A fierce wave slammed into the side of the ship, pouring a deluge of brine across the deck. Magda sat in the corner of her small cabin, whispering a prayer. She leaned forward to press her ear to the wall. The cold waters beyond the hull reached for her through the damp wood. She listened hard, and fancied she could hear the lament of those lost at sea.
The door flew open. George stood in the doorway, silhouetted against the raging sky. He stepped forward into the flickering lamplight of the cabin. Fear and panic shone in his limpid eyes. He clasped his hands to his chest.
“My darling! I could not find you!”
“Where else did you think I would be?” asked Magda. She tossed a disinterested glance over her shoulder and resumed her whispers.
“The men would not help me look for you,” said George.
“I rather think they have more important concerns. I wonder that you did not think to look here first. I have hardly left the cabin at all on this voyage.”
“You know that I only insist you remain inside to shield you from the prying eyes of the men. I swore to keep you safe when I found you alone on that beach, and I am determined to fulfil my oath,” said George.
A wave several storeys high crashed against the starboard of the ship, sending it lurching to one side like its drunken captain. George stumbled across the cabin and pitched forward onto the narrow bed. He reached a trembling hand towards his fiancée. Her fevered whispers finally reached his ears.
“My dear! You are praying! Please, do not be alarmed, the storm shall pass.”
“Storms always do,” replied Magda. She wriggled aside to avoid George’s outstretched fingers.
“They’re in ‘ere, lads!” cried a voice.
Magda broke off and turned around. Four men, as wide as they were tall, crowded around the open door. Stares full of suspicion and hatred danced across George and settled upon her. Magda glared at them.
Such brutish men, consumed by lust and superstition in equal measure, she thought.
“You! This is ‘cause of you, woman!” said the largest man at the front. Magda thought she remembered his name as Briggs.
“How dare you speak to my fiancée like that!” said George.
“Shut up, moneybags. It’s bad luck fer a woman to be aboard. This storm is ‘er doin’,” said Briggs.
The men piled through the door. The smallest of the four pulled George to his feet, pinning him against the wall with one meaty forearm. The other three seized Magda, dragging her across the cabin. Her lips continued to move in a silent chant. She ducked her head to one side as the sea threw its cold spray across the threshold. The men staggered across the deck, fighting to keep their balance as the ship bucked and pitched beneath them. They shoved her up against the ship’s rail, and Magda’s whispers fell silent.
“Right, lads! Throw ‘er overboard! The storm needs blood,” said Briggs.
The men heaved Magda onto broad shoulders. The wind whipped her hair across her face, snatching George’s protesting cries from the air. Magda struggled in their grasp. With a final push from the men, she found herself airborne, caught between the angry sky and tortured sea.
Magda plunged into the violent waves. The icy water closed over her head, the currents tugging at her voluminous skirt. She tore at her cumbersome clothing with her hands, her cold fingers unable to tear the fabric free.
Skinny fingers glistening with scales wrapped around her arms. She looked down into the faces of two mermaids more barbaric than beautiful. They smiled to display mouths full of fangs. The mermaids kicked their tails, dragging her deeper.
A shoal of mermaids swam up from the dark depths to meet them. More scaled fingers clawed at Magda’s clothes. The layers of her skirt gave way, and she kicked herself free of the human clothing with a final thrash from her tail.
Several fathoms above them, the waves subsided and a cleansing wind tore the storm clouds into tatters. As Magda swam into the cold depths with her sisters, she whispered a prayer of thanks to the Sea Witch.