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Excerpt for Into the Deep by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Into the Deep

S.A. Meyer

Smashwords Edition

copyright 2018, S.A. Meyer

This story is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places and incidents are invented by the author or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any similarity to actual persons or events is purely coincidental.

All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author.

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Acknowledgements

Thanks to everyone who assisted me in the writing of this story, if it was buying me coffee or just lending an ear.


Water had always been frightfully fascinating. The dark secrets hiding beneath otherworldly beauty called to me.

Growing up near the port of Philadelphia I had been exposed to the gentle waves as well as the nightmare inducing stories.

Sailors, uneducated merchants and trained soldiers alike, spoke of the dangers of the seas. From sea monsters that attacked ships and left men for dead, to storms that appeared suddenly with all the fury of God.

The stories both terrified and intrigued me.

My family’s inn catered mostly to sailors waiting for the next ship out. It was while working one night that I met a foreign merchant named Bernard.

It wasn't the first time a young man attempted to woo me with tales from faraway lands, but Bernard was different. His voice flowed like wine rich with spices as he spoke of Italy, Greece, and other places that I had only dreamed of.

What I loved most of all were his stories about the sea. Battling the winds during a vicious storm with waves taller than any building, or the time he witnessed a great sea beast rise out of the water.

Before I even realized it, I was caught up in the whirlwind romance my mother had always warned me about.

I did however follow one piece of my mother’s advice. I had heard the rumors about other girls who were foolish enough to get themselves in a shameful way only to have their sailor lovers abandon them. To Bernard’s frustration and my mother’s pride I held on to my virtue.

I was a silly girl who still believed in love and marriage.

It was one night at the end of July that Bernard came to me with the news I dreaded.

“I leave in two weeks.” His voice was so low I could barely hear him over the chatter in the dining area of the inn. We sat at our special table in the back corner where we could have our privacy while remaining under my parent’s supervision.

The question burned my tongue yet I refused to ask it. I was too afraid of the answer. I knew that Bernard was about to either end our relationship or ask for my hand. I waited with bated breath.

His hands, rough from a life of hard work, reached across the table and grasped my own softer ones. Our eyes met and he smiled. “I love you, Hattie,” he said. “I can’t imagine my life without you. Marry me. Become my wife and we’ll travel the world together.”

My father was outraged. He refused to have a merchant for a son-in-law. My mother tearfully warned me about how fleeting the affections of a sailor were.

No matter what my parents said the truth of my situation was hard to ignore. I was nearly twenty and had no other proposals. My fear of becoming an old maid became more of a reality with every passing day. Bernard not only wanted to marry me, he literally promised me the world.

It only made sense to elope with Bernard.

I could barely contain my joy as we approached the ship. She was a beautiful clipper ship; sleek with three towering masts. I could tell she was an older ship, but I agreed with Bernard that it only made her more majestic.

“Miroslav is her official name,” he explained as he guided me up the gangplank. “But most of the men call her Young America.”

I stood on the deck as the crew bustled around me preparing for cast off. I didn’t want to get in their way, but I had to see my home off. I watched the land drift away with mixed emotions.

I was leaving my entire life behind. I knew that I would never see my family or friends again. I was confident that I’d make new friends and eventually Bernard and I would start our own family.

Whispered conversations and suspicious eyes followed Bernard and I all the way to our cabin.

When we were alone I asked Bernard about his crewmate’s behavior.

“It’s just superstition, Hattie,” Bernard said with a chuckle. “They think that having a woman on board is bad luck.”

“But women board passenger ships.” I countered as I watched him examine our room.

Even though the room was smaller than the one I shared with my sisters, I was grateful that I would only be sharing it with one person instead of three. I was a little disappointed that there were no windows, but I could feel the steady sway of the ship and if I focused past the sound of the crew above us I could hear the waves splashing on just the other side of the wood.

It was better than anything I could have ever imagined.

“That's different,” Bernard said, snapping my attention back to him. I watched as he began to unpack our steamer, waiting for him to continue. “Captain Vlassich agreed to give us private quarters. As a show of gratitude you'll be working in the galley assisting the cook.”

My eyes narrowed at his back. We weren’t even married yet and he was already trying to order me around like a servant. I opened my mouth before quickly snapping it shut. It was our wedding day, the day we would begin our lives together. I didn’t want to fight.

“That sounds fair,” I conceded.

Captain Vlassich was an older man with a large belly that hung over his pants and a pair of blue eyes that stared at me from a red face. He officiated our marriage on the deck of the ship just as we reached open sea with several members of crew as witnesses.

