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.
“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.
“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.