The Rusted Chain by Mintako Datti

Ferda had never liked the sea. She had always had a fear of the unknown, despised how helpless it made her, how much more powerful it was. How it contained vast power and infinite secrets.

All these thoughts passed through her head as she stared out at the open water from the lower deck. But today, the sea was the lesser of two evils, she would endure it if it meant getting away from her drunk husband. He wouldn’t think to look for her here, he was well aware of her fear. That hadn’t stopped him from booking a sea cruise as their third wedding anniversary vacation.

Sober Edgar was a nightmare, but drunk Edgar was pure unadulterated evil. She, he and his three work colleagues, who had booked the same cruise, had been the only ones left in the cafeteria. Edgar, as always, had made full use of the open drink policy. His speech had become slurred and his teasings of her turned sharper and more hurtful. But that wasn’t what prompted her escape, no, it was the teasings from his friends. She had thought Edgar, normally paranoically jealous, would put a stop to it. But he hadn’t, even when the teasings turned vulgar. She had excused herself to the restroom then fled to the lower deck.

Ferda tolerated a lot, perhaps too much, from her husband, but there was a line she wouldn’t let him cross. There were rumors about his friends and their proclivity for hurting women in the basest ways that rose the rebellious spirit in her. She normally wouldn’t have left without Edgar’s permission.

Ferda was roused from her musings at the sound of water splashing insistently against the side of the ship. This wasn’t the constant crash of waves that accompanied their journey. There was a pattern to it that drew her in. She crept closer to the water, her fear of it a living, ugly thing. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and leaned over the ship railings. She gasped and blinked as her eyes met those of the most stunning woman she had ever seen. The woman, if she could be called that, was ethereal in her beauty. Her graceful features glowed enchantingly with an inner light. Wet strands of her dark hair were plastered around her angelic face. Ferda knelt and pressed her face closer.

“What are you?” When dark, soulful eyes continued gazing at her unblinkingly, she added, “Can you understand me?”

A light giggle, like the bubbling of a brook, echoed in Ferda’s head, but she couldn’t see the creature’s mouth move.

“Yes, I can. You humans call us mermaids.” All these words Ferda heard crystal clear in her head, though there was still no sound on the wind.

“A mermaid?” Ferda gasped softly. “Are you real?”

“As real as you are.” There was the lively laughter again. “My name is Laila.” She lifted her tail out of the water and Ferda marveled at the shimmering ruby scales covering it. When the moonlight shone on it at certain angles, the scales glowed all colors of the rainbow.

Laila smiled when she saw how transfixed Ferda was by her tail, revealing her small, pointed teeth. Her ear tips were pointed like that of a fairy. When she ducked her head into the water, her nose flattened into gills and seamlessly morphed back into a human nose when she lifted it out.

“You are so beautiful,” Ferda breathed. “Where are you from? Do you live here? Oh, and I am Ferda.”

Laila gave another one of her stunning smiles. “I live in the sea but not this one.” Her arm moved in the water.  “Too many humans always on this one.” She wrinkled her nose.

“How are you real? I thought mermaids weren’t real. Only myths.”

“I don’t know how I am a mermaid. But I was once like you.”

“A human?”

“Yes. I was a human woman once.” Laila gave a smile full of meaning. “But then I was chosen and saved. Freed you could say.”

“Saved from what?”

She shook her head. “Every mermaid’s tale is different. But I was chosen after the orphanage keeper I worked with got too handsy.” She waved her hand as if to dismiss her words. “It doesn’t matter anymore. It has been too many years. I can hardly remember.” She tilted her chin at Ferda. “It’s your turn to be saved now.”

“Me?” Ferda shook her head. “What do I need to be saved from?”

Laila gave her one of her cryptic smiles again. “I have not been informed of that. But you more than anyone will know.” Her tone got softer, cajoling. “If you can see me, it means you have been chosen, too. I have been sent to help. You can come with me, forfeit your human life and become a mermaid.” She beamed at Laila. “I can assure you there’s no greater freedom.” She sobered up. “But it’s ultimately your choice. Do you want to come with me?”

“Who sent you? Why was I chosen? What’s the catch?” Ferda had lived a harsh life long enough to know that no kindness goes unrequited.

“All decisions are made by the Water Queen. The only requirement is we help drowned souls find their way home. And rescue other chosen.”

