Although we are mostly relegated to fairy tales or sailor’s legends, the looping mantra about us has remained the same; that we are beautiful, and dangerous. Of course, it’s not as simple as that. Humans rewrite the same stories over and again. It is much the same for mer-people. A few thousand feet below sea-level, we share many of the same characteristics as homo-sapiens; love, anger, humour, excitement, and so on. The main difference is that as a necessity for survival, jealousy has become our dominating feature. If we can’t hold onto our partners, we can’t have mer-children, which the future of our race depends on. So, any threat to our relationships is treated much as humans view murder and treason. There is no justice system below the waves anymore – it is up to each clan to conclude each conflict in light of what will best ensure survival of the group as a whole. So when my own lover slipped through my fingers, I thought it best to just leave.
Tiver came to us from a clan broken apart by trawlers when he was only 9. He was the only survivor from his immediate family, and severely traumatised. We shared an instant connection, as I’d lost my own sister to the same fate only months earlier. Mer-people can’t be killed as such – they change their form when threatened, which is irreversible. It is an instinctive reaction to change form to the sea creature they closest resemble in soul, when spotted by a human. Once their form has been changed, it is impossible to return to their original mer-form. Vitya, my sister transformed into a dolphin, a form adored by many humans, and was thrown back into the sea. She continued to live on in the ocean, but with no memory of her past life as a mermaid. Tiver’s family were not so lucky. They were the rulers of their clan, and therefore were closest in soul to kingfish, a meat revered by humans. It may seem counter-intuitive that we should change their form in sight of humans, but that race is so determined to rule over all other species, that it would be more dangerous for us to show our true form. Any mer-person is therefore duty-bound to protect their true identity, sacrificing themselves if need be. The only exception to this is the ancient sailor-mermaid seduction tradition, which has become my story.
After Tiver and the few other survivors from his clan joined us, our clan elders made the decision to move deeper into the ocean.
Overfishing, pollution and imbalances in the eco system had made it unsafe for mer-people to live near the surface as we had always done. The expanse of humans above had led to our populations shrinking in size, and moving away from their reach. Slowly, we evolved to survive at these lower depths, but there were prices to pay. Only the physically tough survived, resulting in loss of the wise but physically weak leaders. Unable to handle the adjustment to a vastly different water pressure, they simply fell into comas and never woke up. They knew it was the only way for the rest of us to live, even though it would inevitably lead to a more primal, and tribal mentality. All over the sea-bed this was happening as humans extended their reach into all corners of the earth. Millennia of philosophy and knowledge were abandoned in mer-cities all over the earth. History was forgotten, and old traditions were brought back. This included the banishing of mer-people who had failed in love. They were seen as poor genetic stock, and detrimental to the clan as a whole. If a mer-person could not find a partner by their eighteenth birthday, they had missed their chance and were shunned from the clan. I had seen it happen seven times before it happened to me.
In our clan, and in mermaid clans everywhere these days, finding your other half is an integral part of life. If you fail to do so; either by choosing someone forbidden, or setting your heart on one who yearns for another – you are regarded as a failure. Before the move this was disappointing, but not the end of the world. Nowadays though, in our somewhat darker and dangerous world, there were only two options. Option one is to beach themselves on the nearest shore, in the form of dolphins or whales. Option two is to be banished to some far away rocky outcrop, where the mer-person must seduce and drown homesick sailors. Long banned as a barbaric practice in the shallows, the depths has revitalised this practice. Similar to a life sentence in prison, this fate guarantees eternal bitter loneliness.
My love story, or lack thereof was always going to be with Tiver. When he first came to our clan, we were inseparable. As we slowly healed each other from our family losses, we began to fall in love. Every day we swam through the seaweed gardens, with a hunger for life unparalleled by anyone else in our clan. With our relatives always on our minds, we were constantly looking for ways to make the most of what was good in our world. In hindsight, I wasn’t the only one he spent time with. Mermaids are drawn to tragedy and beauty like fish to bait, and Tiver was the perfect storm. His dark skin, turquoise scales and fresh genes made him the first choice for many mermaids in the clan. From a young age, the necessity of finding a partner was on our minds, making for a fiercely competitive environment. Foolishly, I thought Tiver was mine for the taking. It was undeniable we were best friends, and we often mapped out our futures together.
