The Legend of Mermaid’s Roost

We look the same and we always have but we couldn’t be more different from each other. I think that’s the best place to start with this. Some identical twins have a lot in common. They like the same foods, the same things on television, some even spend their entire lives dressing in the same clothes, but we were never those girls.

For as long as I remember, it’s been hard for even our own parents to tell us apart were it not for our very different personalities. Our own mother can’t tell the difference between our voices over the phone to this day. We even have the same laugh, but after that we diverge. I’m extroverted and would much rather be outdoors than inside where she is bookish and reserved. As far as personality traits go, Lily and I have always shared very few.

We both have our father’s nose and our mother’s heart shaped face and her high cheekbones. The same raven-black hair falls in waves past both of our shoulders and the same emerald green, almond shaped eyes sparkle with hidden flecks of gold that you can only see if you take a look up close.

Still, there’s a connection between us that can’t be explained. We just feel it. Know it’s there. It’s a thing with identical twins no matter how truly different they really are. Some say it’s a sort of telepathy, if you believe in that sort of thing.

That’s the reason I knew something was wrong before I had proof. I knew when I woke up in the morning that something was happening and that it was big. I even knew when I finally got up the nerve to send her a text, she would reply this time; not right away–but this time–she would. She hadn’t been replying to me at all lately, no matter how often I sent her messages. Something was different now. I’d hear back from her but it would be at least a week–possibly a few days more before I did. Sending this text was different. Something I could feel in my bones told me she’d finally tell me what was going on with her. Where had she been? In my heart, I knew the lack of communication over the past several months wasn’t something she had chosen. Somehow I knew she wanted to talk to me but for some reason she couldn’t and that was a very strange and unnerving feeling for a twin to have. In the past, before Lily’s recent radio-silence, she and I had rarely gone for more than a day or two without checking in. In the past year that had suddenly changed and I had no logical explanation for it.

This particular morning, a feeling of unease is everywhere around me and even somehow inside me. I feel it in bed before I even open my eyes. Like an itch you can’t scratch because you know it will just make the rash worse and trying to ignore it altogether will drive you mad. The worst part about the itch was knowing that after months of nothing, I would finally hear back from Lily. It was time. She was ready to talk. I knew it. I don’t know how–I just did. Somehow after months of unanswered messages, my next text would finally garner a response and knowing that made me jittery. The itch was made worse the inexplicable knowledge that the response was going to take days. At least I would get it, but I’d have to wait for it for days. If she hadn’t replied to me in months, why should that make me feel so uneasy? I couldn’t say. The whole prospect of this scenario made me nervous but I told myself I would send the message right after breakfast because my sister needed me to send it and she needed me to send it today. It was important that I reached out to her this morning.

Whatever happened is bothering me so much that I burn the pancakes and have to start them over three different times.

“Vibes are off today, Emily,” my wife Jasmine begins. She sits patiently waiting for me to serve her a plate of good ones, pancakes that aren’t burnt, at the table in our kitchenette, “I just changed that bag last night you know, and if you keep doing that I’ll have to take it out again before we even get to eat. What’s up with you?”

“Not me,” I reply, “it’s Lily. Something’s up with Lilly.”

“Oh? You finally hear back from her? What’s going on?”

“That’s just it. I haven’t heard anything in months but that’s definitely about to change. I don’t know. It’s just a feeling, babe. Hard to explain,” I say.

“A twin thing?” She asks.

“Exactly. It’s twintuition. It’s like–”

“–Intuition,” she finishes for me, “I get it. Did you try calling her or texting her yet?” Jasmine asks.

“No, but it’s because I’m afraid she won’t answer right away and I don’t want to have that fear be real.” I admit. “That’s weird isn’t it?”

“Very,” she says getting up from the table. She picks my phone up from the counter and grabs me the waist, moving me away from the stove and spinning me around. She pecks a small kiss on my lips and lifts one of my hands, placing the phone into it. She gives me a little shove toward the kitchenette table and pulls out the chair for me.

“You’re going to sit here and write a text to your sister and I’m going to finish making breakfast.” She tells me.

I sit here looking at my phone for a while, unsure of how to start. Finally I type:

Anything wrong? Worried about you.

And I hit send.

