Alexis swam upwards and broke through the surface of the water, a loud gasp escaping her mouth as she felt the soothing water sliding away only to be replaced by the sharp cold air. She swam forward and leaned on a large rock with her arms folded, her head resting upon them. She sighed and looked out at the sky beyond the trees, from which the sound of gun and cannon fire could be heard, telltale plumes of smoke rose high into the sky. Alexis groaned and closed her eyes.
She couldn’t believe it and she certainly didn’t want to believe it. However, regardless of what she wanted, there was indeed another war unfolding just beyond the trees. It filled her heart with such sorrow to know that the world of man had fallen prey once more to the forces of hatred and division. She looked up upon hearing a whistling sound slowly increasing in volume and saw the ground mere metres away explode in a cloud of dirt and flame. She closed her eyes and felt a rush of wind sweep past her, flinging her hair backwards. When she opened her eyes she saw trees uprooted and shattered, flames licking at bark, foliage and grass. Destruction. Nature under attack. She gripped the rocks tightly, so tightly that her knuckles had turned white and the sharp edges had punctured her palms, allowing blood to flow freely. As she looked at the harm that had been done to her glorious Mother Earth, she saw someone staggering through the smoke and fire. She narrowed her eyes, ready to dive at the first sign of aggression. If Bipeds were able to visit such pain upon one another what kind of attack would she be subject to?
The Biped emerged from the smoke and she saw that it was a man, but any other features were lost by the intense burns that covered his ruined form. He staggered forward, he didn’t seem to realise she was there, he was just heading towards the sea, perhaps to drown, to feel the sweet embrace of death. He was almost at the water when his legs finally gave way and he toppled forward, crashing to the ground coming face to face with Alexis. To her credit, she didn’t scream, whimper or even flinch. His eyes opened slowly as if it required a Herculean effort. They were olive green.
“Am I dead?” he asked, his voice barely managing to negotiate its way passed his flaking charred lips.
“Not quite.” Alexis said softly. A ghostly whisper of a moan left his mouth.
“Oh,” the man said, “it feels like I’m dead.” Alexis smiled ever so slightly.
“You’re certainly not dead.”
“But you’re an angel.”
“No no, I’m not. I’m a mermaid,” Alexis said with a slight chuckle, “see the tail?” from the water behind her a long purple fish-like tail emerged and waved at him – flinging water droplets left and right. The green eyes of the man widened in shock.
“Hell,” he said, “now I know I’m dead.”
“You’re not dead, Mister…” Alexis trailed off.
“Heartford,” he said, “James Heartford.”
“It’s a pleasure, my name is Alexis and I assure you that you’re not dead.” She said patiently as if she were a school teacher trying to teach a child the solution to a particularly fiendish algebra equation.
“Okay.” James said flatly, his disbelief not present in his tone, but still very much alive in his sparkling green eyes. Alexis sighed moodily. She reached into the water and the area around her submerged hand glowed a sparkling shade of aqua blue. She then removed her hand from the water and some of the water came with her – it too was glowing aqua blue. She placed her hand very delicately onto the burnt exposed chest of the man and the water moved from her hand to James’ body, covering all his burns and injuries. Through the distorting lens of the water Alexis could see the burns diminishing in size before vanishing altogether. After a short length of time – no more than five minutes – the water slid away from James and returned back to the body of water. James’ green eyes widened and he sat upright, moving quickly, something he didn’t think he’d be able to do again. He ran his fingers through his chestnut brown hair and looked down at his newly healed chest. He looked up at Alexis with a shocked, but ultimately happy expression on his youthful rosy-cheeked face.
“How do you feel?” she asked, surprised by his boyish good looks, although having only seen him with half of his flesh burnt off, it wasn’t surprising that she found this new healed man to be such a handsome creature. He laughed with joy, so much so that a stranger may well hastily judge him to be suffering from insanity of the mind, brought on by the horrors of war.
“I feel fantastic! I feel alive!” He cried ecstatically, “thank you, thank you so much!”
