Twisted Fairy Tale: Poison Kiss by Kat Korpi
Welcome to the 8th annual #SpookyShowcase! The Spooky Showcase celebrates the dark minds of creatives around the world through short stories and artistic creations that are dark in nature, macabre, or horror themed.
This year’s theme is Twisted Fairy Tales. Expect twisted legends, creepy creations, and dark fairy tales that will keep you up at night. Visit each day in the month of October for a scare. The master schedule is here.
By Kat Korpi
“Mermaids have no tears, and therefore they suffer more.”
― Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid
The crystal-clear water used to bring people from far and wide to the deep mountain lake. Lush trees blanketed the slopes, giving way to a pebbled shore that descended gently into the water. The lake’s surface reflected the sky and the clouds that flitted across it, but if a person looked directly into the water, they could see the twists of light that dove lazily toward the lakebed, never quite reaching the bottom before darkness overtook them.
That version of the lake is hazy in Ava’s memory, existing before the mountain burned to ash and humans stopped viewing it as a haven. Now the trees are skeletons, and the pebbles have turned to gravestones. The only thing that remains the same is how the water reflects the sky.
Ava’s life changed in the fire, and it changed again the day the boy arrived. She thought he was lost, that he wouldn’t stay. She peered from the water as he swam, stretching his muscular shoulders on the shore when he was done. He left, but he was back again the next day to do it all over again. Day after day, he came to swim in the lake and day after day, Ava fell in love as she watched him from the depths.
“Why isn’t he here yet?” Ava mumbled to herself. She splashed her mauve tail against the water, fins disrupting the clouds that drifted through its surface. The sun had already climbed high above the peaks and still he hadn’t arrived. His absence would have bothered her on a normal day, but she had finally worked up the courage to do more than just watch.
Today, for the first time in the weeks since he’d arrived, she was going to talk to him.
She waited and waited, twisting her body through the reeds along the bank, relishing in the sunshine while her eyes watched the charred wood along the shore for any sign of him. The sun touched the peaks and the sky turned red and pink and then finally faded into a dark blue, Ava decided it was time to go below.
Just as she meant to dive beneath the surface, she spotted him. Tanned skin, jet black hair, eyes that she knew would look to her core if she let him see her. He walked from the trees to stand at the edge of the water. Picking up a handful of pebbles, he began to toss them gracefully, watching as they skipped several times over the surface before drifting down.
She daydreamed about him whenever he was gone, because that’s what you do when you love someone. In her fantasies, it always started like this. He would skip stones for hours, until she finally realized he was waiting for her and emerged cautiously from the water. She would say hello, and he would say it back before confessing that he was madly in love with her. He would wade into the water, swimming to the deep center of the lake and there, with legs and fins mixed together, they would kiss until their lips were raw and their breath came in short bursts.
But here he was, in real life, standing on the shore of her home.
Ava didn’t know what she was going to say to him, only that if she didn’t say something she might perish. She willed her body to work, to push her toward the shore. She knew the exact moment he saw her because he stilled, pebbles in his hand. His pupils dilated and his lips formed a beautiful circle of surprise.
“Hello,” she said after a long moment, waiting for him to blink away any suspicion that this might be a dream before she added, “I’ve watched you every day.”
He smiled and set the pebbles down gently before kneeling on the shore, as if any sudden movement might scare her away like a frightened doe. “I’ve been wondering when I might be able to talk to you.”
It was Ava’s turn to be surprised. “You knew I was here?”
“I can’t think of anything else that would tempt me back to this place.” He nodded and gestured to the woods behind him. In the darkness, the trees dripped with menace, reaching him with long fingers, threatening to drag him away from her.
The idea of the boy leaving sent sorrow shooting through Ava’s whole body. The lake is a lonely place. There were no other merfolk who lived here; only a handful of catfish and a very old turtle who had withstood the flames. It hadn’t been this way forever; she’d had friends not so long ago.
But the number of mer in the mountain lake had dwindled. They’d heard stories of their brothers and sisters living in the ocean beyond the river, but it was a long and harrowing journey, and anyone who made it must pass through the territory of the river witch, who was said to have lips stained with the blood of the young and beautiful she collected to make her potions.
Leaving never tempted Ava. She loved this lake and was happy to stay as long as she had at least one friend here. But Zera, her last remaining friend, left to brave the river four moon cycles ago. Now that she was alone, she passed her days by dreaming of the ocean by night and the boy by day.
“You were late today.”
