Mischa knelt beside the rock pool, staring through the reflecting sky on the surface to the microcosm of underwater activity beneath. A crab’s claws gleamed in the darkness of a crevasse and tendrils of anemone floated around, capturing tiny fish that Mischa could barely see. He leaned in a little closer and planted his hands on the warm, wet rock beneath him. Between a couple of sea snails and an anemone, he glimpsed a tiny, pink hand and grinned with delight.
“There it is. See?” He pointed, his finger hovering just above the surface.
His brother George joined him, pouting his annoyance. “Where?”
A pair of pale arms covered in pink, pearlescent scales reached out from under a crevasse to pull along the rock pool floor. Each arm couldn’t have been much longer than one of Mischa’s fingers. Translucent webbing attached them to a curved, spindly body. A small head with enormous, black eyes popped out from its neck. Its mouth suction-cupped the floor, feeding on whatever else clung to the rock. It crawled out further, revealing two hind legs and a double tail flapping like a trapped butterfly.
“Holy hell, that is ugly.” George shuddered. “What is it?”
“I think it’s a mermaid. Look how pretty its scales are.”
“Not this mermaid shit again.”
Mischa stuck his finger in to touch the creature, but George pulled him back and marched him to the edge of the shore and the ocean beyond.
“Don’t touch it, idiot. That mutated octopus is probably poisonous.”
“Let go of me.” Mischa pulled away with weary frustration from a lifetime of being the younger brother. Along the shore, burgeoning bush and rocky outcroppings marked an uneven path to a small, yellow smile of Saltbrush beach and the dying town they called home. A couple of fishing boats were moored at the jetty, and rowboats dotted the bay, becoming scarcer as the town gave way to the bush.
George sighed. “You need to be more careful. Stuff like that could be dangerous.”
Mischa shook his head in annoyance. The waves edged the rocks in endless patterns around to Saltbrush beach to the southern cliffs and beyond where the great, rolling blue drifted to the edge of the sky before disappearing.
“She’s leaving tomorrow, you know,” George said.
In defiant ignorance, Mischa examined the horizon. A far away patch of ocean darted with shadows. He pointed. “Can you see that?”
“Did you hear me?” George said.
Mischa glanced back. “What?”
“Fiona. Your best friend. She’s leaving tomorrow.”
“Yeah, I know. Everyone leaves Saltbrush eventually.”
“Everyone but us.”
“It’s not so bad.” Mischa shrugged and pointed again. “Can you see that?”
“See what?” George shaded his eyes. “The ocean?”
“No, there.” Mischa grabbed George’s hand and guided his gaze. “See? There’s something out there?”
“What now? More mutant fish for you to finger?”
“Shut up. They’re bigger than the one in the rock pool.”
George grimaced. “We should kill that thing. Put it out of its misery.”
Mischa put himself between the rock pool and his brother, folding his arms in sympathy with the defenceless creature.
George rolled his eyes. “What now?”
“How do you know it’s miserable?”
“Hi, guys.” Fiona’s voice fell through the air, and their attention snapped to her coming over the rocks behind them.
Fiona was dressed in orange boardies and a pink bikini top that showed off all of her youthful curves. A wide-brimmed, straw hat covered her cascading, salt-bleached curls and shaded her freckled shoulders. She waved and beamed at them before jumping with nimble precision around pools and green, mossy rocks to their side.
“What’re you doing here? How’d you know where to find us?” Mischa embraced her.
“Please. I saw you from the shore.” She pointed back in the direction of their homes. “Hey George.”
“Hey.” George blushed slightly.
Fiona threw her bag in front of them and stood with her hands on her hips, examining the horizon. “What’re you looking at?”
George blushed a little deeper. “Nothing.”
Fiona cocked her head. “Didn’t seem like nothing.”
“I thought I saw something,” Mischa said.
“Dolphins again?” Fiona scanned the horizon.
“Yeah maybe. Oh hey, I found something cool.” Mischa gestured at the pool containing his mermaid.
“Oh no,” George said.
“It’s over here.” Mischa guided Fiona to the rock pool where she cast her gaze upon the pink, humanoid fish contained within.
Fiona squatted, hands dangling above the surface. She craned her neck to get a better look. “Do you think it’s a
Mischa nodded with fervent agreement, blood pumping with exhilaration.
“It’s not a mermaid. It’s just some mutant fish or something.” George said over their shoulders.
Fiona slipped her hand through the clear water to brush the creature’s skin. “It’s soft. And warm. Weird.”
“What’re you doing? Don’t touch it. It might be poisonous,” George’s voice cracked. His face blotched with red flourishes of panic rather than his earlier embarrassment.
Fiona caught Mischa’s gaze, and the two of them suppressed small smiles. She pulled her hand out of the water, shaking the sparkling droplets off. “I’m fine, see.”
She shook her head and went to stand when the pale creature shifted its bulbous gaze towards her, reared back, and burst out of the water to land sucker-first on her abdomen.
All three of them screamed and retreated. Mischa and George stood helplessly as Fiona thrashed and swatted at the animal, but it slapped its whole body against her skin and stuck to her.
Fiona screamed, “Help me.”
George picked up a piece of driftwood, bleached by the sun and approached Fiona, one hand outstretched. “Stay still, alright. We’ll try and pry the legs off. Does it hurt?”
“Yes it hurts. The little fucker’s biting me. Get it off.” She tried to wedge her fingers underneath the animal, but it stuck like a shimmering pink starfish on a stone. Its eyes still shifted around, watching them all.
“Just stay still and—”
Out at sea, a smooth, black leviathan breached the glittering expanse. Mischa tore his gaze from Fiona to the beast in disbelief.
Adrik Kemp is an Australian author of speculative fiction, fantasy and horror tales. He identifies as queer, and happily lives in Sydney with his husband.
He has published short stories about aliens, mermaids, interplanetary pen pals, vampire cowboys, AI, ESP and much more. Notably, these have been published through Aurealis Magazine, Third Flatiron Press, Transmundane Press & Pride Publishing. He wants to explore as many varied worlds, situations and relationships as he can through words.
Adrik has a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Technology, Sydney. He was honoured to be the winner of the 2015 OutStanding LGBTIQ Short Story Competition in Sydney, Australia.