The Creature in the Thicket

She blinks away frantic winged water boatmen. Their dead, waterlogged bodies litter the surface like jewels.

A silver mermaid, submerged in dark water, faces an enchanted clearing among trees and weeds.

Content warning: violence and blood


She swims in long, slow strokes, pondweed trailing down her back. Cicadas hum a pulsing refrain on the riverbank. The sun shivers down and she is beautiful beneath the water; her body delicate and pale. 

Hidden in the brush of spiderwebbed branches, beneath noisy insects is the sound of mud-sucking. Footprints in the ground like breadcrumbs. Two blackened eyes shine out from the undergrowth and he searches for an opening in the reeds. Mud matted fur clings to his belly and cools the heat rolling off his skin.

She blinks away frantic winged water boatmen. Their dead, waterlogged bodies litter the surface like jewels. The afternoon comes thick, warm and golden. Sleepy, she rolls her breast to the surface and hangs for a moment, weightless. Then, she dips down backwards, stretching towards the silt bottom. 

He’s waited too long and the sunlight is strong now. Too heady. Maybe he’ll leave. But there is hunger in his belly. He sweats in the mud, lacy roots run beneath his feet and he is mad to scratch. But quietly, quietly. He sees her emerge from the water.

With breath almost ran out she springs from the lakebed. Cool muck chases her, and tiny bubbles stream as she rises to the surface. Tiredly, she climbs up the bank, up through tree limbs into the shallows. 

He is so close now. Just a bound away through the rotting leaves and deadened roots to where she bathes. Birds cry in their nests above, flapping noisily and she glances up at them, curious. He licks his lips, tasting downwind pollen.

His head throbs as he draws closer. Can she smell him? He breathes deep and it catches in his throat, muffling like cotton wool.

She picks delicately through spindly grasses, their seeds clinging. The golden haze of afternoon bathes her body and she breathes in its heat, breast heaving. Tired, she closes her eyes, falling asleep in the thicket. The birds hush, watching as he steals toward her.

She won’t see him coming. Not daring to breathe, he towers over her sleeping form. Then, blinking sweat, he loads in the bullets and raises the barrel of his long shining weapon. His lips pull back into a grin around a limp cigarette, as he takes aim.

She opens an eye. And he gasps a single breath. Rows of teeth glint in her long jaws and her mouth snaps out, clamping on his leg. Her jaw whips back and the limb is half torn from his body. Blood runs in rivulets down her pearly scales and the thicket is damp with spray. He collapses to the ground, his jacket of animal pelts soaked red. Her mouth finds his leg again and it tears away. Then grabbing what’s left of him, she rolls him into the water, his screams bubbling away beneath the surface. The water stills, and cicada chorus fills the silence.

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