Creating short stories is something I love to do as a way to keep my mind open to inspiration and my writing skills progressing whilst I work on my main project (a novel).
This story does include descriptions of drowning so this is a warning if that is a bad trigger for you!
More of my stories can be found on my instagram @ariellamcculloch. I hope you enjoy it 💕

I run through the streets of the town that is my prison, throwing myself down twisting alleyways, storming past the ignorant, shock-faced citizens, following the sea-salt smell on the air that’s luring me to freedom. My feet pound on the familiar cobblestones, followed by shouts and screams as those following me careen into the people and the stalls lining every main road. A smirk twists my lips as I leap into the air, flying over a fruit vendors selection of sweet oranges that covers the entrance to an abandoned scanty house as it always does this day every month, when the seller arrives and the numbers of his wares is largest. My feet land firmly on the ground behind the stall, where the kind man would be standing, selling his oranges for a fair price if he wasn’t on the break I know he takes at this time every day, leaving his son in charge who likes to talk to the young girl who sells bread across the street more than he likes to sell oranges. I don’t waste any time pushing my way through the small wooden door and I twist to slam it shut in the same laboured breath.

The muscles in my legs burn with the exertion of running for as long as I did, all the way from my masters house at the top of the hill, to the bottom of the main market street that runs through the centre of the town, ending at Whistling Harbour, named due to the sweet tunes that can be heard in the dead of night, when the town is deep in slumber. I give myself a moment to pause, listening to the bustling street outside, praying that my pursuers have lost me. I’ll have to take a different pathway to the ocean if they have, try to lose them again. When I hear their shouts passing by the house cramped on the inner corner of the street that is my brief sanctuary, I sigh in relief and smile again.

I’m close. I can almost taste my freedom on the sea-salt air. Turning on my heels I stalk to the stairs and reach under the decaying wood. My fingers find the corse leather and I pull forth the bag I had hidden here the week before. For the first time since I was a child, excitement surges in my veins, burning away the pain of this place as I quickly loop my burnished gold hair into plaits and knots on top of my head, securing it under a knitted brown Monmouth cap. Sliding out of the intensely yellow dress my master makes me wear I stuff it into my bag in place of the sailors clothing I pull out. I swiped the garments off a few clumsy cabin boys as they was joking and cleaning the clothes of their crew at the wash-house. The guilt I felt almost stopped me, but the pull of freedom was too much. I only hope they didn’t get as bad a beating as I would have if I had lost something of my master’s. My petite, feminine figure is nothing like the brutish, masculine form of the sailors in these parts, so I spent weeks adjusting the sizes of the clothes to fit me, using every free moment I could. I tug the white shirt over my head and tuck it into the midnight blue slops that, in turn, I stuff into the brown leather boots I stole off my master’s haughty, sweet-faced daughter, who has similar sized feet to me, and who’s favourite game was to torment me as I struggled to get my work done, usually leading to another beating form my master which she would watch gleefully. They’re fancier than most sailors shoes, but at least they fit. From the feel of them, she’s never even worn the boots, she probably bought them on a whim when she was saying she was going to run away with a sailor boy a few months back. She got bored with him quickly, and has all but forgotten him since he left. The final item is a light blue coat of my master’s from his sailing days, that is definitely too big and of a lovely quality, but it hides my small size well, so I roll up the sleeves, rip off the fancier adornments, and with my pack filled with meagre supplies thrown over my back, I’m on my way.

I use a back window to leave the house, it opens up onto a quiet, empty street from which I easily make my way to the harbour, free from men that would have dragged me back to my prison by my hair in hope for a reward, not caring for the life they were ruining in the process. I pause when I reach the sea, taking in the sapphire ocean and stench of fish, and am hit with the realisation that I am about to leave, to set sail and find myself a new home in a land far from here. I don’t hide the smile on my face, but when I step onto the wooden docks I twist it into the smirk I see the men toss at each other. Tugging on my cap I search the boats for an entrance. There. My eyes zone in on a large ship at the end, bigger than all the rest, with many people coming and going. It should be easy to slip onto and find a hiding spot, maybe say I’m a new cabin boy hired for my skill in the kitchen? I should have thought of my story before, I realises now that was a stupid mistake, but honestly, I didn’t think I’d make it this far.

With no sign of my master’s private guard anywhere in sight I take a deep breath and push forward. I dip my head low and try to fade into nothing as I walk the length of the dock so no one pays me any mind, but I also walk with enough determination that anyone who does look my way will see that I have a destination in mind, a place to be in this world. The ship nears and my heart rate quickens, pounding against my rib cage so hard I think it may burst free. The thought of freedom has my feet moving faster. So close! I run up the plank leading to the ship and I only have eyes for the path ahead as I hurry below deck.

