I write character-driven dark fiction.
What do you do?

“I saw her once.”

“Go on, sure you did.”

Mikail checked the GPS, adjusted their heading, then sat back and listened to the burble of the inboard, waiting for Johan to take the bait. Johan was curious by nature; Mikail didn’t have long to wait.

“Seriously? You expect me to believe you saw her?”

Johan wasn’t speaking very loudly, but Mikail could pick out his voice right through the engine noise. He had no idea what it was like to hear normally, having been born almost completely deaf, but with his cochlear implants he understood he could actually hear certain sounds better than folks with natural hearing.

“I did.”

“Sure you did.”

Johan suddenly sat up, waving an arm at the sea about them.

“Where, huh? Where did you see this ‘mermaid’?”

There were some things his implants did not do as well as natural hearing, and Mikail barely made out the heavy sarcasm his friend put on that last word. He kept his voice cheerful as he made his response.

“Right where we go to fish today.” He turned with a grin. “Maybe you’ll see her yourself!”

“Ha-ha. So funny I forgot to laugh. You’re saying you saw her right at the South Bank?”

Mikail turned back to the GPS, checking their heading again.

“No, we don’t go to the South Bank today. Today we go to one of my secret spots, better than the South Bank.”

“Better?” Johan squinted against the wind and spray arcing over the low windshield. “But everyone fishes the South Bank — it has the best fishing around!”

“Bah!” Mikail waved a dismissive hand. “You think I could compete with the bigger boats fishing where everybody fishes? I have to have an edge. My secret spots, where the fishing is even better, and my nets always come up full! You’ll see.”

“I’ll see. Sure I’ll see,” Johan grumbled, hunching in his seat. “We should be at the South Bank today. Waste of a day.”

“You’ll see,” Mikail repeated. Johan sat silent, a sour look on his face as Mikail altered their course and the little boat curved northward, hull pounding over the waves away from the vaunted South Bank.

After an hour of cruising with neither man speaking, they rounded a spit of rock jutting out from the mainland to find a small cove. As they entered the cove the sea stilled, the curving rocks now behind them protecting this one small area from the pounding of the open ocean. The sky above was filled with gulls, always a good sign to fishermen.

“You see?” Mikail broke the long silence, pointing a finger. “The birds find the fish, all we must do is find the birds! You tell me, Johan, were there this many gulls over the South Bank today?”

Johan glared at the gulls, watching them dive and dip into the water again and again, squinting one eye almost closed in baleful concentration.

“No,” he finally admitted. “You’re right. Not nearly so many gulls at South Bank today.”

He looked about the small bay, the coastline, the outlet to the open sea.

“So. This is where you saw her. Claim you saw her.”

Mikail threw the motor into neutral, then shrugged, nodding.


“Fine. Tell me.”

Mikail paused a moment, reveling in the fact that he could listen to cries of the gulls, then began.

“I was out cruising one day. Not fishing, though I had my nets aboard, just cruising. Hoping to find a ‘secret spot’, just like this one. I passed north of South Bank, the bigger boats out there casting and hauling, gulls filling the skies over them like a great cloud. I saw some gulls break off from the main flock and fly northward. ‘Why would they do that,’ I thought to myself. ‘Why would gulls leave a meal like that, when we all know they are just stomachs with wings?’ The only answer I could think of was they had a better meal somewhere else! All the other fishermen were busy with their nets, not one of them noticed those gulls leaving, but I followed the new flock. They led me right here.”

Mikail gestured to the cove around them.

“The gulls started feeding, as you see here today, and I cast out my nets. I made haul after haul, and soon my hold was filled to bursting with the most wonderful catch. Then she appeared to me.”

He pointed just to starboard.

“Right there, rising from the water, singing her lovely song — the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. Hair like the finest spun gold, eyes like the bluest sea, skin as white as the foam-topped waves. She sang to me, and her song was one of love.”

He shook his head.

“But also one of sacrifice. This was her cove, she said, and to fish here, to even be here, there was a price. A price I agreed to. I had to. She was so beautiful…”

“But,” interrupted Johan, shaking his own head as if shooing a fly. “Legend says that to hear her song is to love her so much that you leap into the sea and drown, that you can not help yourself. It is her dark magic. How did you escape?”

He shook his head again, then cupped an ear as he looked at Mikail.

“You hear that?”

Without another word Johan leapt over the side in a clumsy dive, legs kicking even before they were fully under the water, so anxious were they to thrust their owner deeper into the sea. Johan went down, and down… and was gone.

Mikail tapped his cochlear implant with a finger.

“I hear, Johan,” he said. “But… differently. So sorry, my friend.”

A minute passed as Mikail listened.

Then another.

“I have paid, my love,” he called to the gentle waves. “Won’t you come to me?”

From the water before him rose the most beautiful face he had ever seen. Or would ever see again…

~ ~ * * ~ ~

The Prompt was "Grotesque Love and Monsters". How'd I do?

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