Her mother used to read her the same story over and over again, night after night. The pages of the book had turned yellow. Its cover was faded and the paper had grown brittle with age. But no matter how many times she heard those familiar words, her heart would always race as her mother’s voice recited the opening line:
“Far out in the ocean, where the water is as blue as the prettiest cornflower, and as clear as crystal, it is very, very deep; so deep, indeed that no cable could fathom it…”
And so she would close her eyes to her mother’s voice and sink down to the blue sand at the bottom of the ocean, where the fish swam through the trees like birds and a little mermaid tended to her sunset garden.
She had no idea that her mother had changed the ending.
She had twisted the tale into something more suitable for a child; something more savoury for the soul. It wasn’t until the little girl had learned to read for herself that she found out the true fate of the little mermaid who had traded her voice for a pair of feet and her family for a chance at love.
Indeed she started to cry for her mermaid, as the prince slept in the arms of his bride and the little mermaid dissolved into the foam which crests the waves of the sea.
It seemed so unfair.
And from that moment on, the little girl’s heart grew hard from sorrow and cold with hatred. She despised the prince and his egotism. She hated the narcissism of people, and their blindness to the suffering of others.
As she grew up, she became hard-hearted. Her anger scared those around her to the point that she was avoided by all who had been close to her, and strangers who visited the village shuddered at the cruel contempt in her eyes. Rumours began to swirl through the taverns and inns.
People began to paint her as a monster.
As an evil witch.
After her mother died, she moved far away from her village to a place where neither flowers nor grass grew. Her garden beds remained bare and sandy. No fishing boats drew near her stretch of coast, where the crushing whirlpools would sink even the largest ship that sailed too close to their edges. No one walked along her expanse of beach. The only sight for many miles along that deserted crust of sand was the scattered remains of sunken ships and the skeletons of colossal sea creatures.
The children would make a game of how close they could get to her house before the swampy ground pulled at their shoes and made it impossible to run. So she planted trees in thick clumps around her. The trees grew tall and impenetrable, and anyone who tried to break through their barricade would find themselves caught in the finger-like branches which seized any living creature that wandered near them.
Skeletons of delicate songbirds hung from the treetops like grisly ornaments. Other than the sea snakes which slithered from the surf at high tide, their sleek black bodies writhing across the grey sand, there was no life within her grounds.
And so, a generation later, when all had forgotten the sweet little girl this witch had once been, a twist of fate sent her the first visitor she’d had in countless years. A young girl from the village braved the grasping trees and venomous snakes to see her.
She came with an offer.
She had fallen in love with a sea prince and wanted to trade her beautiful voice for a set of fins.
The witch laughed her high, cold laugh.
She knew what the fate of this foolish young thing would be. She had heard it in a tale long ago, when her heart was still warm and her mother’s eyes sparkled with magic as she read the little girl a story from the pages of a crumbling book.