You can only peel potatoes for so long before you want to die.
Eric groaned, finished a potato, and reached for another. From a barrel, into another barrel. From a barrel, into the cleaning bucket, and once they were cleaned, into the pot. Day after day, night after night, it was potatoes. He’d served aboard a ship a few years back that didn’t do potatoes; they had salted meats, cheese, and biscuits. It’d been a delicious trip, but he’d come back to his family quite sick. A man needs potatoes!
But he doesn’t need to peel a thousand of them.
“Captain, I don’t like the waters. The sky is clear but the water churns like my wife when she’s angry. Something’s out there.” The sailing master pulled the Captain to the port railing and pointed down at the water. He was a paranoid man, the sailing master, and it made Eric laugh each time the fat fellow argued for their safety. He was missing a few fingers, an eye, and one of his feet though, so maybe his paranoia was warranted, peg leg and all.
“Just a week out from Haiti, Jacob. Keep your head on straight before you—”
“Captain, I swear it! I’ve seen these waters before. Something churns, something ... unnatural!” Jacob grabbed the captain by the shoulders, and shook him. “I lost my leg to such waters, Captain, and the last captain — bless his poor soul — sits at the bottom of the sea for ignoring my warning!”
The captain rolled his eyes. His back was to Eric, but the cabin boy could read the older man well enough to tell he was annoyed. The captain was tall, thin, and starting to wear down with his age. His fancy long coat, his well-cared-for captain’s hat, his compass in his pocket by a chain, and his ever-calm demeanor all spoke of a true captain. The rest of the shipmates wore dirty trousers and dirtier shirts, but that only made the captain stand out more, like he should.
“Jacob,” the captain said, and he put a hand on Jacob’s shoulder before walking him back toward the center mast of the ship. “Breathe my boy, breathe. I’ve seen these waters myself, a thousand times. We’re in for a small storm tonight, nothing more than a touch of rain and wind. Can you handle that?”
“Can you handle that?”
“Aye, I can Captain. But it’s not the rain or the wind that I fear. It’s beneath the waves my worries come from.” Jacob looked over his shoulder back to the railing, to Eric, and then back to the captain. “It tore at the ship from beneath! And came at us with claws and teeth!”
“We’ll keep an eye on the water then.” The captain patted the man on the back, and escorted him up to the helm.
Eric watched after them. Jacob was a loud man, jolly when drunk, and superstitious. Half the crew was just like him. But, as much as Eric wanted to dismiss Jacob’s worries like usual, something about his words stuck out to him. Claws? Teeth?
One of the crewman spotted him. A shorter fellow, with a big back from a lifetime of hauling god knows what. Eric was a normal-sized boy, average height, a strong body from his duties, and much younger than these men. He was only just old enough to be considered a man, so, he expected some teasing.
“Cabin boy,” Marters said, and he sat down next to Eric and the barrel, butt on the step.
“How’s it going Eric?”
“Same as always.” He threw a potato into the pot, stuck out his hand, and Marters filled it with a fresh one.
“Jacob having fits again?”
“Says something’s coming, something in the water.”
Marters shivered. “Jacob’s a strange man, but I trust him. Saved me from more than one drunken mistake.”
“Has he ever saved you from demons or devils or ghosts though?” Eric said, and he scratched at his sandy hair.
“Ha, rightly he hasn’t.” The crewman sighed, got up, and stretched himself out a bit. “What’s for supper?”
“Fish and potatoes.”
Eric glared at Marters, but before long, the two of them were laughing.
“What if I told you I’d sneaked in some oranges?”
Tempting, but not likely. “That haven’t started growing limbs?”
“Bah, just adds to the flavor!”
Eric rolled his eyes as the crewman walked off, laughing and hollering at the other men to get back to work. It was a fun ship, a good ship, with a good crew and a good captain. He could do without the potato peeling though; such was the life of a cabin boy. Laughing, he got up, walked over to the railing, and looked out over the sea.
