“And this is where we’ll start our great adventure!” Stan said enthusiastically, opening his arms wide in a showman’s gesture. Ford looked at the marina. It was the same as it was every day. Seagulls cried overhead. Boats were docked at the pier. Sailors boarded and disembarked ships, some carrying boxes full of exotic fruits.
“Well, clearly,” Ford said, “our adventure as sailors will start at the place where boats are kept.” Stan pouted.
“Geez, Sixer, why do you gotta take the fun outta it? This is it! Aren’t you excited?”
“I think I’ll be more excited when we actually have a boat. And can sail as far away from Pops as possible.”
“Let’s look at some of the merchandise available then, shall we?” Stan suggested. Ford shrugged.
“As good a way to spend the day as any, I suppose.” Ford followed Stan down the pier, preferring to keep to his more reserved gait. Unlike Stan, who pranced proudly on the wooden boards like he owned every ship he passed by.
“How ‘bout this one?” Stan said, pointing at one named Sea Lady. Ford squinted.
“Yeah, I agree. Hmm, maybe this one?”
In this manner, the two boys walked down the pier, examining each boat before deciding it wasn’t good enough for them. They arrived at the last boat.
“Okay, but check this puppy out!” Stan enthused. Ford adjusted his glasses and smiled.
“I like it!”
“Me too! It’s gotta big ole sail, and it’s brown, oh, and look! It’s even got a fishing net full of- what the heck is that?!” Stan stared at the fishing net, swung over the side of the boat for all to see. Ford walked closer.
“A very large fish? Maybe a mutated sea bass of some sort- whoa!” The “mutated sea bass” rolled over. Stan and Ford could see clearly now that while the lower half of the creature was green-scaled like a fish, the upper half was unmistakably human. “A…mermaid?” Ford said cautiously. The mermaid stared at Stan and Ford pleadingly.
“Help me,” the mermaid whispered. Stan cocked his head.
“Are you a boy or a girl?” Stan asked. The mermaid looked away, clearly embarrassed.
“Ignore him,” Ford said. The mermaid nodded silently. “What’s your name?”
“Y’ can call me F.”
“F. Okay, F, what’s going on? Why are you in a fishing net?” F scoffed.
“Ain’t it obvious? Got caught.” F’s eyes filled with tears. “They’re goin’ to sk-skin me, I just know it!”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Stan said. “Skin you? What- why would someone do that to another person?”
“‘S what I’ve heard,” F replied. Stan puffed out his chest.
“Then I guess we’ll just have to free you, F,” Stan said firmly. He emptied his pockets, scattering loose change and candy wrappers onto the pier. F watched with interest.
“What is that yer wearin’?” F asked.
“Huh? Oh, these are shorts. From my older brother. But I guess you wouldn’t know what shorts are. You can’t really wear them,” Stan said, continuing to dig through his pockets. “Ah-ha!” He held up a pocket knife proudly. Ford blanched.
“Where’d you get that?” Ford asked.
“Does it matter? What matters is that we’re gonna free this mermaid with it.” Stan boarded the boat eagerly and began to saw away at the net. “Keep watch, Sixer.”
“You got it,” Ford said, turning around to keep an eye on the rest of the pier. No one seemed to care about the two young boys fooling around near a boat.
“Done!” Stan said proudly. F and the net fell into the water. “Oh, wait, did it not work?” F surfaced, head bobbing above the water, and beamed.
“Ya did it!” F exclaimed. “Thank you, thank you so much!”
“It’s no problem,” Ford said. Stan frowned.
“Since we freed you, do we get, like, a blessing or magic or gold or something.”
“Nope. Sorry. Don’t got any of that,” F said apologetically.
“Again, thank you so much.”
“Yeah, no prob,” Stan said. F waved at them cheerfully before disappearing underwater. Ford sat down on the pier. Stan traipsed off the boat and joined Ford, dangling his legs over the edge. “So, how pissed do you think those sailors are gonna be when they see the ruined net?”
“So pissed,” Ford said. Stan grinned.
“Cool.” A few minutes passed in silence as they watched the marina. “You were right, Ford. There’s all sortsa weird stuff in the ocean.” Stan put an arm around Ford’s shoulders. “Imagine, when we’re all grown up, we’ll be dashing sailors- no, pirates! And we’ll find treasure and get babes, and not just any babes, mermaid babes, like the one we saw today!”
“That does sound nice.”
“Well, duh, it sounds nice. And it’ll happen. You’ll see.”
“Geez, Fidds, could ya think ‘bout that sailor any more often than ya do?” a teasing voice asked, breaking Fiddleford from his reverie. Startled, he looked over at the speaker. His younger siblings were treading water next to the pier, grinning at him mischievously. Fiddleford sighed.
“I ain’t thinkin’ ‘bout that sailor,” Fiddleford said. “And get back under the pier ‘fore someone sees ya.”
