The forge burned. Sweat poured from Luca’s brow and he tasted salt on his dry, cracked lips. The blacksmith shop was dark, draped in shadows and shifting pale moonlight. Burning coal and the tang of molten metal hung heavy in the air.
Flames danced, heating the iron until it was red hot, reflecting in the dark pools of his eyes.
His hands, streaked with black soot, worked as if possessed by a foreign entity, forcing the iron deeper into the fire. Luca didn’t see or sense any of these surroundings. His mind was elsewhere, seized by visions of the past. He stood aboard a ship on a storm-tossed sea. Men shouted all around him. Waves pummeled the doomed vessel, tossing him onto the soaked deck, and he lost grip on the rope in his hands.
He removed the iron from the forge and placed it on the anvil. One of the main tools of his trade, it had belonged to his father, and before him his grandfather. Passed down for three generations, like his dark hair and tall, broad build. The hammer sat on a table next to the anvil. Luca picked it up, the weight heavy and familiar.
In his memory, one that now haunted him, he saw the wave rise up, blocking the swaying constellations peeking through thick clouds. The ship rocked to one side with the force of the angry slap of sea. He heard a loud crack and splintering of wood. The deck broke apart beneath him, and the mast crashed down like a dying giant’s arm.
Luca was catapulted into the cold, swirling ocean.
The hammer slammed against the burning metal. Over and over. Luca shaped the iron with a practiced skill. In his years of trade, he’d made countless tools and weapons. Requests by villagers, for everyday needs as well as times of war. Now he took those items and melted them down, reshaping into pieces he fit together into a life size replica of beauty and terror.
The sweat on his lips turned into the sea, swallowing him in one mighty gulp. Luca was pulled beneath the water, into a black, bottomless void churning with writhing bodies. Water forced into his nose and mouth, pushing into his throat and he thought, This is what it is to drown, as he struggled not to breathe in.
Time hung, suspended under the sea, debris floating by like constellations of his unmaking.
Finally, Luca could no longer prevent his starved lungs from their desperate need to find air. The water burned as he inhaled, filling his body with dark, liquid fire.
Satisfied, he set down the hammer and shoved the iron into the bucket of water at his feet. The metal hissed as it quenched, and steam rose.
Behind Luca the forge continued to burn.
And from the depths of the sea, some point just beyond his smeared vision, a shape emerged. At first, Luca thought it was a large fish. The tail undulated, propelling the creature forward, toward him. He wasn’t sure if it was real or a dying vision, perhaps death itself. One last, large bubble of air escaped his lips and drifted up toward the surface of the stormy, shipwrecked night.
In the corner of the shop, a sheet concealed the metal sculpture Luca had started months ago. Not long after that hellish night that so many men had not returned from, destined to remain in a watery grave he had somehow escaped. Luca grabbed a corner of the sheet and ripped it away in one, quick motion.
He shook as he gazed at the form beneath.
She took his hand in hers, the skin webbed between her long green fingers. Scales shimmered like iridescent jewels along the curving lines of her body. Luca’s grandmother had told him tales of the merrow, her wrinkled face bent close to his in front of the hearth. She’d claimed one had saved her from drowning as a young girl. Luca wondered, with his last conscious thought, as her hair, swirling like seaweed, brushed his face, if this was the same creature she’d spoken of his childhood.
He placed the last piece of curved metal into the sculpture. His impossible savior. The dark metal, the same shade of dark water, glistened red and orange in the lights of the dancing flames.
Luca pulled leather gloves over both of his hands and returned to the forge. He winced as he dug both hands into the hot coals and flung them onto the sheet, laying in a crumpled pile on the ground. The cloth shouldered, then caught. Sparks flew, like tiny glowing fairies trying to escape.
Tired, so tired, Luca fell to his knees in front of the metal merrow, transfixed, as the shop caught fire around him, and began to burn.
About the Author:
Heather Santo is a development chemist living in Pittsburgh, PA with her husband and newborn daughter. In addition to writing, her creative interests include photography, painting and collecting skeleton keys. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @Heather52384