What’s not in a name?

Names are strange things, words that define a person, an object or even a more ephemeral concept such as a country or a philosophy. In certain kinds of lore there was the belief that if the true name of a thing was known, then the person who held that knowledge was able to exert control over the named in one form or another. Even today we still buy into this strange cult of naming, with designer labels being afforded status and the utterings of famous names individuals quoted as the kernels of wisdom by which to live our lives.

As a writer the currency of names is always apparent, be it J K Rowling putting out an underwhelming novel after calling time on Harry Potter and it being the subject of attention more on account of the morbid interest in what she did next than anything else, or Robert Jordan turning what had been a promising tome in the shape of “The Eye of the World” into a series that became more boring and turgid with every sucessive title and yet somehow ground on because the first one was not bad and people deluded themselves into wanting to see what happened next (which in the case of most of the Wheel of Time books was less than nothing).

But what struck me most recently was the way in which past glories are used to sell whatever a person has been working on or associated themselves with in the here and now. At the weekend I chanced a few quid on a cheap copy of the PS3 RPG “Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning” based upon the fact that a friend had played it and not slated the game and I was looking for something to phase in as I got towards the end of “Dragon’s Dogma”. I was informed – and seldom allowed to forget – that the game had involved the artistic talents of Tod McFarlane, story and setting input by R A Salvatore and been produced by Ken Rolston (apparently responsible for work on Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion – which didn’t interest me much as I thought that game was crap).

Now there have been times when I didn’t know the names of those involved with a creative project and looking them up have been nicely surprised to find that it was good work by someone whom I already thought highly of. This has happened most often, for example, with Anime when finding that Yoko Kanno was behind a soundtrack that was simply amazing. Though the opposite is most often true when the names and their previous associations are seemingly given more prominance than the product in question.

The long and short of it is that KOA:R is a disappointing game, but more importantly the input by Salvatore is both unoriginal and nothing short of boring. This from the creator of Drizzt Do Urden, arguably the only character from a D&D novel ever to come close to transcending the limits of the RPG and become compelling to those not concerned with playing it.

For me it seems obvious that what has happened here is more to do with the fact that Salvatore came to the fame that he now enjoys while working in genre fiction than striking out on his own. One advantage of genre work is that you have a complete universe already established into which you can drop characters, so the time that would have been devoted to world-building is instead lavished upon the protagonists. Rather than creating another clone of the flat characters from stuff like the Dragonlance novels, here we had an outcast who came from a twisted society and could never fit in, drama and pathos earned almost instantly. An anti-hero for D&D was instantly far more iconic and credible than some peasant berk who just happened to have tripped over a magic sword or been born the chosen one. So far so good, the books kick against the goody-goody perception of heroes in the D&D universe, they become bestsellers – but what then?

When we move onto a new project, the backdrop of D&D has to be dropped and the writer is suddenly burdened with all that background work of creating the world in which his new masterpiece will take place. Now this is where the crunch comes (and to be clear, I’m not saying that Salvatore isn’t a talented writer, just that KOA:R doesn’t show up that quality in his post-D&D work) and instead of a fresh setting, you get a world that feels a great deal like the one we just left behind, only without the excuse that it’s someone else’s creation and you’re just being paid to fix the leaky roof.

I think there’s an element of this in Dan Abnett’s work away from GW as well, while he kicks back the stereotype of the Black Library focusing on typically limited 40K characters and subjects, he has an entire backdrop of the decades it has taken to populate the same setting with material. In such circumstances it allows a talented writer to invent a complex protagonist the likes of Ibrahim Gaunt, Gregor Eisenhorn or Gideon Ravenor and set them on that stage, presenting a great narrative along the way. But then you read some of his stuff written away from the GW universe and that same spark is gone somehow, replaced by a resort to abrasive characters and violence.

The lesson for me is that a name being bandied around in relation to a new product should be approached with great caution, and that sometimes a writer can shine brightest when they are surrounded by dull settings.

But just for the record: R A Salvatore and Dan Abnett, I still love you dearly.

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Skewed perceptions of intent and responsibility

I’ve always been somewhat intersted in the areas of human experience that are a little bit more “out there” and intriguing. Subjects like the supernatural, UFOs and cryptozoology were things that I really enjoyed absorbing information on when I was a kid and as I got older my approach to them was altered as things always are by the experience of becoming hopefully more worldly and less credulous in general. This often meant that when I came back to a subject, I was reading it with a far more critical opinion of the claims people were making and the evidence they presented to back up their findings.

I suppose this process for me was almost begun by the popularity of TV programmes that had the peak of their fame almost a decade ago now. I had never been the kind of person to catagorise myself as a skeptic before, but it was not long into the time I spent watching a particular programme (which will remain nameless) that I was forced to admit that it was tantamount to open bilking of the audience. The presenters would mince around a supposedly haunted location in the middle of the night with their pet medium (i.e. fraud in this and most other cases) and ascribe any random noise or mote of dust that floated in front of the camera to the supernatural while making no effort to introduce a scrap of scientific rigour to what they were doing.

The most thankless job went to a professor who was asked to watch the episode back and comment from the perspective of a scientist on the so-called findings. Inevitably his conclusions were the same: that there was no way to prove or disprove that what they had experienced was mundane or otherwise due to the amatuerish and unprofessional approach the programme took. But of course in the mind of some, this oddly served to add weight to the idea that something beyond the ken of science was going on, rather than that everyone involved was wasting their time unless they had no interest in what was going on save for making a TV program that was eagerly lapped up by the audience.

My choking point came when the same expert was asked onto one of the live marathon shows they had begun to produce on events such as Halloween. On this occasion he was asked by one of the presenters (and interstingly based on the exchange that followed also an owner of the production company responsible for the program) what his opinion was of a random sound they had heard and recorded. He did the usual thing of speaking as though he wondered why he bothered, listing the logical things that could have made the noise that were not the spirits of the departed. But then he voiced the obvious fact that it could have been faked to generate interst in the show. At this the presenter seemed to lose his mind, almost threatening the skeptic and demanding to know what possible motivation he could have to fake the evidence.

Of course it does not take a genius to speculate as to the motivation of man who owns the company making the show and why he would want to see impressive “evidence” of the paranormal onscreen, whether it be real or not.

From there the original skeptic was replaced with a slew of ever more pathetic and bored-looking skeptics who mumbled about rational explanations, while the over-eager presenters came out with priceless lines such as: “By the end of the night, we will make you believe!” But the most amusing was when they paired the skeptic with a credulous individual who was sold on matters of the supernatural and described the latter as the one who had “an open mind”.

Is it possible to have a more blantant failure to understand the meaning of words in the English language?

The skeptic is asking for proof of these extraordinary claims, willing to subject them to the same scrutiny as every scientific theory is made to endure and only then decide if the phenomenon is credible. The believer on the other hand has already made up their mind based on either the word of another or something they have seen and under their own auspices decided stands as proof of the supernatural.

The more I read around there subjects, the more I see this bizarre and frankly worrying juxtaposition of roles being imposed on the viewpoint of the skeptic and the believer. Almost without exception, when an individual makes an outrageous claim of one kind or another in these areas, the rational mind that seeks to respond and ask for proof is characterised as at the best an arrogant and uncaring cynic and at the worst a vindictive monster.

This is all the more disturbing when one considers the realms of public life in which we demand such scrutiny without question and would think that its absence made the process highly questionable. In a court there would be nothing to be gained by calling the prosecution all the things that a skeptic is accused of being simply because he points out the evidence does not favour the accused. And yet this happens in almost all cases where a skeptic takes the time to study and comment upon the claims of those who tell the public at large that they can commune with the dead, have been abducted by aliens or know the location of Bigfoot.

I can only think that there exists a level of dislocation from or experience of the real world in the minds of many who are either claming to be witnesses to this kind of phenomena or seeking to make a career out of bringing them to the attention of the public at large. Anyone who has been party to way that all too harsh real world works will attest to the fact that there is little room for fudging the facts and asking that what you are claiming to be the truth should be accepted on your word alone. If something does not stand up to fairly harsh scrutiny, it is likely to be derided and tossed out as bullshit in very short order with little or no thought for the feelings of the person making groundless claims.

Perhaps the most outlandish of these sentiments was encapsulated in the UFO researcher who was sold on the idea of abductees who claimed to have been repeatedly taken by aliens, when he compared the nature of skeptics who took the opposing point of view to those who would accuse a rape victim of making fake claims or having brought it on themselves. I mean really, could there be a more distasteful and in the end revealing statement of the skewed view that such individuals are capable of adopting to protect their own precarious take on such a matter? This person would characterise the act of merely approaching an issue with an unwavering commitment to dealing with the hard facts rather than indulging in potentially damaging and patently untrue claims as being tantamount to condemning a victim of a violent crime?

Even when the same demands are made in a court of law to prove crimes every day around the world?

In the end it becomes ever more disturbing to realise that we live in a world where some people would see the credulous believer as the champion of what is right and deride the skeptic who merely asks for proof before he believes as the villain. Like the crowd who were whipped up into buying the magical cure-all tonic by the travelling salesman, they may find later that they have swallowed something quite unpleasant.

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An Open Mind as opposed to an Open Mouth…

Why do people ever think that an answer exists to the most fundamental of question as regards the very things that make us human beings rather than just another variety of primate? There are many examples of this kind of thing, but the one that keeps returning to me at the moment is the way in which the study of history and archeology can suffer from this very thing when presented in a medium which is seen by the masses. I’m making my way through an interesting book about the historicity of the Trojan War as described by Homer at the moment, in which the discoveries made by archeologists in Greece and Turkey are examined to compare them to the world that is described in the Iliad and Odyssey.

More often than not it seems that there was a world which would have looked something like the one that Homer creates, but the major surprise for most experts was that when they finally managed to translate all of the clay tablets in the ancient written language of Linear B, they were given an insight into a bureaucratic, rather than heroic world. It appears that as well as spawning great warriors and tales that would be handed down the ages, the ancient Greeks were just as concerned with keeping tabs on the accounts and making sure that everything tallied at the end of the financial year as we are today.

But then why should it surprise anyone to discover that people in that age were as complicated and possessed of different aspects to their cultures as we pride ourselves on being today? I think that all too often we fall into a trap of defining others according to the features of their historical legacy that we find romantic or most flattering to ourselves. A case in point was the first episode of the new documentary entitled “The British” (I can already hear the rumblings in the hills of Wales and Scotland over that choice of title) on SKY that could best be described as “history lite”. Here we had the ancient Britons pitted against the Romans and a basic treatment of the way in which the largest part of the islands became Romanised, gaining a taste for amongst other things gladiatorial combat.

Helen Mirren then popped up as one of the many talking heads (chosen more for their celebrity value in most cases than ability to make a relevant comment) and opined on the way in which the Romans understood that such things were needed to keep the masses in line and not questioning the way things worked. But how common is this attitude towards the subject? The assumption that such things were primarily intended as a means of control and a sedative for the common man? Of course a Roman pleb would have lapped it up without a moment of thought, but when we sprawl in front of the X-Factor and forget the problems of our day, we’re just relaxing and never a hint of being kept in line by the powers that be is mentioned.

The comment reminded me of the time I was standing in the middle of the Ring of Brodgar on Orkney, being told what can be said about those awesome standing stones and the culture that raised them. The guide explained that while we can be sure there are reasons that the alignment is dictated by the motions of the sun, moon and stars, we cannot really be sure just what the entire purpose of the place was. In this he compared the ring quite obviously with Stonehenge, world-reknowned and yet still an enduring mystery.

But at that moment, a woman piped up towards the front of the crowd: “That’s not right, they know what Stonehenge was now. It was a graveyard…I saw a programme about it the other week.”

Well, that was the end of the debate, case solved.

Was it bollocks.

The guide was polite, nodding and making those sounds that say at once: “Really, how interesting…now please be quiet while I finish my bloody talk, for which I am not paid enough to debate these matters with the likes of you.”

What struck me about the woman’s statement was the way in which she sounded so sure the matter was closed. She had seen a TV program and so that was that in her own mind. I’ve seen more than a few documentaries on Stonehenge and the one thing that each one has left me thinking is that we really have no bloody clue as to what the point of the place was overall and we may never have a hope of finding one. To me it always seems that as soon as you find one use for the place another pops up and most likely this is because it did not serve one specific purpose at all, but rather had a myriad of roles to play in the lives of the people who built it and the generations afterwards who then used it.

Take a Christian cathedral for example, say you happened upon it in the far future and all that remained was the shell of the building and perhaps a small portion of the statuary. If you had no notion of what the religion that had been behind its construction was, what then would you think the purpose of the place was? Remember there are no books, paintings, stained-glass windows or associated knowledge with which to make your assumptions, just a massive and obviously labour-intensive building that must have been an achievement for the people who built it. Do you see it as a tomb, because there are people buried beneath the floor? Is it a venue for a musical or theatrical performance on account of the wondrous accoustics and the remains of the seats? Or could it be place of civic administration because of the similarities with the layout of a Roman Bascilica?

My point is in the end, that when we explain our own time and the things that we create, we like to allow them so many levels of meaning and different and yet complimentary functions that we would be offended if someone failed to appreciate these when they looked in from the outside. So why then are we so quick to do the opposite when we try to appreciate the things that were created by those who came before us? Why does there have to be one defining label attached to Stonehenge? Only an idiot thinks that Hadrian’s Wall existed only to keep the northernmost tribes of these isles on the other side of it. And why can’t Homer’s ancient heroes have come back from the sack of Ilium to debate with their scribes whether or not the Trojan maidens they had carried off were a tax write-off?

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First Lady of the Lake – Part 2

Image supplied by Luigi Diamante

The water in the tank proved to be very hot indeed and soon steam filled the air inside the bathroom, fogging the mirrors on the walls and leaving Megan swathed in a layer of perspiration that made her feel as though she had been sitting inside a sauna. Faced with the reality of not being able to escape the confines in which she had been left and tired in both mind and body of the situation that she had been forced to endure for the past two weeks, she had decided that the only logical thing to do under the circumstances was make use of the facilities for as long as she was able.

She stripped off the sacking that had been her only clothing in the time since she had become a mermaid and arched her back, liking the feeling of the heat as it seeped into her limbs and went some way towards easing the aches that she had become so used to while forced to survive in the wilderness.

While it was true that her new form was far less vulnerable to the cold than she had been as a human being, Megan still felt the chill and she was surprised to find that her body reacted in a very positive manner to the wet heat building in the bathroom. Some of the dirt which had encrusted her skin was even now starting as she perspired and she found that she could not prevent her fin from twitching and curling in an unconscious movement as if her tail were unable to contain the physical release of being bathed in steam.

When the tub was dangerously full, she turned off the taps and slipped head first into the water, her tail following her upper half beneath the surface and sending a cascade crashing onto the floor as she went. If Megan was even aware of the displaced water, she made no effort to poke her head above the water, instead she remained below, allowing the welcome heat of the bath she had drawn to envelop her totally.

The bathtub was larger than she had been expecting, but not large enough to be called excessive in its surroundings and had the look of something that might have once been used as a hot tub in another life. Though it was no more than a couple of feet deep, it was circular and wide enough for her to twist her body and stretch out the kinks that had defied her attentions on the floor beside it. Megan made full use of the space she had at her disposal to curl and uncurl, spinning from her back to her belly and then from her left side to her right as the need to stretch her tortured muscles gave way to the simple pleasure of moving underwater.

This was an entirely new experience from her own point of view, being warm and free to float in the water of the bath with no immediate fear of what would come along or how she would survive from one moment to the next. There was always in the background the reality of the fact that she was a captive, but for the immediate now all she had to do was simply what she was doing right there and then.

She found soap and lathered her torso, wincing as she touched the places where she still bore the grazes and bumps of the past fortnight. But no matter what pains she felt, it was a good feeling to finally be cleaning away the physical reminder of what she had been through to some small degree. Megan thought about continuing on below her waist, but stopped when she saw that the scales of her tail had not collected the dirt in the same way as her skin. Lifting the weight of her tail from the water, it was evident that this part of her body at least had resisted being cut or bruised in any way while she had been suffering by the lake. Balanced against the loss of her legs and the larger loss of her humanity, Megan supposed that she should think of such small mercies as a positive aspect of her new form.

Next she turned her attention to the crazy collection of tangles that had been made of her hair whilst she was roughing it and slowly losing the fight for survival. It had come as no shock to Megan that she had taken no time to even try to keep her hair from getting into such a state and a small part of her was ashamed at the way in which she now seized upon a bottle of shampoo and a comb. It was as though she were somehow committing an act of betrayal by jumping at the chance of washing away all trace of what she had been through, trying to lessen the importance of the cruelties to which she had been subjected.

Those thoughts were not enough to hold her back though, and she was soon lathering her chestnut hair into a soapy mass with both hands. She used the shower attachment to rinse the residue away and then spent a long and rather painful period of time meticulously combing out the knots and tangles. This required her to concentrate, her fingers working deftly to the accompaniment of the occasional cry of pain and the sound of her tailfin beating absently back and forth in the water.

Megan had expected her mind to be racing as she attended to her hair, but instead it drifted from what she was doing and became lost in the quiet solitude of the moment. It was as though now she had been finally taken away from the need to survive in the lake and before that the horror of her abduction; she was finally being given the space in which to rest. What might happen when her captor returned was simply not as important to her as the chance to be alone and untroubled at that particular time.

If she was honest, the period in which she had been stressed and troubled by the events in her life went back much further. Even before she had been kidnapped and undergone the still baffling transformation that had turned her into a mermaid, Megan had been faced with issues and challenges from which she could not escape on a daily basis. Pressures both personal and professional had not been left behind when she herself left office and it had been many years since she had been able to describe her life as even relatively devoid of mental and emotional strain.

For the time being at least, she admitted to herself that a small part of her was glad to be free of those millstones, to not be faced with them before she fell asleep at night and be confronted with them when she woke every morning. She even flirted with the idea of just letting it all go, forgetting the woman she had been and instead embracing the creature that she had been forced to become. If the mermaids in the stories had nothing to bother them beyond combing their hair just as she was doing at that very moment in time, then could she too not simply decide to give up on being an former holder of high office, partner in a failing marriage and fretting mother of three and instead become a mermaid who was happy to be just what she was and nothing more?

