The sailors reached to push her, but she jumped before they could.
She slammed into the water, the sensation like ice diving into her skin. She struggled to the surface, her lungs able to gasp in a few feeble breaths before a wave knocked her under. Her skirts were heavy, dragged down, but when a current moved her, she felt weightless. It sunk into her veins, into her bones, freezing her in place. Her heart pounded a rhythm in her ears, like the heavy footsteps of death as he came to claim her.
The first time she inhaled water it burned. It made her brain shrink back from her skull, made lungs try to cough it out, but she just gasped in more. It filled her up and pulled her down. She opened her eyes—they stung. The ocean was dark and vast, and she was falling into it. Her lungs ached like they would burst, like they were splitting apart inside her chest. Her legs were being sliced open, her mouth opening to scream. Her head began to get light, like she was flying, and the panic began to recede. Her heartbeat quieted, the pain slinking away.
Her vision faded to black and, for a moment, there was nothing. Later, she likened it to sleeping without dreams.
Then it came back.
Elizabeth blinked, confused—she had died. But now she could see into the depths of the ocean, where the water was cool and smooth. It tugged at her skirts, like little fingers undoing her buttons, and the current pulled her dress away. The water enveloped her like her mother had once, warming against her skin.
Death was her father, and the ocean was her mother—together, they remade her. They fixed her broken legs and healed them into one. They drew lines on her neck, cutting into her skin, letting her breathe water as easily as she had once breathed air. Her hands rippled under the water, and her nails grew into sharp points. She watched as her pale, merged legs grew darker, watched hard blue scales erupt along her skin. She was the same steely color as the sea in a storm.
They had stitched her back together.
She sings. It makes her throat ache, being outside of her home. She sits on a rock that feels colder than the ocean ever does. But what’s a little aching when her prey is so close? She can hear him. His oars splash as he moves toward the shore. Her voice trembles. She weaves longing into her voice, knits a messy spell, yanking him to her.
The sky darkens, and clouds move together as the ocean turns from a bright blue to the color of gray steel. The clouds bind together, blocking the last of the sun. Dark shapes writhe beneath the surface of the ocean—they’re waiting for her.
The rowboat breaks through the fog, and she sees him. She keeps singing, the words grating in her throat. His rowboat scrapes along something beneath the surface of the water. He jerks to look down into the ocean but doesn’t see anything. A smile plays at the corners of her lips. Then he sees her, and he knows her—his eyes jolt up and down her body, noting the translucence of her skin, veins like little blue lines on a map. His eyes pause on her breasts, and she grins.
He sees her teeth, and he starts, dropping one of his oars.
She croons his name, pressing power into her final note. “William!” she sings. William, who had shared his apple with her when they’d first started their voyage. William, who had tried to push her over the edge.
He crashes into the rock she lies on, his boat splintering. She dives into the ocean, mother welcoming her home, relief pouring into her mouth as she breathes. But he is thrashing. She grabs him. Little plumes of red puff away from where her nails dig into his arms. She kisses him, once, feels him suck the sea into his lungs, feels him spasm. Then she digs her sharp, jagged teeth into his lip and rips. He screams, but no sound comes out—she watches him for a second, grinning still. He sees the dark shapes around them, waiting for her to finish. She watches the fear in his eyes and his silent cry, watches blood swirl from his raw lips.
Then she closes in.
The warmth of his blood blooms her mouth, his veins pulsing beneath her fingers when she claws out his throat. He tastes like life. She rips away chunk after chunk of meat, long after his body goes limp, and chews. The water around them grows red. When she’s finished, she throws the body to the creatures waiting. His flesh throbs in her throat—it makes her strong.
The next time she sings, she can do more than wait for a rowboat.
The next time, she will find the ship.