Excerpt from Beyond the Sea
©2012 Emily Goodwin
Melia was fascinated with fire. She had never seen one this big and was a little wary at first. She stayed close to Peter, not wanting to get too close but unable to resist moving toward the flickering heat. She wanted to throw something into it, or get a big stick and poke at the fire. She sat, completely transfixed by the dancing flames. They were in the middle of a forest and had to walk a rather long and winding trail to get to the party. The bonfire was in the center of a small clearing; logs and lawn chairs encircled it. Music played in the background, floating through the trees. People talked and laughed and some were throwing a little white ball back and forth into plastic cups. When the ball landed in one of the cups, it had to be drunk. Melia didn’t understand that game.
Peter was talking to Connor and two boys Melia didn’t know or recognize. The call of the crackling fire was stronger than that of the nearby stream, and Melia released Peter’s hand and stepped closer to the flames. She sat on a log feeling happily rustic, becoming hypnotized by the dancing fire.
After turning down yet another offer for a drink, Melia slowly rose and strode over to Peter. He put his arm around her and kissed her forehead. The guys were talking about sports and complaining about the bugs.
“Are you getting eaten alive?” Unknown Boy #1 asked, waving an unseen bug away.
Melia had to recall the not so literal sense of the phrase. “No, I haven’t gotten bitten yet.”
“Really?” Peter asked, slapping a mosquito from his arm.
“Yea.” Melia shrugged. “I guess bugs don’t like me.” She smiled innocently. Mosquitoes didn’t like merrow blood; it was too salty.
“That’s—” Unknown Boy #2’s voice got cut off by a high pitched scream. There was a moment’s pause followed by more screaming. Three girls fumbled through the woods in a tumultuous and desperate escape, crying out frantically about a dead body.
At first no one believed them. The small crowd of partiers waited for a “Hah! Gottcha!” But when one of the girls began to cry, a chill echoed through the air. Eyes fell upon Unknown Boy #1, who apparently was hosting the party. “Where?” he asked the girls, his voice weak.
“Not too far,” the calmest answered. She pointed in the direction they had run from. “By the stream.”
Familiarity slid a cold finger down Melia’s spine. She gripped Peter’s hand and took a deep breath. Though it was extremely faint, the rotting smell of water slimed grass lingered in the air.
“Jason,” Connor called to the boy, who Melia figured was his cousin—they did have the same eyes. “I’ll come with.”
“Me too,” Peter said and gently removed Melia’s hand. “Stay here,” he instructed, getting out his phone to use as a flash light. Melia waited until he, Jason and Connor were a few paces ahead before falling in step behind. She didn’t understand why Peter was acting protective. The body was already dead; it could do her no harm.
The gentle babbling of a stream is oddly serene when it houses a rotting corpse. The smell alone alerted the boys the body had been here for more than a few days. Laying face up in the shallow water, birds or bugs ate away at the dead boy’s eyes. His skin was pale and crinkled, and the flesh around his mouth was ragged and torn.
The smell was stronger here. Melia had smelled it before. She shivered at the memory. It was one of the few she had of her father. He had taken her and Lana to a rocky shore to watch the sun sink into the ocean. Being a full merrow and unable to transform into human shape, he stayed in the water, keeping a close eye on his daughters. Of course, Lana didn’t listen to his requests to stay nearby. She beckoned Melia to follow her and led her to a river that dumped into the sea. Melia remembered being hit with the pungent smell of decomposing plants.
Then the woman appeared. Not being familiar with humans, neither Lana nor Melia knew she was dangerous. In a flash, she grabbed the girls and dragged them under the water in an attempt to drown them. Of course that didn’t work, and Melia’s father swam to save them. He stabbed the woman, whom Melia later overheard him call a ‘gwyrrd’, in the heart with a trident made of silver. Melia also overheard that the only way to kill a gwyrrd was by staking them in the heart with silver.
Since that day, Melia had learned more about the gwyrrds. She couldn’t be certain. She stepped closer to get a better look. A twig snapped under her foot and caused all three boys to jump.
