The Last Time (fiction) is an expansion of an earlier story, The Right Place (the first 100 words, written for last week’s Friday Fictioneer entry). Sometimes a story idea comes back to me with more than what I originally wrote.
The Last Time
The “beach” as the hotel called it, had no sand or seashells. Lyndon wondered if he was in the right place. Still, he thought it had an air of mystery: solid, dark boulders against fluid, transparent waves. He lifted up his face to the waves’ mist.
Lyndon got the feeling someone was watching him. The shore was deserted, but in the shallow water a mermaid appeared, swimming back and forth.
The hotel concierge heard the wind carrying the last notes of the mermaid’s song. He made a note to clean out Lyndon’s room, knowing the young man would not return.
In his youth, the concierge spent many hours at the edge of the water, searching for the mermaid, hoping she would appear, choosing him. Her songs haunted his dreams. The only time he actually heard them was when he was working at the hotel desk. The remnants of her music, so soft on the wind’s wings, ripped through his heart.
When her song faded, he would go to the guest book and, through his tears, find the name of the visitor who would not be coming back. He always knew, after he heard her singing. Usually it was a man, but not always. It was hard, so very hard, on parents when it was a child who was taken. He wanted to soften their loss by telling them about the ocean’s magic, but he knew it would be the wrong time to attempt such an explanation. Their misery was caused by a void that could not be filled. He kept his own small misery to himself, that of life on land.
The concierge didn’t go down to the rocks anymore. It had been years since the last time he spent any time there. Once he thought he saw her and had waded out into the waves as far as he could, but the only sound he heard was the water rushing; no song. An undertow caught him and he tumbled below the waves. At first he fought against the tide, an instinct to survive. Then he decided that if she would not come to him, he would go to her. He relaxed, closed his eyes, and swirled down towards the ocean floor.
Just before his last breath, two strong hands took hold of him, raising him to the surface. He gasped, taking in life-giving air. She had saved him. She kissed him on the forehead before releasing her grip, shoving him into the shallow water. The salt of the ocean mixed with his tears as he sobbed in sorrow. He was alive, and miserable. That was the last time he looked for her.
It was time to close the hotel for the season; no tourists came in winter. As usual, he was the last to leave, shuttering the windows, locking the doors. He didn’t look forward to the months ahead, filled with cold and loneliness. Memories of his youth in the summer sun couldn’t warm him anymore.
The old man started down the path near the cliff. A storm was blowing in, whipping up the waves, slowing his pace considerably. Just as he turned his back to the wind, he saw something out of the corner of his eye. He looked past the rocks and there she was. He held his breath, afraid that she would disappear if he should blink. A gust of wind caused him to dip his head and step back. When he looked up, she was gone.
For a long moment he stood there, searching. He couldn’t see her, but he could hear the sweet beginnings of her song. Each wave brought the notes to him, a song of welcome. At the end of the path, only the rocks stood between him and the ocean. He knew that if he climbed the rocks, he’d never be able to make it back.
He wasn’t planning on coming back.
The rocks were wet and slippery and, trying to climb over them, he felt every year of his age. A big wave knocked him back, tossing him around as if he were a pebble. Bruised and bleeding, he struggled to get up. She drew him forward, her music in the mist. The storm was worsening: the waves bigger, the wind stronger, the water colder. The salt stung in his wounds, his blood diluting to pink as it washed away.
Shivering, the old man crawled on his hands and knees, inching his way to the rock’s edge. Nothing existed except for him, the storm, and the mermaid’s song. He collapsed, incapable of going any farther. He silently screamed in anger that it was only now that she called to him, when he was unable to reach her.
A massive wave swelled up, covering him completely. It hurtled him towards the bottom of the cliff. There was nothing he could do to prevent the fatal battering to come. His tears made no difference to the ocean, ever disinterested in mortals.
She reached for him, just as she had before, keeping him safely away from the boulders. Gathering him in her arms, they rode the wave as it retreated into the water’s depth. As he gave up his last breath of air, she kissed him, breathing into him the life of the deep darkness.
The concierge’s name started to fade on the final page of the guest book, where he had written it before closing the hotel for the last time.