Part 3: Hudson, a Merman

(A Fish Out of Water, continued)

Feeling a bit forlorn, I looked around the cave I’d called home for most of my life. The scene never changed: hard-packed sand and dirt, walls and floor lined with shells. I’d tried to brighten it up with colorful pieces of glass and strange objects discovered along the ocean floor, and once I’d even brought in a picture from an old wreck, but the fabric had deteriorated into shreds. My bed was made from fresh seaweed I collected daily. A cozy enough home, but . . . lonely.

Photo by Hiroko Yoshii at Unsplash

Sighing, I swam slowly to the opening which served as a doorway. Before me stretched a view of the colony. The only thing that ever changed about it was the current.  Some of my neighbors’ dwellings poked above the sand, but most were submerged below. Sometimes a ray of sunlight penetrated, making decorations sparkle. Occasionally, an elderly inhabitant drifted out; probably looking for something easy to catch and eat. One of them paused to wave at me.

“Hi, Hudson. How’s it going?”

“Hi, Seymour, doing fine,” I answered, returning the gesture listlessly.

A sudden sparkle nearby startled me. Turning quickly, I noticed the bright, shiny, shells woven into long dark locks. It was Trei, my neighbor. “Poor Seymour,” she said, flicking strands of hair from her face. “He keeps searching for the Great Abyss, believing he’ll find Lucinda. Seems he still can’t believe that she is gone.”

“Yes,” I responded. “I can understand his loneliness.”

“I hear that you have been traveling pretty far from the colony,” Trei settled on a nearby rock, absently playing with her hair.

“Just out looking to see if there might be any other colonies still around,” I answered, watching Seymour swim hopelessly back and forth.

“You know if there were any, we would know about them. So, why are you really, going into the areas sharks like to inhabit?” Trei asked. “Looks like you’re hoping to find something other than information about more colonies.”

“I don’t worry about the sharks. I know areas that they no longer frequent along the shore.”

“Don’t tell me you are thinking of going on land,” Trei’s voice held worry, but also excitement. Going onto land was…not exactly forbidden by the treaty, but the colony elders frowned on it.  

Replying in a whisper. “I’ve been there a number of times. I stay in the port towns and listen to the sailors talk. I even heard some of them saying they saw mermaids.”

“Really, where?” Trei likewise lowered her voice.

“They never say; only that they see them around the Milk Seas.”

“Milk Seas, where’s that?” she asked.

“Don’t know. But they say the water is white and glows at night.”

“Sounds like powerful magic to me.” Trei sighed, looking out at the nearly flat bottom, “Well, I better find something to eat. As she swam away, she hollered back, “Stay away from shore.”

That’s not going to happen. I thought.

“I overheard you and Trei talking.”

Startled again, I spun. Was everyone in the colony eavesdropping on my business? This time it was Rowan hovering a few feet behind me, smiling wryly, her gray hair floating in the current. She was one of the village elders, but one of the understanding sort; not the kind who frowned and spoke of rules.

“I’ve known you your entire life,” she said. “You’re young. It’s only natural you should long for someone your age instead of one of the old inhabitants here.”

“I never said I was looking for a mate,” I replied defensively.

“Oh, no?” She arched a brow.

Rowan was too sharp. Giving up on pretense, I spread my hands. “I’ve searched everywhere. Finding another mer-person seems to be impossible.”

“You’re stubborn. You won’t stop looking for someone.” Rowan tapped her lip. “Maybe a decapus can help you.”

“How?” I asked sullenly. “Except for us, all of the Atlanteans died out ages ago. And maybe the air-breathers,” I added, remembering the merfolk who’d been exiled onto land after the war. “Could they even be able to breathe underwater like us anymore?”

“Are you forgetting the necklaces?  Have you heard of them? They can give other types of people the ability to breathe underwater.”

My gills pulsed, sucking in a gasp of water. It was forbidden to possess such powerful items. “But the sharks took them all when the truce was declared.”

 Rowan winked. “I have one. Come to my home later, and I will give it to you.”

I didn’t question her motive. Maybe she just pitied me. At any rate, I went to her home that night and she gave me the necklace. As my fingers closed over it, feelings of powerful magic raced up my arm.

Now, I needed to put together my plan for finding a mate.


Later, I went to the old shipwreck. It is a quiet place I can go and think without being disturbed. Even sharks no longer visit there. I’d watched the wreck slowly decay. Years ago, it slipped to the bottom of the sea, settling mostly on its hull, allowing me easy access to its interior. I don’t know how many land dwellers died that night, but I heard the fish fed well for several days afterward. Now it was dilapidated, with broken masts lying at angles across the deck. Seaweed had tangled where once rigging had held the long powerful timbers of yardarms. It didn’t take long before only sea creatures swam along hallways that happy travelers had once strolled upon.

Arriving at the wreck, I entered through an open hatch, following a path I knew well, swimming through a dark corridor, past fragmented doorways. Crabs and other denizens of my world scuttled around me. They made me think of the open-air world, where spiders and other insects made their home and hunting grounds.

