"Are you awake mate?!"
Jeff blinked at the sound of the shouting. He moved his head to the side, experimentally licking inside his dry mouth.
Have they found me?
"Jeffery!" It was closer now. He could barely concentrate his weakened vision under the scorch of the hot beach sun. He'd been washed ashore by the water for days, waiting patiently day by day for the strange creature that took it upon itself to feed him.
"We thought you'd be dead!" The familiar voice of a crew member said as water from a bottle was being forced down Jeffery's mouth. He coughed slightly before he started drinking on his own. The creature had only provided the water of floating coconuts after realizing his strong resistance to sea water.
"Mate, open your eyes," Another familiar voice murmured as he felt a hand over his forehead, then his neck, checking for a pulse.
Where is it?
"If I hadn't begged the captain to turn back we never would have never found you," The first crew mate, John by name said. John examined Jeff as his eyes opened slightly.
"It was a bad storm, wasn't it?" Ethan asked frowning at the now fat worms consuming the infected tissue on Jeffery's left leg injury.
He hadn't done that, the creature had. It had muttered sweet words in a foreign language as it treated the wound in a primitively loving way.
"Can't you talk?" John asked giving Jeff a small slap on the cheek- It stung. Jeff shook his head before holding his throat in an indication of pain. It was terribly dry, even after all the water.
"You're mighty strong to have survived the weather of the past few days, and with that leg! How on earth did you move around?" John asked, giving Jeffery another drink from the bottle.
I didn't, I didn't move.
Jeffery wanted to say, but only coughed aggressively at his attempt. He hadn't moved an inch since he was washed up on shore after the unfortunate fall from the deck of the ship during a storm.
The creature had provided raw fish, feeding the disgusting uncooked molecules to him. He was sometimes also given the inside of the coconut anytime the creature was fortunate to find anyone floating at sea. He had only crawled a few inches away from the water when he noticed the tides were getting higher at night, but he crawled back to the edge of the water during the day, since the creature couldn't come on shore.
"You have to get up, we used a small life boat to get here, we better get moving before the tides get dangerous," Ethan said before getting up. He and John helped Jeffery up to his one good leg, walking awkwardly with him to the small life boat awaiting them.
Jeffery tried to be happy. They were saving him for God's sake. But he couldn't feel relief without a form of regret biting him from the inside.
As they dropped him to seat at the side of the life boat, Jeffery closed his eyes in thought and began to picture the soft silky hands of the creature on his chest, the thicker hair, the beautiful tail starting from waist down, and the beautiful enchanting yes.
They would haunt him forever. They were like two deep green marbled stained with freckles of gold.
He wouldn't forget the innocent yet teasing look the creature had given him as it watched him from its rock, or dared to venture close to him.
The creature had watched him from its rock for a few days before making a move to come close to shore. It had shyly dived away when Jeffery had tried to lift his face to watch it. It seemed to take it a while to realize that Jeffery was indeed in pain and in need of its help.
Jeffery's brows twitched into a frown of regret. He would never be able to personally thank the creature for helping him. Not that the thanks would mean anything to it, regarding the fact it spoke a foreign language.
But he'd become so accustomed to it, to its gaze as it watched him from its rock, the quick swim it made to shore anytime he coughed due to his dry throat.
He realized he would miss the thing. It had struck a special nerve nothing had ever struck before.
Jeffery began to notice the water moving. He looked over at his blonde haired mate, John, who was giving him a pitiful smile, and Ethan, who was rolling the boat by the oars casually in front of him.
His mind drifted back to the creature. What it had done rather than be a creature to interest him so, he did not know. He frowned watching the sun set slowly.
The creature had taken him by surprise...especially its eyes...definitely its eyes. Its eyes had...In other words, bedazzled him.
Aquas sighed in distress. His human man was really gone.
'They might have come for him.'
He gave the lonely beach one last look before diving back into the waters below.
He swam casually, before swimming through a familiar give away. He waved in greeting to the guards before continuing into the cove.
Aquas' cove, Afibia, was fairly large and prosperous. The dwellings and public buildings were skillfully carved and manipulated into the ocean's canyons and rocks. Duties were assigned, not chosen, and the relationships with them and other coves were peaceful and beneficial.
