Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Mermaid House: Part Seventeen

GLASS WALLS SLICED ACROSS the night sky. Metal girders evolved from the moonlight. An elegant interior of pools, potted trees, and chandeliers enfolded Leander. Statues ghosted from the air. He stood ankle-deep in a shallow pool, with a ceiling of glass arching above him and the stars glimmering down through it. He heard violins echoing in the distance, along with laughter and joyful shouts. The chandeliers burst into light, each one resembling a crystal octopus.
    The pool furthest away began to shine as if a star was being born within it.
    He was tired of running, tired of being scared. Exhaustion and grief made everything seem dream-like and he swayed where he stood, said hoarsely, "Where is Violet?"
    She rose from the water, the black-eyed thing posing as a girl in a white, wet gown. She stood on the water and smiled and the illusion of the elegant bathhouse flickered like stuttering electricity. When it went dark for seconds, it became a moonlit ruin again, and she...she became something like a tangle of bones and gauze, glistening crabs and fluttering anemones. He was almost sick.  He quickly averted his gaze.
    "Boy." The black-eyed girl walked toward him, through the water. "You should not have kissed her."
    He couldn't speak. Terror was fracturing his courage. But he had come too far. "Just let her go...why do you need her?"
    Her eyes were ink-black. Like the bathhouse, she seemed to flicker in and out of  reality...a beautiful girl one moment, a hollow-eyed horror of writhing white and black the next. She tilted her head. "Do you want to bargain?"
    Instinct shrieked at him to run, to deny her offer. He thought of Violet huddled beside him, remembered how she had stared at the blood on her hand. She had had a family once. She had done something, something that had gotten the attention of the nightmare before him, and her life had ended. He swallowed, whispered, "You can have me in exchange."
    "And why," She stood before him now, smiling, "would I want you?"
    "Because I'm new." He understood what he was offering. He didn't care. The world was full of pain and loss, but maybe Violet could appreciate it more than he did.
    "And lovely." She raised one hand -- he thought he saw translucent bits of skin between her fingers -- and touched his face. He braced against a shudder.
    He felt something coil around his ankles --
    -- the jolt of being yanked beneath the water was so unexpected, he inhaled and began to choke. Darkness swept his vision as he was dragged further downward.

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