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Day in and day out, the rough waters of the Pacific slam themselves against the protrusion of sandstone the locals refer to as Morro Rock. White streaks of bird shit bleed down the rock, a testament to the rare birds of prey that nest in its pocked face overlooking the bay.

Amid the gulls’ screeches, the call rouses Her.

The call is an irritant, much like a fine grain of sand scratching against the wet surface of a human eye. When it comes, Her breadth is spread across the bottom of the shallow bay and when Her senses finally gather themselves enough to break the surface of Her rest, She is pleased to find that the anchovies have hatched.

The little fishes have shiny heads that glint brightly through the water like the silver coins She’d seen rough men place over the eyes of their dead centuries ago. The anchovies don’t stand a chance at surviving the cacophony of ospreys, cormorants, and seagulls flapping madly above the bay. The air is a riot of feathers and beaks, a veritable avian war zone with pelicans diving loudly into the churning waters only to be assaulted by thieving terns intent on snatching the prey from their mouths the second they bob up out of the water. The birds are invasive, their frenzied movements piercing the water’s surface and disrupting the muffled sanctity of the aquatic world below.

Thousands of anchovies explode out of the water in a flash of silver, fleeing the snapping teeth of the harbor seals hunting them from below. The clamorous reentry of their tiny bodies jars Her into full consciousness. Her first fully realized thought is of the red blood lacing the seawater.

Her second is of the heavy pull of Her own prey.

 


 

She isn’t a water ghost. Not really, anyway. Nor is She a mermaid, that ridiculous hybrid fantasy dreamt up by delirious, malnourished humans. Her body, if you can call it that, isn’t the muscular grace of the gliding bat rays. It’s more like ink in water: a shadow slipping through the slimy seawrack, scraping against the barnacles like a piece of shell caught in the rusty blades of an outboard engine. She is as much a part of water as the salt, but far more lethal.

With a thrill, She recognizes Her prey as a human male. She feels his toes first, with their brittle nails chipped and yellowed by a fungus. She can taste his taint. The hair around his ankles lifts as he steps further into Her water, freed from their usual direction by the current. It’s always better when the prey is a man.

She still carries the memory of the last woman She had. Her scent was cruel, and even though the hunt was good, She took no joy in the staleness of her withered milk ducts and sun-creased skin. In the deepest recesses of what remained of Her memory, She knew what it was to be a woman turned feral and hard in a world that sought to crush Her with its weight.

Whatever this man had done, it was enough to have shaken Her from the soft sand of the seabed. If She had a mouth, Her smile would have shown every last one of Her teeth.

 


 

Two sea otters splash in the shallow waters near the small beach that kayakers use as a put-in. The water glistens on their oil-slick fur as they twist and churn. Onlookers out for their morning strolls coo at the aggressive flirtation, snapping pictures as the otters agitate the glassy waters. The male otter opens his whiskered mouth, garnering cries of delight from his audience before he whips around and sinks his teeth firmly into the female otter’s nose.

The bloom of blood is immediate. The tang permeates Her senses, nearly blotting out the noises of the offended human witnesses who begin shoving phones into pockets with disgust at what they feel was an unwarranted display of violence. Foolish, to think of violence and mating as somehow disconnected. One or two among them continue gazing at the otters, their intimacy with violence evident as they blink impassively at the scene. Their exhaustion sits low on the water like an invisible mist, but She hardly notices it above the sharp scent borne to Her through the undercurrent. Her prey has returned.

He is joined by another human on this day, a woman. The pair moves slowly, physically apart but joined by some force, nevertheless. If She had to name it, She would call it menacing. Or, rather, She would call him menacing.

The woman is delicate in her movements, gently brushing the sand with her feet before placing her weight on each sole. The water where she moves turns cloudy as she wades deeper into the bay. With each inch of her body she submerges, She tastes more: the golden tones in her skin, the dirt beneath her fingernails, the knot of scar tissue on her right hip bone. Her belly button holds the debris of the past few weeks, tinged with flavors of dry earth and sweat. As the water laps at her solid body, She draws closer, winding between her toes and around her thighs, trailing along her dimples and creases in an effort to discern the new feeling She has.

It takes a long time, longer than it should. The woman has given her body fully to the bay by then, even floating on her back so her thick hair is suspended around her, a citrus cloud wafting from her head. In Her curiosity, She moves close to the woman, sending wisps of Herself over ears, around muscles, and into crevices. The woman flounders briefly in surprise when She discovers the tiny cells clustered in her abdomen. Miniscule shadows cloud her eyes as they brush the surface, searching.

Since She has existed, She has hunted slowly and with great satisfaction, observing Her prey with the possessiveness of a collector. It occurs to Her that this time She might choose to be expedient.

 


 

Sometimes, the white fog nestles against the water like a clingy lover. On such days She can expand beyond the shore. The further She seeps into the little town, the more it will cost her. Today, She winds along the sidewalks at their ankles, skimming over the blackened gobs of chewing gum punctuating the pavement.

She observes the man—the way he steers the small woman by pressing his fingertips into her flesh, how he turns on his glow when he interacts with strangers, his habit of gripping the back of her neck with a firmness that mimics tenderness—Her distaste growing as the fog thins. It pleases Her that Her presence disturbs the man. He stops repeatedly to scratch at his ankles, irritating the skin until it is red and inflamed. Flakes of dead skin accumulate under his brittle fingernails. The woman looks at him with mild disgust, an inkiness pooling behind her chestnut irises. In that instant, her heart whispers its desire into the dewy air.

