Ocean Bride

Billie and Joanne became best friends in primary school. By the time they were passing their A levels, they both knew they did not want to spend a single year apart and decided they would both attend the same university, although studying different subjects. Their strong friendship survived all the trials and tribulations of student life; and they even spent all of their holidays together, which was a tradition that they tried to keep up after graduation.

However, inevitably a day arrived when Billie confessed to Joanne that she had kept in touch with a young man named Michael, whom they had both met while on their last holiday in Corfu , and, furthermore, that he had turned out to be the one and only, the man in her life, her husband  to be. Billie also wanted him to be a part of their next holiday trip, and as Michael was in Corfu already, so to Corfu they all returned.

Despite her misgivings, Joanne had great time: both Billie and Michael made her feel welcome as they invited her to share in their happiness; never once did she feel herself to be an unwanted extra, or an unnecessary third.

They rented a little house on the beach and spent a few carefree days soaking in the sun, splashing in the sea and indulging in everything else that summer holiday makers were supposed to indulge in.

“I have to go inland and see some obscure and pretty boring relations of mine up in the hills,” Michael declared over breakfast one day.

“I’ll come with you,” Billie immediately piped in return, “I don’t mind boring as long as I’m with you!”

“No!” answered Michael somewhat sharply, as if giving an order, “You stay here and keep Joanne company!”

Billie looked up at her friend with a new, slightly hostile expression, as though resentful that she had to stay behind with her. Despite the gentle morning sunshine iridescent within the quiet mirror of the dark blue sea, Joanne felt momentarily chilly, their cosy little terrace ominously darkened.

Joanne did not utter a word: for the first time she experienced an unpleasant feeling that her friend did not want her around. Fortunately, that moment quickly passed and in the end they all laughed together. Michael left on his errand and the girls ran to the beach outside the house.

Joanne was doing a lazy forward crawl in the water when something bright caught her eye on the bottom of the sea. She stopped and dived below tge surface. Something was there, caught under a stone… But no matter how hard she tried, she could not quite reach it. Eventually, she ran out of air and had to swim up.

“Jo! What are you doing?” shouted Billie

“There’s something down there! Come and help me get it!”

Billie quickly swam up to her friend and they both started taking turns at diving to get the little treasure that the sea was so reluctant to part with.

In the end it was Joanne who managed to move the stone, grab the shiny object and quickly swim back to the surface, gasping for air. When she finally opened her fist, the girls saw a beautifully carved golden ring, topped with a huge shiny green stone in the form of a fish tail.

“Oh…!” They both exclaimed simultaneously.

“Can I try it?” Asked Billie.

Joanne smiled, quickly put the ring on her middle finger and with a shout, cried:

“Catch me and its yours forever!” Then, she started swimming back to the beach.

Billie, who was not so tired, and, being by far the better swimmer, easily caught up and the two best friends spent a long time wrestling each other in the shallow waters, weak with laughter, having fun and enjoying each other’s company, like in the good old days.

When they finally got out of the sea, Joanne, admitting defeat, tried to get the ring off her finger so as to give it to Billie.

However, no matter how hard she strained, the ring refused to move.

Billie also tried to get it off, but with the same result.

“Look,” said Joanne, “never mind. Let’s do it later! Maybe my hand’s gotten swollen in the water.”

They went back into the house and Billie checked her phone for messages from Michael. Strangely enough, there were none.

“I’m sure his phone’s just run out of power, or something,” said Joanne. “You shouldn’t worry!”

The rest of the afternoon the girls stayed on the terrace in the cool breeze, reminiscing over their times together in school and at Uni.

The evening came and Michael did not return; neither did he acknowledge what by then was a multitude of Billie’s anxious messages or answer her calls.

It was not a happy evening: both Billie and Joanne felt rather low and miserable. Still, they were exhausted by the sun, sea and worries, and, in the end, deciding that technology was likely to blame, went to bed.

Joanne was truly worn-out but had great difficulty in falling asleep: the ring on her finger felt heavy and she could not quite make up her mind whether it was her finger or the ring itself that was throbbing with a mounting heat.

Eventually she fell into an uneasy slumber which quickly turned into a vivid nightmare:  Billie was in it with her face swollen with tears and grief … and there was Michael, not the gentle and kind, brown-eyed , soft-spoken Michael she knew, but a stranger of Michael’s features distorted by an ice cold stare from eyes the colour of an unfathomable, endless and  indifferent sea. His mouth stretched in an evil grin growing wider and wider until it was possible to see a terrifying set of sharp fangs inside.

Joanne woke up suddenly: she thoughе she had heard a loud splash.  An enormous full moon was glaring at her through the window. She felt terribly alone and afraid; she also felt the finger with the cursed ring on it throbbing. Something she could not even begin to explain pressed her to get up and made her walk out onto the beach and come to the very edge of the sea where the water looked unnaturally calm, undisturbed by a single ripple. The merciless silver path paved by the moon was running into infinity, adding to Billie’s overall sense of terror. Again, totally against her will she stepped onto the moon path, feeling the warm water under her feet. A couple of paces away from her she clearly saw a huge fish tail splash and next, a male torso appeared out of the water.

Horrified, Joanne recognised the terrifying Michael of her dream.

“The ring always knows the little mermaid, “something whispered inside her head.

A scream died on Joann’s lips.

She wanted to turn around and run … but her feet would not move…

She looked down …

She saw a fish tail where her legs had been.

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