“I almost didn’t come,” the boy responded. “I thought maybe I shouldn’t.”
“Because I’m leaving here soon.” His voice was sad, and Ava found hope that his sadness was sparked by the thought of them never seeing one another again.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m moving away.”
Ava’s heart felt like it might shatter into a million pieces. Already, the loneliness of the lake seemed to press in around her.
He couldn’t leave her. If he did, she would be all alone with nothing but her fantasies of him. She couldn’t lose him when she had just found him for real—now that they knew each other. She knew that the boy would love her, even if he didn’t know it yet. Even if he’d only loved her in her fantasies until now.
She swam closer to the shore, close enough to reach out and touch him. The feeling of touching his skin sparked something in her palm and her heart raced. She knew that he felt it too when his eyes darkened, and he took her hand in his.
“Swim with me before you go?” She asked, putting every bit of love she had for him into the words, hoping that he would feel it, too.
He hesitated, but only for a moment. She tugged his arm and the waves lapped at his calves, his knees, the hem of his shorts, his waist, until finally he was swimming with her in the water. A shiver ran along his spine. Ava never felt the cold, but his body wasn’t used to the chill of the mountain water.
When they reached the center of the lake, Ava pressed herself against him and, just like her mind played out every day, his legs tangled with her fin and they were face to face. He looked at her in awe, tracing the line of her hair with a dripping finger. And then she kissed him. It was everything like she’d hoped, and nothing at the same time. It was better. It consumed her. It made her feel less alone.
When they pulled away, he was panting. He watched her sorrowfully and then said, “I have to go.”
“Stay with me, please.” She practically begged.
“I can’t, my father needs me.”
“Then,” Ava began, a plan forming in her mind. A way for them to be together. “Will you come back to see me once more before you go?”
They drifted back towards the shore, tangled in each other’s arms and propelled by her tail. After a moment’s thought, he nodded. “I leave in two days; I will come back tomorrow evening to say goodbye.”
And then, he was gone. Ava stayed on the surface of the lake until even his shadow had disappeared between the burnt shells of the trees.
She dove deep. Her eyes could see everything in the depths, even with no sunlight filtering down. She searched through the silt on the lakebed, slipping between algae as she picked up every pebble the boy had thrown.
She reached the rocky outcropping where she laid to rest every night, but instead of curling up on the stone, she added the handful of pebbles to her collection. There were hundreds of them. All colors and shapes and sizes. The only thing they all had in common was that the boy had touched them.
When she was satisfied with their arrangement, she swam as fast as she could toward the north shore where the water of her lake fed into the curvy spine of the river.
She only had a day to make the journey, to uncover the cost and to find a way to pay it. She would pay anything if it meant she could be with the boy she loved forever.
She swam through the night, dodging the nocturnal animals who bathed in the shallows, looking at her with yellow eyes. At one point, she threw herself down a small waterfall and the end of her tail struck a sharp rock at the bottom. She ached and blood trailed through the water behind her, eddying in the current; but she kept strong to her course, never wavering in her determination to find the river witch.
It was morning when she reached the witch’s home in the shallows. It was marked with the bleached bones of forest creatures: the skull of a fawn, the spine of a fox, the femurs of an elk. They littered the ground under tall red trees that stretched to the sky. Green moss clung to bark and pale flowers grew around roots. Ava marveled that the one corner of the forest that was not burned could still house so much death within it.
The river grew narrower here, squeezing her in its grip. And when it widened, she found herself face to face with the river witch.
Perhaps she was a mermaid like Ava once upon a time, but now her tail had split into three, each one dull and mottled with gray. Her chest was covered with scars of burned flesh that had failed to heal, instead growing over itself in the attempt. Her hair was long and stringy, like mud-coated weeds that flopped over her shoulders whichever way they pleased.
“What brings such a pretty thing to my shallows tonight?” The witch purred.
Ava searched for her voice. Finding it with her courage, she said, “I’m in love with a boy.”
“Love, you say?” Her grin curved upward, cloaked in red and carved into her face like a canyon. Ava shuddered, remembering the rumor of where that red coloring came from.
“Yes, and I’ve come to find a way for us to be together.” Ava said it plainly, not wanting to waste any time before her journey back. Ava told the witch everything. The loneliness of the lake, the boy who came day in and day out to watch her from afar. Her dreams of kissing him and how it came true. “But now he is going and it must end, unless I find a way for us to be together.”
“There’s always a way, if you’re willing,” the witch crooned in response. “What will you give me?”
“Oh anything, I’d give anything,” Ava cried.
