Rebirth (Writing Challenge)

As I mentioned, writing became incredibly difficult for me. I openly avoided it, until I saw this little gem from Tumblr, reposted on a friend’s Facebook:

mermaid

I love seeing ideas like this because at some point, I make a plan to write them out. It wasn’t until my man took up the challenge that my natural competitive streak with him kicked in and got the ball rolling. I scribbled a quick draft (half a draft really) at work, but when I sat down to type it up, that’s when it came to life.

This is my interpretation of a random idea I saw floating around Facebook.


Rebirth

A short story by Melissa Vazquez

Image via Pixabay
Image via Pixabay

Elaine wasn’t one for dresses and silk, but she almost missed the elegance she wore before. She wore rough, stolen clothes now. Boy’s clothes; the clothes of a sailor. Even her hair was different. Her once long, golden tresses were chopped by hurried hands and skittering scissors, styled like a boy’s and tucked under a cap. This was a new identity made in secret.

Onboard the trade ship Maria Fortuna, Elaine knew that concealing her identity was critical. The captain was old fashioned, highly superstitious, and stubborn. Women weren’t allowed on the Maria Fortuna, even if they were the spouse of a sailor. Some of the more raucous sailors on board agreed, but for different reasons. They said women were good for a screw, but they were far too dainty to do the real work. The few married men who lived and worked on the ship knew about the captain’s beliefs and didn’t dare bring their wife or girlfriend anywhere near the Maria Fortuna. Meanwhile, Elaine disguised herself as a cabin boy, an orphan named John – a perfectly common, forgettable name for someone in perfectly common, forgettable clothing.

The Maria Fortuna was set to sail at sunrise. The ship and the docks were abuzz with activity. The regular crewmen knew their jobs with little to no direction. Those newer were shouted at. Elaine hurried to keep up with the cabin boys she had been pushed with as a man with a scraggly beard barked orders at her. Being of upper class birth, hard labor was a foreign concept for her. Her hands were soft and used to ladylike activities. Still, Elaine kept her head down and did the work she had been ordered to do, despite the blisters and bruises that she felt developing.

It took every ounce of her willpower to not pay much attention to Thomas, once she caught sight of him. Thomas was the whole reason why she was here. First mate of the Maria Fortuna and adopted son of the captain, Thomas had promised Elaine a life they could start together. Their courtship had been torn apart by her strict father who forbade her to marry a man of common breeding and no wealth. With Thomas leaving her homeland, he promised her a better life across the ocean, one they could choose for themselves.

The sight of Thomas eased her mind, if only for a moment. She went back to her duties, convinced that she had made the right decision in leaving her father and two sisters, with only a hastily-written note explaining her decision.

The first week out at sea was hard for Elaine, who had never so much as stepped on a gangplank before. She dealt with bouts of seasickness and food poisoning, as well as the hardship her body endured from the labor she wasn’t accustomed to. For the most part, no one paid attention to her because the other cabin boys were just as green as she was. None of the crew offered much help or sympathy, just warnings and stories about lessons learned at sea. Thomas would come to see her as often as he could, but he was kept busy for most of the day.

The second week of their voyage approached fast when Thomas found time to spend with her. The separation had been more than she thought she could endure, having only been able to see him for brief, hushed moments. She made her way to his cabin when she knew the rest of the crew was eating. Despite her rough clothing and her salty hair, she felt soft and feminine once she was in his arms again.

“I’ve missed you so much,” she whispered into his chest.

He answered her with his lips, and she with her body. Their lovemaking was quiet and hurried, with a pent up passion that raged like the sea. She hadn’t meant to, but when they were finished, she found it difficult to keep her eyes open. The sound of his heartbeat and the warmth of his skin were a comfort she had not been able to claim. She fell asleep to the sound of his soft breathing and the feel of his fingers in her hair.

Comfort was not something afforded to them. Thunder cracked overhead and the skies opened up. People shouted as they sprang to action.

“Thomas, did you fall asleep again, you lazy rat!”

Elaine’s eyes snapped open and her heart sprang into her throat. Before she could move, the door was thrown open with such force that the knob banged loudly into the wall behind it.