Eight days pass before Lily texts me back and it’s a flood of texts in the morning from an unknown number. One after the other.

Sorry I didn’t get back to you right away. You were right about Eric. I didn’t tell you a lot because I thought you’d be ashamed of me. Or mad. You’ve always been so much stronger than I am.

I packed and left the night you text me. I was afraid to reply because I thought he might be able to read it somehow. He definitely was tracking the phone so I left it at the bus station that morning.

It took me a few days to get set up, but I’m in Echo Bay now and this is my new number. Just got one of those burner phones from Walmart. It’s nothing special but that’s on purpose.

I’m staying in a bungalow on the beach. Very cute. Just a few miles from you and Jasmine, actually. It’s nothing permanent, just an AirB&B. I figured coming here would be safest for now to figure out what to do next.

I never told him where you were and he’ll try to find me if he can. He’ll follow me to the end of the Earth. I should have told you about him. The whole truth. Now I finally can. If you’re not busy, come today and I’ll tell you the whole story.

The last text she sends puts tears in my eyes and I call her right after I read it and we make plans…

I’m pretty sure if I stayed he’d have killed me sooner or later. Probably sooner

I meet Lily for lunch at her bungalow in the afternoon and she’s right, it’s very cute. She, on the other hand, looks like a mess and I find myself both irate and awestruck. I don’t understand how the bruises haven’t fully healed or even begun to heal a little. That bastard really did a number on her. It’s eight days later and her face and skin is purple and green with bruises in so many places–appearing to be so fresh that you’d think she’d been at the bottom of a three-car pile up just the night before.

“He wasn’t always like this, you know,” she tells me, “in the beginning he was really charming…it took a long time to figure out that person wasn’t real.”

She doesn’t eat much, mostly just moves the food around on her plate with her fork. She goes quiet and drifts away from the conversation a lot which is strange for me because she was always the one with more focus. I’m the daydreamer. She’s the grounded one. That’s how we’ve always been. A few times while she’s sitting silently, she begins to cry. When I hold her hand, it turns into a wailing sob and I reassure her that none of this is her fault. That this sort of thing happens to a lot of women. That they feel trapped and never try to get out. Never try to escape. They don’t make it out. I reassure her that she’s still strong because she saw what was happening and she did something about it. She left. I reassure her quietly that although it shouldn’t be this way, that it shouldn’t happen, this still happens to lots of women anyway. She’s not alone. She escaped it. She’s a survivor.

“We can help find you a lawyer if you want,” I offer at one point, “we have money saved. We can pay for it,” and she immediately shuts the idea down.

“No. I’m not doing that,” she says adamantly, “I just want to be done with it. I came here to heal. I don’t know if I’m staying or not yet…”

She pauses for a moment and then adds: “I just need some time to figure out where I’m supposed to be.”

“But if you let him get away with it, he could do this to someone else,” I say, “you do realize that right? You need to do something. He needs to pay for this.”

“He does need to, but what if he gets away with it?” she asks, “what if I report all of it and he sits trial for it…and what if he gets off? I can’t take that chance. It isn’t worth the consequences of it. What if I don’t win?”

“What if you do?” I ask her. She gets really quiet then, “promise me you’ll think about it.”

“I will,” she says and it’s almost a whisper, “I just need some time. I made it away and I’m safe. I don’t know if I want him to know where I am. If I do this then he knows I’m here and when he does, if I lose, he will kill me. You understand that don’t you? He will kill me. That man operates on some sort of twisted revenge. He won’t even consider what would follow once he’s gotten it. He’ll just think about getting even with me.”

“Jail isn’t a deterrent when you’re dealing with a human grenade. He’ll only want to explode–to destroy. He won’t worry about what happens to him after that. He doesn’t work that way.” She says.

She doesn’t want to let me take pictures of her bruises but I insist on it and somehow actually win that argument. She tells me she’s been trying not to even look in mirrors right now. She doesn’t want pictures of her looking like this on her brand new phone because what if she decides to take a picture of something beautiful, like a sunset, and she opens the camera and the photo gallery is right there and she has to look at this instead. I tell her that she’s still beautiful no matter what happened to her. All that matters is what happens next. So I take the pictures for her with my phone. She takes off her shirt and there are more bruises everywhere underneath and we take pictures of those too.

