Have you ever seen a mermaid?
It is a serious question. People normally think they are mythological creatures, out of the mind of Greek poets that just wanted a reason for the sinking of their ships near the coasts. Creatures as ancient as the oldest mythologies, who appear in many stories. However, reality is that there are more than just children’s stories. Mermaids are real, and they still roam around oceans and rivers, stalking as they have always done.
It is curious really, because people hear the word ‘mermaid’ and they might think of a beautiful maiden with a fish tail, singing happily under a waterfall, or high up in a rock, combing her long hair and humming to herself. Some even have in mind famous movies that show them as young good-hearted girls in search of true love. Mermaids willing to help others, granting wishes to those who help them.
Boy, is this from reality. At the very least, the myths and legends of yore knew mermaids were dangerous and that you should never approach them. They were demons, who hypnotized men with their songs, and thus managed to bring their ships close enough to the rocks to drown them. Reality is mermaids are not beautiful women, they only look like that to those under their spell. Women with a naked chest, a long blond or brunette hair falling down their back, big eyes, and beautiful white skin. But in reality, they were deformed monsters, with fangs and scales, their hair matted and uncared for. Very few could see them in their true form, those lucky enough to escape before dying drowned in the water.
Myths say they hypnotized men to make them crash their ship and eat those who fell into the water, because that was all their nourishment, as fish never swam near them. Others said that, since mermaids were immortal, they didn’t actually need food, and just liked enchanting men to drown them. These are the mermaids that still swim the waters, stalking men both young and old. Whether for love, hunger… or just pleasure.
However, this story is not about European mermaids. Much less so about nice ones. No. The mermaid in our story does not have long blond hair, nor blue eyes, or pale skin. She doesn’t even has a beautiful turquoise fish tail. The mermaid in our story doesn’t even look like one half the time, although she is also not a monster like the ones in Greek myths. Her legend passes from mouth to mouth to all the children in the village, and they are always reminded never to go near the river on full moon sunsets, for that is when she catches her prey.
She is a Brazilian mermaid, known as Iara by the locals, but she wasn’t always so. The elders say she used to be a beautiful indigenous woman, and an amazing warrior, the best of them all. Her skin was tanned from the sun, and her hair black and straight, going all the way to her waist. She had bangs covering her forehead, and dark brown eyes, covered by an orange strip marking her as a warrior. In her arms, several tattoos where showing, symbols of her courage. She had a spear too, which she made herself, and two knives strapped to her legs.
She was a beauty, and the pride and joy of her father, who couldn’t be happier of having a daughter with such a stance, and as brave as any men of his tribe. But her two brothers hated her, and were envious of her. How did she, a woman, dare be better than them? How did she dare outshine them in front of their father? Envy had rooted so deeply in them that they even came with a plan to kill her. If they got rid of her, they would at last become the best warriors of the tribe; they could elevate their status, and win their fathers approval.
Their plan was to murder her in her sleep, go into her tent and cut her neck quickly, so she could not raise the alarm. But they did not count on their sister’s cleverness. Since many moons ago, she had already felt the hatred that came from them, and she knew that, sooner or later, they would try to hurt her. That was why she always slept with a knife near her, and never slept deeply, but was always aware of her surroundings. One new moon night, she heard them coming into her tent and her body tensed up, preparing for the attack, one of her hands grabbing the handle of her knife firmly, no shaking whatsoever.
When they were both close to Iara, she rose quickly from bed, and without warning, she stabbed them both. The blood stained the earth, the noise woke up everyone else, and soon the town came to see what was happening. Her father was amongst the first to enter, and upon seeing what had happened, his eyes filled with tears.
‘What have you done, Iara? Why have you killed your brothers, your own family?’
‘Father, it was them who tried to murder me, I was only defending myself.’
‘I did not raise children that hated each other. Your mother, who watches over us from the stars, raised loving children. Children who respected one another and protected each other. And now, all my eyes can see is the blood of my sons spilled by the hand of my only daughter. I cannot forgive you for this.
Iara tried to defend herself, tried to make him see that her brothers had never loved her, that they had always been jealous of her for being better, but her father didn’t listen and sentenced her to death for her offense. Iara’s eyes filled with tear upon hearing those words, and knowing she would not be able to change his mind, she decided to run away, and no one could stop her.
