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A Mermaid's Tale
By
Shylass

A Mermaid's Tale

What happens when legends come to life? A fucking tale, that's what!
This story only available on Lush Stories.

“E’er starlit water greets rolling mist
And emerald tides greet smiling moon,
Thou shalt hearest Neptune’s splash:
Beware yon mermaid’s doom.”

For some people, stuff like in the films never happens. I never win competitions, and I never win prizes or the lottery (okay, I never enter or buy a ticket, but it’s not the point). I am always just seconds too late to pick up the wallet full of money that earns the honest person a reward for handing it in. And I’m never the kind of person who hears Great Uncle Tommy just died and left me loads of money.

Until Great Uncle Tommy died and left me loads of money. Really depressing and also convenient, right? But stop interrupting with your thoughts, please, they’re distracting me.

Nobody quite knows where he made his fortune. An old salty seadog, Great Uncle Tommy could spin a yarn that pulled your leg to America and back, via the Cape. It was said that one day, whilst out hauling up the lobster pots, he’d winched up a sealed, lead-lined chest containing secret documents from the Middle Ages that the Vatican was extremely interested in, and paid him off for both his silence and the mouldering scraps. Another story was that he’d found actual treasure, of the gold and silver variety, but that’s a bit blasé for stories such as my life. Others reported he was part of a drug smuggling ring, but since he never wandered round wearing a classy suit and frequenting the Maunton Sands hotel with the movie stars, I was more inclined to believe the former.

Whatever the story was, I became the beneficiary of his estate, which included Misty Cottage, the twelve metre potting boat, “Neptune’s Lady,” that he pottered around in (geddit?), an ancient Land Rover, and a little rowing boat.

Okay, to be fair, it’s not a rowing boat. I remember the summer very well when I learned what it was. My parents had died in an accident a few weeks before, and I was sitting in the little scruffy boat that made the short journey to Neptune’s Lady when the tide was in, looking at a large yacht that was moored for the night. I was suddenly aware that I was not alone. One of the old beys (that’s what they call an “old boy” here – you would probably call him an ancient mariner) was stood on the harbour edge over me. He gave me a grim, wizened smile and nodded, leaning over the railings over my head.

“Thass boat wi’ a stick, tha.”

Real sailors are scornful of yachts with a single mast, utilised by pleasure-seeking rich folk in these parts. I nodded sagely back. I replied with what Uncle Tommy often said.

“They’m bain’t be wannin’ they’s fish supperrr, be ‘em.” It meant that they were so busy messing around and playing with expensive, useless equipment, that they wouldn’t know how to catch a fish for a meal (and that’s if they even knew how to prepare it). He nodded sagely back at me.

“I’d rather have my little rowing boat here and come back to Misty Cottage for the night than stay aboard a big boat-with-a-stick like that. I’d be too scared of breaking things”. I was well known around the little village for dropping fish and anything else I was given. More than a few times, I’d gone out to sea already soaking (hopping between boats was not a skill of mine), and coming back just as soggy.

“Thass tenderrr.”

I peered up at him.

“What?” He stared at me intently and nodded towards me.

“Thass a tenderrr maid.” In Devon, people often called a young woman, “maid” or even “my lover”. It’s a simple term of endearment, and said a great deal. They mean nothing dodgy by it. But calling me tender? I’d once been called a slab of juicy cow meat, and being rather fat, I’ve always been very conscious of my weight. The village wives used to tell me it was good, as I acted like my own flotation device when I fell in the water, and proved how rich the local cream was. But calling me tender? Really!

“I beg your pardon,” I gasped.

He pointed at the boat I was sat in.

“Thass nod a bowt, thass a tenderrr, maid. Bain’t be callin’ a tender a bowt cos bain’t be wod it iz, see?”

“Oh.”

He chuckled at me, wheezing and croaking, and dropped down a sweet for me as he wandered off home for his tea, leaving me slowly rocking in the tender. How I’d never learned the name for the small vessel, spending so much of my life in that little village, I still don’t know to this day, but I was a good quarter of a century old before I did.

I used to spend most of my time with Great Uncle Tommy in Misty Cottage when I wasn’t at school, as my parents were usually busy during term-time, and would leave me to learn about a fisherman’s way of life, and play on the little harbour beach under the watchful eye of the locals when Great Uncle Tommy was caught late out at sea before coming in on the evening tide. The first day since he died that I went to see Misty Cottage again was just after the funeral. The compete arse of a city solicitor was showing me round, as if I didn’t know those stone walls as well as dear Great Uncle Tommy himself, as if it wasn’t my actual home already, harping on about what the place was worth. He should have been an estate agent, really. If he was local, I’d have thought he was probably related to the local estate agent. In fact, it was probably his own sister that he’d married, and set up a joint business with. He did seem a bit inbred (alright, not really, but he was annoying). God knows where Great Uncle Tommy found him. Actually, the Vatican probably knows. Sorry, I digress. So, finally, he wandered off to take a call, leaving me to my grief and sorrowful delight in new ownership of the place Great Uncle Tommy had been born in, and lived his simple, fisherman’s life. It would have been horribly sad if some distant, unknown relative had been able to claim it and use it as a holiday retreat once a year. Misty Cottage had soul. Mine. She held me there as if I were chained to her timbered walls and ceilings, as if the cliff she hugged were a part of me.

