The mermaid watched the human’s ship go down. People screamed for help. Some people swore. The quiet ones cried.
The mermaid was one with the water. She was one with the waves. If anyone looked her way, they would see just the tangled green of her dreadlocks and assume it was nothing but seaweed. They wouldn’t see her cold, fish-like eyes. They wouldn’t see the iridescent scaling on her cheeks.
She stayed away from the sinking boat. If she came too close, it would only cause problems.
The mermaid wasn’t stupid. She had seen the problems such behavior caused.
Yet, she didn’t swim away.
Not even when the screaming and the swearing and the crying slowly died away. She stayed hidden in her waves and waited for the inevitable silence that would fall.
And it fell.
It always fell.
The humans lay unmoving, unswimming in the water.
The mermaid ducked below the surface and swam towards the stench of human death. Human death always smelled strange to her. It didn’t smell like rotting fish. It didn’t smell like fading seaweed. It smelled horrid and bitter, but she couldn’t think of anything to compare it to. Nothing under the water smelled quite that bad.
The smell grew stronger.
But she kept swimming towards it.
She swam towards it until at last the stench was strong enough to singe her facial scales. She drew water in with her gills before breaking through the surface.
The dead floated all around her.
The mermaid gloated quietly.
There were so many for her to choose from. Maybe she would take them all this time. Maybe she would take one or two for now. Maybe she would slowly come back for the rest.
But the sharks would come.
The sharks always came.
The mermaid had to make her choice and leave.
But which to choose?
She swam around driftwood and debris and intriguing artifacts that had meant something to these humans. They meant nothing to her.
She examined the humans. Their faces. Their expressions. Their hands.
The mermaid removed their shoes.
Their shoes drifted and floated down to the bottom of the ocean.
She let them go.
She had no interest in those things.
A couple of the males had interesting features. She couldn’t tell if their features were good or bad. A human female would be able to tell the difference, but the mermaid was not a human. She had never been a human.
She would never become one. For becoming a human meant forsaking the ocean and that was something she could never do. The ocean was her blood. The ocean was her breath. The ocean was sky, ground, and air all blended together. Swimming was flying. Nothing could ever compare to it. Certainly nothing on the land could be better than it.
She ducked her head below the surface to draw in more water.
That’s when she saw him.
Another male human. Just like the other males.
But he looked right at her with his empty dead eyes. For a moment, she thought he was still alive.
She hesitantly reached for his face.
He didn’t blink.
He didn’t speak.
He didn’t breathe air.
He didn’t breathe water.
He didn’t breathe at all.
She touched his scaleless face.
The strands of his short hair.
Maybe he was handsome.
Maybe he was plain.
Maybe he was doughy and ordinary.
She couldn’t tell.
The mermaid just knew that she had to have him. She took his hand. It was still and unresponsive.
It didn’t matter. She held on to his hand extra tight and led him down to her secret hiding place. It was deep in a cold watered trench where only eels and ghost crabs lived. The rippled surface of the water was miles high and away.
She led him into a natural occurring cave inside the trench. The water smelled like fungus and wet sand, but it was clear and clean.
She led him to the furthest point in the cave, to the grotto at the very end. She glanced around at her collection, trying to decide on where to put him. After all, she couldn’t just stick him anywhere. It had to be the right psychological spot.
She found it.
The mermaid led him over to the young woman with a baby nestled loosely in her arms. She set his feet into the ground and posed his arms just so. She turned his head to look at the woman.
He stared sightlessly at her.
It was perfect.
Just what she was looking for.
“You’re mine.” she told him in the language of seagulls and ocean waves. “You’re mine for keeps.”
She spread her hands on his chest and said the preservation spell to keep him intact.
She gave her collection an admiring look over. Each one carefully posed. Each one carefully chosen.
The mermaid left the winding tunnels of her hiding place.
There would be others.
As long as humans insisted on travelling across the ocean, there would always be others.
And she would add them to her collection. She wasn’t worried about running out of room.
After all, that grotto was only a small sample. There were many other grottos, many other twisting tunnels.
Many other hiding places for her collection that she had gathered over the years.