The crystal blue of the Caribbean sea spread out before him for all directions. The air smelled of salt — just a pinch — and the water rocked against the vessel with a quiet, gentle groan. The breeze was calm but consistent, the sun was hot, and the sky was clear. A perfect day for sailing.
Jacob wasn’t so crazy after all.
“Eric, get the cargo anchored! I’m not going to let one storm ruin this voyage!”
“Aye aye, captain!”
Eric pushed his way past the crew. Dozens of men were running back and forth with ropes in hand. They worked the sails, while the ship was steered into the waves. Better than capsizing, but it made each few seconds a dance with gravity. Up and down, up and down. Even Eric was starting to get a little sick, but he forced down his gut and got to work.
Rain poured over the deck, smacked against the skin with stinging water drops, washed everything away, and any man who didn’t watch where he stepped fell onto his side with the snap of wind pushing him. Eric pushed through the crowd of struggling shoulders and pulling ropes, and slipped several times as he squirmed past the bigger men. He had a job to do.
The cargo hold, deep below deck. The stairs were waterfalls, and try as he might, an upward shove from the vessel knocked his footing down a stair too fast. He slid down the rest of the stairs with the water pulling him down, and landed on his ass against the wood. Boxes and barrels were teetering, rolling over, and sending provisions onto the floor. He had to move faster, or they’d have have nothing to deliver!
Barrels, heavy and rolling. He got them back up, one painful squat at a time, and jammed them into the corner before tying them off. Water dripped down over his head, and more crashed into his ankles in waves. More than once he found himself on his ass with feet flinging up into the air. As the ship rocked back and forth, it sent him into the pillar of the main mast like a bad habit, until his hands were sore from the collisions.
Wasn’t like he could stop though. Through the groaning of wood and the rage of the sea, he could hear men screaming and wind screaming right along with them. The sea was angry, no doubt about that. But yesterday’s sky had said nothing, the winds had said nothing, only Jacob and his crazy prediction had seen this coming. You can’t predict a storm from bubbles in the water.
On his ass again. Water poured down the stairs, flooded over him until it was hard to breathe. He scampered for some hanging rope and hauled himself back up, but his breathing was racked and his body was shaking. He’d need help to get things secured. No chance of that. He just had to make do alone, even if it meant they lost their cargo. Better the cargo than the ship or their lives.
Of course, the moment he thought it, the wind softened, the howling of the sea, and the cry of the bulkhead waned. Water stopped pouring down the stairs, the ship stopped rocking like a wailing baby, and the hollering of the crew died down.
“Oh thank god, no more.” He dragged himself through the ankle-deep water and started to climb the stairs.
And then he heard a different moan. At first, he thought it was the bulkhead, still bending under the pressure of waves and wind, but it was different. It was deeper. Vibrations filled the water around him, made it dance like it was still raining. The sound was coming from all around him as the wood trembled and the men upstairs went quiet.
He climbed the steps onto the deck. Everyone was standing at the railings and looking down.
“What’s ... going on?” he said.
Jacob motioned him over. Looking down over the railing and into the blue of the dark sea, lit only by what cracks of moonlight could get through the clouds, he could see nothing. At least at first. But in the blue of the Caribbean sea, something dark was moving. Something huge. Long, humongous trails of dark moved around in something of a circle, far beneath them where it was like watching an underwater, black cloud. And it was getting bigger.
Again, the moan poured out through the sea until the vibrations had the ship’s deck, the mast itself, even the water of the sea around them quivering. The sound was deep, loud, and the men raised their hands to cover their ears. But no one moved from the railings. Not Jacob, not Marters. Even the captain, with water dripping from his hat and fancy coat, stepped down to join them, mouth agape and eyes wide.
Whatever it was beneath them, it had eyes. It had teeth. And it was coming up to them.
The world froze. And all at once, it came back in thunderstorm of pain, exploding water, and a breaking ship.
He awoke to the sound of seagulls, the rocking of gentle waves, and the salty air. For a moment, he thought he was on his fishing boat back home, and drifting around the bay with his line out. And then he remembered the ship.