But then the facts of her situation came flooding back and she was reminded of the way in which she had been abused, violated and deprived of her rights. Was she really going to give up, stop fighting and surrender all that she had been for an easy way out?

She had never flinched from fighting her corner in the past and no matter that she had been human then and was a mermaid now, she was still Megan Jones and she would still make a good accounting of herself no matter what.

Satisfied that she had made something that was less than gruesome out of herself, Megan slid out of the bath and set about hunting for towels and anything that would be more dignified in terms of clothing than her improvised polythene top. Inside the locker that she had been directed to before being left alone she was rewarded with a pile of towels that smelled freshly laundered and a motley but not mean selection of clothes that might have served for a mermaid in need of covering rather than the means to make a fashion statement. Megan noticed the absence of anything containing legs and was reminded suddenly of the fact that she would be so restricted herself from now on, a reality that made her shake her head at how much the modern woman took the wearing of trousers for granted.

In the end she chose a simple white shirt that was large enough to reach down almost half of the distance to where her knees had once been. It was loose and comfortable enough to disguise the fact that she had not found a bra of any kind amongst the clothes in the locker, but then she was rummaging through what were most likely the castoffs of a man and there was little chance of finding anything intended to support a woman’s breasts in there at all.

As she bound her still damp hair up with what makeshift clips and bands she could find in the bathroom, the thought occurred to Megan that it was unusual for a mermaid to wear any kind of clothes at all. Granted that she was once more relying upon fairy tales and movies for her speculation, but sooner or later she was going to have to deal with the reality of the situation in which she found herself. The kind of clothes that the average woman wore from one day to the next were just not practical for her any longer, she needed to be able to move between water and land in a way that a business suit was just not designed for.

But of course there was the flipside to the argument, the fact that she could not simply stop wearing clothes altogether. Times might have been changing and the world becoming a more liberal place, but no one would take her seriously if all she wore was a pair of shells perched on top of her breasts either.

The sound of a knock at the door brought her back to reality and suddenly made the train of thought she had been on seem ridiculous in the extreme. Here she was worrying about being taken seriously by the people she met in the future when the reality was that she may never be allowed to return to the world she had known again.

She was a captive and worse than that she was a mermaid isolated in the middle of nowhere and at the mercy of those who wanted to punish her for the things she had done in what now seemed like a previous life.

Guy unlocked the door and stepped into the room after a suitably respectful pause, he was as quiet as ever and still keeping his true emotions carefully hidden as his eyes found her where she sat upon the floor. Before he spoke, he stopped and there once again was that moment of hesitation as his mask almost slipped and he was a second away from letting her see what was really going on inside his mind.

“If you’re ready,” he was hidden once more behind his screen of determined emotional silence, “there’s a bed made up for you in the main house. It’s late and I think you need rest more than anything else right now.”

Megan could not argue that point, aware of how leaden her limbs felt now they had been soaked in the bath and allowed to relax.
She nodded without saying a word in response and offered no resistance as he stooped to pick her up from the tiled floor. As they went from the bathroom and into the cabin proper by the back door, she again felt the intensity of the way in which the man was hiding himself from her. Somehow it became more strained with every time he left her and returned, as if his efforts were harder to maintain when they were renewed. Was it guilt, the stress of dealing with whatever he had planned for her? Megan had no way of telling, but she was beginning to think that it might represent her best chance of finding a way in which she could influence the man in a way that would strengthen her position.

The interior of the cabin was almost totally dark, but Megan took in the impression of naked wood and a sparse aesthetic that needed little in the way of furnishings. There was no grand journey to the door of the room that had been set aside for her, hinting that the cabin was modest in size. Once inside she was too tired to make any further observations and simply allowed herself to be placed upon a bed that took her quite by surprise when she felt the comfort of sinking into its covers and pillows.

She hardly heard the sound of a key in the lock, falling into a deep sleep only moments after her head touched the pillow.

Megan awoke with a start, the covers of the bed wrapped around her body in such a way that she was unable to extricate herself from them without some considerable effort. She found that there were serious implications of spending a restless night in a bed intended for a human being when you had a tail instead of legs. As she struggled to free her limbs from the mass of sheets, she was secretly thankful for the reminder of her predicament only moments after she had woken, glad to be spared the experience of sleeping in a bed and for a moment forgetting what had befallen her and then being treated to a harsh reminder.

There was no light coming into the room from the small window to her left and she did not have any way of telling what the time was. All that she could go on was the visible lack of daylight and the state in which she found herself upon waking, the latter being possessed of a thick head and heavy limbs.

Megan guessed that it was still a matter of hours before dawn and that she had not slept long enough to feel truly rested. Perhaps not a surprising thing when she considered the things she had gone through and the position that she still found herself in. She lay back on the bed and groaned, convinced that she would not be able to fall back asleep and dreading the prospect of being left awake and alone with her thoughts until the sun rose once more.

A knock at the door seemed to dispel her fears and instead remind her of the proximity of the man who only the previous day had snared her in a net and carried her here against her will. She might have made an effort to prepare herself, gather her wits somewhat if he had not followed up the knock by unlocking the door and entering the room.

“You’re awake at last,” Guy was silhouetted in the light that streamed in from the rooms beyond the door to the bedroom, “can I ask how you’re feeling?”

Megan was taken aback by the change in Guy’s tone and the way in which his expression held none of the forced determination it had the night before. It was as though a weight of some kind had been lifted from him and she was now seeing more of the real person who had been struggling beneath it.

“I suppose I feel better for having been indoors,” Megan’s instinct was to say nothing, but the chance to actually speak to another person kept her from doing so. “I don’t think I did that well in getting any sleep though.”

“Are you sure?” Guy had come into the room now, flipping on a small lamp that stood on a table by the bed. “It’s evening right now, you slept through the whole of the day without making a sound.”

“I still feel rotten,” Megan shook her head as she kept the conversation going, puzzled as to why she was feeling compelled to make small talk with the man who was in effect holding her captive.

“Might be that it’s the hunger,” Guy pulled up a stool and sat by the edge of her bed, “it looked to me as though you’d been struggling to feed yourself out there.”

Megan nodded and looked away for a moment, sure that the gesture would be taken as a painful memory of what she had been put through. In truth she wanted to turn her gaze from Guy’s face on account of the fact she was now starting to see what he had hidden from her before. There was no hint of malice or cruelty in the man’s face that she could detect, instead he was talking to her now with eyes full of concern and evidence of the trepidation he felt at being close to her visible in the way he could only keep holding her gaze for a few seconds at a time.

He was guilty, genuinely feeling for her and awash with self-loathing for his part in what had been done to her. It was clear to Megan in that moment that he could not have trapped her in the net and brought her here for any reason other than the compulsion he clearly felt to make amends for his actions.

The realisation gave her some relief that she was most likely safe for the moment at least, but it also deprived her of the largest part of the loathing and resentment she had built up for the man at the same time. When she looked back at his face, seeing the way her every move played out in his large and now she realised very sensitive eyes, there was no way she could bring herself to truly hate him. She was alive and healing in some small way because of his efforts and she was thankful for that much at least.

Megan decided that a temporary cease in hostilities was in both of their best interests, thinking that recriminations could follow once she knew more about the elements of the plot which had resulted in her transformation were shared with her. At that time she could better judge what could be done and who should be given the lion’s share of the blame.

Though she tried to ignore it, there was also the niggling feeling that Guy was still holding back some small detail of his emotional state despite the change in his demeanour. He still held off saying what he immediately thought for some reason and she was determined, or more honestly a little intrigued to discover what it might be.

“You’re right,” she nodded. “I could do with a square meal.”

“Okay,” he seemed to brighten at the mention of something he could actually do to make her feel a degree better. “How does smoked fish sound? I know it was baiting the traps, but I can do a lot more with it when I have access to a kitchen and the chance to cook up something to serve on the side as well. I thought that we could eat something at first and then perhaps sit down to talk?” His cheeks flushed with the admission, but he went on regardless. “I think we have a lot to discuss, given the circumstances.”

“You’re not kidding,” Megan found herself unsure as to whether to nod her head or shake it.

Guy proved to be as good as his word, disappearing into the kitchen that stood towards the back of the open-plan interior of the cabin. Megan made herself comfortable amongst the rugs and floor cushions that were spread in front of the large fireplace and divided her time between watching him as he worked and marvelling at the sight of his home now she saw it lit for the first time.

Her suspicions about the balance the place tried to strike between the manmade and the natural had been correct, with wood and other organic materials accounting for most of the structure and having the upper hand where it met with worked metal, glass or the rare synthetic elements of the house. The result was a space that made her feel at ease and able to relax despite herself, filling her senses with the warmth of the fire and the scent of wood smoke as well as the promise of something at long last to fill her stomach being readied not more than a few metres away.

When Guy presented her with a plate of fish and seasonal vegetables in a sauce that she could not identify, but intended to make the most of all the same, Megan wondered if her had made the cabin with the same skill as he had produced the meal in front of her.

Under the circumstances she was sure that the right thing to do would have been to eat sparingly, giving her stomach the chance to prepare itself for the first real food she had eaten in so long. But once she started to eat there was no stopping herself and it was all she could do to maintain some semblance of manners as she moved the fork from the plate to her mouth. On a more civilised level, she was also sure that the food was very good and worth savouring under normal circumstances. A part of her cringed at the thought of what she must look like in his eyes as she shovelled her way through such a pleasant meal like a madwoman.

If he was in any way offended by her manners, Guy did not show it, instead paying attention to his own meal and allowing her to finish her own in peace.

Megan was done before he was even halfway through the contents of his plate, but he put both aside and rose to carry them into the kitchen. When he returned he held a pair of steaming mugs, the scent of which reached her long before he had sat himself back down and offered her one of them.

“Spiced cider,” he said by way of explanation. “It doesn’t exactly go with fish, if you’re a traditionalist. But you look as though you could do with something to warm you up.”

She took an experimental sip and almost immediately coughed in a desperate manner as the fumes coming off the potent drink hit the back of her throat.

“Don’t inhale,” Guy tried not to laugh, “it’s best to swallow it in one go.”

Megan tried to look hostile at his laughter, but there was something in the way that he smiled which defeated the urge in her to do so. She realised that he was not actually laughing at the sight of her in distress, more that he was seeing beyond the simple fact of the matter and drawing pleasure from a subtly different quality he perceived in her actions.

“I’m glad I make you laugh,” her voice was losing its disapproving edge even as she spoke.

“No,” he shook his head, “it’s just that…I’ve never seen that side of…never mind.”

“I think that counts as breaking the ice,” Megan took a sip of her cider in accordance with the advice she had been given after the disaster of the first. “We should talk, seriously for a while.”

Guy nodded and became both grave and more than a little sad, the emotion showing clearly in his eyes now he had dispensed with the need to hide his feelings from her.

“First things first,” Megan began. “Why did you bring me here and who else knows that you did?”

“I should never have let this thing go as far as it did,” Guy looked into the fire as he spoke. “The moment that damn shell opened, I knew we’d done something that was just too much and I knew as well that we couldn’t just take it all back and say sorry. None of the others know where you are and I intend to keep it that way. I don’t care what they think or might do if they knew; I couldn’t bear to think of you out there alone in the state that we left you.”

“But what was that thing, Guy?” Megan pressed him. “What kind of a crazy shell can turn a grown woman into a real life mermaid?”

“I don’t know where it came from,” he shook his head. “Will claimed that he found it on the internet, that he was tipped off by a contact from overseas when he was fishing for a way to make our so-called statement when we abducted you something out of the ordinary.”

“It was certainly that,” Megan’s hand absently stroked the scales of her tail, as if to remind herself of the bizarre truth.

“Neither myself or Ruby really believed that it would do what he’d been told it would. We’d spoken about it behind his back and prepared ourselves for the inevitable threats and blackmail we’d have to pull off when you came out of the thing unchanged. So when it actually worked we were more shocked than anything, we just ended up going along with the plan that Will had proposed in a kind of daze. It was only afterwards that we started to question what we were doing, arguing and threatening over what could happen if it all got out. I haven’t seen either of them since we went our separate ways and part of me would be happy if I never did again.”

“So you decided that as you’d made a mess of playing the eco-warrior, then you’d try to play the knight in shining armour instead?”

Guy looked up with a genuine hurt evident in his eyes, but Megan was not about to back down and let him off the hook so easily. Regardless of the remorse he seemed to have for what he had done, that would not alter the way things were and she needed to see that he was truly suffering for his guilt before she would even contemplate being won over by any urge for sympathy towards him.

“You’re right,” he looked away again. “I wanted to make things right, do something to win back some of the self-respect that I lost. I feel that more than any of the others, this whole thing is my own fault…that I’m to blame.”

“Of course it’s your fault!” Megan snapped and then actually considered his words. “Wait, what do you mean you’re more to blame than the others? I don’t see any of them clamouring to help.”

“It’s not like that,” Guy struggled to explain himself. “It’s ridiculous, but I feel like this goes back for years…like I’ve somehow willed it all to happen, crazy as that sounds.”

“What on earth can you mean?” Megan wanted to hear his answer very much.

“Have you ever felt as though you made things happen without realising it? Like you wanted something and then it just seemed to happen?”

Megan could see that he was struggling with himself; trying to put into words an idea that he was both embarrassed about and convinced would sound insane once it was out in the open. She nodded for the sake of keeping him from stopping or losing the nerve to go on.

“I can still remember the first time that you ran for office,” he shook his head at the memory, seemingly better able to recall the image in his mind than simply explain himself in literal terms. “I was in my freshman year and I can still see all the guys I knew back then talking about the women they saw in films and magazines. All of these models and actresses that they were convinced were so perfect they might as well have been from another planet.”

He paused to take a drink, emboldened by the alcohol and perhaps more than a little under the effect at the same time.

“And there I was,” he laughed fondly, “holding my little torch for a politician who was so way beyond me it was unreal. I told myself that all I wanted was to meet a woman as passionate, intelligent and beautiful as you looked in those interviews back then.”

So there it is, Megan thought, the reason for all the hiding of his emotions, riding to the rescue and even now not being able to bring himself to talk to my face. She had nothing upon which to call for that situation, no plan to fall back on. Perhaps the one thing she had not been prepared to deal with was Guy deciding to take the plunge and confess to her that he had been in love with her for most of his adult life.

“I saw that film with Daryl Hannah when I was pretty young,” Guy seemed to have begun talking about a whole new topic and she had to force herself to concentrate in order to follow the thread of his words. “She gets into the bath and just grows a fishtail right there in front of your eyes. I guess that I always loved the idea of a woman that was so different and yet so stunning, that I grew up seeing mermaids as a symbol of all the mystery and allure of the opposite sex. They still fascinate me to this day and I don’t mind admitting that I sometimes dream about them as well.”

Megan saw the connection between these two seemingly random aspects of his character; it was hard not to when you were that connection yourself.

“Now I feel like I’m somehow getting my wishes granted, but they’re costing you dearly with everyone that comes true.” Now he looked up at her from the fire, and now the haunted look in his eyes managed to defeat the sense of indignation she had held and stir her sympathy. “First I wanted to be with you somehow and I end up being one of the people to kidnap you. And then I had to be in love with the idea of mermaids and I see you turned into one. It might be insane, but I can’t help thinking that this is my fault, don’t you see?”

“We can still make things right,” Megan wanted to tell him he was wrong, but she was not sure how. “We can get hold of that damn shell and make this whole thing go away.”

“No,” Guy shook his head, “we can’t.”

“What do you mean?”

“Will kindly waited until you were inside the thing and we were driving up here to inform us that one of the few things he’d been told was that this is a one way process. The shell won’t turn you back into a human being and based on the fact whoever made it was right when they claimed it worked, I think they’re bound to be right on that point as well.”

Megan felt the bottom fall out of her hopes at his words.
“I can’t go back?”

“No…I’m…I don’t know what to say next.”

There was a silence between them and in it Megan tried to make sense of what she was feeling. The dashing of her chances of becoming human once more was what she had thought would be the most painful at that moment, the realisation that she would not be able to return to her former life. But it was not, instead she found that she was filled with an intense loneliness that she was sure was not newly acquired, only brought to the fore by her changed status. She realised that she was more afraid of being alone than she was of remaining a mermaid; that she was not actually afraid of being a mermaid in the slightest.

When she looked into this man’s eyes she saw there now what she could only describe as a hunger within them, a desire that she assumed was for her alone and which he was convinced would only result in hurt for her. It had been so many years since her own husband had looked at her in that way, since the man she had so passionately loved had been transformed by no fault of his own into a business partner of whom she was simply fond rather than a lover that she desired.

She was at once both terrified and exhilarated, knowing that this man was trying to hide the fact that he wanted her most likely more than anything in the world at that very moment. She had spent so long isolated and alone even before her transformation and endured so much in the weeks afterwards that the contrast was hard to come to terms with. But she knew that she could not go back, that she was not the woman she had been and needed something to keep her alive, to make her willing to live on and she could think of nothing better than being the object of this man’s deep-running passions, the centre of his affections and the recipient of his love.

No matter what Guy may have thought his role had been in her transformation, fate had delivered her into his care. She had been placed in the hands of a man who both respected her intellect and craved her physically and also in the form of a creature that he saw as representation of the most wonderful aspects of the feminine.

Fate can be damned, Megan thought, this is starting to sound like some kind of fairy tale in of itself.

“I feel like the Little Mermaid,” she laughed for the first time herself, “only this time it’s the man who’s been doing all the mooning at the image of the mermaid and she’s been drawn to him.”

She laughed again, the influence of the cider she had been sipping and the genuine fear she felt at the realisation of the emotions that were now present in the room. Megan felt as though she were standing on the edge of a precipice, being compelled to step off into the embrace of gravity.

She was not prepared for the embrace that did seize her a moment later as Guy was the one who took the fatal step. His hands pulled her towards him and he kissed her full on the lips with a passion that left her speechless and swept up in the moment. Megan felt no urge to resist now that he had taken the first step and she returned his show of affection without reserve, curling her body into his own and not allowing the kiss to end until she was flushed and short of breath.

