Forbidden Beach – a fairy tale inspired short story
by Dorlana Vann
I knew what lurked beyond the trees even before I opened the car door: the forbidden, barricaded beach. Even though I lived only a few miles away, I had never stood so close. Leaning against the car, the wind ruffled my hair as nerves tangled my insides.
“Aren’t you coming, Junior?” Pearl, my date, stood in the moonlight, hands on her hips, legs apart, making a perfect triangle with her skirt.
I shrugged my shoulders. “We’re not supposed to be here.”
“There’s no law against it.”
“Let’s go, you two love birds,” Clay said, shining his flashlight on us for a second before moving on.
“Don’t be scared,” Pearl said. “Just don’t step in the water, and you’ll be fine.”
I shoved my shaky hands into my pants pockets. “I’m not scared!” It wasn’t that I needed to impress Pearl. I had only agreed to go out with her because no one else had said yes, but I didn’t want a mammoth, cowardly act stamped on my already unimpressive rep. “I just don’t believe it, that’s all. Have you ever seen it happen?”
“No, but my cousin, Fern, said he did. After a dare, one of his friends ran into the water and changed right before Fern’s eyes, and then the sea took him. No one ever saw him again.”
This reminded me of all the times my mother had warned me to stay away from the beach, to stay away from the wild Merfolk. “They took your father. Shameful, cannibalistic creatures, behaving like animals in that dirty ocean. Immoral and naked. Catching fish with their mouths. It’s shameful. They took your father you know…”
“Let’s go.” Pearl grabbed my hand, and I allowed her to lead me through the trees. The same salty air I had breathed my entire life now burst with intensity.
After we had caught up with Clay and Iona, we helped each other over the concrete barrier and down into the sand. I heard the soft roar of the dark waves; its movement was the only factor separating it from the color of the sky.
I vaguely heard the others talking behind me before Clay shouted, “No hard feelings, Junior. We just want to see if it’s true.”
The kids laughed, and then suddenly I felt their hands on my back, pushing me the short distance toward the sea.
“Don’t! Don’t!” I pleaded, my feet sinking into the wet, gushy sand. I tried to get away, but I already felt the droplets of ocean spraying my face.
And then they gave one hard, final shove.
A wave pulled me with it, soaking my pants up to my waist. Fear pushed my voice to a scream. I screamed for help, screamed for the ocean to let go!
“Oh crap,” Pearl said. “Maybe we should get out of here.”
The waves were relentless, pushing and pulling. Before long, I was under the water. I fought and cried, taking in mouthfuls of salt and sea, until finally, I made it back to dry sand.
Sunken tracks, where the kids had run away instead of helping me, came into focus.
Tears and saltwater stung my eyes as I remembered the pictures of the hideous beasts that I had been shown since grade school.
Standing up, I examined my legs and put my hands out in front of me, waiting for it to happen. The change. When I touched my mouth, my teeth felt normal, not long and pointed like a monster’s.
Relieved and unchanged, except for my belief that I would never be accepted by kids my age, I started to walk toward the road.
A new sound in the darkness stopped me. I thought maybe the kids didn’t leave me after all but were hiding, waiting to watch me turn into a sea creature.
“I know you guys are there,” I said meekly, becoming increasingly concerned with the alien surroundings. I fought the urge to run. I would not let them win. And then a different, even stronger thought intruded; since I proved the myth untrue, I’ll be like a hero. No one would have to be afraid of the beach again.
I heard the noise again, and I followed the Nnnn to a pile of drifted sand and tangled weeds. The closer I stepped, the more it sounded like a whimper instead of a snicker.
My mouth fell open and my breathing picked up pace as I questioned what I saw camouflaged in the debris. A woman? Long hair, wildly strewn out behind her, was mixed with the sand and seaweed.
“Hey, are you all right?” When I noticed her bare arms and her bare chest, I swiftly averted my eyes. “Immoral and naked.” My heart quickened because I knew I had to see if she was what I thought she was. Hastily, I scanned her beautiful human-looking face; her eyes were closed. My gaze drifted down to her neck, to her breast, and past her stomach.
Expecting legs, not expecting legs, I stumbled back towards the sea. A fishtail! She had a real fishtail! She was not human.
“Oh! Ohhhh …” I put my hands up to my head. What do I do? She was a Merfolk. The reason everyone was warned to stay away from the beach. Just like the ones we were taught about in school, at home, everywhere.
I thought about how Mother would kill me if she knew I was here. It might not have been against man’s laws to walk the beach, but it sure the hell was against her rules.
But something was wrong with the mermaid. I couldn’t just leave, could I?
As I stood, wondering what to do, I noticed a three-inch gash in-between her two bottom fins that seemed clogged with sand. She was hurt. No, I couldn’t leave.
I ran to the water, cupped it in my hands, and ran back. I did this several times, cleaning the wound as much as possible. I pulled my tie over my head and then wrapped it around her fins, bringing the edges of the cut as close together as possible.
I walked back to the ocean for another handful of water, which I put up to her lips. She gave a quick inhalation, sucking up some of the water.
