Creatures of the Dark Oasis23 min read

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Alcohol, Death or dying, Violence
Narrated by Laura Jewell

When Kirsten was little, her mom told her that finwomen preyed on weak little girls. She longed to hear the flop of their webbed feet on her doorstep, to feel the wet caress of one’s webbed hand against her cheek. Back then, rumors flew that a young woman at school was carried away by one. After the principal announced the disappearance over the loudspeaker, Kirsten obsessively drew them in her diary until her teachers made her stop. Kirsten’s parents fought every night while the kids at school fought every day, but everyone claimed to be kind, generous, understanding, there for anything Kirsten needed. Kirsten understood the truth: people hid their darkness, while the finwomen embraced it.

The night that Kirsten finally saw one, that summer before true adulthood seized her by the throat, she was camping on the beach near the lake with her girlfriend. Stars sprinkled the sky, hidden by the pollution from the nearby city. Kirsten and her girlfriend sat around a measly fire. The flames burned Kirsten’s leg hairs, and she wanted nothing more than to dive into the murky water.

Kirsten loaded a marshmallow onto a long stick and roasted it over the fire. Gummy-fingered, she tore it in two and handed half to her girlfriend.

“I love you,” her girlfriend said.

Kirsten only kissed her sticky mouth in response.

“I have to puke,” Kirsten slurred when she pulled back, but the words were a lie, the slur was affected. She stood and stumbled through the woods until she arrived with cut-up feet at the lake’s edge. The finwoman stood mood-bathed at the space where the water met the sand. She was the exact green that Kirsten had shaded her drawings all those years ago.

Kirsten should have screamed. The stories told her to. She knew this much about the creatures: that they rarely let themselves be seen. That they were hunted by town boys who made a sport of their blood in their speedboats. That they were as much a part of Kirsten’s little town as the downtown bank building and its flickering exterior light. Now, she knew this, too: they were magnificent. Kirsten breathed in deeply and a strange scent of roses and fish made her gag.

She bent, taken aback by the stench. By the time she stood back up, the finwoman was gone, all that remained of her a ripple in the still lake water.

Hollers filled the air, whoops and howls, followed by the revving engine of a speedboat in the distance. Kirsten could barely see the boys making their eager way toward the islands that dotted the lake. Kirsten chewed her lip. There were five islands. She and her girlfriend chose the least visited to build their campsite, rowing to it in her beat-up kayak, but there was no guarantee that the boys wouldn’t find them. And no guarantee whether or not the boys would give them hell.

Kirsten raced back through the woods, her feet slipping over slick mud. She made sure not to cry out, her lips a thin line at the bottom of her face. When finally Kirsten reached her girlfriend, she’d snuffed out the fire and sat, shivering, in the dark.

“Last thing I want is to deal with some dipshits,” she said.

“Same,” Kirsten said, her chest heaving as she struggled to catch her breath.

“You puke?”

“Nah.” Kirsten grabbed her bag from the ground and yanked out the Taser she carried. “It went away.”

“Why are you out of breath?” she asked.

“Ran back. Didn’t want to leave you alone out here. It can be dangerous.”

“Want another drink?” her girlfriend asked.

“Nah,” Kirsten said.

“You’re a woman of many words.” Her girlfriend took a pull of whiskey from a tiny bottle.

“That’s why you like me.”

The rest hung in the air; the word that had been spoken, unreciprocated, ignored. Kirsten stared off into the dark of the woods. Across the island, a boat’s engine approached, then died, and she heard the calls of boys with nothing better to do coming ever closer.

As their unsubtle footsteps sounded at the edge of Kirsten’s campsite, they swiped their flashlight over the women’s skin, stopping when they reached the reddened face of Kirsten’s girlfriend.

“Get that thing out of her face,” Kirsten said, and the boys laughed. “I mean it.”

“This thing?” one of the boys slurred, moving the light in circles instead.

Kirsten yanked off the Taser’s cap, lined up the red laser, and pressed the button. The twin hooks shot out and latched into the boy’s polo. He shook as the electricity crackled along the lines. Kirsten’s girlfriend cackled, and once they seemed to realize what had happened, the boys followed suit.

