Photo: Sira Anamwong. Freedigitalphotos.net
“If you come any closer I’ll drown you,” she said from the rocks.
“If I pull you out of the water you’ll die,” he said, reciting the line as he always did when he came too close to her.
The man and the woman from their separate vantage points stood sadly surveying each other from a distance, as they had done, year after year. The man had kept a weekly vigil by the lake for so long now, that people had stopped asking him when he would settle down and take a wife. Now the local people avoided him because they had watched him grow into someone strange. “Handsome, but witch-touched,” the old women would say about him as he walked alone down the street.
Tonight, a lilac moon hung over the heads of the lovers; the last pink of day mingling with the black of night over the dark waters and the sloping pines to the east. The man’s back was to the pine forest, he faced the water’s edge and felt in the pocket of his woollen coat for the gift he had brought.
“I have something for you,” he said, producing a wooden box. It was small, made of dark wood like mahogany, and criss-crossed with a lattice filigree of darting silver lines. It glinted in the moonlight as he held it out to the woman in the water.
“What is it?” She asked.
“Would you like to see it?” He stepped closer, somewhat timidly holding it out towards her. Seeing her reaction he cried,
“No don’t go back, you won’t hurt me!” but she was afraid. “My family will be watching,” she said, and made as if to swim away, but then he opened the box with a click, and laid it on the ground between them.
“What do you wish, more than anything?” He asked.
She looked up at him, blinking her wide iridescent eyes, then answered plainly, “for us to never be apart.”
The man smiled, and a light caught like a spark inside the box. It soon became a glow which spread into the air like smoke, and was sweet smelling, and made a noise like chimes as it floated above them.
“You can drown me now,” he said, and held out his arms.
“You have made magic!” She cried, feeling the smoke tingle as it settled upon her skin, each contact blazing like a star.
“Love makes even ordinary men magicians,” he said, as she gave in at last to her nature, leaning in to grasp him with soft, wet, ivory arms.
At last embracing, with a kiss they froze, and became two stone lovers. The box which had lain between them closed with a click. The waters lapped ferociously at the rocks, and cries filled the air like bleating gulls. A dark hand grasped out to grab the box, and pull it beneath the waves.
Years passed, but no one came back to the lake. It seemed as if the Lovers had been forgotten.
* * * * *
Centuries later, a young couple wandered down to the lakeside. The man was a stranger, but he held the hand of a local girl.
“That’s a funny sort of bridge isn’t it?” he said, pointing to a misshapen stone edifice by the rocks.
“Oh,” the girl shrugged. “Those are the Lovers.” Seeing his blank look she continued with a playful glance back at him. “A man, and a mermaid, it’s an old folktale – oh never mind.” They were quiet for a moment, and both stood surveying the huddle of weatherworn stone which now resembled a little bridge from the land to the water.
“My Grandfather thought there were really mermaids in the lake, so he would never let me come here.” She said. “I once had a joke with him – said that mermaids only drown boys, but he insisted that the mer-people had been very angry about their daughter getting seduced and turned to stone, and that they would likely try to do me a mischief anyway.”
She picked up a stone and hurled it towards the lake. It hit the surface, then seemed to hang right on the edge for a moment, before slowly sinking below the waters. The girl rubbed her eyes, there were ripples spreading all over the surface of the lake like a shudder.
“Let’s go,” she grabbed the boys’ hand and pulled him away from the water, but he said “wait a moment,” and dashed off towards the rocks. He had darted down towards the stone bridge snatching something up from the water’s edge, it was a box. The couple set off back the way they had come, as behind them, a green hand slunk back down below the water.
“Where did you find that?” The girl’s voice could be heard to say.
“I saw it just sitting there, on the rocks.”
“That’s funny, I don’t remember seeing it. What’s inside do you think?”
“Don’t know, I can’t open it.”
“Wait until we get back, we can use my brother’s tools.”
“But I don’t want to break it,”
“Then take it to the Friday market,” Her voice was barely audible now,
“There’s an old man I’ve seen down there who sells things like that…”
Soon they were gone, and the forest had swallowed up the sound of their voices. In time a light rain began to fall, washing over the faces, hands and bodies of the stone lovers, now merged together, indistinguishable from each other, half in, and half out of the water.