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Drought Mermaids

By Lucero Valdovinos in Issue Fourteen, March 2024

The soil is parched beneath her feet. The word ‘drought’ hangs in the bare trees and weaves silently through the dead grass. It follows her, close and curious about the life and magic in her. Water, the landscape seems to murmur. Water. Water.

But there is none. Hasn’t been for years.

This is what brings her to the valley.

She’s a weather mage, her head perpetually in the clouds, and she is being paid handsomely by the local government to assist. Already she is scanning the empty sky and thinking about the dew point, the wind, the air pressure. As such, she scarcely notices where they are going, and is caught off guard when, after hours of walking, they arrive.

She very nearly trips over the old woman who has come to an abrupt stop in front of her.

“Careful now,” her guide tells her. “We’re here.”

The place Teresa has brought her to gives way to a deep impression in the ground. It is a vast stretch of land lined by patches of dead vegetation. At one time it had been a sizable lake. Now it’s only dust.

At first glance it seems as dead as anywhere else in the valley, but a closer look reveals otherwise. There, in the dead center—something is moving.

Reaching into her travel pack, Vida brings out an old spyglass. She takes a good long look before speaking.

“What are they?”

The creatures in the lakebed are unlike anything she’s ever seen. Their impossibly thin arms stretch out towards the sky, and their long, coiling bodies writhe slowly in the dirt. Their eyes are hollow, deep and unblinking in their gaunt faces. They seem to be nothing but bone and dust. There are hundreds of them.

“A tragedy,” Teresa says simply. “Come on. Let’s get a closer look.”

Vida frowns. The thought of getting close to the pitiful creatures seems distasteful to her, but she follows without protest.

“Drought mermaids,” Teresa explains as they walk. “There are more and more of them each day. When I was a young girl, we would bring our cattle here. There was green all around. Now only those creatures remain, and they are not truly alive at all.”

Vida’s frown only deepens as they draw nearer to the lake’s center. They’ve come close enough that she can hear the mermaids thrashing in the dirt, and a faint groaning coming from their throats. She pities them, just as much as she is unnerved by them.

Thankfully, Teresa brings her no closer. She takes a seat on a large boulder and motions for her to do the same.

“What do you mean they are not truly alive? They seem to be in pain.”

“It might be more accurate to say that they are pain itself,” Teresa explains. “Pain of the landscape, and the dead grass, and the dying trees. It is the drought that brought them into being, you see. Nature spirits, withering alone in a dead lake.”

“If the drought brought them into being, why are they not everywhere by now?”

“They are somewhat rare. They only appear in places that used to hold very large and very ancient bodies of water. Water is a powerful thing, as you well know.” Teresa pauses. “When such a place is destroyed, whether through drought or cataclysm, the land knows what it has lost. It is the earth’s way of mourning.”

“Dirt doesn’t mourn,” Vida mutters.

Teresa lets out a laugh. “For a state mage, you say a lot of foolish things.”

“Well, what do you want me to do about them?” Vida asks.

The old woman looks at her thoughtfully. For a long moment she says nothing—and Vida gets the distinct impression that she’s sizing her up, wondering whether she’s up to the task. Finally, Teresa turns her weary gaze out towards the lake.

“I figure a few hours of heavy rain should clear them right up,” she says. “But it’s gotta be a good rain. An honest and joyful one.”

“I can give you a decent rainstorm,” Vida replies with a smile, “but it will take all day to set up. As for the rest, I dare say all rain is honest and joyful.”

Teresa smiles at that.

Shielding her eyes from the sun, Vida peers around at the lake. She is calculating distance, depth, air flow, pressure points… her mind is suddenly pouring possibility. The casting circle would have to extend upwards into the sky, high enough to ensure that no stray bits of magic escape into the atmosphere and cause a hurricane halfway round the world.

“You’re already drafting the spell, aren’t you?” Teresa laughs. “Good. So am I. We’ll do it together.”

Vida pulls her hair back and secures it with a small thread of magic.

“Let's get started.”

The work is complex. While Vida’s aptitude for weather magic is rare, and therefore in high demand, there’s more to it than summoning storms.

She knows that the sky does not end with the horizon, that the atmosphere does not peter out into nothing in space. She knows that there are no clear boundaries; everything is part of everything else. There are a hundred factors to take into account. Being a weather witch requires respect to all this and more.

It is a rare occasion, one in which the magic unfolds harmoniously. She cannot recall the last time she felt so in tune with her powers. The spell flows easily and the circle comes together without a hitch. It certainly helps to be working with a mage as experienced as Teresa. The old woman’s talent is impressive.

It is dusk when they finally finish. Both mages are dusty and covered in sweat, but the magic buzzes strongly around them. All that remains is to sit back to watch it happen.

The rain starts slow, but it builds in power, thick clouds congregating only above the lakebed. The sight itself is very curious, like a storm contained by invisible walls.

In the lake, the mermaids slowly grow still. Vida watches in awe as the nearest of the creatures lowers its arms and rolls onto its back. Across the lake hundreds of drought mermaids fall silent, gazing up at the rain. She wonders what they are feeling. Sorrow? Relief? Joy? There’s no telling.

Bit by bit, they dissolve into muck.

“Breaks my heart,” Teresa sighs after a while. “Such a long-awaited reunion of earth and water. Unfortunately it came too late.”

“Have weather mages tried to end the drought before?”

“Many times,” Teresa says. “But a single rainstorm can’t fix decades of drought… and you state mages are expensive.”

They watch the rain fall in silence.

“It’s not gonna bring back the lake,” Vida says.

“Indeed. The lake and its old magic are gone forever. But this at least will bring some peace to this patch of earth.” The elderly mage reaches out to set a hand on her shoulder. “Thank you for taking the time to do this. As to the matter of your payment—”


Vida takes a deep breath and looks at her. Her hair sticks to her forehead in wet swirls, her eyes bright beneath them. “No need, please. It was my poor luck, right? Coming all the way out here just as a freak storm passes by.”

Teresa smiles and a peal of lightning flashes over the lakebed. The two mages stand together until the last drought mermaid has been washed away.

© 2024 Lucero Valdovinos

Lucero Valdovinos

A native of Zacatecas, Mexico, Lucero is an emerging writer who dabbles in fantasy, poetry, and magical realism written from a queer immigrant perspective. When not creating in some manner they can be found in quiet places. Lucero holds a BA in Psychology and works full-time in California, and is always (always!) haciendo la lucha.

Fiction by Lucero Valdovinos
  • Drought Mermaids