“Shit, you girls know how to party,” the lead boy said as the smartass knelt in the mud, the Taser finishing its barrage. “Come out on this boat with us! I’d love to see how that Taser holds up to the muck monsters.”

Muck monsters. It was what people called the finwomen when they wanted to hunt them. Kirsten smirked. No boy she’d ever known had succeeded, though rumors swirled at school of epic battles: the rich boys’ rifles versus the finwomen’s sharpened claws. One of their classmates showed off a cat bite for weeks before his little sister outed him.

Still, Kirsten was curious to see one up close for the second time. “Let’s do it,” she said as her girlfriend’s lips opened in an O of shock.

§

They boarded the speedboat, a group of six kids in a vessel built for four.

“You girls take lookout,” the lead boy said as he slid into the driver’s seat. He tossed them each a flashlight, and Kirsten slipped her phone into the pocket of her shorts. “Let us know if you see anything.”

“What will we see?” Kirsten asked while her girlfriend frowned silently beside her.

“Like, a splash in the water. Or a ripple.”

“Like the kind a fish makes?”

“Yeah, but bigger.” He revved up the engine and backed out of the sand into the great expanse of muddied waters.

Kirsten shone the light on the water even as she knew the light would scare them away. Part of her wanted to scare them. The boys, if they got their hands on one, would let their trigger fingers flex and bullets fly. Even though they didn’t admit it out loud, every boy in their town had an itch inside of them to end an intelligent life, and the only legal way was to kill a finwoman.

“Why’d you want to do this?” Kirsten’s girlfriend whispered under the roar of the boat slicing through the night water. “I’m freaked, K.”

Kirsten looped one arm around her girlfriend’s shoulder and squeezed. They were the only two out girls in school, and so they’d found one another and formed as strong a connection as they could, given that they had nothing in common. Kirsten’s girlfriend wanted to settle down and turn the town inside out by living a traditional life, show the city they were everywomen, harmless. Kirsten wanted to blow exhaust all over the eight churches as she sped out of town.

“Turn off that light,” her girlfriend whispered. “They’re not even paying attention.”

It was true: the good old boys were whooping and hollering as they sped through the water, unconcerned about the two girls in the back. Kirsten clicked off her light, and her girlfriend leaned into her, resting her head on Kirsten’s chest.

“This is actually kinda nice,” she said.

“Mmm-hmmm,” Kirsten said, peering out of the corner of her eye into the water.

That’s when she saw it: a splash, like the final memory of a diver’s plunge. She yelped out loud.

“You see something?” The smartass boy spun around; his eyes bugged out in excitement. “You see one, girlie?”

“Don’t call me girlie,” Kirsten said as her girlfriend pointed, silent, into the dark.

The lead boy killed the boat. “Shhhhhh,” his friend hissed to no one speaking. They peered nervously from boy to boy, then their gazes trailed the outstretched finger. The water was still. The lead boy laughed. “Girl’s playing tricks on us.” He aimed his gun out then whipped it around to threaten Kirsten. Kirsten flinched as he pulled the trigger. Nothing. A troubled expression passed over his face, and he looked at the gun. He laughed, and his friends followed suit. “Doesn’t even know how a safety works, does she?”

“I know how a safety works,” Kirsten said. She clicked on the light and shone it right into the boy’s eyes. He screamed out. It all happened fast after that: the click of him dislodging the safety, the chaos of screams from every person on the boat, the boys yelling at him not to do what he might be trying, Kirsten ducking onto the wet floor, the splash of Kirsten’s girlfriend throwing herself overboard, and then the squelch of wet feet on the boat and a new presence in their midst. The finwoman closed her hand around the gun’s end, and the lead boy pulled the trigger, and the wet fish hand went flying out into the lake. The finwoman screamed and swiped with her other hand, claws out, and Kirsten saw more and more of the fight as her night vision returned: the claws that dug into the boy’s face, pulling one eyeball out of its socket, and the blood that gushed from his wounds and mixed with the lake water on the boat bottom, and the other boys hurrying to aim their guns, to dislodge their bullets, and before Kirsten knew better, she was grabbing the finwoman by her thrashing claws and pulling her overboard, deep under the water.

