I name every nick, cut, contusion, like children, as I rub my shorn head and when I come to the cut above my right ear, the body of a man falls over the cliff, flailing. I watch his cloak hood flap like a wing as he falls, sucked under with green drops of sea water arching into the air. It looks like Osbern, the scribe. I wish it were Edwyn, the skirt-tearer. My boy hovers above, scowling as I call.
I hold the skin of my knuckle between my teeth, lick salty flecks of rock. By my feet, a shallow rain puddle forms where I lap gritty water.
The village children linger, throw rocks down at me. They taunt me with Nuckelavee rounds as I try to sleep, curled, like a dry leaf, as far from the edge as I can get, for scattered, shivering minutes. After the children leave I see a woman with spriggy barnacle hair staring at me from behind the rocks in the water below. She leans down low to the surface of the water, head motionless, she moves her lips, and hides behind the rocks when I call.
The next day a bird drops a stolen breakfast egg and I lick it up off the rocks, straining my tongue as I try to reach around my chin and under my nose where the egg smeared. The lady in the sea watches me, then disappears under the water when the villagers come to throw a woman into the depths, her dress bundled around her ankles with rope, her hands bound behind her. She looks like the blacksmith’s bellows. It’s the cook, Hollace, who would always say good day to me when I brought in the water. Her splash is large, she struggles, and strips her hands out of the ropes, her gurgling voice carries to my cliff, denouncing me still, Witch! A strange redness in the sea spills out under her as her body stills. The sea lady mounts the closer rocks where I can see her. She has a tail as dark as the sea and eyes that watch me like clouded moons, arms, streaked with blood, motion for me to get down.
A terrible stench is in the air, the sweet rot smell. Parts of Hollace float below, swollen, gray. The water boils where birds and fish swarm her. For three nights now, I have heard strange capers and groans below and I hope the sea lady stays with me through the night. I huddle against the rock wall and stare out at the rippling surface of the sea, eyes half closed. My swollen tongue keeps my mouth propped open. The tailed lady appears and I move my lips for her to come, in incantation, but she stays near her rocks, her face blank. A gray fish, caught by her own hand, flops once in her lap, then her mouth grinds and devours it, head-first, its tail twitching till the end. Her crushed-rubies tongue licks clean each blueish finger. I bite off a fleshy piece of my hand below my thumb and wince in regret each time the metal manacles scrape it.
The harvest is over, quick with the blight, and I make choices over who in the village might survive the winter. My once-boy appears on the cliffs above, gangly and frail, he spits, and leaves when the water turns shiny red and ripley, like so many apples in a pail. It rains a hideous amount, and I drink from my puddle throughout the evening. Grains of sand and bits of rock lodge in between my teeth and one from the back oozes a threaded yellow pus. The bite under my thumb turns greenish-black with red lines streaking up to my elbow, my maypole ribbons.
In early morning, with the full moon far to the horizon, I awake to the crumbling of rocks into the water. My boy, I think at first when I see the shape of a human hand, but it’s the skinned, marbled muscle of the Nuckelavee. I call for my sea lady with dry coughs as he yanks me from the rock, chains and all, my shoulders snapping, then he gallops toward the bottom of the icy sea, sitting me upright to straddle the withers, and wraps his human arms around me and down my legs, the chains streaming behind us. Nuckelavee does not ride this horse; he is a part of it, and his arms are longer than my chains, his legs are the horse’s. He is skinless, all slimy muscles and tendons with his meals’ fingers twisted fast into patchy mane.
I feel a pull on the chains and I see her over Nuckelavee’s shoulder, her face quiet, crowned with brambled hair. I gulp sea water as she tugs my chains, then wraps them around and around the horse neck of Nuckelavee who prances and kicks, but cowers when she strokes his nose. My eyes fill with hairy black poppies, and as I lean back against Nuckelavee’s sticky chest, I feel prickly, slimy arms slide under mine. With a sucking sensation inside my skin, she pulls me to the surface, to her rocks, where I gasp and cough yellow foam as she speaks to the water.
The sea lady twists my arms back in place as I scream and breaks the manacles with rocks. She steals glances at the cliffs and the water and pats my cheek as I shiver and twist on the rocks, then pulls me into strange warm water where, with one arm wrapped around my torso, she swims me out to sea, taking many stops to rest and smooth my scalp with a slick, blue-scaled hand, till we reach a cove where pink waves lap a pebbled shore covered in an orange morning light.
Amber Ray Garcia grew up in the Piedmont region of South Carolina and has resided in West Virginia for the past eleven years. She has a flash fiction piece in CHEAP POP and was a finalist in the 2020 West Virginia Fiction Competition. Her work received an honorable mention in the West Virginia Writers 2018 Annual Writing Contest in the Middle Grade and Young Adult Book Length Prose category.