He sat up, groaned with aching muscles, and looked around. The sun was up, the clouds were few and white, and any remnants of the storm were long gone.
“You ok boy?”
Eric almost jumped. “Marters! You’re alive.”
“Hell yes boy. Take more than some sea devil to kill me.” The man winked at him.
Eric smiled, looked down, and felt his smile fade. They were sitting on a chunk of the deck, big enough for him and Marters but no more. Around them, he could see bits and pieces of the ship floating in the water, scattered far and wide, and some barrels. No bodies, as if something had taken them down to Davy Jones’s Locker.
It was like God had come home drunk from a bad day at work, and decided he didn’t like his toy boat anymore.
“Oh god ... oh god oh god.” Eric pulled his feet up, hugged his knees, and started to rock back and forth.
“Calm down boy. We’ll live through this.” Marters reached out and patted him on the shoulder.
Not likely. Not a ship to be seen, or land. No food. No water. The sun was getting higher and it was bringing scorching heat with it.
They’d be dead in three days.
Eric reached down and ran his fingers along the deck. It was sheer luck a chunk of it had managed to come off the ship that was flat enough, and wide enough for a couple of people. It was soaked with water, and it swayed softly on the sea’s surface. When he glanced over the edge of the few planks of wood his life depended on, all that greeted him was the deep, endless blue below.
His shoes were gone. He laughed when he noticed, and he shook his head as he reached down to grab his toes. All he had left was his brown trousers, and his white shirt. And there were red blotches on his white shirt.
Blinking, he started to pat himself down. No pain, no growing blood stains. He looked over at Marters to ask, but stopped himself.
Marters was laying down on the planks, and he had one arm over his eyes while the other pressed its hand hard against his side. His fingers were clutching his shirt, blood soaked his waist, and his breathing was shallow. The blood wasn’t just on his waist either, but had coated several feet of the wood beneath them until it was dripping into the blue.
“Shit! Marters, you’re bleeding.”
“Damn right I’m bleeding,” he said, and he coughed on a harsh, cold laugh. “But it’ll take more than that to kill me.”
No, it wouldn’t. The man was pale, shivering, and sweating all at once.
Eric wasted no time. He took off his shirt, tore it apart, and started to wrap it around Marter’s waist. The crewman groaned, even screamed a little, but Eric pushed through it. He knew it was a waste of time, but he wasn’t about to let the man bleed to death.
Took everything he had to not vomit. He wanted to curl into a ball and pretend none of this was happening. Maybe it was all some horrible nightmare and he’d wake up any moment.
Something moved in the water.
Eric fell back into the middle of the raft, got to a knee and foot, and watched out over the raft’s edge. “Something’s out there.”
“Probably a shark, sniffing for blood,” Marters said with another laugh.
Eric laughed too, a dead man’s laugh of certainty. What else could he do? He’d never see his mom or dad again. Never see his brother again. Never see—
More movement. Something blue poked up over from behind one of the barrels. Eric stared at it, hand raised to block out the sun, and he waited.
The barrel started to drift closer. Eric tilted his head to the side, and watched the strange barrel ignore the drifting currents the rest of the wreckage followed. Something blue was behind it, something that shimmered, and looked an awful lot like hair.
Once it was about ten feet away, it came to a stop.
“ ... h-hello?” he said to the magical barrel with blue hair.
As slow as the tide, a face emerged from behind the curved wood.
Eric braced a hand against the planks underneath him, and fell to his remaining knee. A mermaid. An actual, real, living mermaid, and so close. So close he could see the long, beautiful waves of blue hair, her alabaster skin, her fin-like ears of see-through blue, her small, pink lips, and her sparkling green eyes.
“God ... a mermaid...”
“A mermaid!” Marters sat up. The motion rocked the floating wood, and knocked Eric over hard enough he rolled off the planks and fell straight into the sea.
A moment later, he pulled himself back up onto the unstable raft, spat out some sea water, and looked around in a panic when Marters grabbed him by the shoulders.
“Don’t let it get near!” the crewman said.