I manage to keep my own feelings bottled up for the entire afternoon until she takes her shirt off and now before I realize I’m doing it, I’m crying also.

“Shhh,” she whispers, “you can’t cry. You’re the strong one.”

I shake my head and tell her that we’re both strong and then we’re both sobbing and she presses her face against my chest and I press my head onto the top of hers until she steps away from me and tells me that I have to stop crying on her because I’m getting snot in her hair. We both laugh.

It’s not funny. Nothing about this afternoon has been, but we both laugh anyway and our laughs still sound the same.

I spend the entire day with her and as the sun goes down we leave her bungalow and take a walk along the beach.

“So, can I ask how you ended up falling for this guy? Identical or not we clearly operate on different wavelengths romantically and I just don’t understand.” I say, and then add: “forgive me if that’s too personal.”

“No. It isn’t.” She begins, “and if only we operated on the same wavelength or even similar ones. I thought about you a lot in the past few years. Thought that if only I was a big old lezzie–like you, if I’d just went for girls, none of this would’ve ever happened.”

“Don’t be so sure. Domestic abuse doesn’t have a gender. There’s shitty, abusive partners in queer relationships too.” I tell her.

“Well, regardless, I’ve actually asked myself the same question about a hundred times in the last week. What drew me to him and where and when did things change–you know? When did he go from the ideal boyfriend to an absolute monster?”

She tells me that when she met this bastard, Eric Warminster, it was like something out of a movie, and her story begins that way too–like a cheesy rom-com–so corny it sounds fake…I almost tell her how much I hate romantic comedies, I almost tell her to give me some horror flick any day of the week. I think better of it just before I do and don’t say the thought aloud. She never went for horror, even when we were girls–and that’s what she ended up with despite her aversion to it. That was what her life had become.

She tells me they were both in the produce section of the grocery, neither of them paying too much attention–he on the phone and she looking over her shopping list. They both reached for a pineapple–the last pineapple in the crate. He asks her what she plans to do with it if he lets her have it and she tells him she’s just going to cut it up and eat it. He tells her he’s making a pineapple-upsidedown cake with it.

“I’ve never had that.” She tells him honestly; matter-of-factly and he invites her over to his place later that night to be the judge of whether or not his recipe is any good. Normally, she tells me, she’d never have done something like that. She tells me that she’s not the type to just go to a strange man’s place on a whim…but he was good looking and had a charming way about him. She fondly describes his smile. It’s out of character and she can’t say exactly what makes her drop her guard and give this man her number, but she does…

And the dinner he cooks for her as well as the cake he makes are both excellent.

“That wasn’t the only cake he made for me. One day when we were still getting to know each other he asked me a load of questions. What’s my favorite color? Favorite flower? That sort of thing. Remember that movie ‘Steel Magnolias?’ I told him that was my favorite movie. He says he’s never seen it. Not a week later, he tells me he watched it and asks me to come after work. Says he’s got a surprise for me…” She says.

“No fuckin way.” I said, interrupting her. I told you rom-coms aren’t really my thing, but I’d known that was Lily’s favorite since we were in middle school. Of course I’d suffered through it and we’d watched it together…her with a tissue pressed against her eyes and me rolling mine.

“He made the Armadillo Cake?” I ask, “you mean to tell me he watched the movie just because you mentioned it and then he made the cake?”

Lily smiles briefly at the recollection and nods.

“He was very romantic…in the beginning.” She tells me.

Eric does all sorts of things to win Lily’s heart: he’d make her breakfast in bed, take her on picnics. She tells me he would even sit there calmly while she complained about her co-workers and instead of trying to fix the problem or offer his advice, the end of the conversation he’d have found a reason to hate the people she said she hated in her story and have his own complaints about them too. According to Lily, he was perfect…and then shortly after she moved in with him, things started to change and they changed fast.

Little things at first…she accidentally buys the wrong type of cereal at the store and is met with: “Frosted Flakes? Really? Not Frosted Flakes! Mini Wheats! Are you stupid or something? Frosted Mini Wheats! How hard is that for your useless, stupid brain to remember?”

