The Monster of Triton Bay
by Mark Searle
When Christian had been a young man and his father an old one, Christian's
father had warned him not to fish in Triton Bay. You'll be tempted,
Watch that bay on a calm day with clear sea, and you'll see crabs the
size o' your head packed thick as fleas on a mongrel's leg, and fish
the size o' your arm schooling like starlings. But the tides in that
bay are bad and dangerous. No matter how bad things get, no matter how
tempted ya are, stay away from Triton Bay
But now Christian was the old man. Christian's father hadn't foreseen the
rise of diesel engines, or industrial trawlers, or muck rakes the size of
houses. The "no matter what" his father had warned about didn't include
multinational corporations or the collapse of the cod fisheries. Every year
there were fewer bluefish and cod and pollock, and every year they fetched
less money in the marketplace, and every year Christian's endurance faded
and his eyesight worsened. So, in desperation, he went to Triton Bay.
Now that he was trundling his boat through the bay's choppy waters,
Christian could see why his father had warned him away from the little bay.
The tides were unpredictable, and rip currents kept dragging The Chariot in unexpected and unwanted directions. More than once he
struggled to avoid jagged rocks rising improbably from the middle of what
should have been open water. More than once The Chariot kissed those
rocks, leaving behind paint he couldn't afford to replace. Perhaps
Christian's father had been right to warn him away.
Then again, Christian's father hadn't had a motor boat. Navigating Triton
Bay by sail and rudder and oars would have been suicidal, but The Chariot had a four hundred horsepower diesel engine, and though
it struggled in the bay's rip currents, it was enough for Christian to inch
his way where he wanted to go.
Once Christian had The Chariot in a safe spot, he dropped anchor.
Switching off the engine—every minute of idling engine was another fifty
cents' loss—he took a net and spear from storage and sat on the edge of
the boat, staring down into the choppy waters. The smell of burned diesel
dissipated, replaced by salty tang. Christian set the spear nearby, in case
anything passed nearby, and gave the net a couple of exploratory casts. It
came back empty aside from a couple of strange red fish.
The boat lurched. Christian grabbed the hull tight. The tide had changed
yet again, and The Chariot was moving inland. It was a strong
current, but the anchor ought to hold. Just as Christian was standing to
haul in the anchor, the boat seized to a halt, anchor line caught somewhere
below the waterline, and Christian stumbled and knocked his head against
the cabin door. He swore and checked his forehead—bloody. Just a small
cut, but it bled profusely. Cursing steadily, Christian retrieved a first
aid kit from the cabin and taped some gauze to his head. He considered
cleaning the wound with rubbing alcohol, but there wasn't much left in the
kit and he didn't dare burden his budget buying another one.
He stopped. The boat was moving. Christian ran to the anchor line and
pulled it up. No anchor. Only a frayed end of rope where the anchor should
have been tied. Just his luck.
"Already tempted fate today," Christian said to nobody in particular. "Why
not go all in?" What do I have to lose?
Christian drove The Chariot to the least lethal-looking outcropping
he could find and lashed the boat to the serrated obsidian rock. Again he
sat on the side of the boat with a net and spear. Anemones and seaweed and
a host of gently-undulating crustaceans Christian couldn't identify through
the chop coated the rocky pillar holding The Chariot fast. Schools
of rainbow-colored fish flickered to and fro. Just like the old man said.
Christian flicked his net into the water. This time it entangled a score of
little blue and emerald fish that smelled of sulfur. They were too small to
eat, but the uptown market had buyers who paid extra for variety, so
Christian stuck what he could into an ice chest and cast again.
This time the net was barely into the water before something slammed into
it. The net was out of Christian's hands before he had a chance to react.
His palms burned. Christian yelled wordlessly and looked about desperately
for any sign of the net.
He saw it.
Just a bit, floating on the chop.
The rest was underwater, wrapped around the nose of a shark.
Christian grabbed his spear.
Just before he hit the water, Christian considered that jumping into the
ocean to wrestle a net off of a shark was, perhaps, not the best
decision for a man of his age. But then brine filled his eyes and mouth and
nostrils, and some primal instinct told him that the only way out was
forward. He thrust his spear in the general direction of the shark. The
spear bit into something fleshy and pulled away, threatening to tear from
Not the spear, too. Not today
Christian wrenched the spear free. Something big and white flashed through
the water, and he stabbed at it. Again his spear sunk into flesh. This time
the flesh pushed back and slammed Christian against something hard
and slimy and sharp. Air bubbled from Christian's mouth as tried to pull
the spear lose from the shark, but it just drew the shark closer.
Something was watching him, just close enough to see through the ocean's
murk. Something with a face, not quite human and not quite alien. Detached
curiosity seemed to mingle playfulness on the creature's face, as though it
were idly watching a horse race. Will you survive?
Then the shark thrashed, and Christian could spare no more attention. The
spear came out of Christian's hands, so he grabbed the shark's head and
bashed it against the rocks behind him. The smell of blood filled his nose,
and Christian felt a desperate burn in his chest. He was going to drown. He
grabbed the nearest rock and hauled himself, hoping he was pulling himself
up and not down. Fingers scrabbled over rock and shells and kelp flesh. An
anemone squished under one hand. He nearly lost his purchase when he
accidentally pulled a dinner-plate-sized crab loose from the rock. His leg
caught on a jagged rock and something tore.
Just as Christian was sure he was going to die, his hand breached the
surface. One last haul and his head was above water. He inhaled just as a
wave crested his face and got a lungful of salt for his trouble. He pulled
himself a bit higher on the rock and coughed for a few minutes while he
regained his bearing.
He was alive. He was going to live. The Chariot was nearby. The
shark ... was there too, floating limply against the rock near Christian,
spear stuck in its head.
Christian hauled himself back into The Chariot. Arms burning from
exertion, back burning from little scrapes, and ankles beginning to burn
from old aggravations brought to the surface, he managed to nudge the boat
over to the shark's carcass. He wondered how he could possibly haul the
shark in, and even considered leaving the shark be, until he calculated how
much it would cost to replace his spear and his net and the fuel he'd
burned getting into Triton Bay. As it turned out, his sailor's body, old as
it was, had strength enough to drag the shark onboard. It was about five
and a half feet long, and eggshell white. Together with the little feeder
fish he'd caught earlier, it would pay for the expedition. Barely. The
spear was even intact. The net was ripped through, though.
Christian looked dumbly back into the water, hoping to spot the rest of the
net somehow. Not that he'd be able to—
He jumped back and stumbled to the deck.
The creature was back. He hadn't imagined it. A human watched him hungrily.
No, not human. Definitely not human, now that he had seen it more clearly.
It was human the way a gibbon's face was human. It was stretched too tight,
features too flat, and it had too many colors. And it was big.
Besides, human faces didn't have gills. There had been arms, too, arms as
thick as Christian's legs, with webbed hands like fan coral. The body was
long and pale green, and smooth as a seal. It had none of a seal's blubber,
though. This creature's body was tight and flat and muscular.
Like a shark.
Christian edged himself to the edge of the boat. The creature was gone.
The shark sold well, after a full day's scouring the uptown markets for a
buyer. The small fry didn't. All in all, the haul payed for the trip's
fuel, food, bills for the two days, a new net, a cooler full of ice for the
next expedition, and a fresh first aid kit. The anchor would have to wait.
Christian tried not to think of the creature he'd seen.
On Friday, Christian went back to Triton Bay. This time he caught four
red-striped fish, something the size of a small dog that looked like a
sturgeon but for its deep purple color. He tried to catch some crabs with
his net and spear, but they always scuttled away before he could bring one
He spent most of Saturday in his cottage, reworking old scrap fence into a
crude crab trap, while rain pattered onto the roof and through the roof and
into the buckets he set to collect the drippings. With the sun low in the
sky, he set the trap with bits of mutton and took it out to Triton Bay. He
attached one of his two remaining buoys and let it loose in a calm spot,
hopefully away from whatever had sliced through the anchor rope. That night
he tried cooking up the red-striped fish, but it was bitter and tough and
reminded him of mothballed cloth. He threw the fillets onto ice and forced
down some stove-top-heated canned beans instead.