“Oh, relax,” Angie said, lifting herself up and taking a seat next to Fiddleford. “Ain’t no one ‘round to see us.” She looked him up and down. “So’s I’m pretty sure ya can go back to yer proper form now. It’s weird seein’ ya with legs.”
“I agree,” Lute said, taking a seat on the other side of Fiddleford. “Yer not human, why do ya pretend to be one so much?”
“It’s ‘cause he’s in love,” Angie said goofily, splashing her tail. Fiddleford rolled his eyes.
“Yer way off base.”
“Ooh, Angie, yer right,” Lute said. “That sounds like somethin’ someone in love would say.”
“It’s also somethin’ someone who isn’t in love would say,” Fiddleford said. “Which I ain’t.” Angie and Lute rolled their eyes. “Go back home. Ain’t Violynn visitin’ with her guppies?”
“Yeah. That’s why we followed ya,” Lute said. He scoffed. “Fifteen lil ones in the house all at once? No thank you.”
“There’s always at least two cryin’, at any given time of day,” Angie said. She shook her head. “Too many month-old guppies. We needed a break.”
“Okay, but you’ll need to take yer break somewhere else,” Fiddleford hissed. “I’m meetin’ with that sailor in a few minutes.”
“What? Really?” Lute asked. “Why?”
“He wants to offer me a job on his boat,” Fiddleford said with a shrug. Angie and Lute frowned.
“You don’t know squat ‘bout boats,” Angie said.
“I know. But he’s seen me watchin’ and he asked me and I told him I had an itch fer sailin’ that I ain’t gotten to scratch yet.”
“Ugh. Sailing,” Lute said with a disgusted expression. “That’s a darn good way to disrespect the ocean.” Fiddleford rolled his eyes.
“I know full well yer feelin’s on sailin’. But this is my choice, and the two of ya really need to get goin’!” Fiddleford said firmly. Angie and Lute groaned and slid off the pier.
“We’ll stay underwater,” Angie said. “But we won’t leave until you leave.”
“Fine, fine! Now hide!” Fiddleford said. Footsteps echoed down the pier as Angie and Lute finally dove out of sight. Ford took a seat in the spot Lute had just vacated. He smiled at Fiddleford.
“I must say, this is a very clandestine meeting, Mr. McGucket.” Bubbles rose up from under the pier. Fiddleford kicked a post, reminding his siblings to keep quiet and stay out of sight.
So what if I gave him a more “human” name? It’s not that funny.
“Please, call me Fiddleford.”
“Okay. So, Fiddleford, you wanted to join my crew?” Ford asked. Fiddleford nodded.
“Yessir. I’ve got a fondness fer the ocean.”
“Do you know the ocean, though?” Ford asked.
“Yes, of course! I know her. And I know the creatures what live in her, too,” Fiddleford said. Ford cocked his head, clearly interested.
“Oh, really? That’s quite fascinating. The reason my brother and I are setting out on this voyage is partially to collect data upon the mysteries the sea holds.”
“What’s the rest of yer reason?” Fiddleford asked.
“To find treasure,” Ford said. Fiddleford nodded, but decided to keep his knowledge of sunken treasure locations to himself.
Don’t want to come off too strong.
“Now, if you agree to come, we can’t pay you until we find our first ‘score’, as my brother says,” Ford said.
“And that’s perfectly fine with me,” Fiddleford replied. Ford nodded slowly.
“Let me be frank.”
“Oh, uh, sure.”
“I don’t think I can turn you down, even if you are lying to me about your knowledge of sea creatures. I mean, I’d prefer to, but apparently two men alone would have difficulty crewing a ship of our size.” Ford took a deep breath. “So, yes, I suppose I can- what was that?” Ford said, distracted. Fiddleford watched, trying to keep a straight face, as his baby sister did a dramatic leap out of the ocean. Ford looked at Fiddleford eagerly. “Was that-”
“A mermaid, yes,” Fiddleford said, seizing his chance to prove himself to the sailor. “You can tell it’s a female by the scale shape. And the fin indicates that it’s an oviparous variety.”
“Really,” Ford said, leaning closer to him. Fiddleford nodded. There was a splash. Fiddleford and Ford looked over. Lute’s tail was just disappearing under the water.
“Also an oviparous variety, but male,” Fiddleford said. Ford beamed at him.
“Mr. McGucket, we’d be glad to have you as part of our crew.”
“I accept,” Fiddleford said, trying to tamp down his enthusiasm.
“Well, then, welcome aboard.”
“Stanley, Stanford, I seriously question the safety of sailin’ into these waters,” Fiddleford said nervously.
“This is the only possible route to the island,” Ford said. Fiddleford rubbed the back of his neck.
“Do we really need to go there?”
“If we want treasure, we do,” Stan retorted. “Anyways, why are you nervous all of a sudden? Are you getting seasick or something?”
“No,” Fiddleford said, sounding offended. “It’s just- these waters ain’t safe. Merfolk live here.”