I stood in the little paved garden with my back to the little stone cottage and window boxes of forlorn lobelia, looking out across the harbour. Just in the lee of the cliff, Misty Cottage was a rather cheery picture-book kind of place, like you find on boxes of Clotted Cream Fudge, but with a slate roof instead of thatch. I could see the tide-worn pier of Illfyfel, the small port village on the North Devon coast that I loved so deeply. The call of the seagulls, like a crowd of hungry football fans shouted and called to each other, a group of them fighting over some chips in a raggedy squabble just down the little road that ran parallel to the harbour. I breathed in the sharp, tangy air, the odd whiff of the lobster pots slapping me in the nostrils now and again. I grew to love that stinging smell when I was little, as it spoke of interesting creatures from the depths of the sea, the romance of stepping aboard the chugging Neptune’s Lady for a fun fishing trip to deeper waters (Great Uncle Tommy never took me potting, as it was dangerous and heavy work), and the feeling of being Home. I signed some papers, grimaced the solicitor away, unloaded my little car, parked off the road on a little snicket next to the landrover, and went in. Alone.

My family home was a mere five miles up the road in Upper Windingford, but when I was in Misty Cottage, my heart felt it was truly at home. My parents died when I was in my first year of work, after leaving university, and I took a month off to stay with Great Uncle Tommy. There was only us two left of our small family unit, and we both bore our grief silently, taking comfort simply in each others’ presence. The villagers knew us both well enough to sadly smile and nod, and leave the odd dish of supper or strawberries for us, rather than intrude on our privacy. Villages are places where everybody knows everybody’s business, but not everybody knows everybody very well – some of us like to keep ourselves to ourselves, and Great Uncle Tommy and I always did just that. Oh, we passed the time of day with people, and we knew each others’ comings and goings. But essentially, we kept our own counsel, generally fished alone, and stayed within our little stone bounds whilst others preferred to be in each others’ pockets and passionately discuss their coming and going and intimate details.

The village was always full of life somewhere. Tourists who came year after year; strangers who got lost and delighted in the picturesque place; kids home from school playing before bedtime; the three teenaged “hoodies” lurking at the foot of Neptune’s Rock at the top of Menhir Hill; fishermen coming and going from the pub or the boats; women gossiping in front of the little stores and Post Office; always, somewhere, in Illfyfel, was a sign of life. Except on certain nights.

Misty Cottage stood out of the worst of the storm winds that would rip through in winter, but provided picturesque views of the boats and the village built in five terraces up the hill. In those storms, the battering wind and raging seas would scour the grey slate cliffs and cottages, and people would often clip their waists to ropes connecting the lower buildings, in case a rogue wave should sweep them into the white-foamed roiling pit of the sea depths. In spring, the ships would be prepared for return to the water, as the stern, lashing waves made trouble for drying anti-foul and annoyed the fishwives trying to dry their washing, rather than waste electricity on tumble dryers. In summer, the sun would bake down in sweltering streams of harsh light, drying the cobbles and playing with the edges of the little ice cream parlour’s faded parasols, and warming the fingers of lapping waves. In autumn, the rich, honeyed beams of fading sun would kiss the sea making it glitter, and the cliff faces, lighting up the candy tuft and seadrift still adorning Menhir Hill as people enjoyed the last vestiges of joy before the boats were lifted out of the water for winter once more, and the men would haul in the nets for fixing.

Yes, there were always signs of life in the village. Except on certain nights.

When the deep, swirling sea fog rolled in, saturating the air and ground with mystic portents and whispered secrets, Misty Cottage became Other-Wordly. When the clouded mists of grey-pearl veils descended, silence and limitless Nothing extended beyond Misty Cottage’s little pink-and-white-daisied wooden gate, and one must beware of the Faerie Folk and Sirens’ call. Cut off from the view of the other dwellings, Misty Cottage was a gateway into Other Realms. There was an old legend whisperingly sung on dark, late October nights to children who were wont to wander off:

“E’er starlit water greets rolling mist
And emerald tides greet smiling moon,
Thou shalt hearest Neptune’s splash:
Beware yon mermaid’s doom.”

Stories were told of children who were taken by Neptune to do his bidding in underwater palaces. The Faerie Folk who lurked around Neptune’s Rock, an ancient standing stone atop Menhir Hill, the headland forming the right hand side of the harbour, were said to creep down into the village and pluck naughty children from their warm, cosy beds. Mermaids were said to call to the sailors and drive them onto the rocks with a chilling laugh. Sirens sang a beckoning to pull unwary shipmates to a dark, watery doom just beyond the depths of the deep harbour’s limits. The little beach near the mouth of the harbour was called Wreck Beach. There are approximately eighty-six Smuggler’s Coves on this stretch of coastline alone, and Wreck Beach is owned with pride by the villagers, simply for being different, although it was used for smuggling in earlier centuries.

But it remains a graveyard for hundreds of men who sought shelter in a raging storm, only to find the ripping tide caught them in a freak, monstrous eddy that splintered the planks of the prow and the ship sank almost instantly. After a storm, during which it was said you could hear the wails and screams of the poor lost souls foundering, coins, odd pieces of metal, and shards of glass and pottery can still be found there. But it was also said that the ship was not a victim of an accident, but rather, the mermaids were angry at the captain’s resistance to his men diving off the ship so that the mermaids could claim them as their own, and that they caused Neptune to hurl his force at the ship, Orchis, sinking her and all who had been aboard.

Of course, it’s all a bunch of bollocks. I mean, Neptune? Faerie Folk? Mermaids? If they existed, we’d have pictures of them, and either have them in zoos, government labs (obviously their presence would be leaked), or be tailing their fishy lives in the trashy celebrity magazines. And if it’s true about why the Orchis sank, how would we even know that? They all died!