Guy leaned back on the pillows to her side, the look on his face spoke of amazement and that same hunger was still evident. It was clear to her that he was unable to fully believe the situation in which he found himself, half thinking that any moment she would slap his face or reveal that she had been moved to return his advances because of pity. Megan was not about to allow that to happen, not when her blood was up and she wanted to repeat the experience she had just enjoyed so badly.

She had been many things in her life: wife, mother, public servant and now a mermaid. But in all those guises she had never stopped being a sexual being and never stopped wanting to be such. Now she had the chance to be exactly what she wanted in the company of a man who wanted nothing but her for what she was.

Megan unclipped her hair, allowing it to fall to her shoulders at the same time as her free hand unbuttoned her shirt. Guy watched her progress, now fixated on the woman before him and unable to tear his attention from her if he had wanted to. She slipped out of the over-sized garment and eased onto her side so that she was pressed against him, initiating the kiss herself this time. Her lips brushed his lightly at first and then with growing intensity as her body came alive to the sensation of his touch.

She could not recall afterwards if she had stripped him of his clothes or watched as he did so himself, but the thrill she experienced when his skin met her own was incredible, as though the desire he had held for her over so many years was released as a static charge when they met. She felt the touch of his body on her lips, against her nipples, on the skin of her stomach and just as fully through the scales of her tail. There was simply no room for anything else in what he senses could appreciate and neither she nor he needed to be told what the other wished for before it happened.

Megan felt herself turned gently onto her belly and for a moment she was filled with questions as to what could follow now that she was a mermaid. But as she felt his weight press down urgently from above, they were answered in a feeling of intimate and overwhelming pleasure that made her aware of the fact that though she had changed so greatly, some things had remained the same.
Afterwards there was no need for words, no need to question or digest what had happened.

Megan fell asleep for the second time in the cabin, but this time in front of the fire and scarce able to believe how much had changed since the first.

Megan sat across the table from Guy and tried to look dignified as she pushed another forkful of pancake into her mouth. It was all she could do to keep from laughing at the expression on his face that was a mix of mock horror and poorly disguised amazement that he had woken up to find her still real and very much by his side.

She could not remember the last time she had felt this way, filled with nothing but laughter and the wicked awareness of the fact that she was in the presence of a man who saw her every move as a preamble to what they had done last night. Even now she could see the way in which Guy watched her breasts through the shirt she had pulled back on not half an hour ago, thinking of what he wanted to do to her.

But there was more than simple lust and the excitement of their situation, Megan was worldly enough to tell the difference between an infatuation and something deeper. Guy was not in this for a quick thrill and neither was she; they had already begun to discuss the scary question of what would happen next, only stopping to eat breakfast and thus being distracted by the novelty of their relationship.

“We can’t stay here,” he said what she had been thinking. “It’s just not practical for you and I won’t be happy until we’re a long way from the others. Ruby I could talk round, given some time, but Will is a lost cause as far as I’m concerned.”

“The coast then?” Megan pushed her plate aside.

“Or even further,” he suggested.

“An island?”

“Why not the ocean itself?”

“How on earth can we live in the bloody ocean?”

“You could right now,” Guy gestured to her tail, perched on a rung of the stool on which she sat. “So could I, once I take a turn inside the same shell as you.”

“You can’t be serious?” Megan could not believe what she was hearing.

“Why not?”

“I didn’t choose to become a mermaid, what makes me think I’d want you to do the same and become what…a merman?”

“This isn’t about what you want,” Guy stopped her before she could object. “It’s about what’s best for the both of us. You had no choice in the matter, but you’re not alone in this. I want to stay with you no matter what and we can’t be safe where people can get to us or in a place where you can be trapped like you were the other day. None of this matters so long as I’m with you,” he gestured to the cabin walls, “and I don’t see how I can make any more real commitment to you either.”

The earnest tone in which he spoke forced Megan to stop and truly digest his words rather than rejecting his idea out of hand. She was well aware of the danger they would face if the world at large became aware of her existence and the more immediate danger if the unstable character of Will were to loom large. Her instinct was to suggest that she flee and leave him behind for his own sake, but she was moved by his wanting to stay with her no matter what. There was no question in her mind that he would remain by her side as long as he was able, but then again he was offering to make a commitment to her the likes of which most women never experienced. Not only was he pledging to stand by her, he was also determined to change his very species to continue doing so.

“That’s all very well,” she tried to steer the conversation onto more solid ground, “but how are you going to get your hands on the thing in the first place?”

“As far as I know it’s still stashed with Ruby,” he explained. “She has a boat large enough to hide it on and it should still be there.”

“And you think that you can convince her to see things your way?”

“She’s not Will, and that’s our greatest advantage in this.”

“Sounds like a small one to me.”

“What I mean is that she wants to think that you’re being punished for what she sees as your sins against the environment, but unlike some people she’s not the type to want blood at the same time. If we can make it plain to her that you’re not getting out of the situation she put you in, maybe even that you’re embracing it, then I’m sure she’ll see that as a victory of sorts.”

“I hope you’re right about that woman,” Megan took a sip of coffee and looked at him ruefully.

“So do I,” he replied.

Wrapped up in more clothes than she had worn in the time since she had been transformed into a mermaid, Megan draped her arms around Guy’s neck and allowed herself to be carried out of the cabin to the lean-to where he kept his main form of transport when not on the lake. She found the experience far more pleasant now that she was in his arms under better circumstances, enjoying the feeling of being curled up against him and trying to keep her mind focussed on the serious task at hand rather than thinking of what they had done the previous night and the possibility of a repeat performance.

Part of her wondered if this sudden resurgence in her libido was a consequence of her new form, if this was the norm for the kind of creature she had become. But the more sensible side of her mind was sure that it had more to do with the drastic way in which her circumstances had changed, the novelty of finding a new lover and the thrill of his attentions. She supposed that the age difference would result in her being labelled a cougar in the eyes of most, but then what did that matter on top of the fact that she was also a mermaid?

Guy tried to make a fumbling explanation of the practicalities of the location in which he resided and the state of the roads needing more than the average car was capable of providing, but in the end it was clear that he was simply trying to relieve his embarrassment at owning a pick-up Megan shook her head as he lowered her gently into the passenger seat, amused at the way in which he was so desperate to escape the label of a backwoods yokel.

Once she was inside, she pulled a blanket over her tail and made sure that it overlapped with the sweater that covered her torso. Underneath she wore nothing save for the top half of a bikini that was sturdy rather than glamorous and at her own estimation perhaps a size too small. Guy had been cagey about how he came by it, but she was not simple enough to think that she was the only woman to have been a part of his life in the thirty years he had been on the earth and she had quickly waved away his attempts to explain.

He climbed into the driver’s seat and turned the key in the ignition, pulling the pick-up out of the lean-to and onto the dirt track that led to the narrow roads beyond. These criss-crossed in seemingly random patterns the landscape of the forest and it was soon evident that while they might have baffled a stranger, Guy was able to navigate them by memory alone.

“It’s not too late to rethink this,” Megan was still worried that he had set off on their current course of action more fuelled by bravado than common sense. “I mean, you must have something worthwhile tying you to this place?”

“If that’s the case then it’s news to me,” Guy shook his head. “As far as I’m concerned it’s a classic case of the isolated loner when you look at my life. I lost my parents in my twenties, not that I was as close to them as I would have wanted at the time, but their being dead kind of makes that one hard to remedy. It also has a terrible influence on the fact that I was an only child as well, so there are no brothers or sisters to think about either. Sure I made friends when I was younger, but losing the only family I had hit me pretty hard and I lost touch with most of the people that I would have called friends after that. They were all settling down and starting families, not the ideal situation to have a depressive guy struggling to deal with his emotions pop up in the middle of.”

“So how does that person turn into you?” Megan was intrigued to hear the details of his past, eager to know more about the man she was growing rapidly attached to.

“I needed to get away from people in general,” he made a vague gesture with one hand, “I suppose to find myself, or some bullshit like that. My parents had been environmentalists in a small way, and they bought some land up here like a lot of people did just so that the logging companies couldn’t snap it up and ruin it. I sympathised with their ideas, but it wasn’t until I came up here and built the cabin that I really became interested in doing something about it. I met passionate people like Ruby and I suppose to a lesser degree Will, and they kind of infected me with the strength of their beliefs. I was looking for something to fill a hole, even if I didn’t know it and what they were selling seemed as good as anything.”

“You sound far fonder of Ruby than that ranting asshole.” Megan tried to sound casual as she questioned him. “Were you just friends?”

“Me and Ruby?” Guy laughed a little and shook his head. “I’ll confess that when we met I was a bit taken with her. I’d never encountered someone like her and I tend to be attracted to strong women, present company included. She was cute and we got on well, but I soon realised that as much as I liked her, there was nothing there.”

“Oh,” Megan tried not to sound happy at his explanation, “that’s good…I mean, that’s probably for the best.” She was astonished at the surge of jealousy the idea of Guy with another woman had inspired in her and embarrassed that she could be so obvious about the fact.

“Agreed,” he laughed again. “We wouldn’t want you to do anything violent towards the woman that we need to help us out now, would we?”

Megan started at her hands in her lap, not wanting to say more in case she had another slip of the tongue and made herself sound like an envious schoolgirl. What with the irrational jealousy on top of the urge to indulge her libido, she was starting to question again what the real differences were between being a human being and a mermaid.

“Anyway,” Guy tried to change the subject, “there’s the long and short of why I have nothing to keep me here and what inspired me to want to follow you into the shell. If there’s one thing that has a hold on me right now, it’s you and I won’t let anything get in the way of that.”

Despite how much she wanted to take his words at their face value, Megan could not help adding them to the list of things that she was questioning about her nature as a mermaid. She was gripped by the fear that somehow she had affected his mind, wound him around herself until he would have bent to whatever she demanded. It was a probably nothing more than her own paranoia, but she was still unable to fully grasp the fact that he was determined to transform himself forever simply to be by her side without fear of being wrenched away by the constraints of their differing species.

“Too late to back out now,” Guy interrupted her train of thought. “We’re here.”

Megan had to admit that she had not known what to expect when she first laid eyes on the property in which Ruby lived. Her imagination had conjured a vast range of possibilities from a tent make of tarpaulin to a mansion made entirely of recycled tin cans, not in the least on account of the residual jealousy that she felt even at the woman’s platonic relationship with the man she was fast coming to think of as her own.

As a result, she was somewhat taken aback to see the vision of a tall and quite elegant house built in the style of the nineteenth century awaiting them. Sitting on a shallow cliff by the side of the lake, the house spread over three floors and smaller outbuildings were visible upon conveniently flat parts of the land that surrounded it. Though careworn and showing the signs of its advanced age, the house nevertheless retained a sense of the prosperity and welcome that it had been designed to project.

Guy stopped the pick-up a few metres from what looked to be a large garage and stepped out of the door. He motioned for Megan to stay where she was while looking around from one spot to another, evidently trying to locate his friend before she saw him and realised who his passenger was.

“What the hell?” The sound of a familiar voice told them that he had failed in his efforts as the diminutive figure of Ruby seemed to appear out of thin air on Megan’s side of the pick-up. “Please tell me that this is some kind of joke!”

Megan wondered if she could manage to lock the door without the other woman realising. She was already leaning back from the window despite the fact that it was up and there was a panel of metal between them.

“Calm down,” Guy tried to keep his voice calm and yet make himself sound serious at the same time. Megan was relieved to see that he was now on the same side of the pick-up as Ruby and trying to place himself in her path.

“What is that woman doing here, in your truck and wearing those clothes?” Ruby might have been considerably smaller than the man she was confronting, but at that moment in time the difference in stature did not seem to affecting matters in the slightest.

“She’s here because I finally realised that we’re in the wrong on this one,” as he spoke, Ruby turned her attention fully towards him. “We both know that we should have never gone through with it, that we did an unforgivable thing to her no matter what she might have been a part of in the past.” The other woman’s expression softened a little as his words sunk in and Megan could see uncertainty in her eyes for the first time. “And I realised all that because…because I love her.” With that admission a new conviction seemed to enter his voice. “I’m sorry, Ruby…but I love her and I won’t let anyone else hurt her anymore.”

In her silence, as if stunned by Guy’s admission, there was a look on her face that was almost enough to make Megan question the supposed lack of attraction between them, in her case at least. Ruby’s expression was a confused mixture of stifled anger and what she at least took to be degree of hurt betrayal.

“You’d better come inside,” when she finally managed to speak, Ruby sounded quiet and defeated. “I think we have a lot to talk about.”

It had seemed like such a simple plan at the time, with the shell being aboard the boat and the knowledge that Guy possessed of the underwater caves beneath the lake that could provide them with a means of escape into other bodies of water and from there on to the open sea. But once they were out on the waters, the weather had turned against them and they were suddenly involved in a battle against the elements that could capsize the boat and send everything and everyone to the bottom.

Ruby cut a strange figure as she fought to keep the boat from being overwhelmed by the water on account of her diminutive size, but the look of determination in her eyes and the skill with which she steered their progress had been enough to convince Megan that the woman knew what she was doing.

The mermaid clung to one side of the open back of the boat and glanced over to the other where the giant clamshell had been lashed down and now juddered against the deck with every motion of the waves. Her concern was almost solely for Guy, sealed inside the shell and now with hope well on his way to becoming her male counterpart.

Their plans to allow his transformation to take place on land had been thrown into disarray when a chance phone call to Ruby from the one person they had sought to keep in the dark had aroused his suspicions. Will had somehow sensed in her voice that something was wrong and though he hung up the phone accepting her assurances to the contrary, Ruby knew him too well to think that he would do anything but turn up unannounced as soon as he was able. In other circumstances the sight of a short woman and a mermaid struggling to move the clamshell might have been comedic, but they were driven in in their efforts by the thought of being discovered and what the man would be capable of if they were.

If they had thought that the turbulent waters of the lake would be their salvation, they had been proved wrong when Ruby sighted what she was sure could only be a smaller boat that she kept for emergencies, moored at her jetty. Will was following them into the storm and their only hope now was to do what they had set out to do and cheat him of his chance to stop them.

“I’m opening the shell,” Megan had to shout to be heard over the crashing of the water. “It must have been long enough by now.”

“Now’s as good a time as any,” Ruby struggled to answer as the rain lashed her face. “He’ll be on us in a matter of minutes if the storm doesn’t sink one of these boats before that.”

The truth was that neither of them knew how long the shell took to work as only Will had been privy to such information and he was tight-lipped when there was no immediate need to share it. In Megan’s own case there had been a number of hours before she was turned out of the shell as a mermaid, but there would be no such time for Guy. Either it would have worked when the shell opened or not.

Megan could make her way across the deck in no other way than simply allowing the motion of the boat to send her sliding across the planks and towards the far side. Once there she fought with all her might to cling onto the ropes that bound her goal before starting to cut those that held down the lid with a knife from a nearby locker. The need to hold on and at the same time slice through the cords meant that she was far longer in making the cuts than she would otherwise have been, but once she was done, she wasted no time in casting the knife aside and pushing the lid open with baited breath.

What she saw inside the shell did not by any means disappoint her.

Guy was awake in a moment as the first of the water to reach inside the shell shocked him, waking him from whatever strange and unfathomable processes went on inside. He was dazed for a second until he made eye contact with Megan, quickly recalling the reason that he had been cut off from the outside world for so long. Unable to read the expression on her face, he instead followed her gaze downwards to see what was demanding her attention so totally.

The first thing he noticed was that his clothes were gone, vanished as they had when Megan herself had been transformed by the shell and he took that as a good omen. But it was not until his eyes reached his waist that he saw what else the thing had done to him.

Guy had not felt a thing out of the ordinary below his waist when he came round moments before, but now he saw that his legs had been replaced by broad and powerful looking tail that seemed the perfect male counterpart to Megan’s own. Where she was graceful and curved with a feminine beauty, he was athletic and built for crashing through the water to follow in her wake. His scales were silver and blue in reflection of her own, but of a darker hue as if created in such a way to complement his mate. He moved the tail experimentally, feeling the unfamiliar muscles respond and shift its length in a manner that was far more intuitive than he could have hoped.

He found Megan’s eyes and saw that she was still taking in the changes to his body, as if unable to believe what she was seeing.

“Will I do?” He was forced to shout to be heard over the din of the crashing water.

She responded by pulling him close to her and pressing her lips against his own.

“I think we were made for each other,” she was so close that he could not help but hear the breathless reply when the kiss was over.

“What the fuck is this supposed to be?”

Every head on the boat turned at the same time to see the figure of Will, standing braced against the far side of the boat and looking as though he had been drowned and brought back from the brink perhaps half a dozen times. In the confusion of the storm and the rush of emotion that had followed Guy’s emergence from the shell, no one had seen the moment when the second boat had finally caught the first.

“You have to be kidding me,” Will shouted over the elements as he made his way recklessly across the space between himself and those who had been transformed by the shell. “I could have thought up some crazy scenarios, but this is beyond the realms of my imagination.”

Before either of them could make a move and while Ruby tried to leave the wheel and cut him off, Will loomed over them. He made a move to grab at Megan as she pulled away, seeming to ignore Guy in his haste to do so. She cried out and tried to fight back, but he was pumped full of adrenaline and swatted her hands aside as though they were made of smoke.

Guy coiled himself onto his tail like a spring and leapt at the other man, colliding with the full force of his weight and catching him totally off guard. In his hurry to stop whatever was being plotted behind his back, Will had made a fundamental error of judgement as far as the physical potency of a merman was concerned. As ignorant as anyone would have been in those circumstances, his mistake was to assume that out of what was now his native element, Guy would be as helpless as a fish in the bottom of a boat. But while he could have been forgiven for his lack of knowledge, there was one man who knew simply by instinct that any such idea was simply wrong.

The first blow went wide of the mark, grazing the side of Will’s head, but the second found its mark. Guy’s fist connected with the jaw and snapped the other man’s head back with a sickening sound, sending him staggering backwards in shock and confusion.

Not waiting to see how he would fare in a longer contest with a human being, Guy instead put his arms around Megan and began to haul her towards the edge of the boat. She had recovered sufficiently by that time to aid him in his efforts and pull herself in the same direction. Somehow there was no need to speak, both knew that their only hope was to slip into the waters and make their escape into a realm where they held the upper hand.

