Delilah Bardot's Mermaid Tours

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
Delilah Bardot's mermaid-watching tours sell the promise of observing the beautiful, long-haired Ariels in the wild, but they haven't been seen for years. Until now.

Submitted: October 04, 2019

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Submitted: October 04, 2019

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8am and the pier already swarms with a mob of frat boys carrying cheap cameras and families weighed down by mermaid-decked bags. Delilah slurps down her second cup of coffee so she can be cradling the third when it’s time to greet everyone. The day is perfect for a tour - sunny and clear, with mirror-flat water. Rough winds bothered passengers the week before, and two lost their breakfasts overboard to the eager Grabbers. The worst incident occurred on May 20th when Sweet Pea wrenched an 8-year old’s hair from a Grabber’s claw. After sitting through a furious demand for a refund, Delilah pointed out (yet again) the sign warning passengers about leaning over the rail. 

“We call ‘em Grabbers for a reason,” she explained. “They’ll snatch at anything that gets within reach.”

Sweet Pea suggested higher rails with a glass barrier, but that would block off the Ariels and even the faintest possibility of a sighting made restricted access unthinkable. A decade had passed since the tour came upon an Ariel, but Sweet Pea shut her mouth. She knew when to push her mother and when to keep quiet.

 

8:15am and Beethoven revs the engine. Time to start the show. Delilah glances in a mirror and huffs at her reflection. Nobody out there gives a rat’s ass about her looks. She walks the 30-some passengers through information none of them will remember: don’t lean over the rails, don’t feed the Grabbers, and don’t throw trash in the toilet. The young men are especially impatient in their anticipation for a peek at the nudity they’ve seen in old National Geographics. Someone raises a hand.

“Is it true that Ariels are extinct?” the woman asks. 

“Where did you hear that, ma’am?” 

“It’s all on the internet. They’re saying the zoos and museums captured too many, and the wild population died out. There weren’t even that many left after so many years of people hunting them for sport.” 

Delilah sucks on her coffee cup. “Wouldn’t surprise me if they’re all gone,” she mumbles. 

Beethoven rings the bell, announcing that the Starfish is ready. Delilah bustles everyone to the end of the pier, where Sweet Pea crosses off their names and tells them to watch their steps. Delilah unties the boat before clambering up the ladder.

“Good crowd, Ma!” exclaims Sweet Pea.

Delilah nods and walks to her spot in the galley where she will be available for the next three hours. With all the boys on board, she expects at least one query about how mermaid sex works. They’re always so deflated when they learn that Grabbers use external fertilization, and no one knows about the Ariels, since a male has never been caught. As for the Boxcutters… ”You don’t want to know, honey,” Delilah always responds.

Passengers already crowd Sweet Pea’s food station for hot cider and donuts. The sweet smell makes Delilah’s stomach rumble, so she can imagine what it’s doing to the Grabbers. She hears them already, scraping up against the boat, clicking to each other with their lip pinchers. The passengers notice them, too, and start snapping pics and teasing them. 

“Hey, that one likes you, bro!”

“Man, that’s a dude!”

“What? Nah, it’s got tits!”

“Those aren’t tits, those are their bladder things. So it doesn’t need to swim all the time.”

“Whatever, man.”

The Grabber knows the boys are talking about it and tries to climb up the rail. Finding the surface too smooth, it slides back into the water with an annoyed hiss. Laughing, the passengers sprinkle donut pieces into its snapping jaws. Delilah signs to Beethoven to move into deeper water. It’s only a matter of time before the Grabbers break out into a fight over the food, and parents will be upset. A Grabber brawl is never pretty. Beethoven steers the Starfish away, and the Grabbers disappear. They’re smart enough to avoid the deep where Boxcutters live. Delilah goes to the railing to search for a namesake fin, keeping her eyes on the ripplier waves. Sweet Pea roams the deck, chattering and handing out binoculars. 

 

Half an hour passes before a passenger spots something and cries out. Delilah squints through the gauzy sunlight and, sure enough, a blade-shaped fin slices through the water. She signs to Beethoven to cut the engine. Sweet Pea hands her the mic and Delilah informs passengers to stay quiet, and for the love of God, don’t reach over the railings. 

“Boxcutters are much smarter than their cousins,” she whispers. “They know they can’t get up close enough, so they try to get you to come to them. Their camouflage makes them look friendly, but don’t forget; they want to eat you.”

The passengers wait in hushed excitement as the fin turns toward the Starfish. As it draws closer, the Boxcutter emerges from the water: a female. Delilah recognizes her as BC-4, one of the young ones. She inherited her mother’s tar-black hair and green eyes, and unfortunately for Delilah’s tours, Mama’s feminine wiles. BC-4 glides up to the boat, fixing her gaze on a group of young men. She smiles, lips closed, and bats her eyelashes. The men mumble, nudging each other. Beethoven drums his fingers on the steering wheel. Delilah knows there’s nothing he’d like better than to hit the gas and be off, but a Boxcutter might get diced up by accident and that would mean a permanent suspension. 