But fisherfolk are incredibly superstitious, and you must allow them that. It doesn’t mean you have to take them seriously, but they would rather do you some little harm (like punch you or leave you standing on the quayside alone as they go out to sea) than allow you on board with a banana, wearing green, or the mention of rabbits. A woman on a ship was also very unlucky, but Great Uncle Tommy always said Neptune wouldn’t want anybody as clumsy as me, so I was okay.

I must confess to you, though, I do have my own superstition. Well, okay, two. One is that I always, always have gingerbread cookies with me when I go fishing. I love their smiles. Sometimes I feel very down, and so whenever I need a smile, I look at a cookie, and it smiles for me. And as I fish, I take a cookie out, and break off a piece. I throw it into the water, and hope that Neptune will send me a lovely big fat fishy for my tea in return. The other superstition I have is that I have to talk to my worms that I use for bait, so they know who’s boss, and then I ask them nicely to bring me a nice fishy if Neptune won’t. Between us all, we usually did okay. I never caught monsters, but then I never wanted to. I just wanted to catch my tea. They are silly superstitions, but I always thought, what is life worth, if not with more joy in it? The world needs more joy, and if I can find it, I embrace it.

Having said that, I really am very antisocial, and grumpy when it comes to sharing fishing space or personal details (I’m suffering your delightful presence, because who doesn’t want people to be interested in them, truthfully?). In summer, our little village is swamped with what we call “grockles”, meaning tourists. The Cornish call them “emmits”, which means ants, because they swarm like ants do. There is no escaping the screaming parents as their kids get too close to the water’s edge, or because they are moaning for another ice cream, or the clogged lanes of our access roads like blocked arteries of somebody who has eaten too much clotted cream all his life, the cars snaking silvery up the cliff sides and forcing locals to park in Hayswain Head field at the top of the headland, just to get home for lunch. And worst, a load of ignorant men flailing 6oz gripper leads around and pretending they know how to do a pendulum cast, when all they really achieve is the severe threat of killing someone or severely maiming them. Oh, and the delightful fluff-chuckers, who prance about with great strings of hooked feathers pretending they know how to feather for mackerel. Call me grumpy, but really? Okay, I’m grumpy. But really?!

And so, in summer, I would get up at the crack of dawn (if you said that in Upper Windingford, some smartarse would tell you that you couldn’t have got up at the crack of Dawn, because she’d spent the night in their bed), and go fishing early, so that I could avoid the pier-side questions of “Caught anything yet?”, “Are you here with your husband?”, “Can I have some of your bait?” and “Do you really like fishing? You’re a woman!” It was also not safe to take the tender out, past the flying feathers, hooks and leads, as the mouth of the deep harbour was fairly narrow and a renegade grockle casting out to sea could still sideswipe me if they released the line too early.

Two days after Great Uncle Tommy’s funeral, having handed in my notice from work (they were a bunch of knobheads anyway, and the healthy accounts left to me told me that I could take my time before deciding what I wanted to do), I decided to go fishing. I had to, really.

The night was an early summer one, and the previous week’s storm had left the water full of weed, with a beautiful emerald hue, rich and velvety in the sunlight, and causing fisherfolk to haul up great clumps of kelp on the end of their stripped hooks from the pier. In the late evening light, the sea fog had been spotted, and even then, as I stood in the sitting room, it was crawling its way into the harbour mouth.

Misty Cottage was feeling… odd. It had always been filled with trinkets and treasures, shells and corals, pieces of driftwood and etchings, carvings and old, rich tapestry work from Great Uncle Tommy’s travels as a young man, and the travels of not only his dad, his granddad, and his great granddad, but whoever had come before them. The walls were lined with many shelves in the two rooms downstairs, with funny little boat pieces and wheels on the kitchen walls and up the twisty, crooked stairs. The two bedrooms were relatively plain, but the bathroom was filled with model boats and corals and great strings of scallops and pearly shells. It was ever so pretty. And a complete bugger to clean.

But for all the feeling of home that Misty Cottage usually held for me, and the memories and echoes of evenings hanging tense in the air, there was something… “lost” about it now. It was like something tangible hovering in the air, almost, but not, like smoke. Like the thick, rolling fog was creeping under the doors. It was as if somebody was about to walk into the sitting room, but were waiting, sniggering around the corner at my growing fear and discomfort, or peering at me from down the chimney flue. Like the Faerie Folk had sent their mischievous sprites skittering down the hill from Neptune’s Rock to spy on me and sneak up, ready to pluck at my fishing trousers and t-shirt, and pull my hair. I shuddered.

There is a thing called “The Fear”, or “The Heebie-Jeebies”. If you have ever experienced it, you know what I mean. It’s inexplicable, but suddenly, your heart starts pounding, your eyes start scanning all around, and you have to get out of wherever you are really fast. But you can’t explain why. It is a common feeling around fisherfolk, moor hikers, and woodland walkers. It Just Happens. It’s Fight or Flight, but nothing has appeared for you to fight, and you have no choice but to run. And run I did, into the kitchen to grab my packet of ragworm from the fridge, the hall to grab my spinning rod and tackle bag, and then right out of the front door.

Slamming it behind me, I scuttled down to the railings looking over the harbour, with a quick glance up the little path to Menhir Hill just beyond Misty Cottage, in case anything was looking at me with glowing eyes. I stood and watched for a moment, as we fisherfolk do. We stand, we observe the weather, we choose our target, we set up, we fish. I stood, I felt the warm, thick air getting more and more humid as the rolling fog crept towards me, now beyond the harbour mouth and kissing the sides of the potting boats, sliding between the pier pilings, and bringing its briny presence right to my feet. I could see the endless dome of the star-studded indigo heavens above me, an almost half-moon like a tipsy smiley face reassuring me. The cold starlight was winking into the warmer deep green waters, until the fog swept around me and over me, and hid the glorious sight from my eyes in a comforting hug, hiding me from whatever glowing, impish eyes may have been watching me from Menhir Hill. This was a night when nobody left their homes except the brave or the foolish, for fear of being snatched away and never heard of again.