“Marters, calm down. She hasn’t done anything yet.” Eric looked over his shoulder toward the barrel. It was twenty feet away now, but he could see the blue hair and young face of the creature. Her green eyes were wide, like a startled kitten.
“Mermaids lure men to their deaths! Don’t let her get near.” Marters forced himself to his knees, leaned over the raft to grab a bit of debris from the water, and pointed the stick at the woman. “Back! Back foul creature!”
“Marters what in the hell? Sit down before you bleed to death! She hasn’t done anything!”
“I won’t be taken by demon! I won’t! I—” Marters’s right foot went out from under him, and he rolled forward over the collapsing leg until he smacked his head against the boards.
The man went forward with his weight, and slipped half of his body into the ocean. The top half.
“Marters you dumb bastard! Get back on the raft!” Eric reached over the man and grabbed his bloodied shirt. Pulling on him wasn’t so easy with how it teetered the raft down, and he had to rock it back to keep it from flipping. “Get back on the damn—”
An array of jagged, serrated teeth broke through the water, splashing Eric’s face. Wide-eyed, the water hit his eyes, and he fell back with a holler.
“Marters! Marters!” He scampered forward, but it was only a few feet to the edge of the worthless raft, and the blue. No Marters. “Marters!”
Further out, a fin cut through the water. The nose of a shark raised, thrashed, and created a pool of growing red before it dipped under the surface yet again.
And then were was silence. Only a seagull, and the gentle breath of the sea made any noise.
Alone. All alone. Surrounded by the broken pieces of his captain’s vessel, their work, their livelihood, he sat and watched the pool of red sit on the water before fading away. Barrels, boxes, a potato or two, planks, and the shredded remains of the sails.
No matter how hard he tried to breathe, he couldn’t get oxygen into his lungs. He was starting to see spots. It wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be happening. It wasn’t it wasn’t it wasn’t. He hugged his knees close to his chest, and rocked back and forth. The salt of his tears joined the salt of the sea soaked into his trousers.
“ ... hello?”
Eric gasped, fell back, and braced himself against the bloody planks with both hands. The mermaid had swam up to him, though she still had the barrel between the two of them like a shield.
“Are you here to kill me? It ... it would make sense. Everything in this damn sea wants us sailors dead. Gods, please, just ... just get it over with.” He closed his eyes, and waited.
“Kill you? But ... I’m not...”
Eric opened one eye, then the other. Not kill him? “But ... you’re a mermaid.”
“I am.” She swam closer, and she gave him a small smile from behind the barrel.
She really was beautiful. Her voice was enchanting too, just like the old tales said. Mermaids were sirens! They lured sailors with their charm, and then they dragged you to Davy Jones’s Locker!
He wasn’t in any position to argue it though. Dead anyway, with no ship in sight, no way to make a fire to signal for help, no land in sight, and no food or water.
“I thought mermaids killed men?”
“I never! I ... that ... that has happened. But not anymore! Not for a hundred years.”
“Oh ... oh...” He sighed relief, and sat down Indian style. “I, um ... thank you then ... for not killing me.” But then, he looked down and found the blood stains on his legs and hands. Marters, you dumb bastard.
“I’m sorry,” the mermaid said, “for what Jormun did to your ship.”
“He is ... he was nearby, and he hates men. He summoned the storm, and he attacked you.”
“I thought I was seeing things!” Memories of the massive wall of flesh, barnacles and dark skin were blurs in his mind. “That thing summoned a storm?”
“He did. And ... sorry about ... Marters.” She sighed and shook her head. “I can’t stop Gaznollien. He’s big, and mean, and old, and—”
“Gaznollien ... the shark?”
Eric sighed, but returned the nod. “It’s ok ... I guess. We’re dead anyway. Eaten by a shark is a better way to go than thirst and sun.”
The mermaid blinked at him, pushed her barrel to the side before swimming close, put her hands on the planks, and looked up at him.