Will shook his head until he was able to see straight and made to come after them, but he was halted when Ruby tackled him from behind. Taken by surprise for the second time in a matter of mere minutes, he crashed to the deck as her lower centre of gravity made it impossible to recover his balance.

The merfolk were over the edge and into the water seconds later, pausing only long enough to see the look of sad encouragement on the face of the woman who had bought them the time to escape. There was no telling what fate would befall her, left alone on the boat with Will, but they could not afford to turn back now and make a mockery of her efforts on their behalf.

As one they let go of the edge of the boat and dived beneath the surface.

And then they were gone.

Ruby watched as Will rose to his feet for the second time, unable to tell if his swaying was more on account of the motion of the deck on which he stood or the swift blows he had taken one after another. He shook his head, trying to clear the dizziness that must have been filling his senses and did his best to look around in search of the faces that had been so close before he was knocked from his feet.
She made to stand as well, preparing herself for whatever confrontation would follow.

The thought of dumping him over the side had popped into her mind, but she dismissed it as both inhumane and probably tantamount to polluting the waters of the lake.

Ruby opened her mouth to speak and was surprised to find that nothing emerged save for a strangled gasp. At the same time there was a sensation of her throat being squeezed mercilessly and she looked down in horror to see a ribbon lashed around her neck and pulling tighter with every second that passed.

Will watched in morbid fascination as she was pulled across the deck towards the yawning maw of the shell, his gaze darting from her impending fate to the edge of the boat where the merfolk had managed to elude him.

In his mind he knew that he had only moments to decide what he would do.

Will mentally flipped a coin and then moved as fast as he was able towards his goal.

Megan lay back and allowed the motion of the waves to wash over her and then sink away into the coarse sand that made up the beach. It was far from warm and the chill of the water made her aware of the way in which her nipples were erect beneath the clinging fabric of her bikini top. The thing still did not fit her, but she was slowly coming to the conclusion that there were more important matters to concern her and one of them was most certainly not being modest where it was not required anymore.

Beside her there was a movement as she felt Guy press himself against her, turning her onto her side so that he could pull her into the curve of his body.

She made no move to resist him, enjoying the feel of his skin against her own and the sensation of their scales rubbing together in a motion that brought to life memories of why she could not stand to be separated from him for any longer than was strictly necessary these days.

He began to kiss the back of her neck, gently in the way of which she was so fond while his hands slipped around her waist and stroked her belly.

Beginning to rise to his attentions, Megan reached around to her back and deftly untied the straps of her top, allowing her breasts to stand proud as it fell away. His fingers found them soon afterwards and only added to the growing delight that she felt building inside of her.

“We should be gone by now,” she whispered, not trying to stop him. “The tide will be turning and we can’t get marooned on another beach on account of your being over-sexed. That would be a fine reason for someone to happen upon us, wouldn’t it?”

“I don’t see you making for the horizon,” he managed to speak and yet still devote himself to what he had been doing while silent. “And if I remember that night, it was you who was on me like a seal on heat.”

“So that’s how you see me,” Megan almost lost the last part of what she was saying in a yelp of surprise as she realised they were not going anywhere for a while at least, “an old seal who flops about for your pleasure?”

“I never saw a seal that made me feel like you,” now she was beyond speaking and so he continued the conversation alone. “How a sailor could see that and think it was a mermaid when I’ve seen what I see every time I open my eyes…”

Neither of them spoke as the tide went out and the sun went down.

There would be other tides, there were always other tides.

But there would never be another here and now.

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Filed under Short Story, Transformation

First Lady of the Lake – Part 1

Image supplied by Luigi Diamante

On a day as long and taxing as the one she had just made it through, there was one thing that could bring a modicum of relief to Megan Jones when she finally had the chance to stop and take stock in the late hours of the evening. It was not a drink or a crafty cigarette snuck out when she was sure that there was no one looking, indeed she could not readily recall the last time she had been able to enjoy either. Instead it was the simple chance to close the door on the demands of the day and just take off her shoes at long last.

There were unspoken standards expected of a woman in her line of work, and one of them was the requirement to always be seen in shoes that were smart, business-like and never failed to leave her feet feeling as though they had been encased in concrete for hour on end. She would have given a great deal to be able to wear the trainers in which she was more comfortable when pottering about the house or the walking boots that had seen her over so many rocky hillsides during her free time.

But the shoes went along with the business suit and the reserved way in which she wore her hair as a part of the uniform. No matter how far the world had come in accepting the fact that women were perfectly able to be trusted with the same positions of responsibility as their male counterparts, people still expected a certain code of dress from an individual who had once been in a role of significant political power and influence.

Megan at least was more than happy to have left those days of demanding decisions and endless haranguing interviews behind her when she left office. There was a real sense of gratification in the sense that she was making more on the circuit as a public speaker than she ever had in high office as a governor, but the real rewards was the freedom from having to make a call almost every day that was fraught with compromise and would doubtlessly send one end of the media into a frenzy of foaming rage at the supposed corruption and cronyism it represented in their own eyes.

She closed the door of her hotel room and breathed a sigh of relief that she was finally in her own private space, kicking her shoes off as she did so. She walked across the luxurious carpet, feeling the wonderful sensation of the pile against her stocking clad feet as she went. There was a cold drink in the minibar that she could practically hear calling her name and would go very well with a call to room service so that she could at least feed herself before she collapsed into bed. Tomorrow would begin with a long journey to the next city where she was scheduled to speak and there would be no chance of sleeping on the way.

It was only as she crossed the main space of the room in which the ample bed was located that Megan caught a glimpse of something that was simply not right. The sight of an incongruous colour and shape in one of the decorative mirrors mounted on the wall caused her to pause on her route to the small kitchen that occupied one corner. It was only a matter of a second and a stray thought that caused her to stop at all, but as she turned she was presented with a surprise that made her almost jump out of her skin in shock.
As a woman who had occupied a position of power and authority, Megan had always been under far closer scrutiny than her male counterparts. Her every move was poured over and analysed by commentators and comedians alike, keen to make sport out of any misstep that she made and characterise her as a bumbling fool who was hopelessly out of her depth and only in office because of her looks.

The truth was that Megan was possessed of an exceptionally sharp mind, but had become quickly aware of the fact she had overestimated the honesty and trustworthiness of those who surrounded her in political circles. She had done the best she thought she was able and to little avail, finding herself forced to take actions that she would come to regret and siding with figures that repelled her as a matter of necessity. There would be no sympathy or understanding for the actions she had taken and the reasons she justified them to herself and in truth she did not expect there to be. It was in light of that fact that she had withdrawn from politics once her term had been served, well aware of the irreparable damage that had been done to her credibility in the eyes of many people whose opinions counted.

It did not help matters that Megan was also a very beautiful woman by the standards of most who had seen her picture or met her in person. There was nothing of the model about her, but she had retained a simple and enduring air of attraction even now that she was into her fourth decade that showed no signs of fading. Her fair skin and dark brown hair had often caused her to be compared to a pretty soccer mom or the kind of school teacher to whom most boys became lost in a first crush at one time or another before they reached adolescence. The less complementary descriptions of Megan delighted in casting her as an ageing cougar who played on her looks to make capital, but then that was the way with women in politics; the attractive were called stupid and shallow while the plain were labelled as harridans, most often by journalists of their own gender in a mockery of the notion of sisterhood.

But seasoned as she was, there was little that could have prepared Megan for the strange sight of what seemed to be a giant clamshell sitting on the end of the bed.

She had come to a halt at the foot of the bed and was thus staring directly at the thing when she turned, the look on her face a picture of confusion and unease. At the same time her mind was racing as to any possible explanation of what she was seeing or why anyone would think to sneak such a thing into her hotel room while she was going about her day.

As it was her speculation on the matter was abruptly cut short as there was a low creaking from the shell and the lid began to slowly rise. Megan could see no visible mechanism to account for the movement, assuming that it must be internal and so hidden from view. She stood and watched in silence as they lid rose further, convinced that there was little chance of such an elaborate prop being in any way dangerous. Most likely she thought it was a part of some prank or publicity stunt with the worst outcome being a dousing with paint. In any event it was too late to make a run for the door and she was somewhat loathe to be shown lacking when it came to the courage to confront anyone who set out to humiliate her for their own gain.

Megan tensed as the lid of the shell reached the point where someone or something was most likely to come leaping out. But there was no unpleasant surprise waiting for her at that moment and the instead the lid simply continued to rise as she relaxed once more.
When the shell was finally fully open and the lid rested vertically like the back of some elaborate chair, she saw that the interior of the thing had been curiously packed with cushions, pillows and padding that threatened to spill over onto the bed. Judging by the size and shape of the shell, Megan was sure a fully grown woman or a man of slightly below average height could have cured up inside with little trouble.

On the one hand she was relieved to have seen the shell open and not have anything horrific happen to her, but on the other she was still no closer to knowing just what was going on. She glanced away from the shell and towards the telephone standing on the bedside table, wondering who she should call first and what on earth she was going to tell them when she did.

Megan sensed rather than heard something flying towards her as she had her head turned, like the parting of air as an object both thin and fast whipped outwards. Before she could even bring her head back to face the shell, there was a sudden pressure around her neck as it was constricted by an unseen force.

She struggled to pull away, more from base instinct than any conscious attempt to fight back, hands shooting to her throat to claw at whatever had taken hold of her. As she turned towards the shell, Megan saw that a wide ribbon of some silky material extended from somewhere beneath the cushions to disappear from sight in the vicinity of her own neck. Seemingly animated by some means, the ribbon was fast around her throat and showed no signs of loosening its grip as it began to pull her towards the shell inch by inch no matter how hard she tried to resist.

Hands clasped on the ribbon, Megan would have screamed for help, but the constriction of her windpipe had rendered her unable to make a sound as she struggled. Moments later she wanted to curse anew as two more identical ribbons shot out from amongst the cushions and wrapped themselves around her wrists. With the same irresistible strength as the first, they pulled her hands from her neck and then added their own efforts to dragging her closer to the shell.

Megan fought with all the force she could muster, determined for no other reason than the most basic of instincts that she would not be pulled into the shell. She had no idea of what fate lay in wait for her if she lost the struggle, but the fear of being taken like an animal in a trap was enough to keep her from giving in.

The instinct to scream was overtaken by that to simply cry out in frustration as yet another pair of ribbons darted forth and attached themselves to her ankles. Megan had been able to gain some purchase by bracing her legs against the side of the bed, but these new ribbons soon put paid to that advantage, threatening to literally pull her feet out from under her.

Choking from lack of air, bound at the wrists and ankles and exhausted from her efforts to resist, Megan sensed and sudden surge in the force being applied through the ribbons. It was as if the thing was somehow able to gauge her remaining strength and realised it was on the verge of victory. So it was that when the renewed effort to pull her forwards came, she was totally unable to resist and the effect was to yank her from her standing position and directly into the waiting maw of the shell.

Before she could even think of trying to climb out, the lid slammed down with far greater speed than it had opened, trapping her inside and leaving the room in total silence.

Sealed inside the giant clamshell, the only reminder of Megan Jones’s presence that remained in the room were her shoes cast upon the floor without a thought only minutes before.

 

The clamshell had only sat alone in the hotel room for a couple of minutes when there was the sound of the bathroom door opening and a head appeared around the edge. Most of its distinguishing features were hidden beneath a paramilitary balaclava, but the evidence of nervous energy was clearly visible in the pair of worried grey eyes that stared out at the contents of the room.

“It’s clear,” the voice was that of a man when the head finally called back to whoever was behind him. He kept his words brief and quiet, the nervousness he felt at the prospect of entering the room beyond clear as he spoke.

When he emerged into the room he unfolded himself from the hunched position in which he had sneaked a glance into the room, revealing himself to be both tall and relatively well built even beneath the nondescript colours that he wore in an effort to blend into the urban background. He made his way towards the clamshell, stopping short and keeping one eye on the thing as if he did not trust to turn his back in its presence.

He was joined in short order by two more figures dressed in a similar manner and hiding their own faces behind the same kind of balaclava.

The first was a good two heads shorter than her companion who had lead the way and her gender was given away by the outline of her chest. Any attempt to conceal her identity was somewhat spoiled by the fact that she had cut open the top of her own balaclava in order to allow her mass of thick dreadlocks to spill out behind her and the rings that pierced her nose and lower lip.

Although the second man was also shorter than the first, his body language could not have been more different as he virtually strode into the room and surveyed the surroundings. He wasted no time in making his way to where the shell stood and making a close examination of it, as though he was aware of its functioning in a way they were not. His close attention seemed to only make his colleague’s disposition towards the shell even worse.

“We should go,” she looked back over his shoulder nervously.

“Shut up,” the other man’s tone was disinterested and slightly irritable.

“He has a point,” the woman’s voice was fairly even, as if used to playing the reasonable diplomat between the two. “We should get moving as soon as we can.”

“Ruby,” the second man looked up and shook his head in disbelief. “Don’t start to sound like him! We were in the bathroom the whole time, she didn’t call a soul and there wasn’t enough sound even for us to know it had snagged her. We’ve got enough time to check things are working before we leave, trust me.”

Ruby looked back at the first man and shook her head in resignation at the sound nature of his argument before moving closer to look over his shoulder.

“Well, Will,” the first man urged the second. “Is it working or what?”

“As far as I can tell,” Will did not look up. “Don’t worry, Guy…we’ll be gone in good time.”

“What do you mean as far as you can tell?” Guy looked over his shoulder at the door to the corridor. “You mean you can’t be sure?”
“Guy,” Will kept his voice level and calm as he spoke, “you know as well as I do about where this thing came from and the claims that came with it. How in the hell were we ever going to be able to test it out before today? Either it works or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t then we go with plan B, just like we discussed.”

Guy did not like plan B, it involved kidnapping and threats as well as the promise of more infamy than he was comfortable with contemplating. But then he was not a particular fan of plan A by any means and had agreed to go along with it only because it was significantly less risky than the alternative.

“Come on,” Will got to his feet, “grab one end and help me carry this thing to the fire escape if you’re so eager to get out of here, we’ve got a long drive ahead of us before morning.”

Guy needed no further motivation as he hefted his end of the shell off the bed. It was heavier than he had expected and warm to the touch as they manhandled it from one room to the next. He tried to focus his attention on the task at hand and ignore the muffled sounds that were coming from inside as well as the thoughts of what might happen next on account of which plan was put into motion once they opened the shell.

Absorbed in removing their prize from the hotel room, the trio kept their thoughts to themselves and their voices silent until well after they were on their way.

 

Megan came around suddenly, as if awoken from a deep and dreamless sleep with no warning and thrust into the consciousness in a manner that left her dazed and unable to collect her thoughts. The light was almost too much for her eyes after the time she had spent in total darkness, forcing her to squint and turn away from the source that seemed to grow with every moment that passed. She was becoming slowly more aware of her surroundings with every second that passed, but any hope of making sense of where she was or what had happened to her was still a long way off at that exact moment in time.

It seemed as though she was to be denied the time she needed to gather her wits about her as there was a sudden movement beneath her that send Megan sprawling from the soft surface on which she had been laid and pitched her forwards onto a bed of sharp and bruising objects. The force and unexpected shock of her motion caused her to cry out in pain as the air was knocked out of her lungs and she tried to shield herself from the cruelly sharp edges of whatever she had landed on.

The sound of water lapping on a shore gave Megan the clue she needed to conclude that the unforgiving terrain onto which she had been thrown was as shore of some kind if the shifting of the jagged pebbles beneath her cut and bruised hands had not been enough in of itself. No scent of salt reached her nose, but instead she could discern the smell of disturbed earth and what might have been petrol fumes, so from that she could deduce that she was in fact on the shore of one of the larger lakes that lay to the north of the territory the state covered.

As her eyes resolved the scene before her from a hopeless blur into a somewhat more coherent picture, she realised that the sound she had taken for the senseless croaking of some carrion bird was actually another human being trying to make himself understood as he looked down at her from above.

“…a good look around at this natural wonder,” Will was in full stride by the time she was able to even absorb the smallest amount of meaning from his words. “All this could be lost in a few meagre years and then it’s gone forever. Do you have any idea what kind of damage your friends in the logging industry have done to this wilderness? Do you?”

Devoid of his balaclava, Will had a face that might have been handsome were it not for the sneer that seemed to be forever the next expression waiting to take over his face. His blonde hair was cropped into a cut that tried to be nonchalant, but closer examination revealed the time and expense that must have gone into achieving that effect.

“I’m sorry,” Megan put a hand to her head, feeling a strange sensation as she did so. “But would you shut the fuck up for a second while I try to figure out what the hell happened to me last night!”

“You’re sorry,” Will seemed to have taken her attempt to make him be quiet as a form of apology or admission of guilt on her part. “Sorry’s not going to be good enough anymore,” he shook his head. “You needed to learn a lesson, and we’re the ones who’ll make sure that you do!”

Megan’s attention was distracted from the ranting young man as a woman came into view who made a point of ignoring him and fixing her with a serious and yet somehow less intense look. In her experience it often paid to listen to the person in any given situation who seemed the sanest, and so she turned her attention to the woman instead, following her example of ignoring the man.
Ruby had shed her balaclava as well, revealing a round and pretty face that was currently spoiled by her intent on being taken seriously. Her dreadlocks fell around her pale features, putting Megan in mind of a kind of modern fairy or sprite that was fed up of being called cute and wanted to let the world know she meant business.

“You should understand why we’re doing this,” Ruby knelt down so that Megan could look her in the eye. “When you were in office you made a lot of decisions that hurt the environment in this part of the world. The damage that was done on your watch will take decades, maybe even hundreds of years to put right and that’s just if we stop what’s happening now and begin a massive effort to clean up. The truth is that what’s been done will probably never be undone and as the law of the land and the courts don’t seem to think there’s been any wrong done, someone has to set an example and someone has to be made an example of.”

