Tag Archives: Governor

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