“You can coax the cold right out of me,
Drape me in your warmth.”
It's misty that evening, chillier than Simon anticipated when he first left his caravan for a stroll after the show and he’s shivering his way through cigarettes after cigarettes as he walks through the empty city and makes his way closer to the water. The pier is empty this late into the night, everyone respectable already back into the safety of their homes, and it's the only reason he allows himself to let out a loud frustrated groan. He gives a brusque kick against one of the wooden benches on each side of the pier and groans again at the pain bursting through his foot.
“Fucking hell!” Simon mumbles around his cigarette, limping to the observatory at the end of the pier and leaning on the railing to watch the slightly tumultuous water beneath. The weather is not quite stormy enough to make the waves impressive but it wouldn’t be much of a sight in this darkness anyway. The sound of the water still manages to drown out Simon’s loud exasperated sigh.
They've done even worse than usual tonight, only a handful of children and three elderly couples walking on site, going from tent to tent to explore all that Mr. Cowell's Spectacular Extravaganza! has to offer. It’s not much; a few fake anomalies and mystics wrapped with engaging music and sweets to keep small town people wowed, entertained and more importantly in a spending mood. Between the trinkets and souvenirs they sell on site, there's more than enough to ensure folks are emptying out their pockets willingly every night. In theory at least.
In practice, things are quite different. It seems like Simon's venture has been suffering blows after blows for the past few months, each small towns and villages they visit less receptive than the last. He's not quite sure if the show has lost some of its power or if people are simply moving on, but it's getting worrying. He has mouths to feed, a whole troupe of frauds to take care of, and, more importantly, profit to make. He can't compete with big companies and circuses, with their wild animals and deformed attractions, as his associate Mr. Winston keeps reminding him urgently in between budgeting talks that make them both nervous and grumpy.
He's currently escaping one of those talks, too tired and frustrated to endure another frantic debate on what to do to save their sinking ship. Talks of spending the summer near London are all good, but he’s got a headache and Ben has been talking about the capital for weeks now. Simon just can’t take it any more.
He's mentally ranting against Ben when he first hears it, a small pained whine in the night and it's so low, so fleeting, that for a second he's sure he must have imagined it. When it comes again, louder and more desperate, Simon frowns and starts looking down towards the water where the noise is coming from. It sounds like a wounded animal, or maybe a person, and while he's not in a particularly helpful mood, he can’t help feeling intrigued.
He tries to peer down a bit longer, hoping he'll see what's making those strange laments without having to move but it quickly becomes clear that he’s not going to manage. He can't see between the darkness and the waves. It looks like there's absolutely nothing there and it's strange and eerie, like the sea itself is calling for help, her desperate moaning and pleas enchanting and troubling. It's irrational and foolish, of course. There's more than the ghost of Mother Nature screaming tonight. Simon knows that. He knows and he'll get to the bottom of it, even if it involves more physicality than he usually volunteers for at this time of the night.
He sighs again, throwing his half-smoked cigarette over the balustrade before turning back where he came from and walking up the pier, back onto solid Earth and towards the distressed calling. It takes him a moment to find his way onto the beach, the signs unclear and the landscape unknown but after a few minutes of fumbling and walking around, he finally makes it.
"Hello?" he calls into the night as he first sets foot on the deserted beach.
There's no answer, only the wind howling and maybe he's made it up, maybe there's nothing down here but the sounds his tired brain has imagined.
"Is there anyone here?" Simon tries again, taking a few steps towards where he thinks the moans were coming from. "Anybody needs help down here?"
There are no answers. There's no more whining. There's absolutely nothing beyond the sound of the water and the wind and Simon shakes his head in disbelief. He needs some sleep, a holiday perhaps.
He's about to turn around and walk back to his caravan to finally face his associate when it comes again, louder and clearer than before, a miserable cry in the dark of the night and Simon can't leave without getting to the bottom of this so he keeps walking straight ahead towards the noises with a determined look on his face.
"Hello?!!" he yells again, one hand cupped around the side of his mouth as he tries to project his voice. He's so focused on the path ahead that he almost misses the thing that is about to change his life.
