Mystery of the Deep

by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Content note: This story features a brief mention of blood.

She said yes.

I met the Sirena at a beachfront bar in Mazatlán. I was there with my older sister Wendy. We had decided to vacation together, her to get away from her husband for a week, and me to find out whether my sister and I could still be friends.

When we were girls, she was my best friend, though I was a bratty and argumentative little sister. Now that we were in our twenties, Wendy was domesticated, and I was still wild.

The air was hot and humid. Sun lit the pale sand of Playa Bruja and flashed on the wet bodies of adults and children playing in the surf. Someone was grilling fish in the bar’s kitchen, and it smelled delicious. We were in our swimsuits, mine a black one-piece, and Wendy’s a flowered bikini. She wore a lacy coverup. She was telling me about her ten-year-old son’s obsession with dolls. I sat with my back to the bar, watching the kite-surfers skim over the waves and occasionally fly short distances before they dropped back to the water.

Then the goddess walked out of the sea, sun flashing on her brown skin. When she first stood from the water, her legs shone silver. Then she took a step and they changed to dark bronze. Her hair was long and black and hung down to her waist. She wore a wrap around her torso that looked like seaweed. As she walked closer, I saw it was patterned cloth. My breath caught as I watched her come across the sand toward me.  

She looked up from the sand and our eyes met. I tried to swallow. My throat was tight. I sipped my Pacifico beer to loosen it.

She came straight to me. Wendy, noticing that my attention had wandered, turned toward me, then looked where I was looking. She stopped talking.

The goddess smelled of salt water and fresh fish. She stopped in front of me and smiled.

“Cerveza?” I asked.

“Sí.” She pushed up to the bar right next to me, took the bottle out of my hand, and drank. The movement of her throat as she swallowed was a poem. She set the bottle down and gripped my head between her palms, then drew me close and kissed me. Her tongue pushed into my mouth, waking heat that shot from my head to my center. She tasted salty, musky, and wild.

She drew back, and I gripped her head and pulled her to me, lip to lip again, tongue to tongue.

I met my match without words, without knowledge, without guile or planning. Later, I wondered if it was sorcery. If this was a spell, I didn’t want to break it.

Our wedding happened at twilight, at the edge of the ocean, with only Wendy watching. I gave my love a rose, and she gave me a mother-of-pearl shell, then pressed our hands together against the thorny stem of the rose so each of us shed blood. She put the rose in her hair and pressed our bleeding palms together so our blood mingled.

In this way, the ocean entered me. When she pulled me under, I could still breathe. I couldn’t see, though. I had to trust.


© Copyright Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Nina Kiriki Hoffman has sold more than 350 short stories and several novels.  Her short fiction has won a Nebula Award, and her first novel won a Stoker Award. She does production work for the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and she teaches short story writing through Fairfield County Writers’ Studio and Wordcrafters in Eugene. She lives in Eugene, Oregon, with a mannequin and several cats. For a comprehensive list of Nina’s works, please see Susan O’Fearna’s lovely tribute page:

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