Seaside Sirens, 1848

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“Let’s race to the shore,” William challenged.

“I’m not interested,” Arthur said. He watched his twin’s shoulders droop and his gait slacken, then he took off toward the water. Deceit was always his surest path to victory.

“That was a dirty trick,” William protested as he caught up to his brother.

Arthur ignored him. His attention had moved on to the row of wooden carriages lining the water’s edge on the ladies’ beach a quarter mile away. Women in long dresses entered the bathing machines, which teams of horses then drew into the surf. The boys could hear the delighted shrieks of women exiting the carriages on the far side and splashing into the water. Arthur had seen the bathing machines every year on holiday in Kent, but now, at twelve, he took notice of them.

William nudged Arthur and pointed to the tiny figure of a bather diving under the surface head first, her bare legs waving immodestly in the sunlight.

“Didn’t Miss Violet and her companion say they were going to have a bathe today?” William asked, thinking of the pretty young woman staying at their hotel.

Arthur responded with a devilish grin. “Suppose we do too, then. Suppose we swim in that direction…” William was already stripping off his trousers.

The boys waded into the blue water until the bottom dropped off and they could move freely. Keeping their heads low, they approached the sound of feminine voices with the stealth of soldiers scouting an enemy camp.

From inside the nearest carriage, a woman’s lyrical voice pleaded, “Do join me in the water, Mrs. Collins. It will do you a world of good.”

“That’s Miss Violet!” William hissed. Arthur shushed him and pulled him next to the carriage wheels.

The door opened. The water rippled as the lone bather entered the sea.

“It’s her all right,” Arthur whispered. “That’s her hair peeking out of the cap.”

William ducked his head under, braving the irritation of saltwater on his eyes for a glimpse of Miss Violet in her short bathing dress. What he saw was far different than his fantasies. He gasped and took in a gulp of the sea as he surfaced.

“Arthur! She’s a— Arthur?”

William spun around in search of his brother. He did not see the tentacle snaking around his neck until it was too late.

“How was your bathe, Miss Violet?”

“It was invigorating, Mrs. Collins, although I’m afraid those young lads from the hotel caught sight of me and I had to eat them. I felt just dreadful about it and now I’ve no appetite for dinner. Still, I couldn’t very well have let them tell others, could I?”

“Quite so! A nasty trick, sneaking over to the ladies’ beach. I should say it serves them right.”

end article

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Anna Zumbro

About Anna Zumbro

Anna Zumbro writes short speculative and literary fiction. She has worked as a newspaper copy editor, Peace Corps volunteer, and teacher. Her work has appeared at Plasma Frequency, Kazka Press, SpeckLit, and other publications.