OF THE BLOOD
“Are you sure he wasn’t in a bar?” Mr. Tuttle asked. “What exactly did Brody say when you called?”
“Not much,” Alice answered. “Just that he was all right, and that he was with friends.”
“That sounds like a bar to me.”
“No,” Alice said. It sounded like the surf.”
“What would Brody be doing at the beach, when he’s supposed to be in the office, working?” Her husband’s boss sounded impatient. “I still think he’s at a bar.”
“I don’t,” was all Alice could say. “I know what the ocean sounds like. I heard gulls.”
“Well you’d better find out where Brody is. And he’d better be at work tomorrow.” The receiver went dead in her ear. She called her husband’s cell phone again, but all she got was voice mail. She kept calling, until finally there was no signal at all.
The nearest surf was Paloma Beach, a hundred miles away. But Alice didn’t know what else to do. She drove to Paloma Beach.
Once there she had no idea where to look. Walking every foot of the shoreline was impossible, and she couldn’t drive her Subaru down the sand. There were dune buggies for rent, but the prices were ridiculous. The gas to get here had already cost a fortune. This was turning out to be a very expensive trip. But Alice didn’t know what else to do. She rented a dune buggy.
Alice drove the length of the beach, past shrieking children, sunbathers, people building sand castles. Some waded in the surf, and some gathered shells. But none of them was Brody. People swam, jet-skied, played volleyball—but where was her husband?
She found him—or what was left of him—in a secluded part of the beach, behind a dune. There was an arm, head, and torso with chunks bitten out of it. Alice screamed and screamed and was suddenly surrounded by a crowd of people who’d been nowhere in sight ten seconds before, though most of them turned away as soon as they saw the reason for her screams. “I’m calling 911,” a voice said. Then a jeep with two security staff and a lifeguard came rolling up.
They got out of the vehicle and approached Alice. The lifeguard put his hands on her shoulders and shook them slightly. “Ma’am,” I want you to take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Alice had collected herself enough by this time to obey. “Good. Now do it again. All you people get back!” he warned. Then he spoke to Alice again. “Just try to calm down. Did you see what happened here?”
“No I didn’t,” Alice sobbed. “But that’s my husband. He’s been missing since early this morning. I don’t know what happened to him.”
“Most likely a shark attack. They—”
“No it wasn’t.” An elderly man stepped out of the crowd.
“Sir, I’ll have to ask you to get back.”
Ignoring him, the man said “There aren’t sharks in these waters; never a single sighting of one.”
“Then what was it?” Alice demanded.
He looked out at the ocean. “They’re after blood again.”
The security guards flanked him. “Darnell, you need to leave this lady alone. She doesn’t need to hear your wild stories now.”
“I might,” Alice said. Her husband was dead, in a horrible way. He hadn’t even said good bye to her. She had no idea why he’d come here in the first place, and she didn’t know what to do. So she decided she’d better talk to Darnell.
“Ma’am,” the lifeguard said, “you don’t want to do that. “Darnell is delusional. He’s got some crazy notions about—”
“Never mind,” Alice said. “I need to hear what he has to say.”
The old man walked away and sat down on a rock. Alice followed him. “What do you know?” she asked.
He looked out over the ocean. “Mermaids are out there,” he said, almost to himself. “But not the kind you think of. Mer-creatures, yes. But lovely maidens, no. They may have a pleasing shape, but they’re monsters. When the moon reaches its zenith, they want sacrifices.”
“But why Brody? Why not someone closer?”
“Space doesn’t matter to them. They can toll someone from thousands of miles away.”
“I don’t understand. What reason would they have to do this terrible thing?”
Darnell sighed, looked out at the ocean again. “You know all life came from the water. The one-celled amoeba. More complex organisms. As the oceans receded, life forms found land. Plants first. Then animals. But human intelligence stayed in the water for a long time—until bipeds began to walk on the shore. The mer-creatures who stayed were very resentful of those who left. They considered that their home—what they considered the cradle of life—had been insulted. For a long time there was bitter war between the land dwellers and the water dwellers. But the bipeds could walk away, and the mer-creatures retreated further back into the sea. There was an uneasy truce.”
The old man scanned the ocean once more, as if looking for something he didn’t want to see. Then he continued. “Every seven years, when the full moon rides high, there seems to be an upsurge of anger among the sea dwellers, a thirst for revenge.”
Alice heard a siren and saw the ambulance stop. A hand fell on her shoulder. “Ma’am, you need to come with us now.”
She shook the hand off. “I will not!”
The hand grasped her arm, more firmly this time. “You’re suffering from shock. We’re going to have to—” Alice whirled around, wild eyed, hissing. Then she felt the sting of a needle. A wave of dizziness rolled over her.
Through it she asked “But my husband was just an ordinary man—why would they call him?”
“Darnell shook his head. “Not so ordinary, perhaps. Most of the land people mated far and wide. So much variety thinned the blood. But some stayed together and bred true, and the line stayed strong. Enough to heed the call of those who stayed in the water. Tell me, do your husband’s mother and father look alike?”
Alice recalled her in laws through a haze. Both plump; both rosy—yes they looked enough alike to be brother and sister.” “I guess they do,” she said.
“What about his grandparents?” That was harder to remember. They were darker, thinner—but the eyes were the same, the features…the thick, blond hair… She nodded.
“Some of them came to him in a dream,” Darnell mused. “Enthralled him. The next day he had no choice but to follow them here. At first they would have pretended to be his friends…enticed him farther and farther into the water…and then…”
As the gray closed in on her, Alice realized she and Brody had the same aquiline noses, the same green eyes. “My husband and I have always looked alike,” she said, struggling to get the words out. “I must be of the blood too. Will they call me?”
“No. For some reason they only want men. Like me.” Darnell stood up, gave Alice a half salute and walked into the ocean. She never knew what happened to him after that.
Just before she lost consciousness, Alice felt the surge of the sea in her blood…