She tells me that once she folded the towels the way our mother always had when we were growing up. He didn’t fold them that way so he calls her into the bathroom, throws open the linen closet and proceeds to yank each one of them out one one, unfolding them with a flick of his wrist before smooshing them into balls and leaving them in a heap on the floor.

“Do it the fuckin right away the first time, or do it again, moron.” He shouts at her before storming out of the room.

“He told me all my friends were toxic next. I didn’t have any friends except my coworkers so he told me he didn’t want me working anymore. Most women would kill to be homemakers. Do the dishes. Spend the afternoon watching soap operas. He put me on an allowance and I couldn’t buy anything without telling him I was buying it.” She says. “He told me you were toxic too. Said you didn’t love me and the way he said it…how he explained it, it was so convincing. That’s the reason I stopped returning your calls.” After she says this, she begins to cry quietly.

He tells her if she tries to reach me or any other of her so-called “toxic” family, and he finds out, he’ll sell the car he bought her and they’d start having everything–all the shopping and groceries–delivered. She becomes afraid if she lets anyone know what’s happening she’ll lose what little freedom he grants her and she’ll be trapped in their house for good…trapped there with him for good.

There are a few other anecdotes just like those ones in her story and I find myself getting more and more angry as she recounts all of this to me. Then it hits me: each story is just another small escalation. I’m so mad I could run this man down with my car, then get out and curb-stomp his head before setting him on fire.

I can feel the desire to do that just from what she tells me up to this point…

She still hasn’t gotten to the day he begins to put his hands on her and my blood is already boiling.

She gets quiet for a long time and we just walk. I reach out and take her hand, and when I do she puts the thoughts that I was having just a moment earlier into words:

“I can sense how mad you are. I haven’t even told you about the first time he hit me.” She says.

“You can keep talking about it, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to.” I say.

“I don’t want to, but I’m going to anyway. I’m ashamed.”

“You shouldn’t be. None of this was your fault.” I tell her.

“I know. I am anyway.” She continues, “I feel like I need to tell you. I have to tell someone. I haven’t talked about any of this. It’s poison and I want it out.”

The first time he hits her, it’s a punch in the face. He doesn’t even start off with a slap or something. He’d never hit her before and the first time he does, it’s a closed fist. She isn’t expecting it to happen. The reason he claims he did it afterward is that she’d overcooked his pork chop. They finish eating and as she collected his plate she askes him how it was. He says it was chewy and then out of nowhere he punches her in the eye.

After he discovers he can get away with something like that, it starts happening all the time…

He throws her against a wall for forgetting to charge his phone for him. She’d forgotten somewhere that she was responsible for every small thing when it came to keeping the household running–even things that she’d never been asked to do. Things as small as putting his phone on the charger for him so he wouldn’t have to do it himself.

He didn’t want a girlfriend or a partner…he wanted a slave.

If he was leaving for work and she couldn’t tell him where his keys were, he’d choke her so roughly and long that her vision would go white–then black–only to stop moments before she was about to pass out.

She’d forget who she was dealing with and speak out of turn and he’d take her a fist-full of hair and drag her into their guest room where he’d installed a padlock she hadn’t noticed before. He’d lock her inside and leave her there for a full day–sometimes two–without anything to eat or drink.

He’d tell her how lucky she was to be so well kept.

He’d tell her that the first time she ever tried to leave him would be the last time she tried that because dead women can’t leave anyone–ever.

The awful stories pour out of her. Sometimes slowly like the tears that well in the corner of her eyes, growing like drops at the tip of a leaky tap until big enough to fall… Sometimes in a deluge of rolling sobs as a powerful wave like a wall of water from a burst dam. I don’t interrupt her. I don’t know what to say so I only listen. I know my sister. She doesn’t want me to say anything because nothing I could say would take away the pain of any of this for her.

Eventually the emotions and stories are all spent and she grows silent. When she speaks again, it’s to change the subject.

“What’s that out there?” She asks, pointing out at a spot in the water. The sun has nearly set and the only thing we can see is a great dark space on the horizon. The place where I live is old and still has a working lighthouse; it’s more for nostalgia than anything else now. As if on queue, the light sweeps across the darkness revealing a large, not so distant island that mostly exists as an outcropping of rocks.

“The locals call it Mermaid’s Roost,” I tell her, “lots of the old-timers, the superstitious ones, say that’s where the sirens live.”

