“Vows Writ in Scrimshaw” by G.C. Baccaris

Of the Vicar’s numerous spawn, only two offspring ever hatched. A daughter and a son, they were their father’s treasures: cultured, pious, and well-bred.

Mesmer did not mind that her brother received a greater share of the Vicar’s paternal instincts, vestigial though they were, for Enoch was of a more delicate constitution. His digits were scarcely webbed, his limbs shorter, and his pulmonary chamber less robust. He was better suited to terrestrial pursuits, while Mesmer was made for the sea.

Her immense lungs made her an enduring force in the water. She could dive to the seafloor in the space of a breath, float for days without sinking, and spend great lengths of time beneath the waves before she felt any need to breach the surface.

As juveniles, the Vicar’s young had once played in the shallows at the chapel coast. Both could swim, an innate skill honed from birth among their amphibious kin, and youthful curiosity left them eager to explore land and sea alike. When it lured them out too far, the Vicar had taken it upon himself to intervene. He snatched his children from the water, hissing a lecture that they would not soon forget.

“You must never stray to the port— or, seas above forbid, beyond— without greatest caution,” the Vicar insisted. “To outsiders, you are nothing more than ivory. They will pull your teeth and sell them for glittering coins and curios. Pieces of you will languish in their vaults, hungry forever. Is that what you wish?”

It was not.

As the years wore on, the coastline became a greater division. Mesmer remained in the sea, while Enoch pursued his studies on land. He came to know the nobles who feigned piety at the Vicar’s chapel, while Mesmer, content to leave such things to her brother, came to know the currents of the sea and the living shapes of the reef.

It became her duty to aid in maintaining the fertile seabeds. She and her cohort, those blessed with the most powerful lungs and limbs, cultivated the island’s undersea flora and farmland. When her duties did not occupy her, Mesmer wandered, though she did not wish to breach the boundaries that separated her familiar sea from the unkind waters beyond.

When she had at last drifted as far as she dared, Mesmer came upon a trench brimming with debris. Lured by its dark and dire mysteries, she resolved to explore it.

After gathering breath at the surface, Mesmer plummeted down into the trench. As she descended, a broken mast rose from the depths before her eyes. Beneath it in the shimmering darkness, the shattered silhouette of a sloop came into focus, lifeless and long-abandoned.

With caution, Mesmer surveyed the ship. For several days, she returned, venturing deeper below decks each time.

The wreck had been picked clean over many years, but in the captain’s quarters, Mesmer came upon a single chest neglected in the shadows, its wood warped and its hinges cracked. She pried it open and peered inside. A carving rested within upon a bed of rotted velvet. It looked to be a fragment of some leviathan’s tooth; though a crack ran through it, Mesmer could see that its delicate, meticulous engravings depicted a sinuous winged eel, a beast untroubled by sea or land.

As she turned the scrimshaw in her hand, Mesmer heard the distant tolling of the submerged summons-bell, its tone warped by the waves. The Vicar’s weekly sermon was soon to commence, and Mesmer was expected in the chapel.

Unable to relinquish her discovery once more to the depths, she concealed it in her own clamshell treasure-cache hidden amid the reef before hastening to the surface. Though she was dripping with seawater and wore no wig, the congregation paid little mind as she entered the chapel, for all eyes were upon another woman— a new parishioner.

In the foremost pew, Enoch sat at her side. The Countess Adelaide had not come to seek salvation. She sought blood: fine blood for fine heirs— fine heirs with fine, strong teeth. She had come to claim Enoch’s hand in marriage.

Mesmer had never before met the Countess, but the Vicar had deemed her a suitable match—and Enoch had volunteered no objection, for his disposition would not allow him to do so. Patient creature that he was, he sat in the rigid pew with his mouths clenched shut and his eyes downcast. A ring already glittered on his right hand.

The Countess was resplendent beside him, her wig styled in splendid curls and her waist cinched to emphasize the sturdy, buoyant roundness of her pulmonary chamber. Her pale eyes glinted behind a mask of perpetual amusement, and her second mouth was concealed by the frilled ornamentation of a high collar.