When Christian came to collect his crab trap on Sunday, the creature was
waiting for him on a nearby rock. There was no denying its human-like
features. Its face had eyes and a mouth and a nose in just about the right
places, and its arms were humanoid aside from the hands. Its torso, too,
mirrored that of a man. It even had nipples on its hard, muscled chest,
absurdly enough. But the creature also bore undeniable features of a
monster. The human-like torso was easily half again as wide as that of the
most muscular sailor Christian had ever seen. Where there should have been
legs, the creature's body tapered into a disturbingly long tail, ribboned
like an eel's. When he passed close enough to start to make out the
creature's facial features, it slipped into the water with barely a splash.
Christian forced himself to ease The Chariot into the bay, checking
the water as he did. The crab trap was full of smooth, fist-sized crabs. He
reset the trap and left without casting a net.
On Monday, Christian stopped in Triton Bay just long enough to check the
crab trap—this time, there was just a single crab whose improbably long
spines had tangled in the trap's entrance, blocking it. Christian had to
snap several of the spines to get the crab free. That evening he brought
the week's catch to the downtown market. The crabs sold well enough, but
his usual buyers refused to touch the strange-smelling striped fish or the
oddly-colored sturgeon, and he had to spend a good hour haggling with a
merchant named Long Wu in broken English to get any money for them.
On Tuesday, something big and sleek swam alongside The Chariot as
Christian drove it to Triton Bay. He tried to tell himself that it was a
dolphin, but he saw enough flashes of arms and teeth to convince himself
otherwise. He lost sight of it deeper into the bay, but he did spot another
shark. This time, he was prepared, and had his spear lashed to The Chariot's port-side cleat like a harpoon. He speared the shark
from safely inside the boat and waited for it to float to the surface.
Between that and a full crab trap, Christian brought in more than enough to
pay for the day's expenses. That night, he counted every dollar he owned
and silently tabulated how long he could keep his boat running and his
If he kept making money as well as he had the last week, he had just over a
Wednesday was bar night in Colton, so when the sun went down, Christian
dutifully drove out to Fresh Fry's Fish and seated himself with the
usual crowd. The oldest of them was his junior by a full two decades, but
they'd all known his late wife, Annabelle, before the cancer, and that made
him family, at least on bar night. As usual, he refused to let them buy him
a dinner, but, also as usual, they all shared fried appetizers with him,
and somehow he found a dark ale in his hands.
The crew shared their stories from the last week while they waited for fish
and crabcakes, as they always did. Bill had a rowdy tale of a competition
gone awry between his shipmates and a rival tug's. Willem's son had gone to
a regional spelling bee. Dylan gave a hard pass on his turn, claiming
nothing of note had happened.
It came Christian's time to speak. He drank a mouthful of ale and noticed
it was halfway gone.
"Saw a ..." his voice caught. He coughed and started again. "Saw a merman
"No shit," said Bill. "Those divers out in your neck of the woods? They're
somethin' else, 'specially with those ..."
"Shut yer trap, Bill. I saw a merman. A real live merman."
The other men glanced between each other awkwardly. Bill looked like he
wanted to chuckle, but wasn't sure if he should. Christian heard, for the
first time that night, the rock tune playing from the bar radio. Then Red
Joe said "So ... can I get what fish you been eatin'?" and the men laughed.
Christian thought it sounded a little forced.
"It was big, and long, like an anaconda or somethin'. And it's hands, they
weren't right ..." but nobody was listening to him anymore, and Red Joe
launched into his own tale of the week. Christian settled back into his
chair and let it go.
Three more weeks passed this way. Christian started regularly catching
jellyfish, which Long Wu paid decently for. He would never put away money
on jellyfish alone, but they were a steady source of cash that at least
made every day feel like it had not been a waste. Other prey were less
reliable. Sometimes he brought back more strangely-colored fish, and
occasionally hard, jointed things with no eyes and too many arms. More
often he came home with nothing but jellyfish and a couple of crabs. It was
better money than he'd been making on cod, and Christian thought it might
become enough to keep him afloat once he learned the ways of the creatures
of Triton Bay.
He saw the merman again, more than once, though never closely. Mostly it
kept its distance, watching him from the natural cover of rippling
sea-foam. Once, it darted right under The Chariot, bumping it with a
knock just hard enough that Christian couldn't fool himself into thinking
it was just ocean chop.
The next bar night, Christian told the other men about the merman again.
The others nodded and smiled. Late in the night, when they were walking
back to their respective trucks, Dylan stopped Christian and asked if,
perhaps, he might have considered moving out of the cottage and into town,
just in case he needed looking in on one of these days. Christian put a
stop to that nonsense notion and drove back home, his head a wordless roil.
For a solid week, Christian fished Triton Bay without sighting the
One day, while sailing home with a meager catch of jellyfish and some kind
of flat, long-spined flounder, Christian spotted somebody lying on the
beach beneath his cottage. That was unusual enough—beach and cottage alike
were far from any tourist hotspots, and the pebbly beach was uncomfortable
and cold enough that visitors rarely made repeat visits. Whoever this was
didn't look like a typical beachgoer, either—they looked completely naked,
and sprawled at an awkward angle just inside the wave line.
Christian brought The Chariot as near as he dared to the shore,
dropped a freshly-acquired anchor in the shallow surf—it ought to
find purchase somewhere in those pebbles—and jumped out to see if the
intruder needed help.
As he neared the body, Christian's perspective flipped with a lurch.
Whoever was on his beach was farther up-beach than he'd thought, and was
much bigger than he'd thought. He felt the bottom drop out of his stomach
as his head filled with a notion he dared not put to words.
There was no denying it up close. The man was completely hairless, smooth
as a porpoise, and eerily tall, maybe seven feet from head to toe—truly
toe, as the thing's body had legs and feet not unlike Christian's own,
aside from the little black claws where it should have had toenails. But
hadn't it had a tail before? Surely no swimmer's legs could propel it as
quickly or gracefully as Christian had seen. Yet there he lay, with legs.
Its hands, too, belied Christian's memory. They certainly were not
normal—they were tipped with reptilian claws, and the fingers were webbed.
But that webbing was gossamer, almost clear, not the distinct thick-veined
net Christian remembered.
But Christian needed only look at the merman's face to know it was the same
that had stalked his boat ever since he'd dared enter Triton Bay. Its eyes
were too far apart, and the shape of the pupil was subtly wrong, and
its iris practically glowed sea-green. Where it should have had ears, the
merman had only two pairs of backwards-facing fleshy folds; where he should
have had teeth, he had fangs.
Just as Christian was looking about for some way to move the creature back
into the water, it screamed. At least, it tried. Its voice was
feeble and thin, like a hoarse child's. It rolled its head towards
Christian and gaped. Weakly, it held its hand in front of its face, then
threw its arm toward Christian, palm open. Christian couldn't read the
merman's piscine facial expression, but there was no mistaking its body
Christian lost it. He grabbed his own hair in double handfulls and laughed
erratically. He paced the beach and caught his breath, but the creature
remained, stubbornly existing, weak and possibly dying and definitely
asking for his help.
Before he really knew what he was doing, Christian found himself back at
his cottage, rummaging through his little attached shed for anything that
could be used to move a seven-foot-tall man-fish from the beach up to dry
land. He settled on a roll of chain-link fencing and a bundle of sturdy
rope. It wouldn't be comfortable, but it would get the creature to where he
could do more good for it.
Christian lay the fencing out beside the creature. Touching it, he
discovered its skin wasn't just wet, it was slimy, like a slug. His
hand came away with a slightly sticky film that quickly dried in the sea
breeze. He expected a fishy smell, but it only smelled vaguely of seaweed.
Bracing himself, Christian rolled him onto the fence—no, no, rolled her onto the fence. Though it's nipples lay flat on a flat chest, it
was decidedly more woman than man. Unless it was more fish than either? But
no, the creature had the labia of a maid, or Christian wasn't a sailor.
It took the better part of an hour, but Christian hauled the mermaid back
to his cottage. It—she—did not resist, only curling up and screaming
silently. When the pebbles turned to stones, she panted quick, darting
breaths and shut her eyes tightly. Christian tried not to think about her
Getting the mermaid into the house took almost as long as the entire trip
from the beach, but he was able to half-haul, half-drag her inside and into
his bathtub. Blessedly, it was a large tub, but the mermaid's head and feet
still dangled off the ends until she curled into a fetal mass.
Christian sat heavily next to the tub to catch his breath. He hadn't
carried that much weight at once since before his hair had turned grey.