But like I said, that’s all a bunch of bollocks. I just wanted to go fishing, and shake off The Fear. It was halfway through a neap tide, the smallest tides of the month, and it was just before slack low tide (slack is when the sea decides it wants to come back in or go out, and kind of sits around for a bit before it knows). I could row out to the sandy holding pool before the rocky gulley just past Wreck Beach, where the weed wouldn’t bother me so much, and then fish the tide up to high, if I wanted. The turn of the tide was when the flatfish would be waking up and the pelagic fish coming in to feed, so it was ideal for me. I decided I wanted a plaice, a pollack, and if I was lucky, a bass. They didn’t like moonlight, but with the mist hiding it, I may be able to bag one.

I turned on my head torch, climbed down the iron ladder to my tender that was moored there (many times I’d fallen in, but thankfully not that night), and tied the massively long safety rope to the ladder. It filled most of the little boat when it was coiled, and weighed it down, but I needed it. Any local going out at night in this cove in a small vessel would do the same. You tie the rope to the ladder at one end, and your tender at the other, and if anything happens and you lose your oars or capsize, you use the rope to pull you back to safety. If the worst should happen, and the boat is empty, the fishermen would pull it back in the morning and raise the alarm. I set up my rod and tackle, with a size 2 circle hook and watch lead, and lay them down ready for baiting up. And then I began to row out into the mist.

Through the harbour I went, pausing to pat Neptune’s Lady as I went past. I hadn’t decided what to do with her yet, sell her, or offer her to the local schools for day trips. I thought maybe there would be some of the local children who would like to think about learning to fish out at sea. It was surprising how many never fished, even from the shore. But I digress again. It’s a fisherfolk thing.

As I rowed out into the deep silence, past the whisper of timbers barely creaking in the sleeping boats, the air thick and eerily warm, I thought how wonderful it was to be out in such peace. The orange lights of Illfyfel, stacked secretly before me on the lower reaches of Hayswain Head, and the green navigation light on the end of the little pier glowed gloomily at me, lost in another dimension somewhere to my right, with the open sea somewhere out there behind me, and Menhir Hill looming unseen to my left. I passed Wreck Beach, the jutting rocks that framed it nudged one of my oars as I swept past a little closer than I intended, and I reached the end of my tether. No, really. I knew when I reached the end of the safety rope tied to my tender and the ladder, that’s where I was going to fish. I dropped down my anchor weight (a big, smooth, round rock hugged by a web of rope, so it couldn’t get snagged and force me to cut it to release myself).

With a clear tender floor, I baited up my hook with an oozing lugworm, and asked him nicely to bring me a fishy. Then I lowered him in. Turning off my head torch so I didn’t scare the fish, and tucking the rod snugly under my arm, I pulled out my box of gingerbread men that I keep in my tackle bag with a drink. I chose one, and asked him nicely to find Neptune and ask him to give me a lovely present. Then I dropped his top half into the deep green waters, and sat back to wait.

It was right on slack tide, so I knew it could be a while before the fish stirred. I also knew that with all the weed in the water from the storm previously, the crabs would be out in force to “bait-rape” my hook, and so I had let the watch lead find the sandy seabed, and the hook would rest about a foot above it, held clear of the weight line by a small plastic boom. It’s very technical, this fishing lark, you know.

I felt the sudden tiny tugs of movement on the line. Aha! The Tiddlers must be out in force tonight! Too small to swallow the hook, too many not to strip the bait. I sat there, in that warm, enveloping mist, feeling their tugs and pulls. I re-baited a few times, and towards the end of slack tide, all went quiet. I checked my bait again, only to find the worm still there and glooping. This was a very good sign. When the little fishies disappear, it’s because there’s something to worry about. The bigger fish were moving in, and I needed to wait.

And wait I did! After twenty minutes sat there, and not a touch, I threw out another piece of gingerbread man. That usually does the trick. About a minute later, I felt a double smack against the bait! A bass, when it comes for its prey, will slice the victim with its razor-sharp gill raker, and smack it with its tail to stun it as it goes past. Then it will circle round, charge, and engulf it in its cavernous maw, and if you don’t strike on that third hit to rip the hook through their tough mouth, you will lose the whole fish. But bass are very flighty, and they can also just sort of “sit” on it, mouthing it and anything, even a little crab scuttling past, could make them drop it and leave faster than a slutty bloke who’s just been told his casual girlfriend is pregnant. And if you do manage to get the hook through its mouth (I mean the bass, I’ve finished talking about the bloke now, this is not “How To Catch A Man”), you have to keep the line tight and “play” the fish, letting it exhaust itself, but never, ever letting the line go slack. If you manage to pull that fish into a small boat before you tire it out and whack it over the head, you’re going to be in serious trouble of either getting slashed and spiked, or worse, falling in headfirst.

Actually, this does sound a bit like “How To Catch A Man.” Or so I’m told. How would I know? I never went out to meet people my own age, and I never kept in touch with anybody I went to school with, although we lived in the same town. I never had a boyfriend, or sex (oh, stop sniggering), I just always assumed that kind of thing would never be part of my life. I’ve always been shy around anybody of a certain age and the opposite sex, although I’ve met loads through my fishing (whether I wanted to or not). But again, I digress.

