The sea called to her, swirling dizzily in her dreams as slept on the bus ride down to the sea shanty the locals called Lost Revenge. Tales of pirates treasure hidden under the beaches were spun for tourists lurking in large hotels with metal detectors stashed away in their over packed luggage. Hera ignored the stares and pitying looks her follow travelers gave her and studied the hand-traced map she had painstakingly completed a few hours before.
She got off at Lost Revenge's embarrassingly tiny bus stop and breathed salt air for the first time. She nearly took off her oxygen mask to lick the air. It smelled so hopelessly wonderful. This was her destiny: to meet the sea and the sea meet her. Greedy obnoxious seagulls circled overhead but she did not heed their calls for her tuna sandwiches she had stashed away in her waterproof bag. She took the handicapped ramp down the sea edge, almost too close. She began to undress, trying to not to care about a gaggle of tourists just down the beach suddenly noticing her. She shrugged off her clothes like a sea lion, edged herself off her wheelchair, bag in hand and felt at once with the edge of her fin the warm touch of the sand.
Hera scooted herself into the sea form soaking through her scales and crawled through the shallows into deeper waters, feeling happier than she had for a long time. She swam into the depths, not caring when where the currents took her. She was finally free. She wriggled in the water feeling the off-kilter slap she gave the waves with her fin. The ocean was stronger than her, threatening to throw her back to the shore, but she determined that nothing but a bolt of lightning would stop her from swimming as far from land and dirt and dry air as she could.
The gills at her throat suddenly began to sense their given purpose in this salt water, and her need for air dropped considerably. And so, she dove, down the corridors of currents and murky waters, through blue water corals gardens and darting between jelly fish to the deeper ocean floors, hoping that her first day in the sea would be extremely lucky. She wanted to see her water-cousins, the selkies in their underwater grottos with pillars of pink coral. But when a whale threatened to overtake her she fled upwards towards the equal blue basin of the sky, and broke the ocean's serene surface. She tricked herself into believing that she saw a selkie in the distance then, a sea lioness on her way to some lost sandbar diving in and out of the waves for a few moments before diving under the surface to find the murky road to food and shelter.
That was Hera's only experience with the fantastic, and it had not even been real. In her dreams as she lay curled in the warmth of a stony garden, sea grasses bellowing in the current, she saw visions of selkies and mermen holding counsel beneath the sea and herself in the midst of their counsel for her knowledge of the upper world dwellers and the hardships she had faced. In the morning she would wake, a smile on her lips, but the vision would pass and her melancholy search for others like her would continue.
In her loneliness, she would climb up the current stairs and follow the patterns of sunshine as the day went on, splintering through the surface, bouncing happily off the coral and the stone and the fish. Once a dolphin followed her into the depths and played hide and seek with her, but it never lasted long as she would hope. She nearly longed for her family and the foul tasting pool, but she refused to give up. Instead, she waited for the hurricane season, for as in all tales of the sea there was a storm. Surely one would bring her company. So she waited, eating tiny fish and licking playfully at the coral reefs. She dared jellyfish to sting her tail, lying still in the darkness watching them move around her.
At last the sky opened, torrents of rain fell, and Hera danced. Her hair was longer than it had ever been. Her mother always cut it in the spring, and let it grow in the winter. It floated in reams behind her, fine strands, fragile and netted the murkiness of the sea as she reemerged from the sea, watching a ship, finally, a ship pass her small bit of ocean, searching for the light of land. She prayed to all the gods she could think of that something might happen, that one man would see her, and come back for her in the midst of the sea like a lovesick fool and visit her. Just once. She still held up hope that there would be a throng of merman just pasted the boundaries of the coral but she didn't dare pass them for fear of being lost and lonely forever.
As she turned back to watch the distance for perhaps another ship, a miracle happened. The ship began to sink, as if a toy suddenly had snapped in two. Hera dove at once, laughing, hoping that perhaps a sailor had fallen and she would be the one to rescue him from the waters. She searched under the raging surface for a human face in the dark. She could not see one. She turned, feeling her heart twist with the pang of fear that she might never see another face again whom she could talk to.
A face appeared before her.
