Fear the sea.
This was what Iacom had always been taught. It was what his mother told him as the sun went down. It was what the elders said around the fires. It was the rule they lived by, the thing that kept them safe.
The stories had stayed with him at night, when everything was cold and dark. As a child, he hugged his blanket tight, trying to forget them.
The stories said there were sea-people, creatures of evil magic. Their hair was long and bright, full of seaweed and ocean water. Their pearly skin, pale as moonlight, glistened like the waves. Cat eyes glared out of strange, ageless features.
They lurked in the shadows, singing strange songs to lure unwary travellers in and drag them down into the deep.
The fear still stayed with Iacom. It wouldn’t leave him, no matter how much he tried to shake it free. It clung to him like his own shadow.
He knew, however, that he had to ignore it. There was no other choice.
For six days, Iacom had been alone, stranded in the wilds by the coast.
He’d gone out to hunt and forage. It should have been a simple task, but the dry season had been harsh. The grass was dead and brown. The trees were withering in the heat. The rivers and streams were nothing more than ditches now, full of rocks and leaves.
Without water, the animals had moved on. Only humans were stubborn enough to hang on even when death was all around them.
Iacom knew he should have turned back, but he didn’t.
Across the dry plains he’d gone, moving ever closer to the bay. He’d gathered some leaves and berries, but had kept wandering on. He wouldn’t return empty-handed.
On the fourth day, he’d seen a tree, still barely alive, upon the edge of a sheer cliff face. For hope of a little fruit, Iacom risked life and limb, clambering up the rocks.
It was around halfway up that he’d lost his grip. Plummeting like a meteor from the heavens, Iacom had struck the earth hard enough to shatter his leg like a dry stick.
After that, it had taken a long time to move at all. Between the pain and the useless leg, Iacom had found it difficult to crawl the short distance to a nearby tree branch he could use as a crutch. Then he’d gathered more fallen wood, binding his leg to ease the pain and help it heal.
He could limp along on his crutch, but he knew he’d never make it back, not on the few drops of water and tiny berries he’d been able to eat and drink. He needed more than that.
Then he’d seen it: a patch of green by the bay. It had looked like paradise.
But it was by the sea.
The old stories rattled around in his head as he came closer, his crutch striking the dusty earth. Each time he stopped to rest, trying to shield himself from the unrelenting sun, he imagined the faces of cruel, pale sea-demons.
Hunger overwhelming fear, he pressed on. With each step, he saw the patch of green better. It was a garden of fruit trees and flowers. The shine of bright oranges amidst emerald leaves made his mouth water.
And then, when he was almost there, Iacom stopped.
The ocean was so close, dark waves pounding against the shore. White foam topped shifting hills of greyish-green. The sea’s roar filled Iacom’s ears.
He knew he was supposed to be afraid. The ocean was dark, endless, savage.
But he wasn’t.
The water was beautiful, full of mystery and awe. He wanted nothing more than to walk into the crashing surf.
The gurgle of his stomach shook him back to the reality of his situation: He was starving and here was food.
Without another thought, Iacom raced forward and plucked an orange from a tree. He ripped the rough skin off and plunged his teeth into the fruit. Juice filled his mouth and ran down his chin.
Giving no thought to fear or wonder, Iacom devoured the orange, then started on a second. That one he wolfed down even faster.
This place seemed a marvel to him, full of food even when everything else was dry and dead. Iacom began planning how best to bring it back to the village without everything spoiling.
Then he heard a voice, soft and lyrical, almost hypnotic.
Iacom turned and saw her: pale face, hair like gleaming copper, teeth sharp and white.
The points on her ears were sharp as any spearhead. Like stars her eyes shone, a luminous green that seemed to stare straight into Iacom’s soul.
Iacom leapt back, heart pounding. He was face-to-face with the figure from his childhood nightmares: the dreaded siren.
Towards him she came, feet not making the slightest noise. Stumbling backwards, Iacom tried to get away.
A root caught his foot and he tumbled into the dirt. Helpless, he could only watch as the sea-maiden glided towards him, bare feet dancing over the dirt.
He braced himself for the end, squeezing his eyes closed.
A moment later, he heard her soft voice.
No, he decided. He wouldn’t look. He couldn’t look.
She spoke again. Then again.
It occurred to Iacom that he was still alive. She hadn’t slit his throat or dragged him down into the deep. All she was doing was talking in the strange, soft language he didn’t understand.
Hesitantly, Iacom opened his eyes.
The sea-maiden was smiling at him. Stretched out before her, inches from his nose, was an apple.
Iacom reached out and took it.
He looked at the apple. It could be poisonous. It could put him under her spell.
That was a chance he’d have to take. Iacom bit into the apple and the sea-maiden smiled.
Maybe, Iacom thought, the sea wasn’t something to be feared.
Maybe it was something to be loved.
This is for Kimberley Crawford’s latest Flash Fiction Challenge. The prompt was to write about the ocean.