She smiles at that. I realize it’s the first time I’ve seen her smile all day and it’s an incredible feeling. It’s too soon to call it healing but it’s the beginning of something like it and I can feel it radiating from her. It feels warm. She lifts her phone and opens the camera.

“It’s gonna be my first picture in my new phone,” she says, “I was waiting for something beautiful. I wanted the first one I took to be something beautiful.”

“The Roost is why they put the old lighthouse here in the first place. Supposedly there’s dozens of old ships that sank out there,” I tell her.

“They heard the sirens singing and rammed their ships against the rocks to be closer to them.” Lily says, “The legend is that they’re still out there and you can still hear them if they want you to. If they want you to come out to them…when men hear them from the water it’s because they want to smash the ships. When they hear them from the shore it’s always a trick; a call to swim out to them. Most don’t make it. There’s an awful undertow. They drown. If they do make it that far, the sirens just kill them and eat them. They’re not actually mermaids at all but birds with the heads of women. Weird right? They’re from Greek mythology, you know. Surprising anyone believes anything like that out here.”

“That’s right,” I say, struggling to hide my surprise, “but how do you know all that? You just got here.”

“There’s a book about it at the house,” she explains, “I didn’t just get here. I’ve been here for about three days. I’ve read the whole thing twice. Didn’t realize it was a local thing. That explains two things…why it was in the house to begin with, but also why it wasn’t written very well. I thought it’s probably self-published or a vanity press sort of thing,” She shrugs and says, “I didn’t realize why it was at the house until now. I like it anyway. It’s just about the only thing there is to read in there.”

I’m flabbergasted, “Three days? You got here and waited three days to text me?” I heard the rest of what she said but that’s the only thing that registers.

“I was scared,” she says, “scared to tell you about any of this stuff.”

“I get it. I’m not mad or anything but Jesus, Lily, you’ve been this close for three days? I’ve been worried sick about you for over a week!”

“I know,” she whispers and grabs my hand, “I’m sorry.”

“We should probably get back before it gets too dark,” I say.

“Stay with me tonight? Say you will? Call Jasmine and tell her you’ll be home in the morning?”

I say I will and that we need to start to head back to her place. We’ve walked about a mile so it will take us a while to get back and this isn’t the kind of beach that’s made of gentle slopes of endless sand. There’s sand of course, but it’s also full of rocks to trip and bust your head open on in the dark.

When we’re halfway there and the sky is a deep, dark purple, like the color of wine when it’s still in the bottle, she stops and looks back at Mermaid’s Roost. The shadow of it still looms on the dark violet horizon, like a giant sleeping in the sparkling black blanket of water. Her eyes grow wide and seem to fill with tiny golden diamonds, like flecks of light reflected the stars. Her face glows with an uncharacteristically innocent wonder.

“Emily,” she whispers, “do you hear them too?”

And I think she’s fucking with me so I say “sure” and tell her to hurry up because I’m starving and I want to order us a pizza and call my wife to let her know I’ll be staying with her in her bungalow. Also that my feet hurt. The truth is that I can barely hear her when she asks the question in the first place.

“It’s beautiful,” she says quietly and I agree because I think she’s talking about the town or the beach or the moon or the stars or anything else–anything real–and not some local legend that she can hear over the sound of the waves and wind that I can’t.

When we get back to the little beach house, she pauses in the doorway and stares for a long time back at the island of rocks. It’s distant, but big enough to still see, if only just barely when the light from the lighthouse sweeps across it in the dark.

The house is awash with the chill and the sounds of the sea wind when I wake up. We went to the master bedroom around 11:00pm to watch a movie. The plan was for us to stay in the same bed like we used to do sometimes when we were little girls. The house has a guest room and I could have slept in there, but Lily begged me to stay with her, so I did and the truth is that I wanted to.

It’s 3:00am and the cold is what’s roused me from sleep but it’s panic that pulls me fully awake now. She’s not here with me. I know she’s not in the house. I know this the same way that I know she turned the TV off when she left. She did this so a loud commercial didn’t wake me. I know this because it’s what I would have done if I was trying to sneak away and I didn’t want her to stop me. I know all of this the same way I knew she was in trouble but I didn’t know how or why over a week ago. Twintuition.

