Written by W.M. Frenzel
I remember the briefest moment of hitting the water, that shock that comes with- it’s something. You feel that impact. Hard. Like a wall. You know that this should be the end. You’re waiting for the moment the rest of your body, like glass, shatters and shreds just as your nose has done, knowing that your last thoughts are about to be ended by the sensation of your spine piercing through your brain.
And then you’re through.
And you’re sinking.
And the world around you is blackness. Well, it was for me. For a moment that’s all there was. The length of the moment- long, short- I don’t know. I just remember the stream of blood floating past my swollen eye. And I was thinking of one thing.
Gripped in panic, that’s all I could think – that this small stream of blood would lead to much greater torrents. I had survived a terrible fall only to suffer something much worse.
Then I saw her. Her face. Her eyes – maybe blue, maybe green – maybe just the colors of the sea clouding my mind, but bright. That’s what stuck in my mind the most, the brightness.
She spoke softly.
“Are you the one they call Philandros?”
Metaphors fail to describe the comfort I found from the voice in that moment. Alluring, I think would be what I might say and of course be wrong, but that’s how I saw it then. As I saw her speak to me, I eyed her teeth, just a hair too long to be human and dangerously sharp, so sharp I could tell it at a glance.
My brain flew back to my first post-blackout thought.
That’s when it struck me- what I should have been thinking of- breath. I had not felt even the desperate desire to gulp for air. So natural did things seem to me- So I spoke.
“Y-yes. That’s, a, what they call me. They often call me many things, but that’s the standard and often most flattering.”
A light- from where I don’t know- began to illuminate her, first from behind- casting forward her long silhouette- before engulfing her completely and revealing a being of silvery skin and stark white hair. The tendrils of her hair seemed to move of their own will, wrapping her body like the tail of a seadragon around a piece of kelp.
“You are a man of many wrongs, Philandros.”
A true statement made more pointed by the beauty speaking it.
“Well, yes, I am certainly far from perfect, but which of us mortals are- or gods for that matter?”
From over my shoulder, I felt the sear of light wash over me as another mermaid appeared, followed by a second. And a third.
“Ah- yes. I see. Are you here to take me to the court of Poseidon?”
The first mermaid’s hair unfurled itself and curled like a tentacle around my throat. Her voice was as cold as the depths and her words as sharp as her dagger edged teeth.
“My name is Thetis, and this is my court.”
I think I knew then what would happen, but it is not in the nature of the fish on the line to cease its struggle.
“Then I throw myself at the court’s mercy. I – understand- please… I know. I know I like my wine, um, a bit too much sometimes. Yes. Certainly there have been more than a few times where I have been a bit too in my cups, especially with friends who have also not made the best decisions while drinking.”
The braid of hair around my neck tightened.
“Wine makes one do things one would not ordinarily do – behave in ways and- I know this is a weakness of us mere mortals, but surely you must understand that- especially when in large groups- we are so often not the best of ourselves. Mistakes are easily made when too many people and too much wine are involved.”
Thetis’ lips peeled backward revealing far more teeth than I had noticed before.
“You are a thief.”
“I… yes. I can’t deny that. I have certainly taken what’s mine- what’s not mine. On occasion. It’s not something I would call a habit- a weakness, maybe. Again, when wine is involved, the best of-”
My words caught in my throat as the mermaid’s lash strained my muscles.
“You are a thief of virtue.”
The words ran through me, down to the pit of my stomach and deeper. It would have been better if I could have drowned right there.
“I admit… there has been the occasional farmer’s daughter or perhaps even a priestess or two too light in her vows. Things get out of hand. Mistakes made on both sides.”
A sting. I felt the cut of a razor sharp nail striking across my cheek, and, suddenly, another thin stream of blood floated passed my eye. But the fear of sharks had long since passed out of my head.
“Sure. Things have gotten out of hand- Drunken boasting playing no small part it in. But can I really be judged more or less than any other man? It is in our nature. In our history. When Theseus conquered the Amazons, he was greeted as a hero. And it’s not just Greece. Rome was built on the backs of Sabine women.”
The steel in her eyes told me she thought it would be better that Rome was never built.
I could feel the lightly burning glow tickling at the back of my neck as another mermaid appeared behind me. And another. And another. Scores. An entire chorus of mermaids float before and around me.
Would that I could have turned into a swan at that moment.
“And the gods. Zeus himself gets away with this all the time. If it’s good enough for the gods is it not-”
Thetis’ teeth snapped near the tip of my nose. Her eyes- her eyes… her eyes… and- I can still hear her whisper in my ear.
“There are no gods here.”
And then I felt her claw sink into my stomach. One by one they came after that, wrenching, ripping, rending. A cloud of blood billowed upward from below my waist. Tooth and nail tore into my shoulder. My screams were caught first by the noose of hair around my neck and then by a new sensation entirely.
Water filling my lungs, pushing back my screams. My sight went next as I drowned, first lost to the plumes of blood rushing past my face and then to the lack of air reaching my brain. The world around me faded from red to black, and then I felt the sear. More intense than ever, I felt the burning pain flash through my body. I was far from whole but bleeding no longer.
Thetis’ needle edged nail dug into the flesh beneath my chin, and her curled index finger lifted me upward like a fish on a hook.
“Simple death is too good for you.”
She pulled away and left me floating motionless. One by one the glowing lights of the mermaids disappeared. The warmth left me.
And then she called the beast.
From the bowels of the depths, it rose. Its gaping maw rimmed with boulder sized teeth surrounded me, taking Thetis from my view. And, once again, the dark enveloped me. Permanently.
So here I am, in my own personal Tartarus, a half-man mewling alone in the darkness.
There are no gods here.
If you liked this story a second story by this author in the same setting is available to supporting members.