Even paradise can hold unseen dangers... Written for The Short Shots Contest 2019!
At least, that’s how he and his wife felt about it. It was the perfect place for early retirement, and Beth was even more in love with Symi than he was, if that were possible. They had purchased a modest townhome in the island’s small coastal capital, but they were rarely there. Instead, they preferred to spend days at a time touring the endless inlets, beaches, and coves offered by the Turquoise Coast aboard their hybrid yacht, Beth’s Fortune. It seemed, though, that no matter what wonders they found in their explorations, they were always drawn back to Symi before long. There was something about the place that called to both of them. It was home.
He turned his attention away from the sun’s artistic display to watch his wife, smiling softly to himself. She floated on her back in the slowly darkening water just several feet from the vessel’s rear ladder, her face turned to the sunset, watching it just as he had been. There was a gentle expression of serenity on her features that made warmth spread through his chest as he looked at her. God he loved her. Twenty-six years together and she was still the most captivating, stunningly lovely woman he had ever known. Sometimes David wondered how he’d gotten so lucky to be living his dream life with his dream girl, but there he was, right in the middle of it.
“Hey you! Lady in the water! How about some wine?” He called out to her. Beth flipped over in the water with a splash, turning a beaming smile in his direction before immediately swimming for the ladder, “Now you’re speaking my language old man!”
She pulled herself up out of the water and David met her with a sun-warmed towel, wrapping it around her slender shoulders. Her long dark hair dripped saltwater onto the deck, her tanned skin practically glowing as she gazed up at him with those green eyes he’d first fallen in love with as a tender lad of twenty. He had always been absolutely helpless against her, especially when she smiled. Like she was smiling at him now.
He circled his arms around her and pulled her tight against him, not caring in the least that she was still soaking wet and he was fully dressed. They kissed like giddy youths, fumbling with each other’s clothes and giggling, gasping, until they were both bare and entwined on top of the discarded towel. Her moans were soft music to his ears as he made love to her in the fading twilight, their passion echoing out across the still waters, her body fitting perfectly against his. It felt like they were the only two people in the world.
Afterward, they lay naked together under a blanket on the deck with the pillows from the cabin brought up for their comfort while they stargazed. They drank sweet red wine, talking and laughing until Beth drifted off to sleep in his arms. David wasn’t sure what time it was, but he knew it was late judging by the position of the rising moon. The stars were bright points of scattered light in the vast blue-black of the heavens, a bottomless pool of infinity that mirrored the stretching darkness of the sea below. Looking at it made him a bit dizzy, but filled him with wonder as well - it was a reminder to him that he was but one tiny speck in the wide universe. He closed his eyes, basking in the moment.
The enveloping quiet was broken only by the rhythmic tempo of water lapping at the sides of the ship and the soft breathing of his sleeping wife. He leaned back, letting the peacefulness lull him closer to sleep, when another sound made his eyes snap open. Slowly, careful not to disturb Beth, he sat up in the dark and strained his ears, unsure if what he thought he’d heard was real. A long moment of lingering silence passed, David starting to believe he had indeed imagined it. Then it came again, and his heart inexplicably skipped a beat.
Singing. A song drifted across the water on a fragrant breeze, faint but unmistakable. It was a woman’s voice, high and sweet, in a language that he didn’t recognize but was still somehow familiar and inviting. The enchanting melody wound around him in the air until his heart was racing and he had climbed to his feet without even realizing it. He had to find the source of that music!
Beth opened her eyes slowly, letting them adjust to the dark of the night as she stretched out a hand for David beside her. He wasn’t there. She was not alarmed, he had probably gotten up to relieve himself of a bladder full of wine and that was what had woken her. Maybe. There was an odd sense of quiet settled over the ship that felt less comforting than usual. It felt like the sea was holding its breath.
She sat up and glanced around, grateful at least that there was enough light to see by with the moon and stars like heavenly beacons. Symi had practically zero light pollution - one of the many things she loved so much about it. With so much natural light to guide her it wasn’t difficult to see that David was standing at the other end of the vessel, in the pulpit of the bow with his hips pressed against the railing. He was leaning far out over the side, looking down into the water. Was he sick from the wine? She hadn’t know her husband to exceed his limit in alcohol to the point of vomiting in more than a decade, so she doubted it was that. However, something about the way he stared downward, a slight sway in his body that wasn’t due to the ship’s gentle undulating rhythm, sent a prickle of alarm up her spine.
