The Malevolent Mermaid – a Zim folktale


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Beware of the mermaid – a she-devil lurking in the lake in waiting for her prey, much like the crocodile, with only its beady eyes and snout to hint at its being.

The mermaid doesn’t give herself away though. She remains hidden, no, obscured as if she and the water are one. By the time you see the waves caressing your feet and you feel her inauspicious presence, it is already too late.

She appears on the lake surface in all her glory and terrifying fury. You hardly notice the hair, long, straight, glistening and black as coal; the skin, pale as milk, gleaming and smooth as polished marble; or the tail, long, powerful, smooth as a dolphin’s and more reminiscent of an eel than a scaly fish, with muscles writhing and catching the morning glow.

You also don’t notice that she is at once the most stunning and most frightening creature you have ever seen. You don’t notice these things because everything happens in a blur.

She coils her tail around your ankles like a crocodile clamps its teeth and drags you into the abyssal bottom of the lake like the crocodile drowns its prey. But unlike the crocodile, she doesn’t always consume her victims. This is wholly dependent on whether you follow all the rules or not.

After what feels like an eons descent, you are struck by two facts; you are not yet dead, and you can breathe under water. You are dragged all the way into a cavern under the lake. The cavern is strangely untouched by water, extensive and labyrinthine. As quickly as she sets you down, she transforms into human form, the tail vanishing as a mist blown by the wind.

You soon discover that the halls of the labyrinth are filled by these ancient beings. Their skin as fair as yours is dark, but their practices a reminder of an antiquity you can barely fathom. You can understand little of their language, but you know they predate you – the first men, immortal or both, living in the earth and forgotten by all succeeding generations.

To survive, you must follow all the rules. And there is only one rule which truly matters – do as you are told, without objection or complaint. If they tell you to remove your clothes and cake your body with mud, you do it. If they give you worms or raw fish on a clay plate, you eat them. Follow the rules else they slit your throat and leave your body floating on the lake surface, with the blood tinted water around it serving as a marker to your loved ones.

These rules also extend to your family. If any of them mourn for you, they will get your corpse in answer. The obvious course to take is compliance, yet most fail this imperative.

But if you do obey, there is reward beyond reckoning. For the mermaids are ancient beings with ancient knowledge. They will bestow upon you some of this knowledge and some of their power. They will release you to your family when you have become a powerful shaman – a great healer and a bridge between the physical and spiritual. But it is only after following the rules.

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