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Drama Fantasy

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Old Hugh’s toothless jaw seemed to move independently from his skull, restlessly searching for its place. He picked up a beer in his cadaverous hand, sipped off the foam, licked his dry, cracked lips, and his craggy face relaxed for an instant, repose from constant agitation. “Give me a moment to savor this nectar, my dear”, he said, looking at Kelsey with hooded eyes that seemed buried deep in his skull, and seemed too intelligent to be trusted. His voice sounded like it was struggling to get out of his body, like he hadn’t used it in a while, which was not far off the truth given his lonesome state.


Kelsey and Hugh sat at a rickety old table in a quiet corner of Sally’s waterfront bar. Kelsey looked around at the familiar faces, mostly captains and their crews, a rough, combustible crowd, but it was early, too early for arguments and for fighting. In the furthest corner of the saloon, she could see the brooding Osheaga brothers, princes of the waterfront, and their men, conspiring darkly. Kevin caught her eye and scowled, holding up his right hand with the three middle fingers extended.


Kelsey extended a middle finger in his direction and his scowl turned to something more menacing. Three days, and she needed to come up with the next interest payment or the boat would be forfeit. Osheaga supplied the bait, more costly per pound than halibut or cod. Osheaga got them hooked, Osheaga reeled them in, Osheaga… Osheaga. This whole town seemed to be run by and for the benefit of a single family.


“Your Pa would do exactly the same, that’s what I think!”, said Hugh leaning back against the ribs of the old stick chair, very satisfied with his answer, which only made it sound insincere to Kelsey. “I think he’d have given up the boat and turned to farming turnips, rather than join that band of scoundrels”. Hugh’s rheumy eyes seemed to refocus on something in the distance, as if he was looking straight through her and he lowered his voice to a near-whisper, “Old Man Osheaga made a deal with the Devil, and you don’t want no part of it”. He gulped down some more beer.


Kelsey supped at her own beer thoughtfully. It felt precarious to rely on this man, this tenuous connection to the father that she never knew. “Pa” was a photo in her Mother’s house. “Pa” was a scrimshaw carving of a whale that she kept on her bedside table in her small lodging. “Pa” was a character in an old man’s story. No matter how hard she tried to remember the man, he remained an elusive, almost mythic thing. Her brow furrowed, a small knot formed at the nexus of her eyebrows. Her flaxen hair largely hidden beneath a woolen cap, wearing black pants and hoodie to match her coal-black eyes, she seemed to recede into the dark corner, only her face visible, an almost ghostly apparition. Some of the men in the saloon, drinking thirstily of their beers, looked at her, furtively, as if they were looking at Medusa and might be turned to stone. This is what beauty can do to young men: it can scare them. None dared look her in the eye, none dared talk to her. None that is, except for the old-timers, her crewman, young Charlie, and – of course - the Osheagas, brutes both. 


Kelsey returned her attention to Hugh. “Hugh, why is it no one’s seen Old Man Osheaga in years now, only his sons? And are these rumors about the Cove true? About what they did to the mermaids? Up at Lament Cove, they say, the tide went out one day, never came back in, and it left the shore covered in their corpses, stained by mermaid blood”.


Hugh looked weary but he also looked scared, like Kelsey was treading on forbidden ground. “Shoosh up Talika”, he said in a lowered voice, pressing downwards with his right hand, “the Mermaids got what was coming to them. You could get yourself killt we those words”. 


“Talika?”, she asked, and she could tell that he was panicked.


“It’s nothin”, he said quickly, “just a thing I remembered from when I was younger”. His eyes darted around, explored the Osheaga corner. “The main thing is you’ve gotta take care, a young woman like you. Stay away from the Osheagas and stay away from the Mermaids”, he shuddered to think of them, “Old Man Osheaga should never have got involved with them, shacked up with that evil trollop”, the rest of the beer poured easily down his scraggly throat. “I’ve seen them drag innocents to the bottom of the ocean, suck out a man’s lungs with a kiss”.


