by Mari McKee
A short story about the discovery of girl-child mermaid by four fishermen
|Death at Sea
The Captain, a jolly small round man, of a small fishing vessel was venturing out to unknown depths of the sea with four fishermen that he had taken out to sea weekly for several years. He had grown to love these men as brothers. He greatly admired their work ethics, their love of the sea and all the creatures within it, and their love for their families. They were tireless and worked together well to keep their beloved families fed. He wanted them to have enormous catches in their nets during the next few days so that is why he is going further out today.
As they traveled over the azure depths, the fishermen began repairing rips and tears in their enormous nets with nimble, skilled fingers. Unlike large commercial fishing boats which use engines to haul up the nets, these four fishermen all had muscles of steel from their years of casting and pulling up the nets with their strength. This was no easy task and being a fisherman certainly lacked the amenities of most other jobs. They had to contend with storms, working from dawn to night, and having to eat the captain’s mush. To add insult to injury after the mush they had to sleep in hard bunks in a small cabin. When they had time to cook, they would create gourmet cuisine reminiscent of a five star restaurant, using a bit of their fresh catch. However, the hardest part of being fishermen was being separated from their families for days on end.
They believed, however, they had the best job in the world. The mysteries of the sea never ceased to amaze them. They were their own bosses, did not have to punch time cards, and got to truly enjoy the sights, sounds and tastes of the sea. They often said that you could not help but believe in God when you become one with the sea.
When they reached this previously unknown point far out in the sea, they cast anchor and prepared and baited the nets. Heaving, they cast them wide and far. It was close to dusk. Within two hours the fishermen were swallowed by an overwhelming blackness as they hauled in their catch, except for one net. It was not unusual for them to leave a single net overnight. The Captain was below, creating a horrible concoction for their meal. They popped the tops of well-deserved cans of beer and raised a toast to the sea. Their single cans finished, they put the cans into a large trash bag that would travel back to shore with them. They would not throw debris into the sea. They lay on their backs to scrutinize the brilliant galaxies of stars and planets in the velvet infinity above them. The only sounds were the rhythmic slapping of the waves on the hull of the boat, and the sigh of the wind.
Suddenly, they bolted upright with pounding hearts rushing blood into their ears. Beyond the roaring in their ears, they heard anguished cries coming from the sea. They looked at the sea and could see nothing. There was no mistaking the fear, the pain, and utter horror of the cries. What creature was so anguished? What had happened to it? Were there tears and were they salty like the sea? The Captain had rushed to the deck to aid in the search help find the source of the cacophonic sounds.
They cast a search light in all directions and all they saw was the sea. The hair on their arms stood at attention and they became afraid. They all crossed themselves and asked God to intervene and stop this creature’s suffering. Just as suddenly as the cries began, they stopped. There was now a deathly silence that settled on their shoulders like a scarf holding bricks. They kept searching but there was nothing more to see. They finally went below and crawled into their bunks forgoing the Captain’s pottage.
They did not speak of what had just occurred, in fact, none of them spoke a word. They were physically and now emotionally exhausted. All was silent when the lament began again. The anguished cries seemed to come from within the cabin, they were so close. There were four men in the cabin and nothing else. The Captain came running, tripping over his own feet because he heard the sound in his tiny cabin. He climbed into the already miniscule bunk of one of the fishermen. They all put their pillows over their heads to try to stifle the inexplicable sounds. As they restlessly tossed and turned the screams invaded their sleep and made them wonder if the cries were real or if they were manifestations that infested their dreams.
They were on deck at dawn as the sun cast a kaleidoscope of colors on the horizon. They were tired and hungry, but began to cast their nets for today’s catch. The sea was inscrutable and the fishermen furtively cast glances hoping for a glimpse of something. They had thrown out their last net and were ready to haul in the net left overnight.