Aquas swam through the stone paved streets, greeting familiar faces as he passed through the market place and into the dwelling area.
"Aquas!" Someone called behind him.
He turned to find his childhood friend Ramie waving towards him.
He swam towards him, entwining their tails in greeting. Ramie's tail was a deep black blue, and glimmered like a polished pearl.
"Where did you get this?" Aquas asked, gripping at the amulet held loose around Ramie's neck by a weak string.
"From the market place, you know I have a good eye." Ramie replied with a wink, his equally dark eyes twinkling. Merpeople's tails were the same color as their eyes. Aquas' tail was green, with gold embroidery like flickers here and there.
"Do you think my sister will be finished?" Aquas asked Ramie for assurance. He wanted to visit Marsha, but she'd been terribly busy since she'd been given her seat in the cove council.
"I doubt, there was a case about a thief that got caught just this week, there's no telling if that's solved yet." Ramie answered as Aquas sighed in frustration.
Aquas might have visited his brother, but he was part of the hunting and gathering team which was presently on a trip.
The cove went through great length to remain unmoving and maintain their civilization. The hunting and gathering team was thus important. Apart from the seaweed plantations, and the unlimited amount of sea creatures around them, the people depended solely on the spoils brought from such trips.
Things like capsized wood, the meat and skin from walruses and seals, pearls, animal teeth, vines, mash grass, clams, and good like rare medicine ingredients, tools, and ornaments from far away coves.
Before such expeditions even took place, the citizens of the cove were given a week to make special requests at the cove council. At the seventh day, all requests were closed and the hunters were given special advice and blessings before they were sent away.
"Why so glum, what about your human?" Ramie teased making Aquas to give him a shove accompanied by a small laugh.
"He's gone. They must have come for him." Aquas finally replied. Ramie gave him a pitiful nod before urging him to continue their swim.
They swam towards the dwellings as they talked, waving at familiar faces as well as greeting new ones.
The borders of the cove were open to all. Sometimes even whole coves passed through at a time. Some people from such moving coves stayed behind, preferring the stable life style they adapted.
"Look," Ramie said, suddenly holding Aquas back by the shoulder. They watched as sharks were being led by their keepers through the streets. Aquas could feel his heart beat hard against his chest, he had a terrible fear of them.
The sharks, three in total, passed by before Aquas and Ramie continued on their way.
They reached Ramie's dwelling and swam through the opening. His dwelling had two rooms, just like Aquas'. Just like every other thing in the cove, they were assigned according to your needs.
Ramie was a tinker, meaning he had to find a use for some of the oddities the hunter gather's brought back to the cove. He made jewelry, utensils, weapons, etc. And was paid according to the quality and amount of the goods he made. The goods were then sold in bulk to the local traders.
Aquas had not been given an assignment yet. For now he would make do with the allowance issued out to unassigned merpeople of age.
"What's this?" Aquas asked inspecting an odd implement he'd picked from Ramie's work table.
"Don't touch that, it's dangerous!" Ramie said snatching the small sharp edged bent piece of metal from Aquas.
"What's it for?" Aquas asked, taking the scolding lightly.
"I really don't know. I didn't make it, it was given to me after the last expedition, and I really don't know what to do with it," Ramie said, turning the 'j' shaped piece of metal in his hand. He'd seen it before. The bearer had called it a hook.
"It's a hook," He said remembering.
"Do you remember what it does?" Aquas asked, swimming over to Ramie's nest. It was a sown bed made of walrus hide stuffed with seaweed.
Aquas moaned as the feeling of softness overwhelmed him. He looked up to the ceiling of the room. Watched with fascination as the trapped luminous jelly fish moved inside the transparent castings above. They were shimmering brightly, an indication that the sun must be going down.
"Don't forget yourself and sleep of." Ramie advised as he joined Aquas on the bed. Their tails tangling together in a dance of familiarity as Ramie picked at Aquas' hair.
"Do you think he'll remember me?" Aquas asked all of a sudden.
"Who?" Ramie asked as he continued to caress Aquas' hair.