Breath rushes from me quickly in the sudden silent darkness, but I don’t pause to wait. I’m not safe yet. My breath starts coming and going as fast as my heart as I scurry through the low light to the furthest point I can find. Luckily, I come across a store room with dust coating the boxes at the back. When no sounds of people reach my ears, I let myself calm down. I’m here. I made it. Now I just have to survive aboard this ship long enough for us to dock in a new land, a new home.

***

Silently, with my hat pulled down low, I sneak out of the kitchens, food for the next few days tucked in my pack, the taper candle dripping wax onto my hand whilst lighting my way in the darkness. I slide around corners and slowly make my way back to my hiding place, avoiding the last few men still awake as the ship sails through the night, maned by the night crew on deck. I’ve been on the ship near a week now, maybe more, it’s hard to tell being stuck below deck in the recesses of the ship, only coming out at night. I long to see the sky and breath the fresh ocean air, but I can’t risk being seen for more than just a passing glimpse. I had thought that this ship would have space for an extra person, but every position seems to be taken, as the crew works together in annoying harmony. So I stay hidden, taking the smallest amount of food possible, and only leave in the dead of night. Fear keeps me from sleeping most of the time, and my stomach growls, but since I’m not labouring like usual, it’s something I can deal with. I’ve been through worse.

I’ve only spoken to one person, and I didn’t think the lack of socialisation would be almost as hard to bear as the hunger. A man not much older than me, who I escaped from as early as possible, but he seemed...nice. Less brutish than the other men, with a smile that curved up half his face, a small scar on his sun-kissed chin, and eyes as green as seaweed hidden under a mop of dark brown hair. He seemed out of place among the crew, clearly raised in a higher status than most from his smarter clothing, and likely a better sailor from the subtly envious looks he received. I’m familiar with the looks, the other girls working for my master used to give me the same look because I was his favourite. Little did they know what that favour cost me.
Our conversation didn’t last long, but after being in isolation for days on end I wish I had risked keeping the conversation going a little longer. Or that I could see him again. Was it just my imagination or did he start talking to me because I was new and he was looking for a friend? Was that what I was seeing behind the kindness? I don’t know, but I long for a friend right now. Maybe being his friend I could have found myself a place on this boat. It was fear that kept me from trying that path.

Finally I reach the door to the room I’m taking refuge in and only when I’m safely behind the wall of boxes do I set my candle down and pull out some fish to eat from my pack.

Before I can take a single bite to settle my raging stomach, the door to my hideaway is pushed open on its metal hinges. Fear pulses through my body, quickly I fumble for the small knife I found in the kitchen and blow out the candle.

“Hello?” The voice calls, soft and with a lilt of an accent I’ve only heard once. The man. Is it him? “I saw you come in here, what are you doing?” I stay hidden, hoping he won’t find me and think better of what he saw. But I know my luck isn’t that strong.

He comes around the corner and eyes widen as he takes in my hiding space in the low candle light he brings with him. Before he has time to react I jump, knife in hand. The candle falls from his grasp but stays alight and throws shadows around the room as it flickers. I land on him with a thump, pushing the air from his chest, but I don’t know what to do next, I’ve never fought someone before. We fall to the floor in a tangle of limbs and I hit my head on the ground. I blink away stars and he disarms me quickly, rolling us over in a smooth motion and pinning me beneath him. I realise distantly that my hat has come off my hand, and my golden hair splays over my face, shining in the candle light.

I look up at his face, all harsh angles and shadows as he stares down at me, too shocked for words. My breath comes in shallow puffs as his weight bares down on me and fear becomes all I know.

“You’re a girl,” He says tonelessly.

“Get off me!” I yell, suddenly angry I twist out of his grip and punch him in the face, but all it does is rouse him from his shock and cause him to tighten his hold on my wrists. I shout and yell and spit in his face, anything to get him off. Nothing works.

“Stop it!” He shouts back. “Calm down!” He puts more weight on my chest and I wince at the pain. “I’m not going to hurt you!” The pressure lessens and I pause my frantic fighting.

“And why should I believe you?” I scream in his face, baring my teeth in a sneer. He shakes his head.

“I have no reason too, you’re just a girl, a stowaway, I have no issue with you.” His voice drops to a soothing pitch as he speaks. “What are you doing on this ship?”

“Isn’t is obvious? Running away, escaping a bad life in search of a better one...anything I’m missing? Why else would I risk my life to come aboard a ship full of men who would do god knows what to a young girl hiding below decks?” I put as much venom in my words, hoping to mask the fear, hoping he’ll think I’m more hassle that I have worth. I don’t want to think what might happen to me otherwise.

