A short story by Tristan Risk

February 17, 2019

When I’ve talked to other divers, we all commiserate about it, in some way. About how you never forget the first time you see a shark drifting by that’s big as a motorcycle, silently trailing remoras like a parasitic entourage.

There is that instinctual moment of panic. It arises because of a lifetime of being shown films like Jaws, but without fear intact. That fear gives way to a kind of awe to be sharing the water. Awe transitions to hypnosis, and you notice the light dappling the shark’s hide through the window of the water, your eyes following each wash of water over gills, the tilt of pectoral fins, or flick of tail. Then it’s over and gone, likely the whole interlude taking less than a minute or so before they sink back into the curtain of wet salt, finned phantoms, excusing themselves backstage to the rest of the ocean. You’re left with bubbles expelled from your regulator, grateful that you’ve witnessed the beasts in person, and your heart rate, accelerated slightly, thumps loudly in your ears.

One of the things I adored about diving was the way that you could give in to wonder. Any cynicism died when you put your face under the water and saw creatures from an alien world. Even though you know intellectually what a zebra eel looks like from books, seeing one with its head out of shoals of coral is a different thing.

Intellectually, you know what sea turtles, and manta rays, and whales all look like, but the moment you see them in the water with you, huge and splendid in their own environment, you believe anything is possible. You accept that these things have existed before monkeys became men, and you feel like a part of a larger genetic tapestry in the world. You are an innocent again, and in that moment of adrenaline, you realize that all the make-believe in hotel pools and bathtubs is actually real and in front of you. You’ve waited your whole life to witness this. No National Geographic spread or documentary can adequately prepare you.

It was the same way when I saw the mermaids.

There was a combination of fins and flesh together, all to chase a school of fish, and to feed. I felt like what I had been watching had to be a hallucination. But when I just let go and stared, the trio of mermaids seemed as natural as hearing the waves at the beach. They darted, flipped and chased fish with the agility of porpoises, more streamlined and confident than any other mammal I had seen.

With long human torsos and trailing clouds of hair, they looked as divine as any mythological painting. Their features were slightly too elongated to pass for completely human, but they still held an otherworldly beauty. Gills below their jawline that ran along to the clavicle pumped water in and out with each fluid movement.

They herded a school of fish in to one large group. Two circled to keep the fish tightly together, while another swam up from below and struck. They moved in the way that kingfishers preyed, but dove lower in the water than any bird would dare.

Blood blossomed into the water. They would reorganize the fish back into a tight column before the next attack could take place. I watched for about ten minutes before I shook myself out of my trance. I had to get back to the surface and to the boat.

As I struggled with human weight and gravity, falling unceremoniously into the stern of the boat, I thought about what I had just seen. Often, I remember that Oldtimers and Mariners on the high seas, lonely without a woman’s touch, mistook manatees and seals for fish maidens. There would be no mistaking that what I had just witnessed was any kind of pinniped. Mammals of some kind surely, given the breasts, tight and high, but despite fish-like flukes, they moved with greater ease and grace. Their gills perplexed me, and I wondered if they were able to surface, to breathe oxygen without water. My head spun with the idea of these beautiful creatures, and the deadly ease at which they had rounded up their prey and dispatched them. It was arousing and unsettling at the same time.

The sun was starting to dip down low over the mountains, kissing the ocean behind them. I had another tank of oxygen, but it would be dark soon, and it was too late to head down for another dive. Since it was dusk, I wondered if they hunted at night or if they opted for daytime feeding. It was a question I’d have to leave for the night.

I pulled up anchor with unnecessary violence as I pondered this, and set my GPS for the marina. As I prepared to motor back to False Creek, I wondered if the three mermaids could hear the baritone rumble of my engine, and if it sounded aggressive to them, or like a mating calls. As I came around past Gibsons, I heard accompanying laughter and song with my engine’s growl in the water.

I pulled into my slip and tied up the boat. I did my usual ritual of reorganizing my gear, cleaning up, and battening the hatches. With the salt water dried and leaving a barely traceable crust on my skin, I decided to leave having a shower until I was home. It would be like wearing a lover’s sweat as a reminder of a passionate encounter.

As I walked up the ramp to the nearest dockside bar and went in, my mind kept travelling to that little spot up the coast where I’d pulled up anchor. I alternated between staring at the flat screen televisions mounted over the bar, the opposing hockey teams on them flicking back and forth across the ice, to my beer, watching little amber bubbles rise to the surface. I kept thinking about the grace of the mermaids through the water, and the way that they cut through it like beautiful knives to edge the fish into where they could hunt with ease.

I watched the little bubbles dancing in the deep amber liquid and three caught my eye. I allowed my imagination to turn them into those beautiful, haunting sirens. Over the din of the bar filled with rowdy patrons collectively cheering or groaning their teams victories and losses, I couldn’t shake something else. It was that strange little sound I heard when I headed out to the sea: ethereal laughter, beautiful and inhuman. It played in my head, lodged in the recesses of my immediate memory like an earworm, determined to drive me to distraction. I finished my beer, settled up and heaved myself off of my bar stool. I headed home and tried thinking about other things: the hockey game, the small talk with the other barflies, the nice ass on the cute waitress. But the three mermaids kept pulling my thoughts back to that little patch of jade green water.

