Welcome to Beware! Dark Seas Halloween showcase, an annual author & artist showcase that features talented creators. Come back each day, the entire month of October for a scare! Prepare for dark stories, myths & legends, and creepy creations that will make the hair on the nape of your neck stand up straight. May the water have mercy on your soul.
BY j. elizabeth hill
Della stood at the edge of the beach, taking in a deep breath of the ocean air. The cry of birds and the sough of the waves on the sand wound together with the salt tang. Yet what she’d come looking for, a sense of familiarity, was absent. Bitter disappointment curdled her stomach. Ann would catch up to her eventually, and this wasn’t worth the trouble she’d be in with her sister when that happened.
She searched the vista again, but it was still just a beach. People lounged and played on the sand and in the water. In the distance, a band played energetically. It was an island paradise, which should have been enough to make her happy, so why did she feel so disappointed at her lack of memory?
Della jumped when a hand grabbed her arm. “I knew you wouldn’t be able to stay away from here, even though our hotel is on the other side of the island.”
“Come on. We’re going back, and for the rest of this trip, you’re keeping your promise to Mom and Dad to stick with me .”
Della rolled her eyes at her twin. Well, fraternal twin. She had strawberry blonde hair while Della’s was a dark auburn. They both had grey eyes, but Ann only had one dimple. And Ann’s lips were pressed thin, her expression reminiscent of their mother’s whenever she looked at Della.
“It wasn’t fair. They wouldn’t have let me come if I’d refused to make it.”
“You swore we’d spend the trip together, that it would be our time. Since when do you lie to me, Della?”
She ripped her arm out of Ann’s grasp. “When you started tattling. When you proved I couldn’t trust you.”
“You always say that you don’t remember that trip, and then you started dreaming about it. I was worried.”
“You could have talked to me, but instead you ran to Mom. And then I got punished. For a dream!”
It was Ann’s turn to roll her eyes. “It wasn’t punishment. It was therapy.”
“You weren’t there. It was hell, Ann. Hell you put me through.”
“I was trying to help.”
Ann reached out to her but Della slapped her hand away and stalked off down the beach. Over her shoulder, she called, “If I want your help, I’ll ask for it. Otherwise, leave me alone.”
This was why she didn’t talk to anyone about therapy; she was left awash in guilt and rage. A year of trying to explain to that idiot therapist that she was fine, just confused by the dream. That she didn’t know what it was about. Not once had he believed her, and his pointed questions suggested her parents had told him something about the trip, even though they wouldn’t talk to her about it. Maybe she shouldn’t blame Ann for all of that, but she did.
As she neared the end of the beach, a song wrapped around her, full of longing and hope, waves and wind. The tenor notes drew her on, her heart desperate to hear more when it paused for a second before wrapping her in another soaring spiral of sound.
She hesitated, and the familiar voice crescendoed, taking her thoughts with it. Della picked her way past the underbrush with urgency, needing to be out of sight before her sister could come back to play the blame game. Or try to stop her.
She followed the song as it waxed joyous one moment, only to wane into bitterness. When she stumbled into a clearing in the forest, the song ended. Only the burbling of a nearby stream filled her ears as she stared at the man across from her.
Dark hair waved over a high brow, set off against olive skin. Eyes as blue as the sea watched her. He wore a sleeveless brown tunic, unlaced and hanging open. Below that, scales spread down a serpentine body that coiled underneath him.
The man from her dream. “Belen.”
His expression darkened and he half turned away. “Then you didn’t forget.”
The bitter resignation in his beautiful voice stung. “I don’t even remember coming to this island before.”
“So why did you come back?” The question was a spiteful accusation. “Why now? I sang for you every day until I had no voice left. I had just begun to move on, to live again and now- You dare to come back now, claiming ignorance?”
His rage was such a clear echo of hers at Ann that it robbed her of words. She groped and managed only a feeble “I’m sorry.”