“You don’t have to worry, I won’t do anything to you,” I roll my eyes, he thinks that now... “I’ll help you stay hidden, bring you food so you don’t have to sneak around, get you off board when we board at a good town.” I scoff.

“A good town. Like the last one we were at? Where I was a slave to a master who had no regard for me? Or do you mean you won’t let me off until you decide, saying each place we dock at is a bad town so you have more time with me.” My glare burns holes in him and anger turns his green eyes black.

“I will not hurt you. Why is that so hard to understand?” He spits. I shake my head, how does he not understand how hard it is to believe him when everyone else in my life has hurt me? “Look, I’m sorry you had to run away like this, but I promise I won’t reveal you to the rest of the crew. You’ve lasted this long, we should be arriving at our next stop in a week or so, there’s no need for anyone else to know that you’re here-”

“Brendan, is that you?” A deep, grumbly voice echoes down the hallway, thick with sleep. The man above me, Brendan, clamps a hand over my mouth and orders me to be silent with a harsh glare. We both freeze, and the moment stretches out into eternity as everything falls away and the only sound is my raging heart. Then footsteps pad along the hallway, coming in our direction. I let out a small whimper, my fear getting the better of me and cracking the mask I had been wearing. An indiscernible look passes over Brendan’s face. Stay here. He mouths before rising to his feet. I follow his command and scuttle back, pressing against the wall in hope that I will disappear.

“Hello Charlie, what are you doing awake?” Brendan asks casually, leaning against the doorframe, a silhouette against the growing light.

“I could ask the same thing of you,” Annoyance coats Charlie’s words and the light pauses, the source just out of view.

“Couldn’t sleep,” I see his shoulders move in a small shrug, trying to make the lie sound more convincing. “I thought I’d go for a walk, explore the ship.” I hold my breath.

“And you decided to shout at yourself in the process? Stub a toe?” He chuckles, no shred of belief evident in his mockery. He takes a step forward and grabs Brendan roughly.

“No! Wait, I can explain-” He fruitlessly tries to stop Charlie but he barges in. His eyes widen when they reach me, anger and fear lighting behind his gaze.

“A woman!” He roars, barrelling for me. I scream and scramble away. It’s not use, he’s on me in an instant. Hands latch onto my waist and the next thing I know I’m in the air. He throws me over his shoulder, knocking the wind out of me.

“Charlie, wait!” Panic floods through me as Brendan locks onto my gaze with a fear near equal to my own.

“NO! Please! I’m sorry! Don’t hurt me!” Tears burn tracks down my cheeks and I pound on Charlie’s back. He grunts, but doesn’t care. I scream and scream as he carries me into the darkness and through the ship. Brendan follow, shouting for Charlie to stop. The loss of my sight makes me fight even more, but his grip is like iron, strong and immovable. I know even Brendan couldn’t help free me. Doors open and voices sound around me, confused at the commotion.

“What’s going on?” Someone shouts, and a candle is lit nearby. The man holding it almost drops it in shock when his eyes land on me.

“Help me! Please!” I cry out desperately. He doesn’t register my fear, only feels his own as his eyes glaze over.

“A woman! There’s a woman on board!” This seems to rile up the crew more, spiking fear into their hearts the comes out in the voices.

“It’s bad luck!” Someone shouts.

“She’ll cause the ship to go down!”

“She’ll get us all killed!”

“Throw her over-board!” Terror freezes my fighting. Brendan contends this desperately, but after a too-brief silence, the crew echos the notion, and I know my fate is sealed. Cries rip from my throat as fresh tears comes in torrents. I can’t think, I don’t know how to escape this. All I feel is dread. I should have stayed. I should have stayed! Even as I think that I know I don’t wish to go back to that place, but if I had known... I shove the regret deep down, I left, and now I’m going to die.

We emerge on the deck and I’m dropped on the ground. Wood scrapes my hands and face, drawing blood, but I barely notice.

“Tie her up!” Charlie shouts. There a few pleading cries that echo my own, but they’re all drowned out as the crew jeer. Hands grab my hands, my arms, my legs, binding me in rope. I struggle, thrashing against them, but their strength wins and a piece of fabric tied roughly around my head, gagging me, silences my cries.

There’s nothing left I can do.

The fight drains out of me as the faceless hands lift me into the air. Sobs break through the gag and wrack my body. I don’t bother straining against the restraints, the rope digs into my skin deep enough that I know I won’t be able to break free. They’re sailors, of course I won’t. I’m carried to the edge of the ship and I fall limp in my murderers’ grip. Please, I call out, to the gods, to the ocean, to anyone that can hear. Please don’t let this be the end.