Megan made a point of listening to Ruby’s explanation, gleaning from it all the information she could about her situation. These were environmental activists, that much was clear from their rhetoric. In addition they seemed to associate her, or more likely her administration with damage to the local ecosystem and want to redress what they saw as the balance in some way. It was clear that they had exhausted or ignored the conventional channels and now were resorting to more extreme measures to get their message across. But just what they were planning to do with her she could not tell, and the fear of not knowing was the worst thing of all.
There was clearly no point in reasoning with them that she could see and no merit in explaining the times that she had been forced to make pacts and accept watered down measures in such matters as to them she was the embodiment of the problem. They saw her as a figurehead and thought that by punishing her they would be striking a blow at a person the common man would recognise and perhaps cheer them for bringing down.

“I don’t know you people,” Megan tried to appeal to their better nature, “and I won’t insult you by trying to argue politics. But please, think about what you’re doing here and what others will think when they find out. Killing me is not going to change anything and you’ll never get the stain of blood off your hands.”

Will barked out a laugh and shook his head.

“Kill you?” Ruby looked concerned at the mere mention of the possibility. “The plan was never to kill you…I guess we assumed that this thing would somehow make you aware of what was supposed to be happening while you were inside of it. Don’t you feel as though something is different right now?”

Megan felt a sense of dread gathering weight in the pit of her stomach at the other woman’s words. After the initial shock of being kidnapped in such a bizarre manner, seeming to fall into a state of unconsciousness and then awakening to find herself scrambling around on the shores of a remote lake in the company of what she could only describe as apparent eco-terrorist had blurred some of the finer details of her current circumstances. Only now did she take the time to actually examine the state in which she found herself and as she did so there were some revelations that struck her hard and fast.

The first was that she was naked, which accounted for the way in which the rocky ground had cut and bruised her as she tumbled out of the shell that she now saw was standing on the bank behind her. But in addition to the disturbing lack of clothes, she was somehow not feeling the cold that had inspired her kidnappers to dress for warmth themselves. Suddenly aware of her exposed breasts, Megan crossed her arms over them in an effort to preserve a modicum of dignity.

But there was more, now that she was becoming more aware of the sensations that her body was experiencing, something did feel different after all. When she moved herself on the ground in order to alleviate some of the pain she was feeling, she found that her body did not respond in the way that she was used to. The feeling could only be described as that which she imagined must accompany being tied at the ankles so that movement was restricted. In addition there was the odd sensation that something dragged across the ground at the end of her legs, a weight which had not been there before and for which she could think of no logical explanation.
Megan pulled her legs up and glanced down to see what was stopping her moving her lower half, but when she laid eyes upon herself, she cried out in shock and alarm.

What she was seeing was simply not possible, it could only have existed in the realms of either the most fantastical dream or in her circumstances the worst of nightmares. Her legs were not bound or hobbled or maimed in any way, but neither were they there at all. In their place was a broad, scaled tail that composed the entirety of her body below the waist, curving away for what seemed like an impossible length until it ended in a broad and heavy fin that twitched and flicked as if it possessed a life of its own.

Megan reached out to touch the point where her skin gave way to the scales, which seemed to shift from silver to blue as the light caught that. But she pulled her hand back and instead stared at the thick and almost transparent membrane that extended to the knuckle and linked together her fingers and thumbs. It moved with her individual digits, changing colour in the same manner as did the scales and feeling like a natural part of her hands as it did so.

There was no room for the people who had kidnapped Megan in her mind as she tried to make some kind of sense of what she was seeing. They simply faded into the background as she struggled with the revelation that she was aware of every inch of the tail in the same way that she had been her vanished legs. She could feel the texture of the ground beneath the scales and even more so when it came to the sensations from the fin at the end. This appeared to be made of a similar stuff to the membrane between her fingers, only thicker and ribbed with some kind of cartilage which extended out in thin strips from the base of the tail before fanning out to reach the very tip of the fin.

Megan could feel every inch of the tail that seemed to constitute the lower half of her body, from where sparse scales began at her navel, becoming a complete covering from the waist down and right to the end of the fin. She moved the muscles that lay beneath the scales, finding that the new addition followed her clumsy efforts to explore its limits. With every twitch and movement she was able to make, she became ever more convinced that the thing was indeed a part of her body whether she could deal with the fact or not.

There was no way this could have been done with makeup or prosthetics, she was sure of that based on the way in which the tail moved and the reality that her legs simply could not have been concealed within its shape. She was also sure that nothing had been amputated below her waist, the idea was just too convoluted and sick for the kind of people her kidnappers claimed to be.
Then there was the way in which she could feel the ground beneath the scales as well as with her naked skin, something that would have been impossible had they been made of any rubber thick enough to achieve the level of detail she could clearly see with her own eyes.

It was a futile gesture as far as she was concerned, but Megan pinched at the scales near her waist simply to prove her thoughts correct. When there was nothing to show for her efforts apart from a sharp pain as she pulled at the skin of the tail, which was all the proof she needed.

Somehow, beyond all the realms of what she had thought possible, she had been turned into a mermaid. She was miles from home, kidnapped and naked in the middle of a natural wilderness with no means of escape or rescue. But all of that paled into nothing when weighed against the fact that she was no longer strictly speaking a human being, instead she was a creature that was supposed to exist only in fiction rather than the real world.

Megan found that she could not think straight once the reality had truly set in, let alone manage to string together the simplest words to express her reaction to the altered state in which she lay on the bank of the lake. All she was able to do was cover her face with her hands and though she prided herself on being of strong resolve, begin to cry helpless tears into her palms. There truly was nothing that she could muster and no inner strength with which to deal with the fundamental way in which her existence had been changed.

“You never cried for any of the things that were sent extinct by your asshole policies,” Will surged forwards to stand over Megan as she collapsed in on herself. “So now you’re going to get to see what it feels like to be an endangered species, struggling to survive in this ecosystem. But you’ll also have to deal with the bad luck of being a species of one.”

“Back off,” Guy had kept himself out of Megan’s sight until that moment, but now he chose to step forwards and boldly shove his companion away from the huddled form of the mermaid.

“What the fuck?” Will seemed more shocked at the firm tone in Guy’s voice than the physical manner in which he had made his presence felt. “When did you grow a spine? And when did you start to care about the feelings of a piece of work like her?”

The nervousness that had characterised Joe back in the hotel room was gone as he stood between Will and Megan, replaced with an angry resolve that had already registered in the other man’s body language. Without his own balaclava, his face was a combination of quiet thoughtfulness on account of his deep-set eyes and dependability read from the weathering that was already creasing its lines. Dishevelled brown hair and a goatee completed the picture of a man who was probably more comfortable without the threat of confrontation, but was now determined to see it through rather than back down.

“Since when did we start acting like cruel bastards?” Guy threw the questioning rather than dignify Will’s comments with an answer. “We did what we wanted to do, didn’t we? Kidnapped her, stuffed her in that thing and turned her into a bloody freak, just to make our point. Isn’t it enough? Haven’t you won yet?”

“Time out,” Ruby interjected herself. “I’m not standing around here while you two fight some kind of testosterone duel over shit that doesn’t matter. Will, stop with the insults because we did what we said we would. Guy, no more playing the Samaritan just for the sake of looking like less of a dick than him.” She glanced between the two men, happy to see that her point seemed to have sunk in. “Can we please get this over with and get out of here?”

“Okay,” Will began to walk up the bank, turning to address Joe as he went. “You can do the honours, seeing as how touched you’ve gotten with the plight of our little mermaid there.”

Guy waited until he was alone with the mermaid before he bent down and slipped one arm under her tail and the other around her back. She was heavier than she might have seemed, but offered no resistance as he stood and walked slowly into the lake.

He waded out until the level of the water reached his waist before he stopped, the tips of her fin breaking the surface as he went. The sensation of contact with water stirred Megan from her state of helplessness, somehow alerting her to just how close she had come to a mermaid’s natural element.

She looked up from behind her hands, seeing Guy’s face for the first time.

He happened to look down and notice her attention at that very moment and she sensed something in his eyes that was not the hatred in those of Will or the resigned indifference in the glances she had received from Ruby either. The look in these eyes was hard to define in simple terms, but there was anger, regret and more than a little confliction evident as he held her gaze.

“I’m sorry,” Guy spoke softly, shaking his head.

With that he released his grip on Megan, causing her to tip out of his arms and into the water of the lake with a loud crashing of water.
By the time she had come spluttering back to the surface, she saw that he had reached the bank and hurried away into the trees as if in a hurry to leave her to whatever fate had in store.

 

Trying to keep as still as she was able, Megan gripped the length of wood in her right hand and used the left to support herself as she leant over the edge of the rock on which she lay, gazing into the water. She had no idea how long she was able to hold her breath for, it was one of those pieces of information that had never previously been relevant to her daily life and so she had spared it no real thought. But now it seemed that she was being forced to take a long hard look at her priorities and how long she could go without letting her breath escape her lungs was just one of them.

In the course of the trials she had been forced to endure over the past week, thought had crossed her mind that being a mermaid might have made such things far easier. But when weighed against the number of things she had found it made perilously difficult, being able to squeeze a few more seconds in before she gasped for breath seemed somewhat petty in comparison.

Actually being underwater was had proven to be no challenge thanks to the gills that had opened, seemingly on instinct, when she first found herself submerged. The sensation was bizarre in the extreme after having spent more than forty years breathing by more conventional means, but she had found it became like second nature in no time at all. The only real challenge had come when she almost suffocated after spending too long sitting on the lake bottom contemplating her fate. But then where was the passage in the instruction book that confided the knowledge that mermaids needed to keep moving every once in a while to have their gills keep working?

None of that helped her to hold her breath on land though, and she was fast becoming desperate due to the limitations that she had out of the water. So far Megan had been unable to catch so much as a morsel of food in the lake that she had been unceremoniously dumped into. She was ravenous with hunger and starting to feel the effects of such a prolonged period of starvation.

Now she found herself in the ridiculous situation of needing to keep from making a sound as she tried to make use of the crude spear she had made to catch a fish of some description. If she was honest, the spear was actually little more than a stick that she had been able to hack into a rough point with the rubbish and debris that could be found lining the banks of the lake. It was far from the best way to fish, but then she had no real choice in the matter anymore.

There was a dart of silver in the corner of her eye a moment later and Megan jabbed the spear into the water as her desperation got the better of her patience. Her arm was jolted painfully as the spear connected with something that felt a great deal less yielding than the flesh of a fish. She dropped the entire thing into the water and watched it sink as the muscles of her arm protested.

Megan felt a terrible sense of frustration as she massaged the strains in her arm. While she was perfectly able to lower herself into the water, retrieve the spear and try again, she had begun to wonder if there was any point. No matter how she tried, she never seemed to get any better at the task and perhaps that time would be better spent trying to come up with a new plan.

She glanced over her shoulder at the small clearing that lay upon the shore, no more than a few hundred feet from her rock. It was not the first time she had done so that morning and she could not help but think that if what was sitting in the middle of the rocky ground had not been there, the resolve to keep trying would have been far easier to muster.

The metal tray that she kept stealing a look at had some kind of fish laid out upon it; there was no question of that. Megan’s nose was somehow more sensitive now than it had been when she was human and there was no mistaking the smell of what she was sure were fillets of smoked fish. And this was only one of almost a dozen that she had come across in similar locations from one end of the lake to the other.

It had to be a trap of some kind, of that at least she was certain. No one hunted by leaving such things out in the open around those parts and no matter if the contents of the trays were taken or simply disturbed by an animal in the course of the day, they were renewed by the start of the next.

For Megan the question was not if the fish was the bait for a trap, but rather why someone was trying to lure her onto the shore in the first place. Her kidnappers seemed unlikely candidates as they had brought her here to begin with, so why would they now be trying to capture her for a second time? But with them dismissed from her mind as a possible explanation, Megan was left with the even less appealing prospect of it being an unknown quantity, out there in the forest and watching her for a reason that she could did not even want to speculate upon.

She supposed there were things that a person might want with a mermaid, trying to limit her imagination to the relatively tame fate of ending up as part of a freakshow, a specimen in a museum or the prize spectacle in a waterpark. But at that particular moment in time, even she had to admit that she hardly resembled the more romantic image of a mermaid that most people would have had in mind.
Sleeping rough and spending every daylight hour hunting in vain for sustenance had not been kind to Megan and when she looked at her reflection in the surface of the lake she was reminded of the fact that she was practically filthy in every way possible.

Her skin was scratched in some places and had developed rashes in others, but most of that was concealed beneath a layer of grime and dirt that she was amazed had survived her numerous dives beneath the surface of the water. Her hair was a rat’s nest of tangles, knots and small pieces of detritus that she had picked up and either not noticed or else found too painful and bothersome to remove. And she was still naked save for a ragged polythene sack that she had somehow managed to force into the role of a makeshift top so that at least she was spared the humiliation of living with her breasts on permanent display.

But there were some nuggets of consolation, no matter how small they may have been when measured against the bleak nature of her situation. One was the fact that she no longer seemed to feel the cold as she had before, not flinching from the deceptive chill of the lake water or even sensing the drop in temperature that the night brought with it. Though she was sure the most valuable was also the most subtle, that being the way in which she found herself unable to panic or truly be disturbed any longer by the fact that she had become a mermaid.

While it was not as if she had woken up on one of the mornings since her transformation and started to spontaneously sing for the joy of it all, she was simply not shocked or even disturbed by the sight of her body any longer. The memories of her past and all the things that she was sure she had lost remained like shards of glass sunk into her stomach, but try as she might she could not summon any longing to have back the legs that she had possessed before she was trapped inside the unfathomable clamshell that had turned her into the creature she now was. For better or worse it seemed that she had somehow, on an instinctual level at least learned to deal with the reality of her situation.

In addition she had more pressing concerns, a fact that she was reminded of in a less than subtle manner as her stomach growled and then the muscles in her abdomen contracted painfully as if ins response.

Megan tore her gaze away from the tray of fish and pushed herself off the rock, disappearing beneath the surface of the water in search of her lost excuse for a fishing spear. At least when she was submerged her newly sensitive nose could not betray her in the same way as it did on land.

She found the spear with little trouble, her eyes able to penetrate the gloom of the lake so long as there was a faint light coming down from above. With the poorly made tool in one hand, she propelled herself through the water, determined to persevere with her attempt to land a fish and headed for a part of the lake where she was sure no bait had been laid out for her attention.

 

Every woman had her limit, Megan told herself as she crawled up the bank, even mermaids it seemed. As she tried to avoid the larger stones that jutted from the dirt and ignore those that she could not, it occurred to her that she had held out for almost two whole weeks before the temptation had simply become too much for her to bear. Would most people have been able to make that claim before they finally snapped and threw caution to the wind?

Now that the tray was only a mere few metres away, she reminded herself of the fact that she was not just doing this for the sake of her belly. There was the intense need to satisfy her curiosity as to who was goading her with food when they could plainly see from the state she was in that she had not eaten in days.

Megan was sure that she had put enough thought into what she was about to do, enough at least to be certain that she was not simply walking into the trap that had been set for her. From what she had been able to make out, the most likely form the trap would take was a net beneath the tray, rigged to scoop up whatever tripped it while going for the bait. She planned to approach from the side, keep clear of the tray until she could see the net itself and then try to set the whole thing off from a safe spot. If she could spring that same trap and then watch from a safe distance whoever came to investigate then she would be one step closer to an answer on that point at least.

It was only when she was less than a metre from the tray that Megan became suddenly aware of the fact that she had not only made a mistake, but that she had also underestimated the intelligence of the person who had set the trap in the first place. The ground this close to the tray was covered with the carpet of needles, leaves and bracken that began away from the bank of the lake, but she noticed too late that there was an even shape just visible beneath the patch on which she was currently crawling. Had she been able to stand on two feet it would have been far easier to miss entirely and it was only thanks to her close proximity to the ground that she had any warning of what happened next at all.

A whipping and straining sound filled the air as her vision was lost in a chaotic blur of motion. Megan’s stomach lurched as she was plucked from the ground and she felt the sensation of rough fibres chafe against her skin. It was all she could do to keep from either screaming out in terror or bringing up what little was in her stomach.

When the world had stopped spinning and her dizziness receded into the background, Megan found that she was hopelessly entangled in what looked to be the sturdiest net she had ever seen. As if to add insult to injury she was also stuck upside down, looking out on an inverted view of the lake as the net rotated slowly with the last of the momentum with her make shift top partly yanked off to reveal one exposed breast. But perhaps worse than the nausea and the loss of dignity was the way in which the tray of smoked fist remained sitting tantalisingly close below her, untouched and pristine as though mocking her as she stared out from the net.

Megan cursed herself for not seeing the train of thought her now successful captor must have followed when setting the trap. There was no way she would have fallen for such a simple lure outright, therefore a twist was required to outfox her own thinking. Putting the net under the tray was never going to work, but anticipating the way in which she might have approached the trap was another thing entirely. The owner of the trap would have deduced that she would not approach directly from the bank, making straight for the tray, which was almost as obvious as falling for the net under the tray itself. She could not approach from the right as the tree itself blocked that option, so all that remained was the left or the rear. Now here was a point at which Megan decided the person setting the trap had been forced to make a decision based on their intended prey. Approaching from the rear would have offered the most time in which to study the ground and offer a chance of spotting the net, but on the other hand she was hungry and perhaps the chance of getting to the food that little bit sooner would influence her choice. Thinking that she had already taken enough care, she might make for the left side rather than remain sensibly cautious and thus make a mistake after all.

And that was just what she had done.

Megan had to admit that as scared as she was, whoever set the trap was no fool.

She was forced to accept that she was now at their mercy, possessing no means of either cutting or chewing through the rope of the net. Instead she tried to keep her imagination from running away while she waited for the inevitable moment when her captor came to check the trap.

It had been later in the afternoon when Megan made her attempt at the bait and soon the light began to fade as time crept on. She had become used to guessing at the hour of the day based on the position of the sun and the length of the shadows cast by the trees. But this was the first occasion since her transformation that she found herself able to actually notice the torturous passage of time as she was forced to wait whilst trapped inside the net.

Darkness had fallen and she realised that she must have succumbed to sleep in the hours that she had been hanging there in acute discomfort when the glare of an artificial light suddenly flooded her vision and shook her awake. Megan tried to shield her eyes, but could not make out anything beyond the source of the light, robbed as she was of any hope that her eyes could adjust to the gloom. Moments later the light dimmed as some kind of cover was slid over the beam, seemingly after the person holding it had satisfied themselves with the sight of the squinting mermaid in their net.

