BY CARSON FREDRIKSEN
Copyright is held by the author.
“MARCUS BROSBY, 27, has been reported missing after failing to return home from a fishing trip out somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.
Witnesses last report seeing the young man departing the harbour on a bright, white fishing boat (No.5A125) at around 9 A.M.
Coastguard officials have scoured over 100 square miles but have found no trace of the young man or the boat in question.
Police are baffled.
Marcus couldn’t help but sigh as he shut the tackle box and dropped his fishing rod onto the fibreglass floor of his father’s boat.
He had been out on the water for two hours now, hoping to at least catch something for his troubles. But once again he came up empty handed, save for a few six-pack plastic rings, an occasional flip-flop and his cooler of empty beer cans.
“Just remember, sonny,” the voice of his long departed grandfather, who Marcus always thought had a black belt in fishing, chimed in his head. “A little bit of patience goes a long way when you’re out on the water.”
“Yeah, I don’t think I’ve got the patience to be roasted alive out here,” Marcus thought as he removed his baseball cap and ran a calloused hand through his sweaty, blonde locks.
Once his hat was back in place, Marcus shuffled towards the engine and yanked the cord with more force than was necessary. After a few unsuccessful attempts, thick clouds of bluish smoke erupted into the sky as the roar of the engine assaulted his eardrums.
Marcus grabbed the tiller and began to steer the boat towards the shore. Usually he only went out a couple of miles. But he was so determined to catch something today, he had ventured out further than he had ever been. He couldn’t even see the shoreline from where he was.
Suddenly, Marcus’s eyes caught sight of a peculiar piece of driftwood a few yards to his left. He quickly manoeuvred the boat towards the object in question and stopped when he was close enough to fully grasp what it was.
On the shredded remains of what appeared to be a lifeboat was a young woman who looked to be unconscious. Her flowing red mane floated around her like a life preserver while her porcelain skin shone brightly in the mid-day sun.
The critical side of his brain questioned just how her skin could be so pale when the July sun was already high in the sky and the temperature was already making him sweat. But those thoughts quickly fell through the cracks when he got a better view of her face.
Marcus had certainly seen his share of pretty girls throughout the city. He once thought his high school should’ve been renamed: Goddess Central of Canada. But the woman’s thick, red lips, delicate jaw line and petite nose made even the prettiest girl he knew look like the Elephant Man.
It was only when he felt his eyes begin to burn did Marcus realize he had been staring at her face for an eternity. After shaking his head and lightly slapping his face, Marcus looked around to see if there were any other signs of wreckage nearby. But all he could see were the miles upon miles of empty sea. He couldn’t even see another boat from where he was.
Marcus kneeled and stretched his arms over the edge of the boat. It took quite a bit of effort and Marcus knew his back would be screaming at him tomorrow. Eventually he managed to hook his arms under the woman’s shoulders. He tried to maintain a steady grip while providing enough strength to bring her on board.
She was surprisingly light. Marcus thought she couldn’t have been more than 100 pounds. He also noticed that her skin felt strangely cool despite it being directly under the scorching sun for God knows how long.
But Marcus simply shrugged it off and successfully pulled her onto the boat. He was thankful he had brought his hoodie along for it was the perfect pillow to lay her head upon.
After making sure she was safe and secure, Marcus realized that the woman was completely nude.
He quickly turned around as all of his blood flushed to his face. He then remembered the first aid kit he carried in the rear of the boat. He carried it mostly to stop his mother from constantly nagging him about safety. Today he was thankful that it could come in handy for someone else.
Marcus carefully stepped around the mysterious woman’s delicate, well-manicured nails as he dragged out the heavy white box. He soon found what he was looking for, a heavy grey blanket that always made his skin itch like crazy.
As Marcus unravelled the fabric and draped it over her form, the woman’s eyes suddenly shot open, instantly locking onto his own.
They were the bluest eyes he’d ever seen. All the oceans in the world would have felt a sting of jealousy if they could have looked into those eyes.
“Uh . . . are you OK?” the woman asked as she raised a thin, well-groomed eyebrow.
