By T.K. Wilson
Boris Bjornson lived by himself in a little cottage by the sea, high up on a cliff. He was as skilled a fisherman as any captain could wish for. He was tall and amazingly strong; he could haul, and he could mend, and was a miracle for predicting the weather. However, he wasn’t the most sociable fella. Poor lad, he was left an orphan all at once when a sudden gale took both his father and his mother. Rumor had it that his mother was a mermaid, but Boris always laughed that off. Only a few of the villagers came to visit his isolated house, namely young Iona MacLir and her widowed mother, Sophie, and the parish priest.
Boris stood looking down at the sea from his cliff when he heard a voice winding its way up to him from down below. “Hey Boris!”
He looked down from his vantage point to see a young girl coming up the track from town, her long red hair waving in the wind from the sea. She towed a cooler behind her as she climbed up the hill, calling and waving.
Boris ducked into his house to freshen up a bit. He took a brush to his curly auburn hair, and changed into a more presentable shirt. He sighed as he looked at his reflection in the mirror. Heavy jaw, heavy brows, broad shoulders… he never considered himself the winner of “Most Handsome Man” in St. Eulalia. At least he got pretty eyes from his mother, blue as a calm sea, as well as a halfway-decent singing voice. Not that it mattered to Iona. She was only fifteen, and she loved him as a brother.
There was a knock at the door.
“Come on in, Iona, it’s open!” Boris shouted.
Iona’s soft face, surrounded by tangled curls, came in first, followed by her small frame.
“Hi, Boris!” she said, cheerfully.
“Mom sent me with some food for you, I’ll just go put it in the freezer.” Iona slipped past and into the little kitchen. “Great day, Boris, this place is a mess!”
Though Iona scolded, she didn’t mind cleaning… too much. “Yeah, sorry. Work’s been nuts lately. Lots of crab!”
“Mr. Lawson hire you again?”
“Yup, we’ve been hauling in more crab than he’s ever seen.”
“And Mr. Lawson’s been around a long time!” he heard Iona shifting things around in his bedroom, likely gathering up his laundry. “I’ve been hearing at church all the fishermen saying they’ve been having the best luck. Crab, sea bass, eels, haddock, cod, even swordfish!”
“We’ll have a good Christmas this year if this keeps up.”
Iona emerged from the bedroom with a laundry basket balanced on her rolling cooler. She came to Boris for a hug. “I’ll see you later, I’ve still got some homework to do.”
“I’ll see you later, Iona.”
Boris watched her head back down the hill, again singing as she descended, making the lonely hill ring cheerfully. He looked around his little home, all his parents ever had. He often wondered about inviting the MacLirs to move in with him; he missed having company sometimes. He also gave thought to getting married… but he wasn’t good with girls his own age. Every girl at church gave him the heebie-jeebies! He was certain nobody would want him, anyway.
Late one night, Boris went down the cliff to jig for flounder in the shallows. There was a ladder on a winch he used to get up and down the cliff when the day was fine and was also used as a rescue point when needed. There was a cave under the cliff where clams and other shellfish could be found, but this was Boris’s special charge. Everyone had to come and ask to take the fish from there. It was a uniquely dangerous place, which everyone avoided as the tide was coming in.
Boris sang under his breath as he cast his line for the flounder, listening to the lonely sound of the waves echoing in the cave. It was almost like he could hear voices in the cave, whispering and muttering. As he towed his lines, pulling in several lovely flounders and putting them in a cooler, he came close to the cave. Then he realized there really was someone else in the cave! He pulled out his waterproof flashlight and entered, looking for whoever was in there.
“Somebody in here?” The voice stopped. “Hello?” He sloshed toward the low shore and found himself tangled up in a net.
“Who left this in here?” he muttered. He set about getting untangled and heard a splash. “Hello, I said?!”
He raised his flashlight and finally caught whoever it was. It was a girl, with long brown hair that fell down her back and across her chest, and almost translucent white skin. But she was no human; she had a purple and green tail where her legs should be. The scales ran all the way up her body, ending just below her collarbone.
Boris finally got himself loose and dared a bit closer to her. She let out a yelp and dove for the water.