Though she could hear the approach of the figure over the short distance between them, Megan was unable to gauge anything about them from the sound. Cushioned as they were by the soft nature of the ground underfoot, what she was able to make out might have been the steps of a child or a giant for all she could tell.

Her first clue came when she was able to just make out the shape of a human being as her eyes recovered a little from the initial shock of the light. She had estimated that she must have been over five feet off the ground inside the net and so the sight of the head and shoulders on a level with her own could only mean her captor was taller than average. Broad shoulders seemed to hint that it was a man rather than a woman and her sensitive nose caught the scent of wood smoke and the lingering hint of fish that would have escaped the notice of most having been strong on him a number of hours ago and fading since.

The man raised what she could now tell was a lantern and opened a hatch on the front to allow a small portion of the light to escape once more.

Megan blinked and finally managed to resolve her vision enough to see the face of the man who had managed to trap her.
She was not sure what her reaction should have been to the fact it was the same man who had dumped her into the lake two weeks earlier.

With his jaw set firmly and an expression that she could only think meant he was trying very hard to keep his true emotions from showing, Guy shone the lantern into the net in silence. He seemed to be intent on checking as much of the mermaid’s body as he could see from her awkward position, avoiding her face as he did so.

A part of Megan was relieved that it had not turned out to be the seemingly somewhat unhinged Will and for a reason she could not fathom she was also glad not to have been captured by the diminutive Ruby either. Of the three people she knew had kidnapped her, the man the others had called Guy was the least openly threatening from what little knowledge and experience she had to go on. But she was also aware of how much room that left for him to surprise her in a bad way. It was perfectly possible that rather than the quiet sensitive member of the group, this man could actually be the quiet psychopath instead.

She watched in shared silence as Guy finished his inspection of both her and the trap and then turned to look her in the face for the first time.

“I’m going to let the net down,” his voice sounded every bit as tightly controlled as his expression. “I won’t loosen the net or turn my back on you while I do it, so it would be best for us both if you kept still and quiet.” It was a statement, not a request and Megan could see no other option but to cooperate for the moment and she nodded once in agreement.

Guy knelt to place the lantern on the ground and produced a knife with which he set about cutting the cords that held the net in place. Megan buried her initial sense of horror at the speed at which the knife appeared in his hand, reminding herself of how far out into the wild they were and the many practical uses of such a tool in their surroundings. She tried to remember the difference that existed between carrying a wicked looking knife in a shopping mall and doing so in the depths of a forest, but still it would have been easier if the owner of the blade in question was not very much in control of the course of her immediate future.

Taking the weight of the net as he held the severed rope, Guy lowered the captive mermaid to the ground with what she supposed amounted to as much delicacy as possible given the circumstances. She kept quiet and still as he had demanded, moving only to adjust her improvised clothing and return her errant breast to its confines. If he took her doing so as a breach of his conditions, Guy made no effort to say so.

He knelt by her side, gathering the rope that remained into a coil around his arm, less threatening now that the knife had returned to wherever its sheath was concealed about his person.

“I have a boat tied up a few hundred yards down the shore,” again he was making a statement and not seeking to begin a debate. “I can carry you there in the net unconscious as easily as conscious.” There really was no need to elaborate on the last point, but for some reason Megan was not wholly convinced of the way in which the man was acting. It was almost as if he was following a script of some kind, trying to create a demeanour that was by no means skin deep.

She was surprised when he knelt and gripped the net so as to carry it upon his back, but even more so when he rose to his feet with a groan of effort and then adjusted his burden with little more than the smallest regard for the weight he was now carrying. But as he began to make his way along the shore in the direction which she presumed his boat lay, she was reminded of what small effort it had been for him to carry her into the lake after she was released from the clamshell for the first time.

The boat turned out to be a small affair little bigger than a rowing boat, with an outboard motor and signs of a long and hard life betrayed in worn paintwork and smoothed wood where the material of its construction was exposed to the elements. Megan found herself placed gently atop a chaotic pile of rope and what she thought were fishing nets that filled the prow of the boat. She watched as Guy made short work of casting off and pulling the started cord so that he could guide them out onto the waters of the lake accompanied by the sputtering protests of the engine.

Their journey was short in terms of length, but made to seem far longer on account of the forced silence that hung over the boat. Whilst he kept his mouth shut and his eyes on the way ahead, Megan was inclined to follow her captor’s example for fear of what consequences might result from speaking when she was not spoken to first. Instead she tried to find a position in which she was at least a little comfortable and able to rub some life back into the parts of her body that had gone numb while she had been hung upside down in the net.

Convinced that his attention was elsewhere and that he own efforts to massage life back into her limbs would serve as sufficient cover, Megan began to steal glances at the man who had gone to some considerable effort to snare her. Now that the initial panic and confusion was past, she could better hope to weigh up the signs and signals that were there to be read even in his silence. With his companions she suspected that the task might have been a great deal simpler thanks to their habit of wearing their emotions so obviously and without the guile to hide their true intentions. Guy on the other hand was proving with every moment she spent in his company to be far harder, the cues she could see in his expression and bearing being at once both very clear and yet somehow leading her to think that they were no deeper than the surface, concealing something that was well hidden beneath.

It was this inability to penetrate the layers that the man presented as well as the fact that she was trapped in a net and at a serious disadvantage on dry land that kept her from making any effort to escape even as the boat seemed to be nearing its destination. She watched as Joe cut the engine and guided them towards a small jetty using momentum alone, evidently a task he had completed many times before. There was a series of bumps and the side of the boat made contact with the planks of the jetty and even before they had come to a complete stop, he was out and onto the planks in order to tie up.

“We’re almost there,” Guy spoke as he lifted Megan, net and all out of the boat and once more slung her over his back. “When we get inside…” he stopped, as if unsure of what to say next and in that moment she saw the mask slip just a little, enough to show that there was an element of fear somewhere in his mind. “We’ll see what happens then,” he quickened his pace as he regained his composure and walked into the trees by the jetty.

Ahead Megan could make out subtle signs of habitation where trees had been felled and the encroaching undergrowth cut back. The ground was not paved, but the earth underfoot had been packed down by repeated passage and formed a defined path from the jetty to what appeared to be a cabin of some kind. Over guy’s shoulder she could see a roof tiled with what appeared to be wooden tiles and beneath walls that were constructed from seasoned timbers. A number of lamps giving off a glow more like that of a luminous insect than a piercing beam from a torch gave away the size of the structure, which was by no means tiny and yet seemed to sit at ease with its natural surroundings.

As they approached the wide porch that fronted the cabin, she saw that far from being the dilapidated dwelling of some backwoods primitive, the building was more akin to the kind of home often touted as an eco-friendly dwelling. While it was by no means new, the cabin had been put together with evident care and skill. Megan’s father had pursued carpentry as a hobby throughout his life and from him she had learnt the signs of skilled work, which was more than evident here. There was even a moment when she found herself thinking that under almost any other circumstances it would have been quite pleasant to contemplate spending time in such a place.
Guy passed the front door and instead made his way around the back of the cabin where he entered what looked like a plain wooden box from the outside. But once they were on the inside, Megan was surprised to see that it was in fact a modestly appointed bathroom attached to the rear of the main structure.

Low energy lighting flickered into life and Joe lowered her to the floor with a care that would have been more appropriate for someone carrying an invalid than a captured mermaid with nothing more than a collection of cuts, bumps and bruises.

“Time to clean yourself up,” Guy knelt down beside her as he again produced his knife and began to cut through the net in which she was tangled. “There’s hot water in the tank and I’d suggest using the tub,” he pointed to the amenities as he cut the last of the cords and allowed the net to slip into a heap on the floor beneath her. “Towels and clothes you can find in the locker over there. I’ll leave and come back in an hour to see how you’re doing. The door will be locked the whole time, but I promise that I’ll knock and wait when I come back,” he paused as he weighed his next words carefully. “That is I’ll go, if you don’t need any help.”

Megan looked him in the eye, puzzled once more by the way in which his words seemed to contradict his actions.

“No,” she shook her head and turned away, “please leave.”

“Okay,” Guy rose to his feet and turned to leave.

“Why…” Megan caused him to stop at the door with her unexpected words. “Why are you trying to play nice with someone you’re holding prisoner?”

“You’re not a prisoner,” Guy refused to return her gaze as he opened the door, “It’s just that I can’t allow you to go anywhere right now and I can’t explain why.”

With an explanation that explained nothing still hanging in the air, he stepped through the door and was gone.

Megan heard the sound of a key turning in the lock and then nothing apart from her own breathing.

She shook her head in acknowledgement of the fact that she was none the wiser as to just what was happening to her and tried to think of what she would do next.

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Filed under Short Story, Transformation

Smooth Plastic

I mage supplied by SOMMAI

The rain had eased off and was steaming from the tarmac by the time Eliza breezed out of the studio building and crossed the car park. A cooling breeze was the only thing that prevented the heat of the early afternoon from becoming unbearable, overhead the sky was a clear blue and the sun blazed mercilessly without a cloud in sight.

Though the journey from the lobby to the car was a matter of only a few seconds, Eliza dreaded this part of her day more than any other and always armed herself with sunglasses, bottled water and an elegant silk fan decorated with twisting and turning Koi carp. The first two items were simply a part of the image she was sure a modern and upwardly mobile celluloid star should portray. But the latter had been a gift from an anonymous admirer; while she had never found who the mysterious source of the fan might have been, it was still the first glimmer of recognition she had ever received from her public.

Eliza had never stopped to ponder the irony of having been sent a fan, by a fan; but then she had seldom been known to read between the lines, or anything at all for that matter.

Despite wearing as little as possible without being in danger of arrest, Eliza found that she was still more than a tad hot and bothered. The scene which she had just finished shooting had not been easy and tempers had frayed before the thing was finally in the can. Her vest top was bothering her; the shorts she had chosen left her legs at the mercy of the sun and boots, which had enchanted her from the window of a shoe shop, were now threatening to rub blisters on her heels.

The last thing she needed to see were the two men in suits loitering in-between herself and her car, but there they were all the same. In concession to the hot weather, both men had removed their jackets and were carrying them over their arms; they wore short sleeved white shirts and black ties, looking very much like the kind of religious nutter that turned up on ones doorstep armed with magazines and warnings of impending damnation. As she got closer, Eliza saw that the two were Japanese, carrying briefcases and apart from being coatless, showed little sign of being bothered by the heat.

All at once one of the men caught sight of Eliza and began pointing in her direction whilst making loud proclamations in his native tongue. The second man, whom Eliza realised was slightly older than his excited colleague, turned on him and issued what she assumed was a reprimand. As soon as the first man had visibly clamed down and was engaged in staring at his feet in a way that put her in mind of a scolded young boy, the second turned her way and offered a polite bow.

Eliza bowed back in what she hoped was the right manner and would have asked what the pair were doing hanging around her car, if the older man had not jumped in on her first.

‘Good afternoon,’ the man’s English was accented, but otherwise perfect. ‘You are Miss Aukerman? Miss Eliza Aukerman, actress and model?’

Eliza nodded; it was a long time since she had been called a straight up actress and the man’s polite manner had caught her a little off guard.

The nod was greeted with a smile and another in return.

‘May I introduce myself,’ the man went on. ‘I am Mr Nakemura, and this,’ he pointed at his younger companion, ‘is Mr Shima, my junior colleague.’ nakemura retrieved a smart black wallet from his jacket pocket and presented it to Eliza with a gesture of pride and reverence.

‘Thanks,’ she said as she accepted the card, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have one of my own to give you…’

‘No matter,’ Nakemura breezed past the issue, ‘such small matters cannot be allowed to stand in the way of business.’

‘Business?’

‘Yes, business,’ Nakemura smiled again, ‘Mr Shima and I have a proposal which we would like to offer you; it is possibly very lucrative for you, but also a very private matter. Is there a place where we may speak in private?’

 

The waitress deposited three bottles of beer on the table and disappeared, leaving Eliza and her two companions alone in the booth. From the expression on the woman’s face, Eliza had been sure that everyone who saw them was getting the wrong impression. She tucked her long black hair behind her ears and took a sip of her beer, trying to look as aloof and refined as she could manage whilst Nakamura spoke for both himself and Shima once again.

‘You have heard of Oshimasu Incorporated Enterprises?’

‘Who hasn’t,’ Eliza nodded. OIE was a household name the world over, a sprawling Japanese corporation that had massive holdings and influence not only in its home nation but also throughout almost all developed nations on the face of the earth. Like most companies in of its size and scope, it was perhaps an easier task to list things that OIE did not involve itself in rather than attempt to recount the diverse fields in which it manufactured, produced and innovated. When one switched on the TV there was an advert for their products. Hospitals were stocked with their medical apparatus as well as administering their drugs to patients. The company even held large shares in a number of major studios and supported some of its products with films and series that were at worst little more than expensive adverts themselves.

‘Then we are one step on the way already,’ beamed Nakamura. ‘I will assume also, that you are acquainted with the “Dream Princess” range, which has been marketed with great success over the past decade?’

Much like the previous question, Eliza would have had to have lived under a particularly big rock if the answer was no. The Dream Princess range, which Nakamura referred to were possibly the most popular children’s toys in the world and a merchandising phenomenon that seemed to know no bounds. The Princesses in question were a series of fashion dolls, each with a distinctive theme and look; and an extensive range of accessories, each sold separately, of course. Kids and collectors alike snapped these up attracted by the lifelike quality of the dolls and the clever planning that had gone into each one. Rather than creating one doll and selling for it different outfits, an astute soul at Oshimasu had instead decided that every different Dream Princess would be unique in its facial features and skin tones. The surfer Princess was a blonde and tanned California girl, whilst the special edition Juliet Princess created to mark the four-hundredth anniversary of the death of Shakespeare was dark-skinned Mediterranean beauty.

‘Of course.’

‘Then you are also familiar with the Dream Princess doll known as Iyesha?’

At the mention of the name, Shima suddenly seemed to take a more active interest in the conversation and leaned forward as if trying to involve himself further.

‘Yeah,’ Eliza paddled back through her memories, ‘that’s the mermaid?’

‘That is right,’ Nakamura nodded, ‘Dream Princess Iyesha is a mermaid who dwells beneath the ocean waves, swims with the whales and the dolphins and has the voice of an angel with which she sings upon the top of a coral reef.’ Despite being unable to speak English, Shima had evidently recognised the lines Nakamura was quoting and now it was his turn to nod his head in agreement. Though she could not recall the last advert she had seen for the doll that Nakamura was enthusing about, Eliza was pretty sure he had just recited the script verbatim.

‘And…?’ Eliza let the question hang in the air.

Nakamura glanced round from where he had been giving a stern look to Shima, who was once more getting quite excited.

‘Pardon me?’

‘And just what does Dream Princess Iyesha have to do with the business proposition you were talking about?’

‘Ah, yes,’ Nakamura was back on track in an instant. ‘Dream Princess Iyesha has a great deal to do with the proposition, as you put it.’ He produced his briefcase from beneath the table and pulled out a wad of glossy photos, which he spread out on the table like an oversized pack of cards. ‘But before we come to the details of the proposition, there are a few points which I must address with you.’

‘Go on.’

‘Firstly, Mr Shima and I have sought you out in connection with Dream Princess Iyesha for a very important reason. While I myself am a director of the Dream Princess project, Mr Shima is concerned with the intricacies of design and realisation, responsible for the way in which our finished products look and feel. In the course of his work, Mr Shima will be responsible for everything from the colour of a Dream Princess’s eyes to the size of her waist; all these things are part of his work.’ He paused and took a deep breath that was in keeping with the look of resignation that had crossed his face after another glance at Shima. ‘When we are to choose the face and figure of a new Dream Princess, we are committed to giving her the most realistic qualities that are possible with the technology at our disposal. Rather than create what would be an artificial face, we will search for an example of a living and breathing woman who we feel captures the essence of what the Dream Princess should be.’

‘You make the dolls to look like real people?’ Eliza asked.

‘No, please do not think that this is the case. We will settle upon a woman whom we believe is perfect, and then we will make subtle alterations in the characteristics of the new Dream Princess so that she is somewhat like a sister in her appearance to the person upon whom she is based. The resulting Dream Princess is alike to the woman in question, but no case could be made that they are the same; in that respect we are usually very careful.’

‘Usually?’

‘Yes,’ Nakamura looked pained as he made the admission, as though his whole worth were being called into question. ‘But in the case of Dream Princess Iyesha…we were not as careful as we should have been. You must understand that the woman chosen as the essence of a Dream Princess can come from almost any background. Some are women prominent in the media and adored by many; but others can be women whom one might pass on the street, quite ordinary in their lives and characters. Then sometimes it can be that an employee of our company may choose a woman whom they admire greatly and believe deserves to be immortalised as a Dream Princess. And this last is the case with Dream Princess Iyesha.’

‘It’s not?’

‘No,’ Nakamura cast a hostile glare at Shima, who gazed down at the photos on the table and then innocently up at Eliza. ‘In the case of Dream Princess Iyesha, it was Mr Shima who chose the woman upon whom she would be based. You see Mr Shima is much enamoured of the films in which you star, Miss Aukerman, to the extent that he makes the claim he has seen every one of them. In the case of Dream Princess Iyesha, he chose to base her appearance upon your own, and I am regretful to say that he did not take sufficient care to differentiate her facial and…other features from the model which he chose.’

So that was where the fan came from, she thought.

Eliza followed Nakamura’s gaze down to the photo’s spread out on the table. Instantly she realised they were not photos at all, but rather images created by a computer graphics programme. Most showed underwater scenes where all the twee and contrite things that could be imagined to exist under the waves could be seen; barnacle encrusted anchors, shipwrecks, coral reefs and even treasure chests dotted the backgrounds. But at the centre of each image was the same thing, Dream Princess Iyesha, swimming in her native element.

In the aftermath of Nakamura’s confession Eliza was suddenly fascinated. A woman well into her twenties, she had long since decided that dolls were a thing of the past; but this was something different.

