And her mouth! Her mouth was filled with rows upon rows of sharp, jagged teeth, piercing needles, all covered in rotting flesh and decaying blood. And she was getting closer, and closer, and closer.
Sarah R. New is in her late 20s, but has been writing since the age of 6. After graduating from university with a BA in Film Studies, she dabbled in screenwriting before returning to fiction writing. Sarah loves to cook and bake, spends most of her time with her cats and is an avid traveller who has visited four continents despite her chronic pain. Her travel memoir, The Great European Escape: The Trials and Tribulations of Travelling While Chronically Ill, is available for free from https://sarahrnew.wordpress.com/.