Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Lure of the Mermaid

Jacob was four years ahead of his brother Brad in age as well as in school. So when Jacob graduated from high school, Brad was just entering it. And as Brad finished high school, Jacob graduated from college. Their parents decided to celebrate their graduations by taking them to the beach for a weekend with their friends.

The second day at the beach, Jacob noticed Brad looking intently out into the water. He ran up to his side, away from the volleyball game everyone was playing.

"Whatcha see, Brad?" Jacob peered out over the ocean, but his eyesight wasn't as good as Brad's.

"Oh, I dunno," said Brad, "Maybe some seals way out there on a rock. I think I hear something too."

For a moment Jacob caught a flash of something strange, and maybe wild in Brad's eye, but then it was gone.

"I think I'll go see if I can get closer," Brad said casually.

Jacob shrugged and went back to the volleyball game. Occasionally he glanced toward the ocean, but Brad was a good swimmer, and he wasn't very worried. Brad swam out several hundred feet, then swam straight back.

As he jogged back to the game, Jacob shouted to him, "See any seals?"

Brad looked up surprised. "Seals? Oh, yeah. No, no seals."

Jacob forgot about the incident, and at the end of the day, all their friends left and went home. The two brothers and their parents were staying at the beach a few more days for what their dad called "bonding time." That night in bed, Brad surprised Jacob by bringing the subject up again.

"It wasn't seals," he said, "I swear it was a mermaid. And she was singing this song. It was, well, it was just beautiful. She was gorgeous too, but when I got close, she swam away."

Jacob felt disturbed on hearing this, though he couldn't put his finger on why it upset him.

The next morning Jacob and Brad went to the beach by themselves, Brad insisting that Jacob come hear the song of the mermaids. After walking for miles along the beach, Jacob began to tire of searching for the elusive mermaids, but Brad became panicky. Finally they heard a strange voice singing not too far down the beach. Brad started running toward it, and Jacob chased after him. As they drew closer to the source of the music, Jacob saw the singer, a mermaid, perched on a rock a few hundred feet from the shore. Brad was running, then swimming toward it, heedless of anything else around him.

Jacob slowed as he reached the edge of the beach, listening to the eerie song that floated across the waves to him. It was beautiful, certainly, but it filled him with a dread, and he realized that this song was not meant for him, but only for his brother. Suddenly the singing stopped, and the mermaid looked intently at Brad, then dove into the waters and disappeared. Brad swam slowly back to shore, and the two walked back to their rental house.

"Well, it certainly is exciting to see such a strange sight," said Jacob, "but I wouldn't ask to see it twice."

"No," said Brad, "I guess not." But the look on his face said differently.

That night Jacob had trouble sleeping. He lay in a state of half-dreaming for an hour, tossing and turning. Finally, he opened his eyes and sat up. Suddenly he looked over at his brother's bed. It was empty. Immediately he threw the blankets off of him and jumped out of bed. Without bothering to dress, he ran out the door to the beach in his boxers, grabbing only his pocket knife on the way out and clipping it to his boxers. Racing down the beach in the light of the full moon, he cursed himself for not reading his brother more carefully. He was certain that Brad had gone to seek out the mermaid, and he was equally certain that the mermaid meant nothing good for him.

On his left, the side opposite the water, a figure ran out toward him from a beach house. Jacob slowed, and approached the figure cautiously. It was an older man who looked as excited as Jacob, holding something in his hand out to Jacob.

"I saw your brother with the mermaid yesterday," he said without prelude, "He is in grave danger. Take this; swallow it, and you should be able to breathe underwater for a few hours."

Jacob took a small berry from his hand and eyed it suspiciously. But after looking carefully at the man, he decided that he had neither ill-intent nor insanity in his eyes.

He muttered a quick "thanks," then turned and continued running down the beach. Soon he began to hear the eerie singing, Far out in the water he saw his brother swimming away from the shore to where a mermaid was waiting on a protruding rock. He shouted, but Brad ignored him, or couldn't hear him. Jacob ran into the water, fighting the waves to get to his brother. When his feet no longer touched the bottom, he paused. His brother had just made it to where the mermaid was waiting. She looked down at Brad and laughed. Suddenly she bared her teeth and hissed, diving on top of him and shoving him underwater.

A shout stuck in Jacob's throat, and he swam out to the rock. There was no sign of either of them. Suddenly he remembered the berry the old man had given him, shoved it in his mouth and swallowed. Immediately he felt a sharp pain in his hands and his feet. He held his hands up and watched as they elongated, and thin webs appeared between his fingers. Then he felt a cracking sensation in his knees and ankles. At first he thought they were broken, but then he realized the joints had realigned themselves so that he could now bring his foot up to his stomach and bend his foot backwards. Finally, as he noticed his eyes going dim, he drew in a breath, but it felt dry, and burned as it went down his throat. Something told him to submerge himself, and he realized that somehow, he was breathing the water. He found he could see exceptionally well underwater, and his eyes didn't burn with the salt as they usually did.