§

Kirsten woke on another shore. She coughed, and once she started, she could not stop. She rolled over and hunched up into the sand, hacking until her lungs screamed in her chest.

The finwoman knelt beside her. It held up its broken hand wrapped now in seaweed. Kirsten wheezed as her stomach flipped. She should be frightened, but she felt strangely at peace beside the creature. If the finwoman had wanted to kill her, she would be dead.

“Got you good, didn’t they?” Kirsten said.

The finwoman pointed out across the island, but when Kirsten squinted in that direction, she saw nothing.

“You live here?”

The finwoman shook her head. “He,” she said, her voice like the gasping death sound of a drowning animal.

“A man lives here?” Kirsten laughed, then regretted it. She clutched her throat and massaged the skin there, even knowing it would do no good to ease the scratch. “And what do you want with some island dweller? Only homes out here are ruined vacation huts, occupied by squatters.” Kirsten smirked. “You hungry for old man flesh or something?” Her grin sunk as the finwoman kept pointing.

The finwoman stood, her arm still outstretched, pointing out into the lazy forest. “He.”

Kirsten nibbled at her lip, then planted her hands down into the sand and struggled to sit. “Show me.” Kirsten stood, clenching her abs to keep the blood from rushing too quickly to her head.

§

Kirsten followed the finwoman through the scraggly woods, stepping over strips of rotting logs and sharp weeds, weaving through sorry trees growing up out of ill-suited soil. The finwoman knew her way, following a path that seemed carved out by her. They walked until they came upon a thin flame whipping against the distant breeze. Kirsten stopped.

“Damn,” she said. “There really is someone living out here.”

“He,” the finwoman said, and Kirsten nodded.

“What did this one do to you?”

The finwoman turned, and the moonlight poured over her slick skin and dripped from her mutilated hand like the blood that had marred it previously.

“Did he hurt you?” Kirsten asked, but the finwoman turned to walk toward the house, and Kirsten followed like the finwoman was a religion and she its convert.

§

Kirsten peered into the cabin’s window. The finwoman stood behind her, its eyes fiery with some memory, perhaps, or maybe a hunger. Kirsten couldn’t be sure. The man sat at a little table, polishing a piece of glass with a white rag. His hands were scarred, his face a mess of healed wounds. She glanced back at the finwoman, but she did not move from the spot where she stood.

The man took the polished glass, wrapping it into his rag. He stood and made his way to the wall, pausing before a mount. He bent and worked at an item set upon the floor, and when he stood, the object in his arms, Kirsten gasped: it was the head of a finwoman, taxidermy, the eyes now lifeless marbles in its face.

Kirsten stumbled back. She had been in the homes of relatives who hung the faces of deer on their walls but never had she seen the living and the dead side-by-side, one behind her, one in front of her. She turned to take in the finwoman, whose eyes flamed in the dark.

“He,” the finwoman said and moved like a shadow away and through the yard.

§

Kirsten had never shied away from violence, but she had never followed its trail to a house in the woods, either. She looked around, trying to find the finwoman. Her heart pounded in her chest, the pulse throbbing in her neck, and the scene spun around her as she moved eagerly toward the house. She looked down at her closed fist; did she dare knock, give the man a warning? She found herself pressed to the window, watching, waiting. Should she knock? Her breath fogged the glass.

The finwoman stood in the doorway behind the man. The creature had made no sound upon entering and now the man stood looking at his prize upon the wall, oblivious to the reckoning at hand. Kirsten didn’t budge even as she sucked in a gasp of hot air. The finwoman charged across the room, the claws of her good hand extended. She sunk them into the man’s back. Blood sprayed across the mount, dissolving into the still-moist flesh of the dead finwoman. The living beast ripped her claw up, slicing the man’s torso in half. He fell to the ground with a great thunk. Kirsten screamed, then, and ran back to the lake, where she swam with the last of her energy until she spotted in the distance a lonely flashlight.