I was startled back and shot to my feet. Running to the water, I shouted, “Hello? She’s alive, and she needs help!” But only the spirited, nocturnal seagulls soared overhead, their replies loud but unclear.
After walking back and forth a couple of times, I dipped into the water once again and took it to her. The mermaid’s blue eyes fluttered open, but I didn’t flinch that time. I let her drink.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
I nodded, a little surprised to hear her speak my language. “Are you all right?”
“I think I just need something to eat.”
“Well, I can run home and make or bring …”
“If you could just help me to the water, I can take care of that myself. Fishing is my specialty.”
“Oh,” I said, recalling what Mother had said about them catching live fish in their mouths.
“Please come be my guest so I can thank you for your kindness.”
“In there?” I looked behind me at the ocean, allowing myself to realize how much I admired it. “I can’t, my mother … besides, I’m not like you. It wasn’t true, after all. I was in the water, and I didn’t change.”
“The sea takes no one who doesn’t wish to be there. You must desire the change. See?” She waved her hand over her tail. “I didn’t change into Landfolk just because I sit on dry land. I love the sea, and I want to return.” She held my stare as she said, “You must love the land.”
Or am I just scared?
A soft breeze lifted me out of my thoughts, as she lifted her arms to me. I struggled but managed to carry her until the waves splashed up to my shoulders.
“I’ll be here in the morning if you change your mind.” She kissed my cheek before sinking into the ocean and disappearing into the darkness.
“Did you have a good time?” Mother stood in the foyer like she had been waiting there since I left. “I’m glad you finally made an effort.” But as she was talking, her smile slowly distorted into a wide-mouth scream. When she pointed at my feet, my face grew hot. I didn’t have to look down to imagine the golden sand that clung to my pant legs and shoes.
She sat down on the stairs, blocking my escape to my room. In between gasps she said, “How many times have I told you never to go to that beach? It’s dangerous. Shameful, dirty beasts! Filthy-cannibalistic-naked-immoral-ugly creatures—”
“They’re not ugly,” I whispered.
Her face froze with a mix of horror and shock. “What did you say?”
I avoided her eyes. “I met one. I umm, I helped one. Her.”
“Swear to me right now,” she hissed, “you’ll never set foot on that wicked, wicked beach, again.”
At that moment, I realized how disgusted I was by her snobbish attitude. I also knew I would never be able to stay away from the ocean, away from the beauty of the Merfolk. “Why do you hate them? Because they’re different? You know, they’re not so unlike us. They can talk and are free to do what they want.” At that moment, what really happened to my father became so obvious. “He chose the ocean, didn’t he? Father wasn’t taken!”
Tears of which I didn’t know Mother was capable began to seep from her eyes. “I should have moved us to the compound years ago just like the Worleys.” And then softly she sobbed. “But I had to wait.”
“Wait? For what? Father’s not coming back. Why would he? He’s free.”
“Don’t you dare disrespect me, Junior. You’re too young to understand the world. Merfolk are manipulative and horrific.” With wild eyes she looked around. “I have to protect you. Go pack! Now!” She stood up abruptly and pointed up the stairs. “Pack up your stuff. We’re moving in the morning and never coming back.” She screamed, “They can’t have you!”
I made my way up the stairs to pack for the compound. A compound so far inland I heard the air smelled of pine. A compound I could not leave until I was of age.
Early the next morning, I climbed out of my bedroom window and found my way back to the beach. It had lost all darkness and now glistened and pumped silver-blue waves as far as I could see.
“You changed your mind.”
I almost missed the mermaid; her hair blended and moved with the water.
“No, I just wanted to say goodbye. My mother is scared of what she doesn’t understand.”
“But you’re not,” her voice rose over the rumble. “I can see it on your face. My little fish has fallen for the sea.”
“I don’t know.”
She held out her arms to me. “There is only one way to find out. Give yourself fully to the waves.”
I stepped into the water, thinking I would come back later and tell Mother goodbye, but the feeling of belonging already overwhelmed me. I swam above the water, against the waves, towards my new home.
The further I swam the further away the mermaid seemed. I watched the tip of her tail go under. Taking a deep breath, I plunged in after her.
Immediately, I felt different. I was changing! My legs felt as one unified object. But when I gave in to the need to inhale, I choked violently. I coughed and gagged until finally I felt accepted.
My eyes had burned feverishly from the saltwater during the ocean’s initiation; now they could focus on the new surroundings. Brilliant and vivid fish that I never imagined existed swam playfully around me as if they were celebrating my arrival.
To my surprise, a group of Mermen suddenly appeared. My heart thumped wildly. I started scanning their faces, searching for my father. I smiled, and they grinned.
They opened their mouths, exposing daggered teeth. They came closer, surrounding me, licking me with their shameful, filthy, cannibalistic tongues.
Fishing was her specialty.
Forbidden Beach is one of the short stories from my collection Supernatural Fairy Tales. It was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s Thumbelina from Fairy Tales Told for Children (The second booklet) Denmark: 1835.