When he at last spoke again, all the anger had fled, leaving only a sorrowful exhaustion. “As am I. I shouldn’t blame you for my nature.”
“What do you mean?”
“My song draws people to me. But if I release them from it and they go, they forget. I didn’t think you would though.”
“Tell me, Belen. What happened? What did I forget?”
“Does it matter?”
“Of course it matters.” Della forced her fisted hands to relax. “Something happened. I want to know what.”
“First tell me why you left. You promised you wouldn’t, and then,” his voice broke, “you were gone.”
“My parents took me home. That’s what they said. What my sister said. No one will tell me anything more.”
He nodded warily. “When I sang to you that first time, it was different. Everyone else comes to me mindless and obedient. You asked me questions, pestered me to tell you about myself. You were so sweet, and kind. Somehow you soothed me so much more than I thought anyone could, even the hunger.”
She wanted to ask about the hunger, but her missing memory bloomed in her mind. They’d talked for hours, and even at the end, she’d refused to go, afraid she’d never be able to find this handsome man again if she left.
“Instead of forgetting me, you came back every day. The first time, I was far away and had to hurry to reach you before you left. After that, I was always there waiting, because I wanted to see you again.”
“Because you fascinated me.” He grinned. “Your life, your ways, your smile. Everything enchanted me. You didn’t have to sing an unearthly song to bind me. You just had to be.”
“And then I disappeared?”
He shook his head. “You said you had to leave soon. Because it was time, but also because your family were growing suspicious of where you went every day.”
Memory returned, supplying the rest. “I promised you I wouldn’t reveal your existence to anyone, and I didn’t want to risk breaking it.”
Closing the distance between them, Belen held out his hands with his palms up. She hesitated, then completed the greeting he’d taught her. The vault of her lost memories opened at the gesture. She remembered the way they’d talked and laughed together. Her telling him about the world he knew nothing of despite how ancient he was, or perhaps because of it. Him showing her secret places on the island. She remembered his arms around her and the chaste flirtation that had come into his smiles as the days passed and they got to know each other better. She remembered being happy. And then that last day.
“I told them I didn’t want to leave.”
He stared at her, his grip going slack. “You did?”
The resulting fight had been awful. Her parents had gotten entirely the wrong idea of why she wanted to stay, no matter how much she said it was because she was happy there. They’d guessed it was a man, but thought she was in danger from him. They’d threatened to go to the police about him, to have him hunted down for rape, even though nothing even close to that had happened.
“I had to go with them in the end, to keep you safe. And I couldn’t tell you; they wouldn’t let me leave the hotel for any reason. But I was going to come back. I always meant to.”
He released her hands then and backed away, shaking his head.
“By the time I got home though, I couldn’t remember why. After a while, I didn’t even remember being here.”
“Then why are you here?”
“Because every time anyone mentioned the trip here, I wondered. Then some of Ann’s friends at school were arranging a trip for spring break. When I heard they settled on this island, I had to come. I didn’t know why but I needed to.”
That she was unhappy at college, and had no real friends wasn’t the point, and it wasn’t her reason anyway. This was simply where she needed to be. She took up his hands again. The nails were sharp, dark and rough, almost claws.
His eyes searched her face and at last he whispered, “Do you know how rare you are?” She wasn’t sure whether to smile or feel uneasy at the hunger in his words. “You saw me that first time, even though the song should have prevented that. No one ever sees me, or talks to me. I don’t remember the last time anyone cared about me as you did. Perhaps never.” His grip on her hands strengthened painfully. “That is precious to me. As are you.”
She stared at him, her concern growing. He hadn’t been this intense before, this hungry and… desperate, had he?
“Then why did I forget, if your song doesn’t affect me the way it does others?”
He let go of her hands and ran his fingers through his hair. “I don’t know. But you’re back, and that’s what matters. Stay with me, as you promised, and we won’t have to be alone anymore.”
