Be it when the blue stretches into the bleeding horizon, or when the stars cast blinding shadows across the rippling obsidian surface, there are rules you must obey if you wish to live another day when traveling the sea.
- Bones, must be offered. Should a sailor die, if they be male, take a rib or a finger and toss it into the depths. If they be female or children, you must cast the bone gently into the water with a prayer. Should you refuse; they will come to collect.
- Shipwrecks should be ignored only if the water swirls unnaturally around it; a barrier of dark waves and foam. If not, act as you please.
- In the dead of night, should one hear the sensual and haunting song of the women who were sacrificed, tossed kicking and screaming and crying, you must bow your head and halt your vessel until the song has ended. Keep your eyes on the horizon and you may survive with the entirety of your crew intact.
- If someone should hurt a woman, take those responsible and throw them over, offer them to the sea, for that is your only slim hope of survival. Never surrender the lives of the women, or you sacrifice your safe passage.
They told us they were only stories, children’s tales to frighten young women and inspire growing men. The women of the sea; with glimmering shells hung in their hair, supple flesh that melted into glittering scales. Mermaids, sirens, woman condemned to a slow unkind death only to be reborn to wreak havoc from crystalline depths.
They tell stories, those mad sailors with crooked teeth and salt washed skin, in the corners of taverns at seaports. Like most, I thought them just that — stories. If I had known, maybe if I had cast my voice louder, perhaps my friends would still be here.
As far as the eye could see, there was ocean. Bright and blue and vast, churning with sea-life and the water’s currents. The waters ever shifting and yet remaining the same.
I lived nearly my entire life aboard one vessel or another, living for the gentle rocking of the waves, the scent of saltwater and the taste of storms tingling along my senses. I loved the sea, and gave no effort to ignore her siren call — until the day a young stowaway took a risk, and payed a terrible price.
I hadn’t been with this particular crew long, but made easy friends with my fellow men all the same, all except for the Captain. I don’t know what it was, but every time I saw him, my skin crawled and a chill ran down my spine. I love the labour, love working with my hands, but he made it seem more like actual work than the fun I had considered it.
It wasn’t until nearly two months into our voyage, that I was given a validation to my fears. A young stowaway was found, and we were all called to the deck, and it was only by shoving my way to the front, that I realised the real problem; the stowaway, was a young woman.
She screamed and thrashed in the burly arms of on of the crewmen, her face stained red and wet with the tears pouring down her delicate cheeks. Her voice piercing as she exchanged curses with the Captain. The men laughed, the Captain the loudest voice as he pinched the lady’s cheek mockingly. I laughed too, her reaction was a bit funny, but my mirth and my breath left me as the Captain suggested; “We don’t have room for a pretty little useless thing like ye. So… overboard you go!”
“Stop!” I cried, stepping forward as the dozens of larger men turned their eyes upon me. I froze, and swallowed, meeting the frightened woman’s gaze. The Captain’s face twisted as he stomped over to me.
“Stop?” He mocked, the men chuckling around us. “What do ye mean, stop?” I swallowed again, trying in vain not to cower before the larger male.
“It’s against the rules of the — the sea, C- Captain.” I said, my voice seeming unnaturally loud in the sudden silence. “No women may be cast to the sea, nor can her blood touch the w-water, lest you face the wrath of the sea itself. Unless you’re willing to cast those responsible over too.”
I had barely finished before the Captain’s fist came at my face. Throwing me to the ground where the hands of the crew wrapped themselves around me and hauled me to my feet, upon which he thrust his fist into my gut, nearly sending me to the deck again if it weren’t for the hands grasping with bruising force around my arms.
“This is my vessel,” The Captain hissed as I raised my head, eyes wide as I searched the crowd for any who would stand with me; I found none. “And no word but my own is to be obeyed, boy.” My heart stopped as I watched the Captain stride back to the girl as I thrashed and screamed in my bonds. “And I say; to Hell with the rules!” He screamed, grabbing the bound girl by her hair and throwing her over with one mighty swing.