She was so damn beautiful. Her hair was really long, now that he could see her from so close, like a river of its own. Her fingers were human. She had gills on her neck though, tinted the same beautiful blue like her fin ears. Her fish half was blue too — he’d expected green — and it was shining radiant under the sun. Her lips were such a delicious pink, tiny and cute.
Sirens indeed. He couldn’t help but stare, even when he realized how rude it was. Worse, with the creature so near, he could see her breasts through the water. She was a small woman, this mermaid, with a lean little frame and small, pert breasts.
He shook his head and forced himself to look up to her green, big, sparkling eyes.
“There’s a small island nearby! Only a ... uh ... I think you call it ... miles? Only five or six miles!”
She had such a sweet, lovely voice. It made his insides melt.
“Five or six miles? I could ... I might be able to swim that. I’m a pretty good swimmer.”
She laughed at him. “No no, it’ll take you all day. Come on, I’ll push you.”
“You’ll ... push me? But you only just met me! And you’re a mermaid, and I’m a human, and—”
“I’m Alandrial,” she said.
Alandrial? It sounded ... angelic.
“Um ... Eric.”
“Eric.” She grinned her cute little smile at him. “Before sailors started thinking mermaids were bad luck, or mean, or killers, we helped them!”
And then she started pushing him. She started slow at first, though he still fell forward onto his palms when she did. A moment later, she was pushing hard and fast, hard enough that she was churning water, fast enough that he could feel the wind against his face and naked chest. So much for a little girl, this mermaid could swim! He got down on his hands and knees and faced into the oncoming wind, glanced to the passing bits of debris, and winced. Jacob, the captain, Marters, everyone, dead and gone in a single day.
You have to respect the sea. He just never thought the sea hated them so much.
He looked back over his shoulder at Alandrial, his sudden and only shining ray of hope. The beautiful creature had a stern look on her face, which made sense given how hard she was pushing him. It couldn’t have been easy. He got down low against the boards to try and get out of the wind for her.
Five or six miles meant just beyond the horizon, and sure enough, it wasn’t long before he could see the dots of trees, and a minute after that, the edge of sand. They were swimming so fast, the front edge of the planks were raised up and hitting the air, and he had to lean forward to keep the raft from catching like a sail. He could see the land ahead grow larger before his eyes. Very fast.
Not long later, they arrived at the beach of the island. A small thing, not big enough for any real animals other than birds and rodents. Not even a quarter mile long. But it had trees, and trees meant there could be fruit. Insects too, for grub. Wood for a fire! All at once, the reality of survival sank in, and his smile returned.
“Land, sweet land! Sweet, blessed, dry land.” When Alandrial came to a stop, a good thirty feet out from the shore where it was still a couple feet deep, he didn’t hesitate. Like he’d never seen land before, he jumped into the water and ran through as best he could. Dressed in only his trousers and waving his hands in the air, he must have seemed like a madman to anyone nearby. Good thing it was only the mermaid and him, and he didn’t care if she saw his joy. He threw himself down onto the shore, and laid down on the sand before rolling onto his back, and looked up at the sky. “Thank you! Oh thank you.”
Her voice came from afar, so quiet he could barely hear it. When he sat up, he had to block out the sun again with his hand to see her; she was still out where she’d stopped the planks of wood.
“You — oh, right. Um ... uh...” Of course, she had no legs, she couldn’t walk up onto the shore. So, he got up, and treaded back out to her.
“What’re you doing?”
“I have to thank you somehow! I was dead for sure.”
“Thank me? I ... was just...”
“Come on, you helped a total stranger, and a human at that!” Energy flooded him, and his smile grew until he could feel his cheeks cramp. “I have to do something for the mermaid who saved my life.”
She smiled, and brought a hand up to her lips to cover her mouth when she giggled. Her voice was as light as air, and her skin hid nothing when she blushed.
“The island has a cove with some deeper water. Maybe you can ... come with me? It’ll be easier to talk there, and I want to ask you something.”
“Sure! Sure, anything.”
Alandrial giggled. Like a tweeting little bird this girl, so cute it was making his chest hurt.