“Thomas, did you–”

The sailor that had burst into the room stopped short in his tracks once he came upon the sight of the two lovers still naked in bed. His eyes widened and a derisive noise escaped him.

“What is this?”

Thomas cursed and scrambled to cover himself. “Johnathan, what is this ruckus?”

Johnathan gave a nasty look at Elaine, but spread an arm out to gesture at the rest of the ship. “Storm blew in. We need you out here!”

With one last nasty look, he turned and hurried out the door.

“He saw us,” Elaine whispered. “Thomas, what do we do?”

He ran a hand through his mousy hair. “I’ll find you when I can, but I’m needed on deck.”

He stayed long enough to get dressed. He didn’t acknowledge her as he left, already focused on what he needed to do for the ship. Elaine dressed by herself, fixing her tousled hair to fit under her cap again. Clothed like a boy once more, she no longer felt like a passionate woman who had given herself to her lover only recently. She felt grimy and she didn’t look forward to what work was ahead.

She steeled herself, then made her way to where the cabin boys gathered. They were being ordered on deck to help secure the ship and gather what supplies had been left out. They scrambled to gather what they could in the rain. Her boots squelched through rain water and her clothes were soaked in seconds. Time was lost in the work and shouted orders of the shipmates. The storm howled around them. Gusts of wind drove the rain to hit harder. Thunder roared, angry and close, with lightning a close companion.

When the storm had slowed, Elaine was able to catch her breath. She hung to the side close to the other cabin boys, trying desperately to keep an eye out for Johnathan. The look he had given her meant that he wasn’t about to keep what he had seen a secret. He was one of the crew that agreed with the captain. Women had no place on a ship.

Her fear was only confirmed when she saw Johnathan and a group of men heading her way. They all looked angry, a contained mob in the middle of the sea. There were ten of them and they cornered her easily.

“That looks like her,” Johnathan said to the others.

Rough hands grabbed her. They threw her cap to the side and tore at her clothing. As much as she tried to fight, she was overpowered, until they stripped her on deck, in front of everyone.

There was a cry of outrage as her naked body was exposed to the crew, when they saw her for what she was.

Cold, soaked, shivering, Elaine felt tears burning in her eyes. She tried to grab her clothing to shield herself from their hateful stares, but was greeted with a boot to the stomach. Her breath left her in a hurried gasp. She doubled over, and was kicked again. When she crumbled to the deck, rough hands pulled her back up. Her arms were forced behind her back and tied tightly together.

The men dragged her and she had no choice but to follow, her feet stumbling and catching on everything when she couldn’t keep up. One of the men called for the captain and for Thomas.

When Thomas saw her, his eyes widened. He tried to get them to release her, but he was pushed back and yelled at. One of the men drew a dagger. Elaine only saw it for a moment before she felt its edge at her throat.

She was held naked and tied, at knife point, until the captain came to see her. His gaze swept her up and down with nothing but disgust.

“You dare curse our voyage?” he snarled at her. “You want these men to die!”

“No!” she tried to say.

Her voice was drowned out by the men who held her captive. They spat hateful things at her, calling her names and cursing her malevolent attempt to sink the ship. The captain’s words riled them up.

“You know what we must do!” the captain shouted over them.

“No,” Thomas interjected. “Please, you must not hurt her.”

“You’re just as damned as she is,” his adopted father spat at him. Angry blue eyes burned into Thomas. “You can go with her if you want, or you can shut up and sit back.”

Go with her. Elaine’s tears came back and choked her up once she realized what they were going to do. They meant to kill her, to rid her evil from the ship.

Thomas’s panicked gaze met hers. He had a choice. Stay with the ship and watch her die, or join her in death. There was a fear in his gaze that scared her. It wasn’t fear for her.

It was fear for his own life.

“No,” she whispered to herself. “Please, Thomas…”

Thomas turned his back to her. His shoulders shook with the force of his own tears, but he did nothing to stop the men who held her.

She screamed his name, begging and pleading for him to help her. Her body reacted on instinct and she fought the men that held her, despite the knife at her throat. She managed to shove some off balance and she heard their grunts of surprise. They reacted quickly and tied her legs together, limiting her movement further. The men forced her up to the railing of the ship. The sea crashed below, waiting to devour her. The captain shouted his superstition of women and sailing, cursing those that tried to hurt his crew. As he shouted and the fervor grew, the madness reached fever pitch.