Anyway, there I was, waiting for the third smack so I could strike and hook the fish… SMACK! I struck, staying low in the tender, and started reeling in furiously. Okay, let me rephrase, I struck, staying low in the tender, completely unable to reel in furiously. There was an immense weight on my line, and it didn’t care that I was at the other end of it, making the drag on my reel scream as it took line out. This was not a bass. This felt like a conger. Now, I don’t swear very often, only when I am under the thrall of intense emotion. But I swore then! A conger could flip my boat and actually kill me itself. They are evil bastards.

“Shit!” I lay lower still in the tender, flipping off the drag so it wouldn’t strip my reel, hooking one leg over and one leg under the little plank stretched across as a seat, my shoulder pointing towards the stern and the rod held low so it wouldn’t snap and injure me. The whole tender swung round, as if the fish was circling me. If it got the line caught on the safety rope, there was going to be trouble, but I couldn’t move to reach for my knife to cut it. I lay panicking, holding tight to the rod and freaking out as the tender swung back round the other way to face the open sea again. Then it began to move portside, parallel to the shore as if the tether was stopping the beast going forward. It suddenly swung back again to run parallel with the starboard shore side. I was sweating now, my heart pounding, clinging onto the seat with my legs and the rod with my arms, and suddenly, the weight was gone and I was left floating back and forth over the surface as the stone anchor was holding ground once more. I lay there, tense and straining, waiting for the slackliner to pull taught again.

I lay there another minute, and nothing had happened. Sweating, I tentatively sat up, legs still around the seat, and reeled in slowly, waiting for the monstrous weight again. But it never came. I reeled in until the end of the line appeared, a clean cut through it. Whatever it was had bitten straight through. I sat there huddled in the bottom of the tender shaking, drenched by my own fear. I was hidden from the Faerie Folk staring down at me from Menhir Hill, but there were leviathans lurking below me, eyeing up the little shadow of my vessel and circling.

Too shaken to row to shore, or pull myself along with the safety rope, I sat there resting, trying to calm my breathing as the orange and green gloom from shore tried to reassure me poorly. Eventually, my heartbeat was normal again, and I was shivering with cold rather than fear in the warm air with my drying sweat. I pulled on the hoodie that I kept in my tackle bag, and took a few sips of water. There was no way I was going to fish again that night! Maybe I should have braved the warmth of the pub up the hill. No, that was just as scary. Suddenly, I heard a noise!

A random splash. And another. A voice called out from the mist.

“Hello?”

“Who’s there?” I called.

“Can you help me, please? I’m in the water!”

I scrambled up onto my knees.

“Can you swim?” Ridiculous question, I know. Somebody who can’t swim will scream and gurgle at you, not ask politely!

“Yes, but I’m very tired,” the man’s voice called back.

“Then swim towards my voice, and I’ll get as close to you as I can. I have a safety rope on the tender.”

I flicked on my head torch and started to sing the only thing I could think of as I heaved up the stone anchor and rowed towards him.

“E’er starlit water greets rolling mist
And emerald tides greet smiling moon,
Thou shalt hearest Neptune’s splash:
Beware yon mermaid’s doom.”

I heard his splashes through the mist as he came towards me, and I towards him. I saw his shape looming up and pulled in my oars. His dark hair, slick against his neck and the sides of his face framed a tanned face with the most deeply green eyes I have ever seen that gleamed peacefully up at me.

“Are you okay? Are you hurt?” He shook his head at me, smiling sheepishly.

“I can’t get you in here without capsizing. I’ll row you to Wreck and we’ll get you in.”

Picking up the longish rope that moored the tender to the railings, I made a large noose, and helped him pull it down over his head and under his armpits.

“Okay, hold on tight, and feel with your feet for the sand. We aren’t far away, and I’ll go slow. Yell if I hit a rock with you. Okay?” Again, he smiled sheepishly at me, and nodded.

I started rowing, bizarrely hearing him hum my song as I went. A minute later, I heard him splashing to his feet, and I felt the crunching scrape of the tender on the shell-studded sand below me. I pulled the oars in, and climbed out of the boat, alongside the stranger as we waded in the shallows and heaved the tender higher onto the shore together. Then I turned and looked at him.

“Are you hurt? What were you doing out there?” I scanned him up and down looking for blood and bruising. “Did your boat sink?”

I walked round him as he stood in the still water, not a breath of wind stirring the water or his hair which hung in long, dark tight curls to his shoulders. As I walked around him, I saw a broad, powerful chest tapering down to his narrow waist and hips. The power in his shoulders made me tingle; large, rounded muscles in balls of iron strength on arms, and thick, trunk-like legs bulged with a force beyond any man I’d ever seen before, even on the potting boats. The ripples on his back were like the rolling dimples left in the sand after a rip on a spring tide, his tan almost the same colour as the warm hue beneath our feet. So help me, I even checked out his bum! He was wearing a weird pair of shorts – they looked like leather, and only just covered his shapely cheeks.

I rounded to face him again, and stood before him, looking into his face as my head torch held him in its gaze. He was looking right into my eyes. His face was… blimey. Framed by those tight curls, it looked almost like a blunt heart, with a solid chin and a wide, intelligent forehead that led down to a long, finely chiselled nose. His cheeks were high-boned with long dimples on either side of his wide, smiling mouth, his teeth flashing pearl under the scrutiny of my light. But it was his eyes… Dear god, those eyes! Deepest green with swirls of hazel kelp, pulling me towards their depths. Looking into them was like when I would sit looking down into the sea, and feel a tangible, physical pull down into it, as if I was on a hook and being pulled in, just as if I were a fish and being pulled out. And his eyes drew me into him just like that, fascinating and irresistible. I suddenly realised that I was just one small pace away from him. I had actually moved closer to him as I gazed into those eyes, close enough to feel his breath on me. And his pupils, surrounded by those whirlpools of green, were tiny pinpricks in the harsh lumens on my light.

