The half moon was just barely winking above the horizon as I pounded down the beach early one spring morning. It was my first time being out since last fall and I smiled for a second as my run interrupted some sandpipers out in the tidepools looking for breakfast. They all took flight at once, a dozen tiny brown flightlings yelling pint sized squeaks. I ran around them, breathing in the salty air and squinting a little as the sun began to rise overhead. This was my favorite time of day, right at the cusp of dark and light, when everything was soft and tinged with pink.
If you took a listen to the music blasting in my headphones, though, the picture wasn’t so rosy. Beach runs meant punk, screaming guitars and earth shaking drums. My girlfriend’s punk band, specifically. Mystics of Venus’ second studio album had dropped a month before, and between tour dates and press appearances, this had been my first chance to listen to the whole thing like the fans did. And it was good. Devon’s vocals were just right, perched over the instruments so you could always hear her and know that she was the frontman. That voice still made me go all shivery in the knees, even four years after I’d first heard her sing. “Like the memory of that first cigarette you sneaked in college, and the girl with the ripped jeans and bubblegum lipstick who gave it to you,” Rolling Stone had described it. Of course I’d cut out that review and tucked it into my wallet. I sighed and checked my watch. Devon wouldn’t be up for another hour or two, but maybe I could bring her a coffee from Salty Dog after I was done with my run. Yeah, I liked that plan, of tiptoeing back into the house, shedding shoes in the mud room, softly opening up the bedroom door to see her tousled red hair and purple painted toes peeking out of the bedcovers.
Up ahead, I could see a figure coming out of the waves. I frowned. It was a little early in the year for swimmers and surfers, but maybe if they had a good wet suit and a devil may care attitude about their safety? The figure was tall, I could see that, and solid looking, almost assuredly a woman judging by those hips. I drew closer just as the dreamy ballad “Subtle” was starting, and tried not to be distracted by how sexy Devon sounded when she sang the first verse, all breathy high notes and husky lows, blending in perfectly with the keyboard. But really, who would be out in the waves when the water was still so cold from the winter? I really hoped they weren’t crazy. I’d had my share of crazy people this week and I didn’t need another one.
“Good morning!” I called as I got within ear shot. The woman had a hefty build, but she wasn’t fat, I could see that. Or at least, all that extra had a purpose. She was dressed in a long brown dress with what looked like green glitter on the bust. It clung, and I looked away quickly. Long black hair and scuba fins on her feet. No one I knew, but my little town of Linden, Maine, was changing fast these days, and I was away so much with Devon that it was a wonder I knew hardly anyone.
“Beverly Chang,” I heard her say, and I pulled up, my thighs quivering from the sudden stop. Her voice sounded like an ancient creaking door swinging open. I felt a chill, crazy person sensor all atingle. But I didn’t want to run off. Maybe she needed help. Yeah, and maybe she had a conveniently placed truck with a bed big enough to carry my lifeless body out to the woods, too, I told myself, rolling my eyes.
“Do I know you?” I asked, walking a few steps closer. “I’m Beverly.”
The woman looked at me with eyes that looked like the clearest green sea glass. “Oh, I know,” she said. “I’m Doris, the sea witch.”
“Uh, sorry,” I said, assuming I’d misheard. There was no way she had just called herself a sea witch in real life. “Who? You’re… what?”
“Doris the sea witch,” she said again, a touch of annoyance in her voice. “You know the old rhyme, when Doris the sea witch appears, you needn’t be afeared…”
“Uh,” I said again. Definitely crazy. I took a step back. “No, sorry, I don’t know that one…”
“That’s a shame,” said Doris. “What are they teaching in schools nowadays? I know it’s been a few years since I was on land for any longer than a day, but do you mean your governess didn’t sing you that song?”
“Governesses haven’t been a thing for about a hundred years,” I said. Why was I still standing here talking to this woman? “Folk tales aren’t exactly big on the mainland anymore.”
“Folk tales!” huffed the sea witch. “Come now, I’ll show you what a folk tale I’m not!” She raised her hands and gestured to the water, and a small, tongue-like wave formed, different from all the other waves somehow, and glided towards us, bumping her gently on the bottom. She laughed and the wave seemed to wiggle. I stared. I’d seen ghosts before, of course I had, this was Linden for God’s sake, but water sprites? That was new.
Yeah, new, and if she kept up with this chatter, I’d never get to the Salty Dog in time to get Devon coffee. “Well, that’s just great!” I said brightly. “But I’ve got an appointment, so I’ve got to go now.” I backed up a few more feet. Maybe if I didn’t turn my back on her, she wouldn’t hex me. Or something.
“But aren’t you curious how I knew your name?” she replied, sighing, even as I kept backing up. “You humans always are. It’s in your natures to be curious, you sweet little things.” Then she stopped and shrugged. “Oh well. I can’t win them all I suppose. You go on, enjoy your day.”
“Oh,” I said. “Well… okay. Bye! Enjoy the… water.” (How did one end a conversation with a sea witch? There had to be some Wikipedia article on that.) I turned and strode up the beach toward the parking lot, frowning. The music had stopped on my phone during my conversation with Doris, but now that it was over, the music started up again, filling my ears with Devon’s songs. The sun was slowly rising higher in the sky, and I looked back to see Doris walking along the surf line, apparently having a rousing conversation with a crab. As I continued to watch them, Doris reached down, picked up the crab, and bit off his head. I smiled a little and shook my head. This was Linden, after all.
An hour later, I met Devon on the front porch. Just as I predicted, I had arrived at home too late to surprise her in bed with coffee. “Hey babe,” she said, wrapped up in her robe and two blankets, peeking out from under the blue and white striped duvet. “I got the strangest call while you were gone. Who’s Doris?”
“Someone I met on the beach during my run this morning,” I said, handing her her cup and sitting down next to her on the porch swing.
“Well, she’s just the nicest woman,” Devon said. “We should have her over for dinner sometime, she said you were really kind to her. What happened?”
“Oh,” I said. This was a turn. “We just chatted briefly as she was coming out of the water. I assume she likes fish…” Above my head, the conch shells on our wind chimes jingled with the cool spring breeze. Doris wasn’t done with me yet, that much was certain. Now, did I want to cook Dover sole or Lobster thermidor for her?