“Shit, Melia, what are you doing here?” Peter asked, wide eyed. He felt sick from looking at the body. Moonlight cast eerie shadows over the dead boy’s face. Well, what remained of his face. Melia bypassed answering and took Peter’s hand. Her merrow eyes allowed her to see every detail; it looked like algae covered seaweed was wrapped around the boy’s fingers on his outstretched hand.
“We need to call the cops,” Peter mumbled. Jason sputtered about the beer and how everyone was underage. Peter motioned to the body. “He’s something to someone.”
Peter’s words hung heavy in the air.
“Right,” Jason agreed. “Lemme hide the booze.”
“It’ll still look suspicious,” Connor warned. “All of us, up here.”
Peter nodded. “The girls that found the body—they need to stay. Everyone else needs to leave.”
“Right,” Jason uttered again. “Give me ten minutes.”
Melia tiptoed to Peter. He looked sick; Connor did as well. “We don’t have to watch it,” she said quietly. “He’s not going anywhere.”
Connor agreed and turned away. “I feel bad leaving him alone. Is that crazy?”
“No,” Melia assured him, taking his hand and leading him away. She took Peter’s hand in her other hand. “It shows that you are more caring than I thought you were. Though his spirit is gone, the body still symbolizes his life and everything that used to be.”
“Yea.” Connor cleared his throat and gave Melia’s hand a squeeze before letting go. They stopped at the edge of the clearing. Melia was on high alert. She didn’t know what she would do if the gwyrrd attacked, though her first and only plan was to let it take her since she can’t drown. That was one of many holes in her plan. Anxiously, she waited for the others to leave. She needed to keep the small group that remained together. Gwyrrds don’t attack groups. And what about the police officers who will examine the body? Melia knew, from watching numerous shows on solving crimes, that she couldn’t stay when the authorities looked for evidence.
“I’m sorry you had to see that,” Peter apologized, hugging Melia.
“It’s not the first dead body I’ve seen,” Melia whispered softly. Peter hugger her tighter.
The wait for the cops to arrive was excruciating. Awkward small talk was made, but the fact that there was a dead, rotting body nearby was hard to forget. The girls who had discovered the body were MJ, Nikki and Chloe. They exchanged a few words on fashion with Melia; Chloe complimented her designer boots.
MJ interrupted the silence that fell over the group. “You guys, that boy was probably murdered. What if the killer is still out there?!”
Nikki gripped Jason’s hand.
Melia shook her head. “If I were going to dump a dead body, I’d put it somewhere I’ve never been and wouldn’t come back. Unless I was crazy, then maybe it wouldn’t matter.” Peter looked at her sideways. “Or at least, that is what would happen on crime shows.”
“So,” Nikki spoke. “We either are safe, ooorrr we have to watch out for a raging lunatic.”
“Basically,” Connor assured her.
“Do you think they’ll suspect us?” MJ asked.
“I doubt it,” Peter answered, unable to help the red hot flash of fear that flooded his veins. Would the cops find it ironic a group of kids innocently went for a walk in the woods and stumbled upon the body?
Melia’s head snapped to the left. Voices. Flashlights bouncing off the trees. Footsteps. The police were finally here.
What seemed like hours later, Melia and Peter got into the Mustang. Peter sighed, looking tired. Melia placed her hand on his.
“Want to go to my house?” she offered.
“Yea.” Peter revved the engine to life. “So much for a fun night, huh?”
“Well, at least it was exciting.” Melia half smiled. Peter laughed. She didn’t like seeing Peter upset. It bothered her more than she expected. She brought up the subject of prom and it seemingly worked to cheer Peter up. They discussed dinner plans; Peter admitted he had assumed they would go with his group of friends. He didn’t say it, but Melia knew he didn’t think Jamie would be going to prom. Connor was taking Courtney, Matthew and Amanda were going together, Nate was taking Hannah, a cheerleader Melia had few interactions with, and Brian was going with Justine, a junior from another school. He didn’t mention anything about Kaitlin or Janet.
It made sense, Melia knew, for Peter to want to go with his friends. And it would be fun going with a group of people, right?
“My mom wants me to go to New York to find a prom dress,” Melia told Peter.
“Should be fun.”
“Yea, but I don’t like shopping.”
“Really?” Peter glanced over at her.
“It’s fun at first, then I get bored.” She turned to face him.
“You are too good to be true, Melia.”