The ocean opened up a whole new world to me. What had I known about the Atlantic before the day I walked into it with Hudson? As a landlubber, the sea was blue or gray, depending on the weather; it was fun to spend time lying next to, and it was so big, it stretched to the horizon.
But deep beneath the surface, it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. The endless patterns of sunlight filtered through the water. Darting schools of mackerel. Lumbering leatherbacks. Outposts of oysters. And I never had to surface for a gulp of air. My lovely tail fin moved me through the water so easily I almost forgot how my legs once worked.
It was a dream come true—until I realized that Hudson was interested in more than just showing me around his kingdom.
“Marina, this is Gloria, my mate,” Hudson said to a small, lumpy merperson. We hovered in the water—I guess that’s the best way to describe it—near a cavity on the rocky bottom, in what Hudson said was his colony. “And,” he added, with a glance at me, “Gloria, this is Marina. She oversees the colony.”
Mate? This was only our first date and already he was claiming me? How medieval was that?
“Hudson?” I tried to say, “we need to talk,” but although I could breathe just fine, my voice was altered. Instead of words, my voice produced musical tones.
Marina gave me a sharp look, her eyes drilling into me, then she turned back to Hudson.
“What have you done?” She swam closer to me and grabbed an arm, turning me toward him. “You’ve brought a human into our realm and transformed her.”
I tried to pull away from her grasp, but Hudson gently stopped me and smiled. “Yes, I have.” He touched my chin with his fingertips. “It was necessary. Without a mate, I would not be able to help grow the colony, and you forbade me from moving onto the land permanently.”
Now I had become not only his mate but also the bearer of his children. I shook my head. “We’re moving too fast,” I said, but once again, my words were of song.
Blowing out a stream of bubbles, Marina frowned. “Can you not feel the change? The shifting shadows, the shock that echoed across the plateau? Can you not hear it in the music that she speaks? You’ve threatened our hard-won peace with your foolishness.”
Hudson moved away from Marina with a small flip of his tail. “I feel nothing. You’re old, Marina. Caught in a net of the old ways.”
“I tell you, you’ve brought trouble, Hudson. Look at this.” She gestured toward me. “The wing nubs have already sprouted. She will soon complete her metamorphosis. And when that happens, the hunter fins will exact their toll.”
I finally pulled away from her. “Leave me alone,” I said, but my words did not emerge, only more tones. It was a language I didn’t know or understand, yet I was speaking it.
Frightened now, I flipped my own tail and surged away from the colony’s outpost. My rush through the water outstripped any speed I’d mustered on land. I should have been exhilarated, but I couldn’t put aside my inability to speak. Something was happening to me that I couldn’t stop.
Unless . . .
Pointing my head toward the surface, I sped upward. When I broke free of the water, I gasped. With relief, I breathed the salt air. That much was still the same.
The necklace Hudson had placed so tenderly around my neck: If I removed it, I could revert back to my old self—the person with two legs and two feet I’d started out the day as. Or so I hoped.
Using my tail fin to keep me at the surface, I worked the necklace over my head and flung the shelled strand away from me. The strand floated. Almost immediately, it was as though my head was in a plastic bag—I sucked in the air and got no relief.
Ever more panicked, I waited in vain for the transformation, understanding that I would suffocate if too much time elapsed. The necklace stayed near, bobbing in mockery of my plight.
A head emerged to my left. Hudson grabbed the necklace and placed it back around my neck. He pulled me under the water and led me farther out from the shore.
He held my arms so that I would look at him.
“Gloria, you must wear the necklace in order to breathe.”
I shut my eyes and felt the tears—could I cry underwater? “You lied to me,” I tried to say. “I don’t know what you are, but this is not what I want.” Mom, Dad, Ben—even Trevor. The Crab Shack. My life on land. All incredibly appealing now that I was … a fish. But I couldn’t get the words out.
Thrashing my tail, I swam down to the sea bottom and then cruised among the debris of sunken boats and jetsam cast off by fishing vessels over the years. I needed to get away to think.
If I could turn into a mermaid, logic held that it was a two-way street: I should be able to turn back. Ripping off the necklace almost killed me. There had to be another way. A memory jolted me: Hudson walking into the Crab Shack. Hudson breathing air and strolling on the beach on two legs. He held the proof that it was possible to morph from one species to another—and back.
As the minutes slipped by, I gradually became aware of the shadows that passed above me. One, two, three at least, circling in a lazy pattern, drawing near.
Sharks. Hunter fins, Marina had called them.
“I mean you no harm,” I called to the gray beasts. My tones seemed to agitate them, and they circled faster and lower, just above my head.
“Tritoness,” they said, and somehow I absorbed their speech. “You bring war upon our kind.”
