Friday 19 July 2013

#FridayFlash - Water Witch

This flash concludes my loose Water Witch trilogy, inspired by the canals of Den Bosch. The preceding two stories are Watery Depths and In the Cellar Prison.

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A full moon hangs in the sky above the walled town, and I curse her presence as I glide through the canals. I feel her watching me, as though she knows what I am to do on this night. Yet a full moon will not stop me.

Shuttered windows look down into the canals from the tall houses that line the water. The town could be abandoned for all of the signs of life that it shows. I swim beneath bridges, festooned with baskets of flowers, and pass staircases cut into stone where ferrymen leave the canals and head up into the streets. One staircase passes beneath a pointed arch, and I frown. It could be the staircase where another of my kind was betrayed by her lover. She visited a terrible wrath on the town for their part against her, and I swim on with a renewed sense of purpose. Gondolas and other boats are tied up at makeshift jetties, though no one leaves their transport in the tunnels. The humans are afraid of the dark places.

I pass a tiny waterside shrine, so unobstrusive it would be easy to miss at first glance. Yet the tiny flare of a flame draws me near, and I climb out of the water onto the narrow step. Only small feet could navigate the distance from the steps to this ledge. A crude drawing, somehow sweet in its rough execution, depicts a mermaid in the canal, smiling and waving at happy children on the bank. An old jam jar sits beside the small candle, stuffed with papers. I do not need to extract one to know what they are. I smile, thinking of my sister who lived here before. Puella tried to live in the shadows, beloved by children to whom she granted wishes, but feared by adults who tried to imprison her. She died in captivity, but decimated the population with a merciless waterborne sickness. She spared the children, and I wonder if their own children still hope for her return.

Instead I have come to the town, the last of three sisters, and I am determined that the town shall fall. These humans are so arrogant to think they can enslave water, forcing it into channels and bending it to their will. Yet the waters will reclaim their town, swallowing it up as their hatred swallowed my sisters.

I reach the pool at the centre of the town where several canals converge, and I climb out of the water onto a narrow jetty at the base of a house. I do not know who lives here, and I find I do not care. I clear my throat, and begin the first of my two songs. It is both a lament for my sisters, who did no further wrong than being misunderstood, and a warning for those rare few who do not hate us. Those who loved Puella will hear my song, and they will be spared.

My song lasts half the night, and I smile when I hear doors slamming, and shouts of alarm in the houses around me. They may tell their neighbours to leave, but their neighbours will not hear my song, and will think them mad. They will watch the flight of those I spare, and wonder at their hurry, and it will be their downfall.

The sounds of flight fade away, and I am satisfied that those who should be saved are safely away. I imagine the grown children who loved Puella, and they are piled into carriages with their wives and children. They will find a new home and they will continue to respect the water. Perhaps they will settle at the coast, where they will meet my sea kin.

I hear confusion among those who have stayed, and my song changes. The lament gives way to a reminder to the canals. I tell the water about its mighty source, crashing down a mountain among ancient rocks, where it flows freely. No walls hem it in, and no men force it into quiet subservience. The water churns and splashes in reply, remembering its freedom, and railing against its stagnancy. It gathers more water from its source, and rises up the walls. I slip into the pool, urging the water to liberate itself, and it erupts in a fountain of fury. The canals flow faster than they can ever remember, sweeping away jetties and bridges. The water bursts into homes, and lashes at businesses as it seeks a way out of the town.

I rise up the wall of a house on a surge of water, and clamber onto the roof to watch the destruction I have wrought. Water thunders and crashes around the buildings, and the air is filled with screams. I cease my song, and plunge back into the water. I will swim beneath the waves, and seek out Puella's children. Perhaps I will keep them safe.