The Emporium Gazette
from
Issue 61 -- May 2004




The Sea of Regret
by Bob Nailor

Of all the things he remembered, there was only one he regretted: He would never see Shara Ki again. Afloat on the waves, the sole survivor of a shipwreck, he stared at the monotonous view. The ride was continuous, wave after wave, always rolling down into the trough and its myriad shades of blue and green, only to glide back up to the top where it was crested in white. The crest, where in the distance it was always the sea touching the sky. Land had been but a dream for the last five days as he floated under the scorching sun.

Seaman Second Class Hanson straddled his floating island of debris. The ship had exploded, that much he remembered. The frigate had been carrying linens and furniture when it went down. Hanson had no idea why the ship had been destroyed. He remembered the explosion, being thrown into the air, then grabbing a piece of wood as he sputtered in the water when he came to. He'd discovered that he was alone. Hanson had shouted for any companions but been met with silence. He had gathered a wooden bench, three chairs and a lanyard pole with a small amount of rigging rope. He used the rope to hold his bounty together. He'd also found a floating wooden galley crate partially filled with fruit. The salty water didn't aid in preservation and it was quickly rotting and shriveling in the hot, tropical sun.

Shara Ki was the girl he'd loved and left behind. He wanted to marry her but just like other young men of his village, he had no money. Shara Ki's father had accumulated a tidy dowry for her and the manor lord's young son was quickly wedded to her. Hanson left the village the morning of Shara Ki's marriage; he couldn't stand to watch his beloved in the arms of another.

The seaport of Tileth had beckoned to him and he answered the call. Four years later he had proven himself worthy and been promoted many times.

Hanson grabbed an apple and bit it firmly. The rot wasn't too bad yet.

"What does that taste like?" a timid, female voice asked.

Hanson scrambled to sit up. Had he truly heard a voice or had the days of floating alone pushed his grip on reality? He regretted not listening to the older sailors tell their tales of woe when stranded at sea. Perhaps then he would have gleaned a tidbit to help him. Still, it was a voice.

"I asked how that tastes." The voice was clear this time, neither a dream, nor a delusion.

"Who said that? Who's there?" His thirst told him that he hadn't swallowed that much sea water as to send his mind completely over the brink.

"I did," the voice said from just beyond the bobbing bench on his left.

"Who are you?" He stared at her where she hid behind the turned dowels that formed the back of the bench.

"I am Ayala," she replied. "What is your name?"

"I am called Seaman Second Class Hanson. How did you get here?"

"I live here," she replied, then giggled.

"Where?" He searched vainly to see land when his makeshift rig crested again.

"Here," Ayala repeated. "I live in the sea. I am a mermaid."

Hanson eyed her through the wooden bars of the bench.

"You're a mermaid?" He could be hallucinating. Yet, being a mermaid would account for her pallid skin. Her white face was stark, framed by the long, wet, dark hair with a greenish cast; but it was her eyes that caught his attention. They were the same ice-blue as Shara Ki's which caused tears to well in his eyes.

"You don't look comfortable Seaman Second Class Hanson," Ayala said. "Are you hungry? I have watched you for two days now. The only thing you've eaten is from that." She pointed in the direction of the box of fruit.

"I have this apple," he replied and held it up.

"What a strange thing," she said. "May I taste it?"

"Sure," Hanson answered. He locked his legs around the pole for stability, placed one hand on the pole and then gently tossed the apple. "Here."

He watched her as she grabbed the object from the air, turned it over and over in her hands then finally brought it to her mouth. Teeth, a complete row of sharp pointed teeth glistened as she chomped the apple.

Her eyes widened and she cocked her head in disbelief. "I have never tasted anything like this," she said. "You call this an apple?"

"Sure do," Hanson said feeling rather proud of himself. "Been eating them all my life. What do you eat?" He arched his back to ease a kink out of it and splashed the waters to remove the numbness from his legs.

"We're merpeople, Seaman Second Class Hanson. We eat what we catch," she said. "The sea teams with food."

"How far to land?" Hanson asked. "I don't think I can survive much longer out here. The last of the fruit in this box," he thumped the wooden container. "Well, it is just about all rotten now."

"Come with me," Ayala said. "Come to my world." She slipped toward him coming around the bench that separated them.

"Where?" Hanson queried.

"With me," she responded. "Here, take my hand; it's not that far." Her hand shot out of the water at him. The fingers were long with webbing between them.

"How?" Hanson asked and pulled away from her.

"Take a deep breath, silly. Now, come along."

Hanson inhaled deeply before Ayala grabbed his hand, yanking him from his perch. The cold waters embraced him and his eyes stung as he strained to see where Ayala was pulling him. For one so frail looking, the strength of her clutch on his hand surprised him.

Deeper and deeper they plummeted. His lungs burned and he regretted not taking a deeper breath. Would he survive to surface again?

In the distance he could see others swimming toward them. The sea was full of merpeople. They were coming to greet him.

Ayala turned to look at him and through the haze he could see that her eyes were dark, nearly black. They were no longer anything like Shara Ki's. In fact, Ayala's soft smile now twisted into a grin, an evil grin. The sharp teeth glistened from behind the curling snarl of her lips.

Seaman Second Class Hanson regretted at that moment not paying closer attention to what Ayala had said. They ate whatever they caught.




Bob Nailor is author of "The Secret Voice," an Amish-Christian story, "Pangaea, Eden Lost," an adventure story, "Three Steps: The Journeys of Ayrold," a Celtic fantasy, and "2012: Timeline Apocalypse," an end-of-time tale. He is also included in several anthologies and collections. Check his website at www.bobnailor.com




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