One day at the docks, a mermaid kissed a boy.
Here’s what happened: the boy was fishing there with his family’s pole. He was at the far end of the docks, the rich end, where fish gobbled up rich-people treats that got tossed from the more ornate vessels. He was thinking of ways humans could evolve to entirely eliminate from the diet those damn fish that he never caught, when he saw the mermaid.
She—he figured she was a she, she had breasts the boy guessed were the same size as his mother’s—broke the surface, covered in kelp but beautiful in ways the boy wasn’t used to. The tailfin, for example, was a rainbow limb. The sunlight hit the scales and waves of color undulated across her surface. The fin itself rounded out in a deep-cut crescent that looked like the fingernail moon.
“Hey,” she said.
“Uh, hey,” the boy said. Awe. When did he release the homemade pole? The one his father crafted after returning from the War, which he used to keep his family alive before the Cough got him? The one the boy now needed to feed the family? It floated away, toward the mermaid, who seized it. She came higher out of the water.
Humanoid. Her skin looked possessed by a spirit of metallurgy in gently oscillating liquid form. Her hair was wild, but the boy figured his uncles would still call her sexy. He also noticed a large starfish adorn her head.
“You know this kills right?” the mermaid said, waving the pole in front of him. Her voice: blue, mellow, but deep down, it had a colorless core that was terrifying and mysterious. It reminded him of the empty oyster shells that littered the town square during New Year’s.
“Hey, you know this kills, right?” she asked him, louder. “Kills fish?”
“No it doesn’t,” he said. “It just catches them.”
“Ah, you’re a sharky one,” she said, and smiled at him. The boy suddenly realized he might be in danger.
“I think you mean, snarky.”
“Well, I don’t kill ‘em either,” the boy said. “Mom does, she cooks ‘em.”
“Ah, so that’s who the real villain is,” she said, smiling. “I didn’t even have to torture you.”
The boy gasped.
“Rather quick to sell out your mother,” she added.
“Wait, what are you going to do?” the boy asked, fearful.
“Avenge my brethren,” the mermaid said. She splashed the boy with her fin.
“Wait!” the boy said. “Don’t kill her. It’s me who kills the fish, for they drown in air when they’re trapped in the bucket that I, and I alone, throw them in. If you must avenge your brethren, strike upon me!”
The boy had recently gotten an A in drama class and hoped this was convincing form.
“I was only going to make her eat a poisonous fish, just have her get sick for a while, but death… I can work with that,” the mermaid said.
“Wait, dammit, no! You caught me off guard,” the boy said. And now he realized he wasn’t ready to die.
The mermaid extended her hand, and slapped the boy. He didn’t feel any pain; all his senses searched the mermaid’s extended hand. It hung over the water, wavering, reflecting light onto the ocean surface, dirtied with human refuse, and it made the boy think of dancing crystals.
“I have a request to make, before you end me,” said the boy.
“Please be serious,” the mermaid said. Her hand retracted and she pulled a crab out of her hair. “This is your end of life you’re using.”
The boy went for it.
“I would like a kiss.”
The mermaid shrugged, blasé as a sponge
The boy was a bit disappointed in her reaction. In his head, there was a comedic pause, then she burst out laughing, and he got his kiss. But more importantly, his charm and sass had so wooed her he also got his freedom.
“No, I guess not,” the boy said.
“Well, then,” the mermaid said.
She floated toward him. He was still getting what he wanted: close proximity. He fingered Sebastian.
See, before the Cough had taken his dad, who fought in the War, the boy visited him in the hospital. His dad told long, bitter epics that made the nurses cry and doctors quietly close their office doors. He told the boy about Sebastian, his trusty switchblade that double-mouthed the necks of many an enemy. Before he died, he pulled the boy close.
“You’re a man now,” his dad said. He closed Sebastian into the boy’s fist. “Protect the family, avenge me,” Pa said.
“Dad, you’re dying from a virus.”
“It’s still a living—” he flatlined.
Now, the boy fingered Sebastian. The mermaid moved in; the boy got his kiss, then quickly stepped back, swinging out Sebastian. The blade ejected.
Mermaid blood is a lovely shade of turquoise that science tells us is due to both a magical diet and human pollution. However, it also has corrosive properties for human skin. The blood spewed on the boy, instantly devastating his throat and larynx. His final sound was a slight whistle of blood and air. The both fell: the boy collapsed on the dock, the mermaid floated near him.
The mermaid kissed the boy, but only the seagulls celebrated anything.
— Sean Dennison, BFR Editorial Staff