As we both moved closer to our eighteenth birthdays, we were excited to announce our love officially and build a life together. It was then that I got sick. Before we moved to the depths, no mer-person was ever sick. But the added pressure, darkness and change in available nutrients, (especially chlorophyll, which was integral to our diet), meant that sickness was becoming more common. I’d moved down when I was young, and had not been sick my whole life. It seemed that I’d made the move early enough for my body to adjust, unlike many older mer-people. The ‘immigrants’, as we liked to call ourselves, who’d been born in what were known as the ‘shallows’, made regular trips up to our birthplaces. We’d harvest chlorophyll-rich seaweed for the clan, and give our tired muscles a rest from the thick pressure of the water weight above us. Weeks before my eighteenth birthday, a group of us made the trip. Everything went fine, but returning down below felt more uncomfortable than usual. While the others adjusted to the water pressure, I found myself feeling faint and weak. Pushing on, I made it back home.
Upon my return – a week before my birthday, I fell into a coma. They tell me now that Tiver spent every waking moment next to me singing, telling stories and stroking my purple hair. Feeding me chlorophyll and taking me up to the shallows, he held onto hope that I would wake up and we would be together. However, there came the day when he was the only male from our cohort without a partner. Tiver was a year older than I, but had been given permission by the elders to wait for my birthday, as it was understood that we would end up together. I spent my eighteenth birthday unconscious. What was meant to be the day that Tiver and I officially proclaimed our love and became a couple became the day that it became impossible for us to be together. Everyone had been telling Tiver to give up on me and find another girl, but he’d waited. I’d shown no signs of recovering, and finally, five months after I first fell sick, he gave up on me. The collective influence of the clan had gotten to him, and he was fearful of being banished. Ceriah, a blonde haired beauty who’d always had a thing for Tiver was still single, and he asked her to be his other half. By the time I woke up, a total of seven months later, they were married and expecting their first child. Tiver had an anguish on his face that I’d only seen when he’d first come to the clan after losing his family. He knew that he’d lost me forever, and not to death but from his own weakness. I told him not to blame himself, that I’d be fine. Inside, though, I was screaming.
Not one to take this kind of thing floating face-down, I confronted Ceriah. She’d been on the trip to the shallows with me and I was sure she had something to do with my bizarre illness.
“You did this didn’t you? Tiver would never have gone for you if I hadn’t been practically dead.”
“Ixia, calm down. These things happen, and I guess it just wasn’t meant to be between you two. I know you were close, but you’ll find someone else. Why can’t you just be happy for us?”
“We were soulmates, Ceriah. I know you set this up. Why else would I have gotten sick all of a sudden on my eighteenth birthday, when I’ve never been sick before! Did you poison me? Are you disappointed I didn’t die? What’d you use?”
She smiled, and I knew I was right.
“Ixia, you’re scaring me.”
“I’m not the one who tried to kill someone here!”
“I think I’ll have to tell the elders that you’re having problems… readjusting.”
With a flick of her Caribbean-coral-pink tail, Ceriah swam away to see the elders. Flicking her platinum locks behind her shoulder, she smirked back at me as she headed towards the mer-city centre. The ‘elders’ as they called themselves were barely older than teenagers these days. They were merely survivors of the move, rather than possessors of any great intelligence or wisdom. An appeal to them had only one solution: to send the offending cause of conflict away. To the rocks or the beach, it didn’t matter to them. Tiver tried to reason with them, but in the end it was either both of us or one of us. I left alone.
There’s seven of us here: myself, Ketia, Allegria, Sonata, Julia, Luna, and Renata. All mermaids, and all broken hearted. Comparable to whale song, our harmonies carry miles over the ocean. Irresistible to anyone who hears us, we have claimed innumerable lives. When we sing to the sailors who approach the rocky outcrop we now claim as our abode, we’re seen not as sea creatures, but in our true form. Our voices are only beautiful because our hearts ache with loss, betrayal, and regret. Irresistible to anyone who hears our ethereal harmonies, we live now only to exact revenge, in any form. We call fishing boats, cargo vessels, even cruise ships over to us. In a trance they jump and swim in their flailing, human way over to us. Most don’t make it but the ones that do, we take care of. They drown with the sound of love in their skulls, resting in the place they have taken everything from. What we do is only a result of what we’ve had done to us.