Marcus quickly shook his head and put on a smile, wondering why he was so easily distracted around her.
“Sorry . . . I just . . . uh . . . found you floating next to my boat. I was worried you were…”
“Dead?” she replied with a small smile that made Marcus’s pulse quicken.
He tried to say something back but his vocal cords felt like they were tied in a knot that a sailor would be proud of.
“Well,” the woman spoke in an accent Marcus couldn’t place, “thank you for saving me. I very much appreciate it.”
Marcus smiled but restrained himself from drowning in those ocean blue eyes once again.
“So . . . what happened?” he asked, silently scolding himself for asking such a question so bluntly.
The woman’s smile instantly dropped and her eyes took in every detail of the boat. Her look reminded him of the one he gave his teachers when they asked him a question he didn’t know the answer to.
“I . . . I was out swimming at night . . .”
“You went swimming at night?” Marcus interrupted, knowing he’d seen Jaws enough times to know what a bad idea that was.
The woman huffed as she clutched the blanket tightly. “Yes! I did! Can I finish?”
Like an obedient child being yelled at by his mother, Marcus obliged and motioned for her to continue.
“I was out swimming and suddenly this boat pulled up next to me. Three men in business suits came out and asked if I wanted to come aboard for a drink.” The woman rolled to her left and pulled her knees up to her chest. “I thought they’d get me home so I obliged. But then they . . . they . . .”
She made an ugly kind of sniffle, one that made Marcus want to cry as well, as her eyes began to glisten.
“Hey, hey I’m sorry,” Marcus softly replied as he placed a hand on her shoulder. “I didn’t mean to get you all riled up. I mean . . . there’s a reason I didn’t pursue a career in psychology after all.”
His comment got a chuckle out of her. Marcus thought he could’ve listened to it all day.
“No it’s all right,” she replied, “I was lucky to escape them when I could.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, how’d that happen?”
She sniffed slightly before she sat up and propped her back against the side of the boat. Her eyes glanced out into the water as if it were calling to her.
“I think we ran aground some rocks in the area. They were so drunk that by the time they realized the ship was sinking it was too late. Thankfully I managed to grab hold of their lifeboat before the ship went down. But it’s been breaking apart for the past few days and I was practically hanging on to whatever I could.”
The woman paused before she clutched the blanket tighter and glanced up at her rescuer with nothing but warmness in her features. “Thanks for stopping to pick me up though. It’s good to know not everyone’s out to get me.”
Marcus waved his hand as he became interested in the fibreglass beneath him. “Just fulfilling the good ole Canadian hospitality ma’am.”
The two basked in the silence for a moment before Marcus realized that the woman was still in his boat and not on her way home.
“So…where do you live Ms…”
“Oh,” she shrugged, “you can just call me Faye.”
“Huh?” Marcus thought, “I thought she could’ve passed for a Sam or an Ariel but Faye’s nice too.”
“Alright Faye, where can I take you?”
For a while Faye didn’t answer. Her expression changed into something Marcus couldn’t identify as her eyes scanned the horizon. Eventually, she removed an arm from under the blanket and pointed to a far off piece of land that looked to be made entirely out of stone.
“Let’s head over there. I’ve got some…friends out there waiting for me.”
“Friends?” Marcus asked as he tilted his head. “Don’t you think your family’s expecting you?”
Faye raised her eyebrows to the top of her head before she snapped her fingers and grinned.
“Yes of course! I meant family, yes! They’re waiting for me just over near that island there.”
“Well…can’t I just take you back and then drop you off at your folks’ place? Or can we just call them, text them or are they really old fashioned and use pagers still? I’m sure if…”
Faye turned, placed a hand on the young man’s thigh (curiously close to the center of his legs) and once again locked her hypnotizing eyes onto his own.
“Please Marcus, it would mean a lot to me.”
Marcus’s heart and brain waged a brief, yet intense, battle over whether or not something suspicious was going on. His brain argued that the whole situation was just…off. It was the kind of situation you couldn’t explain why it was weird, it just was.