While he promised to love and cherish me, I swore to love, cherish, and obey him. My smile fell, but I had no other choice than to agree.

Yet when he slipped his family’s wedding ring over my finger, the smile on his face was so bright it melted my insecurities.

I could taste the salt from the sea air in our first kiss as husband and wife.

“The wedding bed should be sacred. My quarters would be more glamourous for the blushing bride,” Captain Vlassich offered. I quickly looked away from the Captain, a blush staining my cheeks. I was spared from responding when he continued, “Of course it wouldn’t be the Captain’s bed without the Captain.”

It took me a moment to realize what he meant as the men around me laughed loudly. Several of the men slapped their knees in delight while others leered at me.

I had grown used to crude humor while working at the inn. There had even been more than a few men who couldn’t keep their hands to himself. My father and brothers would be quick to defend my sisters and I. I thought a husband would do the same.

Instead Bernard stood next to me grinning like a fool. He wrapped an arm around my waist and pulled me against his side. He looked far too proud of himself for my liking. That was when the first rays of doubt began to creep into my mind.

Despite the Captain’s offer Bernard and I spent our wedding night in our own cabin.

All night long I could hear the men passing through the hall. Their footsteps would slow as they walked by our door. I watched the shadows underneath the door as more than a few of the bolder men would stop completely. I knew they were trying to eavesdrop.

Bernard didn’t mind the audience even after I told him that it made me uncomfortable. The only thing that frustrated him was my hesitation.

“You’re my wife now. You can’t deny me my right,” he whispered as he shuffled around the bed.

Many years before, when I first became a woman, my mother vaguely warned me about what to expect on my wedding night. She told me about the pain, but she never mentioned the disappointment or the loneliness that came over me as I lay awake next to my snoring husband.

Working on the ship was a different experience than working at the inn.

My mother, sisters, and I would have fun while we worked. We would sing and share stories to make the time go faster.

The cook on the Young America was a surly old man who smelled like a chamber pot. He refused to talk to me choosing to communicate only with a series of grunts.

More than once the disgusting man had come up behind me and pressed himself against my backside. He never said a word, but I could feel his wet heavy breathing against my ear. Occasionally he would chuckle at my tense muscles and nervous movements.

I was afraid of him.

I kept silent about Cook until I thought I would go mad. I reached that point a measly two weeks into our journey.

“What would you like me to do?” Bernard asked as he peeled his sweat logged shirt off of his body before letting it drop to the floor. “You’re a beautiful young woman, Hattie. What do you expect to happen? Now, you need to earn your keep and I can’t kick the cook out of his own kitchen.”

“I’m afraid that he’ll go farther than words or passing touches,” I confessed as I picked up his discarded clothes.

“You’ll be fine.” I pursed my lips together, biting back my reply. It would be pointless to start an argument.

The rest of the sailors weren't much better. Although they never put their hands on me, their whistles and jeers followed me everywhere I went. I wasn't even safe in my own cabin thanks to my husband's insatiable hunger for flesh.

I thought I could manage for the rest of the voyage. As long as things didn't escalate I could hold strong and suffer in silence.

Unfortunately, we were barely at sea a fortnight when a sickness began to spread among the crew. It crept through the bunks like a fire, infecting nearly half of the men on board. Sores lined the insides of their mouths. A fever heated their skin while at the same time chilling their bones. Food was expelled from their bodies faster than it could be replenished.

As the only woman on the ship the role of nursemaid was added to my duties. Bernard was concerned for my health, but even he dared not speak against the Captain.

He had no need to worry. No matter how much time I spent feeding or cleaning the ill I was unaffected.

While the ill suffered below deck, the healthy men above found that their workload had doubled. Their frustration quickly evolved into anger.

I don’t know why I was blamed. It could have been the old superstitions resurfacing or perhaps they realized that I was the easiest to make a scapegoat out of. I had no power on the ship and they all knew it.

Their lustful gazes turned into hostile glares. Crude jokes spoken loudly became whispered warnings against me. I longed for the days when I was a piece of meat. It was better than being hated.

Things only got worse once Cook discovered a fungus growing on the remaining produce.

I was working on that evening’s stew when I heard his heavy footfalls come up behind me. I closed my eyes and braced myself for his disgusting words and touch.

“You caused this,” he accused.

I released my breath as I turned around only to have him shove a handful of rotten vegetables under my nose.

