Jack lay in his hammock and tried to let the gentle sway of the ship lull him to sleep, but every time he closed his eyes, he saw her.
He’d heard stories of mermaids ever since the first day he’s set foot on the King’s Mistress, and even though he enjoyed the imaginative tales immensely, he had always found them to be somewhat incredible.
“What a fool I was.” He snorted quietly at the thought, trying not to disturb the other men. What the old sailors who’d spun the tales hadn’t mentioned was the fact that once you saw one, you wouldn’t be able to concentrate on anything else. He’d seen Lucky, the first mate, scowling at him when he’d been daydreaming about her today. The knots he’d been tying wouldn’t have held up in a gust of wind. He sighed.
When they’d docked in Calcutta, he’d been forced to stay aboard the ship because of his age. “Ship’s Boy needs to suffer.” Cap’n said. He was hanging over the rail feeling sorry for himself, when he heard the splash. The moon was under a dark cloud cover, and he couldn’t really see what had caused the noise. He thought it was a jellyfish at first, but wondered at the dark reddish color. He grabbed a hold of a mainline and leaned over the railing to get a better look. He squinted, but couldn’t make out a thing.
Just then, the moon emerged from her dusky curtain, and the sanguine mass changed to a brilliant copper. There was a white flash from underneath, and suddenly he was face to face with a watery angel. Her eyes were the color of the sea, and looked at him in curiosity; he was entranced as they changed from a deep cobalt to shining emerald to beryl and then to jade. They were set into a heart-shaped pale pale face. What he had thought was an oddly-colored Man-O-War was actually a heavy mane that fell from her head over her naked shoulders and fanned out into the water around her, seeming to be a live and separate creature. She smiled, and he felt as if the ship’s deck had sunk from underneath him.
“Hooooo-eee.” He let out a breath, and she slid away through the water quicker than any fish he’d ever seen. Now that he knew she was there, he could see her through the dark, bobbing slightly with the waves. Jack thought quickly about all the stories he’d listened to about mermaids, and he slid his hand into his pocket and felt the silver locket his mum had given him. If he had been thinking clearly, he never would have considered it, but his only thought now was to get within arm’s reach of this mysterious being. He sunk to his knees onto the deck of the ship and withdrew the locket from his pocket. He squeezed it, debating for only a second before holding out his arm through the rails of the deck.
” ‘S alright, Miss.” He spoke quietly, but wondered if “Miss” was a bit ridiculous. How DID one address a sea sprite? He shook his head and then his arm, just enough to get the locket at the end of the chain to spin.
In a glint of pale skin and fiery tresses, she was back; she snatched the locket from his hand so quickly he didn’t have time to react. She swam away again, a little closer this time, and he watched in spellbound delight as she examined her treasure. She rolled the locket around in her hands, and let out a small cry resembling a dolphin’s when the latch sprung the little silver door open. She held it away at arm’s length, but when nothing else happened, she drew it close again, and peered at the picture of Jack’s mother that was within. She looked at him then, and back at the photograph, no doubt noticing the resemblance between them.
“‘S me mum. I miss ‘er terrible a’ times.” Jack spoke softly still, and he couldn’t help the emotion that spread through his statement. The sea goddess cocked her head when he spoke, and came closer. He leaned back from the rails, trying to get her to venture closer. From his new spot, he couldn’t see her, and hoped with his whole being she couldn’t see him either, and was curious enough to want to.
He heard water lapping against the ship, and saw long fingers wrap around one of the rails before those ever-changing eyes were gazing at him once again over the boards of the ship. He sat there and just took in the sight of her for a moment in the light from the ship’s lanterns. The locket he’d offered was tied securely in her hair, along with a variety of other artifacts- a fork, a monocle, several pearls larger than any he’d ever seen, and an expensive tobacco pipe. He wondered for a moment who had given her such things, and inched closer. Her eyes never left his, even when he looked over the edge of the ship and saw womanly hips that gave way to scales and a massive tail that ended in an elegant ruffled fin. The fin waved lazily against the ship, and Jack was reminded of the barn cats’ tails of home. He was admiring the rainbow of scales in the moonlight- dark purple that were silvery in moon beams, and then looked aquamarine. He looked up to find the mermaid observing him just as intently, and disturbingly close.
He scarcely breathed, afraid he’d frighten her again. The two stared at each other for long minutes, waiting for the other to make a move. Jack sat more still than a statue when an ivory arm reached out and her damp fingers grasped one of the riotous dark curls atop his head. She pulled it gently, then let it go. It sprung back into place, and she repeated the act. After the second time, a small sound escaped from her throat, and he realized she was laughing. She grinned and reached for another lock of his hair, and he silently thanked his mother this tiny birthright that so entertained a sea maiden. Jack heard a giant clatter of boots from the other side, and drunken voices of sailors drunk on too much rum, and his sea angel disappeared. He cursed under his breath, and remained seated on the deck, feeling as if he’d just had his heart ripped out through his chest. A burly man stumbled over to him and stuck a knee on Jack’s shoulder. Jack cringed at the putrid smell on the man’s breath.
“‘Ey there, laddy, ‘ile yer down there, what say ye to a ‘ittle favor? Ye’r almost pretty ‘nough to be a lass!” The sailor used a crude hand motion and guffawed loudly, and Jack shoved the man’s knee away and stood.
“I hear ye’r sister’s down on the docks and real good at that.” He spoked the insult loud enough for the other men to hear, which caused a collective drunken laughter to ring out. The crude sailor scowled at him before walking away, and Jack sent one final glance out to see, convinced he saw a womanly silhouette bobbing gracefully in the tide.