"A Curious Species"
a short story
Gary Baker, August 2012
The aquatic being surfaces, exhaling water into the air.
A large ship sits in the distance, just off the shores of a small jungle island.
He had been watching this human vessel for a long while, now, curious as it had ventured along the coasts.
He watches as a female human is loaded into a small boat by ropes from the main deck. Gulls cry while thunderous waves crash against the ship, and water clips against merman's membranous ears as he lowers himself to take in more water.
Looking closer, he sees that the woman's body is tied, and her hands bound. Her eyes are shielded by cloth and her mouth is gagged by thick ropes.
Soft sounds echo across the water as the men begin to talk, their language guttural and warty--filled with sudden exhalations and tonal drops. Nothing like the harmonious songs of whales or the chittery tweets of dolphins.
She slouches, defeated. She knows she is their prey and does nothing to deny it.
A man in vibrant brocades and red silk leans forward from the bow of the rowboat. By the acts of the other human's postures the silken man must be their leader, the aquatic man notes, a human octopus teasing the other fish into doing it's dirty work.
The man in red then lightly slaps the back of her head, and says something more. He lifts her chin to face him, though she obviously cannot see.
He growls with a reverberating savagery that the merman's ear membranes pick up. Suddenly he slaps the girl hard and she falls against the boat side, hitting her head with a flurry of her hair in the wind. The small craft lurches threatening to dump them all.
More angry cries echoed out at the girl from the throats of the filthy human males. One man grabs her by the shoulder from behind and places a gleaming silver dagger at her throat. He looks at the brocaded man, twitching with impatience.
More heavy-weighted growls and barks echo out and the leader shakes his head while making gestures to the two quiet ones at the sides. Following orders, they settle in and begin to row. The craft shifts lightly and begins away from the mother boat.
Waves crash against the merman's smooth face again as he dives under, whipping forward with the kick of his feet and tail. He slips beneath the fractional hull like a slimed cnidarian, easing through the water as if made of oil, swimming beneath the craft like a cleaning fish to a mother shark, to stay hidden just under the wooden belly. But unexpectedly the boat moves away from the island, aiming farther out to sea.
Why would they do that? He wonders, their kind cannot stay off land for long!
The merman then drops his gaze to the sea floor, watching as it slips away quickly into the impending blackness of a near shore drop-off zone beneath them.
A long way to swim to reach the sands far below, he notes with curiosity.
The boat suddenly begins to slow and the wooden fins lift out of the water. The merman tilts head curiously, listening to vibrations through the wood as though to decipher what this means.
A deep voice growls, followed by the squeal of a muffled, airy voice. Something was happening on the boat again!
The merman darts down and away to stay unseen, then resurfaces just out of obvious sight. He watches as the leader smacks the girl once more with a crack audible even to his ears. Her hair tousels with an electric leap at the man's touch, and her mouth begins to bleed where the ropes hold her reigned. The big man who had grabbed her before grins as he squeezes her chest from behind while placing his blade on the skin of her shoulder. He slides it along her arm, tearing through her eggshell gown with ease while leaving a trail of liquid crimson that quickly coats her side.
The leader throws his head back and barks a loud, continuous clapping sound that the men then copy.
As the girl tries to break free, fighting against her bonds, the leader grabs her hair and heaves her over the side as though throwing out unneeded waste. He holds her in the water, then, with her blood quickly spreading out around her in an ever expanding cloud of red. A sweet yet smoky blend of liquid aromas reaches out around her, fouling the merman's tongue with hints of corrosive iron and sulfur.
The leader lifts the struggling girl's form to spit in her face one last time, then thrusts her down hard and watches her sink into the deep ocean.
The merman watches as she fights with everything she has, though her thrumming movements only make her sink faster.
The aquatic man tilts head and submerges, then watches as she sinks further. Her blood leaves a long plume of red in the water, like an undersea algae forest with the wide fluff of color high above the thin stalks. But in this case all of it begins to fade as it diffuses into the infinite expanses of brine, discoloring the sea.
The merman kicks over to her in a flash of movement, then, placing webbed palms against her temples as soon as he reaches her. In response she squirms viciously, trying to get him off of her as though fighting to free herself from a line of fishing hooks.
What is this for? Do they not know she will not live? He wonders with interest, then shakes head and rolls eyes, humans, what could possibly have made them so naive?
In a fit of sudden inspiration, the aquatic being holds her to his chest and embraces her like the acts of comfort and closeness that he'd seen humans do in their ports far away. He places her head on his shoulder and rubs her cheek with his own trying to imitate how the males would hold their females on the shores upon returning home.