I leaned away from them as I let out a cry of disgust. In response Cook dropped them at my feet.

“I haven’t done anything,” I stated in defiance.

“Everyone knows that having a woman on board is bad luck,” he spat at me.

I looked behind him to the open door. If only I could get around him.

I stood up straighter so we were face to face. I tried not to vomit as the stench of infection and whiskey attacked me from his open mouth.

“Maybe you shouldn’t have bought cheap food,” I whispered, my eyes not leaving his.

He growled like an animal before pressing me into the counter with his body. I couldn’t suppress my wince. He smiled down at me as his hands held me by my shoulders.

“A cheap woman knows cheap things,” he whispered into my hair. His hands trailed down my body reaching for my bosom as if they held the key to his salvation.

My hand struck across his face before I was even aware.

“Bitch!” He cried, stumbling back with a hand holding his reddening cheek.

I smiled at him in response, my stubborn streak shining through.

He raised his own hand closed tight in a fist no doubt ready to strike me in return.

“Cook!” The Captain’s voice called from behind him. I saw the surprise on his face as he stepped away allowing me to stand up.

Captain Vlassich stood just inside of the room with Bernard standing behind him.

“What’s going on here?” The Captain asked as he took a step into the galley.

“She insulted and struck me.” His hand returned to my shoulder. His grip was so tight I could feel my bones grinding together. “If Bernard isn't enough of a man to put her in her place than I will. Women need a firm hand." He shook me for emphasis.

"He's blaming me because he bought bad food and spent the rest of the money on drink.”

Captain Vlassich turned his cold eyes toward me. The look in them silenced me immediately. He was a man whose crew was falling apart both physically and mentally with all fingers pointed at me.

"Go to your husband," he ordered.

Cook gave my shoulder one final squeeze before pulling me around him shoving me toward the other two men. I stumbled a few steps before finding my footing and I was able to retreat to my husband’s side.

“Hattie.” The Captain spoke without taking his eyes off Cook. “I think it’s time for your duties in the kitchen to come to an end.” He turned around, his eyes passing over me without seeing until they met my husband’s. “Take her to your room.”

Bernard grabbed my upper arm and pulled me along behind him as if I were a disobedient child. He didn’t speak until he shut us in our cabin.

He stared at me as he paced the room, his brow furrowed into a glare and his jaw clenched so tightly I could see the muscles twitching.

I watched him silently.

This wasn’t the man that I had married. This fearful, weak follower had somehow replaced the strong, passionate man I had fallen in love with. I was all too aware that I was trapped on the ship surrounded by fearful men with only this stranger as my protector.

"I'm sure you've noticed the crew's attitude toward you recently?" He stopped pacing yet continued to stare at me.

“Yes,” I answered shortly. I was angry with Bernard. I felt hurt and betrayed, but I knew that it would be foolish to alienate my last ally on board.

Bernard sighed and I watched his body deflate. His shoulders sagged as he raised a hand to his head. He sat on the bed and pat the spot next to him.

I sat down and he took my hand in his own.

"Captain Vlassich and I have come to an agreement. You will remain in the cabin for the rest of the voyage.” He paused before adding quickly. “For your own safety of course."

"Of course," I repeated. I looked at our joined hands and in my mind, I prayed for our future.

A part of me wanted to believe him when he said that he was concerned for my safety. I didn’t protest the next morning when he locked the door behind him as he left. I tried to convince myself that it was to stop any of the other men from coming in to harm me. I ignored the fact that I didn’t have a key to get out.

Spending all of my time in the room alone made the days pass painfully slow.

Bernard made sure to bring food and water when he returned to the room each night. The food was always a stew or soup. I could smell the rancid stench of decay and putrefaction wafting in with the steam.

I refused to eat it and on the third day Bernard brought me nothing but water. That was the same day he stopped sharing a bed with me.

I was grateful at first. Not having to fulfill my wifely duties eased some of my stress.

Eventually though, as the days continued to pass with limited human interaction I felt the madness of cabin fever creep up on me.

I thought I would go insane trapped in that little room. The passage of time was warped. Days and nights were meaningless. I slept when I was tired which was most of the time.

When I was awake I would walk along the walls of the room with my hand trailing across the wood. The different textures helped ground me in reality when I couldn’t tell what was a real or a dream. To comfort myself I’d whisper the songs my mother sand to me when I was a young child. I longed to hear her voice once again.

I was praying for something to change. I had even begun to pray for my own death. Anything to end my torment.