“Why wasn’t my father’s body found?” she asked, and once she’d blurted this out, she wondered why she hadn’t asked this before. She’d convinced herself that it didn’t matter, it being so long ago. “Ma said Osheaga dumped the body in Lament Cove, gave his body to the mermaids.”


Hugh, mid gulp, nearly coughed out his guts on the floor. It took him a moment to recompose, “Kelsey, your Ma warn’t in her right mind, you know that. They was dark times, for sure, but it wasn’t the Osheagas, it was the business that fated Harry”.


Kelsey was dissatisfied with this explanation but let it ride. She looked over at the far corner of the saloon bar, the Osheaga corner, where the black-haired twins, Kevin and Patrick were holding court. “I’m gonna follow them out of the harbor tomorrow, see where they get their bait fish, see what they do with the Mermaids out in the islands”.


Hugh looked alarmed. “No, don’t!”. He followed Kelsey’s gaze, caught Kevin Osheaga’s eye for a moment, and quickly looked away, his face pale, “Stay away from the Osheagas, you don’t want to know what they’re doing out there”.


“Why’s that Hugh?” she asked, returning her focus to the old man.


“Just stay away from the Osheagas and stay away from the Mermaids. No good can come of it!”, he was agitated, finished his beer and pushed his creaky old body up out of the chair, which scraped on the wooden floor.


“Another beer?” said Kelsey fumbling in her pocket for the small wad of money, all that remained from the last catch, enough for Osheaga bait fish and Osheaga fuel in the morning, and not much else. 


“No, I think I’ll call it a night”, said Hugh and he left the bar, without thanking her, without looking back, just shaking his bowed head.


+++


Charlie, her deck hand, met her at the dock, just before daybreak. He loaded the frozen baitfish onto the deck of the Osprey. He broke the icy blocks with a small aluminum bat and distributed the dead fish and unidentifiable chunks of rotting flesh, all Osheaga Grade A, into buckets, while Kelsey went up to Osheaga’s harborside office to pay for the fuel.  One of Osheaga’s men came over to the boat to look at how they’d set they’d set the fishing rigs, scoffed, “not enough weight, not enough line. You aint going deep enough”. 


“Mind your own”, said Charlie, standing tall, facing up to the bigger man.


“Just trying to help, you and that girlie you work for”.

“She aint no girlie” said Charlie, riled up. The Osheaga man laughed and wandered off. 


When Kelsey got back to the boat, Charlie was still riled up, “That motherfucker Dalton came over, said we need to go deeper”.


“Mind the language, Charlie”, said Kelsey, “you know the rules”, she could see that he was angry, “That’s all the line we got, so we’re gonna make do… and put on your vest. I ain’t diving in to save you. You know the ropes”.


“Should have learned to swim when you were a kiddo”, he said, lippy, like she’d never really heard him before.


“You tellin me that you can swim?”, said Kelsy, a bit taken aback. She figured the ability to swim, aside from being unnatural, represented a disrespect for the ocean. Kelsey looked him up and down, just skin and bones, and that sad puppy-dog face, but apparently, he could swim! 


Charlie had been with her for nearly two years, a bit dull, but dependable and respectful.  Showed up every day, which counted for a lot. “We’d better get going. I want to get out of the harbor before the Osheaga fleet”.


There was a chill in the wind, the handrails and windows iced up overnight, so they set out from Bairstow Harbor grim-faced aboard the thirty-foot, green-hauled fishing boat. As she turned the Osprey northwards, just beyond the breakwater lighthouse, Osheaga’s giant, black-hulled trawlers, the twin Reapers, thundered past on either side of the Osprey, doing fifteen or more knots to her ten, which tossed the Osprey around in the confluence of their wakes. The Reapers looked warcraft, bristling with outriggers and winches, giant nets draped from the gantries, dredges suspended from the stern ramps.


