Thick grey clouds blotted out the night as a man and woman tread through the tall grass. The woman clutched her threadbare shaw about her shoulders, a poor shield against the bitter cold. A harsh breeze cut through the air, whipping her red hair in front of her face and cutting off her vision. The tangle made it impossible for her to see, but she dared not slow. The cold weight of the rifle pressed against her back spurred her onward.
The man had not said a word, not since he had wrestled her from her sleep and set her to walking. Her feet ached and blistered from their long journey. He hadn’t permitted her time enough to put on shoes and so she felt ever burr and rock that stood between them and their destination.
Over the horizon she heard the crashing of the waves against the shore. It felt as much apart of her as the drumming of her own blood in her ears.
They descended the rocky path down to the bank and fear chilled her to the bone, much more than the horrible wind coming off the sea. It turned her legs to jelly and she thought she might faint dead away.
Death would be preferable to this.
What was to stop her from running? He might put a bullet in her back, but not before she enveloped herself in the sweet embrace of the ocean. The ocean. Would she ever feel it again?
Her traitorous legs refused to divert from the path. The salt of the sea wafted over her like a perfume, pulling her heart from her chest.
Come away, the waves sighed, Come away.
They circled the inlet and she saw the cove. The cove that contained the most precious thing she owned. Her lower lip trembled with dread.
“Aye,” he murmured in his country accent. “Must be gettin’ close then.”
The tide lapped at their feet as they tread. It wet the woman’s skirts and licked at the man’s boots yet he did not lose his footing.
The woman trembled all the more. So close.
Come away, sighed the waves, Come away.
The roar of the sea. The distant cry of the gulls. It was intoxicating in her ears, maddeningly beautiful. In the distance she could hear a song. The ancient music.
Courage burst through her chest like lighting. She turned on her captor, shoving his rifle away and slamming him in the chest with all of her strength. The man’s weight shifted in the sand and he fell back. The woman hitched up her skirts and ran for the mouth of the cave, heart hammering in her chest.
The gap between her and her greatest treasure shortened length by length. She climbed the rock shelf until she entered the mouth of the cave. Her eyes were not adjusted to the dark. It had been long. Far too long. Her breath echoed off the ancient stones. Then, she saw it. Hiding in a crevice.
A boom as loud of thunder roared from the mouth of the cave. She cried out, bending double and cuffing her hands over her ringing ears. When she looked up, she saw the man, touting his rifle. It smoked from its recent discharge and he looked at her with wild, angry eyes.
She let her hands fall to her side.
It was over.
Her fate was sealed.
The woman watched helplessly as the man slowly progressed towards the great lump of hide. He freed it from the crevice and rubbed the rough, brown texture between his fingers. The woman protectively placed her arms around her torso.
The man looked at her, his brush with madness over and done with. He was at peace now. Resolute.
“Reckon this means you belong to me now,” he said.
From outside the cave, the ocean roared like the woman’s blood in her ears. She wanted to scream. She wanted to fly at this man and make him kill her. Then he wouldn’t have her precious freedom. He would fail. Yet as long as he he held her skin, she could do little else but cower like an urchin.
“My brother met the most beautiful girl in all the world walking these shores one night,” he mused. “Hair as red as flame with eyes like obsidian, he said. He scraped together enough to buy her a ring of dentist gold and he put it on her finger, promising her he would give her the world. ‘Til one day he comes to the cave where they met every night,” his hand dove into his pocket and he rummaged around in it before producing a small ring. “And he finds this on a stone. Each day she is gone he fades a bit more. One day, he gets it into his head to walk into the ocean.”
The woman shut her eyes, allowing tears to roll in silent streams down her pale cheeks.
“I can’t say I’m like to be as dutiful as a husband as my brother would have been. But can’t say as though you deserve any better.”
He bent low and threw her true skin over his shoulder, unburdened by its weight. His back towards her, he made for the mouth of the cave, careful not to slide against the wet stones as he made his departure.
“Come, wife. Time to return home.”
An invisible thread pulled at her ankle, compelling her to follow. She belonged to him now.
They walked just out of the oceans reach as the tide pulled at the sands. The sound was deafening and she was grateful for it. She did not wish for the human male to hear her bitter sobs. A storm will be brewing soon. Not that it mattered. Her place was now among those that tread with two legs. To warm the bed of the man whom had stolen her freedom.
She shut her eyes and tried to imagine herself below the waves with her kin, where all was calm and quiet. She pretended the taste of salt on her lips was that of her beloved kingdom and not tears falling copiously to the sands.