Just when I was beginning to imagine ways to end my suffering, Bernard opened the door.

“We need to talk.” They were the first words I’d heard him say in what felt like weeks.

I was breathing heavy as I stared at him from across the room. He stood in the doorway, barely a step into the room. His face was closed off, not giving away any emotions, but I noticed how tense his body was.

“How many days,” my voice cracked as my tears fell down my face, “have I been a prisoner in this room? And now you want to talk to me?” A bark of humorless laughter escaped from my mouth.

I was aware of how insane I must have looked. Unwashed and crying while laughing at the same time.

Bernard took a step toward me before stopping. “Something happened.” He turned away from me and walked into the hallway.

He left the door open and beckoned for me to follow him.

A weight lifted itself off of my shoulders. Freedom was only a few steps away. My joy overpowered my suspicion. I practically sprinted from the room.

I hadn’t notice the men in the hall. They had been hidden just out of my view until it was too late.

I screamed as they came at me from both sides. They grabbed my arms and subdued me as if I were a criminal. I tired to fight back, but it was eight fit men against one malnourished woman. I didn’t stand a chance.

"What's going on? What's happening?" I shouted as I continued to struggle to no avail.

"There's been no wind for weeks.” Captain Vlassich’s voice was steady and full of authority. He stood atop the stairs that led to the deck. Even as far away as I was I could still see the desperation in his eyes.

My breaths came in short quick gasps as my heart tried to escape from my chest. I couldn’t find the words to speak. I could only shake my head.

The Captain’s voice softened for a moment. “You’re not at fault, but you are the cause,” he said softly. He cleared his throat before speaking to the crowd of men. “The sea is angry that there is a woman on board. We must make it right," he said.

The men cheered in response. I flinched in part due to the sudden loud noise, but also because of the implication of the Captain’s words.

"You’re going to murder me?" My tears renewed. I tried to pull my arms out of their grips, but years of manual labor made them strong. Even if I was able to get away I knew there was no place safe for me on the ship. I moved my eyes over the crew hoping for my words to be contradicted. I prayed for a pitying face or a voice of reason to speak out from the crowd. There was nothing.

My eyes found my husband’s, the man I had devoted myself to for the rest of my life. He turned away from me and at that moment I knew I was damned.

My body was like a doll’s as I was maneuvered to the top side of the ship. My fear paralyzed me like a drug. My mind was blank, unable to process what was happening until I was shoved against the side looking down at the water.

I had loved the water my entire life and now it would be the end of me. It was almost poetically beautiful.

I closed my eyes for a moment to take a deep breath of fresh air. I released it slowly before turning back to face the men who had condemned me to death due to their silly superstitions.

Cook stood off to the side with my husband and the Captain. He smiled at me, his upper lip curling up to expose his blackened teeth. Captain Vlassich was as impassive as a judge overseeing an execution. Bernard still refused to loo at me. His eyes stared out of the ocean instead.

A rush of anger flooded through me. I stood up straighter and adjusted my night dress to cover me more modestly.

“I may die by the ocean.” My eyes slowly moved over the faces of every man. I wanted to memorize as many as I could. I would greet them when they joined me in hell. “But so will you!” I swore.

I don’t know if I was pushed or if I jumped.

All I know is that one moment I was on the ship and in the next breath I was falling. I was going down, away from the light blue of the sky to the black blue of the ocean.

The water struck my side as if it were a solid force before it swallowed me whole. Water filled the threads of my dress more than doubling its weight. As I was dragged beneath the surface I screamed, inhaling a lungful of rancid salt water.

I struggled to remove my waterlogged dress while keeping my head above the waves.

I managed to fight my way to the surface. With my head above the water I tried to cough up the liquid in my lungs and replace it with much needed air.

My arms flailed through the water as I tried to battle the downward pull. Occasionally my hand would strike against the side of the ship. I screamed for help even though I knew none would come.

I dipped below the water again. This time I wasn’t able to break the surface. I reached for the rippling rays of sunlight that penetrated the blue, but they only got farther and farther away.

There was no more fighting. I was too weak and exhausted. The darkness around me was never ending, pressing all of the weight of the unknown against my body. I didn’t know water could hurt so much.

I thought about the things I'd never get to do, the life I would never get to live.

Unwillingly I thought of Bernard. My coward of a husband who had promised me the world and instead delivered me to death.

My lungs cramped as they demanded air. I kept my mouth closed even as the salt water burned the inside of my nostrils. All to hold onto those few spare seconds of life.