There's a yelp of pain as he steps on something and when he looks down, Simon swears he's never seen anything resembling this before. His first thought is that surely he must have gone mad. His second thought -and the most probable option - is that he's fallen asleep on the pier and has imagined the whole beach vividly, dreams and reality intertwining confusedly. He falls to his knees next to ... the creature? the monster? Simon doesn't even know what to call it. It looks like a mermaid, a hybrid straight out of folktales, and he almost laughs at the thought because surely it can’t possibly be real. Yet there it is; a man, a boy, with a torso glistening with water, long wet hair and right where his legs should be there's a tail, a long silvery tail that's thrashing against the sand as the... thing whines again.
It’s injured. Simon can see it now, the fishing hook rammed into the creature’s scales and that must be why it was whining. He wonders for a second what happened to the poor fisherman who tried to capture such a majestic beast, but he can’t allow himself the distractions of his imagination. Not in a situation like this.
Simon keeps staring in silence as the creature breathes quickly, panicked, its torso rising and falling with each breath and how is it possible? How is it possible that such a monstrosity could exist? Half-fish, half man, fully unthinkable and improbable.... Simon doesn't know what to think or what to do. He's never encountered anything like it before, has never even believed in anything like it before.
He reaches with a hand, places it firmly against the tail and its cold, wet, slippery like a snake. There’s blood flowing from the wound, tainting the silver-blue scales in small trails that go down until the tail separates into two translucent fins. There’s mud on them, sand and blood sticking to them and Simon can almost imagine that the creature could be beautiful in normal circumstances. But it’s not. It’s not beautiful. It’s impossible. It’s wrong, a scandalous mistake Mother Nature has made and he's so horrified that for a second Simon thinks he's going to throw up. He doesn't. He reins himself in and gets even closer, puts his hand everywhere on the creature. He can feel it tense to the touch, can feel it try to escape, try to slide away on the beach and that will not do. That will not do at all.
"Stop moving," Simon says harshly, putting all of his weight on the creature's stomach, both of his hands placed on each side of its navel.
The creature frowns at the tone and tries to push him away, both arms wrestling against the intrusion, its muscular biceps straining under the effort that fighting back demands with a gaping wound. Simon is faster though, and he's not injured, so he grabs the offending hands, wraps his fingers tightly around the wrists until the boy grimaces and stops thrashing. He's quivering instead, from the fear or the cold, Simon doesn't know or care. The only thing he cares about now, the only thought that's circling his brain is that this is everything he's been hoping for without knowing it, everything he never thought he needed. It’s a gift. A monstrous gift, it’s true, but Simon is not foolish enough to refuse it.
The creature starts hyperventilating and Simon thinks he can see small delicate gills on the side of his chest, can see the way its panic is increasing with each second that passes.
"Is it the water?" Simon asks roughly, digging his nails into the sensitive skin of the creature’s wrists. "Does it scare you without it?" he continues to taunt.
It's not like he expects the animal to answer but he can't deny that it would be practical for him to know a bit more about it before doing anything impulsive.
"It scares you..." he says softly, staring into the widened, frightened, eyes of the sea hybrid. "Interesting," he adds with a small smile before starting to look around on the beach.
"Ah!" he says happily when he finally sees a big rock close enough to grab without moving. "There we go," Simon adds, switching his grip until he's holding both wrists in one hand and has the other free to pick up his stone.
The creature doesn't scream or whine when Simon hits the side of its head. It just falls back, unconscious on the beach. There's a bit of blood now tangled in its hair but nothing that can't be fixed or would do permanent damages. Or at least, Simon doesn’t think so. Or care.
"Much better now," he says softly, passing a hand into the tangles of wet curls on the top of the creature's head. "I think they would enjoy you very much in London," he continues while taking his coat off and wrapping the human half of the hybrid in it. "Yes. I think they would want to pay a lot of money to catch a glimpse of such a monstrous miracle like you."
Once he's sure its head and body are well protected, Simon gets a good grip on its tail and starts walking back home, the thought of this new exhibition for the show heart-warming enough to make him forget the weight of dragging the hybrid for an hour.
He can't wait to show everybody.