Vaguely, he realized that his shirt was soaked through with the mermaid's
mucus, so he stripped it off. The mermaid's eyes tracked the movement.
"Don't worry, I'm not gonna hurt ya'. It's just a shirt." He held the shirt
close to the mermaid for its inspection. Could it smell him on it? Could it
smell at all? "See? Just a shirt. I'm not skinning anyone tonight." The
mermaid looked at the shirt blankly, then back at his chest.
"I guess you'll be needing to be wet," Christian mumbled. He stood and
turned on the shower, but the mermaid twisted uncomfortably under the
water. Christian turned it off. "Goddamned seafolk, of course you
need salt water ..."
Christian hosed down his fish-cleaning washbasin, dragged it down to the
ocean, and dragged it back up to the cottage filled with seawater. The sky
was deep maroon by the time he got back, and he had to turn on a lamp
inside to keep from stumbling in the dark. The mermaid was still there,
curled up in the bathtub. She relaxed slightly when Christian poured
seawater over it, still watching Christian's every move. The water was only
a few inches deep, and the mermaid struggled weakly to roll herself through
the water, but Christian was too exhausted to consider dragging the tub
back to the beach. Instead, he made an unceremonious sandwich of sliced ham
and American cheese, and ate it while he pondered the mermaid. When she
noticed him watching, she met his eyes and froze. When he offered her some
of the sandwich, she wriggled away and flapped her mouth wordlessly, so he
finished the meaty sandwich himself, flipped off the cottage's lights, and
went to bed.
Just short of sleep, he rose with a start and closed all of the cottage
windows' shutters. Later, he dreamed of monsters tearing at his arms.
In the morning, Christian awoke with a start, fumbled on shoes, and ran to
the sea without bothering to put on a shirt. Luckily, The Chariot
hadn't drifted too far out, and he'd moored it to the beach at low tide, so
it hadn't beached either. He guided it back to his dock and shuffled back
to the cottage for breakfast.
The mermaid was still in Christian's bathtub. It—she—was curled up tightly
on her side, sleeping soundly. Christian fetched a can of soup from the
cupboard, cut it open, and took it to his little kitchen table with a
spoon. He hadn't really noticed before, but his arms ached, his back hurt
dully, and his ankles insisted he sit still for a while. He hoped he
wouldn't have to carry a mermaid again for a while.
Normally Christian would have showered after his morning meal. He sat
watching the surf instead. He realized he didn't know why he'd brought the
mermaid to his house. There was nothing in his cottage that could help an
ill or injured mermaid. He didn't even know what she ate, if she
ate. It had just seemed the right thing to do.
He stood too quickly and regretted it. He massaged some life into his limbs
and walked the kitchen a few times, just to remind his bones how to walk.
Then he stuffed as many different foods into a pot as he could fit and took
them to the bathroom, along with his spare towel.
The mermaid must have heard him rummaging around. She was awake, and
halfway through a slow roll to turn herself towards him. When he walked in,
she looked in his eyes and froze, unblinking. He set the toilet lid down
and sat next to her, eyes locked uncomfortably long. He looked away.
Mumbling his pardon, he covered as much of the mermaid's body as he could
with the towel. It was only just big enough to cover both her loins and
breasts—such as they were—and she made no motion to help preserve her
modesty, so Christian settled for covering her lower torso.
He offered her bread, which she ignored. Cheese fared no better. Raw
mutton, she at least looked at, and sniffed at vaguely, but she showed no
intent to eat it, or even grab it. When offered a handful of cereal, the
mermaid took a few pieces and rolled them around in her hand before
crushing them softly between two fingers and watching the crumbs fall with
wide eyes. She took a cup of water when offered, and poured it gently over
her smoothly muscled body. She did the same with orange juice. Christian
demonstrated how to drink from a cup; the mermaid took the next cup of
water, opened her mouth, and poured the water all over her face before
looking back at him and handing back the cup.
Christian had another sinking feeling. He took back the cup and the pot of
foodstuffs and lugged them back to the kitchen. Reluctantly, he went to the
ice chest and selected the smallest fish he had.
When she saw them, the mermaid's eyes widened, her mouth opened, and she
reached vaguely toward him. Christian handed her the fish and she tore it
apart sweetly with her fangs, swallowing flesh, guts, and bones in turn.
When she was done, she gaped wide to him and made a sound somewhere between
a sigh and a laugh. Was it pleasure? Amusement? Hunger?
Christian noticed for the first time that she had no tongue.
"Well," he said, "there's more like that out there. If I can bring 'em in."
He started to reach to pat the mermaid on the shoulder. She tracked the
movement with eyes and teeth. He thought better of it, and stood.
Christian relieved himself by the tree line, bathed himself in the sea,
and, still feeling vaguely unwashed, set sail for Triton Bay. His arms and
legs were sore and weak, but slowly he brought in a good haul of
phosphorescent jellyfish and a trap full of impressively green crabs. He
wondered if Long Wu would buy the mermaid, and at what price. He thought of
the dried creatures Long Wu kept behind the counter, of the jars of sharks'
eyes and urchin spines and coiled, brined intestines, and of the scent of
scales and old herbs that didn't quite mask ethanol and formaldehyde. Yes,
Long Wu would certainly buy the mermaid.
That night was bar night. When it came time to tell his week's tale,
Christian told the younger men that he'd found a mermaid on the beach and
brought her home.
"Ooooh, it's a mermaid, now?" said Red Joe. "Life's lookin' up,
"I don't know," said Bill, "if you couldn't tell if it was a he or a she,
it wasn't a she. Sounds like you've had one too many mouthfulls 'a
seawater." he leaned back with a beer and spun his finger around his
"Eh, knock it off, Bill," Red Joe replied. "Let a man have his, uh,
mermaid. So what'd she call herself?"
"I, uh, she doesn't have one. Doesn't talk. Got no tongue."
Willem leaned forward. "Well, what'd you name her, then?"
Christian felt his face go red behind his beard. "Didn't think to."
"Well, that ain't right. What should we call her?"
"How 'bout Annabelle?" said Raphael from down the table. Bill slapped him
in the chest with the back of his hand and shut him up with a scowl. The
other men grimaced and looked away from Raphael.
"Maybe Mary?" Suggested Dylan.
"Nah, tha's a barmaid's name, not a mermaid's name," said Red Joe.
"Mermaid's a special thing, oughta have a special name. Josalynda, or
Esperantamindy or somethin' else fancy-like."
"Maybe Anastasia? That's a special name."
"Ruby, like a jewel!"
"Stupid, if she's a jewel she gotta be Emerald, like the sea."
"Sea's Sapphire, Red Joe, everyone knows that."
"You ever seen a sea'd look like sapphires, boy?"
"Hey Bill, you been awful quiet. Whadya think we name Christian's mermaid?"
Bill took a serious swig from his mug and nodded thoughtfully.
Willem snorted beer.
"What?" asked Bill, righteously. "Christian here couldn't even tell 'er
from a merman, kept tellin' us all 'bout the 'Merman of Triton Bay'. I was
practically callin' it Dariel already."
"How 'bout 'Ariel'?" suggested Dylan. "Ariel's a good name."
Bill shrugged. "Close enough."
Christian smiled faintly. "Ariel it is."
"A toast then, to Ariel! Merman of Triton Bay!"
After dinner, Christian drove to the cheapest discount market he could find
with a clothing department. They didn't have any dresses that looked like
they wouldn't split if Ariel tried to put them on, or large enough pants
that Christian could afford. So he bought a secondhand (or perhaps
thirdhand) cloth trench-coat and a the largest pair of cotton boxers he
"Sorry, Ariel," he muttered as the cashier checked him out.
He half expected the mermaid to be gone when he returned home, but she was
still in the tub, stroking her arms gently, claws leaving barely-visible
trails in her skin-slime. The towel he'd given her earlier was heaped
carelessly beside the tub. It was slightly damp with mucus and smelled of
fish bones. Sighing, Christian filled his wash basin with clean water and
left the towel to soak.
Putting on the boxers was difficult. Ariel didn't shy from his touch, but
she squirmed with obvious discomfort and made no move to help him. The coat
was even more difficult. Again, she didn't exactly fight him—it occurred
dully to Christian that even weakened, the mermaid could probably rip the
face from his flesh with her claws and crack his skull between her forearms
and biceps—but he had to guide her every movement to get the sleeves on her
arms and had to lift her torso bodily to get the trench-coat inside the
tub. All in all, the coat hung more like a long vest than a coat. He tried
to button it closed, but Ariel pushed him away gently, but firmly.
