With Adventure Ending
I pulled the throttle back as we approached the edge of the ship channel. The momentum of the boat slowed letting the bow tip forward, cutting lower into the gulf’s waters. My hair fell over my forehead now that the speed-borne wind had stopped holding it back.
I stepped away from the center console of the small boat. Neptune ran from the bow, eager to see what would happen next. The eternally happy labrador retriever never needed coaxing to hop onto the boat as any day spent on the water was a huge success in his eyes.
After lowering the anchor, I did not grab a fishing pole as I might have any other day. Instead, I stepped around the console, out of the shade, and sat down on the small seat built into the front of the center console. I let the early morning sun warm my skin. The salt in the air and heat off the water had kept my body tan, lithe, and calloused over the years. Neptune had followed me, curious about what his owner was doing but happy to be a part of it nonetheless. When I did nothing except sit quietly with my eyes closed, Neptune offered free kisses.
I smiled and guided Neptune off of me while scratching him behind his ears to placate him.
“Sorry boy. I don’t think I’m gonna fish for anything this morning. I don’t even know why we came out here. Probably just a waste of gas.”
I sat there, watching the massive ships sleepily crawl through the ship channel. Their wake tossed me from side to side like a slippery cradle as I closed my eyes to enjoy the rocking. Just like every single morning for the past sixteen years, the line of freighters backed into the gulf, each ship eager to stop in one of the busiest ports in the world where most of the nation’s insatiable hunger for refined oil was fed.
I thought back to this morning when the pre-dawn sky seemed blinding as I awoke, unable to remember a time I had woken up so clearly for absolutely no reason. I sat up and put my feet down on the bare floor. The wood flexed and creaked with age under my weight. I looked around the same empty house I had lived in for years, the walls largely blank since no one stayed long enough to supplement my own meager style. Chloe certainly hadn’t.
Before I had flicked on the light next to the bed, I could make out the blonde outline of Neptune on his own bed in the corner, his head lifting at the movement. When the light flicked on, Neptune squinted slightly before he adjusted to the light and looked at his beloved owner, ready for anything. That’s one of the things that I loved most about dogs. They were never really surprised, and they never surprised me. This is most likely why my home never permanently expanded beyond myself and a few boisterous pups, of which there had been many over the years.
Each dog had given me companionship and conversation, even if the conversations were one-sided. I used to spend hours talking with my old german shepherd, Merc, mostly because Merc was more than happy to lie on the couch next to me as I blathered on and on about the events of the day or how the politicians would kill us all eventually.
But Neptune was special from day one, the day I had picked him up from my friend’s house. The young litter of mutts bounced inside their pen. Mania ensued as I approached them, their blonde and black and chocolate butts wiggled with puppy ferocity. And as I reached in, listening to my friend talk about the various puppies and any traits they might have exuded in their first few weeks of life, I noticed one blonde beauty who had not run to brush his head against my fingers. Instead, he was pulling on the large bowl of water, tugging it until it slid across the wooden porch. I watched this distracted puppy as he eventually tipped the bowl over and rolled in the water where it settled in small pools on the wood. The dog just laid there, wet and perfectly happy.
I smiled and took Neptune home immediately. His affinity for water only grew, and he was the only dog I ever owned who loved going out on the boat. He certainly helped entertain the more inexperienced fishing groups that would charter me and my boat. Neptune offered such a good customer experience that I eventually rebranded my charter as Neptune’s Waters.
But no one was scheduled today. Disposable income had dropped over the past year as the economy tanked and the threat of war was stoked by the politics of the decade. I got by with a part-time job in a distribution warehouse. Sometimes dinner consisted of nothing but fish that I had caught during the week and maybe a potato.
I hated just getting by. I didn’t want to make tons of money or anything. I just wanted to do something that made a difference for people. I don’t know if everyone feels like they have some grand purpose and it’s just human nature, but I really believed I could be a part of something that would be important and have real stakes.
Even the charters were usually special days for the groups who came aboard, and I got to be a part of their memories forever. But now, all I had was a forklift license and an empty house, especially after Chloe left with the few things she had brought with her during the short time we lived together (probably should have been a sign).
So this morning, I could only assume that my body had woken up believing I was late for a charter or the warehouse. I was still unsettled throughout the morning. A cup of coffee didn’t stabilize me as it usually did.
With nothing on the agenda for the day, I felt better driving to the dock where the boat was housed. The sun barely peeked over the horizon as I filled the cooler with ice, drinks, and more than a few snacks and sandwiches. I wasn’t even sure how long I would be out, but it never hurt to be prepared for anything.
“Tuna, what do you think we’re doing out here?”
Neptune’s eyes grew big as he heard the sound of his name. He took the opportunity to nuzzle his broad head rather forcefully into the crook of my elbow so that he was even better positioned for head scratches.
“I just had to get outta that house this morning, you know? I feel better out here. Hell,” I looked around and stood up, Neptune alert to my next move, “maybe I will do some fishing.”
AN ADVENTURE ENDING
I opened the tackle box, surveying the options before I was distracted by Neptune’s barking. He didn’t usually speak unless there was a fish or a treat offered. He was standing at the bow, his front paws on the edge of the boat, looking out towards the gulf. I approached him, his tail wagging as he heard my steps grow closer but his eyes were locked off the starboard side, his ears alert to whatever he could hear in the distance.
I followed his line of sight and didn’t see anything except the open gulf and the jetty that protected the ship channel from its harsher waters.
“What are you looking at, Tuna?”