“Again,” Delilah repeats into the mic, “Don’t disturb the wildlife. Stay away from the railing.” 

Just as her words hit the air, a young man stretches over the side. Sweet Pea pulls him back by his collar, catching a glimpse of the Boxcutter’s pretty face cracking into a fleshy cavern bristling with fangs. Her claws swat at her prey’s receding hand, opening up the skin across his knuckles. Sweet Pea and the passenger tumble backwards on the deck as BC-4 retreats. Her eyes fade into the blackness. No one spots more Boxcutters in this area, and the boy sits in a chair with a mug of hot chocolate and blanket. He keeps babbling about “lights” and a salty burn inside his bandaged wound. 

 

After two and a half hours, the passengers buzz with anticipation. The big moment approaches. Sweet Pea hands out ear plugs while Delilah orders everyone to wear them.

“We’re passing Siren Rock,” she says. “Boxcutters congregate here in large numbers to sunbathe. This is also where they sing to attract prey into the area, so put in the earplugs. No exceptions.” 

Beethoven pulls the Starfish up to the rocks to get a good look. 

“Good pod today,” Beethoven signs to Delilah.

“About 20,” Delilah signs back.

The Boxcutter tails glimmer like aluminum foil, hair tangled like piles of unspooled yarn.  At least one Boxcutter always stands on guard, and today it’s Grammy Blue. The old gal has been queen for most of her 90 years, having lost an eye to maintain her position. The remaining one blazes as blue as ever. She sits atop a rock overlooking the Boxcutters and sings furiously. Of course, Delilah doesn’t know what she sounds like. She’s heard recordings, but the brain doesn’t react the same way to a live performance. Delilah felt no desire to do anything, much less throw herself into the sea for the Boxcutters’ lunch. 

Delilah turns to Beethoven to ask about the time when a flash of movement passes by. She whips around to see Sweet Pea narrowly miss tackling a passenger, who tumbles over the rail. Beethoven springs to the deck and overboard, his massive body cannonballing into the water. The other passengers scream, catching the full attention of the Boxcutters, who snap their jaws. A fast swimmer, Beethoven grabs the floundering passenger just as the hungry sunbathers reach out their arms to receive her. They pull back at the sight of the giant man who is impervious to their song, growling and spitting. Beethoven ignores them, holding the passenger against his chest like a baby otter as he swims back to the Starfish. When they’re on board and a safe distance away, Sweet Pea stutters an apology to her mother. 

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” Delilah assures her. “It’s why we have Beethoven.”

The passenger sits stunned, tied to her chair with rope, just in case. “I thought it wouldn’t affect me,” she says. “Cause I’m a girl? I just wanted to hear what they sounded like.”

“You can hear it online,” Delilah says. “And it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female or anything else. They can always eat you if they don’t have other options.” 

The passenger vomits into a bucket.

 

The tour draws to a close and Sweet Pea goes to man the gift shop. All the postcards of Ariels sell out, as usual, as well as the ones of a young Grammy Blue when she was Mama Blue. A colorized black-and-white shot, her skin glows with a much creamier hue than she ever enjoyed in real life. Sweet Pea even sells a few of the pricey ambers with strands of real Ariel hair fossilized inside. Delilah smiles when she sees a little girl press the amber to her cheek, but a pebble of sadness makes swallowing hard for a moment. 

Delilah waits until everyone leaves before going to the shed. Her head spins from too little food and too much coffee, but she can’t wait any longer. She hauls two buckets of fish heads to the door, unlocks it, and carries them inside. The black-out curtains have done their job; only a few slashes of light make it through the bottom edge of the window. Delilah switches on her headlamp and makes her way to the aquarium that takes up most of the shed. 

“It’s just me,” she says at the sound of splashing. The Ariel floats over to her savior, her pupils shrinking to pinpoints in the light. She gobbles up the fish Delilah tosses in the tank. “Sorry I’m late,” Delilah says. 

“Home?” The Ariel says, her voice reminding Delilah of cool, wet sand between her toes. 

“Not today. Not yet,” Delilah replies. “Soon.” 

The Ariel licks fish scales from her fingers as Delilah inspects the wound. Delilah will never forget the look of horror mixed with wonder on Beethoven’s face when he carried the Ariel from the Starfish a week earlier, her tail gashed from a fishing net. 

 

A few weeks later, when she’s healed, they take her out past Siren Rock where the currents start to change. Delilah tells the Ariel to never approach boats or swimmers, because humans will never stop hunting if they know she’s out there. “The Last Ariel!” the papers would say. They’ll trawl with nets and radar, they’ll bait traps, and they will catch her. She’ll end up in a tank or worse. Humanity always ends up destroying beautiful things. 

The Ariel cuts a strand of hair the color of cherry juice and presses it into Delilah’s hand before vanishing beneath the waves. Delilah keeps her treasure a secret, even from Sweet Pea. For a few months, she asks Beethoven to keep the Starfish tours clear from the area, and every time she sees a big ripple, her heart seizes up. 

Stay away, she thinks. For all our sakes.  


© Copyright 2019 Emmaline Soken-Huberty. All rights reserved.

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