“Very well.” The witch said before making her way to the edge of the river. She crawled from it, her three tails acting as a strange set of legs while she moved to the hollow part of a large tree, long dead from rot. She reached inside and a horde of beetles fled from her touch, crawling quickly across the forest floor and up the branches of another tree. One was too slow, and she picked it up between her thumb and forefinger, long nails clacking together before she popped it in her mouth and crunched down with a sigh.
When she turned back toward Ava, she held a small thing made of glass. Inside was a red liquid. “Does he love you back?”
“I think so.” Ava thought of all the times in her fantasies that he had told her he did.
“If you drink it now and kiss him before the sun sets, he will be unable to part from you and will stay with you at the lake forever.”
The gray scales of her fins hissed against leaves as she made her way back toward the water. Sliding herself down into the shallows, she handed the vial to Ava, who took it without hesitation.
“What price must I pay?” Ava uncorked it and peered into it, sniffing slightly to see what it might be made of. It smelled of blood and berries and rotting leaves, which made her stomach turn.
“When your lover dies, you will return here. Bring me his corpse so that I may use you both to replenish my potions.”
“How will it make him stay?”
The witch smiled, and Ava thought it a cruel thing. “He will know your fantasies. Everything you have dreamed about him will become his dreams. He will see what you want and what you have done to be with him. There will be no life for him outside of you.”
Ava nodded. No life beyond each other sounded like love, and she wanted love. So she tilted the vial back into her mouth. The liquid stung her throat and she resisted the urge to gag. When it settled in her stomach, she could feel herself changing. Not in any tangible way, but her insides grew stronger and she knew that she would be loved forever.
Ava didn’t care about the journey back, the long hours she spent swimming against the current, or having to haul herself with her forearms over the waterfall—which looked much larger from the bottom than it had from the top. She just swam. She fueled her body with the hope that wound its way around her heart. Hope that she’d no longer be alone.
When she got back to her lake, it almost felt as if the fire had never happened. The trees were still burned, the shore still abandoned, the solitary turtle still swimming along the opposite bank. But it didn’t feel so lonely as it had a day ago, because she knew that when the boy arrived to say goodbye, he would never leave. They would be happy and together for the rest of their lives. And when their lives ended, they would be made into a potion, bound together even in death.
Her heart melted when she saw him. The sun was low in the sky, illuminating his hollow cheeks and unkempt hair that said he hadn’t slept. Even so, he was the most handsome boy in the whole world, and he was all hers. She swam to the edge and saw water in his eyes. When she was close, he knelt in the shallows and she touched the liquid.
“What is this for?” She asked him quietly. She’d never experienced water in her eyes, because her whole life was water.
“I’m crying. Do you not know what crying is?”
“No, what does it mean?”
“It means I’m sad, because I have to leave you,” the boy said. Ava understood what tears were then. They were what she felt every day, turned to liquid. The ache and the loneliness that never went away. Maybe it never went away because Ava had no tears to shed. She wished suddenly and fiercely that she could cry and she knew that, if he left her, she would be consumed from the inside with all the sadness she could not shed.
“Don’t cry, you don’t have to leave.”
“I do. My father needs me,” the boy said firmly.
“Just kiss me and we’ll never be apart.” Ava said, grabbing his hand.
The boy nodded in understanding. “Of course, we’ll carry each other in our hearts always.”
That is not what Ava meant, but she didn’t say it. Instead, she grabbed the boy and pulled him toward the center of the lake. Legs and tail tangled again and he kissed her deeply, with tears still wetting his cheeks and mixing with the water in the lake. When their kiss broke, Ava watched his face carefully, waiting to see the changes the witch had spoken of. She searched for a sign that he would be with her forever.
The sun glittered in the river of his tears, but as they dried, he looked at her as if he were seeing her for the first time. Realization dawned slowly and then his face morphed into a look of horror. “You poisoned me?”
Ava was confused. “No, no. I set us free.”
“I see it, everything you think about me, everything you’ve done to me.” Suddenly, Ava remembered what the witch said. That the boy would know all her fantasies, all her thoughts, and he now saw what she did for them to be together.
“I got a potion from the river witch so that we could be together forever.”
“You didn’t even ask me if I could. My father needs me, he’ll wonder why I’m not home when it’s time to leave.”
The boy turned toward the shore, meaning to swim back, but Ava grabbed his arm to stop him. “Please don’t leave me here. I’ve been alone so long.”
“I have to go.”