Then, I’m airborne.

All I can do is gasp as I fall through the air.

The inky ocean slams into me like a wall of ice, and in moments, I’m consumed. A new wave of fear collides with me as the cold seeps into my bones. I flail and make futile attempts to break free of my bonds. Darkness smothers me. My chest ignites with a fire that rages, but isn’t hot enough to burn the ice in my veins. My air is running out. A pounding in my head overwhelms me. The instinct not to breath is the strongest feeling I’ve every felt, but I feel my eyes droop and I know things will end soon. I try to fight it as long as possible but I convulse and sea-salt water burns down my throat and fills my lungs. The taste is the only thing I can think of as I fall deeper into the oceans caress.

The pain fades, and a strange peace overcomes me. The water is in my lungs and the cold is the only feeling my body has left. I’m about to shut my eyes when a light starts glowing in the distance, lighting up the navy waters surrounding me. It grows brighter, coming towards me, and I feel death pull on me again. Is this death? The light that people whisper in their loved ones’ ears to go towards when the life is leaving them?

The light splits into multiple different orbs, and forms appear from within them as they circle me. Vibrations pulse through the water, then a sweet melody touches my ears. It’s more beautiful than anything I’ve ever heard.

One of the forms swim towards me, and in my blurred vision I make out a face with flowing teal hair framing it. I wonder if I should be scared, but all I feel is awe. My gaze drifts down the person’s body as I distantly wonder how people could be this far down in the ocean. I made out a curving, feminine form that ends in a tail and shock drags my eyes to meet hers. They’re a startling purple. Mermaids. My oxygen-deprived brain thinks.

She smiles sweetly at me, and bring her lips to mine as the song increases in a tongue foreign to my ears but full of emotion and power, and more elegant than any voice I know.

Her cold lips press against mine and it’s as if I can breathe again, as if I can breathe for the first time in my entire life. The water in my lungs doesn’t leave, but instead I feel it push deeper into me, flow through my body like magic. The numb cold disappears, replaced by a need for the frozen ocean around me. I shiver as the ice feels glorious against my changing skin. It shifts over my body, causing pain but at the same time relief. My bones crack and rearrange themselves. Every part of me changes. My legs no longer feel separate. Slits open up on my neck and wonderful water cascades into my body, erasing any thought of pain.

Silky hands slide over my skin, undo the ropes binding me, and I’m free.

The mermaid’s lips leave my own and I open my eyes.

The ocean comes into focus around me, and I feel its power pulse through my new body. I glance down, and see a long fish tail in scales of midnight blue that fade to a pearlescent white as they climb up my torso to cover my breasts in two spikes. My skin is the same sun-kissed porcelain but is smooth and callous free. Sharp nails extend from my slender fingers. I stroke my fin, disbelief silencing my thoughts as the silky scales shift under my touch. They shimmer gold in the light around me. The light caused by the mermaids. My gaze is drawn upwards and I gasp as their full beauty fills my vision. They’re like nothing I’ve ever seen before, startling and ethereal in various colours, emanating a fluorescent glow. There are mermen too. I realise they look different to me, their human features less...human.

“Welcome, siren sister.” The one who kissed me speaks, her soft voice like gentle tides lapping at sand. I meet her teal eyes, and start when I realise she spoke in their tongue, and that I understand it.

“Thank you for saving me,” I speak, the foreign words flowing easily around my sharp teeth and out of my lips. She smiles with a thought I don’t understand, and strokes my face.

“We heard your call and could not let you drown,” My call? The prayer I thought before I was thrown? Memories of what happen to me suddenly rage in my mind and anger boils inside of me. “Yesss,” she hisses, a manic glint in her eyes. “Feed that rage my sister, claim it.” I do, and feel the glorious heat of it in my bones. “What is your name?” She tilts her head but I shake mine, a sudden pain dulling the anger. I had hoped to rid myself of that horrid name when I reached a new land. Leave with it who I was and become someone new. She seems to understand and twirls a lock of my golden hair around her spindly fingers.

“Then you shall be called Marisol, daughter of the sun and siren of the sea,” I smile as the name shimmers in the water around us.

“Marisol,” I repeat, the sounds rolling out of my mouth and wrapping around me comfortably. The merfolk around me grin in terribly beautiful smiles and their glow intensifies, bathing me in marvellous light.

“Marisol, born again of the merfolk, swim within the waters they tried to drown you in, sing with the voice they tried to erase, live where those monsters would see you dead.” The merfolk chant around me, fuelling the anger inside me until it twists into something dark and dangerous.

A deadly smirk tugs at my cold lips. “I will.”