Elaine was thrown from the ship. She screamed but the wind ripped the sound from her throat. The side of the ship raced past her and briefly she caught sight of the angelic figurehead that guided them – Maria herself, the captain’s wife who had died at sea.

The sea consumed her in a confusing whirl of water and bubbles. She lost her orientation and couldn’t figure out where the surface was. She pushed herself closer to the sea floor without realizing it, confused, dazed and in shock. It was only when her body hit the sandy ground that she realized how grave her situation was.

She would die here, at the bottom of the sea.

The need for oxygen burned at her and as she fought the instinct to breathe, a hurried prayer was the only thing she could think of. She prayed to be saved, she prayed to survive, to wake up and find this was a nightmare; to be given any way out that meant she could keep living.

Pushed past her own physical limits, her body betrayed her and attempted to inhale. The sea invaded her lungs and her body, consuming every last inch of her.

Her last thought was of Thomas, and the way he had turned his back on her.

* * *

Elaine’s eyes fluttered open when she heard noise around her. At first it was muffled and faint, but she recognized the sound of movement in water. Her first attempt to open her eyes burned and she recoiled instinctively.

That’s when she realized she was still underwater.

Underwater.

Alive.

How?

Her head whipped around and she opened her eyes again. This time she could see. The ocean floor around her was murky, but her vision was clearing up slowly. What were blurry shapes in front of her transformed into clear objects. She could see the ripples in the sand with such clarity that she could practically count each individual grain. The fish around her were in bright, vibrant colors. They swam around her as if her presence didn’t bother them.

“You’re alive,” said a soft, feminine voice beside her.

She jerked around and jumped when she saw the being before her. The being was clearly female and partially human. Her hair floated around an ethereal, beautiful face. Her chest was bare, but her hips stopped abruptly. Her legs were not human legs. They were scaled, glimmering and luminescent, vibrant like the fish around her. She looked alarmingly beautiful, a human with a fish’s tail.

Mermaid. The fairy tales of Elaine’s youth jumped to the surface of her brain. It sounded so absurd, but she didn’t know how else to explain the sigh before her.

“Speak. You can speak, even if your awakening isn’t complete yet.”

Awakening?

Elaine looked down at herself and screamed. The sound caused a rush of bubbles around her face but she could hear herself clearly. Her legs had been tied together as she had been thrown off of the Maria Fortuna, but they had been human legs. Now, scales were growing. Her legs were fusing together, becoming something beyond the world she had been accustomed to.

When she realized how clear her scream was, she also realized that she had been sitting at the bottom of the ocean without a problem. When she stopped to pay attention to her body, she realized she had been breathing this whole time – breathing! How was it possible to breathe underwater?

“What am I?” she asked.

“You are the fallen, as are we,” the female before her said.

Elaine glanced around and realized they weren’t alone. Three other women hovered around, all beautiful in an otherworldly fashion; all with the same fish tails. Each woman had a different scale coloring unique as their hair was.

The four women worked to free her from the ropes binding her arms and legs. Once her legs were free, Elaine watched in wonder as they transformed before her very eyes. She felt her bones moving, rearranging themselves into a new anatomy that was not human. She felt her muscles changing, her skin expanding to form scales.

“How is this possible?” Elaine asked in wonder as her hands explored her new body. As foreign as her new fins felt, there was a part of her that felt that this was the correct body she was meant to be in.

The women around her explained what they were, the fallen and abandoned women from various voyages across the sea. They had all faced equally tragic stories of betrayal, abuse, and ultimately, abandonment. They had each prayed as they fell, desperate to survive. Their prayers had been answered, in the form of new life. The women made their way across the sea, picking up those that had fallen, helping them adjust to their new life.

They invited her to join them in their ultimate purpose in life. When offered, Elaine’s first reaction was to deny them what they were offering. Yet, as they spoke, Thomas came back to her mind. How he turned his back on her. How he allowed the men to hurt her, insult her, and throw her from the ship.