Belen hardly seemed the man she’d made that promise to, any more than she was the same romantic yet innocent sixteen year old she’d been. He might look the same, but little about his manner matched her returned memories. Had his grief over her leaving changed him or had he only been hiding this before? And did it matter, in the face of her now deep unease?
“Della? Please say you’ll stay.” He grabbed her upper arms roughly, his fingers digging in until the claws broke the surface with a sharp sting. “I didn’t know how alone I was before we met. I can’t do that anymore. I don’t care that I did it for thousands of years. I can’t go back to that loneliness. You must stay.”
She tried desperately to remain calm. “Ann will come looking for me, Belen.”
“Then tell her you’ve decided to stay. Tell her to leave. Tell her anything. I don’t care, just stay!”
His fingers on her arm were digging in even deeper. Blood oozed from her wounds, pattering to the dirt. He kept talking, but the terrified pounding of her heart drowned him out as she tried to find a way to get free.
“Della,” he said, the sudden calmness of his voice at last drawing her attention back to him. “Why aren’t you looking at me?”
She didn’t answer, though she forced herself to meet his gaze. That hypnotic, sea blue gaze.
“Why are you trembling?” Her silence brought back the edge. “Why are you afraid?”
Her eyes went down to her arm, where she could see the claws buried deeper than she’d thought. Why didn’t that hurt anymore? That much blood seeping out of her should hurt.
He followed her gaze, froze, then released her, his claws retracting. She fell to her knees on the bloody packed dirt of the clearing, her legs unable to support her weight.
“I’m sorry. I got carried away. I know how to heal that. I can make this better.” When he reached for her, she shoved herself back along the ground.
“Belen, what do you do to the others you sing to? What hunger was it I soothed?”
His face fell and his eyes shone with tears. He slithered back a pace. “I wish you wouldn’t ask that. You never asked before. Please don’t ask me that.”
It was really all the answer she needed, with none of the details she didn’t want to know. She began to cry, and not just from fear. Yet she couldn’t leave it at that, because she needed to distract him. “Tell me.”
He turned away from her. “I won’t. But I swear, I would never do that to you. Maybe that’s why I never sang to you that way, not even the first time. I would never hurt you, Della. Never. I didn’t mean to do this. Please forgive me.”
He went another pace further away from her, wrapping his arms around himself, the blood on his claws dripping onto his arms and chest. Almost far enough, she thought, for her to make a break for it.
“You don’t know what it’s like to spend so long alone and then one day, someone makes you feel like you’re not.”
She pushed herself to her feet, then fell, her legs even weaker now. On all fours, she scrambled toward the beach as fast as she could make her wounded, failing body go. That was her only thought, to get to the beach where others would be able to see her and maybe hear her screams for help. He wouldn’t follow her there. She just had to get there.
Before she made it to the trees, she was knocked forward and landed sprawled across the ground. The impact knocked the breath from her lungs. Crying, she desperately fought to pull even a molecule of air in.
Scales scraped against the fabric of her shirt, and arms wrapped around her shoulders, pulling her up to her knees but no further. Belen hissed in her ear. “You run from me now? After I apologized?”
There wasn’t enough air in the world for her to scream. His tail pulled tighter, constricting her lungs even further.
“I can’t let you go. The world can’t find out about me and I can’t be without you. I need you. I don’t know why you can’t see that but now there’s only one way I can keep you.”
He began to sing, softly at first. Even as she struggled to break free, to breathe away the spots in her vision, she noted that it wasn’t anything like the song she’d heard before. It was full of sharp edges and minor keys. It was beautiful and terrible all at once.
Louder and louder he sang, making her sob and struggle harder. She needed her hands so she could press them against her ears. His claws dug in, more viciously than before. The world around her blurred and ebbed away. The pain in her wounds, in her ears, which were bleeding now, faded away into darkness. All that was left was the aching song full of razorblades and love that dragged her down to the depths.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR j. elizabeth hill