Below what may have been the captain’s quarters was a small room that had once been blocked by an extra heavy door. This now it lay on its side, rotted from its frame. Inside was a chest, equally rotted. The gold coins it contained had mostly fallen to the seafloor, except those I’d already taken with me on my visits to the dry world. Landfolk valued them, and I’d exchanged them at—pawn shops; that was the name—for money to purchase whatever I needed.

Settling next to the chest’s remains, I reached into the silt and picked up a coin. I’d searched the sea for a mate. Searching the land seemed much more daunting. Where to begin?

And then, just as if Rowan had foreseen it, Bruno the prophetic decapus swam up to me.


I took great care to ensure that none of the land dwellers saw me emerge from the ocean.

Walking along streets that smelled of long dead fish, I stopped at different places of business and listened. Most of the time, they were full of people who only came to visit this section of land before returning to wherever they came from. Sometimes the place would be full of smoke—I believe the patrons thought it was good to take into their lungs. It made me cough, but I persisted, trying to find a clam den.

After several visits to the land, I finally came to a section that did not smell of death or smoke. It was filled with people who laid on the sand and let the sun bake their bodies. Sometimes they would jump into the water, but only for a short distance. Most of the ones I saw in the water were children. Further out, some of the larger land dwellers stood on wide boards and rode the crest of waves back to shore, only to jump on the boards and paddle out into the water to do it again. Often, they fell off the boards on their first try, making me laugh, but also wondering why they did it.

One day, my walking took me by a place that smelled of oil and burnt fish. A sign hung in front, proclaiming that it was called the Clam Shack. Clam Shack—could this be the “clam den” Bruno had mentioned? My heart beat fast as I went inside. As I sat at a table, it became apparent that these land dwellers thought food was a decoration. A large swordfish was attached to the wall above me. I reached up to touch it. Something coated its body, stopping it from decaying. Other types of food, along with the dreaded nets, hung from the walls. Such a waste, I thought, but my attention was soon captured by the arrival of young, healthy females calling themselves waitresses.

The first one who approached was attractive but clearly not interested in going to the water.  Her nose wrinkled when she came close. She called me a slob, whatever that is. The second told me I needed to dry off before coming to a restaurant.

Perhaps this wasn’t the right place. Perhaps I was misinterpreting Bruno’s prophecy. I decided to give the Clam Shack one more try. Then, if I couldn’t find a suitable female there, I would look further along the row of shops selling clams and other types of seafood.

Without much optimism, I entered the Clam Shack a third and final time.

I got lucky. The third female I encountered there had long, dark hair, just as Bruno said she would have. She was easy to talk to, and seemed eager to see more of me. Her nose didn’t wrinkle at all.

Gloria. What a marvelous name.

I left her a note asking to meet me at a particular spot in the village the following day.


I waited at the far corner of Oyster and Main. When a car pulled over to the curb, I watched as Gloria got out and said something to the driver. In a flash, I was at her side and reassured the driver, a man I thought might be her relative that she would be okay.   

As he drove away, Gloria became suddenly hesitant. Scared, even. She started walking towards some strange device hanging from a pole, but I guided her away from it, not wanting the distraction. With a wisp of magic, I transported us to the beach. She never seemed to notice the sudden change in location. A plane flew overhead, advertising a tanning lotion. I wondered why land people would want to turn their skin another color; especially from the sun. It would dry out and cause great pain without the moisture needed to make it flexible. Another plane flew in the opposite direction advertising a sand sculpture contest. Gloria smiled at the sight of the banner trailing from the plane. Grabbing my arm, she said, “Let’s go.”

I was impatient for the water. Besides, castles made of sand sounded dumb. I complained as Gloria tugged me to a cordoned-off area and a girl she seemed to know ran up and asked us to be judges. Gloria squeezed my arm possessively as she spoke to the girl, pressing close, and I decided the water could wait.

We began strolling along the shore. Gloria handed me a length of fish wrapped in strange, crispy matter, which I nibbled on as we surveyed the sand constructions. To my surprise, I found myself enjoying the ridiculous activity, particularly the sculpture of the one-eyed man with seaweed hair; to my knowledge, the ocean had never contained such an absurdity!

We were licking cones of melting white sweetness that I found quite enjoyable when we came around the corner of a castle, complete with drawbridge and towers, to see—Bruno. I wondered if the sand artist had discovered the decapus. He’d sculpted an uncanny likeness, including ten arms.

Seeing Bruno’s sand-double made me remember why I’d come to land. I started to think about the treaty. I needed to persuade Gloria to go into the ocean. I wanted to get underway before something prevented us from entering the water. She seemed startled at my change in mood, but quickly pointed to the castle, declaring it the winner. A cheer went up behind us as she followed me to a secluded spot at the water’s edge.

We waded into the surf. I pulled the necklace from my pocket. “Here, let me put this on you.”

Gloria smiled as I slipped it over her head. 

— By BWG member Ralph Hieb

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