Then it happened again. It was the same, yet somehow different, anguished cry. Standing still as Greek marble statues, their heads swiveled as they openly scanned the sea again. The Captain came running. They then realized that this cry came from further out in the sea. Their blood left their ears to course through their veins of their bodies, feeling like ice, and causing them to tremble. The thought came to them simultaneously. This was not the same sea creature they heard last night. This was another one who was crying in grief at the loss of one of its own. What kind of sea creatures were these? They had heard the cries of whales and this was, by comparison, nothing remotely near the same sound. They instinctively knew they were journeying into a hitherto unknown frontier.
They turned as if one, to stare at the sunken net now full of fish, shrimp, scallops and all manners of seafood. All of them felt an impending doom as they worked together to haul the massive net into the boat. There were tons of the usual sea creatures in the net. Like dogs digging a hole in the ground, they began throwing their catch out until they were at the bottom of the net. In front of them was a small mound covered with shrimp, seaweed and shells. They stood there as if paralyzed. What sea creature got caught in the net? Why did it never occur to them to haul in the net last night when they heard the anguished cries?
The captain approached the mound and on his knees he carefully removed a portion of the shrimp, shells and seaweed. He sat on his heels after he uncovered long blonde curls intertwined with colorful anemones, the beautiful flowers of the sea. Back on his knees he inhaled deeply and moved the curls aside. The fishermen dropped to their knees when they saw an angelic face. They all unabashedly wept bitter tears as the Captain finished uncovering this beautiful sea creature. Before them was a perfect girl-child mermaid. She was as perfect in death as she had been in life. The wailing began again and they joined in as their own grief overwhelmed them. This mystical, magical sea creature was not the fairy tale as the world believed. They now had the truth right in front of them. They would achieve fame and wealth beyond their wildest dreams for their discovery after she was sold to the highest bidder.
They silently looked into each others faces. They reverently picked up this exotic creature of God and, as one, gently carried her to the side of the vessel. Their hot tears splashed upon the lifeless innocent as they lowered her into the sea. They watched her disappear into the beautifully mysterious depths of the sea, as they all silently and fervently prayed. She belonged to the sea and the sea would now take care of her unencumbered.
At this moment, time ceased to exist. Simultaneously, as if they were one entity, the four fishermen and the Captain silently vowed to never speak of this girl-child mermaid. They were now the keepers of these beautiful sea creatures. They never wanted the mermaids to know the inhumanity of man. They must remain alive, free, unexploited, and never again have to understand pain, fear, and grief wrought by the hands of man. Not on their watch, no, never again on their watch.
All four of the fisherman and the Captain lived long and happy lives. Honoring their vows, they never did speak of the mermaid. As the years passed, they were able to retire and stay at home with their families. At this time, they all embarked on a new journey. It involved history lessons and seeking encrypted answers to their questions about mermaids.
They asked priests, pastors, rabbis and even seminary professors to explain the Book of Genesis to them, especially the parts about Adam and Eve. It was suggested that parts of Genesis came from clay tablets by men who experienced the events described and that later Moses compiled the tablets. Since the original tablets were said to be written by “eye-witnesses” they must be true. The Bible never mentions evolution in either the Old or New Testaments. They were also told they must take into account what was going on in the world during the compilation of the Old Testament. God created Adam and then used one of Adam’s ribs to create Eve. Modern men and women both have the exact same number of ribs, so was this meant to be taken literally?
They delved into Darwin’s Theory of evolution. They wondered and thought deeply about how Darwin believed that man evolved from fish in the sea. Certain fish grew legs and walked out of the ocean to become known as the first humans. Could mermaids be these same fish but some stopped short of the mutations that allowed them to grow legs and ambulate?
Where mermaids simply one of the millions of God’s beautiful creations?
Whatever the answer, something at some time created mermaids, whether it be through mutations or at God’s hand, for they had all witnessed the miracle of such a creature. They each had seen and touched a mermaid in the vastness of the beautiful sea.
Minutes before they each drew their last breath on earth, they whispered that they could see her in a bright light, beckoning them to come with her.