She motioned to the side with her head, dove into the water, and started to swim. Eric had to get back out of the water to move at a faster pace than his snail’s pace, but once he was, he kept along the shore at a jog. Glances to the left kept track of Alandrial, and glances to the right kept note of the island. He was right about the fruit, and rodents. There’d be crabs too, and maybe ways to fish. Even insects could be eaten if it came to it. Signal fires! He’d survive this, one way or another.
The cove was like a fairytale. The mouth of the cove was two raised sections of rock thirty feet high, and he had to get back into the water to swim around them. Inside, he found Alandrial waiting, swimming in circles in the large pool of water. The cove opened up into more beach, but the slope of sand was much steeper, and the water must have gone at least six feet deep. A few protrusions of rock dotted the pool, and Alandrial swam up behind one, poked her head out from behind it, and smiled at him.
He swam up to her, hoisted himself up on the rock in the center of the cove, and sat down. Food and shelter should have been at the top of his list, but the island seemed a safe enough, simple enough place. He could worry about it later.
“Alright Alandrial, I am all yours. Ask away.” He tried his damnedest to not look at her naked breasts through the water. At least the tide and its gentle waves were distorting his vision enough to hide them a little.
“Alright, Eric. I ... um ... this is weird. You’re the first human I’ve ever talked with, and I was sure I’d have many questions! Many questions, but now I ... I don’t know.”
He tilted his head to the side and raised a hand to rub at his stubble. “Can I ask one then?”
“You’re a mermaid.”
“A real, live, genuine mermaid.”
“You’re the first I’ve seen. Other sailors say they’ve seen mermaids, but no one believes them. We’re a superstitious lot. And you said something about a hundred years?”
Alandrial nodded, looked down, and frowned. She lowered herself when she did, until only her head was over water. “A hundred years ago, some mermaids were killed by sailors, and it caused a battle. Ever since then, we’ve ... stopped helping, and ... and that’s made it difficult to...”
“To what?” He sat cross legged Indian style again, leaned forward, and blinked down at the tiny mermaid.
“Mermaids need to ... mate with humans to have children.”
“What? I ... what? What about the mermen?”
“Mermen? There is no such thing. Mermaids are daughters of the sea! We live a long time, but without humans to mate with, we’ll start to dwindle.”
“Oh, that’s ... you have to rely on men?”
Alandrial nodded, and started to swim around his rock in a slow circle. And she did it on her back. He gulped, and stared. No matter how much his brain told him to look up, be a gentleman like your dad taught you, he couldn’t tear his eyes away from her naked body. Her fish half, gleaming in the sun with its blue scales, covered her hips, but the V crest of her hips, the Apollo’s Belt was still human down the bottom of the V. She had no legs, so instead of between thighs, her sex sat flat along the bottom of the V of the human half. It was smooth, small, with the tiniest pink lips.
He gulped again, and adjusted his pants to hide his erection. Not even a day since his shipmates had all died, and he was already lusting after a girl. He was eighteen! What was he supposed to do?
“It’s been a long time since we’ve talked with men openly, long before I was born. New mermaids are rare.”
“I can imagine, I—”
“Oh, oh! I thought of something.” Alandrial spun around atop the water and turned to face him, hands on the rock, eyes beaming. God she was cute.
“What’s your normal day like?”
“Yeah!” She smiled and started swimming around him again. “I know sailors send stuff to your cities across the sea. And you fish. But I mean, I don’t know what you do when you’re not on a boat.”
“Oh. Well, I mean I just live in a fishing village near the city. What we do is pretty boring.”
“Tell me!” she said, and she swam a little further out from the rock to start turning over herself. Like an excited dog, except most definitely not a dog. Her fish scales covered up where a human’s butt would have been, but her human half was a young woman’s through and through.
“Ok, um. Well, I’ll wake up, and me and my dad will go out fishing. Mom spends the day at the mill, making clothes. My brother works in the nearby city in a factory.”
“What’s a factory? Or mill?”
