The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
A Wondrous Curiosity
by Loren Rhoads
Stella had a whole collection of things that she insisted they drag out onto the beach: deck chairs and a beach blanket and a lime green and blue striped umbrella. She’d made a picnic, which she carried in the cooler she wore as a backpack. Alondra wore the corresponding pack, filled with plastic plates and champagne flutes and a cutting board with knives.
“You’re sure we’ll see it tonight?” Alondra asked.
Stella laughed. “I can’t believe you’re asking me about celestial events.”
“I’ve lost track of the sky,” Alondra admitted.
Stella stopped fussing with the blanket to reach up to squeeze Alondra’s hand. “You’ve had too much on your mind,” she commiserated. “Anniversaries are always hard. Death dates are worse.”
They got all the pieces set up as the sun dipped low in the west. Alondra thought it odd that they had such a lovely sandy beach to themselves, but she put it down to it being Wednesday night.
Stella fixed her a plate of potato salad with tahini rather than mayo, a slice of lentil loaf with homemade barbecue sauce, and a mixed beet salad over greens. Everything was full of complicated flavors that complimented the bottle of Syrah that Stella kept pouring into Alondra’s glass.
Everything was perfect: the solitude, the metronome whoosh of the surf, the picnic, the company. Alondra took a long, slow breath, trying to unknit the tension that laced through her chest.
“Look at that,” Stella directed.
The sun had dropped almost to the horizon. It made the breakers look as green as bottle glass. Inside the translucent walls of water swam…something.
“Are those sharks?” Alondra asked. Whatever they were, they swam parallel to the shore, staying obscured by the water as they raced through the breakers.
“They’re not big enough to be sharks,” Stella said. “And they don’t have dorsal fins.”
The sun slipped closer to the water. Alondra watched it obliquely, trying to catch the exact moment of sunset. An optical illusion turned the sun to an hourglass shape that faded rapidly below the horizon. As it vanished, a dagger of green light shot upward. It faded almost immediately. Alondra sighed, thrilled to have caught the illusive sight.
Stella kissed her. “It’s supposed to be good luck,” she said.
“We may need it,” Alondra said quietly, frowning. “Look down on the beach. At that pile of rocks on the left.” As she spoke, a little head shrank down behind the gray stones.
“What the heck was that?” Stella blurted. “It looked like a monkey!”
“I think it’s whatever was swimming in the waves.”
Another of them peeked over the rocks and disappeared just as quickly.
“Do you want to pack up now or come back in the morning to get your stuff?” Alondra asked.
Stella didn’t take her eyes from the creatures. More of them were crawling out of the surf now, undulating across the foreshore. They had wizened little faces and scrawny sticklike arms, but the lower parts of their bodies were fish tails.
“I thought Barnum made them up,” Stella said.
“You think they’re hungry?”
One snarled, revealing a mouthful of needle teeth. Alondra searched the beach blanket for the backpacks. Hers was the green one… She found it tucked beneath one of the chairs. She dug through it for the knives. One was serrated enough to cut a baguette. The other had a duller blade for slicing cheese. She held that one out to Stella.
“What’s this for?”
“It’s better than nothing.”
“Not by much,” Stella said grimly. “We’ll come back in the morning.”
She took Alondra’s arm and pulled her toward the farthest side of the blanket. “Watch them,” she directed. “I’ll make sure you don’t trip.”
And that the mermaids didn’t get behind them, Alondra realized. She adjusted her grip on the breadknife and watched the creatures advance toward the abandoned picnic.
Fiction © Copyright Loren Rhoads
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from Author Loren Rhoads:
Alondra DeCourval travels from San Francisco to Prague to Olso, encountering magical creatures and searching for the limits she will go to for love.