She crawled aboard the boat. Her girlfriend and the smartass, the only remaining boy, held each other, bleeding and wet, over two lifeless bodies. Shaking, they held the flashlight out in front of them like it might keep them safe. They screamed when Kirsten spoke. They didn’t stop screaming until the water police wrapped their warming blankets around their shivering bodies.

§

Kirsten left for college without saying goodbye. Her girlfriend didn’t reach out online, and Kirsten heard through the grapevine that she refused to talk to anyone about what had happened that night. Kirsten tried to study marine biology, the subject she’d always thought suited her best, but every class period, she drifted into thoughts of blood, human intestines, and splattered brains. She enrolled in forensics in an attempt to make something of her ghastly visions, and she fit into the work like a glove.

She made love with women, but she felt no deep affection for anyone. When between their legs, she imagined the path up through their cores, what their intestines would look like spilled on a floor, a Rorschach test of Kirsten’s affection, or lack thereof. She never hooked up with someone a third time. She didn’t expect anything of anyone, monsters who wore skins to hide it, except that they might one day die—and how would it happen for them? Would she know them when?

Kirsten excelled at her profession, taking a job at the police force the next city over from her little town. She could play out the most gruesome of crimes beat-for-beat, turning each potential scenario over until the evidence matched the crime. She wasn’t paid to solve murders, but detectives consulted her when they were stumped by the reports.

She didn’t return to her hometown and its lake until her mother called her in a fit: someone had murdered the smartass boy who survived the boat attack alongside Kirsten’s ex-girlfriend, and Kirsten’s mother wouldn’t sleep at night until she knew the person was behind bars.

Kirsten wasn’t a keeper of her mother’s sleep schedule, but her curiosity peaked: had a finwoman set her sights on the boy, on Kirsten’s ex, even on Kirsten—for a new revenge?

§

As soon as Kirsten stepped through the door to her childhood home, her mother pulled her into a choking embrace.

“You must eat,” her mother said, scurrying along to the fridge in the kitchen, where she pulled out tray after tray of leftovers. She had deep bags under her eyes.

Kirsten shook her head as she leaned in the kitchen doorway. “Didn’t come here to eat. What happened?”

“Oh, honey, surely it can wait until the morning.” Her mother’s eyes were full of fear as they darted to a window that overlooked the night. “It’s much too gruesome to talk about when it’s dark out.”

“Gruesome doesn’t care for arbitrary planetary orbits, Mom.” Kirsten sighed and kicked at her luggage. “Besides, I’d like to sleep on the info.”

“How could you sleep?” her mother said.

Kirsten shrugged as she sat at the dining room table, which was full of old bills and junk mail. “I just do.”

Kirsten’s mom worried at her lip with her teeth, then settled in across from Kirsten. “I’ll tell you.”

The boy had been found in his run-down apartment. Since that night on the lake, he’d taken a gig at the Oil & Lube, married a waitress who worked at the local fish fry, and failed, rumor had it, to produce any children, despite his family’s eager wishes.

“I don’t need to know the state of the man’s seed,” Kirsten said. “He’s not going to breed anything now.”

“Don’t be obscene,” her mother said, “and don’t interrupt.”

The boy and his wife seemed happy enough, like one of those couples who were okay to sit in silence when they took meals and didn’t make much fuss outside of a drunken scene on holidays. But while his wife had gone to a girl’s weekend with two friends from high school, someone had snuck in and slashed the boy’s throat.

“Claw marks?” Kirsten said.

“But clean,” her mother said. “They think human. But who?”

Behind her eyes, Kirsten saw the flash of the finwoman’s claws. “Who indeed?”

§

That night, Kirsten tossed and turned as she hadn’t done in years. The finwoman tossed and turned inside her. Kirsten had witnessed terrible scenes, but that first glimpse of blood lived in her even now. That day, the world’s great secret had unfurled before her: life was little more than blood, and she too longed, deep within, to end a life. The finwomen understood. Kirsten imagined what it would be like to latch onto their lips and let them take her down, deep into the water, then what it would feel like to finally let the monster who lived inside her free.

In the morning, Kirsten drove to the home of the young boy. His wife opened the door. She wore a long black dress made of cheap fabric, riddled with pilling, and her makeup had smeared down her face and dried that way.