"My human," Aquas said turning to face Ramie, letting his eyes burn into ramie's blue black ones, seeking a sincere advice.
"Who could forget you?" Ramie teased, wrapping his hand around Aquas' waist. Aquas smiled the words although teasing sounded quite sincere.
"What do you think I will be assigned?" Aquas asked with a frown. Two years had passed since his coming of age, and he still hadn't gotten assigned.
"Do you have a position in mind?" Ramie asked. Aquas shook his head.
"Maybe the elders are just as puzzled as you are." Ramie explained. Aquas sighed. It was true. If he was an elder he would be confused over what to assign him too. He wasn't like his sister with the knack for settling arguments, or his brother with clear shot bravery, and neither was he like Ramie with a natural talent for tinkering.
Sometimes he felt utterly out of place. That's why he'd visited the surface ever so often. He'd sometimes dreamed of being human, the thought both exciting and scaring the life out of him.
Humans are beautiful.
He thought remembering the surreal beauty of his human even in its grievous pain.
He cleared his mind, feeling guilty about his dreams. His people were kind to him and faired far better than the many surrounding coves. There was no reason for him to want to sprout....What was it again....Legs?
"You'll end up sleeping here," Ramie muttered, hugging Aquas close.
And he did end up sleeping there, dreaming of his beautiful human and the warmth of Ramie's embrace.
Jeffery eyed the water unsteadily. Where was it?
"Jeff," A familiar voice said as a big hand clamped on his shoulder. He turned to find John laughing hail heartedly as he offered him a drink.
Jeffery declined the drink softly before turning back to the water.
"What are you looking at?" John asked as he sipped from the mug of beer Jeffery had declined.
"Do you think they're real?" Jeff asked his gaze still on the water. He'd returned to the crew and everyone had welcomed him, but something was different. He couldn't just get his mind of that creature.
"Do I think what's real?" John asked, resting his hands on the edge of the ships railings like Jeff.
"The stories about merpeople, do you think they're true?" Jeff asked staring intensely at the green blue waters beneath him. They were heading for a known seaport and would be there in the next hour. Jeffery's crew wasn't made up of pirates or anything of that sort. They were regular sailors on a cargo boat.
John looked over at Jeffery worriedly. His dark hair was being blown here and there by the wind and his eyes had a certain look of restlessness attached to them.
'Something must have happened.'
John thought, giving his friend a pitiful look.
"Why do you ask?"
"I just wanted to know what you thought about it, just trying to initiate discussion," Jeffery said with a shrug. It was more than just that obviously. But what was he going to tell his friend, that he saw a merman?
John laughed. Jeffery had always been a bright fellow and he wondered what on earth he was doing as a crew member on a cargo boat in the first place.
"I don't know. I haven't seen one but that doesn't mean they're not real though," John said, feeling his throat with his free hand. The sea water was salty and wet, even close to the shore.
"Then how do you determine what's real or not?" Jeffery asked, looking at the now emerging sea port.
"I don't know. If you've seen something you can't deny it though. It's solid proof," John said, making a beat with his fingers as he drummed against the ship's railings.
"Thank you," Jeffery muttered, giving John a weak smile. Without really knowing what for John muttered a 'No problem' in reply.
The ship moved towards the shore. Jeffery watched as deck workers pulled the ship to the shore with long chains and ropes. He visibly winched at the sound of the stairs being let down for the crew to get down and for the cargo to be unloaded.
He watched the loaders work for a while taking down barrels of wine and crates of fruit, cotton, cocoa and leather. He yawned, getting a bit tired of watching crate by crate being unloaded, so he headed for his cabin.
The ship would remain ashore for a whole month before it left for another voyage. He planned on remaining in his cabin for the whole time; maybe grab a drink or two once in a while with the other men.
Night came quickly. The loud laughter of men made Jeffery shift in his sleep. He wrinkled his nose as he opened his eyes. The boats usual smell of sea water and exotic cargo was now overshadowed with that of strong wine and beer.
He sat up on his bed as full consciousness washed over him within his dark cabin. He let his eyes follow the shadows that passed by the cabin door; briefly obstructing the light from the light house up shore.