“Honey?” Beth called softly, suddenly very aware of the volume of her voice as it practically blasted through the strangely tense silence of the night. There was no one around for miles, why was she suddenly afraid that if she were too loud something might hear her? Something. Not someone. The thought had come unbidden, but there it was, and she shivered as many tales of myth and lore came rushing back to her. Beth, you are being absolutely ridiculous, she thought to herself, trying to shake off the cold feeling that had come over her.
But David didn’t answer, even after she called his name a second time and her anxiety heightened, making her heart beat faster. There was no way he hadn’t hear her, yet he continued to just stare down into the watery depths like he saw something there. He had not even glanced in her direction, not even a twitch of acknowledgement. And was he whispering something to himself? It was very faint, but she thought she could hear the occasional sibilant hiss coming from that direction, like someone talking but trying not to be heard.
She got up and made her way over cautiously, feeling the cool Spring seabreeze brush across her bare skin. This would usually have been a delightful sensation, but she was too focused on her husband to even notice it at the moment. Getting closer to him, Beth could see he was indeed awake, and indeed focused on the waves, not throwing up but perfectly still. She glanced down as she came up beside him but saw nothing there that might have so captured his attention, and turning to look at his face made her stomach lurch with fear.
His eyes were stretched wide open, gleaming and glazed over with a dreadful madness she had never seen before in any real living person. The color had gone out of his skin and his mouth was slack, a thin dribble of drool running down his stubbled chin. Sheer panic opened its wings in her heart and she seized his arm with a pull, attempting to turn him away from the water to look at her. “David! What’s wrong?!”
This seemed to break him out of the trance, but not in the way Beth expected - her husband howled like an animal and shook her off, scrambling back to the railing to lean dangerously far over, his head whipping side to side as he searched intensely for something. His voice came out as a high-pitched keen of desperation when he spoke, completely unfamiliar and full of something she had never heard before but instinctively recognized for what it was: insanity. “I need to find her I almost found her The source of the song I need the song! I know she’s here I can hear her calling to me Can’t you hear her song SHE IS CALLING!”
Tears were beginning to gather in Beth’s eyes as she tried again, in vain, to pull him away from the railing, “Baby, please, I don’t hear anything. There is no song, please, you’re scaring me!” He was immovable though, unnaturally heavy and solid like a boulder, fixed to the spot.
Suddenly, something splashed just off to the side of the ship, drawing the attention of both of them. Silver moonlight reflected off of bright silver scales that shone through the dark like starlight, smooth pale flesh of bare breasts and nubile arms, a floating skein of silken hair the color of the crest of a wave, and large eyes of such a vivid shade of emerald that they all but glowed with inner light. Those mesmerizing eyes were set into an impossibly perfect face of delicate, ageless human features, framed by long ears that were sharply pointed with elaborate fin-like frills.
“It can’t be,” Beth gasped out, all the air knocked from her lungs like she’d been punched in the gut. She could not really be seeing this. This could not be happening! The terrifyingly beautiful creature smiled then, first up at Beth in a knowing and sinister way, and the woman saw the glint of sharp teeth behind those full inviting lips. She tried to speak but could find no further voice, the shock of this surreal vision stealing all her sense.
Then the creature turned that smile on David, and Beth watched in mute horror as it lifted one long arm from the water - an arm that ended in a long-fingered hand, each digit tipped with a hook-like claw - and beckoned silently to him. As if it had been what he had waited his whole life for, David bellowed a triumphant shout of ecstasy and threw himself overboard headfirst into the water with no hesitation, not even a giving a backwards glance at this trembling wife. The creature widened its grin at this, showing off a maw full of teeth like a shark’s, then it dove eagerly after the man with a final flash of silver and flip of a flowing tailfin. Both of them disappeared beneath the swirling surface, and after a moment the water was still again as if they had never been there.
Beth was screaming; screaming and breathless and helpless, while the ancient Aegean Sea shifted musically under the indifferent Spring moon.