First, it was just teeth, shining brilliantly as lightning lit up the sky above them. Then the hair of a man, long and wavy in the water floated towards her. The man did not seem to be breathing. His legs came next as the current tossed him about. Hera thought the color of his pants was a bit odd. They were green. She went to him and grabbed at his sleeves, a last attempt to save his life. She pulled the man's body to the surface and made sure his mouth and nostrils were free of the angry waves.
She lifted his head in her arms and tried as best she could to lift his legs to the surface. The ship needed to see him. The crew needed to see him floating safely. He must be saved. She tugged his legs free of the water using all of her strength to hold a few moments all above the waves. Her fin hurt badly, a sudden twinge where her right foot would have been.
A scream filled her human lungs as Hera looked down at the floating body of the man in the evening light. He was a merman. A bereft sea tossed body of one at that. The color of his lower half and his fin was a brilliant emerald green. She could tell now that many bones were broken. She drifted, still holding him because she did not know what else to do. Would another merman come looking for him? His parents? What had happened to him?
At last, she relented holding him in her arms and held an arm. She cried, watching the ship sink and sailors alight safe, in lifeboats. They did not need mermaids or sirens to help them at sea. She drifted into colder waters and longed for sleep, but she did not let go of the merman. She could smell his rot now. Hera decided to give him a proper burial. She dragged him down into the sea, down the currents to the depths, below even where she was comfortable of swimming. She found a shallow cave, and dug for hours in the mud to prepare a grave. The cave stunk of dead things. Hera wondered if she had found a true burial ground, as she put mud and stone over the head of the merman. When she was finished, her hands shook with exhaustion and her tail hurt from trying to balance her. Her throat hurt the most from lack of water flowing through them.
There she buried him, with each handful wishing he would awaken and breathe again, even just to say hello, shocked and confused, and never be seen again. She turned and was about to crawl back into the sea and up to her little garden when a voice rang out.
"Have you come to me young one?"
It glistened in the darkness, like a shining beacon of light leading seamen home to quiet shores.
"Don't be afraid." It said, "I am old and can no longer wrestle with demon fish of the north."
Hera tried to speak up but her voice had not been used in so long that she had forgotten how to make the sounds resound in her throat.
The owner of the glistening voice materialized in a hole of the cave entrance. Hera gasped in horror as it, or she, climbed out. She had six arms, now grasping rock and mud for hold to pull herself out of the whole, and more legs then Hera could count. She was like an underwater centipede. She had a human head with human eyes, but they were as black as the night. Her hair writhed on her head like Medusa's snakes.
Hera crawled away from her until her tail hit the edge of the water. The she-centipede grinned at her with animal like ferocity, and her teeth Hera saw, were tiny and sharp, and more than any man had ever seen.
Again, the she-centipede asked her not to be frightened and waved coaxing hands at her. Rings glinted on every hand, rubies and opals and other precious stones adorning them. The stench Hera had smelled as she buried the merman came to her attention again and she gagged on it.
"I'm terribly sorry, my pet." said the she-centipede as an apology for the stench Hera imagined.
Hera found her voice in a pocket of her throat. It came out raspy and echoed harshly against the walls of the cave.
"Who are you?" asked Hera, feeling stupid to ask such a question of this creature but too tired to think of any others.
"Aides, a woman of the sea," she said, "and sometimes its mistress. Fickle matters need fickle minds."
Hera searched her memories for any legend pertaining to creature named Aides from her books and could not remember even one. She was at a loss.
"Did you just lose your lover, dear pet?" Aides asked.
Hera shook her head adamantly. "I found him adrift in the storm."
"Storms still rage I see," said Aides. "This is unfortunate. So many things might be done in a calm sea. I must go give it a stern word one of these days."
"Of course storms still come," said Hera confused. "Why wouldn't they?"
"Because I asked them not too," replied Aides.
Hera shivered. A thought suddenly took hold and she held fast to it.
"Are you a sea witch?" she asked.
"Poseidon's arms are not as long as mine." Aides said gravely. Hera took that to mean yes.
"Have you been down here long?"
"Longer than there has been oil spilling in the oceans I should say, perhaps longer."
Hera bit her lip.
"Where were you born?"
"I don't even now," said Aides.
"Do you remember where the merman sleep?"
Aides gave her hard look and crossed her arms.
"I can find them for you if that is what you mean, young thing."
Aides turned towards the mouth of the cave motioned with two long hands and Hera followed her into the waters, watching an unbelievable amount of legs churn the water.