“I want to ask you some questions.” Kirsten flashed her credentials, but the woman scoffed.

“I already talked to the police. You don’t have jurisdiction here.”

“I’ve got a lead on your husband’s murder,” she said. “What do you think of that?”

The woman raised her eyebrows and moved aside. “Thirty minutes is all I’ve got.”

They sat across from one another on a torn-up antique sofa. The woman offered no lemonade or tea, and it was all the better since Kirsten would have refused it. Instead, the boy’s wife folded her hands primly in her lap and met Kirsten gaze-for-gaze.

“You’re the girl who moved away,” she said finally, understanding dawning in her expression.

“I did.”

“You’re the lesbian girl,” she said. “You went out with Claudia.”

Claudia. Had Kirsten really forgotten her name?

“I did.”

“You were there when that monster fucked my man up.”

“Fucked him up how?” Kirsten thought back and remembered no deep cuts on the boy’s body, no broken bones.

The boy’s wife tapped her head. “Mentally.” Then she leaned back into the sofa and laughed. “Wait, you think the finwoman did this, huh?”

“I think it’s possible,” Kirsten said. “Likely even. And in ten years, I’ve been wrong on exactly five percent of cases.”

The woman nodded, slow at first, then faster. “I could see that as a solution.”

“I need you to show me,” Kirsten said. “Tell me. Leave nothing out.”

§

According to the woman, she was away with her friends when it happened. The police said that it must have been an attempted robbery, but the only thing stolen was a gold heart necklace with a little diamond set into it. They didn’t have much, and the necklace was a gift for their latest anniversary. Mikey—that was the boy’s name—kept a gun under the bed, and it had been pulled out like he caught the guy and was trying to protect himself. But like in all things, the wife said, my husband failed: he was found with slashes across his throat, sprawled on the bed.

Kirsten inspected the room, but forensics had done their diligence, photographed and dusted and everything they knew to do. Like idiots, they were letting the wife stay in the crime scene, though the blankets and sheets were stripped from the bed.

“Where do you sleep?” Kirsten asked her.

“Couch,” she said. “Some nights, with friends.”

Kirsten ducked to check under the bed. What she was looking for, she had no clue, but maybe a straw claw had torn out of the finwoman, or a mysterious green goo. She saw only one thing that seemed out of the ordinary: a woman’s worn Converse shoe. She recognized it: it belonged to her ex.

§

Kirsten’s mother told her where her ex had settled. Single, she’d bought herself a little trailer and set it onto a foundation, rocking the outside and making it as permanent as a trailer could be. Her place was at the edge of an acre down one of the lonelier streets, unpaved and riddled with rotten pecans from the trees that lined it.

Now and then, Kirsten’s car rattled over a big branch that fell, too heavy to bear its fruitful weight. Kirsten parked at the edge of the property and meandered up to the door, knocking with a steady hand.

“I heard you were back,” her ex said as she opened the door. “You look cool as a cucumber.”

Kirsten held up the converse by its lace. “This yours?”

“Nope,” she said, a little too fast.

“Can I come in?”

“Nope.”

Kirsten chewed her lip. “Will it help if I apologize for abandoning you?”

“It won’t. You don’t mean it.”

Kirsten nodded. She was right. Kirsten did what she needed to do, and she’d left this place behind.

“It wasn’t the finwoman, by the way,” her ex said.

“What?”

“You think it’s the finwoman who killed him. It’s the only reason you returned. But it wasn’t the creature. It was his wife.”

Kirsten raised her eyebrows, bemused. “How do you know that?”

Kirsten’s ex leaned in closer, her breath stinking of bourbon as she whispered, “Cause I was fucking him, and she found out.” Kirsten said nothing, but she must have been frowning because her ex straightened her posture and shrugged. “Surprised I’m not a full-on lesbo like you? Well, Mikey was the only one who understood what it was like … to be a survivor. You? You just ran.”

“It was the finwoman,” Kirsten said, flexing and unflexing her fist, not so upset that her ex was sleeping with the victim, but mad that Kirsten would dare call her a coward after all she’d seen, all she’d done—after she came back here to—what? Why was she here? Her frown deepened.

