Welcome to Flash Friday! In these posts, I take a writing prompt and whip out a short story off-the-cuff with little editing. If you have an idea for a writing prompt, send me an email, and maybe I’ll use yours next time!
Today’s prompt is: Evil Mermaids
Through the Coral
The water was tepid, the current gentle. It lulled Myrium like the song of phytoplankton. Her pod was a mess. Tendrils of algae undulated on the surfaces of furniture. Ledgers and scrells floated everywhere, clicking gently into each other. She couldn’t bring herself to care.
The task before her seemed meaningless, impossible. She didn’t care about that, either. Everything seemed a melancholy abyss in which she drifted, alone and unfeeling.
The mesh chair in which she was strapped slowly rotated until Myrium faced the ceiling. There was the tile mosaic of the mermaid, little eyes cruel and sharp, mouth stretched in a leering grin. The sight sent a ripple of fear through Myrium, and she flinched as if the mermaid were real. It was enough to get her moving, if sluggishly.
Swishing her tail, Myrium propelled her chair back to the work table with its wheels and pendants. She picked up a chisel, but made no mark on the screll. Her eyes were drawn to the window. She could just see the village far below, on the floor of the ocean.
She’d once told Cyrun it would be a dry day in Rhyparia before she would ever enter a village again. But the seaweed roofs swaying in the current seemed to beckon her, offering reprieve like a hint of saltwater. She found herself reminiscing about shellstone streets, coral fountains, and kelp gardens. A smile touched her lips.
Until she realized what she was thinking. Had she really been contemplating the life of the villagers with such bittersweet craving? What about all those tentacles, touching her, burning her? Life in a village was anything but comfortable.
She flicked her tail in self-disgust. The movement thrust her chair sharply into the table, a corner penetrating the soft flesh of her belly. She let out an involuntary cloud of ink and radiated pain to her thoughts.
“What are you doing up there?” came Cyrun’s immediate response. There was a cantankerous feel to the thought.
“Nothing,” Myrium retorted. The pain radiated from her belly into her head, sweeping a clean path through the lethargy that had plagued her.
“Feels like you’re ready for supper.”
Myrium noticed algae growing on some of her scrells, hiding the notes she had chiseled there. She picked one up with a tentacle, trying to swipe it away, only to smear red across her markings. Had she been drifting in a stupor so long?
“Myrium?” Cyrun’s thought held a feel of warning. “Now, don’t you start going on again about your work. You know what happened the last time.”
The last time? Myrium searched her memory, but everything before this moment was foggy, indistinct, like looking at the top world from an observation deck.
The observation deck! She needed to measure how low the water level had fallen!
Myrium struggled to undo the harness of her mesh seat, suckers sliding off the shell clasps. Frustrated, she instead flicked her tail sharply and propelled herself through the ink cloud to the curved ceiling.
“It’s nearly ready.” A hint of panic crept into Cyrun’s thoughts. “Just hold on another minute. You must be hungry.”
What was he thinking about? She wasn’t hungry at all. She felt more alert than she’d felt in days, maybe weeks, or even years. How long had she drifted in this mental fog? How much time had she wasted?
As she cleared the ink, Myrium realized that tile covered every inch of the ceiling. She avoided looking at the mermaid covering half the ceiling. It brought back memories she wished would remain forgotten. Where was the entrance to the observation deck? Had Cyrun covered it? Why would her own brother thwart her like that? She ran her tentacles over the tile without touching the mermaid, searching for irregularities.
“That’s right, Myrium,” Cyrun responded to her emotion. “The mermaids hurt you, didn’t they? You don’t want to go back there. But, if you don’t eat your supper like a good girl, I’ll have no choice but to call them.”
“No!” With the threat, Myrium’s tail jerked, shooting her across the room where she cracked her head on a wall and let out another cloud of ink. She couldn’t go back to the hospital. Memories of the mermaids came rushing back, clear and sharp like the pain in her throbbing head. They would smile at her. They would hurt her.
She caught movement on the floor and peered through the double dose of ink now clouding the room. Cyrun’s tentacles slid rapidly through the circular door. First one found purchase, then another, until all four were firmly secured and Cyrun appeared. She thought she could make out a feed bag hanging around his neck. His bulging eyes cut through the ink, bright and steady.
“Myrium, please come down and eat your supper. You’ll feel much better, and all the pain will go away.” His thoughts coaxed, pleaded.
Myrium almost gave in. The reminder of the mermaids had so terrified her, it seemed easier to eat the food Cyrun offered and let it all wash away. But what would happen to her work? She had to study the top, prove the water level was shrinking. If the elders weren’t convinced to do something soon, everyone would suffocate.
Cyrun unhooked his suckers and drifted toward her, becoming clearer as he approached through the ink. “Come, Myrium. You can trust me. I’m your brother. I’ll take care of you.”
Her fear spun in an instant to rage. “How are you taking care of me, Cyrun? By drugging me until I don’t know my own name? What about the thousands of creatures you are sentencing to death by keeping me from my work?”
Cyrun let out a mental snort. “Your ‘work’ is nothing but a figment of your imagination. I thought the mermaids helped you understand that.”
“The only thing the mermaids helped me understand was pain!”
Myrium finally broke the clasps holding her in the chair. Flicking all her tentacles, she spun out of the confining mesh, excreting a liquid from the tips that shot toward Cyrun. He propelled himself backward with his tail, but he was too late. The liquid enveloped him. He missed the doorway and slapped against the tile, body going limp.
A wave of horror washed over Myrium. Had she killed her brother? She couldn’t see him clearly.