A noise emerged from the darkness. It was the soft trill of a morning song bird and it was slowly coming my way. My terror was eased away leaving me with a sense of peace. I figured that it was God calling me home.

A figure appeared as suddenly as a match being struck in the night. An angel, I was sure by the glow that radiated from her white skin.

Her face was as perfect as a porcelain doll with sharp features. Long black hair trailed behind her like a shadow with seashells braided into the tendrils. Her almond shaped eyes were an unnatural quicksilver color that mesmerized me.

When I managed to look away from her face I noticed that she wasn’t dressed. She had no shame as she flaunted her small, round breasts. Below her belly button where her hips flared out at the widest her pale skin blended seamlessly into jade scales. Even farther down, where there should have been a pair of legs, there was a fishtail.

She was a mermaid.

Her hand on my cheek brought our gazes back together. She was smiling at me. We were nose to nose and still she moved closer. I realized what she intended to do just as our lips met.

Kissing the mermaid was a different experience than kissing Bernard.

My husband had been aggressive and demanding. His scruff scratched across my face like sandpaper as he tried to devour my mouth, our teeth crashing togethering painfully.

The mermaid was much more passionate with her kiss. Her lips were soft like rose petals as they melted against my own. Our tongues were ballerinas performing a duet to a song of their own creation.

My body tingled with an unfamiliar heat. It spread from my mouth, down my neck and rushed through me like a fire.

I craved more but she pulled away from me.

I opened my mouth to speak only for salt water to pour in. I had forgotten that we were underwater. Panic seized me like a boa constrictor. Before it could consume me, there was a pair of hands cupping my face and I was drawn back into her silver stare.

She was smiling.

And then I understood.

I was a mermaid now as well. I had my own tail, a deep and beautiful shade of blue. I could breathe, but it wasn’t through my nose or mouth. A set of gills fluttered on my neck just below my ears.

The mermaid smiled at me with her mouth opened unnaturally wide to expose a mouth full of needle-like teeth before she turned around with a flourish.

She swam ahead of me beckoning for me to follow her.

I mimicked her movements; the way she used her hips and tail to glide through the water. She giggled at my first clumsy attempts, but she was patient with me.

Soon enough it came as natural as walking and we shot through the water like a pair of bullets.

I followed her as we swam for what felt like miles. As we neared the surface I was able to make out the underside of a ship. There were several shapes bobbing in the waves.

Bodies of men I realized. I watched in disbelief as more continued to jump off the ship to their deaths.

I looked to see what they were after, only to see the bottom half of a group of mermaids, their torsos above the water.

As we neared them I could see familiar faces among the dead. I was only sure when I saw Cook floating above me. His eyes were bloodshot and bulging from their sockets. I smiled.

The two of use breached the surface with the other mermaids.

As humans we would have never interacted, separated by nations and race. But now we were something more, something better.

We were stronger now.

I looked to the ship and my eyes found him instantly.

Bernard was leaning over the side of the ship waving back at the us. When his eyes landed on me I thought for sure he'd recognize me and lead the remaining crew in an attack or at least a retreat.

Whatever blinded the men to the bodies of their slain crewmates also hid my identity from Bernard.

He gazed at me like I was the greatest treasure in the world. He had never looked at me like that before.

I watched dumbfounded as he dove from the protection of the ship into the water and began a manic swim towards me.

The others were watching me with anticipation that seemed almost lustful.

Bernard was on me before I thought possible. He was gasping and exhausted, but his lack of oxygen didn’t stop him from pressing his lips to mine.

He pulled away to take a few quick breaths of air but when he leaned in again I pulled away. I pressed a finger to his lips and flashed a coy smile as I shook my head.

Bernard returned my smile with the confident grin I had once been in love with. He took my hand in his and stroked it, stopping when he felt the ring on my index finger.

I let him examine my wedding ring. The one he had given me barely a month before.

I watched with glee as the recognition on his face morphed into horror.

His eyes turned to my face. I grinned to show off my new teeth. I pulled my hand out of his limp grasp, grabbed him by the sides of his head, and forced our lips together.

I pulled us under the waves and into the darkness below as he began to scream into my kiss.



About the Author

S.A Meyer is a life-long writer who has written for both stage and page. Published in Devoultion Z Magazine and winner of a local playwriting contest two years running, S.A.'s works can also be found online at Amazon.com for Kindle and BarnesandNobles.com for Nook, as well as various other online retailers. For updates on works in progress and new publications, follow on Twitter @_SA_Meyer





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