“Well met!” she hailed, turning her attention briefly to Mesmer. When she spoke again, it was to Enoch: “I must extend my fondest felicitations to your kin.” A musical courtly lilt colored her tone like a bright artificial dye.

Mesmer took her seat as the Vicar approached the pulpit, declaring herself much obliged. A puddle of seawater formed at her feet.

The Vicar’s sermon commenced. Though his gaze swept now and again over the assembled crowd, it rarely left his children or the Countess.

Enoch’s slitted pupils darted about all the while, a cornered animal seeking Mesmer’s acknowledgment, and she met his eyes. When she slipped out into the churchyard after the sermon, she knew that he would follow.

The two walked in silence until they reached the edge of the Vicar’s land. Far below, dark waves struck the cliff face in a ceaseless rhythm.

“Getting cold feet?” Mesmer asked, well aware that only cold blood ran through their veins.

Enoch chuckled, but his momentary amusement soon withered. “She is a fine lady, but I never wanted this,” he admitted. “Each night, I dream of leaving.”

Mesmer turned to him. “Thought and action are different beasts.”

His face crumpled in harrowed uncertainty, brow furrowed, cravat twisted by the grimace of his concealed mouth. “I could not manage alone.”

A childish plea lurked behind his words. Come with me?

Mesmer would not countenance it. They had been inseparable as juveniles, but many years had passed, and their paths had diverged. She would not relinquish her future to the perils of unknown shores.

In time, her kin would be gone, but the sea’s embrace was eternal.

“You know better, Enoch.”

“Forgive me.” He shook his head, collecting himself. “I would not take chances among the tooth-pullers, and I could not leave you to take the blame for my indiscretions. Father will—”

“Father is old. He can do little now but preach.” He could not snatch his children from the water again. “It seems that you have three choices: marry, flee to another shore, or make yourself unmarriageable by other means.”


“Repel her. Repulse her. Offend her family until they would not dream of allowing such a boor to fertilize her young.” Mesmer paused. “Of course, Father will be outraged either way.”

Enoch hesitated. “Then I would entreat him to observe the same tenets he preaches. Forgiveness, to start.”

For a time, neither sibling spoke. Far below, the sea churned.

At last, Mesmer broke the silence. “Wait on the coast.”

She inflated her lungs. In the depths of her broad chest, something cavitated, a grinding sound of suction that made Enoch flinch. Arcing her long body toward the surface of the sea, Mesmer leaped.

Down she dove, until her fingertips skimmed coral and silt, where she caressed the ridges of her hidden cache out of the reef and pried it open. Gripping the scrimshaw within, Mesmer kicked off from the seafloor.

She swam upwards, following the light that heralded the surface as it shimmered just out of reach in undulating fractals. Scrambling onto the coast, she found Enoch awaiting her return.

Mesmer held out the scrimshaw. “Whatever you choose,” she said, “I want you to have this.”

“Thank you,” Enoch whispered, eyes wide with tentative awe. His fingertips grazed the tooth as he examined its exquisite detail. “How can I repay you?”

“Live well,” Mesmer said, reaching out to curl his fingers closed around the relic.

Enoch nodded, slipping it into his pocket. His second mouth gnawed at the knot of his cravat all the while in nervous, senseless hunger.

Taking as deep a breath as he could muster, he slid the engagement ring from his finger as if its presence pained him. Clasping it between the two thumbs of his left hand, he raised his arm, released a harsh exhale, and flung the ring into the sea.

The current would repudiate his vows. By dawn, the ring would settle in other waters, lost to him forever.

Perhaps on some other shore, years hence, an outsider would find a tarnished golden band in the surf and think it no more than an amusing curio— a ring which would fit no human hand.

G.C. “Grim” Baccaris is a writer, game developer, and plague mask collector with an interest in the uncanny and macabre. Grim’s work has been published in Sub-Q Magazine and Voidspace Zine, featured at the Hand Eye Society’s WordPlay Festival, and will be exhibited at AdventureX 2022. Grim can be found elsewhere online at gcbaccaris.com, and on Twitter @gcbaccaris.