Son of the Sea

I am the only one of my kind.
No one knows me. No one understands me.
It’s for their own safety.
No one can know. No one.

I trudge down the muddy main road, a bucket of fish in one hand and a net slung over my shoulder. I keep my head down. After living here since I was five, you would think I would get used to the stares and whispers.

But I haven’t.

I’ve heard all the stories. In this superstitious town, everyone and their cats have heard of me – Haf the mute orphan. A boy, so despised by the world that his own parents left him, now forced to resort to black magic to survive. The tales the villagers spin get more preposterous every year. And soon people believe it all.

Orphan. Mute. Monster. Witch. They swear I’ve put a charm on the fish so that only I can catch them.

The stories used to make me cry, but I’ve accepted them now. They’ve become my protection, like a shield from the bitter people that live all around me. Besides, none of the tales are true. Or at least none of them will ever come close to my real story.

The wind howls through the line of wood shanties while the villagers wrap their jackets around themselves and cower at the harsh bite in the air.

The village never recovered from the shipwreck. So many families affected, so many living in fear. They don’t trust me. They never will. Honestly, I don’t blame them. I only wish I could understand.

A crow caws at me and I look up. But instead of the beady gaze of a bird, I meet the green eyes of a girl.

Her blonde hair whips around in the wind and her scarf falls from her face, revealing wind-chapped cheeks. She smiles a little at me and nods in greeting.

She must be new. No one here smiles at Haf the orphan.

My lips turn up in a strange smile, frozen from the cold and awkward from the lack of practice. I can’t stop looking at her, so free, like the world hasn’t hardened her soul or beaten her down.

She tilts her head as if she recognizes me. Her eyes light up. She takes a step forward but the world crashes down on me again.

I turn away quickly and don’t look back.

No one can know. No one.

Once home, I collapse into a rickety wooden chair and tear off my cap, running stiff fingers through my mop of hair. I stare at nothing, my fingertips stroking the frozen curls on my forehead.

She smiled at me. Like she knew me.

No one knows me. No one understands me. That’s the way it will always be. The sooner I get used to it, the better.

I push the thought away to gut the fish for market. I finish the job and head down to the water.

My hut is far enough from the village so I don’t have to hear the clink of ale mugs or the forced laughter hiding immense pain.

Instead, I get the company of the ocean and it’s creatures. The waves lull me to sleep at night. The arctic terns beckon me up in the morning.

And the song...the song of the sea keeps me going.

My boots scuff against the black sand and I pull them off, letting the grains sift between my toes. I pull up the sleeves of my shirt and dip my arms in the ocean, rubbing off the fish residue. My fingers linger on the patch of scales protruding from my forearm. The light of the sky catches on the iridescent dark teal, contrasting my pale skin.

Other than icy blue eyes and the gills I hide under my messy hair, those scales are the only outward sign that I’m different.

But inside...inside is why I’m the outsider.

I stand and select some flat stones from among the driftwood.
I fling the rocks across the surface of the dark blue water and spend the next hour watching the stones skim and bounce on the ocean.

Fling. Skim. Bounce. Bounce. Gone. With every rock I toss, I throw the hurt with it.

The song of the skipping stones calms my soul and yet each rock gets thrown out harder until they no longer skip. Only fling, gone, fling, gone. I want to scream. I want to be heard. But I can’t.

It’s for their own safety.
No one can know. No one.

I chuck the last stone and it goes farther than the rest. Collapsing on the coarse sand, I stare at the sky, wiping my tears with the back of my hand.

No one knows me. No one understands me.

I let the cool air caress my face and the crashing waves lap at my feet. I start to hum. I can’t help it. It’s the only way I can deal with the loneliness.

I am the only one of my kind.

The water rises, swelling up around me. Over my feet, torso, head. I close my eyes as I go under. The water pulses in my ears, drowning out noises and thoughts. I take a deep breath, letting the air filter in through my gills.

I feel a hand on my shoulder and I yank my head out of the water in surprise.

Green eyes smile at me. “I’ve been looking for you.” She pulls me up. It’s the girl from earlier. She pulls me up out of the water.

I stand awkwardly on the beach, wet and confused.

“I made a promise to someone.” She clears her throat. “And now I can fulfill it! May I tell you a story?”

I furrow my eyebrows but nod my head.

She plunks down on the sand and I join her a few feet away. Organizing her skirt around her, she begins her tale. “About sixteen years ago, a deaf fisherman stumbled upon a siren caught in a net. Immune to her dangerous cries, he rescued her from a painful death. Seeing how kind the man was to her, the siren realized the lies about mankind she had been fed all her life. They fell in love and the siren became with child.” The girl’s gaze drifted to the water. “But before the child could be born, the fisherman, along with many other sailors, were caught in a storm more deadly than this island has ever seen. The siren tried to save them all but she was too late. The only man she could rescue from the freezing waters was a crippled sailor,” she paused, her eyes meeting mine. “My father.”

I run a shaking hand through my hair.

“When Father awoke on land, he found a note written by the siren telling him about her husband, hoping he could explain to her love’s family what happened. No one believed Father, figuring the shipwreck had confused his mind and convinced the sirens were the ones to blame for the deaths. But before he died, he made my family promise to find the siren to thank her. When I saw you this morning, I knew you were her son. Father told me that her eyes were blue as ice, just like yours.”

My breath catches in my throat.

“But you’re neither living with humans or sirens... Do both reject you?”

Overcome, I stand up, turning away. No one knows me. No one understands me

And yet she does.

My mind wanders back.

The sirens feared the half-human among them so they cut off his tongue to keep him from speaking about his rebellious mother or using the gift they deemed exclusive to full-blooded sirens. The humans feared the mute orphan so they ostracized him to keep him away from their already broken families.
I have been rejected by both worlds and I pay for it dearly every day.

A tear runs down the girl’s cheek. “I’m so sorry.”

I shrug my shoulders as if it would help the pain dissipate.

“They took your gift away from you – your voice.”

I shake my head and write a word in the sand. Curse.

“No, it’s a gift. Your mother blessed others with hers, you can too. Did you know she carried my father on the water by singing through the storm? Not all sirens should be feared.”

I turn to face her, tears running down my face. My heart aches to speak to her, to tell her how much her coming means to me.

“What’s your name?” She whispers.

I lean over and trace letters in the black sand with my finger.

“Haf.” She looks up at me. “I like it.” Going up on her tip-toes, she kisses my cheek. “Thank you, Haf.”

And as I watch her climb up the beach, my heart no longer feels wound up in fear. Her effort to find me, to tell me her father’s story, took more bravery than I’ve ever had.

And that courage sparks something in me.

I will never be accepted as a siren or as a human. And maybe all I will ever be to them is a mute orphan.

But now I know the truth.

Rubbing the scales on my arm, I turn to the water and smile a little.

I can be Haf – Son of the Sea.

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