Neptune barked again, trying desperately to tell me what it was. I reined my vision in and looked at the jetty itself. I didn’t see anything at first except the crashing wake over the rocks covered in deceptively soft algae that made them look like a green, pillowy wall. But as I scanned down the long jetty, I locked eyes with someone. I didn’t even notice them at first, frankly because I never expected to see a person just sitting on the rocks this far from shore, especially without another boat nearby.
I rushed back to my console and found the binoculars I kept for the rare occasions they were necessary. With them, I saw that no one was sitting on the rocks. The person was near the jetty but she was half-submerged, her torso and arms above the water, and her wet, black hair partially covered the light green shirt she wore. I prepared to pull up the anchor and moved the boat closer to it, giving the line slack. But when I checked again to see how the woman was faring, I couldn’t find her. I inspected each section of the jetty and didn’t see her at all. I went back to the console, grabbing the radio to see if anyone else had seen something that morning, but before I could say a word, Neptune alerted me again. I rushed back to the front of the boat. This time Neptune’s ears were relaxed and his tail wagged enthusiastically.
She was there, just a few feet away from my boat. Her long, dark hair webbed across the top of the water. Her face was sharp with high cheekbones and a graceful jawline that looked angular but soft, as drops of water rolled off it. Her eyes were lit a bright green and her smile broke as she said, “Hi Sam. I am so glad I found you.”
Her voice disoriented me because just the sound of it tingled my skin. I barely croaked out, “Wh-What?”
“I have been searching for you.” Her eyes flickered again.
“Certainly not your handsome yet uncommunicative partner there,” she said, gesturing to Neptune who gave a happy bark in reply. Her arms were barely treading water as if she didn’t really need them to stay above it or she wasn’t too concerned with sinking. The water made her light green shirt cling to her body at every curve.
“I don’t know what’s happening…” I looked around confused, hoping to see anyone else who might explain what’s going on.
“I know it must be confusing, but I need your help. We need your help.”
“Who the hell is ‘we’?” I asked.
“My clan. The last clan of the crater waters is in trouble and we need you.”
“Your clan?…” I looked more closely at her and finally realized that it wasn’t a green shirt clinging to her body. It was her body. It strained and folded like skin painted a jade green hue as it shimmered with the water.
“Oh my god, you’re a mermaid.”
“Ugh,” she huffed as she rolled her eyes, “First, we prefer mer. Just mer. And second, as far as your frustratingly binary species is concerned, I am more of a man than a maid.”
I cocked my head slightly as my brain throbbed with overactivity.
“You’re a mer-man? But you’re—“
“Incredibly sexy, I know. You can deal with the implications later. Will you help us?”
My thoughts rocked side to side by the quick exchange with no time to complete a single one.
“But I—you have—I don’t even know what is happening! You said you need my help?”
The mermaid—mer-man? No, just mer—the mer shook his head, “I do not have time to explain up here. You need to come down with me. I have already spent too much time above the water.”
“But how will I—“
His hand raised out of the water and held a slimy green substance between his fingers. “You will eat this and it will help activate the same breathing apparatus your body used when you underwent gestation. Now hurry, get in the water!”
“What about Tuna?!” I gestured to the excited labrador.
He looked quizzically at the dog. “It has never been tried on canines, but they are placental mammals. It should be the same. Let us try it out and if it does not work, I will put him back in the boat,” an urgency entered his voice as another fishing boat made its way along the jetty, “Jump now!”
Without thinking or considering the insanity of the moment. I called Neptune to the back of the boat where he happily jumped into the water. He doggy paddled until the mer appeared beside him, forced the slimy green substance into his mouth, and then pulled the dog under the water.
It looked so predatory, and as the seconds went by without them resurfacing, tears began to pool in my eyes as I realized I might have just fed my dog to a smooth-talking shark.
But when the mer reappeared, he was smiling and said, “It actually worked! It is kind of amazing. I did not think it would work the same.”
“But you said! Wait,” still extremely confused and rather emotionally raw, I demanded, “Show me. Show me he is still alive.”
Before the mer could dive, Neptune resurfaced with a happy bark even though he had been underwater for at least a minute.
“There he is. Now jump in and save my people!” The mer pleaded.
Operating on a purely instinctual basis, I told my legs to go and they launched me into the cold, dark waters of the channel. I couldn’t see anything underwater, but I felt a cool hand as it roughly shoved the slime down my throat. My lungs burned for lack of oxygen as the impact of my decision became apparent to my brain’s survival response. All my eyes could make out was the outline of the boat a few feet above me in the sunlight. I closed my eyes and let my stupid body drown as it deserved to. Survival of the fittest did not include me that day.
Suddenly, I took a deep breath, enjoying the life-giving air around me. I opened my eyes, expecting to see the boat next to me. Instead, it was still above me. I breathed in the water surrounding me. I was cautious like someone on their first scuba dive, unsure if the regulator will deliver the oxygen they need. But the water filtered in and out with ease. After each breath, my vision cleared and I was able to see Neptune floating happily next to me, his wagging kept shifting his position with each swing. I also saw the mer, his brilliant green fish tail easily pushing the water at his whim, wearing a massive smile that matched my own.
“How do you feel?” he asked, the sound of his voice clearly traveling between us.
“It’s incredible! I can’t believe it!”
“That’s good. Let’s get back to my city.” He pointed through the boat cut between the jetty and out into the open gulf. I looked at my hands and feet and saw that a veiny membrane now filled between my fingers and toes.
“Let’s go save your people.”