Flash Fiction: Underworld

This story can now be seen in Spittoon Literary Magazine Issue 1, published in Beijing. Shout-out to the guys at Spittoon!

Mama had always told him mermaids were real. She had grown up on a tiny island somewhere in the Mediterranean–nowhere you’ve ever heard of. Her voice would lull him to sleep each night, soft, lilting syllables weaving tales of magic and myth. The mermaids were just one story out of many. He hadn’t listened very closely back then.

The mermaid swam past him again, the scales on her tail glinting in the murky water. At this depth, the sunlight was weak, the world pale green like frosted glass. She was catching fish with her bare hands. The small ones she would pop into her mouth, while the larger ones she would place into a satchel woven from rope–after snapping their necks. She paid little attention to him floating there.

Since he didn’t have anything better to do, he studied her. Silver scales, which covered most of her body, mottled green-grey skin on her hands, face, and belly. She had breasts and a human face, although her mouth was full of jagged fangs and her eyes were an eerie combination of yellow and black. They flicked back and forth as she sought her prey. Hair grew out of the top of her head, a tangled mass of seaweed-green and black. She looked nothing like the fair-skinned beauties depicted in fairytales, but there was an elegance to her all the same. She swam powerfully through the water, her tail propelling her with swift, sure movements.

Finally, her satchel full, she turned her attention to him. First, she swam a few circles around his upright form. His eyes followed her when they could. Then, she swam down to inspect the block of concrete which encased his feet. She picked at the rope which bound his hands, the gag stuffed in his mouth. But she didn’t remove them. Her eyes opened wide in shock when she gazed into his face and made eye contact. That’s right, honey, I’m still alive… He was pretty good at holding his breath. Mama had made him practice in the pool growing up, as if the Fates had told her that he’d end up like this.

The mermaid regarded him gravely. He knew he couldn’t hold his breath forever. He would have to let the water fill his lungs, and this knowledge filled him with a dull rage. She knew it too, but her face betrayed no emotion. After a moment she broke her gaze, and with a pump of her tail, was gone.

The rage inside him built. Help me, god dammit! Get me out of here! I don’t want to die! He was reaching his limit. The mermaid was nowhere to be seen. The corners of his eyes stung. I don’t want to die! But he couldn’t hold his breath anymore. The water burned as it filled him, and he writhed in pain. But just as the pale green realm was fading to black, he felt something tugging at his numb, bound hands. Cutting away the rope? He felt her take his hand in hers and hold it. The last thing he saw was the sadness in her yellow eyes.



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