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Bryan strained to hold onto the soaked ropes. The salt water had begun to eat away at the ropes and left them grainy and rough against his palms. He was afraid that they were going to snap before he had a chance to tie down the last of the cages before the storm hit.

The winds were already making the job more difficult than usual and he wasn’t used to this type of work anymore. It had been years since he last worked for his Uncle and he was using muscles that had been sorely neglected. Grunting and using the side of the boat as a brace, he slipped the end of the rope under one of the hooks and started in on the last knot.

Just as he was tightening the knot, the boat lurched and the cages tipped in his direction. The knots held, thankfully, but the motion was enough to make him scramble back to avoid them anyway. There wasn’t much space between him and the side and this was only his first time back on a boat since he was fifteen, he wasn’t prepared for the water on the deck or on the railing as he hit it.

He wasn’t sure what exactly happened after he hit the water. The pain of hitting the waves back first was enough to knock all of the air out of his lungs but years and years of swimming had fine-tuned his instincts. His arms and legs were working overtime to get to the surface and keep his head above water. But with the storm moving in and the boat getting further and further away, there wasn’t a whole lot of optimism in his brain to spare on survival.

His Uncle wouldn’t notice that he was gone until he didn’t come in for dinner. As it was, his shouts for help were drowned out by the wind and his Uncle’s taste for obnoxiously loud oldies music. By then, who knew how far away the boat would get and the waves were making the water unpredictable and more and more dangerous by the minute.

I should have taken Auntie Tay’s offer and worked at the gas station. The thought was brief and fleeting before he was coughing up another mouthful of sea water. Just because he grew up in a fishing town didn’t make him any more likely to survive a storm at the beginning of the season in the water.

Gritting his teeth, he tried his best to swim with the waves and ride them towards the boat. Unfortunately, waves were also carrying the boat further and further away much faster than he could swim.

As a particularly large wave began to crest above his head, he inhaled what little air he could before diving beneath the water. Underneath was calmer, almost serene, if he didn’t look back up to the surface. He was fine until he caught sight of some fish pacing him in the darkness.

It was far too large to be something harmless to him and he rose back to the surface in a panic. He knew that getting back to the boat before the storm hit was unlikely but he didn’t fancy dying in the mouth of an undersea predator. The thought of becoming shark food was enough for him to tap into what reserves of energy he had and redouble his efforts to swim back.

Bryan’s heart jumped from his chest into his throat at the brush of something against his leg. There was no pain following it but some shark species were known to toy with their food a little bit before they ate.

Daring to glance down, he could just make out the body of the creature before it took a hold of his arm and tugged. Panicking, he tugged back and tried to get away from the creature but he couldn’t free his arm from its grasp. The hold wasn’t painful but it was strong and tight and he wondered if he was caught in the unforgiving arms of an octopus or a squid. His brain wasn’t filling in the correct facts from his childhood excursions with his uncle but it didn’t take long until he realized that the creature wasn’t tugging him into the depths to his death.

In fact, it was pulling him through the waves towards the boat at a pace he didn’t think was possible of any fish he knew of. Because of the grip that the creature had around his wrist, he couldn’t see what it was because of the water that was splashing him in the face. The fight for air became more important with the waves constantly hitting him in the face.

The next thing he knew, his head was colliding with the hard wood of the deck and he was coughing up more water than he thought his lungs could possibly hold. Absolute joy welled up in his chest and he rolled over onto his back to breathe and do a mental check. It wasn’t until the soreness in his forearm reminded him of how exactly he made it back to the boat did he scramble to try and see if the creature was still around.

Holding tight onto the railing, he searched the raging waves but saw nothing but the darkness and sea foam. As disappointing as it was, he was just thankful that he was alive. Sitting with his back against the wall, he planned to wait until the shakiness left his limbs before heading inside to change.

“You know, some form of gratitude would be nice. I did just save your life.”

Bryan’s eyes snapped open and his gaze darted around before landing on the only thing that was out of place on the deck. Not far from the ramp where he had been thrown back onto the boat was a woman. Not really a woman by any standard that he had previously had but it was female all the same. His brain just couldn’t quite comprehend that from the waist down, she had a fin instead of legs.