§

Down at the docks, Kirsten paid cash for the pontoon. It was a ten-seater, too much boat for one woman, but all the speedboats were broken down from years of abuse by town boys playing their town-boy games. Kirsten sat behind the wheel and started the engine, easing the boat out into the sunset-lit lake. Then, she waited for night to fall, for the lake and its creatures to come alive.

Nothing happened that night, nor the next. Kirsten worried over the implications: maybe she was wrong and the finwoman wasn’t seeking out people from that night after all. Maybe she was right, but it wasn’t her they were looking for.

Back at her ex’s house, she held out a crisp fifty-dollar bill. “Come boating with me.”

“For what?”

“Old times.”

“I’m not stupid.”

“Then take this money and come with me.”

Her ex relented, snapping the bill up with gusto then sliding over Kirsten’s slick leather seats. At the dock, she fell onto one of the pontoon’s seats and leaned back her head, soaking in the sun.

“You don’t seem traumatized,” Kirsten said as she backed out of the harbor.

“Mikey and me went on rides all the time. Just because one awful thing happens doesn’t mean all the joy is gone from life. Besides, it’s the only thing to do here, other than fuck and watch superhero movies.”

Kirsten nodded as she drove the boat around the lake, its little islands passing her by on both sides, lush with scraggly trees.

“Remember coming out here? Before that night, I mean?”

“I remember.”

Beer, the water lapping the shore, stupid drinking games, sleeping in a hot tent all tangled together. It had been nicer than she’d realized at the time.

“You were always too quiet, though,” her ex said. “Eerily quiet.”

“What do you mean eerily?”

Suddenly, she shot up in her seat. “You’re just looking for the finwoman!”

“Took you this long?”

“Gawd, Kay. You took me, of all people, on some hunt for old demons?”

Kirsten shrugged as the sun started to set. “Guess so.”

“You’re fucked up.” She stood and paced back and forth on the deck. “So twisted. You never cared for anyone before?”

Kirsten swallowed as the truth left her throat. “No.” It sounded small, and though it didn’t make her sad, she wasn’t proud of it either.

“No shit!” Kirsten’s ex stomped toward her. “Now, you turn this boat around right this fucking second, and take me home.”

Kirsten sighed as her ex’s old smell hit her, all at once: like talcum powder and wax, a little bit of smoke, breath haunted by endless bottles of bourbon. Kirsten glanced at the empty lake. She didn’t want to take her home, but she didn’t want to argue, and her making a scene would likely scare away the finwoman. She started the engine back up. That’s when she heard the boat in the distance.

§

In the swamp dark, Kirsten couldn’t tell who was driving, but from the light shining out into the water, she could tell that they were headed directly for her.

“Crouch,” she ordered her ex, who followed her instruction without hesitation.

Kirsten drove. Rough waves rushed underneath them, the wake of the other boat, intensifying as they met the pontoon and hoisted it up and down. Kirsten swallowed her nausea and steered away.

The other boat followed, gaining speed. In the dark, Kirsten couldn’t tell what kind of boat it was, but the vigorous hum of its engine suggested speed. Kirsten cursed herself for forgetting the lake boys and their violent lust. How humans sought out the worst and got the worst in return. Boys with guns was what brought she and her ex into the mess all those years ago, wasn’t it? Kirsten frowned as she rounded a bend, skirting close to the shallow depths in an attempt to lose the boat, but then another thought came to her: she’d sought out the finwoman then, too. And in that moment of realization, her attention left the depth counter—and they ran up against an underwater shrub, its thick branches grabbing at the bottom of the boat until they were stuck.

Kirsten tried to work their way out of the muck, but it was no use: the engine yelled, but the boat moved nowhere. Kirsten jumped out of the captain’s chair and bent to Claudia’s level.

“You jump into the water and hide in the brush. I’ll deal with whatever’s coming to us.”

“You think you’re being brave, huh?” Claudia laughed meanly as she struggled to her feet. “You’re just demonstrating that you care for no one in this world, not even yourself.”