“But you can’t, the witch said you have to stay forever.”
“I’ll find a way.” He pulled his arm from her grasp and swam through the lake with quick strokes. Ava watched him go. The charred woods loomed beyond the shore and she knew he would soon disappear through the trees. The flames of loneliness licked at her heart, burning brighter than real fire and threatening to turn her to ash.
But Ava did not promise her life to the witch just to be left here to face the consequences alone. She sliced through the water after him, the scales of her tail glittering in the dusk as it propelled her forward. When she reached him, she took him in her arms and held him close. “We love each other,” she whispered to him, “and so you have to stay.”
He struggled hard, but she was stronger. She pulled him back toward the spot where they first kissed. If she could recreate that moment for them, remind him of how happy they’d been, then he would have no choice but to stay.
By the time they reached the center of the lake, his body had gone still. He had finally seen reason and knew that they were destined to be together forever.
She adjusted her grip to kiss him, but she was met with blank eyes. She put her fingers over his mouth, and no breath came. When she shook him, he simply moved with her and then slumped against her chest.
Ava put her hands on each side of his face and kissed him, hoping that it would bring him back to her. But instead, his eyes began to weep in death. Not tears. A translucent red liquid poured forth from his sightless eyes.
She cried out, her heart shattering. The smell of the potion—rot and berries and blood—overwhelmed her and she knew at that moment that what she thought was love was what had killed him.
Something poured from her own eyes and she put her fingers to her cheeks. She was confused because mermaids don’t cry, but her fingers came away covered with red. She let go of the boy and he drifted in the water beside her. The darkness seemed to crowd around them until the only things she could see were the lifeless body of the boy she loved and the same potion the witch had given to her, now pouring from her eyes onto her hands.
Ava ducked under the water, but the red just swirled around her face.
There was nothing to be done. The witch had said that when the boy died they both must return to her, to replenish the potion Ava drank. But it was unfair that it would happen so soon. Had the witch tricked her or was it Ava’s fault for trying to force him to stay? Maybe if she had let him leave, the potion would have worked to keep him at the lake.
Ava would never know, but she would still have to pay the price for what she’d done.
She would never again see the lake, with the clouds reflected on its smooth surface. She would never again kiss the boy, with his soft lips now open in death. She pulled him close and began her journey to the witch’s shallows for the second, and final, time.
She swam steadily down the river, but this time there were no animals watching her from the banks. The red streaming from their eyes painted the surface behind them, made rosier by the early morning sun that drifted through the trees. The charred trunks crowded in on both banks, mocking her with the way their branches embraced each other like she would never again embrace the boy.
She grabbed him tighter, red pouring from her eyes and into his hair, and wished they could go back to the moment when he cried real tears on the shore.
If she could go back, she would let him leave and she would hold his tears forever, for her own sorrow at her loneliness would be nothing compared to the poisoned tears that now dripped down her face.
When Ava arrived, dragging the boy’s body behind her, the witch was sitting at the edge of the shallows. “Back so soon?”
“What is happening to me?” Ava lifted trembling hands to touch her face, smearing the red that coated her skin.
The witch moved toward her leisurely. When she was close enough, she swiped a finger across Ava’s cheek and used the liquid to paint her lips red. Then she handed her two glass vials and said, “Collect every drop in these.”
Ava propped the boy’s body on the riverbank and held a glass vial to his cheek, pressing the other to the space below her own eye. The red liquid swirled in the vials and the witch handed her another every time one of them filled.
The boy ended first, his body wasted away to bones as Ava collected the final drops of his life. Still, her own did not stop. It might have gone on this way for days, or it might have been forever, but eventually Ava felt herself run dry. When the witch eased the final vial from her hand, Ava realized that her fingers had shriveled to bones. With the last of her life, she threw her arms around the boy and wished for a time when she only loved him from afar.
Years passed and the forest around the mountain lake regrew. Humans returned to splash in its shallows and peer into its depths in search of the merfolk that were once rumored to dwell there. But they never saw any for, beyond the new-grown trees, in a part of the forest untouched by flames, sat the bones of the lake’s final mermaid, arms wrapped around a boy, bound even in death by loneliness and a single poison kiss.
About the Author
Kat Korpi writes stories about complicated girls who are learning to navigate power, love, and loneliness. She lives in Los Angeles with her best friend and a deep desire for both a dog and a back yard. When she isn’t writing, she’s creating pitch decks that help production companies sell their tv shows. She can be found on twitter and instagram @katkorpi or at her website katkorpi.com.