She gunned the motor, and the Osprey’s bow rose to great the ocean waves and wake-water fanned out behind the boat, a measure of the power of the old diesel engine, which roared and shook the boat, but they could not keep up with the Osheaga fleet, which quickly moved into the open ocean, beyond the larger islands. Kelsey sighed, eased back on the motor and slowed to a cruising speed. She switched on the VHF radio “What channel did you say Osheaga uses for boat-to-boat?” she shouted out to Charlie.


She aimed the boat for the remote Caldera islands, five nautical miles out from Lament CoveThere were patches of fog, some if it really thick, so she slowed down a bit, just in case… but she knew, this time of year, this time of day, it’s just her and the Osheaga’s out on the water, so her main concerns were the rocks and ledges.  


THe VHF sparked up, its one of Osheaga’s vessels, The Grim Reaper. She can’t make out much, but it sounds like an engine problem, something to do with sirens.  “Sirens?” said Charlie, listening in now that he’s finished prepping the rigs and the chum bags, full of rotting flesh, fish heads, and what looks like animal parts, pig skin, offal. There’s shouting across the airwaves, “Get your ass out of there now…” it sounds like Kevin Osheaga, “leave them be.. static… what are your coordinates?”. Another voice, probably Patrick, “we’re at the gap…but one of the sisters is here…” muffled sounds, then silence.


Kelsea reached over to the GPS screen, zoomed out twice, then tapped a point on the screen and locked in the channel between two of the Caldera Islands as a waypoint, the Gap. The Caldera Gap is not deep enough for the passage of a boat, and Charlie looks concerned, but he would follow his skipper into hell, so he went back to a position on the port side of the standing shelter, leant out over the lateral washboard and stared into the dawn fog, waiting for the Caldera islands to appear. The GPS indicated that they were approaching the gap, the fog is thick, but not so thick that they shouldn’t be able to see islands now just one hundred feet or so ahead. The screen indicated that they were crossing the ledge, just four feet of draft, so Kelsey idled the engine, and the Osprey proceeded at a walking pace. She would throw the engine into reverse when they saw the island, when she heard the scraping of the rocks. 


Except there was no scraping, there were no rocks. Kelsey double-checked the GPS, looked out over the bow. Ahead, the fog was an opaque slate of white, no shadows, no land. The GPS had the boat positioned in the channel, crossing the channel, through the channel, into the lagoon-like waters inside the caldera, except there was no caldera, the islands were nowhere to be seen. Kelsey tapped the GPS in disbelief.


A breeze kicked up, the fog lifted then billowed above and to the sides, and the Osprey was in the open ocean, a different ocean, becalmed and inky black. Islands, of which there should have been many nearby or on the horizon, the mainland too, all gone!

The Osheaga trawlers were a few hundred yards ahead, the dredges had been deployed and were pulling the giant mesh nets into the water, and the stench of rotten fish wafted through the air.  Kelsey and Charlie watched in disbelief as the ocean seemed to swell up in and around the bulky trawlers, then erupt as massive sea creatures, trapped by the encircling nets, began to thrash around at the surface. The ocean itself seemed to boil as the creatures thrashed and writhed around at the surface, and as the nets tightened, you could hear the sentient shriek of porpoises, the pounding hearts of the leviathans, the wail of desperation, and the grind and roar of the motorized kill. 


Before they could gather their senses, there was a commotion near the Osprey, a pale creature pushed through the surface, and Charlie emitted an involuntary cry. It was a woman with golden hair that flowed over her shoulders and across her breasts as she sinuated along the ocean surface, propelled by a green and blue fish tail, iridescent and sparkling. Charlie cursed and pointed, alerted Kelsey to the strange presence, and she caught a  glimpse of the pale-skinned, golden-haired woman, just before she disappeared beneath the surface. 


Kelsey leapt back to the helm, put the throttle in neutral, grabbed a red buoyancy aid, returned to the port side, and threw the aid into the water, but there was nothing there, the ocean surface, disturbed only by ripples from the distant marine battle, was otherwise undisturbed and empty. Charlie leaned over the port side gunwales, peered into the light-starve depths, and then a pale ovalling, a figure uprushing, two jet black eyes, a beautiful rictus, and before he could react, before he could catch his breath, a hand erupted up from the water, ensnared his wrist violently pulled him from the boat, nary a cry, just a gentle splash.


