The Lorelei Signal
Behind the Nereid's Eye
Written by Maureen Bowden / Artwork by Marge Simon
I came to her when she called me. She was waiting at her door. “I need your help,” she said. “What I did to you was wrong. I’m sorry, but we can put it right.”
I followed her inside. “You know what you have to do,” I said, “but don’t pretend it’s for my sake.”
She nodded. “The violence has to stop. I want to end it now.” Her hands were shaking and there were tears in her eyes. “Alex will be back soon. Let’s go.”
“Maybe you should wait, and tell him you’re leaving. Nothing’s going to happen while I’m here.”
“No. I’ll write to him. There’s a message pad on the fridge.” She ran into the kitchen.
I heard his key in the lock, and for the first time, Alex and I came face to face. His eyes looked tired and there were stress lines, beyond his years, on his brow. “Who are you?” he said. “Where’s Amy?”
“I’m your wife’s childhood friend. She’s in the kitchen, writing a message, telling you she’s leaving.”
His shoulders slumped. He sat on the couch and sighed, holding his head in his hands, “I never wanted it to come to this.” He looked up at me. “You know what’s been happening, don’t you? Is that why you’re here?”
“Yes. She called me because she needs help.”
“I love her.”
“I know. She loves you too, but you must let her go.”
She returned from the kitchen, wearing her coat, her car keys in her hand. “Alex, this is Nerys. I’m leaving with her. I’m so sorry.”
He put his arms around her. “I’m sorry too, Amy. I wish I could have made it right.” As she walked away from him, he turned back at me and looked into my eyes. I sensed his shock as, for a second, he recognised me. The moment passed. She fled out of the door and I followed her.
We reached her car. “You know where to go,” I said.
“What did you tell him in the message?”
We took the A55 into North Wales, and she talked as she drove, trying to make sense of her situation. “My life’s a burden to me. Why did this happen? I tried to make it stop, but I couldn’t.”
I shrugged. “You always did have a vile temper. I remember when you were a child, pulling the arms and legs off teddy bears and bashing a Barbie Doll’s face against the wall because you were throwing a strop.”
“Yes, but dismembering toys is one thing; knocking the hell out of the person I love most in all the world is another.”
I couldn’t pity her. I pitied only Alex and myself. “What did you expect? You were being true to your nature.”
“Why didn’t he fight back? If he had I might have stopped.”
“He loved you and he didn’t want to hurt you.”
We were nearing our destination. The sun was setting over the Irish Sea and the blue and gold evening light defined the contours of the mountains. “I’d forgotten how beautiful this land is,” she said. I shared her mood, and I felt more at peace than I had since we met, twenty years ago.
She pulled into the Antelope Hotel’s car park, on the banks of the Menai Straits, as darkness fell. “Are you ready?” I said. She nodded. We left the car and walked together, onto the bridge that stretches from the mainland to the island of Anglesey.
We climbed onto the low parapet. She was trembling. “Don’t look down,” I said. “Do it now.”
She grasped my hand. “I can’t. I’m scared. It’s been so long.”
Too long, I thought. I’d come this close to being free of her I was determined not to lose my chance. The ancient consciousness of the sea was pulling her back into her own element, and it lessened her power to hold on to me. I willed my soul back into my own body, and I flung hers into the illusory, ever-changing form she’d forced me to inhabit for so many years. I was Amy again.
She screamed, and lashed out at me, the way she had at Alex, but I didn’t care if I hurt her, and I fought back, kicking her legs from under her. She fell, but changed her body into the form of a winged serpent, and flew at me, but she was too late. The swirling currents of the Straits rose up and swallowed her, taking her back where she belonged.
I climbed off the parapet, sobbing with relief. Hundreds of sea-nymphs allowed me to see and hear them. In the moonlight they danced across the waves, and sang, to celebrate the return of one of their own.
I sank to my knees with exhaustion, shivering in the cold night air, and the memories of what had been done to me raced through my mind.
I was five years old. On a family holiday in Anglesey, I was playing among the rocks along the shoreline, when she came out of the water.
She said, “Will you be my friend?”
“Yes,” I said, “My name’s Amy. What’s yours?”
“Call me Nerys.” We played together. I turned and waved to my parents. “They can’t see me,” she said.
“Because I don’t want them to.”
She showed me how she could change into a bird, or a fish, or any shape she liked, and she persuaded me to swap bodies with her. It was fun at first, but when I wanted to get back into my real body she wouldn’t let me. I was trapped.
The other Nerieds comforted me. “Don’t worry,” they said. “She’ll give you back your body when she grows tired of it.”
I lived a half-life. Nerys and I were linked together, so I heard, saw and felt everything she did. When she went to school I learned the same lessons, and when she grew up and fell in love with Alex, so did I.
The sound of footsteps on the bridge brought my thoughts back to the present. I heard Alex’s voice. “Amy. Are you alright? Are you hurt?” He knelt beside me and pulled me into his arms. “What happened? Where’s Nerys, and what is she?”
I clung to him. “She’s a Nereid.”
“A sea-nymph, and she’s gone home. What are you doing here?”
“I followed you. When I realised you hadn’t taken anything with you, and I read that letter in the kitchen, about giving back your body, I was afraid—”
“That I was going to kill myself?” I was still shivering. He took off his jacket and placed it around my shoulders.
“Yes, and when I saw you walking onto the bridge as I reached the car park I thought I was right. Was it true, about her stealing your body?”
“It was her that I married?”
“Yes, but me that you loved. She was a replica of me. She had every aspect of my personality. Only the violence was her true self.”
“So she’s evil.”
“No, she’s an elemental: a force of nature.”
“Tooth and claw.”
“And in her case, fists. She wanted to stop, but she couldn’t. I can’t blame you if you don’t believe me, Alex.”
“I believe you. Before you left I looked at Nerys, and just for a moment I saw you.”
“I know. You saw my soul behind her eyes.”
Maureen Bowden is a Liverpudlian living with her musician husband in North Wales. She has had 133 stories and poems accepted by paying markets, she was nominated for the 2015 Pushcart Prize, and in 2019 Alban Lake published an anthology of her stories, 'Whispers of Magic'. She also writes song lyrics, mainly comic political satire. Her husband sets them to traditional melodies and he has performed them in folk music clubs throughout the UK. She loves her family and friends, rock 'n' roll, Shakespeare and cats.