For months, they looked for her in the jungle, amongst the rocks, in the caves, near the rivers, in the hollows of the tree, and between the weeds, but Iara was always one step ahead and managed to avoid them for a long while. She hunt for her food at night, when the shadows protected her, and for sleeping, she would climb as high as she could on trees, and she would tie herself with vines so as to not fall down. And so many months passed by.
One full moon night, the girl had gone to a nearby lagoon to clean herself, remove some of the dirt and the blood of her brothers, because no matter how much she washed, she still had the feeling of blood running through her hands, and the strong smell of iron would not go. Could the Gods be punishing her too for having defended herself? Or was she going crazy for having committed such a crime? She was so distracted that she didn’t see two men coming from behind her. They managed to capture her before she ran, and she tried her mightiest but couldn’t. When she was brought back to her village, her father sentenced her to die drowned in the Solimoes river. She would be thrown into the deepest part, with stones tied to her legs so she couldn’t swim back up.
That could have been the end for the girl, but the fish in the river took pity on her upon seeing tears running down her cheeks when her own tribe threw her to the river. And when they saw how beautiful she was, they decided they would not let her die. They swam in circles around her, and transformed her into a beautiful mermaid, with her fish tail the same bright orange as the strip that covered her eyes. The bond in her feet dissolved the moment the tail grew, and Iara swam beside her new brothers all along the river, thankful for the new life she had been given.
But the enchantment only lasted while the full moon covered the night sky. Once the sun came up, Iara was transformed into an orange fish, just as the rest of the fishes that were now her new family. After a while, she understood that, only during the full moon could she recover her mermaid form. And is in those night, when she climbs the rocks in the river, her hands combing her long hair slowly, while she sings a song in one of those old indigenous languages long forgotten, with which she could hypnotize men to come close to the river, to her. She would trick them by saying she would grant them all their wishes, and took them to the bottom of the river, far, far away to where she lived. From there, men never came back, and Iara fed from their energy, and from the hatred she had towards them, after what her brothers and father had done to her.
This is the story told to the children in the village next to the river. The village that once was where Iara and her tribe lived. The vast majority is so scared by the story that they only go near the river during the day, as a precaution. But there is always one person who doesn’t believe, the one who says they are only children’s’ stories and surely there can’t be anything bad in the river.
They are so wrong. True, there was a possibility that everything was a lie, although several men had disappeared already, and though no one could explain the phenomenon, they were not ready to believe in the mermaid story.
One of them was Theo, a dark skinned man, fisherman, well into his forty. He is a father, has four children, and his wife always awaits his return with a hot meal for when he finishes work. Every morning he goes out very early with the rest of the fishermen, they go in their boats to fish, and when they come back, their pockets are already full of money from what they sold in the nearest city, and one or two fish for the family.
His wife, Luana, believes in the legend of Iara. She has instructed all her children not to go near the river, even to their only daughter, although they have never heard of Iara being interested in girls. But it was better to be safe than sorry. And she always reminded her husband to not go near, for she knew he did not believe in stories, and constantly found him wondering in the banks of the river, putting his feet in the water at sunset. It drove her crazy, and she would always pray to God to protect her husband so Iara wouldn’t take him.
One February afternoon, in the midst of summer, they were all in the house, trying to enjoy the breeze that came through the open door of the small hut. And suddenly, his wife realized there was no more water, and that meant someone had to go out to the river and fill some buckets, or wait till tomorrow morning. Luckily she had had time to finish the food, but it meant no refreshing bath before bedtime for anyone.
‘Why do you suffer, woman? Here, give me the bucket, I’ll fetch water.’
‘No, Theo, there’s no need. I don’t need right now.’
‘Suit yourself. I’ve been sweating like a pig all day, and your stories about monsters and mermaids aren’t going to scare me of a nice bath. If you don’t want water fine, I intend to go and swim a little.0
‘Don’t! Iara will take you, and what will happen to the kids and me.’
‘Don’t be superstitious, woman. Stop frightening them, there’s nothing in the river!’
‘There is! Don’t you remember? Two months ago, Julia’s son disappeared. No one knows what happened, only that one night he went to the river and never came back.
‘I’m sure an alligator ate him, they get quite close to the shore.’
‘It wasn’t an alligator. It was Iara.’