“Oh crap, I’m really sorry!” I stepped back immediately and switched off my head torch. I heard his low chuckle.

“So, you aren’t hurt, what happened?”

His dark shape in the gloom stood before me, with the faint orange and green glows just across the water showing me his outline and picking out his fine features like a god hidden in the shadows of a Faerie glade.

“I went for a swim, and I got lost in the mist.”

“You what?! You went for a swim? Are you mental or what? In this mist? Do you know people die to save idiots like you? Swim back and forth between the boats, sure, but out there? It’s the sea, man! Sea! She’ll call you in like a lover and then rip out your heart! She’s a bitch, man, and she has teeth! We don’t have an inshore lifeboat for this stretch, nobody could have helped you if they even knew you were out there. Did you even tell anybody?” I was hot again now, steaming with fury at the recklessness of this god-like idiot stood in front of me.

“No, I’m used to these waters. I usually come out swimming alone at night, but I fell asleep floating on my back when I was having a rest and I wasn’t sure where I was.”

“You fell… Oh my god, you fucking mentalist! You could have died.”

“But I didn’t.”

“But you could have. Men and women die for people like you. If I catch you doing that again, I will drown you myself!”

“Is that a promise?” I could hear a smile in his voice.

“Yes, it fucking is. I will do it right now if you prefer.”

Suddenly, I was almost off my feet and laying back on his arm, with his face shadowed over mine, and his other arm tight round me.

“And will you give me the kiss of life afterwards?” he whispered.

“What the fuck… No, I will fucking not. Let me up!” My feet scrabbled underneath, trying to get purchase on the sand and get free by heaving myself sideways out of his arms. But I couldn’t move beyond his grasp. I felt myself swing round as his arms lifted me up and he walked further up the beach with me wriggling and fighting and screaming, half wondering at the strength it would take to lift me, and half fearful of what was going to happen next. But I was fighting so hard that future was beyond my imagination, a simple escape from Right Now was what I clawed for.

He dropped to his knees and I felt him place me, for all my scrabbling, on the sand. Instantly he was over me, his knees on the outside of my calves and his feet on the inside of my ankles so I couldn’t kick his weight off. His arms held my wrists down on either side of my head as I shouted and yelled and begged him to let me go. I wriggled as hard as I could, feeling myself sinking further into the soft sand, his immense weight pressing down on me. He held me there like a fish flapping its strength out at the water’s edge before the final pull to land it.

Exhausted and all shouted out, I lay there under him, crying and just waiting for what he would do to me. I was suddenly aware that he was making gentle shushing noises, and he was not so much holding me down, as simply acting like an immoveable barrier. It was my fighting that held me pinned there, not his strength. Not daring to say anything, I lay, waiting for his next move, still sniffing as my breathing slowed and only let out the odd shuddering sob.

“Okay?” he asked. I felt the angry fire stoke up in me again.

“No, I am not okay, you bastard! Let me up.”

“Daisy.”

I couldn’t believe it. The mental fucking bastard knew my name.

“Who the fuck are you? What do you want of me? Let me go and I won’t tell anybody. Just let me go.” Whilst I was burning to know how he knew who I was, I didn’t want to know how he somehow knew me, it was creepy. Had he been the one watching me in Misty Cottage? Who was this man, this weird Neptunal swimmer?

“I knew your Great Uncle Tommy. He and I were friends.”

“What? He never mentioned he had a complete knobhead for a mate.” Again, I heard the smile in his voice.

“He told me to watch out for you when he’d gone; he said he knew you’d be wanting a friend.”

“A friend, maybe, a psycho, no. And certainly not a strange psycho who wanders around in the middle of the night lurking around like a conger at the job centre.”

“Like a conger at the…” He laughed aloud. “That makes no sense.”

“And neither do you. Now let me go.”

“Daisy.”

“Stop saying my name! You don’t own me, and you’re not allowed to know my name.”

“I’d like to own you.” I stared up at his shadowy form.

As I glared (okay, glaring in the dark is stupid, but what’s a girl to do?), I focussed my gaze on where I thought his eyes were, just so he’d know how pissed off I was. But there… There, in that darkness, I saw Him. His eyes… I could see Him in his eyes. They began, first dimly, to shine a tiny light, and grew until my face was bathed in shimmering, translucent light, quite unlike the navigation light on the pier. This light cut through the wet velvety mist like a trident through the solid flesh of a fish. It shimmered and rippled and I saw in his eyes the deepest oceans of the worlds, the weight of universal seas of greens and jades and blues and teals, the whale songs booming though the spaces in my mind, and I suddenly felt his mouth on mine, and dear god, I was kissing him back! My hands round his neck, my legs suddenly around his waist, I was lost in oceanic abandonment. Seconds before, I was afeared for my life, and now all I wanted was for this god to fuck me like a whore.

Oh goodness, I’m blushing, telling you this, as if you were there watching us. You could have been staring down at us from Neptune’s Rock, directly above us on the cliff, laughing at me with the Other-Worlders. You already know I’ve not had any experience of this kind with a man, nor, looking at me, would you think I was ever likely to. But it was happening, and he’d started it. He moved his mouth to kiss my neck, and my hands were grabbing at his rock-hard back and shoulders, trying to pull him closer to me. But there was only one way He could be any closer to me than He was right now.