Was she supposed to live, though? And why the blood? Did they not know about sharks? A group of white-jaws hunted nearby, did they really not know this?
The merman frowns, and pulls away from girl to look at her face. Curiously, he pulls away the cloth from her eyes to see what lay beneath.
She blinks, focuses, and her irises disappear with a burst of bubbles from her nose.
Suddenly she shakes her head and struggles to get free of her bonds.
In response, he tilts his head and watches her act like preyed-upon mackerel in the hand of an armed predator.
Did this mean that he was supposed to eat her?
The sharks! He realizes with a start. So is she bait, then?
The merman looks up and sees no lines or hooks as usually used... weird....
She struggles again, and he looks back at her. Her eyes quickly dart down, then up and up again. She wants something, he tells himself, but what?
He pulls one large palm away and points, main scale claw first, to the ocean surface high above.
She nods vigorously.
Did she want him to tell the others she had died this way?
Maybe it meant that he was the target! Perhaps when trying to do as asked, they would trap him up there! He would become just another mindless salmon flopping about on some mopped wooden deck while wallowing in his own stupidity as she would easily climb aboard beside him.
Well not this time!
He looks into her eyes again and wags his closed palm back and forth--but her eyes begin to dilate, though she fights the tremors echoing through her musculature as her body twitches and she begins to go limp.
The merman frowns, realizing that she is dying. He rolls his eyes and easily slices the gag ropes with his scale claws--stout teeth-like scales, sharpened over time, biologically aimed away from his fingertips. The ropes fall away, then, revealing dark pink coil marks across her cheeks and neck.
He then sees a cloth ball in her mouth, pulls this out and waits.
Was she not going to breathe?
Would humans never learn?
The merman then presses his airhole against her lips and seals it as best as he can. He pushes air out, and her chest expands. Then he pulls away to watch her body twitch in response.
One more time! He tells himself.
He does it again, drawing in water through his mouth and quickly pressing the air into her, while leaving the deoxygenated water in his mouth.
So humans do need air, he confirms as her eyes flicker back to life.
She looks around wondrously, her face sunken and wounded with fear.
The aquatic man nods brightly, welcome back!
With a determined scowl, he then pushes against her chest, causing her to exhale all the air from her lungs again and reawaken her basic instincts.
Bubbles burst forth with an explosive slap and begin to make their way to the realm of air above. He places his airhole back against her lips and gives her more breath.
Curiously, she struggles as he pulls away again to look at her and he watches as she fails to pull her arms out of the taut bindings. The merman points to them amusedly and tilts head.
She nods, exhaling with a smile.
Stupid human! Don't do that! He rolls his eyes and gives her more air then removes the ropes from her wrists and ankles with quick swipes of his hands over the threadwork. As he returns to her front side, he looks her body over while she flexes her arms and legs.
What a curious species! He notes, sacks of blubber and yet they never go in the water for long at all!
Most intriguing, he admits, most intriguing indeed.
She drops her eyes to his own form and he follows her gaze to see his own slender four limbs. His legs are tipped with fins, and his feet are webbed without scale claws. A long, broad, and flat tail flipper extends the whole length of his legs, like a beaver tail made out of whale flesh. His arms are thin and fluid, and his hands webbed with short scale claws at the tips of his fingers.
Pearl-sized scales run in reverse direction on his palms, pointing to his wrist with tiny spines running the length of each one. The rest of his body is covered in a sinuous jelly-like flesh, colored with deep navy on his back sides, and faded white on his front.
He looks back to her and she exhales loudly in a burst of bubbles, her lips quirked to the sides in a rising crescent shape.
Stupid human! At least try to hold it in!
He rolls his eyes and wraps his arms around her waist, grabbing the fleshy backs of her upper legs for grip.
Suddenly her eyes go wide, and her hands begin to try and break her free from his grasp. Spotting no boat shadow above, though, he begins to lift her and she relaxes somewhat.
Just below the surface, he slows, and places a palm on her forehead to hold her under while he surfaces and looks around. He watches as the large mother boat begins to move again. The floating home looses it's sailcloth and catches currents high in the realm of wind. He then feels the girl tug his leg and lifts her to the surface and back into her true realm.
She exhales like a whale and reels into fits of choking while spewing water and bile.
The merman watches her curiously, noting that her hair no longer reaches in all directions as it had underwater, but instead mats itself against her head like an extra skin, or tiny filaments of cgnidarian fronds.
What a truly curious species!