The sun is a white hole in the sky, burning through the moist barrier of fog. She catches a strong flavor like charred grass emanating from the woman but is forced to recede to the bay on the lingering scraps of fog. Utterly spent, She has but one single thought as She spills back into the silver water: the woman already has plans for the man.

 


 

The sea lions bark, their cries echoing across the bay. Their dock is filthy, the stink of feces and rotting fish clouding the air. Their shouts mix with the shrieks of the gulls to form a discordant symphony. Beneath the water, the anchovies swarm, feeder fish ripe for the taking.

The woman and the man are in a yellow kayak slipping across the anchorage, oblivious to the ferocity all around them. The kayaks are low, their scupper holes allowing the briny water to flow in and out so that the pair sit in puddles made tepid by their bodies. The woman looks into the shallow water, the shadows in her irises dancing as she scans the tenebrous depths. Placing her paddle in her lap, she reaches out to pet the surface of the bay.

Licking at the woman’s fingertips as She passes, She sends tendrils of Herself into the vessel with the water, feeling the man’s porous bones through his flesh. He shifts, uncomfortable, and She prods at his anus to make him squirm. Without a body, She is incapable of producing laughter. Nevertheless, Her amusement generates something akin to laughter, its eddies emanating from Her murky formlessness—a subtle displacement that sends tiny ripples across the water’s surface. Her little game satisfies her, but She is still weak from Her excursion in the fog, so allows Herself to ebb with the tide.

 


 

When She feeds, She is inevitable. She moves to Her own time, luxuriating in the kill no matter how swift or prolonged it is. Because of Her nature, She has an impossible reach. This time, She is spread soft and wide in the dark water. She doesn’t bother to sink deep; no human will see Her in the foggy night.

The woman is driving Her prey to Her, down the slope of the street that leads to one of the docks. In a languid movement not unlike a snake heaping coil upon coil as it prepares to strike, She gathers Herself around the dock. She is patient, willing the woman to deliver him unto Her.

The woman has his hand in hers. Her smile is sweet, teeth glinting between soft lips in the orange flare of the streetlights. The man is enthralled by the petite woman, and She wonders at his stupidity in not hearing the razors in her laughter. If She still had a body, She would feel the thick wetness of desire at his unwitting march toward Her. But She is unbound in Her form and simply waits, Her whole being a gaping mouth.

The woman glances at Her, the shadows in her eyes a mirror of the darkness pooling beside the dock. That the woman is aware of Her presence and purpose is certain. Those honey brown eyes flick back and forth between Her and Her prey, shrewd in their knowing. They are like a pair of orcas, the woman herding Her prey past small clusters of tourists intent on making the most of the pleasant night. He seems unaware of the heavy current she carries with her tonight. Instinctively, he pulls against it with his captive hand, attempting to direct her toward the quaint shops along the embarcadero, and She sees her lean fingers flex as she lures him down the dock. Toward Her.

Her anticipation intensifies. The other creatures of the bay have long since retreated to safer waters. Even the little anchovies have temporarily abandoned the abundance afforded by the pilings and hulls. Those on land are barely aware of Her, but Her prey’s air scent sours as his body begins to sense Her presence through the fog. The dampness makes his greasy hair stick to his face like blades of eelgrass, his eyes darting around, quickly assessing the empty dock. Finding nothing to warrant the frenetic movements of his heart, he turns back to the woman with a possessive hunger. The woman has turned away from him, and he frowns in displeasure even as She knows her gaze is sweeping the embarcadero above, noting the absence of witnesses. When she returns her attention to him, she smiles demurely and shoves him hard in the chest, her movements calculated and efficient.

He falls almost gracefully, the sharp corners of his body slipping silently into the dark wetness, and She surges into his mouth along with the water before he even thinks to scream. Forming Herself into something like claws, She tears Her way down his throat, bobbing his Adam’s apple up and down before crushing it with a small pop. The rage She unleashes from inside his body is amplified by the memories of brutality his muscles hold. As She destroys the fine bones of the hands, the muscles of the jaw, the hard knees and feet, She feels the impact of the violences he has inflicted on the woman and She withholds Her mercy.

His body is rent apart from within as She pours into him, drinking his marrow and shredding Her way out of his pores like a million tiny propellers.

The surface of the water pulses just once with a strong, silent percussion emanating from underwater. It is a perfectly dismissible anomaly, a momentary flicker on the dockside camera.

When She subsides, the only movement is the miraculous swirl of the returning anchovies, their silver heads dimly reflecting the moonlight like a storm of stars. The woman looks on with wonder at the galaxy within the bay, her breath merging with the fog and calming the wild thrumming of her heart as she stands in silent tableau.

Eventually, she kneels at the edge of the dock. She presses two fingers to her lips and then reaches out and touches them to the inky water. To Her.

 


 

Above water, the small seaside town is as quaint as ever. Determined fishermen greet the dawn with quivering yawns and steady hands. Peaceful kayakers draw lazy arcs across the glassy water as the shops open on the embarcadero. The merry band of women in their dragon boat laugh as they paddle, and the lone gondolier gifts his song to the golden waters.

And beneath it all, She sinks, expanding and settling in tendrils of cool and wisps of shadow. She is immense, cast across the bay like a net larger than that of any commercial fisher, waiting for the next time She is called.


Editor: Aigner Loren Wilson

First Reader: Sarah Davidson

Copy Editors: Copy Editing Department

Accessibility: Accessibility Editors



Anne Mai Yee Jansen hails from the sun and sandstone of California's central coast, where she resides with her partner, offspring, and feline companions. She exists on a steady diet of genre fiction, dragon boating, and hot chocolate. Find her on Instagram @dreaminginstories or visit her website.
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