Kelsey, momentarily stunned, scanned the briny surface, glimpsed motion beneath, a green, bespeckled yet shadowy form spun and twirled in the mottled shadows, then another, the tournures of a beast, the overtures of a woman, and Charlie reached up from below, Charlie’s outstretched hand, Charlie supplicate, beseeching and desperate.


She leapt from the deck of the Osprey, headfirst, one and only one chance, she didn’t have time to think. To grab the outstretched hand, and then what? But it mattered nought because the shock of the cold, the assault on her senses, overwhelmed her agency, and then she panicked, floundered, encumbered by clothing, weighed down by the unfamiliar resistance of the water, aware only that she was lost, that up, down and sideways had been shaken into disarray, that the faster she moved the greater her panic; the greater her panic, the more useless her struggles, and then, as her chest seemed to be crushing inwards, as her vision grew cloudy, as the pain near her heart seemed unbearable, she opened her mouth, and inhaled, deeply, and the darkness was total.


“Oh Talika”, someone whispered into her ear, “My Talika”, it was a woman’s voice, it was sweet and mellifluous, like a soothing melody played on a flute, “we have waited so long for you”. Kelsey opened her eyes, and she was almost blinded by the light.


Kelsey floated supinely in the water, staring at the clouds in the sky, there was something supporting her head, supporting her lower back, she was moving headfirst, and there was someone, something besides her. She twisted her head, and was horrified to see her own self, her pale skin, the flaxen hair, the knotted and furrowed brow, the thin lips, the same coal-black eyes. 


“Nooo!”, she struggled, and the creature let her go. Kelsey sunk again and she clawed at the water with her useless hands, she submerged and as the ocean enveloped her, she sensed the presence of the creature, a beautiful creature. The face, it was her face, appeared in front of her, diffuse in the water, somehow benign and it calmed her. She stopped the futile struggling, and guided by a cold hand, floated toward the light, toward the air. When Kelsey resurfaced, she was confronted by the creature, her own face, the furrowed and knotted brow, coal-black eyes.


“Talika”, laughed the Mermaid, “You are going to need to learn how to swim!”


The Osprey was bouncing around on the ocean waves, backdropped by familiar green hills, the pine groves of the Caldera Islands now reappeared, the Gap visible, some hundred yards or so in the distance. Charlie was shouting, he was standing at the back of the Osprey, his clothes were wet, stuck to his thin body. Two large men stood to either side of him, black haired, hulking, menacing: Kevin and Patrick Osheaga. A small launch boat, part of the Osheaga fleet, was tied up and rafted alongside the Osprey. Patrick grabbed Charlie by the back of the neck, pushed him face first to the deck, and kicked him viciously. Kevin had a black rod in his hand, wielded it as if to beat Charlie, but instead he raised it to his shoulder, pointed it at Kelsey then dropped his head to one side. It was a rifle, there was a splash in the water, a loud popping noise, as multiple shots were fired at Kelsey.


Her head was yanked backward by the hair, the mermaid grabbed her wrist and pulled her away from the Osprey, gently at first then harder, causing the water to bow-wave in front of them. Kelsey slowly twisted and then slid beneath the surface of the ocean, drawn along by one of her sisters in the direction of the mainland, in the direction of Lament Cove. 

November 03, 2023 18:24

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2 comments

Kate Bickmore
18:42 Nov 07, 2023

Might be my new favorite ! I love that the last three all take place in (what would otherwise be dull) small towns environments where something magical happens. This line is really good: “ The ocean itself seemed to boil as the creatures thrashed and writhed around at the surface, and as the nets tightened, you could hear the sentient shriek of porpoises, the pounding hearts of the leviathans, the wail of desperation, and the grind and roar of the motorized kill.”

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Luca King Greek
21:45 Nov 07, 2023

THANKS SO MUCH KATE!

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