He knelt up, and pulled me up with him, pulling my hoodie and t-shirt up and over my head. Strangely, all my shyness had been left somewhere out in the mist, and had no place here. I knew what I wanted, and I was going to get it. Still kissing hard and deep, his tongue thrusting into mine in some kind of dance, I managed to wriggle out of my bra fastenings, and lean back, not bothered by my soft breasts sagging a little either side of me as I went. His hands were suddenly on them, squeezing and groping, forming a massage bra of delight in the darkness. His head came down to my neck again, as his hips were suddenly between my legs, grinding down onto me. He whispered into my ear as he stingingly bit along the lobe.

“I want to own you. Will you give yourself to me?”

The weight of lost worlds was in his words. He did not mean simply, “Can I shag you?” He was asking for my life. Fleetingly, I thought of how I was alone in the world, nobody left but me, and Misty Cottage, now stood back there on the shore with hostile presences lurking where my soul had once dwelt. I didn’t know where my soul had gone, but it was not back there.

“Yes,” I whispered. I felt his hand move down from my breast across my round stomach, and slide down into my trousers and knickers. I gasped loudly as he slid a finger inside my pussy lips and felt him slickly running it up and down, gently brushing against that little pearl like a diver feeling inside a shell for a fortune. He continued kissing my neck, biting and sucking, and I was lost in a swirl of those eyes which glimmered and glowed as he roamed my body in the dark, highlighting parts of me and casting shadows around us into the sand and lighting up the mists like primordial spirits being birthed.

I felt his weight move off me, and his hands were at my trousers, and pulling them off with my knickers. I had a sudden panic about the sand going into uncomfortable places (okay, you can be lost in the throes of passion and still be practical, you know). So I sat up and grabbed my hoodie, and wriggled it under me, as he pulled off my trousers and now wet knickers, taking my little deck shoes with them.

I sat there, naked, on my hoodie, in the sand, staring at his deep, gleaming eyes. I saw his smile flash. He stood up before me, his thick, muscled legs straddling my own, and unfastened his leather shorts. His thick cock sprang out of them. I stared, round-eyed, at it, as it was silhouetted by the water-rippling light. Normally I would be giggling, or averting my eyes, but so help me, I wanted to have him inside me. I leaned back, and opened my legs for him, my arms open and held out to him. There was no fear in me, just desire and the need to give of myself, and take him into myself. I felt like I was brought into the world for this, like I had found the place I was destined to be in, and now I was fulfilled. Well, almost.

He crouched down, and slunk his way up my legs, closing his eyes so I could only guess where he was, and gasping as I felt his tongue lick up my slit, and then flicker over that now hard and throbbing pearl. He kissed upwards, over my stomach, up to my breastbone, pausing here and there to bite gently or suck softly, until his mouth was on mine once more.

I felt his strength hovering above me, and I longed for him to make contact with my hips. I felt the tip of his cock brush me in various places, teasing little kisses and wet licks all over my hips, thighs, mound and pussy lips. His eyes flashed open and I gazed into their shining depths as I felt his hardness running up and down my lips, dipping inside to rub the aching parts of me, and getting closer to my entrance.

I longed for him to just be inside me, and I brought my legs and arms up around him, tightening them, trying to urge him in. I heard the rumble of his chuckle as I tried to lift my hips up to him. I raised my head, and I bit into his neck, sucking hard. I lowered my head again to look at him, and his eyes flashed liquid green fire at me, and I felt his hand go down and set himself right at my hole.

“Own me,” I whispered.

And he did.

He plunged fairly deep, and I gasped as a sharp, searing pain tore through me. He held still as I clung to him with my eyes screwed shut. He waited there, not moving. My breathing calmed a little, still panting with the lust, but not so much with the pain, just feeling him there.

His hand brushed my face. I opened my eyes, a tear trickling down my cheek, and he bent his face down and kissed it away.

“Okay?” I nodded in answer. He put his mouth on mine again, and kissed me so deep I thought he’d reached my heart and was kissing that too. I began to move my hips under him, it was reflex. It felt a little sore, but the sensation of him inside me was delicious, like I was being made whole with each movement. Gently, he began to move in and out of me, until there was no more discomfort, just sliding, slippery friction and pure delight as I felt his thick head moving backwards and forwards inside me like the tides of the moon on fast forward. Kissing my neck again, and me nuzzling his, I felt him pick up his pace.

He lifted his head and gazed down at me, a myriad worlds pulling me into his eyes as I drank in every image I could find in them, hungrily feeling the crush of his heavy weight on my plump hips, and his hard cock bursting in to new delights, deeper and deeper until there was no further it could go and he was balls deep in my swollen pussy and I was crying out in the agonising ecstasy of it all. His hot breath wreathed my face as my legs wreathed his waist, and I was helpless to do anything but cling on and feel myself sinking into Him, like we were passing oceans of energy between us, storm breakers crashing onto a rocky beach and sucking the smoothed stones back on the ebb, only to be crashed upon again before the pull had let up, a cycle of limitless, inestimable power that could not be leashed back.

And the final surge of the beautiful storm broke over me, washing both our sweating, panting bodies with an ecstasy only those who have felt it can know. My pussy clamped in rhythmic spasms, milking his gushing cock as it filled me full to over flowing, like the tidal surge crashing back out of the sea cave it just filled.

He collapsed onto me, his weight covering me with slick, burning, happy heat, and I lay beneath him, feeling him inside me as he softened. He slid over to my side, lying on his shoulder with one arm bent under him to cup his head, and the other stretched over me to cup my breast. The lights glimmered from his eyes more softly, and he smiled sleepily at me.

“Who are you? I don’t even know your name.”

“Have a guess.” And he began to hum my song again.

