Fear of Shallow Living
He struggles to navigate the soft sand these days; it tumbles and folds beneath his footsteps, making it difficult to stay upright. It never used to be this hard, but then, he never used to be this old. Jeanette goes on about ageing gracefully, but there isn’t much he finds graceful in this nightly dance by the black-tossed waves—him stumbling towards the water, the beach sucking at his feet as if it’s trying to stop him from reaching the shore.
He’s nearly drowned eight times over the decades.
Eight times he’s slipped beneath those cold silky waves, the seabed far beneath him, no anchor to hold on to. Eight times he thinks he might have swam out too far on purpose.
And eight times he’s woken on the shore, soaked and spluttering, and unable to remember how he got back to dry land.
She watches the Landling ambling across the sand, his crooked shuffle betraying his age. With her keen, slate-grey eyes she can still pick out the familiar curve of his jawline and the soft flicks of hair curled beneath his earlobes—pale now, silvery-white like seafoam in the moonlight. She does not approach and she does not let him know she’s there, not in all the many moons that have risen and fallen since she first saw him. Their lives were not meant to merge, no matter how much he yearned for it.
Though she feels no emotional connection to the Landling, she finds his habits curious, like a hunter that never quite got the hang of the hunt, but could also never let it go. Always prowling, never catching her.
Well, except for that one time.
It was the Spring of his thirty-first year when, alone one night on one of his insomnia-driven strolls, he stumbled upon a strange pile of rags bundled under an outcropping of rocks just up the beach. The curious fabric shone wet in the pale light of the moon, dark-grey and slick, the strangest thing. When he touched it, it felt like incredibly dense velvet, similar to the gowns his fiancé Jeanette wore to the parties she dragged him to during the cooler months.
Carefully he picked up the heavy pile of rags, cradling it in his outstretched arms, the fabric damp in places as if it had recently been in the water. It must have washed up here, perhaps from the cove just across the bay where holiday-makers liked to picnic and swim well into the evening.
It smelled… odd, like the sea and old, unnameable things. He turned it in his arms, unable to pull his gaze away. The outside was fur, but inside was a dark-red fabric that he couldn’t place. It wasn’t like any material he had seen or felt before.
The night she returned to her safe place and found a Landling standing on the sand holding her pelt in his pale, dry paws, she flushed with anger and dread. A high pitch wail built in her throat, but she swallowed it before it could escape. She needed to be careful and not spook him.
The Foremothers spoke in long and low whale-moans of the Landlings and their penchant for material things, of their will to conquer and their carnal desires. This was a knowledge passed down through generations, sister-to-sister, learned from the siblings of those unfortunate enough to be caught. To be bound to a Landling was a waking death to her kind.
She had to do something, and fast.
Far in the distance, her sisters called to her, their keening cries of despair and desperation for the lost. She felt a surge of longing in her belly, their sad song pulling at her and yet she could not go without her skin, for she knew that she would drown like a Landling if she tried.
Cautiously, she stepped forward.
The woman was tall and sleek and pale as if made of coral, but with long black tangles of hair threaded with seaweed. He hadn’t noticed her step closer until she was nearly upon him.
She was also completely naked.
He let out a sharp, “Oh!” and almost dropped the strange bundle of rags. At the same moment, the woman sucked in an audible breath and then chirped a shrill noise the likes of which he had never heard before.
“I’m terribly sorry—” he started, not sure where to look. “I was just here and I found this odd thing—” But his words died away as she stepped closer, close enough for him to see patches of what looked like tiny crystals glittering on her shoulders and down her arms. There were similar patches on her cheeks and forehead. Salt, perhaps? “Are you all right?” he ventured.
She dipped her chin and stared up at him with the most intense dark eyes, grey-black and fathomless. In that instant he believed that the woman could sink ships with those eyes, but before he could say or do anything else, she reached out and touched his arm, her skin cool and smooth like the velvet rags he still clutched tight.
The moment she touched him his face changed, creasing with the hunger that the Foremothers had warned her and her sisters about. That was the way it worked with her kind; even the softest touch would turn to a game of possession and domination. But in that moment, she had the power; she could see it in the flare of his nostrils and the quiver of his lower lip.
“Who are yo—” he began, strange Landling noises she didn’t fully grasp. She knew a language they shared, though. She kissed him, so hard and sudden that he stumbled backward, but she went with him and as she slid into his arms, she knocked her pelt to the ground. It landed with a dull thump in the sand.
The Landling’s body was aflame, a heat that enveloped her until she thought she might burn to ashes.
But her pelt was free. That was all that mattered.
Distantly he thought he heard a clattering sound coming from the sea, like whale bones tossed by an unknowable current. The woman kissed him deeper and he lost any hope of logical thought, unable to fathom what was happening, or where he was, or even his own name.
She was a torrent of cold fingers and sharp teeth, clawing the shirt on his back and nipping at his lips. She licked his face and rubbed her cheek against his, her breasts firm and round against his chest, and oh, oh God, she must have been able to feel him, hot and hard against her thigh. She pushed him roughly into the sand and then suddenly she was everywhere, salty and slick, grasping his chest with her long, sharp fingers. She drew a breathless groan from deep within him and he felt a freedom he couldn’t articulate, something akin to flying, he imagined. If only he could hold onto it and take it with him, perhaps he could better understand what it meant.
If he could just hold onto her and never—
Never let her go.
The Landling mumbled, sprawled on the sand and half-conscious. His body glistened with sweat and blood and their juices in the moonlight, his clothes torn to ribbons.
She rose to her feet, ignoring the warm seed that dribbled down her thighs, and stepped away. For a brief moment, she stared at the Landling who had no idea how close he came to claiming her as his own.
Far out in the churning waves, her sisters called. Their cries had grown desperate. She’d been gone far too long.
She grabbed her pelt and ran toward the dark water.
Decades passed, and even now at his grand old age of eighty, the ball of despair he felt that night when he woke to find her gone was still there, still as heavy and dark as ever. He has given up any hope of it going away. He will die with it—the longing and the loss.
What better place than right here where he met her?
He finds a comfy spot on the sand where it’s quiet, where the lights from the pier barely reach, and stares out to the churning sea with its innumerable secrets and dangers.
Dangers of the flesh, and dangers of the heart.
She isn’t sure why she crawls ashore, or why she inspects the Landling’s motionless body, now just a wrinkled husk. Gently she licks his forehead, his flesh as thin as seaweed and dry like the sand.
He looks so small and lost.
As she drags him into the water and swims him down to the murky depths, she knows he would have liked this: ending here beneath the cold and dark waves, forever.
V.A. Cates is a writer with a keen interest in the many different colours and flavours of erotica. She likes mixing sci-fi, dark fantasy and horror with her smut, exploring how sexuality, love and lust fit within fantastical situations. She has had stories published by Circlet Press and House of Erotica. You can find her blog at vacateserotica.wordpress.com where she talks about writing, erotica, and more. She Tweets @vacatesero.