Hoping that all these changes were temporary, he looked around, and spotted the mermaid with his brother moving quickly away from the shore. Immediately he swam toward them. Soon, there was a small opening in the ocean's floor, and the mermaid dove into it. Jacob hurried behind her, and after a moment's hesitation, plunged into the cave behind her.

Darkness enveloped Jacob as he swam farther and farther downward, and he put his hands in front of him, feeling his way slowly. Eventually the tunnel turned horizontal and the water in front of him grew brighter. It ended in a cavern as large as a house. Looking up, he saw that the water only reached halfway up the cavern walls. On the roof was something luminous, emitting a soft blue light, which Jacob realized was the only source of lighting.

Where Jacob was floating near the entrance, the floor was lowest, but it slowly sloped upward, until halfway across the cavern, it rose out of the water. Just above the water level was the mermaid, lying on top of the limp figure of Brad. With a shock, he realized that she was drinking his blood.

Immediately he swam as fast as he could to her. She turned and bared her bloodstained teeth at him, leaping into the water. Jacob pulled his pocketknife from his boxers and held it out toward her. She swam at him, dodged the knife and grabbed his legs with claws that tore into his skin. He twisted around, and plunged the knife into her arm, forcing her to let his leg go.

Suddenly she began singing to him. All thought of fighting left him as he listened to her song. He forgot who he was and what he was doing there, thinking only of her beauty and the enchanting song. He froze in place, mesmerized by her voice as she came closer and stretched out her hands to his neck.

But as her hands softly touched him, he stirred, and a small part of him woke up to the danger, perhaps remembering the claws in his leg. Without thinking, he thrust the knife in her chest. A look of shock appeared on her face. Bubbles began rising from her skin, and then suddenly she exploded into a mass of bubbles and mist. Jacob shook his head in disbelief at this, but quickly he dismissed it as he remembered his brother.

Brad was in a deep sleep. He seemed to be breathing very slowly, if at all, and his pulse was weak. Jacob wondered if the mermaid had done something to him to temporarily slow his breathing and heartbeat so that he could survive the trip through the tunnel. If so, he realized that he would be able to get him out the same way. He thought quickly about the dilemma. Could he risk his brother's life and assume that if the mermaid got him down here, he could get him back up to the surface?

There really was no choice. He had to get out of the cavern before he lost his ability to breathe underwater and they were both stuck there to die. Jacob grabbed Brad securely by his waist and slipped back into the water. As he made his way through the tunnel, he felt his arms and legs begin to shrink to normal size. When he emerged from the cave, his sockets popped back into place, and soon his head began to swim from lack of oxygen. It became a desperate struggle to drag himself and his brother upward as his lungs screamed for air.

Finally his head burst out of the water and he gasped for air. He brought his brother's head above the water, and he too, drank in the air. Jacob swam slowly to shore, and as the waves dumped them onto the sand, the old man walked up to them and dragged Brad further away from the water.

"What happened? Did you kill her?" the man asked.

"I struck her with my knife and she dissolved, so, yeah. She's dead."

The man frowned as he looked at Jacob. "Very good," he finally said. "That's one less danger to haunt the world."

Jacob looked at him quizzically. "Do you hunt mermaids for a living?"

The man smiled. "Oh, not just mermaids. I deal with a long list of dangerous creatures most of the world thinks don't exist."

Something inside Jacob perked up when he heard this. The man leaned in closer to Jacob.

"You know," he said, "I'm about to retire from active duty, and I'm looking for an apprentice to train. Not too many people would have dived into danger with no thought for themselves, you know. And to top it off, you survived! What do you say? Join me?"

Jacob grinned and turned to look at the rising sun. It was a brand new day in his life.


  1. Very enrapturing! Several climaxes were softened by writing style, but i'm guessing you wrote it late at night and quickly. I loved the ending this time! I maybe would have liked a little comment from Brad, just to see why he seemed special at the beginning of the story and then ended up not being the hero at all. However, very well written story with a lot of good imagery. Loved the first half, wondering what was going to happen.

  2. Very interesting story. The beginning was a bit confusing, but I was quickly caught up in the story. I was also wondering how Jacob was able to hold the berry in his hand while he was swimming. I would think he would either smash it or accidentally drop it. Overall the story was very captivating and held my interest to the very end. Nicely done.

  3. "On the roof was something luminous, emitting a soft blue light, which Jacob realized were the only source of lighting." Were should be was. I also thought it was weird that he didn't lose ro crush the berry. Other than that, very good tale. I enjoyed reading it.

  4. sounded similar to Harry Potter with the berry-induced morphing scene.
    on the whole i liked it (surely nothing to do with the names) and was definitely taken in by the characters. the old man could have used a little more description.