But something in his heart made him want to do anything for this beautiful woman. He had only known her for about ten minutes and yet he was more attached to her than anybody he had shared a class with in high school. He wasn’t exactly sure if what he was feeling was love but if it was it was a damn good motivator.
“Alright, just point the way milady,” he replied in a mock Scottish accent which made her laugh.
Marcus sat at the back of the boat and revved up the engine. Faye meanwhile sat on the other end and stared intensely at the island ahead.
Marcus initially focused on the island as well, noticing more and more pine trees evolving from blurry shapes to shining, clear images. He also noticed that one tree in particular was bent at an almost perfect 45 degree angle. A single gust of wind could’ve knocked the wooden warrior into the ocean, but it stayed in position as if it were an order.
Eventually though, the young man’s eyes fell upon Faye. Even with her back turned he couldn’t help but be transfixed by her the same way Michelangelo must have felt when he sculpted David.
By now the sun was at the center of sky, giving her luscious red hair a chance to glow as brightly as possible.
“Sure hope there’s a hero’s kiss in store for me,” Marcus thought as he felt his cheeks and ears burning up again.
He was broken out of his reverie by two things. The first was the far off blast of a tanker horn and the second was Faye turning her head and looking at him with a look that somehow combined flirtatiousness and mischievous.
“Steady sailor that island’s coming up fast.”
By now Marcus could see the beach was decorated with an assortment of driftwood, sand caked mud and several pine tree branches scattered about. There didn’t seem to be any animals inhabiting the island either. Marcus couldn’t even hear a seagull cawing or a robin singing.
“Wait!” Faye cried. “We can’t come in through the front.”
“The front?” The strangeness of the question caused whatever euphoria that Marcus was feeling to evaporate.
“Yeah…” Faye replied as she looked back at the land. “I know a secret entrance that my family and I use all the time. Just coast along the west side and you’ll see it!”
“And I thought my family was weird,” Scott thought as he followed the young woman’s instructions. At first he just saw more of the same collection of broken flora and void of fauna.
But eventually the pair saw the entrance of a small cave, almost hidden by the long vines hanging from the edge of a small cliff. The hole wasn’t a perfect circle, more of an irregular rectangle. But it was still big enough for the small boat to pass through.
Marcus felt his skin erupt into a sea of goosebumps as they made their way deeper into the cave.
Thick, green moss painted the rocky walls. The water, once a slight tinge of blue and brown was now pitch black as if it were made out of runny molasses. The occasional drips of water echoed vibrantly off the walls.
“Hey Faye,” Marcus was surprised to hear his voice was so frail and small. “Do your folks always hang out in the Gill-Man’s domain?”
“No,” Faye laughed as she kept her eyes focused on the water in front of her. “We tend to move around a lot. They just thought this would be a good stopover before we check out the Bay of Fundy next month.”
The utter seriousness and conviction in her voice made Marcus question whether she was serious or just an expert at teasing.
Faye then raised her left hand. “Stop here.”
Marcus killed the engine as they sat in the dark. The entrance was now a good fifty feet away, allowing only a fraction of the cave to be illuminated. The moss now appeared to be black while the water below them was even darker than before.
Marcus shivered slightly as he gazed into the dark water. He was never afraid of the ocean. He was pretty sure the scent of saltwater and kelp was permanently burnt into his nostrils. But now there was a trickle of fear that pooled into his subconscious. For all he knew, there could be some kind of hungry monster within those depths that would look at his boat like it was a small crumb. Suddenly, he wished more than anything he could be back within the safety and normality of the outside world.
Marcus was only snapped out of his frightened stupor when he heard what sounded like a chorus of giggles from deeper within the cave.
“Oh that’s them right over there,” Faye smiled as she unravelled the blanket and jumped into the water.
Marcus shielded his eyes from the sudden ricochet of water as the sound of her jump echoed off the mossy, rocky walls. The periodic sounds of water dripping filled the silence as the giggling died down and Faye had yet to resurface.
