Havok Publishing

Sea Claim

By Beka Gremikova

Galia stared down at the cold waves tickling her bare toes and clutched Odessi’s hand. They stood alone on the beach, waiting. Finally, after fifteen years, the Change approached—they would trade their human legs and lives for tails and near-immortality.

Lightning crackled through the dark-blue sky. The fine hairs on Galia’s arms rose. The sea stretched, roiling and huge, a beast about to swallow her whole.

She backed up a step.

“What are you doing? Don’t hesitate!” Odessi’s eyes never left the water, but her fingers tightened around Galia’s. “The sea demands our loyalty.”

Galia’s stomach clenched. “I don’t know if I can leave,” she whispered. The waves hissed and snarled, unreachable with gentle words and a soothing tone. At least with her patero, she could cajole him into better moods.

At least Patero’s evil was one she understood.

Odessi turned to stare at Galia, her piercing gaze so opposite her soft, fiery hair. “You have to!” Odessi’s grip tightened, shooting pain up Galia’s arm. “We’re their sea bastards. This is how it’s always been. Sailors always toss us back into the sea.”

“But the sea was the one that left us,” Galia pointed out. They’d both been left ashore by mermaid mothers, abandoned into the care of fathers that hated them for ruining their carefree lives.

“Not forever.” Odessi tossed her hair and stepped into the hissing water, her cerulean gown floating around her knees. “It might never love us, Galia, but at least…” Her voice broke. “At least the sea will always claim its own.” At that, the waves tugged Odessi deeper. Her dress melded into shimmering, silver-blue fins, and she dove.

Galia skittered out of reach of the tugging waves. Her home might not be safe, but it was familiar. She hurried away from the beach, through the twisting streets, until she arrived at their ramshackle hovel. She pressed her ear to the door, listening for movement within.

Nothing stirred.

And then, behind her, footsteps echoed and… whistling. Her fingers knotted into her dress.

The footsteps stopped behind her, and the whistling died away.

Silence pummeled her back.

“Why aren’t ye at the water with the other bastard?” His voice was low, slightly slurred by drink. “Fifteen years was punishment enough. Just like a mermaid—enjoy all the fun and leave all the work to the man.”

“Please, Patero, don’t say—”

“Don’t tell me my own business!” he snarled. He leaned against the wall, his fingers clenching. “I set sail tomorrow. Ye’ll get yerself Changed tonight, bastard, or I’ll toss ye into the sea meself before I leave!” He surged past her into the house, stomping up the narrow, rickety stairs. A few moments later, Galia heard choke-like heaving.

Panic shot through her. She ran from the house, back to the ocean, plunging into the navy-dark waves. “Please.” Her voice choked. “Please claim me!”

The waves pushed her back, ramming her like a barrage of fists. She collapsed onto the beach, gasping for breath. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’m sorry I hesitated! But I need you to accept me, or Patero…” Her throat closed, her fingers outstretched to the blue-speckled foam.

But the sea only burbled, hissed, and receded.

Galia clung to the rigging of the ship, tears sticky on her cheeks. After that awful night six months ago, she’d cajoled Patero, once he was sober, from acting too rashly. He’d agreed to let her come to sea—on the condition that by the voyage’s end, she was either Changed or tossed overboard.

Now, after sailing for months, Patero’s mood was worsening the longer she lingered. Up here, her lithe quickness kept her out of reach of his threats—but she’d had a few near-misses. She was running out of time.

Below, she could hear Patero shouting at his men as they aimed desperately for shore. All morning the sky had slowly darkened, the clouds roiling with flashes of lightning as the storm built like an argument waiting to erupt.

Her fingers clenched tighter around the ropes. She leaned out over the sea, straining for some note of its voice, some indication it’d forgiven her hesitancy. The waves moaned, scratching against the ship’s hull. Prickles rose along her skin.

And then the storm burst.

Rain pelted Galia’s cheeks. Waves lashed, tossing the ship and nearly slinging Galia from the rigging. She scrambled down to the deck and gripped the railing as the sea swept the ship further from shore.

Lightning crackled and thunder boomed across the blue-black water. The sea, roiling and huge, a beast about to swallow her whole.

The fine hairs on her arms rose as a small, fragile hope stirred within her.

Maybe this time she could appease the beast.

She squeezed her eyes shut and focused on offering her voice and soul to the waves. “The sea will always claim its own!”  The ship keeled, pressing her against the railing. Behind her, the men shrieked at one another as they fought the storm. Galia scrabbled for purchase against the wet deck, sliding closer to the sea, fear and anticipation tangling in her heart—

Then she slipped between the railings and plunged beneath the waves.

As she sank into the depths, stillness washed over her. This had to be it. The sea was calling its child home… It would save her. Her gaze fell to her heavy, soggy clothes, waiting for them to meld to her skin and burst into blue gossamer fins. Her lungs started aching.

Then, through streaming bubbles, she saw them.

The mermaids watched her, unmoving, silent. Odessi floated amongst them, her red hair shimmering. Her lips parted, and a cruel, ancient voice echoed in Galia’s head. The sea demands complete loyalty, without hesitation. But it will always claim its own—whether to live or to die.

The waters wrapped around her, unyielding, merciless, flooding her throat.

She sank, and the sea filled her, claiming its own at last.

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Beka Gremikova writes and dreams from the Ottawa Valley, Ontario, Canada. An avid explorer of folklore and myth, she loves twisting both well-known and little-known fairytales. Her writing has been included in Bingeworthy, A Kind of Death from Uncommon Universes Press and the Faces to the Sun collection edited by S.J. Blasko. When she’s not travelling, writing, drawing, or watching anime, she can be found curled up in a corner with a mystery novel.

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