The slither of hope in Ferda grew, urging her to give it all up and follow Laila. “I am afraid of the sea.” She almost felt ashamed voicing that to a creature of water.

“You survived your husband, Ferda. The sea is a much kinder companion.”

“Laila, I—”


Ferda spun around, fearful of her husband’s discovery. But it was only one of the ship’s crewmen. “You can’t be kneeling near the railings, especially at night. It isn’t safe.”

She nodded and turned once again to the sea, but Laila was gone. It’s for the best, she thought even as disappointment coursed through her. As she walked back to her cabin, she wondered if she had wanted an escape so bad her mind had hallucinated.

Back in their cabin, Ferda stared at her husband sprawled on the bed, still dressed in the suit he had gone to dinner with. He snored obnoxiously, his thin cruel mouth unsoftened by sleep. His large form took up most of the bed and Ferda opted for the couch, grateful she wouldn’t have to deal with him that night.

The next day, despite how cautious she was, Ferda couldn’t dodge all of Edgar’s wrath. He was in a bad mood from his hangover and grudgeful she had left the cafeteria without him last night. He griped about how she had made him lose a wager. Ferda could guess what the wager was and was glad she had missed it. By the time dinnertime rolled around, she sported a split lip, swollen cheeks, and a limp. She didn’t bother covering the facial bruises with makeup. The only people likely to notice were Edgar’s friends and none of them would bat an eye.

Dinner passed uneventfully, and Edgar, despite his loud complaints of his hangover earlier, was liberal with the liquor until they and his friends were the only ones left again. Then, the cruel teasings began, and Edgar ensured everyone present learned how closely he thought his wife resembled a whale.

One of the friends then said he wanted proof and to her dismay, Edgar asked her to show them. Heart pounding and palms sweaty, she shook her head no. He repeated the request, his eyes boring holes into her, threatening without words. Ferda could read the horror stored for her should she refuse again. With tears stinging the back of her eyes, she shook her head again.

“Gentlemen.”  Edgar gave his smarmy smile at his friends, speech blurred. “Me and my wife need to have a little talk. We will meet you here again in a little while.” He grabbed her arm and half dragged her unwilling feet back to their cabin. By the time they were at their door, Ferda was shaking like a leaf. She knew he would make her regret talking back. Edgar hated losing face more than anything and she had defied him in front of his friends.

 As she watched him fumbling with the key in the lock, alcohol making his grip sloppy, she realized how little control she had over her own life. In her story, there was no knight in shining armor coming for the damsel in distress. She had only herself. She saw her life stretched out before her and knew Edgar would never stop until he had sucked all the life out of her.

The wild hope she had felt from yesterday emboldening her, she made a split-second decision.

Acting before her cautious side could cause her to back out, she grabbed the metal trashcan in front of their room and hit the back of her husband’s head as hard as she could. She was racing to the stairs before his body finished slumping to the ground. She ran faster, knowing it wouldn’t be long before someone discovered his unconscious body. Pulse racing and tears flowing freely, she prayed her mind hadn’t been tricking her yesterday.

“Laila. Laila, please,” she called out as she reached the lower deck. Oppressive silence greeted her, the stillness of the water unbroken even by the crash of a wave. “Please.” Her voice cracked. “I need you.”

She wept harder with relief when a dark head bobbed out of the water and Laila swam towards her.

“Let’s go,” the mermaid simply said.

“I want to be free. I don’t want to live with him anymore. I don’t even care that I have to live in the sea.” Ferda knew she was babbling, adrenaline muddling her mind. She put her hand out to take Laila’s outstretched one and paused. “But, what about the men there? I won’t let anyone chain me again.” She would go back to the ship, risk going to jail for hurting Edgar before she let another man hurt her again. Now that she had tasted sweet freedom, she would find another way to escape her marriage.

“Mermen exist only in the fae realm. And mermaids do not have young. We gain new members from other chosen ones like us. So you see, we have no need for mermen. And if human men seek to hunt us,” Laila smiled suddenly and her tiny teeth grew the length of Ferda’s middle finger, each as sharp as a needle. She lifted her tail, which now had a row of spikes down its length. “They will regret it.”

Ferda nodded and giggled, her laughter a little manic with happiness. “Then, let’s go.” And she took Laila’s hand and slid as gracefully as an eel into the sea.


About the Author

Mintako Datti is the penname of a pre-med student from Nigeria. She squeezes in sometime with her keyboard when she can. She hopes to one day publish a book.

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