Marcus placed both hands against the boat and leaned forward to see if Faye was coming up soon or if she was possibly drowning. He knew that drowning never looked the same way as in the movies, where the victim flailed around spastically. They were quiet, just floating there as if they were asleep. He prayed more than anything that she hadn’t met that fate.
Suddenly, Faye’s head shot out of the water so fast that Marcus fell over backwards, hitting the back of his head against the fibreglass siding. He winced as he gripped the tender area and leaned over the boat again. Faye had a pleasant, almost playful, smile on her face as she treaded water.
“Ah that feels good!” Faye remarked as she leaned her head back and gazed at the various stalactites above. “Nothing like being back in the old environment again.”
Marcus was about to ask her to get back in the boat when a peculiar object in the water caught his eye. Floating next to the young woman’s smiling face was what appeared to be a giant log.
Marcus dug out his phone and turned on the flashlight app to get a better view. When the light found the object in question, Marcus had to stop his shaking hands from dropping the device into the water.
It had all the makings of a typical fish tail, emerald green scales glistening from a combination of light and seawater. Its perfect fork shape tapped against the side of the boat in a rhythmic fashion.
Marcus backed up slightly as he heard the clattering of his phone on the floor of the boat. By now his eyes were adjusting more to the darkened area, so he was able to see Faye’s head pop up over the edge of the boat before she folded her arms in front of her. Shortly thereafter her tail appeared beside her, still tapping the boat steadily.
“You’re . . . you . . . are . . . the . . .”
“A mermaid? Is that what you were going to say?”
Marcus shut his mouth and simply nodded. Faye closed her eyes and started humming a tune that Marcus didn’t recognize. But it was sung at such a perfect pitch and with such a beautiful tone that the young man found himself drawing closer to the woman.
He couldn’t even explain what was making him think of such a questionable move. He could feel his brain screaming at him to get away but it was like his muscles had hijacked the rest of his body and were commanding him to get closer.
Faye still had her eyes closed but she raised a single finger and gestured for him to keep moving, while her puffy lips pouted slightly.
With his hormones running rampant, Marcus puckered his lips and closed his eyes. He could feel his fingers touch the edge of the boat and shuddered with delight as they made contact with the wet, warm flesh of Faye’s fingers.
However, suddenly Marcus felt something that made his body stone cold.
Where there should’ve been a gap between Faye’s fingers, there was only (what felt like anyway) a lump of flesh that was just as warm as the rest of her fingers. He opened his eyes to see if what he was feeling was truly real.
He soon wished he hadn’t.
Faye was staring back at him. Only her emerald eyes were now giant, black orbs. Her red hair had been replaced with what looked to be ragged dark green locks that reminded him of rotten seaweed. Her nose was completely absent and her mouth was now filled with a colony of spiky fangs.
Her flesh was now as scaly as her tail, which was still tapping against the edge of the boat, but was now a ghostly white. Various barnacles and pulsating holes donned the top of her scalp and her lips were now a very pale shade of blue. The smell of her alone nearly caused the young man to faint into the water. But he was so frightened that even that simple action couldn’t be accomplished.
“What’s the matter dear? Never seen a real mermaid before?”
Marcus tried to move back towards the engine but his back came into contact with something wet and warm. He glanced up and saw half a dozen mermaids looking down at him. Though some of their features differed slightly (some had pitch black curls while others were a sickly yellow) they all had the same empty look in their soulless black eyes.
“Sorry I’m late dears,” the thing that had once been a beautiful woman spoke. “I had to wait a while to catch us some lunch before we head out.”
Marcus felt globs of saliva drop onto his quivering face as the figures began to run their forked tongues over their fangs.
“But like any good fisherman knows, you just need a little bit of patience.”
Carson lives in Calgary, Alberta and enjoys rummaging through his dark, albeit unique, imagination to enhance his everyday life. His previous works appeared in such online publications as Rooster Republic Press and Howling Wolf Press. His short story “Your Biggest Fans” was named an Honorable Mention in Tales From the Moonlit Path‘s 2022 Halloween Challenge. He can also be found at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/carsonfredriksen/