I’ve never had a feeling like this one before. It’s strong and clear but also deep and dark like the water outside. I know from the moment I wake up that I won’t see her alive again, but I search the entire house for her anyway. I go from room to room checking every closet, beneath both the beds and even behind the shower curtain in the bathroom. When I get to the living room I see the reason the house is so cold; she didn’t shut the door behind her when she left.

“The Legend of Mermaid’s Roost” is laying open on the counter and she’s used seashells to hold the pages open to where she’s circled a passage in black marker.

“When men hear the sirens singing, it is always without a doubt an attempt at temptation. Their beautiful and deadly song is said to be a lure calling sailors ever closer to the rocks of Mermaid’s Roost to smash their ships along the stoney shore, but the sirens don’t stop there. Their singing has not only been heard men at sea, but those who walk along the shores after dark. They call out to the men on the mainland trying to convince them to swim out to the Roost; a distance just over half a mile. According to the legends, most of those that attempted to swim the distance to the island would get caught in the undertow and drown. If they managed to make it the entire way, the sirens of Mermaid’s Roost would rip them apart with their talons and eat them alive while they screamed for a mercy that would never come. Death is always the fate of men who hear the song.”

“According to the myths, women almost never hear their enchanting calls from across the bay, but for those that do the call is never a deadly temptation, but rather an invitation to join them. To sing with them and lure men to their untimely ends. Those women that do hear them may choose to join their deadly flock if they wish to do so. According to the local histories this is rare and the women that choose to join them are never seen nor heard from again.”

At the bottom of the page, a note in her handwriting simply reads: “Figured out where I’m supposed to be. Thanks for today. I love you always.”

I rush outside knowing there’s no reason to hurry because I’m already too late. She’s already made her choice and I don’t need my twintuition to tell me that because I can hear her.

She’s singing…Mermaid’s Roost is over a mile away and I know it’s her voice because it sounds so much like my own. It’s quiet from this distance but the preternatural nature of her chorus spans the space between us with ease and clarity…but this song is not my invitation to join her…

It’s her last request.

When I offered to pay for a lawyer so she could make him pay for putting his hands on her, she was afraid she wouldn’t win but that fear is gone now. She’s found a whole flock that’ll be willing–that lives for the sole purpose of picking better men than him apart, and they will, as they’ve done to so many before him…that is if he even survives the swim.

He’s too far from here to hear her song but he’s not too far for me. I don’t know exactly how to reach you, Eric Warminster, but I know where you live and there can’t be more than one man with that name where you are. In the morning I’ll make a few calls until I find you and when I do, I’m pretty sure that Lily was right when she said you’d try to kill her if she ever left. I’m banking on her fear that you’d follow her to the end of the Earth. I’m also pretty sure you won’t know the difference between her voice and mine, especially not over the phone…our own mother can’t most of the time. I don’t even have to face you and I already know what I’ll say to get you out here too. I’ll taunt you and belittle you just like you did to her. I’ll be laughing the entire time. You’ll come. It should be easy enough…our laughs sound the same…

…All I have to do is tell you to meet me at the beach after dark. I know the sound of the song she’s singing that she’s changed so much already. I wonder if the transformation was instantaneous or if it takes time for her feathers to grow in and fully form. I wonder if that even matters. I wonder if she must complete her change before she can do what she means to do to you and something about her tone tells me, no. She’s ready for you now. The words of her melody aren’t in English anymore, but in a vernacular that up until now, I would have believed impossible. The sweet song seems to originate from a great creature both mythical and feminine and beautifully deadly. Birdlike, the calls drift out from the newly-formed and massive beak. I see her face has shifted and grown it already with my mind’s eye. The sound reaches out over the water for only me to hear. Lily sings in a language so musical and ancient now that the words themselves have long been forgotten. Yet, despite their foreign nature, I don’t have to understand the tongue to understand the meaning of her song. The sound of the music of Mermaid’s Roost fills my mind. Entering my ears, it surges though my head before seeming to flow and tread before my eyes. I can see what she wants me to do in images that hover barely visible like an ethereal painting before me. She wants me to get you to this beach and I will. That’s her last request–her only request. Get you to the shore and she’ll take care of the rest.


…another chapter in the



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