I held still, almost motionless, except for the cycling of my gills. Did sharks eat merpeople? I scanned the seabed without moving my head, searching for a weapon to ward off the attack if it came. Armed with a rock the size of my fist, I spoke, the fear I felt causing my tones to warble. “I’ve done nothing to you. Let me be.”
The largest of the three beasts passed within a few feet of me. Its gray flank flipped ninety degrees to expose its mouth, arrayed with rows of teeth.
“Your wings give you away, Tritoness.”
Wings? Only then I realized that the “wing buds” Marina had referenced were now appendages that swirled from my back like wings. What was I?
Lazily, the shark approached me again. “We will allow you passage—to return to the colony. Tell them we will give them one sun cycle. Those who have not departed by then will be slain . . . and eaten.”
Reluctantly, I returned to the colony, but I had nowhere else to go. This was all Hudson’s fault. He had led me into the water, given me the necklace that I now depended on to survive.
I’d barely crossed the colony’s threshold when someone shouted, “There she is.”
A group of merfolk gathered around me, much as the sharks had done, but this time I was trapped. Where was Hudson?
“You’ve felt the sea change.” Marina hovered beyond and slightly above the encircling merfolk. “You’ve seen the shadows of the hunter fins,” she said. “This tritoness is the cause of that. Her merwings are now full grown. Hudson has brought a siren into our midst.”
The merfolk murmured, their faces flickering with fear.
“It’s only a matter of time before the hunter fins swoop down and destroy us,” Marina continued.
I’m not a siren, I wanted to say. I’m a woman, a land woman. But that would only make things worse. Besides, I needed to warn them, to pass along the shark’s threat. How could I possibly make myself understood?
More merfolk joined the knot around me, one of them Hudson. He pushed himself through the crowd and joined me at the center.
“You’re wrong, Marina,” Hudson said. “This change was inevitable. The center cannot hold.”
“I’ll not be the one that wakes the slumbering beast,” she said. “You … you and your human”—this she said with a down-turned mouth—“are banished from this colony. You cannot return, under penalty of death.”
“No,” I said. I shook my head and tried to pantomime the sharks’ attacking. “Listen to me.”
Hudson swept me away with him. “We can’t fight this, Gloria.”
We swam farther out to sea, where the bottom drops off into the land of the whales and porpoises. A small smack of jellyfish floated near us when we stopped. Hudson looked stunned. I felt only anger—topped with fear. Anger at Hudson for luring me into the water for his own purposes. Terror at being trapped in a world where I didn’t belong. I knew I was going to die.
“Where will we go? The colony is all I’ve ever known.” Hudson moved his tail fin slowly to keep himself in place. A jellyfish drifted between us, its orange bell glimmering.
“That’s no haven either,” I said. “The sharks—” I stopped. My words still came out as tones, but the jellyfish lit up in pulses that matched my speech.
“The hunter fins?” he said.
He’d finally heard my words!
I hurried to add, “They’re going to slaughter the colony if everyone doesn’t leave within twenty-four hours. They told me to tell the colony . . . “ But no one listened.
Again, the jellyfish pulsed, and Hudson appeared to hear. He seemed to wake up at these words. “I’ve got to warn them.” He started to head off, but turned back to me with a frown. “If I return, they’ll kill me. We were banished.”
“And if you don’t return, they’ll all be killed.”
We both held ourselves steady in the water, as several moments ticked by. The jellyfish continued to linger near.
“Why do the sharks hate the colony?” I finally said. “They blamed me for all of this, but I’ve done nothing. Can’t you just let me return to my human form? I’ll go back to my family, and you’ll be forgiven, and you can save your people.”
He reached past the jellyfish to gently caress my cheek. “What’s done is done. You are a siren. It must be part of your genetic past, that you have ties to Parthenope, Ligeia, Leucosia, and others from antiquity. Your full transformation means that you come from mer-blood.”
The jellyfish flashed white and contracted its bell to shoot out from between us. The sharks had returned, surrounding us not with a trio but an entire frenzy.
So I was never going back.
Given the sharks’ reappearance, I didn’t have much time to grieve over that loss. I could either flee or stay and fight, and neither option held the promise of a good outcome. Or, I could shift my perspective.
If I was a siren, my voice should be able to affect others. Dredging up information from an Intro to World Mythology class, I remembered that sirens lured sailors to their death. Perhaps I could lure the sharks away from Hudson, as well as the colony. What did I have to lose, besides my life?
“Come with me,” I sang. “Let me show you paradise.” I beckoned with my arms.
“Gloria, don’t,” Hudson said, trying to hold me back. “It’s too dangerous. There are too many of them.”
I blew him a kiss and swam away, repeating the refrain of “come with me.”
And the frenzy followed, almost drunken in their path. Now that I’d started the lure, I knew I wouldn’t be able to pause or they would attack. My plan was to draw them to the pier area. I could emerge from the water and still breathe, but they would die on the beach.
— By BWG member Dianna Sinovic