Dinner was roasted mutton for Christian. He brought Ariel a can of
sardines, which she scooped into her mouth without particular haste or
passion. When she scraped the empty bottom of the can with her claws and
licked what scraps she could pry out, Christian gave her another can. This,
too, she ate methodically.
When the lights were out and Christian lay in bed, he thought he heard a
whistling, raspy sound from the bathroom. He chose to believe it was song
and fell asleep. He dreamed of Long Wu. The merchant leafed through a stack
of bills, counting aloud, so Christian removed his finger and handed it
over. More bills were counted, and so went an ear, his teeth, one after
another, a shoulder bone, a liver, his shriveled cock. Finally, when the
merchant was satisfied and grinning, Christian took his money out of the
market and counted it.
The next morning, Christian found Ariel still in her tub, naked and very
much awake, eyes and mouth wide. Her clothes lay rumpled on the tile floor.
Christian gave her his last can of sardines and fed her bait fish until she
stopped scratching the empty can.
This time, before heading out to fish, Christian tried speaking with her.
He introduced himself and offered a hand to shake. Ariel leaned forward to
smell it, then tried to lean out of the tub toward him, but she still could
not hold her body's weight up for more than a few seconds.
"I'm Christian," said Christian. He pointed at himself vigorously. Ariel
mimicked the gesture. "No, I'm Christian. Me Christian! You're
Ariel. Ariel. Can you say Ariel? No, of course not. Damn it to hell in a
handbasket." Ariel took this all in with a blank gaze.
"Can you even understand me?" asked Christian. "Nod if you can understand
me. Christ, do mermaids even nod?" Ariel did not.
Christian brought Ariel a pen and a retail magazine, along with a cutting
board to write on. He pointed to himself and said his name, then wrote it
down on the magazine and handed it to Ariel. She picked up the pen, and his
heart leaped. But she just looked at the pen, turning it in her hands. He
guided her hand—and she let him—to hold the pen correctly. She bit off the
back of the pen with a crack, and startled at the resulting spray of
ink. Her face and neck were spattered black before he could wrest the pen
away. She took the magazine and flipped it about with some apparent
fascination, though she showed no awareness that it had contents. It didn't
take long for her skin oils to glue the magazine's pages into sticky
masses, but Ariel seemed undeterred.
After an hour or more of attempted communication, Christian gave up. He
didn't know how to talk to an alien, and she didn't seem interested in
meeting him halfway.
When he collected his crab trap that day, he found it empty and smashed
open, the front ripped away.
Christian settled into something of a routine. First thing in the morning,
he would clothe Ariel in her trench-coat vest and boxers. Then he would
haul fresh seawater up from the shore to moisten Ariel's skin, then bathe
in his corrugated washtub. Breakfast was as many sardines as Christian
could afford, and even then Ariel sucked down an alarming portion of his
catch. Before leaving to fish or go to market, Christian would clean up
after Ariel's messes and would give her a magazine or flashlight or some
other thing to play with. In the evening, he would re-clothe her again, fix
them both dinner, and sleep. The next morning, Ariel's clothes would be all
over the floor and the routine began again.
Ariel's health improved day after day. At first, she could barely roll over
or sit upright. After a few days, she did both with ease. Soon, she could
stand, first fleetingly, then for a minutes at a time. A day after that,
she crawled out of her tub, with great difficulty, and crawled about the
cottage. It took several days to master walking, but soon she was walking
about on her own, if tentatively. Always she returned to the bathtub,
though whether for the familiarity or the support or the salt water,
Christian couldn't tell.
It wasn't long before Ariel found the fish cooler, and one day Christian
came home to find her gaping at the kitchen table and half of his catch
gone. In a rage, he pushed her into the bathroom and closed the door, then
stormed out of the house and bought a lock for the cooler. Only later did
he realize how foolish he had been to manhandle a seven-foot-tall sea
With time, Ariel spent more time in the cottage's tiny kitchen and the main
room where Christian kept his bed. When Christian sat down for breakfast,
Ariel came lumbering out to join him, head almost scraping the ceiling. The
first time, she tried awkwardly to use a chair, but ended up sprawled on
the floor. Christian finished his breakfast, cleaned up the chair, and went
out to fish; when he came back, he found both of his chairs covered in
Ariel's musky residue. The next morning, she sat across the table from him
for breakfast as though it were the most natural thing in the world.
One day, Christian came home to a splashing commotion coming from the
bathroom. He rushed in and found Ariel in her tub, naked, as usual, with
one hand sloshing between her legs and the other gripping the edge of her
tub. She startled when she saw him, and quickly rolled away, curled up, and
lay still. Christian closed the door and decided to take a walk on the
beach. Ariel didn't come out that evening.
Christian spent most of the next day at the uptown markets. His stranger
catches sold well, but Long Wu was starting to refuse his jellyfish. When
he got home, he counted his money again and tallied out his earnings from
the last week. It wasn't good. With the extra fish Ariel was eating, he was
spending money faster than he could fish it out of the sea. He stopped
using hot water, and started burning driftwood for light after dark.
The next day, Christian tried leaving the door of the cottage open. She
could see the sea from anywhere in the kitchen, no doubt about it. When he
came home, the door was still open and Ariel was still in her bathtub.
Christian woke in the middle of that night, clammy with cold sweat. All he
could see was the wooden wall of the cabin, and all he could hear was surf
and crickets, but his instincts told him to be still as possible, and he
had not become an old sailor by ignoring his instincts. So he lay unmoving,
breathing shallowly, listening to the night, waiting for his heart to slow
What was that sound? Christian stiffened involuntarily and heard his pulse
pound. What was the sound? There it was again! A hiss! Gentle and quiet,
but close, like ...
Christian flipped around and screamed quietly—Ariel was there, right there, kneeling beside his bed, face full of fangs and
glinting pupils no more than a foot from his own. Her shoulders filled his
view. Every muscle in his body wanted to run away, and he stupidly
gripped his blankets tightly against himself.
But Ariel backed away at Christian's scream, and she unfolded herself
smoothly from the floor and backed away towards the bathroom, watching him
over her shoulder as she left.
Christian lay still for a long time. Had it been a dream? No, surely not.
If so, then he would wake if he tried to get up, right? He stood and paced
the room once and made himself a cup of cold tea in the moonlight. It was
quiet. Ariel was silent. He considered trying to sleep again, but the
thought made him shiver. Instead he went outside, and spent the time until
sunrise stripping apart and straightening wire fencing for the crab trap.
Emboldened by sunlight, Christian took Ariel to The Chariot after
clothing her. He did it delicately, a few steps at a time at first, until
she understood that he was taking her somewhere and followed of her own
accord. Christian made her lay down in the boat, out of sight. That was
difficult. He had to push her, gently, onto the deck. It took several
attempts for her to figure out what he wanted, but then she didn't resist.
When he went to switch on the engine, Ariel started to sit back up again,
so Christian put a hand on her partially-covered chest and pushed her down
into the deck until she stayed there. He noticed her breath quickening
under his touch and flinched away.
When she finally stayed down, Christian fired up The Chariot and
steered her out towards Triton Bay. After a while, Ariel grew bored and sat
up. By that time, Christian figured they were well out of sight of the
shore, so he let her stretch.
Then they were in the Bay, rocking in the light, choppy way typical of the
Bay's waves. Christian idled the engine and stood over Ariel. Sometime
between leaving the dock and arriving in the Bay, she'd shed her coat.
"Stand up," he said. "Get up. C'mon."
Ariel gaped up at him. Not much up, though—even sitting, she was barely
shorter than he. He grabbed her shoulder and pulled gently. By some
miracle, she understood and rose to her feet.
"Well?" he said. He gestured vaguely at the Bay's waters. She followed his
gaze, looked around, and looked back at Christian, mouth still open in that
Christian folded his arms. "You have to go back home now. I can't keep you.
I can't keep feedin' you. I need my bathtub back. I need my home back." She
made no move to leave. "Well? Go!" he yelled, pointing vigorously away from
Ariel mimicked the gesture, wheezing as loudly as she could.
