Thanks to Sue Vincent for inspiring this short story.
The lake is still now, and mist falls on the farther shore. The sun sets. Shadow fills this ruined cabin, roofed by the stars and the cloud, and I wait for the first ripples to appear on the lake water. I betrayed her once and she left me, but I can never leave her side, even though it may be death to linger here.
The last rays slide across the dark water where the stars are mirrored, so far away. The blood red light breaks into bars of dark gold as the surface is broken, ripples racing shoreward from an unseen point that gathers darkness about it like a cloak.
I form the name, silently, so often murmured, but forbidden now. I step through the doorway into the light that lingers in the sky and the ripples buck and writhe, serpentine skeins of glittering water. In the centre, the dark cloud rises, spreads and in an instant, dissipates. She is there—she sees, she knows, and she is coming.
I have given up everything for you, she said. All I ask is that you do not pry.
Everyone is entitled to their secrets. Even women. Even women like Mélusine who are not women at all. I should have let her have what she asked—respect. For me she left the lake and the underwater ways, the dark, water-echoing tunnels that run to the sea. For me she left the sinuous depths, the dark ocean currents, the hunt of swift silver fish among swaying weeds. But it rankled that I had not all the power, for her to be able to tell me no. So I watched. And I saw. And Mélusine, because she is not a woman at all, knew that I saw. In her fury, she gathered up our children and leapt with them into the lake. They have no father. And what rankles still, is that perhaps they have no need of one.
I watch, here in the shadows, hoping that she will come back. But the fear hangs over me, because I am a man, and just a man, that she will return only to seek revenge. The dark lake mists gather and the ripples race to the shore. They lap at my feet, drawing me from the shadows and into the blood red light of the dying sun. She is there. She has come. The mists twist and rise and draw back from that face, those eyes, beloved and dreadful, and it is too late to run. There is nowhere to hide from that gaze. Whatever she wants from me, she will take.
The eyes lock into mine and the red lips twist into a smile. It is not a sneer, not a smile of triumph, nor yet of irony. There is a wistfulness and a melancholy in her expression. Regrets? My heart lurches. Is it forgiveness I see in those turbulent eyes?
I step forward eagerly, my hands reaching out to take her back. I have forgiven her the sin of abandoning her husband, of stealing away his children. I have been magnanimous. Surely she understands! Water laps my feet, swirls about my ankles. My boots dig into the muddy bank.
My tongue is still frozen to the roof of my mouth. No sound comes, but she hears, and she shakes her head, slowly, sorrowfully. Slowly she backs away and the mists rise up, pearly in the gloom, to enfold her. A cry, a gasp of surprise, the beginning of a word of command to make her stay, rises in my throat and dies on the instant. Before my departing beloved, hiding her retreating form from my view, more mists rise, dark as coal and fierce with a fire at their heart. Water grips my ankles; I feel the muddy bank slip from beneath my feet. Finally, fear frees my tongue, and the cry emerges. I scream. Three women, girls, stride out of the mist, milk-white of skin and eyes red as glowing coals.
And in their fiery eyes there is no forgiveness.