“Melusine,” by Sarah Diemer
Melusine bears an ancestral curse–when water touches her, she becomes a monster that no one must ever see…but when Mel risks everything to rescue a girl from drowning, the family’s dark secret changes her forever.
(photo by Tess Aquarium)(Part of Project Unicorn: A Lesbian YA Extravaganza, updated twice weekly on Mondays and Fridays with a free, original, never-before-published YA short story featuring a lesbian heroine. Also, every story is a work of genre fiction [Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Post-apocalyptic, etc.].)
by Sarah Diemer
It’s the oldest thing I know: don’t go into the water if someone is watching.
It’ll ruin everything.
It makes me sick with fear, the pricking of it at the back of my throat at school. Mom spoke with the principal: “Mel can never go swimming.” There were doctor’s notes, and they didn’t fully convince him, but then Mom…did something. And he agreed with a glassy look, smiling at me, head to the side like an agreeable dog.
I go home every day, comb out my colorful mohawk, tape the curtains closed, flush to the wall. I stuff a towel under the door, making certain every crack is sealed. Then and only then, I take off my clothes and step into the shower.
The water hits me like a kiss, hot and soothing and soft, and I raise my head back, let it pelt my neck, my chest, my skin…
I press my palms to the glass door, wipe the water off my face, let the stream of it propel over my back as I stare down at the coiled green beneath me, the gigantic feathered wings that press around me and the enclosed walls.
I breathe out, and for a perfect moment, I’m not a fucked-up freak.
“The omens,” says my mother, like a piece of deranged clockwork. “The omens have been especially bad this week.” She’s sitting on my bed, tapping her nails against my algebra book. “You must be doubly careful.”
“Yeah,” I grunt at her. Like I’m not all the time. I move my algebra book out of her reach and prop it open on the desk.
“Mel,” she says, and the word grows quiet between us. It’s not her fault. None of this is her fault. A family curse. Genetics. Mom didn’t make this happen to us, but I get so angry, just the same. Like I’m stupid, like I don’t know that someone seeing me…like that…could ruin everything forever.
I stay silent until she leaves the room, and then I lean over, press my cheek against the cool page of the textbook.
The next day at school, I duck out after first period. What’s the point? My blood’s hot, angry, my breath coming out in excited puffs. I grab my bike, peddle until my legs scream in protest. I wander all the way down to the beach, the shushing sand, the dangerous waters.
I ditch my bike in its practiced place behind the scrub brush, dig my hands deep in my pockets as I make my way down the dunes. The hiss of the water on the sand almost sounds like music, and the gulls overhead punctuate the rhythm with chaos. There’s a french fry wrapper on a bank of seashells that they’re harassing each other over. I watch, let my eyes unfocus until the gulls are a mass of gray and white and nothing more.
A strange pricking on the back of my neck makes me stand a little straighter, makes me blink. Something’s wrong. I shiver, though it’s not cold, and I’m peering at the ocean waves as if they can answer an unasked question.
And they do. Because out on the sea there’s a splash of purple. I stare at it, heart pounding, and then I’m racing across the sand, not even thinking. It’s a jacket. Brown hands. Black hair. Flailing.
There’s no one else on the beach. I stand perched at the edge of the water, in agony.
Don’t go into the water.
Every memory I’ve ever had, every promise I’ve ever made comes pounding back, like the rush of water.
Don’t go into the water.
God. I put my hands to my forehead, rip off my jacket, kick off my sneakers, and I’m in the short waves, peeling off my pants, moving as the salt water licks me.
I’m in the waves, swimming toward the girl.
My wings propel me, my serpent’s coil slicing through the blue like it was born to do. I take a deep breath, and then I’m beneath the surface, where the girl is now. It’s so quiet here, the pounding of the waves muted as I hook my hands beneath her armpits, moving as if through sand or smoke, so slow, too slow. I drag her up, gulping in the air as we break through, and then I’m angling back toward the shore, holding her head up and out.
When I toss her onto the sand, flop her over onto her back, terror grips me, closing my throat. She’s blue. I press against her stomach, and then I press harder, against her stomach, her chest, and then her eyes are open, somehow, she’s rolling over onto her side, coughing and spitting. I slump back, the serpent’s tail twitching in agitation, my wings drooping on the ground.
She doesn’t see me yet. Still spitting up water, she slumps to the side, breathing in and out a ragged gasp that makes my lungs hurt to listen.
“Thank you,” is what she’s whispering, over and over again. “Thank you.”
I’m crying. Hot tears coursing down my cheeks as I push my hair out of my eyes, try to make myself smaller. Less.
It’s over. The damage is done. She saw what I am, what the water makes of me. I stand balanced as my wings shake out, the salt dripping from my eyes, my feathers, my scales. I can feel the creaking wheels of fate turn, the curse growing and deepening and becoming.
She looks up at me before she loses consciousness. Her eyes grow wide as she sees me, truly sees me, but she reaches out, and then she’s smiling.
“Angel,” is the one word she whispers to me. She crumples to the sand.
She’ll live. I bend down, brush my lips over hers, back up into the waves.
My mother stands at the edge of the dunes, serpent tailed, wings outstretched, waiting.
Hand in hand, we come together. Cursed, wave-held, we sink below the surface where the curse compels us.
She does not blame me. I don’t blame her.
But someday, I’m coming back.
If you enjoyed “Melusine,” you can now enjoy the entire month of “The Monstrous Sea” Project Unicorn stories on your eReader, and support the project at the same time!
Sarah Diemer is an award-winning author of lesbian young adult (YA), speculative fiction. Her debut novel, The Dark Wife, the YA, lesbian retelling of the Persephone myth won the 2012 Golden Crown Literary Award for Speculative Fiction, and was nominated for a Parsec Award (first two chapters of the audiobook). She writes her lesbian adult fiction under the pen name Elora Bishop, including the Sappho’s Fables: Lesbian Fairy Tales series, which she co-writes with her wife, author Jennifer Diemer.
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