He tried to stand up but moaned in pain. His left leg was still healing and was terribly sore due to lack of movement whenever he woke up. He staggered to the drawers, taking out a lamp before lighting it, bringing light to the once pitch black room. He winched from the brightness of the light, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand before dropping the lamp on the desk opposite the drawer.
He decided to do some reading and writing amidst the noise and laughter. He noted down his experiences in a journal. Right now he was writing a summarized version of the last months' cargo voyage which excluded the creature to his mother. He wished to mail it to her later this week, and it would hopefully get to her by the end of next month.
He yawned rubbing his eyes again before giving his cabin door a frown. There was a loud bang accompanied by the groaning voice of Ethan.
"Get up mate, don't miss the whole party!" Ethan yelled from behind the cabin door, a churn of laughter from the boat's drunken residents following afterwards.
Jeffery shook his head in defeat. He figured he might as well join them. So throwing on a clean shirt and a pair of shorts, Jeffery left his cabin. He was instantly hit by the sweat smelling warmth of the people dancing drunkenly on the deck. Someone pulled him into a side hug before forcing beer down his throat. He stumbled away wondering if he'd made the right decision by leaving his cabin.
He stumbled about, from group of sailors and their harlots to the other until he stumbled back first against a woman's chest.
"I'm sorry!" He apologized sharply as he turned to face a dark haired lady in a scarlet dress. The woman smiled awkwardly before resting her free hand on his shoulder.
"It's not your fault. Rowdy night, isn't it?" The lady pointed out, taking a sip of beer from her clear glass mug. Jeffery nodded in agreement before looking from her to her hand that was still placed casually on his shoulder.
"It is..." He said, trying to give her an answer that would lead to his eventual escape. "And that's the more reason why I shouldn't be out."
"No! You should stay!" The lady insisted, chuckling afterwards as she brushed down invisible folds on Jeffery's shirt.
"It's okay to be physically but not mentally here," She muttered with a sigh before taking her hand of Jeffery. He frowned at her, wondering what she meant before coming to a conclusion that she was as drunk as the others.
"No, no. You're not here, are you?" She accused with a laugh as she waved her finger. "You're head's in the water with that creature," She giggled, dropping her mug on an upturned barrel. Jeffery looked around in discomfort. He'd just realized that they were at the far end of the ship, distant from the rest of the party.
"I don't know what you mean." Jeffery denied, swatting her hand that was trying to wrap itself around him. He wondered if John in his drunken state had mentioned anything about the creature.
"You're in the water." She stated plainly as her chapped lips turned up in a smile. "I can help you get there, I'm not just a common harlot you know." She insisted placing her hands over her exposed freckled chest.
Jeffery looked from her to the waters below. She might be drunk but she did get something right. His head was really under the water...with that thing.
"I'll get you there." She insisted again, taking his face in her hands. He didn't try to stop her this time, just watched her inquisitively as she muttered strange but gentle unearthly words.
As her hands left his face he began to experience a choking feeling deep within his chest. It was odd, like he couldn't breathe...
"W-what did you do?" he choked, coughing furiously as he threw his head over the ship railings at an attempt to get fresh air.
"I'm freeing you, sending you to the water where you want to be," She muttered as she stumbled to him still in a drunken state.
"Here," She muttered, tilting his head more over the railings. There was a brief freedom that came with the scent of salt water and the occasional splatters of water that hit Jeffery's face.
"Jump over, it's the only way you'll live." She advised before letting go and making her way to the rest of the party, leaving Jeffery suffocating at the edge of railings.
He eventually did the unthinkable and jumped over. His drop was followed by a loud splash and screams from people on board. At first Jeffery thought he'd destined himself for death by jumping over, but the oddity of the relief he felt baffled him as he sank deeper and deeper into the ocean depths.
He asked himself as his heart rate returned to normal and his struggled breathing subsided. He brought his hands to his face wondering what he'd become. Everything had become clearer under water, more avid.
He tried to kick is individual legs but the effort proved unfruitful. It was as if they were fused together, inseparable.
'What am I?'
He asked no one in particular as he sank deeper into the depths of the water.
'What have I become?'