By LJ McLeod
No one else came to this beach. It was too wild, all jagged rocks and sun-bleached driftwood. But it suited me. I loved especially lying there as glittering stars come out in an endless sky. But this twilight, dark clouds were hanging low and grey waves threw foam onto the cold shore. A night one could believe in monsters. Sleek, swift, razor-fanged, gliding just below the surface. Or long, grasping tentacles stretching up from the depths. Or some Thing that looked fair, looked very fair. But everyone knows monsters don’t exist. I used to know this too.
Just as the last of the sun disappeared below the horizon I saw him. He emerged from the grey waves dripping wet and perfect. His hair was black as sin and his pale skin shone like the moon. His body was slender and his face all strange angles, but he was heartbreakingly beautiful. A glanconer, a love-talker. My Irish grandma had told me the old stories and I could see the danger — but his fathomless black eyes fastened on me, ensnared me.
With the smooth paces of a predator he advanced up the beach to me. “Hello sweet one,” he purred.
His voice was like fingertips trailing down my back. I shivered and the motion made him smile, his lips pale.
“I know what you are,” I whispered.
“Do you now? You know, and yet you stay. Brave. Or foolish.” He knelt before me, near enough to touch.
The salt and heat smell of him was intoxicating. I could see myself burying my face against his neck, breathing his scent into every part of my being and driving out the dull ache. I was enthralled, but to succumb meant death. Gazing into those night-sky eyes, I wasn’t sure I cared.
“Sit with me a while. Tell me sweet lies,” I said. I was tired of truth and wondered what pretty words convinced women to surrender their bodies and their lives.
“As you wish,” he acquiesced with a graceful bow. He slid onto the sand close beside me. We watched the waves crashing in and pulling back out. The motion was hypnotic.
“You come here every evening. I’ve seen you, watching the horizon, gazing at the stars. I wonder what you’re waiting for.” His voice was as rhythmic as the ocean.
My grandma said eldritch beings spoke with mortals only to entrap them, but they loved games, and a clever mortal might win a boon if they triumphed. If I lost… I shrugged. “What do you think I’m waiting for?”
“Love,” he answered without pause. As if all young women waiting on beaches must be searching for love.
“Wrong! First guess wrong.” Love was the last thing on my mind. I enjoyed the confusion on his beautiful face. “No sweet lie, no correct guess. You’re not very good at this.”
Anger flashed across his face, followed quickly by calculated cunning.
“What will you give me if I guess correctly?” he asked.
My gaze trailed over his still-wet black curls, his silken skin, the line of his soft lips. Closing my eyes I still saw him, in every detail.
“I will give you me.”
He paused, then a wicked grin curled across his beautiful mouth and his midnight eyes lit with cold fire. “You have a deal.”
“And what will you give me?”
He ran cold fingers down my cheek and my body trembled. “Whatever you ask. I shall give you whatever you ask. But I must think on this. Until next time, sweet one.”
He walked back to the ocean. When he reached the place where the waves crashed upon the sand, he turned and looked at me. Moonlight broke through the clouds and his luminous skin burned pale. He smiled and then was gone, slid back beneath the waves.
I still felt a line of electric fire where his fingers had touched me. What had I done?
It was days before I saw him again. Sunset painted the sky with rose and gold, reflected in the waves that threw themselves upon the sand. When I saw him rise up between one wave and the next, the pain inside me eased. If possible, he was even more beautiful. He crossed the beach and settled beside me. I could feel the pull of his body.
“What am I waiting for?” I asked.
“Hope,” he answered.
I laughed aloud before I could stop myself. “Wrong again! Hope is for fools,” I said bitterly.
He looked closely at me a moment then encircled me in his arms. His skin was cool, but his scent was full of heat. I leant into him and rested my head on his shoulder, feeling the release of contact with another living being.
“This is not how this usually goes,” he said. He sounded disturbed, but when I looked up at his face he seemed strangely pleased. We sat together for a long time, watching the night grow deeper, until he left me with a kiss on the cheek to go and contemplate my question again. Where his lips touched my face my skin burned like cold fire. It burned still as I fell asleep.
A storm had rolled in, darkening the sky and roiling the ocean. I stood ankle deep in the water as angry waves crashed around me. The wind tangled my hair and tugged at my dress. I was running out of time and I had grown tired of the game. I needed this to end, for better or worse.
I called to him. The wind whipped my words away but he heard me anyway. He rose from the waves, water streaming from his slender body in rivulets. Monster though he was, I filled with gladness at the sight of him. I ran into the waves to meet him and gave in to the longing that had burned since I first laid eyes on him. I stepped into his arms and pressed my lips to his. I abandoned myself to him and knew peace.
He pulled away, his eyes wide with sudden comprehension.
“Death,” he said, “You’re waiting for death.”
I nodded, unable to say that the cancer had spread, it was everywhere, there was nothing they could do. It no longer mattered. I had made a deal with a glanconer and now my fate was upon me. I should have been terrified, but I felt only relief, gratitude even.
He gazed at me for a long time as the storm grew around us. Finally, he seemed to reach a decision. He held out his hand to me.
“Take my hand. All will be well,” he said. It was the sweetest lie I had ever heard. I placed my hand in his, interlacing my warm fingers with his cold ones. He led me away from the shore and I followed him willingly beneath the waves.
“The Glanconer” © LJ McLeod
LJ McLeod lives in Rockhampton, Australia. She currently works as a medical laboratory scientist in Pathology, and writes in her spare time. She has had several of her stories published and has been nominated for the Aurealis Award twice.
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