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I was a young man of only twenty-four the first night that I found my way to the lakeshore. I was a writer, working for a newspaper of no importance. I could give you the name, but you would not recognize it now, ten years after it shut its doors and all production and publication has stopped.
I was down on my luck that night and was staring gloomily out at the waves lapping against the beach. The water shone in the moonlight, looking almost metallic in the darkness, the waves disrupting the surface like silver blades.
My gaze was captured by a woman. Long raven hair darker than even the night of the new moon among the darkest feudal forests flowed along wide hips. Extending from the hips upward was a slim waist lacking a navel. From above this waist branched two long arms that were incredibly strong and paler than the barren snow of Canada's winter, skin that glowed under the light of the moon. Four digits sprouted from each hand. There was no thumb. A slight webbing could be seen between the first joints on each finger. The neck of the woman was long and slender, like a giraffe or a swan, and she held her head with a kind of grace. Her chin was sharp, defined. Her mouth was long and thin, so light in color that the lips were almost blue. Next was a sharp nose and then, two soulful eyes that sparked with electricity.
Her body was uncovered, for she had no need to hide what skin she had. The woman, if she could be referred to as such, was not cold in the chilly spring water, nor did she posses the modesty of a human girl.
Along the delicate curve of her neck, there were fours gills.
That night was the first time I saw her there, in that lake just a short walk from my home. I found her beauty exotic, like a whole new race of humans.
When I stepped toward her though, and began picking my way over all that had washed up on the sand from the lake, she vanished.
I was the fish that night, a young man caught hook, line, and sinker by a woman whose name I did not know.
It turns out that she did not have a name. I came to this sad conclusion late one night. I stumbled down to the beach from a rather dull party at my friend Henry's. There seemed to be something more in her eyes that night. They were brighter, excited. Her lips were flushed instead of translucent and her hair fanned out, swirling in the currents that lapped at her body. She remained there, treading water, staring at me.
I said my name, introduced myself. She never spoke, but I saw her lips go up before she dove back into the water, a shimmering tail splashing the water. When I awoke, coated with sand and gagging on the smell of the lake's plant life that had washed over me during the night, I told myself it was just a dream.
I waited until the sun had set before I returned. I saw the water begin to bubble near the surface and left. I wasn't ready to prove myself delusional just yet, and learning that my sea-woman was really just some lost trout would do little to improve my mood.
I found myself thinking about her while I wrote that night, and I must say that my paper on the marine life of the lake was the best I had written during my time as a human man.
I ventured out again when the leaves along the street had begun to fall to the ground. My third story had been rejected by my newspaper, and though it was not the first time that what I had written had been cast away, it still stung. Bills weighed heavily on my mind. I should have been finding another job. I knew I had to do something before I sank even further into debt.
The waves danced around my feet, and I stared down, lost in thought. When I looked back toward the water her eyes met mine. They were bright and filled with warmth. She opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She looked dejected, and turned to leave. This was the first time she had come close enough to shore that I could observe her clearly. I was more surprised to see that she had legs than I was to discover that each ended in a long, transparent flipper.
I called after her, and she recoiled. I noticed blood in the water and waded in deeper. She did not flee, but swayed, allowing me to run a finger over her flipper and up her calf. There was something embedded in her ankle. I extracted a hook, then moved up to her wrist. She flinched when I plucked the broken glass from her forearm.
I let her go, as she tugged firmly yet did not struggle.
She tried to speak again, but this time it came out as a breathy whisper. I could not make out the words.
The fear that clenched my heart, however, was silly. It was a stupid reaction. What had I to fear from this delicate creature before me? I waded away, back toward the shore. She watched me go with sad eyes.
I dreamed she told me that she loved me.
I resisted the impulse to return to her for a week before I gave in to my desires. I had to go back, to hear her out. I wanted to speak to her as well, assuming that she could understand English. I doubted that she knew how tightly she clutched me in those long fingers of hers.
When I approached the sand I took one last look at the sky. Something would change here, tonight. I would tell her how I felt, and that would transform both our lives. The stars winked at me as though they were in on my conspiracy. The wind, though cold, whistled along my skin and I thought I could hear it screaming at me to move forward.
When I reached the shore, she was there, knee deep in the water. The webs between her fingers were gone, and her skin was flushed prettily. She looked more real, more exquisite. When she saw me, a slow smile spread across her face and her cheeks burned a light shade of pink.
Laughing, I ran into her arms and pulled her to me, deliriously happy.
“I love you,” I whispered, and everything was right in the world, for she was enchanting.
I studied her face carefully and whispered softly, “So, what did you want to say to me?”
She leaned in, kissed me lightly on the cheek.
“You are quite handsome,” she breathed in a soft, silky voice, happy to have finally gotten it out. “I love you too. Stay with me.”
I didn't protest as she took me in her arms and led me into the waves, fish nibbling on my toes. I did not struggle until we were too far out to see the pier.
The eyes of the woman-creature that had captivated me so grew cold as we treaded water, changing as the moon sank below the horizon and the sun made its appearance. I watched as they regained their spark of electricity and her fingers grew bonier. Her legs became one, and I felt a large, oily tail brush against me beneath the surface of the lake. She spoke in hisses with a forked tongue. She opened her mouth and her teeth were long and jagged.
She was still beautiful, radiant, but there was a new, menacing quality to her now, and I struggled a bit in her arms, pleading with her to stop, asking where she was taking me. By then I knew it was too late. Her exotic beauty became completely alien, and I whimpered when she released me.
The skin seemed to melt from her arms, dripping away, revealing scales. I knew by then what it meant for me.
A fish captured by the hook, I could only watch as the monster leaned toward me, opening her mouth for a final kiss.
I struggled, kicked, and screamed as she pulled me down and I lost all conscious thought.
The fish swam around me, bumping into me. I swam up, using my tail to propel me through the currents. Swimming was wondrous, weightless. There were no bills to pay or editors to worry about here.
I nudged the feminine hand that hung in the water and brushed against her hips. I received none of her attention now, but saw how she watched the humans on shore with a scowl, wonder lighting her eyes when she saw a handsome young man.
There were others like me, who had once been men. A boy waded into the water and pulled a rock back. We watched it skip across the surface before he reached for another. My sea-woman pulled herself further from the water, an alluring smile on her face. The boy stumbled from the water, shocked even as we sank beneath the waves again, and I remembered the feeling of my heart flying in my chest when she gave me that same look before I was hers. Our fish laughter sent bubbles to the surface.
She had him then, you see, like she had all men who did not keep their wits about them. Hook, line, and sinker.