But Claudia stepped through the gate to the little platform at the boat’s front and slid into the water, slick as a fish. Kirsten stood to greet their pursuer.

§

The boat rammed into Kirsten’s pontoon, the light flashing back and forth erratically, blinding Kirsten as the presence boarded. Then, the darkened form spoke.

“Where’d the bitch go?” the woman said. It was a voice that Kirsten had heard only a few days ago, Mikey’s widow.

Kirsten’s shoulders let go of their tension. It wasn’t some stupid, young boy with a gun after all.

“What are you doing, driving like an idiot out here?” Kirsten said, stepping forward.

“I’m here for the woman who thought she could fuck my husband and get away with it.”

Kirsten recognized the tone in her voice: monstrosity. It was inside her the same way it was inside every lake boy, every potential murderer, every murderer who already met their destiny.

“You killed your husband,” she said.

“I’m not going to confess to a cop, dumbass,” the woman said. She swept her light over the entirety of the boat. “She’s swimming away, isn’t she?”

Kirsten shrugged.

The woman laughed, then dove into the lake with a splash that sent the boat swaying gently in the water.

Kirsten thought of the finwoman’s sticky green hands, imagined them pulling her into the water, and jumped after them.

§

At first, she floated in the water, listening for nearby commotion. As her eyes adjusted, she peered out across the lake. In the distance, a tiny island loomed, and on its twisted shore, shadows moved.

She swam toward them.

By the time she reached the island, her breath came out in shallow gasps. She fell onto the ground, a dirty mix of red clay, sand, and rough water grasses. The brush cut her belly as she crawled across it. She heaved deep breaths into her lungs, eager to stop the dark from spinning around her. She heard a scream, then, a few seconds later, another one. She struggled to her feet and stumbled forward. When she reached the forest, she fell through its scraggly trees, her feet crunching sticks beneath her, pulling the smell of molding piles of leaves into her eager lungs, and she fell closer and closer to the sound’s source until she found the clearing—and the scene within it.

Mikey’s widow lay on the ground, her guts exposed, one long line of flesh open and gaping in her abdomen. Her intestines spread out like octopus tentacles from her belly. Kirsten stopped, and it felt like the ground beneath her sunk further as she gasped.

Near the body, Claudia stood, horror-stricken, unable to move as the finwoman stood, set her sights, and inched toward her.

There was no difference in the guts of the widow and the guts of the victims Kirsten had studied. No clue that this woman had done terrible things. Kirsten looked up at her ex, Claudia, and her heart dropped into her stomach. Claudia’s insides would bear no hint that Kirsten had kissed her, fucked her, that she had loved Kirsten, that Kirsten had failed her. It was nothing to split a person open, to disappear into the water, to go where people could not and dwell in the depths. The finwomen were creatures inexplicable and wild, murderous, vengeful. People could be the same, but most of them struggled against it. Kirsten had failed to struggle. She had sought the easy way out.

She lunged forward, unarmed, and jumped into the finwoman, knocking her down into the too-wet ground. The finwoman screeched, and Kirsten yelled back at Claudia: “Go! Go!”

But Claudia didn’t go. Instead, she reached into her pocket and pulled out the smallest pistol that Kirsten had ever seen.

“You think I don’t protect myself after all that went down?”

Kirsten rolled away as fast as she could as Claudia sent a flurry of bullets flying toward the finwoman. The monster screamed. Claudia didn’t stop firing until the finwoman was far from sight.

“Did you get her?” Kirsten asked as she stood, her body protesting every movement.

“How the hell should I know? I’m a terrible shot.”

Kirsten laughed as Claudia looped arms with her. “Let’s get you fixed up,” Claudia said, her wet caress against Kirsten’s skin like a memory transformed: old wet desire threatened to unleash itself, a longing to run after the creature, to join that world of honest monsters. But she glanced over at Claudia as Claudia led her to the edge of the island, where surely a patrol boat or a boat full of lake boys would pass by soon enough. She’d never been honest, either, about the things that lived inside of her.

“I never loved you,” she said to Claudia as Claudia set her down in the sand and settled beside her.

“I know,” Claudia said.

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