Her husband sighed and got down from his hammock, he didn’t want to keep arguing with her, knowing he wouldn’t change her mind. He took his hat to protect himself from the setting sun and went out without another word. Theo only heard his woman calling his name in vain. He went away from his house and the town until he arrived to a quite area, where he could still see the houses from far away, and the sun, starting to hide behind the trees.
Truth was he would never say this to his wife, but it wasn’t the first time he stayed until long after sunset at the banks of the river. There were times he came back late from work, and instead of walking like the rest of the fisherman did, Theo got on his boat and let the stream take him back to the village. And not once had he seen a mermaid in his journeys. Sometimes he even dared tie the boat to a tree some kilometres before getting home, and get down to let the water run between his feet, with a starry sky above him, bright as he could never see in the cities.
Water had been his life since he was little, and he had never feared it, nor of what could be inside it. He knew about alligators, and of the piranhas that lived upstream, regardless of that, he always went inside the river. And he did exactly that that afternoon. Without anyone around, he stripped naked and jumped into the waters, thankful for the coolness of them.
Nothing compared to that feeling, of the water all around you. The colours on the sky changing and the stars appearing alongside the moon. He had been there for little over half hour when he saw a small fish jumping up and down in the water. It was a beautiful orange colour, and it shone like fire under the last rays of the sun. The men was surprised it came so close to him, but he assumed that, since he had stayed put, the fish hadn’t seen him as a threat.
He saw him jumping for a while, almost happy he would say, and then the fish stayed put, only his head above the water, and watched him intently for a few seconds before disappearing. That was certainly an amazing story for his kids, maybe they wouldn’t be so afraid of the river and he could counteract all the stories about killer mermaids their mother told them. Theo stepped out, put on his clothes, even if they got all wet, and came back home whistling happily, without realizing the little fish was still watching him from the river.
Iara already had an eye on him. She had seen him a few months ago, coming back on his boat after dark, walking along the water at night as if nothing happened. His face had reminded her of her father, of the man that would not believe her when she spoke with the truth, and her heart filled with resentment. She decided she would hunt him down, that she would start watching him and soon, on a full moon night, she would wait for him to come close to the river and would sing him one of her songs. She would not let him get away.
When Theo came back home, his wife threw herself at him and hugged him tight, thankful that God had brought him back safe and sound. The man told the story of the little fish to his children, and they laughed at the story, but his wife stared at him, eyes cold as ice. When the children went to bed, Luana confronted him.
‘Are you insane? What the hell were you doing at the river at this hour?’
‘I told you nothing would happen. It’s all in your head.’
‘That fish could be Iara, you know? Fish don’t come close to humans, and you as a fisherman should know that better than anybody. Be very careful, Theo, she might already like you.’
‘It was a harmless little fish. I don’t believe all that stories of fish turning into mermaids.’
‘Don’t believe it then, but be it in your conscience if you come close to the river on a full moon and never make it back.’
Some months went by and the family never mentioned that again. His wife seemed resentful the first few days, but after a while she forgot and her happiness came back. One day, all the fishermen stayed later than usual in the market where they sold their fish, and when they were on the way back, the sun had nearly gone completely. Theo decided to come back on his boat, while the rest walked.
The man got in, sat and let the stream carry him down as always. That night he could see all the forest perfectly, and the reflection of the river shinning with a silvery colour thanks to the full moon in the sky. He didn’t even remember his wife warning until a voice reached his ears, ever so softly. Who could be out, so far from the main villages? In this part of the river, there was nothing but forest.
His eyes started looking around, and soon, still far away, he managed to distinguish a human figure up in a rock, just in the middle of the river. Theo couldn’t believe his eyes. How had that person gone up there? Had he fallen into the river and grabbed the first rock available? Would it be waiting for someone to rescue him? As he came close, he realized it was actually a woman, with long black hair, and that she wasn’t asking for help. She was singing. And not in ancient languages as the legends said, but in normal regular Portuguese.
Come to me, my love
Let me show you wonders.
It’s been so long,
That I’ve been waiting for you, my love.
Come with me, into the river.
And let me show you
All that I can give you.
He felt that he knew that song, even if he had never heard if before. The girl was singing with so much nostalgia, and so slowly, that Theo felt fascinated with her voice. When he was close to her, he decided to get to the shore so he could talk to her, and maybe help her if needed. He tied his boat to a tree and turned to her. Now that he could see her illuminated under the moonshine, he could finally admire all her beauty.