I looked into the ripples of light in his eyes, at the god-like body, and thought of him emerging from the sea as if he owned it. I thought of the rock over our heads, and the words of the song:

“E’er starlit water greets rolling mist
And emerald tides greet smiling moon,
Thou shalt hearest Neptune’s splash:
Beware yon mermaid’s doom.”

“You’re not… you can’t be… Are you Neptune?” He smiled at me with that pearly grin in his handsome face.

“That is what men call me, yes.”

I leapt up in horror.

“Oh my god, I fucked a fish! I fucked a fucking fish! Fucking hell! What were you thinking? A fucking fish! I must be mad! Oh my god, there are laws against this, even in Devon! A fucking fish!”

He stood up and I backed away. A breath later and he was there holding my shoulders hard. I fought to get away from him, and suddenly his voice made the ground tremble.

“Look at me.”

I had no choice, I had to look up.

“I am not a fish. I am a god. There is a difference. You did not fuck a fish. I’m a much better lay than a fish. Trust me. And don’t ask how I know.”

The rebel in me wanted to ask, but I was afeared I’d be disgusted with the answer.

“So, are you human?”

“No, I’m a god.”

“Can you do tricks?”

“Not for the whims of feisty young ladies, no. But I can do stuff, yes.”

“Prove it,” I said, raising my eyebrows at him.

“I just fucked you within minutes of meeting you, didn’t I? I’d say that was a pretty good trick.”

SLAP! I whacked the cheeky beggar right round the face.

“I was a good lay, though, you can’t deny that,” he grinned at me.

“That’s not the point,” I snarled. “You tricked me.”

“I didn’t make you do anything you didn’t want to.” He smiled softly at me and I glared at him.

“So what happens now? Do you want a lift back to shore, and I’ll never see you again, or what?”

“Is that what you want?”

I looked at him, still pulled towards the ocean depths of his gaze, although I held myself away. I didn’t know. Actually, that’s not true. I did know. I wanted to be with him, wherever that was, and never be without him.

“Do you know what “yon mermaid’s doom” is?” he asked. I looked at him, puzzled.

“Look at yourself.”

I looked down, suddenly aware that we were both still naked. And strangely, I was glittering in the light of those shining eyes. I looked at my breasts and arms in the light. I was covered in tiny fish scales. You can’t escape fish scales when you fish, they just come off onto you. But I hadn’t caught any fish that night. It was actually very beautiful, but I didn’t want to be covered in stinky fish bits for longer than was necessary.

“Ew, gross,” I said, walking hurriedly to the water, horribly aware my boobs and bum wobbled as I went. But I just wanted to wash myself clean. I also realised that what goes up must come down, and I could feel congealing spunk running down my leg. It was very odd. So I splashed into the water, sinking in up to my neck, and scrubbing at my arms and body. I saw his light falling onto me, and turned to look at him in the water next to me.

“It won’t come off, Daisy. Not if you want to be with me.”

“What do you mean?” I looked at him in horror.

“I mean, mermaid’s doom. If you want to be with me, you must transform. You have started the process already. You asked me to own you, and own you I have. But I’m not cruel, I will release you if you want it. But if you want to stay with me, you must forsake your earthly life and be transformed. You will be as the fish, and swim in the ocean with me. You cannot come back.”

I thought for a minute, remembering what was left for me in my earthly life. Money, yes. Family, no. No real friends to speak of. And here? I’d just been fucked by a god, for god’s sake. Well, his sake and mine.

Never one to make sudden decisions until this night, I suddenly formed a plan in my mind.

“Alright,” I said, “but I have something to do before I can come with you.” He smiled at me with peaceful eyes glimmering, and waded out of the water to fetch my clothes for me. When we had both dressed, we got into the tender, and he pulled us along the safety rope, and we climbed up the ladder onto the quayside. He held my hand as I opened the door to Misty Cottage. He could feel my fear, and knowing he was there, I felt reassured.

I found the paperwork from the city solicitor, and a fresh piece of paper. On it, I wrote that I bequeathed Misty Cottage, Neptune’s Lady and the Land Rover and my little car, to the RNLI, to be used by the villagers for fundraising and school trips. The money in my accounts was to be used to buy a new inshore lifeboat, and the rest of the proceeds to go towards its upkeep and that of the cottage. I would not be back.

I put the papers and all my keys, passport and driving licence into a sealable bag, and we left Misty Cottage.

Neptune (how foolish it seems to write his name) rowed up back out to the place where we had met, and dropped the anchor stone down. I placed the bag of papers and keys in the bottom of the tender.

“You won’t need your clothes,” he said gently. So I took them off and put them in pile over the documents.

"Do you like gingerbread cookies?" I asked him.

"I do now," he smiled. "I learned to love them because you do."

I thought for another minute, not caring any more about my nakedness before him.

“Will I smell like a fish?” I asked. He grinned.

“Yes. But I like fish.”

“And I’ll be an actual mermaid?”

“Yes.”

“But I’m too fat to be a mermaid! Mermaids are all lithe and beautiful and slim and sexy. I’m all fat and potato-y.”

“Tell me, “ he smiled, “when you catch a fat fish, what do you think?”

“I think, nom nom nom! Fat fishy for me tea,” I said. He laughed.

“And when you catch a small, skinny fish?”

“I chuck it back to get fatter, because it’s no use without meat.”

“Then what makes you think I want a slim mermaid? They’re a bad fuck, I want some meat on mine.”

“Mermaids can fuck? Where do they hide their bits? In their tails?”

“Get in the water, and I’ll show you.”

And I did.

I soooo bet you’re wondering how mermaids fuck, aren’t you? And about what happened to me, and how I come to be writing this down for you? Well, I’d tell you, but that’s a different story. Let’s just say that when Neptune comes for you, you just want him to keep on coming.

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