Eliza’s eyes traced the lines of the mermaid’s form in wonder. There indeed were the features of her own face, surrounded by the halo of her dark hair as it billowed in the water, there was the line of her neck and the curve of her shoulders. But then for all its familiar little details, the Dream Princess’s body took a radical departure from her own. To the casual eye it might have seemed that Iyesha wore a long dress that clung to her like a second skin, covering her breasts, waist, thighs and beyond in a graceful sweep of aquamarine. A closer look however, would have drawn the eye to the point where the aquamarine clung just as tightly to her claves and continued all the way down to where a pair of silver flukes flared from the end of her tail. Eliza recognised the shape of her own legs in the curve of the tail as Iyesha swam through the water, the heaving of her breasts as the mermaid sat upon a rock and sang, she even saw the lucrative image of her own ass mirrored in the Dream Princess’s rear as she reclined on a beach, back turned to the imaginary camera.

‘Wow,’ Eliza looked up from the images before her, ‘these are so pretty!’

A look of startled relief flushed Nakamura’s face which Eliza took to be pride; it was only much later that she discovered the relief was linked more to the amount which a more litigious individual might have demanded for the use of her image without permission than to Nakamura’s delight at her approval of Dream Princess Iyesha.

‘You will no doubt be pleased to know that Dream Princess Iyesha is the most popular of all the models launched this year, already sales have outstripped all other new dolls in the range.’

‘It’s neat,’ Eliza was the one beaming now, ‘you know I always wondered what it would be like to have a fish’s tail, swim in the sea and all that stuff!’

‘Then maybe my proposition will be to your liking,’ Nakamura ventured.

‘Let me guess,’ Eliza tried to trump him, ‘you want me to dress up as Dream Princess Iyesha for you, right?’ Before Nakamura could answer she steamed on in a state of near delirium at the prospect of a job that involved keeping her clothes on for once. ‘Of course I’ll do it.’

‘Miss Aukerman,’ Nakamura spoke in a level tone, trying to calm Eliza down. ‘You are perhaps thinking of similar possibilities to ourselves on this matter. But we are not simply asking you to dress up as Dream Princess Iyesha. In fact we would like to propose that for the purposes of publicity and promotion, you become Dream Princess Iyesha.’

It had taken a very long while for the full implications of Nakamura’s offer to sink in, but Eliza finally had a good grip of just what he was suggesting. For a long time she had simply sat and pondered the images of Dream Princess Iyesha, shuffling through them like a strange slideshow as the thoughts floated through her mind. The long and short of it all was that the man was offering to take her away from her life as it was, to change the rules completely. If she accepted and Nakamura was telling the truth, she would become a mermaid…become the physical double of Dream Princess Iyesha complete with tail and all.

Though Eliza had never heard of such a thing being done before, she knew full well that there were rumours of just what amazing feats cosmetic surgeons had become capable with the advent of genetic manipulation. Never one to follow the news too closely, Eliza had never the less heard and seen some strange things in during her time in the world of adult films. Body Modification was a growing sub-genre of the industry and the films that had begun to appear which made both the eyes and the mind boggle as they pushed the boundaries.

‘For this service, we will meet all medical and personal expenses,’ Nakamura explained, ‘whilst your personal fee for the services rendered will be, we suggest to open negotiations, ten million dollars American.’

Eliza dropped the images and simply stared at the pair sitting across from her. For all the misgivings that had entered her mind, that was a figure that cast a totally different light on the whole issue. While trading her legs in for a tail would certainly change her life, Eliza reasoned that ten million dollars would have a similar effect as well. A new dimension had suddenly been added to her decision and she realised that above and beyond the sacrifices she would have to make, the money that Nakamura was promising could lift her out of the sleaze of the industry for good.

‘What else do I have to do?’ Eliza asked. ‘I mean apart form growing fins and giving up on designer shoes?’

‘We are proposing that you, as Dream Princess Iyesha, become the living representative of the doll that is based upon you.’ Nakamura replied. ‘Your duties will be to star in television commercials, appear at promotional events and in-between these commitments to live in the style in which Dream Princess Iyesha lives. Also if these things are a success with the consumer, the idea has been raised to commission a television series or even motion picture based around yourself and the other Dream Princesses.’ At this last point Nakamura seemed particularly impressed, as did Shima. ‘Our plans, if you are well received, are to hire actresses to become each of the Dream Princesses.’

‘Let me get this straight,’ Eliza pondered the deal. ‘I let you turn me into a mermaid; and in return you pay me ten million, put me on TV and if people like me I get to star in movies?’

‘Yes.’

‘I think I’d have to be stupid to say no!’

Nakamura reached across the table and shook Eliza’s hand vigorously.

Shima was so overwhelmed with Eliza’s answer that he fell out of his seat and onto the restaurant floor.

 

Eliza travelled more in the space of the next few months than she had all the years of her life before accepting Nakamura’s offer. She was flown across the continental United States from Los Angeles to New York where the contracts were drawn up and witnessed by lawyers representing herself and OIE.

Next came a long haul across the Pacific Ocean to Japan and an overwhelming immersion in the bustling neon metropolis of Tokyo. Here Eliza was introduced to the men and women who worked under Nakamura and Shima, the same people responsible for the doll in whose image she would soon be reborn. Eliza spent her time bowing politely and wrestling with the Japanese language whilst Shima, her constant guide, in turn grappled with English. After a few weeks, they were both able to get through a conversation filled with misplaced words and much gesturing, but always managed to get the point across.

Eliza had been secretly dreading spending time in Shima’s company, afraid that he would turn out to be a drooling pervert just waiting for a chance to feel her ass in a crowded lift. But as she got to know him the character of a genuine and friendly young man had emerged. She might have been aware of the fact that Shima had seen her in a good few compromising positions, but neither of them dwelt upon the fact and Shima himself behaved like a consummate gentleman.

‘Today,’ Shima began one morning, ‘we will be having the first photo shoot.’

‘Today?’ Eliza was puzzled by the announcement. ‘Last time I looked in the mirror I wasn’t a mermaid.’

‘Not yet,’ Shima countered, ‘but today we will shoot you in a costume and use the pictures for publicity. Some will also be sent to the facility that will change you soon, they will also need samples of DNA in order to prepare.’

‘Whatever.’

Eliza soon found herself in a dressing room, being fussed over by half a dozen make-up artists and hairdressers. They painted her face with heavy stage make-up familiar from the more up market films she had done in the past, concealed her own hair beneath a flowing blonde wig and arranged in it a tiara made to resemble white coral interlaced with irregular pearls.

Stripped down to her underwear, the same six Japanese women helped her into the costume. At first the costume resembled nothing more than an oversized aquamarine sock; but as the side was unfastened and her feet were slipped into the bottom, Eliza began to feel the soft fabric close around her legs. Though she had sweated through a few scenes whilst wrapped up in hobble skirts and other bondage paraphernalia, this was a very different experience. The costume had been made of a material that was quite thick, but yielding all the same and hugged her body closely. As it was sealed up the side, Eliza was forced to remove her bra so that the straps would not be visible after the tail ended just above her breasts. Freed from the bra, she found that the thickness of the material had been used to conceal a bodice that now supported her chest very well indeed. Eliza gazed down at the impressive sight of her cleavage, then down at the sweep of the tail and decided that she made a very fine mermaid after all.

As soon as the outfit had been completed with a pair of long and elegant gloves, which matched the tail exactly and ended perfectly level with the line of the bodice, Eliza was carried through to a suitably camp underwater set where cameras awaited.

Eliza had been told in minute detail what would be expected of her by Shima beforehand and she was careful to pose in ways that were in keeping with a Dream Princess rather than with an experienced actress from the adult industry. She posed and was careful not to pout, smiled and tried not to smoulder; but when she caught sight of Shima over the shoulders of the photographers it was clear that there was only so much she could do to dampen her appeal.

Amused and more than a little turned on, Eliza began to realise the potential that her transformation could have. Though she had never had any kind of trouble using her looks to wrap men around her finger, Shima’s reaction to the sight of her flowing form hinted that the mere glimpse of her would be enough to reduce most men to quivering wrecks, have them falling down at her fins.

 

All too soon, it seemed to Eliza, the time came to leave behind Tokyo and embark on the next stage of her journey towards becoming Dream Princess Iyesha. In the short time she had spent there, she had grown very fond of the Japanese and their polite company. Saying goodbye to Shima and boarding a lonely flight to the United Kingdom on a cold and dreary morning was almost more than Eliza could bear. After so long surrounded by friendly faces, she was forced to travel alone to the clinic where the operation would be carried out, the operation that would turn her into a mermaid.

It was at the insistence of the clinic itself that she was forced to travel alone. Known as the Retreat, the exclusive establishment demanded that only the patient make the journey and would accept no arguments on this point.

Just as she had never before seen Japan, this new island was as much a mystery to Eliza and filled her with trepidation as the plane descended through a sky heavy with grey clouds. Her spirits were roused however, when the cloud was left behind, and below was suddenly laid clear a grand vista of pure white. She had arrived in England in the winter and the ground was hidden beneath a deep layer of crisp snow that lent to all that it touched a fairytale quality. Soon Eliza was able to forget a little of the melancholy that had coloured her departure from Tokyo as she allowed herself to be enchanted by the picturesque countryside through which she was driven after the drab and depressing streets of London.

It was well into the night when the driver who had met Eliza at Heathrow finally reached their destination. The clouds that had filled the sky melted away after the sun had set and left behind a boundless black expanse, dotted with stars. Civilisation was only hinted at by the occasional glimpse of cottages clustering together across the snow and framed by the moonlight. Tired from the long hours of travel, Eliza was lulled to sleep by the smooth ride and the pleasant glow of the picturesque winter landscape.

A gentle hand on her wrist caused Eliza to stir and she looked up into the eyes of the driver as he held the door of the car open before her.

‘Here we are,’ he said briefly.

She nodded and began to gather her coat against the chill, which had entered the car as soon as the door was opened. Eliza stepped out onto gravel, cleared of snow and salted against ice. Before her spread the looming facade of a large house built of red brick, its many windows filled with welcoming light and warmth in the winter night. The driver had pulled up by a pair of huge double doors that stood in a commanding position as the only visible entrance to the house. Despite the cold, these stood ajar and spilled light out into the courtyard.

So, Eliza thought, this is it. I walk up the stairs and swim out the back door when they’re done with me.

With her luggage handled by the driver, Eliza made her way up the stairs and through the doors to be greeted by a graceful hallway with sweeping staircases and period furniture. At a desk inside the door, she set eyes upon a woman pondering over a stack of papers. The sound of Eliza’s shoes on the wooden floor caused her to glance up and regard the newcomer with a welcoming smile.

‘Welcome to the Retreat,’ Eliza was unable to place the woman’s accent, ‘My name is Gillian, and you must be Ms Aukerman.’ Gillian shuffled through her papers and quickly scanned the sheet that she finally settled upon. ‘I trust you had a pleasant journey, despite the English winter’s depredations?’

‘Yeah,’ Eliza replied, ‘the snow is lovely, like a Christmas card.’

‘I think that you will enjoy the view from your room. Your benefactors have been most generous in providing for your stay,’ Gillian subtly steered the conversation back to the matter at hand. ‘You will be staying in the grand suite on the top floor of the house, its windows command a sweeping view of the grounds beyond the gardens.’ She handed a key over the desk and nodded to Eliza’s luggage. ‘A porter will attend to that for you shortly. Your room is furnished to allow for all your needs and your meals will be brought to you there. If you need anything else all you have to do is call reception.’

‘Thanks,’ Eliza felt that she liked Gillian right from the start. She was her senior by a good few years, but somehow she sensed the woman was also grounded, rooted and steady in her manner. Eliza could not help but admire the firmness of her skin and the inner peace that Gillian seemed to radiate. The long coat that she wore concealed her body well, but Eliza was sure she had kept herself in good shape and hoped that when she reached the same age she would look half as good as Gillian did.

Gillian motioned to the stairs as the Porter arrived, picking up a steaming mug as she did so. The beverage had escaped Eliza’s attention and she was immediately attracted by the scent of herbs and spices that drifted from it.

‘Could I take a sip?’ she asked, feeling the cold more acutely all of a sudden.

‘No,’ Gillian sounded as if the request had caught her off guard. ‘No. I am sorry, this is a tea, which is not known here in the west…It is very strong and quite bitter; an acquired taste. I only drink it to remind me of home.’

‘Ok…whatever you say,’ Eliza was not about to pry into what was evidently a sensitive issue.

‘I will have a warm drink sent up to you,’ Gillian offered, ‘Coffee, tea or a hot toddy?’

‘Coffee would be nice,’ Eliza smiled as the elder woman made an effort to smooth over her hasty words.

Gillian nodded and smiled in return.

‘You will be under the care of Dr Pickford during your stay with us; he will call on you in the morning at your convenience.’

 

Eliza leaned back upon the chaise long and sipped the last of her coffee whilst the new arrival fussed and fiddled with the odds and ends he had brought with him. Once he seemed satisfied that they were in order, he sat down on the sofa opposite and accepted a cup of coffee Eliza insisted on pouring for him. He drank a little before placing the cup down on the coffee table between them and made an effort to begin.

‘I apologise if I seem a tad awkward,’ Pickford confirmed Eliza’s preconception of the English habit of apologising for nothing and things that were out of a mortal’s control, as if embarrassed that they had not yet quite managed to unravel all the mysteries of the universe. ‘You see normally I’d be doing this in my own office, all casual and chatty, but in your case we were given certain instructions to follow. One was that your visit should be as private as we could manage, which for a clinic such as ourselves is quite secretive, I can tell you. The folks paying for our services on your behalf insisted that you arrive under cover of darkness and leave that way…they also insisted that you have the best accommodation we had to offer, price being no object.’

‘Well, I like this place a lot; it’s very pretty.’

‘Yes,’ Pickford answered, as if the thought had never occurred to him before, ‘I suppose it is.’ He glanced down at the table and then at the bag by his feet before rummaging around inside. Finally he pulled something out and set it on top of the bulging file, which he had already deposited on the table. When he moved his hands away, Eliza saw that it was a doll, namely Dream Princess Iyesha.

Pickford studied her face as she stared at the doll and then at him. While Eliza held his eye, the doll keeled over and fell from its perch atop the file. Pickford looked embarrassed at this, as though he had unwittingly insulted her by way of ill-treating her little plastic doppelganger.

‘The good people at Oshimasu sent this to us,’ he explained, ‘along with a mountain of other materials, in order to help us with our research.’ Pickford’s tone hinted at a mild irritation when recalling being deluged with glossy merchandise and marketing from the sprawling corporation. ‘They felt that this would help us in staying true to the spirit of the whole thing, if you follow.’

‘They’re very dedicated to their vision,’ Eliza ventured.

‘Yes, of course,’ Pickford replied, hinting that there were other terms he could have suggested himself. ‘Anyway, the bottom line is that over the next few days we are going to be engaged in a process that will allow you to represent their product in a very real manner,’ he cast another quick glance over the doll, then over Eliza’s body wrapped in a towling dressing gown and came back to her eyes before he could have been accused of ogling her. ‘What we’ll be doing actually represents the coming together of two separate strands of work which we have been undertaking recently. On the one hand we have been working on other projects for your employer, and on the other I have to confess that you’ll not be the first mermaid for which I have been responsible.’

‘Really?’ Eliza was surprised to find herself a little disappointed by Pickford’s admission; she had been somewhat looking forward to being unique.

‘Yes, I performed rather radical surgery upon another young lady late last year. Things went well and she was most pleased with the results of the operation. Unfortunately I heard that she went missing recently, despite the fact she lived in London. Just how an anatomically correct mermaid sneaks out of a city that size without anyone noticing is beyond me.’

Eliza tried to imagine the mermaid and her strange disappearance, finding that she could not decide between her escaping to the open seas or being kidnapped by a travelling circus. She was reassured by the fact that she herself had the might of a multi-national to protect her from such things.

‘Anyway,’ Pickford changed the subject, ‘as I was saying, this ties in nicely with another line down which we have been proceeding for your employer. They may have hinted to you that you’re to be the first of a whole sorority?’

Eliza looked blank.

‘A sisterhood?’ Pickford ventured, ‘after you there will be many more women coming through those doors whom I’m to make into Dream Princesses.’

This time she nodded in agreement.

‘To that end the process that you will under go has to be a little different to the one I used when making my first mermaid.’

‘How so?’

‘Well the idea is that you’re to be a living representation of a toy doll; the first mermaid that I created was intended for an entirely different purpose. She needed to be convincing as the real thing, needed to have people stare at her and think they were looking at a creature straight out of myth and legend. In your case, they need to look at you and see this Dream Princess Iyesha; the idea is for you to look just like the doll. So no scales and webbed fingers for you, I’m afraid.’

‘Oh.’

‘So you see the two strands that come together here? Firstly I have to make a mermaid out of you, and secondly I have to make sure that mermaid looks like a plastic doll as well. So what I intend to do is take the process in those two stages, plastic doll first and mermaid second. I think it will be easier that way round.’

‘If you say so.’

‘The first stage will take place later today and we’ll see how you get on with that before scheduling the second. How does that sound?’

‘It sounds crazy and a bit scary, but what the hell.’

 

Eliza lay naked on the operating table as the anaesthetic took hold of her and lulled her mind into a state of detached relaxation. She was aware of her surroundings, but could feel neither the cold of the table on her back or the touch of Pickford’s hand as he withdrew the needle and issued instructions to his assistants. Time seemed to loose all meaning as the minutes flowed together and were swept away without Eliza’s noticing.

The first sensation, which broke through, her semi-torpid delirium came when Eliza felt herself being lifted from the table an inch so that a harness of some kind could be slipped under her. Supporting her beneath her knees, arms and the small of her back, the thing was tightened until it raised her from the table completely.

At the same time she was aware of something being placed in her mouth, an object the size of a golf ball and attached to a long tube.

‘Respirator in place,’ a disembodied voice called out.

A moment later Eliza felt two more objects being pushed into her nostrils. Smaller and neatly fitting in place, they stoppered her nose up completely. It was then she realised that the object in her mouth was allowing her to breathe.

