This story is based on part of the world of EEL’S REVERENCE, which is currently out of print but undergoing a slight rewrite before being republished.
This isn’t exactly fantasy, because mermayds aren’t mermaids. They aren’t supernatural creatures; they’re a natural sentient species. The action of EEL’S REVERENCE all takes place on land and is narrated by a human, although mermayds have a major part in the story line. Most of my stories based on this world are about mermayds as much as or more than about humans. Make of that what you will, here’s today’s Story A Day in May story.
by Marian Allen
I lived alone in the waters around my island, which I called Clamshell because it stuck out of the water like the dome of a clamshell.
Alone. A mermayd, alone. Our pod had broken up before I reached the age of reproduction but after I was out of the nurture pouch. I think there was some contagious illness, and there were a lot of arguments. I remembered blood swirling in the water, unfurling from gashes in a bright blue tail, but I might have dreamed that.
All I knew for sure was that we had all drifted apart. Maybe some had found other pods to join, or had regrouped someplace else, but some of us were still alone. Every now and then, I saw someone swimming in the distance, chasing fish or foraging seaweed and oysters, but we ignored each other.
During spawning season, nature gave me no choice but to drop eggs or broadcast sperm, but I’d never had the urge to nurture. Maybe none of us did, these days; if so, any tads who hatched would be easy prey for sharks and eels. I never saw any tads or half-grown fingerlings, so I suppose none of them survived. Without a pod to belong to and contribute to, it hardly mattered.
I had first beached on the island to escape from an especially determined shark. I remembered being led to refuge in similar circumstances back when I was part of the pod, but Clamshell was bigger than any land I’d been on before. I couldn’t see the whole thing unless I was at its highest point, and it would take all day, at an easy pace, to swim around it in its shallows. Except for its bright white beach, it was covered in that stiff seaweed I came to know as trees.
And there was Hand.
When I beached, leaving the shark snapping at the memory of where I’d been a second before, I was almost deafened by a sharp, repeated noise, almost like the noise the two-tails make when they ride on their floating shells and point hollow logs at each other that boom and make the water – and sometimes one another’s shells – explode.
This creature was brown, with two fins – ears – on top of its head. It had five tails, which is why I immediately thought of it as Hand. It used four of them to move about, like the two-tails do on their floating shells, and one to thrash back and forth, although that didn’t seem to make it move, oddly enough. It ran up to me, threw itself on its back, and wiggled like a fingerling wanting a tickle or a wrestle or a caress.
The urge to nurture must have been on me, because I reached out a webbed hand and rubbed its belly. It closed its eyes and wiggled some more. It turned over and licked my hand, and we were friends forever, just the two of us.
And then the two-tails came.
I was hunting in the deeps when the shadow of the shell passed over. It had been two or three spawning seasons since I’d been aware of one in these waters. I knew enough to stay out of sight, but I also knew I would be wise to keep track of it until it was well away. Two-tails, like sharks, are harmless unless … well, until they aren’t.
This shell dropped a smaller shell, which stuck stiff fins into the water and swam right to Clamshell! But it swam back the big shell almost immediately, and then the big shell swam on, out of my territory.
I thought I’d better make sure Hand was all right, so I forgot my hunting for the day and climbed onto the beach.
Hand came to meet me, as usual, but he wasn’t alone. A two-tail was with him.
The two-tail’s hand went to its side, where they keep miniature exploding sticks, like the big logs they use to blow each others’ shells up. There was no stick there. So it held out its hands to show me they were empty. It made noises with its mouth that I came to know was speech.
I learned some of it, since the two-tail lived on Clamshell for several years. Hand was a dog. The two-tail was a human named Joss.
I’ll admit, I didn’t want Joss on Clamshell at first. When it indicated it wanted water but didn’t want to go into the ocean, I took it to the pool of bad water instead of to the good one. Like Hand, though, it liked the bad water and drank greedily, right along with Hand.
It offered no threat, after that first, probably instinctive, reach for its exploding stick, so I let it live. I brought it fish and oysters, and it found things on the trees it could eat.
Hand liked it. I was deeply jealous of how much Hand liked it. But Hand still liked me as much as ever, and left the human for me whenever I beached, so, as I say, I let it live.
After a couple of moons, Joss started to do an odd thing. Some of the things it ate stained its hands and mouth, and it started collecting those things, squeezing them into empty shells, and smearing them on rocks.
It covered a rock in color, then touched it with other colors, and suddenly I saw a clown fish! What an amazing thing! It took a plain rock and sat it on an network of eight vines, and I saw an octopus! One day, I came for a visit and more amusement to find Joss had dragged a large, flat rock down to its shelter and had covered it with a series of strange, square caves, with two-tails everywhere.
“Home,” Joss said, pointing to it. By that time, we knew enough of one another’s language that it could tell me – if I understood it correctly – that it had left home on a shell with other two-tails to fight with other two-tails in shells, that Joss had not killed another two-tail when told to, and that the leader of the shell Joss had been on had ordered Joss stranded on Clamshell, to live or die as might happen.
After that, every time I came ashore, Joss had another picture of land or two-tails or something from its former life. The pictures faded after a few moons, and Joss reused the stone for more memories.
Then it stopped painting pictures and started covering whole stones with solid or swirls of color and arranging them on the beach, sometimes placing them at low tide, where the high tide would wash away the color or take the stones themselves. Somehow, this spoke to me of beauty and loss and longing.
Then came a day when Joss came to meet me in the water.
I wasn’t far from shore, but not yet in the shallows, when I met it, suspended upright, as if standing on land, but floating, held in that position by the stones tied above its walking flukes with vines. Its arms waved as if in greeting, the hair on its head and face swirling like the blood I remembered or dreamed I remembered.
At first, I thought it was telling me it had been keeping secret the fact that two-tails can live in the water. Then, when it was clearly dead, I thought it had been trying to live in the real world. Quickly, though, I understood that its real world had been the one it had painted, and the pain of living apart from it had become too much.
Ashore, I explained to Hand, who kept running from the water to Joss’ shelter to the bad water, looking for our … our friend. Hand didn’t understand the words, but he snuggled close to me, whining. I slept in Joss’ shelter that night.
I’m learning how to find and use those colors Joss loved. I’m learning how to use them, to paint memories and hopes and longing on stones and on the beach. When the urge to nurture comes upon me, I’m going to look for a tad. I’m going to look for others of my kind or all ages. I’m going to bring them to Clamshell and show them my paintings, my arrangements of rocks.
Maybe a pod will form. Maybe it will grow and prosper. Maybe it will always only be Hand and me. And, below the waves, reminding me of all the things I had forgotten, Joss.
MY PROMPTS TODAY: dog, community, art