Prompt 19: Begin a story with “There was once a chance I didn’t take…”
The Fish God
“There was once a chance I didn’t take, and as I grew to be an old woman, I often wondered ‘What if’.”
“What was it Gran? Will you tell us the story?” The two girls sat eagerly at her knee, eyes wide, anticipating a story. Gran always told the best stories. She had grown up with her crazy father on an almost deserted island, or so she liked to say.
Stella Minks wet her leathery lips thoughtfully. Her grey-blue hair was swept up in a bun that rested just above her shoulders. Her eyes, though considerably dulled, were still the color of the sea. A blue green sort of color, with more depth than the average girl, or so she had been told. She leaned back into the rocker that she sat on and folded her hands across her lap. Her two granddaughters, Anna and Alice, stared up at her expectantly. She wouldn’t let them down, but where to begin?
“I was fourteen when I first saw them,” she began in her ancient voice. The two girls exchanged an excited smile and settled in for the story. There was no need to ask questions, Gran never left out the good parts.
“Our town was small, only a few hundred people on the whole island, and I was a newcomer. I was the only one that hadn’t seen them. Mind you, they didn’t make a show of themselves. They kept hidden beneath the waves.”
The suspense was too much for Alice. “What were they Gran?”
“Mermaids.” She barely breathed the word. She heard the two girls gasp, and she smiled to herself.
“I was fourteen, and so angry at the world. My mother had just died in the accident and I had to go live with my father on the tiny island village called Nomorca. I had never met my father but I knew he was crazy, my mother had told me he was.” Her grey head bobbed until she was fourteen again, hair the color of the sand on a sunny day and eyes the color of the sea.
“Stella!” she heard her father yelling for her, but no way was she going back in that house. “Stella, come back here. Don’t go too close to the water!”
Stella rolled her eyes and kept walking. How was it possible to not go too close the water, the whole place was nothing but water. Stella gritted her teeth and walked faster. Her angry steps led her to an abandoned beach. She looked up and down the beach , but found no indication of people having been there, ever.
With a small smile, Stella threw off her light jacket and spread it out on the warm sand. She sighed sadly as the wind played with her hair and memories wreaked havoc on her heart. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Her beautiful mother should still be alive, singing on the stage. She brushed away the annoying tears that refused to stop falling. At least now, they waited until she was alone. She sniffed softly. It just wasn’t fair!
A sudden sound made Stella’s chin jerk back up. “Is someone there?” She heard a soft laugh in response. “Hello?” Stella got up and walked a few steps. Someone was here. Her small oasis was ruined.
“Stella!” The call was an excited one. Whoever was there, was happy to see her.
“No, you can’t,” Stella heard another voice, and then another. They seemed to be arguing.
“You need to stay away from her.”
“She is the daughter of Hazel.”
“No she’s not. The child is dead. You know that, Arianne.”
“Stella!” A new voice shattered the moment.
“Dad, what are you doing here?” Stella asked, irritated.
“I told you to stay away from the water.” Her dad looked really mad. Why?
“Oh, did you just notice dad, we are on an island. There is water everywhere.”
“Did you…”she paused, biting her lip. Should she tell him what she had heard? Would that make her as crazy as him?
“Did I what? Are you ok?”
“Yeah,” she shrugged, “it was nothing.” She brushed by him. “You coming?”
Later that night, dad made supper. If macaroni and cheese could be considered supper. “Did you hear something down by the water?” he asked for the hundredth time.
“I already told you,” Stella replied, again.
“I know,” he held up his hand to ward off another angry outburst, “I just,” he licked his lips, “I just want to be sure you are ok. Doctor Slind said you might…”
“Dad, I’m fine.” She pushed her full plate away and rose from the table. “I’m going to bed, I’m tired.”
After she left her dad sighed loudly and rested his chin on his templed hands. Bruce Michaels knew his daughter had heard something, he saw it in her face, but her mom had already filled her head with stories about the people of Nomorca. It looked like the water dwellers had decided Stella was one of them now. He rubbed his face roughly. Was he happy about that?
