We dart through nighttime waters, close to the sand ridges along the bottom. I clutch Hvrēssē’s hand in mine.
In our wake, alluvium swirls up, and then drifts down to the ocean floor. A pattern will form and be washed away, form and be washed away with each wave or tail flick.
The vial of blood in my other hand flashes silver in the moonlight. The pull of land sings like a tsunami from the palm of my hand all the way to my beating heart. Hvrēssē grins at me, sharp teeth and delight. We swim faster until we feel the water around us change. It grows lighter and freer of brine. The river current ripples through our hair and over our fins.
“Almost there,” Hvrēssē says. She gulps the last of the true seawater past her gills. “Hurry.”
I admire her sense of urgency. Admire the way her pale flesh melds into the gray of her tail. The dark stripes that almost go all the way around but leave her underside gray like the stormy skies far out to sea. Like home.
My muscles burn as I try to match her powerful strokes when she dives into the fresh water. It’s warm and light. Sweet and deadly.
“Get out your knife,” I shout above the sound of the river fighting against the open sea.
o . O . o
The closer we swim to the river’s wide mouth, the heavier my limbs become. I drop Hvyuce’s hand, fumble for the bone knife strapped against my upper arm. It slides out of its fish-scale sheath.
Through the waves, moonlight spills down. It seems to move across my skin as if alive. It splashes into Hvyuce’s eyes, violet like my anemone garden. Soon we’ll be on land. Together. Human. At last. At last.
“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” he says through a grinning mouth. His dimples show, and I know he’s more excited than scared.
Careful of the blade’s sharp edge, I swim close to Hvyuce. Close enough to see his pulse thump in his neck. He’s beautiful in the soft light of night. I rub my nose against his, then press my lips first to one closed eyelid then the other.
He catches my shoulders in his palms. Then his mouth catches mine. We kiss until we’re more breathless than the river water should make us.
He floats above me. “I love you so much.” He hands me the vial of blood. Human blood that’s darker than night. Forbidden. Sacred.
I shiver with anticipation.
o . O . o
Traces of Hvrēssē’s kiss linger on my mouth. I pinch my arm and try to focus on why we’re here. Through the churning water we swim. Smaller fish flit out of our path only to cautiously return. I arc out my bone knife—not to kill them, only to scare them.
Once we can’t feel the slippery-slide of saltwater on our denticles, we stop swimming upriver. At the surface, the slap of water against the riverbank echoes across the night. There are no human sounds. I chose this spot for its remoteness. It’s as wild as we are until we trade our scales for legs.
Hvrēssē swims until the riverbed supports her tail, but her head and body are above water. The moonlight glints off the water droplets falling from her bone knife.
“Ready?” she asks.
I nod. She slices off one of her fins, bites her lip and winces. Her eyes clench tight, but she doesn’t cry. Blood spills from the wound. In a few laps of water, I taste the salt of it on my tongue.
o . O . o
Pain courses through me as blood blossoms from my wounds. My precious gift to Sedna dilutes in the river. Another slash of the knife increases my tithe.
The earth feels like it tilts beneath me. It’s only the blood loss, but it reminds me to hurry before I pass out and miss this opportunity. The knife in my hand grows hungry for more. I tithe and tithe.
Hvyuce bobs at the surface. Even through my pain, I can see the animal hunger my blood stokes inside him. He swims up current to avoid the spreading circle of red. With shaky fingers I uncork the vial of human blood and pour it down my throat. It’s salty sweet.
Words fall from my lips. The moon, huge and bright, pulses when I stare at it. It grows larger as if to devour me. Hvyuce slips beneath the tiny waves. I thought slicing off my fins was painful. It was nothing compared to the burning that sears my tail in two. Knits cartilage into bone. Threads muscle and tendon.
I gasp as gills tear and reform into lungs. Breathe. Breathe. Live.
o . O . o
Screams rise above the water lapping the shore. Hvrēssē’s screams. They anchor me down. Water flows over my gills, but I can’t move to help her.
Then a silence descends like nothing I’ve experienced before. The weight lifts, and I buoy to the surface. Hvrēssē stands on two long pale legs. She reflects the moonlight, glows and gleams.
“It worked!” Her face is bright and laughing again. “Oh, it worked!”
Unsteady but determined, she takes one tentative step and then another. She kicks her foot through the water, a glitter of water flies over my head. I echo her laughter.
With determination of my own, I slide up onto the drier sand. Grip my bone knife and make the first cut. My blood rushes to meet the ocean. It pours into the night water. I slash and slash until I’m dizzy. Drink down the vial of human blood and chant the words.
Every wound throbs and scorches, but nothing happens.
The moon shines down on my paltry offering to Sedna. And nothing happens. Hvrēssē drops to her new human knees. She wraps her arms around my chest. One hand tries to stanch the blood that flows like the river into the sea. It’s not enough.
“What do I do? What did we miss? Say the words again. Say them!” Her tears are like kisses against my cooling skin.
“I love you,” I say before my eyes close forever.
1 Hvrēssē is a Muskogee word. It’s pronounced /hałi:ss-í:/ The ł sounds like the L in clue.
2 Hvyuce is a Muskogee word. It’s pronounced /hay-óci/.
Stay tuned for extra content this week from Audrey. Return next Monday for special guest Tori’s answer to this prompt.