That beautiful black hair covered all her back, and her bangs stuck to her forehead, letting a few water drops roll down her face. Here eyes were dark brown, and there was an orange strip covering them from side to side, which made them shine even more. She was sitting in the rock, so that only half her body as visible, and he suddenly realized she was completely naked. Her hands moved about her hair slowly, sometimes combing it down, and other bringing it up and letting if fall down freely. Her movements were sensual, and he soon felt his body reacting to her beauty.
Theo didn’t consider himself unfaithful. He had been with his wife for over twenty years, and he wasn’t about to start going after girls. He didn’t have the energy, nor the body for it. His skin had wrinkled over the years, and his body wasn’t the fittest. But upon seeing the young girl, her sensuality, the outline of her breasts, and those sexy eyes calling to him, he realized he still had hidden passions.
‘Come, Theo,’ the girl laid down in the rock and extended one of her hands, calling him. ‘Come to me, Theo. I’ve been waiting for you for a long while.’
That voice was so pretty. Theo smiled and his eyes couldn’t stop watching her. The girl started singing again while she submerged in the water. The song reached deep down into his brain, and the man didn’t realized the moment he fell under the mermaid’s spell. His body was no longer his, and his will had disappeared. Everything he wanted to do was come close to her, kiss her lips, and touch her skin. When the hands of the mermaid told him to come close, Theo didn’t doubt and went into the river, clothes and all, the boat forgotten in the tree.
‘Come to me, my love,’ the girl approached him and started swimming around. Theo was able to see then that, instead of legs, she had an orange fish tail, but that didn’t matter anymore. The spell had entered deep into his heart.
Theo kept walking, the water already reaching his waist when he extended a hand, begging for the girl to take it. She granted his wish, took his hand lovingly to come close, and then she started moving her hands all about his chest, up and up until she reached his neck. Her lips were still moving, slowly, singing a different song this time, returning to her indigenous language, knowing the man wasn’t paying attention anymore, and that he would not understand it anyway.
You’ve heard my song
And now there is no way to escape.
You will never be free again
Your will belongs to me now.
You only want to touch my body,
But your heart is all I need.
She wrapped her arms around his neck, and kiss him passionately. That was all it took to condemn him. His arms hugged her, touching every inch of skin and enjoying its youth. Iara let him touch her all he wanted before submerging him into the river. Theo didn’t even seemed to realize they were underwater, for the mermaid’s kisses gave him air whenever needed. And so, she took him upstream, there where the piranhas lived.
When they arrived, it was too late for Theo, who only then seemed to came out of the spell and realized he was at the bottom of the river, with a mermaid besides him, and really hungry piranhas a few metres from him. Panic showed in his face, and Iara smiled pleased. She came to him from behind and whispered a few words into his ears. The last words he ever heard.
‘You didn’t want to believe your wife, didn’t you? Iara doesn’t exist, you said. Maybe you should’ve believed her.’
Iara pushed the man, and nothing remained of him once the piranhas finished the job. The only thing Iara demanded was Theo’s heart, which she eat in two bites. The blood spreading over the water and leaving red stains everywhere.
No one ever knew what happened to Theo. The next morning, the fishermen found out he never made it home, and they told everyone that the last time they saw him was on his boat. They made a search, and didn’t take them long to find the boat, still tied to the tree, a good twenty minutes away from town. But of Theo, nothing at all. They all thought an alligator must’ve eaten him, but his wife, who knew last night had been a full moon night, knew it had been Iara.
‘You tempted faith too much, Theo,’ she thought with sadness. ‘And now you’ll never come back to me.’
Of course, nobody could ever prove the story of the mermaid. Because, even if there had been someone there, the moment Theo stopped to see the girl, everyone would had thought he was crazy. Any other person would have only seen an orange fish jumping in the water. No one else would have heard the mermaid’s song, which that night was designed exclusively for Theo.
If you can’t hear the song, you can’t see her in her mermaid shape, as that is only for her victims, for those under her spell. And once you’ve seen directly into the eyes of a mermaid, there is no way to escape death. You are doomed.
So now that you know the story, and the way she shapeshifts. Are you sure you have never seen a mermaid?