They dragged me into the lifeboat, fingers digging in to my arms. I stared back at them, gulping—a man, a woman, a teen girl—they all looked the same. Two more huddled behind them, an older man and a boy. All family. And me alone among them. A stranger.
The sea roiled behind me with a ferocious groan of metal, then an explosion lit their faces with crimson and washed over us with smoke like an censor held by the devil's own deacon. With a crash, the hull broke and the dark ocean sucked it down, debris spinning out. Somewhere at my back, a piteous wail separated from the crash and groan of the dying vessel long enough to be taken for human. I glanced back to see an arm waving, a head bobbing near a sodden trunk.
"Go back and it'll suck us down, too," the older man grunted.
The younger one took up the oars, but his black eyes remained on my face, calculating. He hauled on the oars and we lurched away from the wreckage, leaving the voice behind. For a time, flames reflected in those eyes, then the flames, too, were gone, leaving them empty and sharp as shark eyes. Already, fins cut the water.
Bodies shot to the surface as the ship went down, buoyed up by their lifejackets. A wedge-shaped head broke alongside, with a snatch of white teeth, dragging them down in a scrunch of flesh and a spurt of blood.
"What if we die out here, Pappa?" said the girl, shivering so that the woman beside her pulled her in close, their hair coiled like snakes, dripping onto the deck.
"We got some food in store," he answered, pulling again on the oars, his dark eyes upon me. "We'll do fine."
"But we're miles from anything! We're all going to die!" Her hands crept up her face as if she wanted to stop the hysteria.
"I heard there were mermaids," said the boy in a hushed tone.
The older man snorted at that. "Sharks would've eaten 'em by now."
A big shark rubbed its side down the boat, rocking us and I grabbed the gunnel though it slivered my palms. At the bow, the girl shrieked again.
"Hush up," her mother snapped. "They won't tip us in. If'n we got some bait, we'll eat them afore they eat us." Her glance darted toward me and away.
The shark's fin thrust up behind them and sank back down again, a hundred of his smaller kin spiraled after—a large, hungry family to feed. Like the one in the boat. Calculating the life of a stranger.
I took a deep breath, gathering myself, then plunged back into the water, still clinging to the gunnel, sucking down the boat as I sank, legs stretching, merging, scaling out to form my tail. Sharks swirled around me, mouths open, grinning their gratitude into the darkening sea.
This story originally appeared in Tenebris Press online.