The shower was hot and it blasted the last traces of saltwater off of me. I let the water run down, feeling it rush over my body. I massaged the remaining seawater out of my hair and aggressively scrubbed myself with the plain egg of white soap. The steady drumming of the water hitting the floor of the tub became a rhythm to a song already in my head.

Groaning, I felt myself beginning to get harder. As I washed, my hand reached down to take my erection in my hand. I squirted a generous amount of conditioner into my hand and closed my eyes, feeling the water, imagining it rush up my body, as if I was being pulled underwater. In my mind’s eye, I looked down into shimmering west coast water, past tops of kelp and rocky cliffs, to see three beautiful and inhuman faces look up through the clouds of their hair.

I felt them pull me down, and moaned as bubbles leaked out of the side of my mouth as slender fingers with soft webbing between them tugged at my hips, down to my cock, harder still to their cold, alien touch. I ached for release and breath. As I came, hard and fast, I opened my eyes to see my very real, ordinary bathroom in East Vancouver. The water, no longer hot, pelted me with cold needles, and my cock was beginning to wilt upon realizing that I was no longer in my underwear wet dream.

I dried off and continued my evening routine, reading in bed with a cup of tea next to me. I watched the soft steam from the cup rise and curl like a snuffed out candle. I could have sworn I saw three serpentine female bodies winding around one another. I coughed and the image was gone. I sighed, turned over on my side, and tried to push the thoughts of erotic fishwomen from my mind before sleep.

The next morning, I woke up thinking that I had left the radio on. There was a song playing in the distance. Realizing that it wasn’t anything from my own home or a sound drifting from a neighbour’s stereo, I recognized it to be the refrain that I’d been hearing since my boat pulled anchor. I decided I was officially distracted, and the only way I’d be able to concentrate on anything was to make a trip back and see if I could find the mermaids again.

I flipped a mental coin: if I went back to Sechelt and they didn’t come to me, I’d bury the incident in my mind, chalk it up to a once-in-a-lifetime moment, and leave it at that. But, on the off-chance that I could see them one more time, just once more, my thoughts would no longer be plagued by otherworldly desires.

I had one tank of oxygen left on board and enough fuel to get there. I choked down my breakfast of black coffee, and hustled down to the marina. When it was time to leave the dock, I felt my cock pressing against the waistband of my pants. The engine grumbled to life and I let the city shrink and melt away behind me.

The North Shore mountains reared up out of the ocean as I approached. A harbour seal bobbed its head out of the water solemnly as I passed by, carving the water, the dividing wake following my boat like the petals found between a woman’s legs.

I got close to where I’d dropped anchor the day before and found a place to stop. Once I felt the anchor was secured, I hesitated. What now? I wondered if there was a way to attract them, like chumming the water for sharks.

My cock was beginning to ache and strain away from me, towards the water. I hesitated and looked around. It was quiet, and I was the only human soul in sight. I went to the stern of the boat and took my cock out. I was already hard. I stroked myself harder and harder and more violently until I came, my semen dripping into the water. I caught my breath and found myself still hard as dewy cum dropped into the water to join the rest. I’d seldom been with any woman who I’d been so aroused with, let alone when I was in solitude. Again, I jerked off into the water and watched my semen as it sat on top of the water, then sank, dancing below the waves.

It was while I was hunched over, panting, that I saw a face emerging from the depths. One was joined by two, and then a third. They broke the surface and stared. Their eyes were slightly larger than a human’s, more rounded, and their lips were full and sensuous, curved into smiles of erotic promises. They swam a little ways from the boat, a few yards, turning back to look back at me, then dove under the water.

I wasn’t even aware of the speed with which I ripped off my clothes, but it seemed like mere seconds when I felt the cold water knocking the breath out of me. I came up and broke the surface, gasping for air, hoping my abrupt entrance into the water hadn’t made them flee.

I didn’t have to wait long. As I tread water, I felt caresses along my legs, torso, and over my aching cock, which woke up again, despite the recent abuse and rude introduction of cold water. The three heads bobbed up again, this time surrounding me, so closely. A strange high pitched hum came from them, melodic and alarming.

I looked to the left and saw one lay her mouth on my hand. I reached to stroke her hair, swirling in the water around her, and she sank her teeth into my hand and began sawing her head back and forth. I yelped and slipped under the water. I felt another pair of strong hands pull me down at my ankles. A second mouth clamped onto my neck and sharp teeth severed the skin.

I never got to scream again. As I was pulled under the water, I felt the flesh from my groin tug away. There was white-hot pain, and a crimson bloom filled the water around me. My pounding heart flooded echoed every attempted breath as the sirens pulled me away from the fading bottle-green light of the surface.

I felt my ears pop as I looked up and saw three grins. The sight of three shark-toothed mouths within beautiful faces was the last thing I saw in the gloom before the air from my lungs escaped, and water rushed in to replace it.

And as everything went black, the last thing I could recall was the smile of satisfaction on my own face.