Gently cradled in the harness, Eliza found herself being moved slowly across the operating theatre away from the table. Looking around she became aware of a tank on the floor of the room, parallel to the operating table. Perhaps eight feet in length and four wide, the tank stood just taller than the waist of a fully-grown man and was three-quarters full of a clear liquid. Though it resembled water, something told Eliza that it was another thing entirely. Before she could look again, Eliza felt something being pressed over her eyes and blotting out her vision.

‘Gently,’ Eliza heard the same distant voice, ‘lower carefully, on my mark.

In her time, Eliza had always been a sucker for a long hot bath and love nothing more than to soak in a tub for hours on end. The one thing better had been a bath filled with fragrant oils or a prolonged session in a Jacuzzi. But this was a whole new experience. The mystery liquid into which she was lowered inch by inch was deceptively warm and maybe a little more viscous than water. Her hair gathered tightly to her head and every inch of the rest of her body shaved of hair, Eliza shivered as the warmth of the liquid seeped into her limbs and coursed through her very being. For what felt like an age, she floated in the tank, divorced from the outside world and not caring for its concerns in any shape or form.

‘Slowly, lift her out,’ Eliza barely heard the words as she was lifted from the tank. Separated from the soothing liquid, she felt no great disappointment as the warmth, which had suffused her body, still clung to it as the tank was left behind.

With as much care as had been taken to reach the tank, the unseen hands moved Eliza back towards the far side of the room and over the operating table where they paused while another piece of equipment was made ready. The fact that Eliza was unable to see this was probably a good thing, as the new element in the operation resembled a silver case the size of a coffin, mounted on wheeled legs. Pickford’s hands opened the hinged lid to reveal a black interior marked out in the rough impression of a human body so that the contraption’s occupant would be held quite still once the lid was closed again. Into this depression they placed Eliza’s inert form and trailed the tube of her breathing apparatus from a specially made hole in the machine’s side. Once she was laid in the depression to his satisfaction, Pickford closed the lid and sealed Eliza inside.

Eliza found that the sides of the machine pressed against her tightly and allowed no room for her to move. Had she been able to focus her mind, there might have been panic rising within her at the claustrophobic conditions, but the effects of the anaesthetic kept her calm and still as the inside of the machine began to slowly rise in temperature. Soon Eliza was feeling the intense heat and a strange pressure on her body from the effects of the machine in which she lay. From head to foot she felt the sensation of her body being pressed and moulded by the two sides of the machine, from above and below. Much like the feeling of floating in the pool, Eliza felt no pain and afterwards could not have said how long she remained inside.

 

Later that night, Eliza wandered into the bathroom of her suite and allowed the bathrobe to fall from her shoulders as she stepped into the shower. For the past few hours she had been doing as many things as she could that seemed to her normal and mundane, in the vain hope that in them she might find something to stop her head spinning and bring back reality.

The light from the fitting above caught the sheen of Eliza’s skin and betrayed the very first hint of a change in her appearance. Had one passed her fully clothed in the street, it might have escaped your attention that here was a woman who’s skin was perfectly even in tone and texture, a woman who’s skin resembled nothing more than smooth plastic from head to toe. But that was not the only change that had been wrought to her body.

Standing in the shower as the water began to fall on her head, Eliza watched as rivulets ran down her shoulders and into the grooves that encircled the tops of her arms where they met her torso; similar lines lay in-between her thighs and pelvis. At the point where her neck met her head and around her waist, Eliza’s body was also marked in the same way. Although she could still move her limbs as she had done before, the grooves were enough to give the impression that these were the only points of articulation on her body.

Eliza cursed as the soap shot out of her hand and she struggled to retrieve it in the steam and water. She was not normally this clumsy, but then she was not normally grasping for a bar of soap in this particular way. When she finally found the soap, she grabbed it with both hands and stood up to inspect her catch. In reality it was clear that she was staring at the fingers of her hands, rather than the soap clutched in them. The operation had forced the fingers together until her hands served more like mittens than human digits, no finger able to move independently of the fellows it was fused to.

She rubbed the soap into lather and spread it over her body, which was still soft and yielding despite the fact it resembled solid plastic. Eliza’s unified fingers explored a body, which was smooth and hairless as it had never been before. She recalled Pickford’s words as he had explained that the same process would be repeated until there was a living, breathing example of every Dream Princess in Oshimasu’s employ.

In her mind’s eye she pictured dozens of other living plastic dolls as they went about their daily lives, walking dogs in the park, working nine-to-five jobs in the city and presenting daytime chat-shows on TV. In her fantasy, no one seemed to notice the fact that the plastic women’s joints showed when they wore something off the shoulder. When they picked up a spoon and stirred their coffee with a hand devoid of the usual individual fingers, no one batted an eyelid. The images raced through Eliza’s head as she towelled herself dry after the shower.

She tried to dress herself, but found that the loss of her fingers made the task frustrating beyond belief. Little by little she persisted and pulled on each individual garment with painstaking care and attention. Eliza slipped on a pair of silk knickers as a concession to feminine glamour, but for the rest she kept to convenience and comfort. The bra as a dead loss, she thought, another problem I’ll have to handle somewhere down the line. But as she gave up struggling with the hooks and dropped the bra on the bed, Eliza recalled the anatomical details of Dream Princess Iyesha and realised that things were about to change in that respect as well. She pulled a pair of jeans on over her feet, over the toes that had been moulded together in the same way as her fingers and then sat down on the bed.

Eliza felt ridiculous as she sat there, regarding her chest and trying to make the most of it before it disappeared beneath the tail she was to receive the very next day. She had always been turned off by the idea of group therapy sessions where women got to know their bodies, pictured them attended mad old grandmothers, frustrated suburban moms and hippies with unshaven armpits. But now Eliza was determined to break the taboo and spend quality time in the company of her breasts. After all, they had been an integral part of the package that had seen her career flourish, she came to the conclusion that they deserved to be recognised as one of her most valuable assets. So there she sat, for what seemed like hours, just staring at them, admiring the curve and occasionally cupping them in her hands until she was certain that whatever the next day might bring she would be ready for it.

 

‘So this is the last push,’ Pickford said as he directed Eliza’s attention to a long tray that ran the length of the surface next to the operating table upon which she lay. ‘Today we finally define the shape of your body and add the features that will mark you out as the much mentioned Dream Princess.’

Eliza saw that the tray was filled with a clear gel, and atop the gel was a narrow strip of aquamarine that stood out starkly against the sterile white of the operating theatre.

‘Is that?’

‘Oh yes,’ Pickford nodded, ‘that is the tail that we’ll be grafting onto your body. It was made to your specifications exactly, engineered on a genetic level and modelled on the DNA samples that you supplied to us. Once it is attached the tail will feel and act just like your own skin.’ As he spoke, Eliza felt the needle delivering a sedative into her arm. ‘Of course we have to make sure the shape of your body is just right before we can go ahead and bond it to you…’ His voice seemed to trail away as the anaesthetic took hold.

Once more Eliza felt the harness being slipped beneath her body and begin to lift her inert from the operating table. But this time her arms were raised above her head and bound to a previously unseen part of the harness. In this way she was again carried across the theatre and lowered gently into the tank of liquid that had made her body as malleable as clay. The warmth spread through her body, but stopped below her arms as she was allowed to be lowered no deeper. Eliza felt the liquid take effect and seep into the portion of her body submerged, where it lapped over the lower half of her breasts she felt an intense rush of pleasure as they became soft and yielding.

Returned to the operating table, she was shocked by the feeling of something cold being inserted between her legs. But whatever it was remained a mystery as Pickford’s hands began to move over her body.

Eliza was surprised by how quickly the doctor worked at the shape of her lower body. After briefly pressing her breasts together at the bottom in a way that made her sure she would never need another supportive bra in her life, Pickford moved on to her belly button. Without pausing, he smoothed it over and evened the flesh out where it had been leaving no trace. Next he worked down Eliza’s legs, obliterating the gap between them and massaging the flesh together until there was no trace of the former limbs. Upon reaching the end of her legs he did away with heels, feet and toes in the space of minutes. Pickford then had Eliza turned onto her stomach and repeated the process up the backs of her disappearing legs, before removing whatever had been inserted around her intimate parts.

On her back again, Eliza watched as Pickford and his assistants carefully removed the tail from where it lay in the tray. Now that it was stretched out, she could see the way in which it would wrap around her body and form a second skin; she even caught sight of the silver tailfins, which fell away from the very end like the delicate wings of a dragonfly.

As Pickford delicately eased the edge of the tail into place down the side of her body, Eliza was taken back to the experience of being dressed in the costume at the Tokyo photo shoot and in her relaxed state of mind the two mingled into one. Pickford stretched the skin of the tail over her body and pressed it as tightly as he was able, making sure that the line it followed over her breasts and under her arms was perfect. He ordered her turned over again and proceeded to wrap the tail close about her with the same merciless attention to detail, tucking the new skin across her smooth stomach, over her united thighs and finally around the tip of her feet. There he took especial care as he aligned the angle of the fins to ensure that the nerve endings in each would marry up to those in Eliza’s feet.

Eliza watched all this merged with the attention of the Japanese women who had applied her makeup and powdered her face. When Pickford was satisfied and the harness lifted her from the table for the final time, Eliza was certain that she was being carried towards the underwater set where she would pose for the camera. Instead the harness held her in mid-air whilst the lower half of the operating table was collapsed and a machine much the same as the one she had been placed in the on previous day. The difference was that the new machine was perhaps only three quarters of the length, and when the lid was lifted it was plain to see that the impression inside was not that of a human being. Instead the impression was that of the lower three quarters of Dream Princess Iyesha.

Eliza was placed into the device, which left her free maybe an inch above her breasts and left her arms laid upon the operating table. Soon after the lid was sealed closed, she felt the intense heat and pressure as the device performed its function, pressing her body into the mould and completing the last stage of her transformation into the living image of a doll which had been modelled after her in the first place.

It is safe to say that the irony of Eliza’s situation totally escaped her.

 

Eliza waited silently for the cue to be whispered to her through the earpiece and all the time kept her eyes closed as the strange sense of excitement mixed with the tiniest hint of fear coursed through her. Moments later there were the clear and slightly stressed tones of Nakamura’s voice, she took her cue as the light of the world flooded into her cramped confines.

The flash of the cameras was almost blinding as the giant clamshell slowly opened atop the gaudily decorated podium. Crowded ranks of press photographers clamoured and fought for position as Eliza’s eyes adjusted to the sudden galaxy of blinking lights amid the sea of faces.

Nakamura spoke into her ear again and she launched straight into the script that been drilled into her over the space of the past week. In near perfect Japanese, she greeted the assembled press, thanked them for attending and formally introduced herself; not as Eliza Aukerman, but as Dream Princess Iyesha the mermaid who dwelt beneath the ocean waves, swam with the whales and the dolphins and had the voice of an angel with which she sang upon the top of a coral reef. She answered their questions with the replies that Nakamura blurted into the earpiece and charmed the whole crowd into a state of reverent awe before she was done with them.
Once the press conference was over she curled up into a foetal position again as the giant clamshell closed, hiding her from the eager eyes of the media.

 

Alone in her dressing room, surrounded by flowers, small tokens of admiration and discreet invitations to be interviewed on more than a dozen different talk shows, Eliza pulled the fake coral tiara out of her hair and yanked off the blonde wig at the same time. She disposed of the long silk gloves, pulled her tail up onto the couch with a glass of champagne in her hand, and admired the commanding view of her body.

She ran her free hand over the line of her tail. Beginning at her breast, she felt their weight and marvelled still at the fact that they drew the eye and that Pickford had only half covered them, as if his intention had been to give her a dangerous plunging line. Where the aquamarine met her skin the tail was raised slightly to foster the illusion that she might actually be wearing a dress, and what would in that case have been the bodice was lined to give ample support to Eliza’s chest whilst resembling that very same thing.

Her hand slipped further down until it reached her thighs and Eliza curled her tail to stare at the silver tailfin that obeyed her every whim. The operation had deprived her of her legs, but left her muscles very much the same so that her tail functioned very much like a pair of legs bound together, with the exception that her intimate parts were now neatly tucked away around the back behind her buttocks (between which it was hard to slide a piece of paper…most of the time; Eliza found they tended to relax when she was called upon by nature or excited in that certain way).

Reflecting back on what she had gained and lost, Eliza sipped the champagne and smiled at the realisation that she would never have to go back to the industry from whence she had come.

But the nudity issue was the thing that amused Eliza the most. She had spent so long with her flesh on display, feeling like a piece of meat in her previous line of work and been shunned by the moral and upstanding members of society. And now here she was being paid to do the same thing.

Eliza shivered as a breeze blew through the room. Pickford had been right when he said the tail would be a second skin; she felt the same sensations along the length of the tail as she did anywhere else on her body. Though it was designed to resemble a mermaid costume it was tactile and meant that Eliza felt everything that touched her from the couch on which she lay to the breeze that caressed her deceptively naked form.

She was sensitive and sensuous, even though she looked like nothing more than smooth plastic.

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Filed under Body Modification, Rubber, Short Story, The Retreat, Transformation

5 Books that changed the Game…

Things are rolling along quite nicely at the moment with the stories that I’m working on and there are no major gripes for me to spill into my journal entries, so I thought I’d try to do something positive for a change. People always bang on about the books that changed their lives and what they learned from reading them and so I thought that I’d do the same and share a couple of titles that I feel are out of the ordinary, exceptional and really made a difference to the way I saw the world of literature after I’d finsihed them.

I’m not suggesting that they are essential or even that I can add some new degree of insight into what makes them special, rather I want to share the reasons that I still think of these books as landmarks for myself. If you have read them and agree with me than that’s a boost for my ego. Similarly if you are inspired to pick one of them up then we both win. But if you hate one of these books or are turned off after an attempt to read them, then I hope we can just agree that we differ in taste and leave it at that. So here goes, in no particular order:

1) Lord of the Rings, by J R R Tolkien

No surprise there, not when you consider that this book is the closest thing that modern fantasy has to the Iliad in terms of scope, vision and influence. But it’s so easy to get caught up in the fog of fandom and recieved opinion surrounding this trilogy of books (actually there are six in total, if you want to be pedantic) that you forget what a gift Tolkien gave to his readers with this one. A lifetime of work on the history, mythology, languages, geography and peoples of Middle Earth went before and allowed that somewhat stuffy Oxford professor to weave the epic struggle between the overwhelming forces of evil and the isolated, divided but ultimately noble and enduring forces of good into a seemless world that lived, bled and died from the first time a Black Rider appeared in the Shire to the final battle at the gates of Mordor. There is no fantasy writer working today who is not influenced by Tolkien, with even those who claim not to be making a conscious decision to do so and thus revealing his effect upon their writing.

2) Drachenfels, by Kim Newman (writing as Jack Yoevil)

When Games Workshop began to publish novels back in the day, there were so many fewer titles than the Black Library can boast today and perhaps at the same time a greater number of outstanding reads as a result. Drachenfels is many things that are often considered negative in terms of being genre fiction, filled with gore and written to hawk the wares of GW first and as a work of fiction second. But that having been said, I remain fond of the book on account of the fact that it taught me the that fantasy can be brought down from the lofty heights of the epic and dropped into a world of sex, violence and seedy motives without losing the art of telling a compelling story populated with flawed and yet ultimately heroic characters. You can argue that there are other writers who did the same thing before and after in a better manner, but this was the first time I encountered fantasy that was about the outcasts and non-conformists rather than the shining heroes and to me that really changed the who scope of what the genre could encompass.

3) Game of Thrones, by George R R Martin

There really is no other single writer who has done more to make fantasy relevant and marketable in the latter part of the 20th and into the 21st century than Martin. In a time when the standard of the genre was groaning tomes of 700+ words in a series of up to and beyond a dozen books, in none of which anything happened or derivative children’s titles picked up by desperate adults starved of anything to keep them occupied, this book was different. It took the genre by the ears and proceeded to headbutt it square on the nose every time it mentioned a tired and overused trope or cliched character carrying a nonsensical magical maguffin towards a confrontation with a dark overlord in his land of evil. Sure the world is full of horrible stuff that wants to eat you, yes the corruption of the court is pushing the nation into a disasterous civil war just when the nobility needs to be united, I know magic is coming back into the world and dragons are back. But this is so much like the real world that people are just too greedy, stupid and self-absorbed to give a shit. How I loved the experience of reading this book, more real in some ways than anything written outside of the fantasy genre.

4) The Whisperer in the Darkness, by H P Lovecraft

Not technically a novel, this is one amongst many of the stories and novellas written by perhaps the most naturally talented man to produce horror that has ever lived. Not only did Lovecraft manage to move the genre away from the stuffy gothic trappings that had held it back in the realms of Stoker and Shelley with their hangover from the age of the Romantics, he began a move towards cosmic scope in popular literature that endures stronger than ever to this day, and most amazing of all he did it from beyond the grave having died before his body of work was accorded the status it truly deserved. Through his fevered view of the world around him, Lovecraft invested his paranoia and unease with a galactic and trans-dimensional quality which linked the limited manner he exprienced life to the concept of beings and powers that spanned time, space and beyond. And trust me, there are some of his stories that once they have been fully disgested, will make you very unwilling to spend time alone and remote from the supposed security of human civilisation.

5) The House of the Dead, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I once came across a quote that claimed while writers from some cultures in the time of Dostoyevsky could be said to excell in certain modes or subjects, only the Russians truly managed to capture the essence of life in their literature. If that is true, then none have been able to do so to the same degree as Dostoyevsky or with the pained and raw emotion that he achieves in this book. Based upon his own time spent in a Siberian Gulag, the reader is treated to a microcosm of human interaction, hopes and fears all observed with minute attention to detail and embodied in the characters and moods of the narrator and his fellow inmates. Rather than presenting a uniformly grim vision of the men whom he invents, Dostoyevsky instead uses their bleak circumstances as a background against which to present their emotions and the colour of their characters in all the more startling details. There is never a moment in this book when the reader is not aware of both the internal workings of the characters, the situation they are in and the intention of the author to provide an insight into the human condition by their example. If you are going to read any Russian novelist of this age, consider Dostoyevsky and I hope you will not be disappointed.

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