“You’re quite welcome Mister Heartford, when wielded by a mermaid the waters can be used to heal all ills.”
“All ills?” James asked, looking up at her hopefully. Alexis looked at his chest and her eyes turned from brown to sea blue and back to brown, she looked saddened.
“I’m afraid not.” She said, “even if you spent the rest of your life being healed by my waters The Blight will still claim you.” James looked down at his chest and then back up at Alexis.
“Cancer.” He croaked, “We call it cancer.”
“I’m sorry.” She said and she sounded – to James at least – incredibly sincere. He breathed heavily and bowed his head, when he looked up his face was once more a mask of joviality.
“It’s not your fault. Besides, there is always the very real possibility that I’ll die out there.” He said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder, back towards the trees, back towards the battlefield.
“The usual. Some guy took something that didn’t belong to him and now we doomed millions fight to the death to force him to give it back.”
“Does that make sense to you?”
“No, but I don’t know the world of man.”
“I do and let me tell you Lexi, it doesn’t make a lick of sense to me either.” James said lighting a cigarette and taking a long drawing breath before releasing the stream of smoke.
“My name is Alexis.” She said with a scowl. James accidentally swallowed some smoke and doubled over coughing and spluttering violently. Amidst the noise, Alexis clearly heard him say:
She smiled to herself, looking down at the water and seeing her reflection: brown skin, red hair and a tattoo of a shell on her stomach, exactly the same as ever. She looked up and watched as James managed to recover from his coughing fit.
“Your first one?”
“Not by a long shot.” He laughed. In the distance there was a loud explosion and both Alexis and James heard it, James’ face went white.
“You’re not going to go back are you?” Alexis asked, touching James on the knee. He blushed.
“Where else is there to go? The only way to get back home is to walk directly across the battlefield. And if I go, I’ll be declared a deserter. And I’m a soldier, what’s a soldier without a war?” He asked, his voice quaking with terror and confusion.
“A soldier without a war? Free, he’s free.” Alexis said sincerely. James didn’t say anything, he just looked down at his feet still partially encased by heavily damaged combat boots. He looked up.
“You don’t want me to go back.” He said. Alexis sighed and shook her head.
“You arrived at my shore close to death. If I can convince you to not throw down your life for a worthless cause then I will.”
“A worthless cause?” James said quietly, then in a louder voice: “there is nothing worthless about this cause!” He lunged forward and grabbed a handful of Alexis’ red hair and one of her arms and heaved her out of the water and slammed her on the ground. He produced a gleaming hunting knife and held it to her throat, but he didn’t press it against her flesh. Alexis could see the doubt in his eyes, she had a chance.
“You said yourself that you didn’t understand why you were fighting.”
“I don’t understand, but I know that I’m fighting for a worthy cause, I’m fighting for my country.” He growled and Alexis saw the doubt retreat from his eyes, like a candle flame in the breeze. It was replaced my steadfast determination and aggression. Alexis knew that she was very much in danger. Unbeknown to James her tail was still dangling in the water and the area around her tail glowed a sparkling aqua blue and water travelled up her tail across her torso and up her arm onto her hand. She placed her hand against James’ chest and the water flowed onto him, slowly expanding until it covered the entirety of his body. He fell off her and wriggled in panic, but then the water began to retreat, travelling inwards and very soon there was no water present on his body, it had all flowed into his body. He sat up and glared at Alexis, his fear replaced with his anger.
“Everything the water takes away…”
“What did you just do?”
“It can return to you.” Alexis said and she reached out and with her middle and index finger she tapped James on the chest. Just once and then she slid back into the water and looked back as James got to his feet and approached the shoreline before halting in his tracks. Then he looked down as his body began to burn, the skin cracking, turning black and flaking away. He screamed and screamed, it was unlike any scream she had ever heard before and she had no desire to stay and listen. So, she dived beneath the water and swam back to the depths, away from the screams, away from the world of men.
And since that day not a single mermaid has ever visited the surface world and until we learn to better ourselves they may never return again.