“Mermaid,” He murmured, rubbing his eyes and pinching himself just to be sure that his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him. There was an actual mermaid sitting there, combing her green hair with what looked to be a comb made of bone and shell. “How…what…why?!”

Her expression twisted into one of disgust and she pointed her comb at him, giving him a full view of her webbed fingers and the greenish tint to her skin. “I am a Merrow, not a mermaid. Distantly related, we’re like the cousins twice removed that nobody knows about because the others are so much prettier and can sing men to their death, bah.”

Bryan blinked slowly as the woman went on and on, her voice pleasant but definitely not musical in the way that the stories said mermaids were. From what she was saying, Merrow were very distant cousins and came without the deadly songs.

“Honestly, I don’t know how Sirens put up with the fact that mermaid’s songs are referred to as Siren Songs. They’re alike but they’re definitely different in power. It’s like comparing a canary to an eagle,” She had returned to combing her hair and he was suddenly reminded of his mother and her sisters whenever they all got together to prepare for some sort of function.

“Uhm,” he started, trying to get a wedge into her little rant about the difference between mermaids and merrow that had somehow branched off into another topic totally. This woman liked to talk and he was suddenly glad for the infinite patience he had when dealing with chatty women. “Excuse me, as fascinated as I am with all of this, why did you save me?”

Again she managed to look insulted but this time there was a twist of amusement that put a spark in her eye. She flicked her tail before adjusting it to better keep her from sliding back into the depths.

“If you had listened, you would have known,” She rolled her eyes, working through what seemed to be a tough knot in the middle of her hair. “Merrow, unlike our distant cousins, are benevolent creatures. Call us the pacifists of the mythological sea creatures if you will. Death is such a horrible thing and I find no satisfaction in watching the pain and suffering of humans.”

Opening his mouth to ask another question, she cut him off with a wave of her hand as she continued. It shut with a small click of his teeth and he wondered if it would bring bad luck to just slide her down in the ocean.

“If it can be done, I want to help those in need. You were definitely in need of some assistance and I didn’t fancy watching you die.” Her hands folded around the comb in her lap once she was done with her hair and she smiled brightly at him. She was acting as if there wasn’t a storm brewing just overhead and his life hadn’t been hanging in the balance just minutes ago. “I just wanted to be sure that you were okay before I went back home. It wasn’t easy to get you back here and you seemed pretty shaken up.”

“Well, I thought you were a shark.”

“Pfft, a shark? Here? Darling, you are smack dab in the middle of merrow territory; sharks don’t feed here because they know we don’t like to see that,” she said it as if it was common knowledge and Bryan just ran a hand over his fact. How was he supposed to know that this particular part of the ocean was designated for a species of mermaid that he had never heard about before?

The merrow studied him for a long moment before nodding to herself as if his appearance somehow passed an inspection of sorts. Before he could say much of anything, she was sliding back into the water with nothing more than a small wave of her hand.

Throwing himself at the railing, his eyes searched the water again for any sign of her. With the clouds blocking any light, he couldn’t see past what the boat lights could brighten and there was no sign of green scales, hair, or pale skin in the water.

Frowning, he ran both hands through his hair with a growl before leaning slightly over the edge again. Not too far that the lurching of the boat would throw him over again but just enough that his face was reflected in the dark water below.

“Thanks for saving my ass,” he grumbled, feeling stupid to be talking to semi-silent waves. The feeling disappeared as the merrow seemed to appear from nowhere and rise from the water only to press a kiss to his cheek and murmur a light ‘you’re welcome’ before disappearing again with a wink this time.

Staring at the water, Bryan narrowed his eyes and rubbed his cheek. Damn women, they didn’t change much from species to species. They were all mind-boggling and knew how to use their wiles to get under a guy’s skin. Muttering under his breath, he turned on his heel and went to join his Uncle for some food and warmth before his mind went nuts trying to figure out all that had just happened.

He could do that tomorrow instead of playing checkers.


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