“A factory? It’s ... it’s a big building, where people go in and ... and do very boring work putting things together for other people, for very little money. And a mill is ... basically the same thing.” Wow, dull lives, now that he thought about it. He’d known his was dull, but in perspective, maybe not so dull?
Alandrial frowned up at him, swam up to his rock, and put her hands against its base. “I heard humans go out on boats like yours, but instead of just sailing across the sea, delivering stuff, you leave the sea! And into the ocean.” She shivered with the word, and blinked her big eyes up at him. “Is that true?”
“Ah, well, ocean trips are dangerous, and deadly. A lot of people die. We—”
“How big is it?”
“What, the ocean?”
She nodded, mouth open and eyes even wider.
“Ah, well.” He scratched at his sandy hair, and thought about it. “It can take weeks to sail across the Caribbean. It takes months to sail across the ocean.”
The mermaid gasped. “So huge! Caribbean ... is that your word for the mother sea?” Nodding, she started to swim around him again. “The mother sea is where my mother and sisters and friends all live. The ocean is too big! Big and deep, deeper than we can swim. I’ve seen it! On the edge, deep endless blue that turns to black.” Again the mermaid shivered, and she disappeared under the water, only to appear behind him. “That’s where Jormun came from.”
It was his turn to shiver.
“Come on!” she said. “Come in the water!”
“Humans can swim, I’ve seen it! And I can’t really see your legs from down here. Humans have legs! My sisters talk about them, on some of the humans they’ve spied with them. And you wear clothes. Clothes is the right word, right? Clothes, to cover yourselves, which is just silly. That can’t feel good.”
Alandrial, he was starting to realize, was just a young girl, no older than he. Excitable too, but her bouncing energy was contagious, and it was making him forget about the shipwreck.
“Well, we wear clothes cause otherwise we’d be naked and staring at each other’s parts all day.” He didn’t plan to take off his pants, not in front of a beautiful girl at any rate. But a swim with her sounded like just the thing to keep himself distracted. And procrastinate on building a shelter and finding food.
Stepping down from the rock proved more difficult than climbing it. One small slip and a loud yelp later, he crashed ass first into the blue. He gargled on sea water, rolled around to get his bearings, and forced himself to stand. At least the water was only four feet deep in the center of the cove.
Alandrial giggled and swam around him in more circles. “I’ve only ever seen humans from a distance, and always men. Do women look much different? Do they look like us?”
“They, uh ... don’t look quite like you, no.”
“What’s different? Tell me!” She squealed, ducked under the water, swam between his legs, and came out behind him.
“Um, well, they have less colorful hair. And their ears are like mine. And legs. And ... well, they’re not as pretty as a mermaid.”
“Not as pretty?” She tilted her head to the side, blinked at him, and then squealed again. Giggles abound, she brought her hands up to her lips and blushed. “You think I’m pretty?”
He smacked himself in the forehead. “I’m sorry, I just—”
“I like that you think I’m pretty!” She giggled all the more, swam up to him and put her hands against his chest. “I ... never get to see men this close. Your shoulders are bigger! And your arms are thicker.” Blushing, smiling, Alandrial roamed her hands over his body. Eric was of average height, but a lifetime of fisherman’s work had kept his body strong and lean. He never thought he’d be happy about fisherman’s work, ever.
“I, uh ... um...”
“And your chest is broad.” She put her hands there too, and pushed against him. “And hard.” She couldn’t stand up without legs, and in the shallow water, she had to swim in place. But when she put her hands on him, she stabilized, and she smiled up at him with her little pink lips.
She was hitting on him. Was she? She had her hands on him, and she was feeling him up and down. For a human, that was a pretty straightforward sign. But she was a mermaid, and apparently mermen weren’t a thing. So maybe she did just want to touch him and see what a man felt like?
What would his brother do? Kiss her and sweep her off her feet — he chuckled. Good luck with that.
“What’s funny?” she said.
“Nothing! Nothing, just thought about ... nothing. So, no men? What’s your day like?”
