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Ambrose Bierce.


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Death awaits them all A man stares into the deep river swirling beneath him hands tied, noose around his neck and waits for the order to end his life. His vehemence as a critic, his motto "Nothing matters", and the sardonic view of human nature that informed his work, all earned him the nickname "Bitter Bierce". Despite his reputation as a searing critic, Bierce was known to encourage younger writers, including the poets George Sterlingand Herman George Scheffauer and the fiction writer W.

The island girls were pretty enough, but he felt something missing. Every day he took out his boat and set his lobster pots, and every night he sat alone in his cottage and watched the peat fire rise and fall. One evening he heard soft laughter over the dunes. His footsteps silent on the sand, he crept closer. In the moonlight he saw a trio of women, all silvery hair and long limbs, dancing on the damp sand. One woman in particular captivated him.

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Her eyes were black as the night sea and her hair gleamed like starlight. He felt quite bewitched. As he watched, the woman stepped over to the rocks, where sat a pile of greyish skins. They slid the skins up over their own pale limbs — and when the fisherman blinked, the women were gone, and three seals slid into the water. The next night, the fisherman was waiting. When the women began their laughing dance, he crept to the rocks and snatched up one of the skins. He ran and hid it in a wooden box under his bed.

When he returned, two of the women had disappeared, but the black-eyed selkie woman was still searching for her skin. She begged the fisherman to let her go home. But desire made him selfish.

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He promised that if she became his wife, he would love her and care for her and make her happy each day of her life. The fisherman loved his wife, and she grew fond of him. But every night she slid from her marriage bed to stand on the shore, gazing out at the water and mourning her lost home.

The fisherman lay sleepless in the empty bed, the stolen skin beneath him. One day their youngest son was exploring the house, and found the sealskin under the bed. He brought it to his mother and asked her, what was this strange thing, so soft and smelling of the sea?

The selkie kissed her children goodbye, slid on her true skin, and went home. When the fisherman came back to the cottage, his children were fast asleep and stew bubbled on the fire — but his wife was gone. Fear shivered through him and he threw open the wooden box. It was empty, and with it his heart emptied too.

In time he learned to live a good life with his home and his children. But sometimes, late at night, he slid from his bed to gaze out at the water and mourn his lost love. In Scottish folklore, mermaids are often proud and vengeful. To me, this is much more interesting than the virtuous and self-sacrificing creature from the Hans Christian Anderson story.

The rock was worn to gleaming by the generations of mermaids who slid up on it to sing every night.

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Though the sound was eerie, the couple grew to enjoy it as a lullaby. But that changed when they had a child. The baby slept fine during the day, but as soon as the mermaid began to sing, the child opened its tiny pink mouth and cried loud enough to wake the whole island.

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All night the mermaid sang, and all night the baby wailed. He asked her, as politely as he could, to stop. The proud mermaid liked that not one bit. She turned her back and sang louder.

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Each time she was asked to stay quiet, she sang louder still. One morning she gathered a pack of men and ordered them to smash the shining rock.


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  • They worked all day with pickaxes and hammers until there was nothing left but a pile of jagged black stones. She opened her mouth — but instead of song, she shrieked a throatful of wild curses, prophesying the end of the family. Away swam the mermaid, her song made true. I put it down to some ingrained folk memory — or perhaps I heard the story as a small child, and although my conscious mind forgot it, the tiny beating heart of the tale stayed there inside me until I needed it. This version is adapted from two variations of the legend in George W. They were a strong and ancient people, who lived in elegant marble cities — but they were not happy.

    The changing tides were slowly destroying their homes, and their numbers were dwindling. Each time they launched an attack above the waves, trying to win some land to make a new home, they were beaten. The people of the land were too strong. But the sea-king was wise. He gathered his people together and explained that they must try a new approach. You will adopt their customs and culture.

    But your heart will always belong to the sea.

    Being tall, slim and golden-haired, they married easily. They were excellent fisherfolk, strong swimmers, and sang beautiful lullabies of loss. Not all the sea-people settled to their new way of life. They did not like the meat and bread, the sounds of the language, or the height of dizzying sky. Back they slipped into the sea. But they had been away for too long to pick up their old lives. They could not be sea-people or land-people. Although they could live in land or sea, they could stay in neither place for too long. Every seven years, they had to change: sea to land, or land to sea.

    Some of their children loved the sea, and grew into great navigators or sailors; some loved the land, and became great sculptors or farmers. And what happened to the people who chose to stay under the sea? Well, perhaps they live there still. Read more about The Gracekeepers here. From their site: Brooklyn-born artist Jean-Michel Basquiat filled numerous notebooks with poetry fragments, wordplay, sketches, and personal observations ranging from street life and popular culture to themes of race, class, and world history.

    All about art, underground culture, passion and creative energy, this biography is gripping and transportive.