"No, dammit, you can't stay." He put both hands on her naked chest,
just below her collarbone, and pushed. He felt her ribcage flex
inhumanly, and she stumbled back, blinking. "You have to go."
Another shove. Ariel slipped and hit the rail with the small of her back,
catching herself with both hands. "You have to leave."
One more shove, and Ariel pinwheeled ungracefully into the sea, eyes wide.
It was done. Christian realized he was breathing heavily. He steadied
himself on the cockpit bulkhead, caught his breath, and wiped his brow. He
felt a great tension slowly ease out of his chest. When he was ready, he
made his way into the cockpit. That was enough of Triton Bay for one day;
he had a crab trap to repair.
But just as he was revving up The Chariot's engines to leave, the
boat lurched violently, and there was a thump from aft.
"The hell was ...?"
Christian turned to find Ariel, standing in the back of the boat, mouth
even wider than usual. He stormed to the back of the boat. What was she
yelling? No, she wasn't yelling, she was laughing. Quietly as a
kitten's sneeze, she was laughing.
Christian stopped dead. There was a fish at Ariel's feet. It was deep
purple, thick and muscular as a swordfish, and had more fins than Christian
thought possible. And it was huge—a good three feet from beak to tail, and
as tall as Ariel was wide. Ariel kicked the fish toward Christian and
leaned back against the rail, laughing her alien hiss.
Christian crouched over the fish and held it down, with some difficulty. It
felt thick and meaty, and smelled vaguely of cod. It wouldn't bring in
quite as much as the sturgeon-thing he'd caught in his first days in the
Bay ... but it had taken him hours to catch the sturgeon-thing. Ariel had
found this fish, caught it, subdued it, and brought it into the boat in a
matter of minutes.
He looked back at Ariel. She looked at him and leaned back out over the
He approached her cautiously. She'd hauled a fifty-kilo fish into his boat,
straight out of the water, without a second thought. Was approaching her
wise? Christian briefly considered grabbing his spear from the cockpit. But
Ariel didn't move to attack. She just leaned back out over the water, torso
Christian steadied his trembling hands, put them slowly but firmly between
Ariel's nipples, and pushed. This time she helped, and her fall was more
graceful than not.
Christian returned to his cottage with his ice chest more than full. When
they landed, Ariel strode back to the cottage with an energy Christian had
not seen from her before. Christian lugged his haul—Ariel's haul—behind
her. For dinner, Christian roasted a mutton leg with mint. He pulled a
tasty-looking fish from the ice chest (a lithe, red thing with more aroma
than he liked) and offered it to her, but she pushed it back at him. For you. Instead, she fetched three sardine cans from the cabinet
and cracked them open with her claws.
The next day Christian had to take the catch to market—he couldn't store
any more fish. He spent a long while bargaining with Long Wu, eventually
getting the merchant to agree to a price markup on the condition that he
bring his wares to Long Wu first in the future.
There wasn't much sunlight left when he got back, but he took Ariel to
Triton Bay anyway. Each dive she brought back some new, different fish. On
her fourth, she spent a long time underwater, eventually returning with a
brilliantly-colored, striped urchin the size of a watermelon. After that,
he turned The Chariot back towards home, and Ariel lounged on the
deck until they reached the cottage.
After sunset, Christian went downtown and bought a 7-foot basin tub. The
interior was cold and rough compared to his bathtub, but when Ariel saw it
she immediately jumped in and writhed with pleasure at the extra leg room.
He moved ocean water from the bathtub to Ariel's new tub, one bucketful at
a time, then went to bed.
He awoke the next morning to see Ariel staring at him from her new wash
tub. She held his gaze for a while, then sank into her water and bubbled
For a few more days, Ariel continued to bring in fish for Christian. In
return, he bought her proper fish from the marketplace, and several
different meats to try. With some insistence, he convinced her to try
several, but she seemed displeased by all but veal. One day, on a whim, he
bought some fermented cabbage while he was selling in the uptown markets.
Ariel devoured the cabbage with relish.
Christian also bought more magazines for Ariel to play with. She had
learned to lay them on a table or floor and could turn the pages by
scraping them gently with a single claw. She would flip from picture to
picture, ignoring pages with too many words, gawking unblinkingly at
whatever she saw, especially the pictures of people. When she lay on the
floor, she would run her fingers ceaselessly through the little shag rug
Christian kept there to keep his feet warm, and soon she'd left a little
cake of dried mucus in the carpet. When she grew bored of the magazines'
pictures, she crunched, flopped, and tore at their pages. Sometimes she
would shred them; sometimes she would run the pages between her
Even after the expenses of moving Ariel out of his bathroom and reclaiming
his bathtub, Christian found himself with more cash than he knew what to do
with. He stashed enough under a floorboard for three months' fuel,
electricity, and water. More went toward rope to replace the fraying anchor
line. In a fit of luxury, he started buying his own dinners on bar night.
He even bought lumber and shingling and took a day to repair the leaks in
Just as well—the very next day, it rained for the first time since Ariel's
arrival. She plastered her face on the kitchen glass and watched the rain
patter until Christian opened the front door to go out to the boat. She
reveled in the rain all the way to the water. She rolled around the boat
all the way to Triton Bay, and when they reached the Bay, Christian worried
whether her dancing might capsize the boat. She wrestled a massive,
double-sail-finned fish into The Chariot and spent the rest of the
afternoon dancing her strange, arrhythmic dances. When she was tired, she
lay on the deck and stretched her arms out to Christian. He smiled and
thanked her and praised her for her good catch.
On the way back, Ariel surprised Christian by joining him in the cockpit.
She had to hunch to not bang her head on the ceiling. He was even more
surprised when he felt her clawed hand on his shoulder and her slightly
sticky body press gently against his back. He smelled fresh fish. He pulled
his arms against himself and focused on manning the ship's wheel. Her hand
strayed down his arm, slicking against his working coat. Just stay calm, he thought. Don't encourage her. Ariel's
other arm reached around his body and, before he could react, pulled him
gently against her.
"No, Ariel, that's not right."
He squirmed, testing her grip, and a prickle of fear washed down his spine.
She ran her other hand down to his waist. She whispered something alien and
rasping, and smoothly ran her hand under Christian's working coat, under
his trousers, against his skin, reaching down his stomach and between his
legs. Christian recoiled from the touch of cold slime and sharp claw tips
against his abdomen and pushed Ariel away. He retreated across the cockpit
and looked for his spear—it was behind Ariel—but Ariel made no attempt to
follow. Mouth sealed in a thin line, she backed away from Christian and
retreated to the deck.
Christian locked the cockpit hatch as quickly as he could with his hands
shaking, then checked himself for injury. Aside from a long, thin scratch
where he'd cut himself on one of Ariel's claws, he was fine. He kept an eye
on Ariel on the way home, and refused to leave the boat until she'd gone
partway up to the cottage.
After that, Ariel's enthusiasm for fishing waned day by day, and her
catches shrank. First it was less of the usual, fancifully ornate fish.
Then she brought only ordinary fish, pollock and scup in abundance, with
none of the unique prizes that drove Long Wu wild. One day, she simply
snatched a baitfish from the sea from the back of The Chariot, and
tossed it pointedly at Christian's aft cockpit window.
Between fueling The Chariot and feeding and entertaining Ariel it
didn't take long for Christian's buffer of money to run dry, and he had to
pry his savings back out from under the cottage's floorboard. He considered
cutting off her supply of magazines, but he needed her predatory skills and
didn't dare distress her, not if he was going to keep her around. Perhaps
he could be rid of her and go back to fishing alone. But how? He considered
cutting off her supply of food ... but then he remembered her nail-sharp
little teeth and thought better of it. He considered the spear ... but then
he remembered the leaks in his roof and the bar nights spent hungry, and
thought better of that too.
Ariel grew despondent. One day, she refused to step out of her tub in the
morning. Christian stubbornly went through his morning routine anyway. He
made it as far as the deck of The Chariot before going back to Ariel
with a weary sigh.
"Okay, Ariel," he said. "How do I get you happy?"
