My submission is running a bit late this week, but rather than posting an excerpt this time, I have a new story in work specifically for the blog. This coming Tuesday, Nancy and I will celebrate our 30th Wedding Anniversary, and this story is derived from a comment/suggestion that she made a while back. This will be a multi-part adventure, so I hope you enjoy it enough to come back for more.
I don’t know if I’ll keep this title or not. For now, it just struck me as fun.
Reef, Her Madness
By Rick Higginson
Timothy watched the sunrise from the veranda of the beach-front bungalow. There had been quite a bit of discussion about his decision to take a vacation alone, beginning with the question of why he needed a vacation in the first place. It wasn’t like being a member of the Pod involved much work, particularly since most of the appearance requests they’d received since going public specified female guests. People were more interested in seeing the mermaids than the mermen.
His timing had been another point of contention. While the Pod rarely made big events out of birthdays, there had been some talk of doing something special for his 25th. Their idea of “something special,” however, hadn’t included him spending it alone on a distant tropical island.
He took an apple from the fruit bowl and bit into it. Robert’s words from a couple of months back replayed in his memory for what had to be the thousandth time. Francine says that Annette wants to know if you’re ever going to grow up. You’re both almost twenty-five, and she doesn’t want to wait forever.
He finished the apple, and dropped the core in a wastebasket. I wonder if it ever occurred to Annette to ask what I wanted. With the Sun now fully above the eastern horizon, he crawled through the sand to the clear water, and began his first day of exploring the nearby reef.
He enjoyed over an hour of solitary swimming, fascinated by the abundance and variety of sea life in the lagoon, before other guests of the resort made their way to the beach. Even then, the snorkelers stayed to the shallower reefs, while the scuba divers boarded boats and headed to more distant locations. While the noise of other swimmers carried to him through the water, the far reach of the lagoon remained blissfully deserted throughout most of the morning.
Shortly before noon, he hovered a few feet from the reef, watching a colorful shrimp foraging across a mossy rock. The crustaceans living around the Pod’s island were drab by comparison, and having a chance to see something that wasn’t dulled by years of familiarity was another reason for the vacation.
A flash of light startled the shrimp, and Timothy turned with annoyance to look for the source. A woman in snorkeling gear gave him a smile and a thumb’s up, gesturing with the camera she held in her other hand, before heading to the surface.
He kicked after her, easily reaching the surface before she did. “You could have at least waited until I was finished watching it, before you tried to take a picture of the shrimp,” he said, before she could spit the snorkel from her mouth.
“What shrimp?” she asked, slipping the mask from her face to hang around her neck. “I was taking a picture of you.” She grinned. “Oh. Unless you consider yourself a shrimp, in which case I’d have to wonder how big a merman has to be before he’s regarded as normal sized.”
There was life and wonder in her pale blue eyes, and staring into them, he completely forgot his aggravation. “I, uh-” he stammered, and felt the heat spreading across his face.
Her eyes went wide. “You’re blushing. Wait – you didn’t think I was referring to -? No, no, no! I meant your overall size, like head to toe – I mean tail.” Her face flushed a deep red of embarrassment. “I heard there was a member of the Pod here, and when I saw you floating there, I just wanted to take your picture because I’ve never seen one of you up close before, and I thought I might never get another chance to, and-”
“It’s okay,” he said. “I was just watching a little shrimp on the reef, and the flash of your camera scared it away.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were looking at something special. If you want, we could go back down there and see if we can find it again, and take a picture with my camera. It does video, too, if you’d rather.”
“That’s all right. I’ve got a whole week here, and I doubt it was the last of its species or anything like that. I expect to find a lot more fascinating stuff before it’s time to go home.” He looked around. “Are you out here by yourself? This is a long ways to swim out alone.”
She shrugged. “It doesn’t seem that far to me. My best friend was supposed to be my swim buddy, but her boyfriend decided to meet us here and now I’m the third wheel. It wouldn’t bother me so much if he wanted to do something more than just order drinks and lounge around the bungalow all day with her. I mean, the three of us could snorkel, but he doesn’t like to swim, and hates being alone.” She raised an eyebrow at him. “So, where’s your swim buddy? You’re a long ways out, too.”
“This isn’t a long ways for me. The crawl from my bungalow to the water seemed longer than the swim out here. All of us used to swim a lot farther than this, in colder water, looking for food, so this seems like nothing to me.”
“So, why do you assume it’s such a great distance for me?”
“Well, because you’re normal. You have legs.”
“Normal? I don’t get accused of being normal very often at all. I’ve been a competitive swimmer since I was ten years old, and I still regularly swim laps for more distance than this without fins.” She gave him a gentle poke in the chest with one finger. “Just because I’m not a mermaid doesn’t mean I’m not at home in the water.” She replaced her mask over her eyes. “Put up or shut up. If you’re that concerned that I need a buddy, then let’s go - unless, of course, I’m just too normal for you.” Placing her snorkel back in her mouth, she dove for the reef, giving a quick tug on his fluke as she descended.
He watched her make an easy kick towards a thick growth of coral, scattering a large school of small fish in her path. Normal? Weird is more like it. I came here to enjoy spending some time alone, not to baby-sit some weird, overconfident tourist. She glided smoothly near the reef, seemingly unconcerned whether he followed her or not.
With a short leap, he descended after her. Then again, who am I to criticize anyone for being weird?
To be continued.