With powerful thrusts of her tail, she dispelled the ink and poison from the water of the room. Cyrun didn’t move, but she could feel his thoughts, sluggish, beneath the surface of consciousness. Moving to his side, she gingerly removed the feed bag from his neck, then batted it out the window.
Would the mermaids sense her brother’s distress? Perhaps he had already called for them. At any rate, she knew this room was no longer a sanctuary for her. Cyrun had turned it into a prison cell.
Swishing her tail frantically, she darted around the room, grabbing scrells and ledgers until her tentacles could hold no more. She wished she could take the pendants and wheels, but they were too bulky. She would have to build new ones.
The soft tinkling thoughts of anemone warned her. They were coming.
From a side window, Myrium saw a pink shell pulled by two seahorses drift to a stop at the base of her tower. Two mermaids swam powerfully away from their perch atop the shell. Cyrun must have summonded them, after all.
Mryium clutched the scrells, sharp edges biting into flesh. Her notes. She couldn’t let them find her notes. The mermaids would destroy them, just like last time, and she would have to start all over again.
Frantically, she propelled herself to the ceiling. Where was the opening to her observation deck? It had to be here somewhere! Her eyes raked the tiles of the ceiling. Then she saw it. The eye of the mermaid was askew. She gulped. Cyrun had used her fears against her.
Cringing at what she intended, she raised a tentacle and gingerly touched the mermaid’s eye. It was only tile, after all, she argued with herself. It wouldn’t hurt her like a real mermaid would. She pushed harder.
The current from strange tails pushing water entered the room, and she sensed the intrusion of her home. Time was running out.
“Myrium?” Cyrun’s thoughts were groggy as he woke.
Glancing down at him, Myrium felt a stab of panic. Bright fronds of mermaid hair drifted up from the doorway. They would soon be followed by the mermaid herself.
“Open!” Myrium thought frantically as she pushed harder at the tiles. “Open now!” She began digging at the edge of the tile with a screll, trying not to worry about the cracks it made in her notes.
Cyrun was fully awake now. “That’s enough, Myrium! Come down here right now.”
Myrium shrank back against the tiles as a mermaid drifted into the room. Looking up at her, it smiled and spoke with its lips; a high-pitched ringing that was difficult to translate into words.
“Now, now . . . Myri— Brother . . . done all . . . can.”
The second mermaid drifted into the room, like slowly spreading poison. “. . . hurt you, Cyrun?”
Then Cyrun did something so profoundly obscene, Myrium was left in complete and utter shock for several moments. He opened his mouth and emitted screeches similar to the mermaids’. His speech was even harder to translate.
The other mermaid was coming for Myrium, gently floating upward and uttering noises Myrium supposed were meant to be comforting. But she felt no comfort, only horror that this was happening again. How could Cyrun let it happen again? He was her brother. He was supposed to protect her.
Myrium fastened her suckers to the ceiling and pulled herself back painfully against the tiles. She was trapped between the representation of evil and the real thing. The mermaid’s mouth stretched wide, leering at her, mocking her.
Then she felt something give in the tile behind her. Adrenaline and hope shot through her emotions. She began swishing her tail hard, forcing her body more strongly into the tiles, ignoring the pain. The waves from her tail pushed the mermaid away, and the mermaid’s smile faltered.
“Myrium,” Cyrun’s thought warned. “What are you doing?”
She gave one last powerful thrust of her tail, sending the mermaids and Cyrun spinning across the room. The tiles crumbled behind her.
She didn’t have time to nurse the pain as her body shot into the tunnel, pummeled by broken tile. Using her tail and as many tentacles as she could spare from holding scrells, Myrium swam hard. It had taken her long months to coax the coral to form a tunnel. But she could not stop to admire her handiwork, as she had done in the past. They would be after her in a moment.
The upper shelf of the coral reef spread out all around her as she exited the tunnel. None of her kind ever came up here. It was heresy to do so. But Myrium had stumbled upon this world of wonder by accident one day and had spent many hours admiring the beauties of the top world. It was then she realized the water level was going down. With growing horror, she realized it soon might drop so low that her entire village would be exposed to poisonous air.
Other creatures frolicked here, scampering about on the coral. They were huge and colorful and mostly ignored Myrium. She had tried communicating with them several times to no avail.
Myrium searched through her scrells until she found the last measurements she had taken and swam to a rock that jutted high and far into the top world.
She didn’t have her measuring sticks, but it wasn’t hard to see that the water level had risen. It was far above her head, lapping gently against the rock.
She studied the screll again, then the water level. There was no doubt: it was higher.
But, no. That couldn’t be!
She began sifting through the armload of scrells. Some of them drifted away from her as she pawed through them. What about her measurements, her analysis, all her work? A thought struck her and she stopped still. Maybe she was crazy, after all.
That’s when the mermaids appeared. They came rushing at her with their powerful tails and their faces no longer smiling. She screamed as filthy hands touched her, a thousand times worse than a tentacle could ever be.
Myrium fought, losing all but one of her scrells in the process, but the mermaids were strong. One of them stabbed a shell into her belly and injected a poison into her ink well that burned. Her body went limp. The poison sapped all of her energy, and she knew she had only moments before her mind would follow. She could not resist as the mermaids propelled her back to the tunnel entrance.
Cyrun was there, drifting beside the entrance like a guard on duty.
“Cyrun!” she thought. “The water level is higher now. See for yourself! I’m not crazy, just mistaken. Please! Don’t let them take me!”
Cyrun watched her with no flicker of recognition in his eyes. His thoughts remained closed.