He knelt next to her tub. She glanced at him and turned away, but her mouth
was slightly open, not set in a line—that was a good sign. He put a hand on
her arm experimentally. It was rubbery, and slick with water and mucus. At
first touch, it sucked the warmth from his flesh, but he felt heat deeper
under the skin. He squeezed her gently, massaging a bit. Her muscles were
taut as steel wire at first, but she relaxed as he rubbed. She relaxed into
the tub and turned toward him slightly. He put both hands on her arm and
massaged more forcefully. She turned more and slipped his hands onto her
What would a mermaid want? Christian didn't know. But he remembered what a
maid might want, and ran his hands up and down the middle of her chest, and
a bit away from her nipples, where the edges of breasts might have been on
a human body. Ariel's breath quickened. Watching closely, he moved one hand
to her nipple and brushed against it. He was suddenly aware of the
callouses on his hands and the grime of sea work underneath his
fingernails. But Ariel wasn't watching his fingernails—her eyes were closed
now, and her mouth was open, and her nipple responded to his touch.
Christian gradually applied more pressure, and Ariel arched her back
slightly against his touch. Her strange, complicated eyelids unfurled and
she glanced at him before looking away. Her breath sped even more.
Bracing himself mentally, and physically against the tub, Christian slid a
hand down Ariel's stomach. She arched more and more rapidly, sending
ripples through the inches of saltwater in the wash tub. Her labia were
slimy and hairless, like the rest of her. Otherwise, Christian found the
feel of it surprisingly humanlike, disconcertingly familiar, like seeing
the face of a loved one in a distorted mirror.
Ariel pressed once against his hand, then curled her legs and body around
his wrist and reached for him with an embrace. Christian panicked and fell
backwards, and Ariel retreated into the tub.
"Sorry," Christian mumbled. "I'm ... I'm sorry."
Christian went out to the ocean, where he scrubbed his hands in tidal brine
against the rocks. She joined him after a while and stepped into The Chariot, laying in her usual position until Christian piloted
them out of the beach. She caught him a few fish that day, spending much
more time in the sea than Christian knew she needed to subdue her prey.
Christian gave Ariel two more days. She didn't improve.
After bringing his meager catch to market, Christian asked Long Wu if he
knew an herbalist. Long Wu sent him downtown to a old, whiskered man with a
shop full of glass bottles, some filled with leaves and grasses and
mushrooms, others with gauze and dropper vials and pills. The old man—a
pharmacist, according to his graying coat—greeted Christian in singsongy,
practiced English, taking his hand and promising cures for all ailments.
Perhaps something for his back? Or an ointment for sore joints? Inflamed
ankles, maybe? Or a tea for forgetting old woes? Christian asked for
something to please a lady, and the wrinkled herbalist fetched him a bottle
of prescription sildenafil. Money changed hands, and the old man made
Christian promise to come back before he let him leave.
Christian considered buying a beer on the way home. Or something stronger.
Or perhaps a lot of beers. But alcohol would stunt his senses and make his
There was still some light left when Christian arrived home. Christian
didn't want light, so he went down to The Chariot and scrubbed salt
off the cockpit until sundown.
When there was no longer a plausible reason to stay outside, Christian
wandered back up the beach to his cottage. He pulled the pharmacist's
bottle from his jacket and tipped out a pink, triangular pill. He briefly
considered washing it down with a handful of seawater, but swallowed it dry
instead. He reached the door but couldn't find it in himself to open it, so
he walked around the cottage, noting where it needed paint and where
caulking had flaked from around window frames. It didn't take long to
arrive back at the door.
He opened it and stepped inside.
It was dark inside. Christian pulled aside the ocean-side curtains, letting
in enough meager moonlight to at least see the shape of the room. It was
warm. That was good. That would help. It was quiet, too, but not
silent—Christian could barely hear Ariel's steady, whistling snore above
the noise of surf. He was grateful that she was asleep.
Christian unlaced his boots and set them at the foot of his bed as quietly
as he could. His socks followed, and then he unlatched his suspenders and
peeled off his pants. With the nakedness he felt the first stirrings of
arousal. With it rose disgust, but he quashed that and tried to recall
nights sleeping alongside Annabelle. He pulled down his boxers slowly and
felt his penis rise in the dark. He let one hand slide along his shaft
while he unbuttoned his shirt with the other.
Ariel was still snoring.
How did he think this was going to work? He was a man, and not a young one,
and she was basically a fish with a face. She had no more hair than a
lizard, less breast than most men, and where her skin should have been warm
and reassuring it was sticky with mucus. But he reminded himself of the
feel of Ariel's labia under his fingertips, and the arch of her back when
he touched her chest. No, she was more woman than fish, and she was a woman
who wanted him.
He had known that for some time, he realized. Saying it, even if only in
his mind, to himself, changed the idea, from something shameful under the
muck into something that, if still dirty, glimmered under the grime. Didhe want her? It didn't matter. He needed her. She wanted him, and he needed her. Maybe that would be
The shirt slipped off. He pulled off his undershirt after it, taking his
time, feeling his chest and arms as he did so. He was shocked by the
looseness of his skin—when he'd last made love, he'd had the skin of a
youth, though he hadn't thought of himself as one at the time, and somehow
he still expected himself to have that body. The muscles were still strong
and thick, taut under that skin, though. What would a creature like Ariel
think of body hair? Would it irritate her? Scrape away her mucus? Perhaps
he should shave himself first. But if he did everything he thought might be
best, he would never touch her.
He stood and stretched and thought Ariel's desire for him, of that desire
in her face, in her gaze. It was difficult, so he thought of Ariel with a
pair of human eyes—with Annabelle's eyes—and full lips, parted just a
little instead of in the ridiculous gape that she smiled with.
He went to her tub.
She was still asleep. He could see her outline now, glinting and shimmering
slightly in the moonlight, even more than the seawater she rested in. There
was a mineral beauty to her in that light, like moonstone in a coal mine.
He put a hand on her shoulder. She woke gently and turned toward him, and
he cupped her jaw in his other hand. It was sticky and yielding under his
hand, and when he tried to slide it over her face, his hand skipped
uncomfortably. Ariel dipped her head and arms down into the tub's water,
slicking her skin smooth, and now Christian's hand glided from jaw to chin
to neck. Ariel shivered. Christian tried to ignore the fish-smell of her
Christian slid his other hand from her shoulder to her side—she obligingly
lifted her arm out of the way—and he stepped into the wash tub with her.
The water was surprisingly warm—Ariel slept hot. She was too wide to keep
his legs wrapped around comfortably, so he let his hips rest on her torso,
with his legs fully supported by her body. His erection slid across her
skin, and he heard Ariel inhale deeply. He embraced her and she embraced
Acting on instinct now, Christian pushed himself forward and kissed Ariel.
For a moment, she surprised him with a forceful response. Her mouth tasted
of ferment and oceanic bile and rotten crab, and his tongue met something
like a tongue in Ariel's mouth, something small and nub-like and tasting of
snot. After no more than a second, Christian and Ariel mutually jerked
away. Christian ran his mouth along his shoulder, trying to rid himself of
the taste. For her part, Ariel turned aside and discretely swished a
mouthful of seawater.
When they returned to each others' focus, they explored each others' bodies
smoothly and gently. He wrapped his arms all the way around her, and
couldn't quite touch his fingertips together until she exhaled. He let his
head rest against her chest and pretended the slickness was massage oil.
She ran the tip of a tiny claw down his spine, from neck to nape to
tailbone, pressing just enough to dimple the skin but not enough to hurt.
The shivering sensation melded him to her, and he felt himself harden
again. She moved her torso and he slid against her, arousing him further.
His shin slipped between her legs and they wrapped around him. He slid his
leg and felt a different kind of warmth and a different kind of slickness.
Emboldened, Christian pushed himself down Ariel's length until his cock
slipped between her legs. The top of his skull barely came up to her mouth;
his eyes, barely to her collarbone. Ariel curved her back subtly and
grabbed Christian's ass and pulled him, and he was inside her. The
sensation was unexpectedly familiar. Christian felt weak and warm and
tingly and he didn't know whether he wanted it to stop or not. Ariel's legs
wrapped around him easily, and they thrust against each other.
Without warning, Ariel flipped him around and rolled over him. Water
covered his face and he almost choked, sputtering. He felt her lift him, up out of the tub, and then they were on the hard wooden floor. She
straddled him and held down his chest and guided him into herself, and he
let her envelop him.