Time slowed as she was thrown over the side. She twisted, face turned to the crowd, and for a split second, our eyes met, and I will never forget the haunting fear and anguish and rage that burned in her crystal eyes. I will never forget the scream that fell from my own lips, joining hers in a terrible duet as she fell into the waters below.
My own eyes burned as I bowed my head, going limp in my former companions arms, offering no struggle as they dragged me below deck and locked me in the brig. There I sat, saltwater leaving tracks down my cheeks, left alone in the dark as the hours stretched on. I prayed for the young woman’s soul, and the souls of the men aboard.
At some point, I fell asleep, only to be jolted awake by the violent thrashing of the boat, and the screams of my fellow crewmen far above. The door creaked, a sharp click sounded, and the door immediately swung open. No one stood at the bars, but the Captains key lay in the lock.
I swallowed and rushed out the door, whipping my head towards the ascending stairs, catching just a glimpse of the edge of a white gown. I froze, my pulse beginning to roar in my ears as the ship continued to rock, gentler now, and in that moment, I realized the air was silent aside from the crash of the waves.
Limbs shaking, heart pounding in my chest, I made my way up the stairs, and came to stand upon a deck stained red.
Under the silver light of the moon, the crew lay, corpses either bloated or torn to pieces, skin ashen and lips blue, limbs twisted, white bone shimmering like silver against liquid ruby. A horror show to be sure, and at the very edge of the bow, dressed in a drenched white gown, stood the woman the Captain had sentenced to death.
She stood still, head held high as she watched me, eyes piercing through mine and freezing my soul. Her hair, dripping and tangled and dark, poured down her shoulders and back, a stark contrast to her now blue tinged pale skin.
I swallowed, and began walking towards her at her nod, a silent command I dared not disregard. Then, standing an arms length away, she smiled, blue lips stretching unnaturally, flashing a mouth full of sharp teeth. Up close, I could see the shimmering scales spreading across her cheek and descending down her collar t disappear under her dress.
Thunks sounded behind and I spun, watching with bated breath as other women, young and old climbed over the edges, dressed in nothing but long hair and the ragged remains of dresses. They watched, eyes glowing, scales and fins shimmering under the moonlight, and smiled with mouths full of teeth. Again, I swallowed, my mouth dry, my throat seeming to close up.
I jumped and spun round as a cold, wet hand touched my shoulder. Nearly nose to nose, the woman stared, and a dam inside me broke. I wept anew, meaningless apologies falling from my lips as I waited to die.
“You tried.” Spoke the woman, her fellow sea-sisters echoing her words. “You tried to save me. For that, I thank you. “ She smiled, lips now concealing her teeth, soft and sweet were her eyes. “You tried to warn them, you respected the rules, and for that, our dark and blue mother will not claim you.” I let out a breath I didn’t realise I had been holding, relief nearly sending me to my knees.
“Thank you.” I breathed. Only to have my breath suddenly ripped from my lungs as the woman leaned even closer, her breath cold and carrying the scent of rotten fish. I gaged, leaning back and raising a hand to my own mouth and nose.
“But know this: should you ever walk with corrupt men again, should you fail to save another lady, your life will be forfeit.” She tilted her head, smiling that haunting predatory smile. “Understood?” Vigorously, I nodded, continuing the motion until she back away.
She nodded, once to me, then again to the gathered crowd, and without another word, she turned and leapt off the side, splashing down into the depths below, her fellow sisters following her motions.
I raced to the edge, nearly tripping over myself, and watched as the women swam deeper and deeper into the dark. Shakily, I stepped back, and fell back onto my butt, immediately curling inward as I wept long into the night.
Eventually, after a few days of sailing, of cleaning and wrapping the dead and casting them below deck, I was found by another ship, and with their help, made it home alive. Afterwards, I swore never to set foot upon the water again, too terrified to face the possible wrath of those women, of the young girl I could have saved. But I couldn’t stay away completely, and so worked along the docks, passing along my own story, in the hopes the lesson I learned would stick, would save another crew, would save the life of an unfortunate girl.
Hear my story and let this tale be a lesson you take with you; follow the rules of the sea, or the sea will punish you.