The characters in “Becalmed At Sea” are from my currently out-of-print fantasyish novel, EEL’S REVERENCE. I say fantasyish because, in this book and its accompanying short stories, mermayds are natural, not fantastic. They’re each capable of producing either eggs or sperm, and they aren’t mammals, so they don’t have, you know, lady parts, so I tend to call them by male pronouns to avoid conjuring up lady-part imagery in the reader’s mind.
Becalmed At Sea
by Marian Allen
Marlin, the one with red hair, said, in the high, rapid underwater speech of the mermayds, “What’s a boat that small doing this far off shore? They must have been caught in that storm on the coast yesterday.”
Blennie, criss-crossed with puckered red scars from neck to fluke, and with eyes small, sunken, and weak, said, “Who cares?”
Marlin joggled Blennie’s elbow. “You care. Let’s go see if they need help.”
“I thought we were in a hurry for the gathering.”
“So let’s hurry.” Marlin shoved at the water with his long, powerful tail. When he saw his companion hadn’t moved, he looked back.
Blennie hugged his own damaged chest and called, “Stay out of harpoon range.”
Marlin returned – safely – and reported, “I was right. They were heading up the coast when that storm blew out and grabbed them. If we can get them a wee bit east, they can catch the evening exhalation and make land. Maybe not where they really meant to land, but land.”
“Their problem is not our problem.”
Marlin didn’t argue. He had raised more tads than most mermayds, and knew better than to try to reason with that sullen obstinacy. Not that Marlin’s friend was a tad, but the mistreatment Blennie had suffered at the hands of two landwalkers had turned him in on himself.
“I’m going to see if enough of the others will help turn and tow the boat,” Marlin said. “I’d like it if you stayed here so we can find it without getting cricks in our necks from looking up for it. Or you can come along and stay at the gathering once we get there.”
Blennie wanted to leave the boat’s occupants behind and forget they existed, but Marlin had taken him in after the … incident, and deserved better.
“I’ll stay,” he said.
“I’ll be quick.” Before the last echoes of his words had faded from Blennie’s ears, Marlin was out of sight.
Blennie floated in place, flicking a webbed hand or a fluke now and then to counteract a pressure fluctuation.
After one such correction, a realization akin to joy flooded him: He could follow Marlin and tell him a breeze had come up and the boat had sailed away. By the time the gathering was over, the humans would all be dead.
He imagined the two-tails, sunscorched and desiccated, all their juices sucked dry by the treacherous air.
He shuddered in horror and shame. Only two landwalkers had hurt him. Others had rescued him, and still others had given him safe passage back to the sea. Still, those two weren’t alone in their hatefulness.
Before he could decide what to do, much sooner than he expected, Marlin returned with six others, all former nurselings of Marlin’s.
“They were coming out to meet us,” he said, and Blennie knew, whether Marlin did or not, that it wasn’t Blennie they were coming out to meet.
He still refused to help, but the seven easily turned the boat and towed it to where it picked up a breeze it could tack into and ride to safety.
Marlin and his nurshen surrounded Blennie when they returned, included him, swept him along with them to the gathering, gracing him with all the marks and behaviors that said he was equal family.
Blennie hoped Marlin didn’t suspect the temptation he hadn’t resisted but only outlasted. It wouldn’t have surprised him, though, to learn that hope was vain.
~ * ~
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Sailing, boat, fishing, revenge, the sea.