When she'd had her fill of him, he made to stand, but she grabbed his arm
and pulled him. He didn't know if she would let him go if he pushed it, but
he settled down next to her on the floor and curled up and tried to find
Ariel was languid the next day as Christian made them breakfast. He didn't
bother clothing her. She followed Christian to The Chariot, rested
peacefully as they traveled, and slipped into the seawater as soon as
Christian stopped the boat. She was gone many minutes, and Christian
feared, or perhaps hoped, that she'd decided to return permanently to the
Bay. But he waited, and when she surfaced she was wrapped bodily around a
gargantuan scallop as wide as a doorway. It took both of their efforts to
bring the shellfish onto the boat. Ariel pried open a corner of the scallop
and slashed something with her smallest claw, then did the same to the
other side, and the two halves of the shell opened up. Christian gawked at
the writhing ball of muscle inside the shell. Ariel calmly thrust her hand
into the muscle and slashed confidently five, six, seven times. She brought
out a fist-sized hunk of scallop flesh, ripped it half with a snap, and
handed one to Christian. Gaping proudly, she devoured her half of the clump
of scallop meat. Christian smelled it cautiously. It smelled fresh and
savory and almost buttery. He gingerly took a taste and almost spat it out.
The surface was covered with a coating of acrid-tasting slime. He scraped
away the slime layer and tasted the flesh underneath. That meat was
tender and unexpectedly warm. Tiny bubbles of fatty oil burst in his mouth.
Ariel gaped at him.
Ariel brought in more fish, but Christian took them home early. He took the
scallop flesh and one of its massive alabaster-lined shell-halves to the
uptown market and sold them to Long Wu. With a bit of the money, he bought
a half-dozen different kinds of common fish—he wanted to find something
Ariel would like better than canned fish.
That night, Ariel dragged her wash bin next to Christian's bed, slopping
sweaty seawater all over the floor. She held his arm as she settled down to
sleep, pulling it into the water with her. Once she started to snore, he
pulled back his arm and turned away, and finally relaxed enough and
exhausted enough to sleep.
Over the next week, Christian made more money off of Ariel's hunting than
he had made in the full month before he'd first gone to Triton Bay.
The other men noticed when Christian started buying his own drinks at bar
"Catch's been good," he said when they asked about it. "Stocks must be
"No they 'aint," said Red Joe. "Stocks've been shit all season and everyone
knows it 'cept you."
Christian smiled sheepishly. "Guess I know where to look."
"Yeah, and where's that? I got a boat of fishing folk who'd like to know."
Christian hesitated. "I, uh, I stopped fishin' the surface. Nothin' there
but skinny pollock these days. Can't make money like that, y'know? Not
without a real trawler, and I don't have a real trawler. So I started
"S'right, divin'. There's things down there you'd never know just from what
comes up in the nets. Alien things. Things the orientals'll pay five times
the money for uptown."
"Oh, really? And how come you're so good at catching aliens all of a
Christian tapped his forehead. "Masculine intuition."
Red Joe snorted. "Yeah, well, my masculine intuition's tellin' me we need
more breadsticks. Anyone seen the waiter?"
Christian settled into a new routine. He and Ariel went hunting every
morning, then Christian took the day's haul to Long Wu. Sometimes Christian
would stop on the way home to buy groceries, or pills, or magazines and
other amenities for Ariel. Eventually he started buying amenities for
himself—a new pair of warm socks, extra thick; chocolate biscuits; $10
reading glasses; a sewing kit and sturdy cloth to mend his shirts; a
When the sun set, it was time for dinner. Christian tried teaching Ariel
how to cook, but she had no interest in heated food and no understanding of
what a properly cooked meal looked, smelled, or tasted like. She was
quite adept at carving fish apart, so Christian showed her what bits he
liked and what bits to throw away, and before long he was coming home to
plates full of filleted fish and shelled crabs.
As a show of good faith, Christian started eating the creatures Ariel
brought back. Many were repulsive—he wondered what Long Wu was doing with
them after eagerly spending so much cash on them—but some he found edible,
and he found he quite enjoyed urchin flesh. She seemed to learn what he
liked, and Christian gradually found himself looking forward to seeing what
colorful meats his mermaid decided to feed him each evening.
When she wasn't preparing mysterious sea creatures for Christian, Ariel
started carving driftwood into fantastic caricatures of the creatures she
hunted, with exaggerated fins and spines and mouths, always in dynamic
poses of flight. She started out using only her nails and teeth to whittle
down the wood; Christian showed her how to use a carving knife, which she
started using to make the broad strokes of her sculptures (details were
still always filled in using teeth). When they were finished, Ariel hung
her sculptures on the wall like trophies.
Then there was the sex. Christian figured out that he could usually go two
weeks before she started to pout and refuse to bring him fish. Her lust was
worst when the moon waxed gibbous—if he timed their sex to that time, he
could delay for an extra five or six days. She learned his pattern, too—if
he held to it consistently, for long enough, she would excite when the day
of copulation grew close, and Christian's income spiked with her mood.
He also learned that he could push the day even further by regularly
masturbating her. She especially liked his touch when they were out at sea,
but he refused any advances for outright sex on the boat, and she learned
to respect that rule. Masturbation could not be left unfinished, though—the
night after the first time he tried that, she jumped him in his bed while
he slept and ended up disappointed and dejected. For the next several days,
Christian slept nervously and lightly, and Ariel's tributes were lackluster
until he assented to a bout of sex.
Christian was appalled at first by how much money he sunk into pills, but
his newly expanded budget was more than adequate to cover the cost. His
reliance on them troubled him somewhat, but he also took strange comfort
knowing that any physical pleasure Ariel provided was not, on its own,
enough to arouse him.
Christian decided to take one weekend off. It was the first time since he'd
stopped going to church. At first he enjoyed not having to leave the cabin
after breakfast, but after a few hours of listening to the radio while
Ariel looked at her magazines, Christian began to itch to do something. So he took apart his grimy old kitchen sink, took stock
of what parts came out, and drove to a hardware store to buy a drill,
drilling and sanding bits, and a few plumbing adapters. Back at home, he
drilled a hole through the giant alabaster scallop shell Ariel had brought
him and installed it in place of the old sink. It leaked terribly, so the
next day Christian bought a more properly-sized adapter and fresh caulk and
fixed it. Ariel filled it with water at the first chance she got, stuck her
face in it, and blew bubbles with delight.
Five months after their first sexual encounter, Ariel grew listless, then
sick. She hardly ate for almost a week, and she started to spend all day
floating nearly motionless in her tub, curling in on herself at the
slightest touch. Christian stayed by her side, desperately trying to find
At the end of the ordeal, Ariel gave birth to a dead, misshapen thing. It
had a bulbous head but no neck, and long, gangly limbs tethered to its body
by ribbons of diaphanous flesh shot through with bright red veins. Ariel
tried to eat it, but Christian weaseled it away from her and buried it
hastily by the tree line.
That very night, Christian drove to the local general store and bought five
boxes of condoms. Dylan was manning the register; he gave Christian a
shocked look when he saw the old sailor's purchase. Christian mumbled
something about "his mermaid" and left Dylan to wonder.
Ariel recovered quickly. She didn't seem to understand the condoms—she
tried to eat those, too, when she first found them—but she didn't
seem to mind them either.
At the next bar night, Christian told the younger men about his child. He
meant to say it just as a quick jab to get a laugh or an oath of disbelief,
like most of his tales of Ariel, but words kept coming and with them a
burning in his heart and then in his throat and then in his eyes, and then
there were tears. Red Joe and Billy and Willem and the others listened
first with laughs, then awkward silence, then somber silence. When
Christian couldn't form a coherent sentence anymore, Billy took his hand in
one of his own and clapped the other on Christian's shoulder until the
Christian couldn't help but notice the funny looks Dylan gave him after
Ariel returned to her hunting, though Christian found himself pleasantly
surprised by how little he'd noticed the absence of revenue during her
pregnancy. Still, to celebrate, he bought a space heater for the cottage.
Ariel shied away from the thing when it was on, but Christian deeply
enjoyed being able to warm his hands and thaw his feet after a long day
without having to collect driftwood for a fire, and he spent many long
hours sitting and watching the waves in the heater's hot shadow.
One day, while he was idly remembering his oceanic adventures with old
friends and Ariel was putting the finishing touches on a wooden sea slug,
Christian decided he needed a rocking chair. He took the next evening off
to shop, and found one with a cushioned seat. He bought it along with a
thick wool blanket to pad the back. It took longer to find one that would
hold Ariel. The price tag made him nauseous, and besides, it didn't look
very comfortable, so Christian didn't buy it.
