Armelle was tiring. Night was upon her. Not that the night was a real occurrence in the Wood of the Shadow of Dreams. There was always darkness. But from where she sat, resting after a day of wandering, she could look further out over the bay. There towards where it appeared to meet the ocean a horizon was painted and on it she could see orange embers of a twilight descending into blackness.
She sat on the moist dirt on the edge of the bay underneath a tall ageless tree, drank some water and ate crisp bread from her supplies. She rested her feet which were worn with blisters and swollen from overuse. Her figure was toned from exertion and the colour of her fair skin glowed in health from its exposure to the outdoors. In contrast, her hair had become brittle as she had not been able to care for it. It had darkened, it was browner and more crimson now, rather than its former gold.
She felt peaceful in her fatigue and she drifted into a pleasant reverie about the passings of her travels over the last few days. No longer did she feel her heart was being torn and her gut pulled in opposite directions by troublesome demons. Her mind was clear; it was no longer taunted by negative rumination and obsession.
As she relaxed, she saw the sparkle of a green-blue movement over the moonlit bay. It jolted her into alertness. She heard a splash, and the glimmer disappeared. She leaned forward and eagerly awaited to see if the creature who made it would resurface. It did.
A beautiful golden haired mermaid with a green-blue tail, with hints of purple and gold, gracefully shot up from the water. She then dived back down into the water and repeated her manoeuvre. On the third time the mermaid saw Armelle and stopped in the water, treading with her tail. She regarded Armelle for a few moments with eager playful eyes. Armelle felt her cheeks grow hot. She felt ashamed to have been watching her frolic. But the mermaid did not seem to be perturbed and beckoned her to come over to be with her.
“You’re not from around here are you?” asked the mermaid with sparkling eyes.
Armelle, shocked, did not reply.
“My name is Amphitrite. This is my bay, my place in this world. It’s a beautiful bay as you can see. Where are you from? Why are you watching me like you do?” the mermaid asked with innocent inquisitiveness.
Armelle did not know quite how respond to this fantastical creature. She was dazzled by her beauty. “Hello,” Armelle began hesitatingly. “I am not from this world, I am not quite sure how I arrived here. I have been here for some time. Sorry to be watching, but you are so beautiful, I couldn’t stop. Your bay is beautiful, just as you are,” she continued nervously.
“Yes, this bay is beautiful…but I dream of leaving it. I am entrapped within it. I wish I had your legs so I could wander through the woods,” replied Amphitrite in a matter-of-fact but slightly disappointed manner.
“Oh, I did not realise,” replied Armelle awkwardly.
“But there must be many things you like about living in the bay that would make it a little bit easier knowing that you cannot leave it?” Armelle continued supportingly.
“Yes, there are some things I like about it. I love feeling beautiful. I like being the object of desire, lying on rocks, bathing, bearing my chest, being adored and dreamed about, lusted after and desired.
“I like looking at the beautiful things in the sea – jewellery, lost treasure, shipwrecks, seaweed, bright coloured fish, islands, men who pass by on their ships.”
Amphitrite then looked at Armelle with seriousness and softened her voice.
“But, I cannot do what a truly desire here,” she said.
“What is that?” asked Armelle.
“I cannot splay legs I do not have. I cannot marry a man. I lust after men but I can’t be with them on dry land or I will die from not being in water. I can’t have a strong man penetrate me to my core. I can’t have a family with children who go to school and will one day have babies themselves. I am a bit alone here although I have some other beautiful mermaid friends. I want to be with a powerful man who loves me and sees me as beautiful. I want the foundations of my being physically rocked in bed and I want him to be my rock,” Amphitrite replied in a whisper with pleading eyes.
“Is there anything I can do to help you get what you want?” Armelle asked, concerned but starting to relax with her new friend’s presence.
Amphitrite lowered her voice and replied, “There is one way you can help…but it is dangerous and difficult.”
“What is this way?” Armelle replied curiously.
“You could come with me into my world, deep underneath the sea. There is a test you could undertake for me and this would earn me my legs” Armphitite stated but did not plead.
