“Remind me again what we’re doing here, Fergie?” Liam panted.
The last shard of sunlight wavered on the horizon, painting the shadowed skies with a spectrum of obscure shades. The full moon had already captured the sun’s place in the heavens, challenging the west’s waning golden glow with a stark white brightness to the east. Bikes abandoned and wielding torches, the two teenage boys skidded down the scree-scattered slopes toward the coastline, Liam desperately trying to keep up with the determined step of his best friend.
“I told you,” Fergie replied, “Proving that mermaids exist.”
Liam rolled his eyes. It was perfectly normal for Fergus Totten to dive headfirst into adventure, but rarely were his ideas quite so fanciful. They came to a stop behind a large boulder about two hundred yards from the ocean edge, with a clear view of the deathly still, inky waters. On the cliff perched the silhouette of a large stone obelisk staring resolutely out at the boundless sea. Fergie removed a tattered journal from his backpack, and pointed a quivering finger at a sketched drawing on a bookmarked page.
“Look, look at it! Just like the picture! Grandpa was here, I’m sure of it!”
There was no denying it: the obelisk, the craggy rocks, the shape of the cliff-face were all there, depicted in smudged pencil.
“But… mermaids?” Liam pressed.
“Not one single map of this region shows this obelisk. No records, like they’re obliterated. All roads in this direction end suddenly several miles back. There are ghost stories. The fishermen are all superstitious; they avoid this area like the plague. And my grandfather wrote, right here in this diary: ‘mermaids leapt from the sea’. Too much to be coincidence, right?” Fergie insisted.
Liam sighed and duly nodded. It was too late to head back now after all; it was fifteen miles to the village, and the bumpy scrubland would be pitch black: far too dangerous a terrain for cycling. Leaving Fergus to peer intently toward the ocean, he pulled an extra sweatshirt and games console from his pack.
An hour and a half later, Liam was frozen solid and ready to crawl into his sleeping bag cocoon.
“Can we sleep now?” he yawned.
Fergie was propped against the rock, shivering, eyes scanning the gleaming moonlit stones for any sign of movement.
“You go ahead. I’ll shout if I see something.”
“If you stay out here, you’ll catch your death.”
“Ha, you sound like my mum.”
“No, but seriously.”
“I know. I just really thought that my grandpa was on to something. Maybe it’s just the wrong day, or the wrong time. I think –”
Fergus cut off suddenly. He stepped out from behind the boulder, squinting towards the shoreline. Speechless, he beckoned Liam over, not daring to turn his head. Begrudgingly, Liam trudged over, but instantly caught his breath at the sight.
Barely-decipherable figures were emerging gracefully from the sea, sending shimmering ripples across the surface. They approached the pebbled beach, two dozen or more: slender naked bodies bathed in a moonlight that seemed to caress every curve, briny droplets glistening as though their skins were bejewelled. As they came closer, it became apparent that they were both male and female, humanoid, possessing all expected limbs; not a tail in sight. In their wake they left items akin to clothing strewn across the stones – cloaks or robes, Liam presumed. Crouching, statuesque, behind the boulder, the boys watched them pass their hiding spot and make their way to the clifftop plateau and the obelisk. A deep orange glow announced a lit fire, followed by the hubbub of merriment and faint singing carried on the sea breeze.
Fergus turned to Liam, mouth agape cartoonishly.
“Tell me I didn’t dream that. You saw them too, right?”
“Clear as day. They’re some funny-looking mermaids though.”
Liam chuckled nervously. Fergus’ stunned expression dissolved into a grin.
“I told you I was right! Whatever they are, they’re certainly not human…”
He trailed off, distracted by sing-song feminine laughter nearby. Not twenty yards away were stood four female ‘mermaids’ who had lingered on the stony beach. They radiated beauty, with soft facial features, lustrous hair, sparkling supple skin. Their voices were melodious, entrancing.
“I’m going to speak to them!” whispered Fergus excitedly, leaping out from the rock.
“No… don’t!” Liam cried, snatching at his best friend’s jacket but missing by a few precious centimetres.
His cry alerted the females who looked over, and Liam shrunk back into the shadows, his heart pounding a timpani beat, but keeping his eyes glued on Fergus’ shaking and sauntering figure. He watched as Fergie approached the girls, seemingly conversing with them. One whose glittering hair could have been spun from threads of solid gold was flirting: coquettishly twirling her locks, lightly touching him on the shoulder, gently biting her rose petal lips. With a mixture of admiration and trepidation, Liam observed the four females fuss around Fergie, before running into the sea and calling him enticingly. Enchanted, unable to resist, Fergus stumbled after them, oblivious to the ice-cold waves lapping at his jeans, wading ever deeper. Even through the moonlit gloom, Liam could see the girls dive underwater, and Fergus was left standing waist-deep, staring, bewildered, into oceanic oblivion.
That’s when the girls burst out, eyes aflame, grabbed him by the neck, and dragged him under.
Liam let out a soundless scream. His wide and disbelieving eyes strained in the darkness, searching for a splash, a head, a flailing limb. Nothing. Nothing but the glassy black waters reflecting the moon. Four minutes later and Fergus still hadn’t resurfaced – but the girls did. Giggling and joking, still flawlessly beautiful, they sashayed out of the water and past Liam’s boulder to the gathering by the obelisk as though nothing had happened. Fifteen minutes later and there was still no sign. Liam curled into the foetal position, scrunched his eyes shut and pinched himself, begging to wake up, see the sunlight streaming below his eyelids, hear his mother telling him to get his lazy ass out of bed. His thoughts jumped between visions of hope and despair, mind replaying the scenes over and over. He clenched his fists, anger flooding his veins with panicked adrenaline. He jumped up, sprinting toward the seashore, howling Fergie’s name, kicking out aimlessly at the pebbles.
Liam’s toe grazed against something to his left: it was one of the cloaks shed by the ‘mermen’. He picked it up, the material feeling cold and unfamiliar against his skin, but its sheen shimmered alluringly in the starlight. In an act of fraught and frantic revenge, he bundled the cloak under his sweatshirt, then fled as fast as he was able. He seized his backpack, ran to his bike and wheeled off over the treacherous scrubland, paying no heed to the danger. All he could think of was his bed, the place where one always awakes from nightmares.
Fergus Totten’s body washed up in the village harbour five days later. Everybody assured Liam that he was not at fault; that the undertow had plucked plucky Fergie from the midnight seas and to his watery grave. Liam had not the courage to tell the truth. None but the superstitious fishermen would have believed him anyway. The sparkling cloak had been buried in the far corner of his parents’ garden, beneath the overgrown fir tree, next to the fence – out of sight and out of mind. Henceforth he withdrew behind invisible walls, shunning all company – shell-shocked, silent and soulless.
Until, that is, he realised he was being watched.
To be continued…
Emma H, age 26, 08/05/2017
Click here to read The Unmarked Obelisk – Part Two!
This is part one of two of my short story response to Sue Vincent’s Obelisk #writephoto prompt. Please check out her page to read the other fantastic interpretations of the brilliant photo prompt!