By Aria E. Maher
The wave swept up onto the sand, wiping away her footprints and drenching her body in frigid water. The herb lady’s glass vial was heavy on her belt, and she unfastened it, popping out the cork with trembling fingers, letting the heady scent of the draft sweep through her. She brought it to her lips and drank, feeling the potion coursing down her throat. Oxygen enough for ten minutes, and, if all went well, pearls enough to pay for a doctor to cure mother’s fever. She fastened the vial at her belt again and plunged into the waves.
Gray silt swirled up around her feet as she touched the bottom, clouding her eyes with gritty mist. She knelt in the sand, working her hands through it, searching for shellfish. Father had told her long ago that there were more pearls here than anywhere else on the cove. Few divers dared to come because of the sea sirens, who ensnared humans with their laughter and spirited them away to eat. But today she was not afraid. She felt as if she was on fire, for her purpose was true and they must leave her be.
Her hands clasped around an enormous shell, mottled pink and pale green in the dull light from above. She tore it from the seafloor, snapping its filament roots. It was as big as the hooves of the farm horses that worked the fields, round and smooth and clamped tightly shut. She dug her fingers between its jaws, wincing when the shell sliced her skin. Pearls, if only she could open it. Pearls and a cure for mother.
She heard the laughter bubbling around her, ghostly and spiteful, wicked as demons. Shapes flitted in and out of her foggy vision, twisted wraiths with skeletal hands, their stringy hair caught in ocean currents. They were calling to her. Do not take our treasure. We will give you something more. Much more. Much sweeter.
The shell dug into her hands as she gripped it. Please, oh, please, papa. If only you were here…
Hands reached for her, caught in her hair, tugged at the hem of her tunic. They were laughing, high and shrill. Not true laughter. Not like father’s. She opened her eyes and laughed back at them, father’s great, clear laugh, brought up from somewhere deep in her chest. The spirits shrieked and shrank away, wounded by the sound of their own taunts twisted back upon them. They fled.
She rose through the waters, clutching the shell tight against her body, ignoring her stinging fingertips. Her head broke the surface and she rolled onto the beach, laughing as the shell split open in the fresh air and dropped glistening pearls onto her lap. She gathered them to her, wrapping them in her apron before springing to her feet and darting down the path towards and the village, thankful to father for his one last gift of laughter, thankful for the wonderful pearls.
Copyright 2016 Aria E. Maher
Thank you so much to Aria E. Maher for submitting her story to the Micro-Fiction Writing Contest!
About the Author
Aria E. Maher has been a writer for the better part of her life. When she was eight years old, she wrote and illustrated an entire series of homemade books chronicling the adventures of Super Mario, Gandalf and various other video game and book characters. At ten, she filled countless notebooks with diagrams of robots and circuitry, before she decided that the life of a robotics engineer was not for her and resigned her ruler and pencil in favor of penning fantastical tales on her faithful laptop computer. Currently in the thick of editing her first novella, Behind Her Mask was Death, Aria’s favorite inspirations are Steampunk costumes and illustrations, Allan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce novels, anything by Terry Pratchett that she can get her hands on, N. D. Wilson’s delightfully creepy fantasy books, and the slightly enchanted woodlands not too far from her house, where she and her family take long walks on Sunday afternoons.
Check out her debut novella “Behind Her Mask was Death”
People do not generally think about death, especially not on the night they are going to die…
Devon Lavender never thought he’d end up in the middle of a murder mystery. But when an unnamed red-haired woman dies in his arms on the dance floor in the middle of the Prince’s extravagant costume ball, it would seem obvious to everyone who the killer is. Devon finds himself with one chance, and one chance only, to prove his innocence and discover the real murderer, before it’s too late.
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