Armelle considered this. But there was not too much to consider. She did not know where she was in this luminous but mysterious dark world. She had learned by the previous events here that the way of survival was going with the flow, following where it was it appeared she was being led. She felt drawn to this mermaid. She was not disturbed in being drawn to her. It was a wholesome feeling with little disturbance although the thought of being drawn closer to her in this world did cause her some fear.
“Yes, I will go with you,” she replied to Amphitrite after taking a deep breath. Armelle felt blood rush to her head and tingles of excitement and fear in the rest of her body.
Amphitrite’s eyes widened and sparkled even more dazzlingly than they had previously.
“Thank you,” she replied excitedly.
“Walk into the water. You can hold onto my back and I will swim you to the palace where the test will take place. So long as you are holding on to me you will be able to absorb air into your lungs so don’t worry about not being able to breathe under water. When we get there I will explain more about the test.”
Armelle slowly walked towards the bay’s edge. She was pleasantly surprised that the water was not at all cold. It was soft on her skin. The seabed below her feet began to disappear and she swam the last few yards to Amphitrite and put her hands around her waist. She took a large breath of air before putting her head below the water, anticipating not being able to breathe when under water despite what she had been told.
It was brighter than what she had anticipated. Corals of autumn hues served as lamps. Fish and sea creatures provided their own form of lighting through their skin. They floated past, busy with the happenings of their own lives.
Armelle was hypnotised by the beauty. She felt some of it enter into her own being; as if by being surrounded by Amphitrite and the beautiful creatures of the sea she was becoming more and more beautiful.
About an hour later Armelle saw what she believed would be the destination to which they were traveling — a beautiful underwater city, complete with a marble palace and several high rise buildings.
Amphitrite dipped further south towards the gates of the city. Their tall red iron bars were open and she swam through. Armelle caught glimpses of underwater shops and cafes and felt the buzz of the city’s busyness.
The building Amphitrite swam towards was cream in colour and held the classic glamour of antiquity. As they entered, Armelle saw this building was a marvelous café and restaurant as well as hotel.
Its interior was just as opulent as its exterior. Royal red, gold and white were the predominant spread of colours. Mirrors reflected and added to its splendour. Soft lighting from flower shaped shades cast soft shadows on the guests who debated matters of importance in the cafe hall.
To one side of this hall a small marble staircase beckoned and Amphitrite chose to follow this. This staircase led to a room. Only half of it was filled with water, the top half of the room was filled with air. In the centre of the room was a long stage and to the sides of this were some long stone benches. Amphitrite lifted Armelle up on to one of these while she stayed in the water.
“Here we are,” Amphitrite said. “This is the room of the testing. I know it does not look like much now but this room can bring you great distress and danger,” she explained with seriousness.
“To gain my legs for me you will have to walk from one end of the stage to the other. But it is not as easy as it seems. As soon as you start moving towards the stage you will have all manner of evil creatures trying to stop you from achieving your goal. They will try to attack you and rob you of your confidence in your beauty. Their jeers may feel as if they are piecing your soul but you must continue, right to the very end. They may undress you so you are naked, feeling completely exposed. They will try all sorts of tricks and tactics to pull you off that stage and back into the water. You must not fear them, you must continue. There is something else I must tell you as well. If you do fail, if you do fall off the stage and into the water, you will become just like me, entrapped in the body of a mermaid. You will not be able to venture out into the wood again. This world is beautiful but as I explained there are some things in it that are lacking!”
Armelle did not question why Amphitrite had not given her this information about her possibly being entrapped as a mermaid before. She was entrapped as it was, in a world that was not her own, the Wood of the Shadow of Dreams. She knew from what had passed before that should she not perform this task she would continue to be trapped.
She began to swim towards the stage. The water here was not pleasant like it had been on the journey to this city. It did not absorb softly into her skin but was coarse and froze the outside of it. The water became brown and murky and visibility was poor. Although the stage was only about ten yards from where she was there was a strong current that prevented her from being able to reach it. She struggled with all her might. She then perceived two large fins rising above the surface of the depths. She was racked with fear.
