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Strange Duet

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Just as Floor finished dressing, a warm and sweet smell drifted into her rented room from downstairs. Fresh bread; breakfast was in the making.

Floor loved the quaint triviality of human life by the sea; there was always something to learn. A new song from an old man, a story to hear, a flower to gather, something to see, smell or taste that didn’t grow underwater.

Inhabiting a mortal body for some weeks was proving to be the perfect holiday.

She made her way hurriedly to the front room, where the innkeeper greeted her with his constant amiability.

“Morning, miss. Will you be having breakfast?”

“Thank you, I’ll take a stroll by the cliffs first.”

He nodded and went to look after his stove as Floor stepped out the door.

The inn’s battered sign swung and creaked overhead. The wind was harsh in those parts and Floor wasn’t used to her newly acquired fragility. She set off down the cobblestone path to the cliffs, buttoning her peacoat all the way up.

A mile or so away, Charlotte too was having an early morning. Just under the surface, she stretched, swam in circles and eights, and leapt out of the water and back in as a prelude to her daily hunt. The sea was wonderful, cold and crystal-clear; one could see through it for miles. But the catch of the day was a few dozen feet above, on the edge of a rocky cliff. A woman, tall and dark-haired, and even from afar, Charlotte could see she was nothing short of gorgeous.

Her lips curled and twitched and her tail batted up a mist as she swam eagerly towards the rocks.

Floor heard some soft, muted notes sung in a lively voice. She looked around and saw no one. Quite strange, she thought, but she knew the sea to be nothing if not that. The song was quite pleasant nonetheless, and so she stayed and listened, casting a longing gaze over her endless domain.

A red shimmer in the water caught her eyes. She squinted at it as it danced on the surface, and after a few moments, she could make out the body it crowned. A woman bathing down in the inlet? Not with a tail, it wasn’t.

She felt somewhat silly upon realizing the mermaid had been the one singing all along, but of course she had forgotten much since taking to dry land.

The mermaid’s song was exhilarating but, Floor could see, her wide red grin concealed an effective arrangement of sharp teeth. No one quite knew what mermaids did - not even her - with whomever they managed to capture, only that they were rarely ever seen again. There were rumors, of course; some were horrifying, others were racy and… not entirely unpleasant if one was to be honest.

At any rate, Floor wanted to play a little. She sat on the edge of the cliff, dangling her long legs down towards the water.

The mermaid’s voice seemed to hitch for a moment.

So, so close…
And her melody resumed with renewed vehemence, with renewed appetite. She cast her voice upward, hoping to swarm the woman with a maddening echo so that she might come closer still, fall into the water and Charlotte’s embrace.

But Floor only laughed and swayed her head to the tune, infuriatingly unaffected.

Charlotte sang and chanted and finally shrieked in her frustration until she was out of breath. Why was it not working? What kind of woman was that up there?

Charlotte had not the least idea until Floor began to sing herself. A soft, beautiful song, but Charlotte heard it perfectly clear as if it were coming from the very sea all around.

Was it?

She pulled her hand out of the water and held it up in front of her. The water didn’t run off, it clung to her skin like some strange clear mud. She tried to shake it off, to writhe free of the witchcraft, but she only found herself further entangled in it. She grunted, hissed and croaked, throwing her most hateful look up at the whatever-she-was.

Floor smiled and sang on until Charlotte was exhausted.

Her limbs felt like putty and the strange tune simply drained her of all strength until she could only drift to and fro, bound by the music, slowly sinking into the blue quicksand.

Only then did Floor bring her song to a close, and the mermaid was free again, gasping for breath and growling her discontent. Whatever kind of woman that was atop the cliff, she was trouble.

Charlotte growled, gritting her teeth.

“Who are you?”

“Just a passerby,” came the cheery reply. “Good catch today?”

Good catch? With that atrociously amused smile as well? The audacity! It was an outrage and there was nothing Charlotte could do about it.

“Nothing yet,” she spit back..

“Good luck, then, I’ll be taking my leave,” Floor said, making to stand.

“Wait! You can’t just… just go away!”

Floor threw her head back in laughter.

“Why, I can do anything around these parts!”

Charlotte could only watch the eerie wanderer walk away, stunned and just a tad bit hot in the cheeks. Perhaps, she figured, if they met again, Charlotte could try to court her the proper way…