She accepted.

* * *

There was an emptiness that lived with Thomas since Elaine had been thrown overboard. At first the crew condemned him, cursing him and his attempt to bring them misfortune. Eventually, they came around, blaming young love and evil women. He slid back into their ranks over time, but kept his head down.

He buried himself in his work, no longer as lively as he had been. There was nothing he could do to atone for what had happened for Elaine. He sought solace in prayer and in hard work. This voyage would be his last. He didn’t have the heart to return to the Maria Fortuna after they were meant to sail once more.

He stood at the very edge that Elaine had been thrown from, staring at the sea. He heard her voice in his head at night, in their previous conversations. She had always been soft spoken, except for the rare few occasions that she sang. She hummed when she was happy, but he hadn’t even heard that since they had set sail.

His heart caught in his throat when he thought he heard her voice singing to him. It wasn’t possible, of course, but the familiar sound took him back to their early days. When he had attempted to knock on her door around the holidays as a part of a caroling company that mostly existed to drink and beg money off of the richer folk. She had been the one to answer the door to her family’s estate, fortunately. She had giggled at their raucous singing, throwing her lilting voice into their rough mix. That was when he knew she was different. Her father threw them out shortly afterwards, berating her for having interacted with them in the first place. That had been the start of something magical between them.

“I miss you,” he said to the wind.

The wind answered him back in a familiar, lilting melody.

“Elaine?”

His gaze turned skyward first, as though he might have seen her as an angel passing by to bless their voyage. When he saw nothing, he looked down at the waves, convinced he was going crazy. That was when he saw something glimmering at the surface; a creature about to breach the waves.

“Thomas,” the creature said.

He practically threw himself overboard as he strained to see the creature clearly. Elaine was below him, even though it was not possible for her to have survived. Her hair was still boyish and choppy, but something about her had changed. She shone with a strange, otherworldly beauty.

“Elaine, forgive me,” he pleaded with her. “I miss you so much and I’m so sorry about what happened.”

Her pale eyes met his, but all she did was wave at him, inviting him to join her in the water. It was absurd, beyond ridiculous, that he should throw himself off of the ship. He tried to shake his head, tried to draw away, but the more he fought, the deeper the urge drove into him. Elaine was inviting him to see her. There was something gentle in her gaze – forgiving. Loving.

If she could forgive him for his cowardice, he would be the most grateful man on the earth. He yearned to hold her once more, to feel her breath on his and know she was alive. The urge to join her only grew more, to the point where he moved without realizing it.

“Thomas, you idiot. What are you doing?” one sailor called once he saw Thomas move.

Thomas heard his shipmate, but paid him no mind. The one sole focus before him was Elaine. He could hear her singing to him, her voice that of an angel’s. Forgiving. Loving. He made his way onto the railing, balancing haphazardly in the wind.

“Thomas!” the shipmate yelled.

The sound was drowned out by Elaine’s beautiful singing. It was impossible, but her voice was loud and clear in his head; louder than the roaring of waves or the shouting of the crew around him. All he heard and all he saw was Elaine in the water below.

Join me, she sang, inviting him into the water below. Her voice was much more beautiful in person than a memory could provide.

Forgiving.

Loving.

Join me, she repeated.

Thomas jumped without even realizing he had done so. His one focus was on Elaine and her overwhelming, ethereal beauty. He hit the water and went under, barely aware of the fact that he had gone under; barely aware that the fact that he was breathing in sea water and choking.

Her arms wrapped around him and he felt as though he was home, that all was right in the world. Her lips found his.

Forgive me, he tried to say, even as he breathed the sea in.

She held him as he sank to the bottom of the ocean, singing to him a song of longing and pain, betrayal and life beyond. She watched his body struggle to breathe, to swim. There was a hard, icy edge in her gaze as she let go of him.

He had turned his back on her. For as long as she lived, she would never forgive him for that moment, when she needed him the most. He had turned his back on her and she had died.

As his life left him, she turned her back.

His body made its way towards the surface and she didn’t stop it. She didn’t make any attempt to save him. Instead, she joined her new sisters in their journey to find and rescue others like them – abandoned and given new life.

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