art by Seth Alan Bareiss
What the Sea Wants
by P. Djeli Clark
The fishermen stood on their longboats that lifted and fell with each wave, watching the boy walk out of the sea. He waded from the shallow water, passing their nets without notice. His body was bare, most would later recount, except for what appeared to be a skirt of sea grass. A few would remember that wasn't exactly true and that a string of shells circled his head like a crown, gleaming white in the light of the descending sun. As he walked onto the beach no one said a word. The sea after all, often brought in strange things.
From a small rounded house made of red clay and dried leaves, an old woman pushed out a head to stare at the boy standing in her doorway. She shifted to the side to let him pass, noting the small footprint-shaped puddles he left behind. His coiled black hair was filled with things of the sea, while his long grass skirt swept back and forth as if still beneath the waves. He stopped to take in the meager contents of her home before returning his gaze to her. She stared back, catching her reflection in his eyes--large dark pools that could drown you in their depths.
"You look different," he remarked. His voice was fluid, and she felt it surround her, fine salt-tinged mist like the breath of the sea.
She smiled at the familiarity, worn skin creasing and pulling tightly across her face. "I am old. It has been a long time, Alil."