“You don’t want to do that,” the sudden voice startled Charlie. He yanked his hands away from the mermaids he was about to untie and whirled around to find the voice’s owner. The sun had already set below the ocean, but there was just enough purple twilight left for Charlie to determine the beach was empty.
“Who said that?”Charlie asked. The pair of bound and gagged mermaids quieted their struggles. They made enough noise to attract Charlie’s attention and seemed content knowing he was trying to help.
“I did.” Charlie suddenly noticed a shadow on the beach, though it wasn’t cast from anything. A black spot rippled on the sand in front of Charlie. Then, a seated figure appeared from thin air. She wore all black; a dark hood and mask obscured her face but Charlie could clearly see glowing golden stars in her eyes. Charlie took a step back in surprise and almost tripped himself into the boat. He managed to stay on his feet and stared at the person in black.
“Who are you?” Charlie asked. He thought he saw her shrug, but it was hard to tell. Her black outfit blended together making it difficult to see any of her contours. Her voice was the only clue he had she was a woman.
“Doesn’t matter. I’m just telling you that’s a bad idea,” she replied.
“What’re you going to do if I untie them?” Charlie asked. She laughed quietly, then responded.
“Nothing,” the woman said.
“So why shouldn’t I untie them?”
“Unfortunately, that’s the only warning I can give you. I can’t give you any more information. But, let me ask you this, do you know why they’re tied up?” she asked.
“No, but I’m sure it’s nothing good,” Charlie replied. Again, the woman gave a small laugh; it was just patronizing enough to make Charlie feel like an idiot.
“You’re right about that. But, not in the way you think,” she said.
“And you know why they’re tied up?” Charlie asked. “Did you do it?” he added once it looked like she nodded. The purple evening was disappearing and she was getting more difficult to see. Charlie considered pulling his phone out for more light but considered it might be rude. And he did not want to draw attention to his phone if she was dangerous.
“I didn’t tie them up, but I know why they’re there. It might be giving you too much information, but you seem like a nice guy,” she said. “When I look at them, the word ‘bait’ comes to mind.”
“So what are you doing here? Waiting for someone to take the bait?”
“That might’ve been the case if I hadn’t stopped you,” she replied. Another giggle made Charlie feel even smaller. “I’m waiting. My friends are on their way, and we’re planning to take the bait together. If nothing else, maybe you can understand that you shouldn’t take it alone.”
Charlie was willing to heed her warning until she mentioned friends. Then, it became obvious she was stalling. She surprised him, but she was alone and significantly smaller than his 6’4 frame. Once her friends arrived, he wouldn’t be able to rescue the mermaids. But, if he acted fast he doubted the petite shadow would be able to stop him. She probably wanted him to think she could have killed him by surprise and was pretending to be friendly.
“I’m going to untie them,” he said sternly.
“We all make mistakes,” the woman said. Charlie kept his eyes on the shadow and slowly worked his way around the small boat backward; he did not want to have to turn his back on her to untie them. He reached down and began working the ropes around one of the mermaid’s wrists. She seemed to understand he was helping and remained perfectly still. Finally, he felt the strap come loose. He sighed in relief when the woman did not make any moves to stop him.
“WHO DARES TO FREE MY PRISONERS!??” A voice bellowed from the dark oceans. A red glow above the waves caught Charlie’s attention. Then, it jumped into the sky. A towering naga with pearlescent scales on his lower half crashed on the beach next to Charlie and showering him in sand. Its upper torso was twice as broad and muscular as Charlie’s and he carried a red-glowing metal trident. “DEFEND YOURSELF, VILLAIN!” The naga rushed at Charlie.
“HELP!” Charlie immediately dashed toward the shadow. Adrenaline heightened his senses enough that he could still see her form in the darkness. But, suddenly, she faded out of existence as he got closer. He heard her voice one last time.
“I warned you what I’d do if you untied them.”