“Merfolk?” Stanford said. “That’s even more of a reason to be here.” Fiddleford groaned.
“Shouldn’t have mentioned that,” he mumbled. “Seriously, Stanford, merfolk ain’t no joke.”
“What makes you say that?”
“‘Cause I know how they are. They ain’t the sweet lil things ya hear ‘bout in bedtime stories. They’re man-eating killers who lure sailors to their deaths with their hypnotic song. They’re-”
“Right there,” Stan interrupted, pointing to a nearby cluster of rocks sticking out of the sea. Two merfolk were sunning themselves on it, their brightly colored tails catching and reflecting light onto the water. Stan squinted. “Can’t see them very well.” He dug a telescope out of one of his pockets and held it up to his eye. “Ah, shit, they’re asleep.”
“That’s a good thing,” Fiddleford hissed. “We might be able to pass by ‘em without drawin’ attention to ourselves.” Stan ignored him.
“Hey, merpeople!” Stan shouted. The men saw the merfolk wake up suddenly and the dive into the ocean. “Damn, did I scare them off? I wanted to see how far I could get with a fish-person.”
“Ya didn’t scare us off, don’t worry none,” a languid voice said smoothly. It had a saccharine feel, like it was the verbal equivalent of honey. Stan peered over the side of the ship. The merfolk were there, their heads above the water, staring at the humans with interest. Now that they were closer, it was obvious that one was a mermaid, and the other was a merman.
“Hey there,” Stan said, raising his eyebrows flirtatiously. The mermaid giggled. “Hey, Ford, Fiddlesticks, come say hi to the merpeople.”
“But of course!” Ford said eagerly, rushing over to join his twin. Fiddleford stayed back.
“Fiddlesticks, seriously. They seem nice. Nothing like what you said they’d be,” Stan said.
“They’re just pretendin’,” Fiddleford said. “It ain’t safe. They’ll start singin’ any minute, and then I’ll have to-” He was cut off by a splash. Stan had jumped overboard. “Stanley!” Fiddleford shouted. He ran over to the side of the ship and looked at the ocean. The mermaid was whispering something in Stan’s ear. Stan nodded eagerly, his eyes glazed over. Fiddleford swallowed. “Stanford, this don’t bode well.”
“What do you mean? They’re harmless. Friendly, even. After all, only a good being could sing so sweetly and wonderfully,” Ford said in a dreamy voice. Fiddleford looked over. Like Stan, Ford’s eyes were glazed over, as he stared at the merman.
“Great,” Fiddleford muttered. He looked at the mermaid and Stan again. The mermaid had grabbed a hold of Stan’s hand and was pulling him underwater. “No!” The merman stopped singing, startled.
“…Fidds?” the merman said hesitantly. Fiddleford suddenly recognized the merfolk enchanting Stan and Ford.
“Lute!” Fiddleford shouted at the merman. “Cut it out, and rescue that sailor from Angie ‘fore she drowns him!” Lute blinked.
“Do it!” Fiddleford barked. With a flick of his tail, Lute went underwater. After a few moments, he emerged with the mermaid and Stan.
“Fidds!” the mermaid said cheerfully. Fiddleford glowered at her. “Uh-oh.” Fiddleford grabbed a length of rope and tossed it over the side.
“Stan, get back up here.”
“You got it, man,” Stan muttered. He swam over to the rope and climbed it, crawling over the side of the ship and landing heavily on the deck. “Geez. Fiddlesticks, how did you do that?” Ford shook his head free from the trance he had been put under.
“I second the question,” Ford said. Fiddleford sighed.
“When I decided to join the sea-farin’ folk, my fam’ly promised to not harass anyone on a ship with me. But clearly, they didn’t pay attention,” he shot at the merfolk still treading water by the ship.
“We didn’t know it was you!” Lute shouted.
“Wait. Your family?” Stan asked. He stared at Fiddleford. “What, did mermaids adopt you or something?”
“No, I’m 100% merman by blood,” Fiddleford said proudly.
“But…you have legs,” Ford said.
“So?” one of the merfolk yelled.
“Quit tryin’ to be part of the conversation! I’ll tell Ma and Pa what ya did, don’t push yer luck!” Fiddleford snapped.
“Seriously, how can you be a merman?” Stan asked. “You have legs!” There was a splash. The three men took steps backward as something landed on the deck. The mermaid smiled at Fiddleford.
“Angie, I told ya not to-”
“Ya didn’t tell me I couldn’t board the ship,” Angie retorted. Stan and Ford watched her large, extravagant yellow tail slowly morph into two pale legs. She stood shakily. “Been a while since I used legs,” she said. Fiddleford sighed. He walked over to her and put one of her arms around his shoulders, helping her stand. “Thanks, Fidds.” She frowned at Stan and Ford. “Why are they all red?”
“‘Cause yer naked.”
“Oh. Does that mean Lute shouldn’t come up?” There was another splash. A merman landed heavily on the deck. “Never mind. Too late.”