I Swim Up From Below by Sarah Gailey, found in this month’s Mermaids Magazine, is a short story that very much highlights why perspective is so important. The perspective of a child who listened to too many sweet tales of how kind mermaids are and how helpful. Versus who mermaids genuinely are.
The protagonist of this story is an unnamed mermaid scenting large fat drops of blood in the water.
“Blood was falling out of the boy as fast as the ocean could drink it in. That’s why I came and I won’t pretend otherwise. I smelled it in the water, blood thick as a ribbon of kelp, blood reaching out like a tentacle to grab me by the teeth and pull me close.”
The scent was intoxicating. The way Sarah wrote this passage reminded me of a cartoon Garfield. The scenario usually goes a delicious bit of food comes out of the oven. It is just Lasagna. But the scent, having a mind of its own, wafts its way through the house, through the window, and down into the yard. There, an innocent house cat is basking in the sun, unsuspecting of the assault on his senses that is about to happen. The scent arrows for said cat’s two nostrils and fills them with a promise of gooey cheese and spicy sauce. Lasagna is this cat’s favorite thing.
The cat, now awoken, and having all good sense thrown out of the window, is on a hunt to find the source of the smell. Hijinx are usually inbound for the viewer because that scent needs to be satisfied. There is no other option but to feast, but the cat will be in trouble and feel bad afterward.
Except, for Sarah’s story, instead of Lasagna, it is a bleeding child hanging off a broken piece of metal. Instead of a cat, it is a hungry mermaid. Instead of apologetic sadness after the mermaid finally gets the child, it is with glee, happiness, and not the slightest bit of chagrin.
I like Sarah’s way of describing mermaids much better than Disney. Mermaids are terrors of the sea feasting on sailors that have fallen to their deaths in a watery grave, not singing about teenage love and giving up parts of themselves to a sea witch. Their mouths are filled with teeth that shred and tear into fish, not blunted incisors. Those are too dainty to tear into much of anything. I bet you could tell whom I was rooting for in this story.
“I came to eat the boy and that’s just how it is. I know I promised I wouldn’t anymore. But that was a promise I made when there wasn’t the sharp sweet yank of blood tugging at me with the relentlessness of a powerful current. When I made the promise I whined about how I was hungry, but that wasn’t the whole of it, that wasn’t the true shape of why I needed to do the things that led to me needing to make the promise.”
But the mermaid made a promise to her people that she would not be eating any humans anymore. But what is a little broken promise if no one sees the breaking of it? Mermaids need to eat, and he is such a little stringy human. Who’s going to know? Hijinx does not ensue, as Sarah’s writing is much too classy for this idea. But I love the predatory thoughts filling the mermaid’s head as she attempts to get her “lasagna.”
“He spoke again. “How can I ever thank you?”
Come on down into the water, I thought.”
I Swim Up From Below by Sarah Gailey is a delectable morsel of a story, and I devoured it in one sitting. You should check it out here.