Stella walked slowly along her beach. in the four months since that first day here, Stella had come everyday to the tiny beach, and had come to think of it as hers. She heard no more voices, but she always felt like someone was watching her. Maybe it was the girl called Arianne. She used to call for her, but had given up when no one ever answered.
She was just gathering her jacket to go back home when she became aware of someone else on the beach. “Arianne?” she called softly.
“How do you know about her?” came an old voice. A woman appeared from behind a large rock.
Stella jumped back, startled. She had never met this woman, but she knew this wasn’t Arianne. “Who are you?”
“I am Clara Burns. I’m your neighbor.” The grey eyes crinkled in an almost smile. “Who are you looking for?”
“No one. I just like to come here, to be alone.” she glared pointedly at her intruder, causing the old woman to laugh.
“How did you hear about Arianne? Did your father tell you?”
“No. Who is she?”
Clara shrugged elusively. “I have no idea.”
“Come on, you know who she is. I herd her talking, the first day I came here. She was arguing with someone else.”
“Arguing about what?”
Clara looked surprised. “Oh.”
“They knew my mother.”
“Undoubtedly. This is a small place. They know everyone.”
“The water dwellers.”
“You mean the village people?”
“I mean the water dwellers.”
“What’s a water dweller?”
“That’s ridiculous.” Stella felt foolish for buying into what Clara was saying. She had been practically hanging on the old woman’s every word.
“Maybe, but it doesn’t make it false.” Clara turned away to leave, but turned back before she disappeared behind the rocks. “When you do see something that looks ridiculous, you can come talk to me, or your father.’
“He’s seen mermaids?”
“We all have.”
“What do you mean? Is there a secret mermaid club?”
“Everyone on Nomorca has seen them.”
“Did my mother?”
Clara’s eyes lit up. “Your mother was the chosen one.”
“Chosen by who?”
“She was chosen to be the fish god’s wife.”
Everyone on the island was crazy, Stella thought. It must be some weird mental condition from inhaling to much salty sea air. “Does that make me the fish god’s daughter?” She asked with a mischievous grin.
“Of course not. Hazel turned him down, but not without much difficulty. She ended up leaving.”
Stella shook her head. “That’s..”
“You come see me,” and then she was gone.
“What a crazy old lady,” Stella muttered when she was alone again. There was a small laugh behind her. She whirled around but the only thing there was the water, endless miles of blue green sea.
“Stella,” her name came as just a whisper on the breeze. It was impossible to know where it came from, but suddenly Stella was eager to get away form the beach and from the water.
That night, mermaids played in Stella’s dreams. She woke up flustered and feeling foolish. Her heart was going a million times a minute. That old lady had really gotten into her head. She shook her head to dispel the images, but it didn’t work. With a huff, she threw the blankets off her legs and scurried to the kitchen for a drink of water. The curtains were blowing frantically when she got downstairs. Stella rolled her eyes and rushed to close the window.
“Stella!” She heard her name clearly.
“Come see us Stella.”
Voices mingled together to form a song like quality. “Where are you?”
“Come to your beach.”
Without much thought, Stella raced back upstairs to throw on a pair of jeans and tee-shirt, then she was running as fast as her legs would carry her. Straight to her beach. It was time to figure out the mystery of the island, to learn who Arianne was.
She reached the beach breathless, but in record time. “Ok, I am hear. What do you want with me? Who are you?”
“We are the people of the sea. Our fish god has chosen you Stella. Just as he chose your mother before you and her mother before her. Will you join us?”
“Wh…?” Stella’s words caught in her throat at what she saw next. Out of the sea rose a woman, so beautiful that she seemed unreal. Her long red hair flowed past her hips. Behind her, two more equally beautiful women rose form the sea. The trio didn’t come up onto the beach though. They couldn’t. where their feet should have been were tails made of lovely green and blue sequins.
“Mermaids,” Stella whispered, then fainted right there on the beach.
“What happened next Gran?” Anna whispered, afraid to break the spell. Gran had stopped talking, overcome with her own memories.
“Next?” Both girls nodded solemnly. “Clara found me there.” She looked down at her hands. “The fish god asked me to join him, but I refused. I stayed on the land, in my grandmother’s home.” She smiled, her eyes suspiciously glossy.