“My day?” She smiled up at him, swam around behind him, and put her hands on his shoulders to brace herself again. “We wander! The mother sea is a big place. We explore and find new, hidden things in the sand and depths. Then we come back to the great nest, and share and talk and stuff.”
“It probably was, before we were banned from talking with humans.”
“Banned?” He turned around with a jump away from Alandrial, and she fell down into the water until it was up to her neck. “You’re banned from talking to me?”
She frowned again; which, on her face, looked more like a chipmunk frown. “It was a hundred years ago! It’s dumb. My mom said don’t talk to men, and my sisters only pretend to listen. One of my friends goes out to visit one all the time, and she always comes back smiling.” She shook her head until her blue hair was flowing like waves in the water. “I’m old enough! I wanted ... to meet one too.”
“Oh.” He scratched at his head again, and shrugged. Who was he to argue with a beautiful young mermaid? Especially one that’d saved his life. “I owe you, and I certainly don’t mind the company.”
“Good! But we should really do something about you, you have no food or shelter.”
They spent the day working. Alandrial could only do so much, stuck in the water like she was, but she brought him things like rope and sharp rocks, jetsam from ships. Mostly, it was on him to build the shelter though. Hours went by, him lugging around sticks and branches and whatnot in large bundles. Without a shirt, he scraped skin more often than he wanted, but it didn’t stop him. Carrying around big, heavy things was drawing Alandrial’s eye, and being a stupid young fool, he wanted to impress her.
And they talked. They talked about his life as a fisherman, boring as it was. They talked about her life wandering the ‘mother sea,’ an interesting name for the Caribbean. Apparently, mermaids just wandered the sea, exploring and collecting. The sea was vast, deep, and filled with wonders he could not imagine; it would make for endless exploration. Wanderlust. He envied them.
The sun was setting. He’d managed to build something resembling a roof of sticks, leaves, and rocks. Nearby, he’d built a little fireplace, and found dry tinder for it. The hard part would be starting a fire.
“I’ve never seen fire,” Alandrial said. “My sisters have described it, but it sounds so ... so unreal!”
“Never seen fire?”
“No! I mean, I heard water kills it? I don’t know what that means, or what it looks like, or ... or anything.”
He laughed, and sat down in the sand. Alandrial had crawled up onto the shore to join him, with the gentle splashing of the tide reaching her elbows.
“That makes sense. I’ll try and show you, but without a proper bit of steel or flint, this will be tricky.”
“I’m sorry! I looked, but I couldn’t find any of your sailor knives, or anything shiny and hard like you said, and—”
“It’s ok!” He laughed again, and smiled at the beautiful girl. She was just so damn nice, and energetic, and fun. Her smile was too cute, and anytime it vanished, he found himself trying to bring it back. “I’ll get this working. It’ll just take a while.”
She’d found him some string, thank god, otherwise, this would be borderline impossible. He’d found a nice, hard, bending stick, and he’d tied the string to each end to create a bow. He’d also found a flat board, and he’d cut a small groove into the side of it with a sharp rock. After that, he got another stick, and a rock with a groove in it. The tools were assembled. All that was left was the hard part.
He wrapped the stick in the string of the bow sideways, then jammed one end of the stick into the groove of the board where it rested against the sand and a pile of tinder. He held the stick in place with his rock and left hand, while his right hand held the bow. The stick was stuck between the board and rock, and with the bow’s string wrapped around the stick, moving the bow side to side forced the stick to spin in place between the board and rock.
“We just need to make the stick here rub into the board at the bottom long and hard enough so that it produces some smoke and embers.”
“You’ll see ... hopefully.” And then he got to work.
And work it was. He had to press down on the rock hard enough to force the stick into the groove of the board with enough friction to make it hard to turn the stick. And then he had to turn the stick. The bow he moved side to side as fast as he could, so that it turned the stick it’d wrapped in its string. The harder he pushed down on the rock, the harder it was to turn the stick, but it was the only way to get the friction he needed. So he sawed, and sawed the bow back and forth for a minute, then another minute, and another, until his arm started to burn and he was sure the fire had started in his bicep instead.