Instead, he took the next several weekends off, along with many of his
evenings, to build one himself. Halfway through making the first one,
Christian realized that Ariel probably had no interest in a rocking
chair—she spent as much time on the ground as on chairs. She rarely wore
clothes, and would probably find rough wood uncomfortable to sit on. She
much preferred water to dry air, anyway. So he scrapped the rocking chair,
bought some sheet metal, and started crafting a long tub on a hanging frame
(tall enough that she could see out the window while in the tub) that she
could swing from inside. When it was almost done, he mail-ordered a sample
pack of cloth squares from one of Ariel's magazines. Ariel spent the most
time with velvet, so Christian ordered a half-bolt of navy-blue velvet. He
lined the bottom of the rocking-tub with shag carpeting and the sides with
velvet. Finally, he screwed on a coarse swinging table so Ariel could enjoy
her magazines while she lounged. He took the new furniture outside for its
first fill with water, and wasn't surprised when it sprang a few leaks. He
caulked the leaks shut and presented it to Ariel. She accepted it with a
loving scratch down his arm that made him shiver.
After that, Christian decided to take off every weekend. At first he spent
his time repairing the cottage, maintaining The Chariot, and
otherwise making their lives just a little nicer. In the evenings, he
settled into his rocking chair, pulled the wool blanket over his body, and
watched the ocean while the radio played. Week by week, month by month,
these quiet musings took over more and more of the day, until his weekend
working day was down to a couple of hours checking for leaks in the roof
and piping, and sometimes just collecting driftwood for Ariel.
One afternoon, while Christian was watching the surf with Ariel, he decided
to switch off the radio and tell Ariel a story. It was a nonsense story, a
silly Jack tale that Christian hadn't thought about in decades. It was a
dull retelling, full of halting and backtracking and poorly-delivered
dialogue. Ariel didn't care. She listened to him, he was sure, with the
same fascinated non-understanding she gave her magazines. So he told his
tale, making up details when he couldn't remember. Christian's thoughts
drifted to Annabelle ... but he'd never told her this story. Had he been
saving it for their children, in case they'd had children? But they'd
shared so much more of their lives, their histories, why hadn't he shared
this part of himself? Had he not felt that was something for an adult to
share? He had no doubt she would have listened to this story with all of
her attention, if he'd bothered to try to tell her. But he hadn't.
After that, Christian turned off the radio at sunset every Saturday evening
and Sunday evening and told her tales. He told her other Jack tales he'd
been passed down in his youth. He told her plots of the black-and-white
sitcoms he'd watched at his grandmother's house when he was a bit older,
and recounted what he could remember of the Shakespearean plays he'd been
fond of in his twenties. He told her about the stupid things he and his
shipmates had done on Bruce Merristein's old crabbing boat, and about their
nightly poker games over wagered dimes, and how they'd snuck candles on the
ship once to dry their socks and ended up with hole-ridden socks for their
troubles. He told her how he liked his food salted, and how he'd once
discovered and later abandoned the joy of gardening. He told her about how
he met Annabelle, and the little ways they'd sunk hooks deep into each
other's' hearts—somehow he thought that might upset Ariel, but of course
she took in those stories with childlike interest just like the others. He
told her about the headaches he used to have before he quit drinking sodas,
and the first time he'd had a gallstone; he told her about how he had
twisted his foot at sea and how it had never truly recovered. He told her
about the pain of an infected molar, and how he'd had to remove it with
boiling water and a knife and a lot of vodka. He told her about bar night
and told her everything he knew about Willem and Red Joe and Bill and Dylan
and all the others. He told her about how he'd considered going to a
University to get an education, but never found the time between fishing
seasons, and how he'd never really regretted it, but how he'd always
wondered what he had missed. He told her about all the little stinging
pains in his shoulder when he hauled ropes too hard, and about the little
sores in his mouth that had grown more frequent over the years, and about
the pain in his gut when his shits came too infrequently, and about the
arthritis starting to worm its way into his knuckles. He told her about the
first time he'd seen her, Ariel; he told her about the strategies he'd used
to budget his money, about how he'd let the water bills go unpaid during
particularly rainy seasons to save that extra little bit. He told her about
his father's stroke and subsequent slide into senility, and about his
mother's quiet death, full of dignity and surrounded by family, and about
Annabelle's cancer and the years of uncertainty and relief and terror and
eventual finality. He told her his earliest memories of eating applesauce
at the kitchen table while his brother complained about having to go to
school in the morning. He told her all of the questions he wished he'd
asked his parents, and what he hoped their answers would have been.
Ariel sloshed gently and listened.
There eventually came a day when his pill and Ariel's touch weren't enough
to rouse Christian's cock. Ariel stroked him gently but insistently. He
thought she seemed confused. When he was sure they would get no further, he
stripped the condom off of himself, took Ariel by the hand, and led her
through the moon-drenched night to the ocean.
They frolicked together in the waves. At least, she frolicked, and he tried
to keep up with her. Her skin truly was delightful to watch in the
moonlight, though Christian could only enjoy those flickering patterns up
close without his glasses. She slithered through the surf with ... youth.
Christian splashed beside her until his ankles complained. Christian knelt
in the surf to give his legs a rest. Ariel swam effortlessly to his side
and wrapped herself around him, somehow staying moored in place, just
barely touching him skin-to-skin despite the waves pulling around her. When
she rolled face-up with her thighs in front of him, he took her waist in
both arms and deeply massaged her labia and clitoris with fingers and
tongue. She arched back into the surf, apparently not caring whether waves
covered her face, and scratched his back and sides lovingly. When, after a
long time, they mutually agreed that they were finished, the pair made
their way back to the cottage, where Christian stripped down, toweled off,
and rocked, dozing, in front of the heater, naked under his wool blanket,
while Ariel rested in her rocking tub.
Christian didn't rise from his chair the next morning. Ariel stretched and
lounged for a while, then got up and fetched a side of sardines for
breakfast. She snacked on it while she whittled down the edge of a ray.
When Christian still didn't awake, Ariel went over to check on him. His
eyes were open, but they were glassy and unfocused. Ariel waved her hands
in front of him, but he didn't respond. She put a hand on his shoulder, and
shook. The blanket slipped off of his arms, but Christian was stiff and
Ariel leaned close and smelled Christian. She smelled death.
She sat on the floor in shock, mouth closed tight, and waited for Christian
to get up.
He did not.
When she could no longer deny Christian's death, Ariel picked up his body
and lay him in her tub. He would last longer there. After a full cycle of
mourning, she ate his body, bit by bit, tenderly and lovingly, remembering
each piece as it had lived, and she memorized the inside pieces that had
always before been hidden to her.
When she was done, she returned the bones and other inedible bits to the
Later, when Ariel was sitting in her rocking tub, watching the trees for
once instead of the waves, a human knocked on the front door and spoke. She
had never heard anybody knock on a door before. There had never been a
need. But she was not frightened. She stood and got out of the tub to move
to the window.
The human opened the door. It was short, a bit rounder than hers, and its
head-fur was round and black. Its face was smooth and hairless, like hers,
except for a pair of lines above its eyes. Those eyes went wide when it saw
her, and Ariel felt a predatory pressure to pounce when the human took an
involuntary step back.
"Christ," the human said. "I knew it, the old man wasn't shittin' us. Where
Ariel responded as she always had, with curious attention. The human spoke
more words, and began to bore her. She stepped toward him, and he stepped
"No, no, it's ok. I, uh, I understand. I'll ... I won't tell the others."
The human closed the door, and Ariel listened to him leave.
Ariel considered her situation. The man she loved was gone. That was done
and final. Surely she had nothing else to tie her to this place? But it was
his place, and hers. She knew even as she asked that she could not leave.
Ariel walked to the beach and into the water, half-submerged. Christian
would not have wanted her outside like that, in broad daylight. But
Christian was gone. She felt the smooth caress of the waves below her
waist, and the harsh sting of salty air on her skin above.
She watched the waves pull and push for a long, long time.
Copyright 2020, Samuel Clamons
Bio: Samuel Clamons is a graduate student in Pasadena, California. When not
writing or working toward a thesis, he can be found taking care of his many
and varied invertebrates.
E-mail: Samuel Clamons
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