“Don’t fear the sharks,” Amphitrite called out anxiously. “They will only become more powerful. Just keep swimming towards the stage and they will swim right by you.”
Armelle was struggling so hard in the water that she was unable to respond. Although Amphitrite’s advice sounded counter-intuitive and impossible to follow she decided to try it. She focused her attention only on the stage’s edge and with great determination pushed the water behind her with her arms and legs. Eventually she arrived and lifted herself onto its surface with the only strength that was left in her arms. She rested for a few moments and for these moments was granted peace.
“Well done,” cheered on Amphitrite.
“Now you will have to walk the length of the runway, without stumbling or falling. Don’t listen to any haunts and taunts, don’t be tempted to leave the stage for any reason. You will have to begin with the music.”
Armelle had a few more minutes to rest before pop repetitive music began to play in surround sound all throughout the room. The runway lit up and she rose to her feet. Her simple grey linen tunic, drenched, clung to her figure.
She certainly did not feel like a being that could be admired for her physical beauty. She felt plain and tired in her natural state. She took a deep breath and took her first steps.
The music began to screech, got louder and unbearable. Dark ugly creatures rose from the surface of the surrounding waters and Armelle sensed their negative power drawing her towards them and pulling her off the stage. Her stomach churned and her heart felt larger, heavier and was beating so fast she could almost hear it. She felt as if she was stuck on the same spot. She had to fight against the momentum of the evil drawing her away from her task.
As the creatures drew closer to her she could hear some of their shouting.
“You deserve to be flogged, you don’t deserve to be treated well.”
Waves of self-hatred, self-distrust and despair washed over her in response. Some of the disorientation she had felt in previous months re-entered her mind.
She struggled against these feelings and continued to take small steps towards the end of the runway despite this becoming increasingly difficult for her.
Through one corner of her eye she could see Amphitrite trying to cheer her on and continue on her way but through all the jeers and negative taunts she could not hear her.
Then, one extremely large hairy beast climbed up onto the stage. It had large claws. Armelle instinctively wanted to run away. But there was nowhere to run. She froze. The beast moved towards her and with its claws ripped her garments so she was standing naked in front of not only the beast but hundreds of evil creatures yelling abuse. She feared what the beast would do next. She felt she had no control. She could not move further along the runway as he was blocking her path.
It was as if time was suspended as she was transfixed by the devilish eyes of the beast. They glared at her, like two red coals in a fire.
She did not notice the wise tall man wearing a large black cloak who jumped onto the stage and was pointing the bright light into the beast’s eyes. Nor did she notice the crowd’s roar hush.
What she did notice was that the beast slumped, and his eyes turned yellow. He moved backwards away from her and fell off the stage into the water.
She began to hyperventilate. She was so shocked and relieved the beast had left. The wise tall man removed his cloak and wrapped this around her. She looked into his eyes and saw love. He waved the bright light he used to stun the best over the cloak he had given her and it transformed it into a glorious purple evening gown perfectly trimmed with sequins and jewels. He then presented her with the bright light and coaxed her to continue on her way.
“Go now,” he said. “Continue on your way,” he said firmly with warmth.
She then noticed the hush of the crowd. The jeers were no more. She looked out into the water and there were no longer beasts or evil creatures regarding her. The man had left too. The water’s surface had turned to ice and she saw that the beautiful mermaid did indeed now have legs and she was walking towards her over it.
Amphitrite placed her hands on her own.
“I return to you, my beauty, my whole feminine self, I return to you and become once again part of you.”
With these words Armelle felt a jolt and a great surge of energy enter her body. Amphitrite disappeared. She had become part of her.
Armelle then saw the rooms walls were mirrors and she caught glimpses of herself in each of these in her gown.
She saw that she was beautiful in her outfit, dazzling, stunning. Her hair had been attended to and had changed slightly in colour, its hue had merged with that of Amphitrite’s and it was now lighter.
The room began to echo these thoughts and kept speaking them to her as she continued to the end of the runway.
At first Armelle found these complements even more difficult to hear than the jeers of the beasts but then she softened into accepting them as she neared the end of her walk.