“Hey, wait! I won’t hurt you!” But she was gone, hidden by the rocks. Boris realized maybe the mermaid had taken the net to catch food for herself and set it carefully back into place. “I’m sorry I messed up your net. I’ll go now. I’m sorry for scaring you.”
Boris hauled his catch up to clean and have a good hard think about what he’d seen. A mermaid. A real-live, honest-to-John mermaid! Maybe what everybody said about his mom was true… Maybe she had been a mermaid.
The next morning at low tide, Boris made his way back down the cliff with some of his flounder to look for the mermaid. He hoped he hadn’t scared her into leaving. He came slowly into the cave and spotted the mermaid on the shore, looking up at the ceiling of the cave. He called out “Excuse me?”
The mermaid sat up and looked around, as if she couldn’t see him. “Stay back! Stay away!” she called, producing a sharp rock knife.
“I won’t hurt you.” Boris dropped his voice a bit, trying to sound gentler. “I brought you some fish.”
She lowered her knife a little. “How do I know you won’t hurt me or try to take me away?”
“I… don’t know how to assure you that I won’t. But I’m not here to hurt you, I just wanted to give you some flounder.”
She lowered the knife into her lap. “Okay. Come ahead.”
Boris waded toward her. She was beautiful indeed, her tail glittering amethyst and pearl in the light from the mouth of the cave. Boris found himself mesmerized by her delicacy, her round face and lips and long brown hair. She hardly looked real. He offered her the fish, which she fumbled for, then took. It was then Boris realized she was blind.
He slowly sat on the sand by her side. The mermaid felt and smelled the fish, then dug in with a will. Raw, of course, but then, he supposed there was no way to cook in the water.
“How did you get all the bones out?” she cried in amazement. She washed her hands and face with sea-water, then sat up again.
“Well, we land people don’t like bones anymore than you sea people, it seems.”
“Nobody likes the bones but a shark, my mom likes to say.”
“What’s your name?” Boris asked.
“Cordelia. What’s yours?”
“My mom also told me that land people are dangerous. That they like to take merfolk and stick them in tanks.”
“I suppose that would be true, if we’d ever caught one.”
“You don’t have merfolk stuck in tanks?!”
“Nope, sharks, killer whales, dolphins, fish, sure. But no mermaids, unless they’re human girls in costume.”
Cordelia cocked her head on one side. “Human girls want to dress up as mermaids?”
“Believe it or not, we’re quite fascinated by you. I came down here to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. Nobody believes that mermaids are real up there. They’re just stories, and I’m sure you people are happy to have it stay that way.”
“Yes, my uncle says the fewer landfolk believe in merfolk the better.”
“How big of a family do you have?”
“There are five in my pod. It’s not safe for me in the open sea, so my family left me here, and they come during high tide to visit me.”
“Yeah, this cave is completely underwater when the tide is in; what a good hiding spot.”
And so it happened that Boris and Cordelia became friends. Everyone noticed the difference in Boris’s demeanor. The rumors flew that he had found himself a girl, and good on him. No matter how Iona and Sophie begged to meet the girl who had so ensnared his attention Boris didn’t give away Cordelia’s secret, he would never let her come into danger. As she was blind, when he came into the cave he whistled to tell her it was safe. Cordi, as he called her, even let him meet her pod, who were all pleased there was one good human.
One day, around midsummer, a shiny scientific boat sailed into St. Eulalia’s harbor. She was captained by a man by the name of Dr. Lucas, who had come to investigate the abundance of fish around this noplace town in New Jersey. He was a small, sallow skinned man with a suspicious air. Boris and Iona didn’t like him one bit. He managed to get on board several of the boats in turn, including the crabbing boat “Grace O’Malley”, which had hired Boris for the season.
Boris hauled up crabbing pots within sight of the cave as Dr. Lucas examined the catch.
“My goodness, this must be some sort of record!” he gushed.
“Never seen more crab in all my born days.” agreed Mr. Lawson.
Boris looked up in time to see the flash of Cordelia’s tail as she swam back to her cave.
“What, are you nuts, Cordi?” he muttered.
“Did you say something, Mr. Bjornson?” asked Dr. Lucas.
“Nope, no sir,” Boris recovered.
The young man arrived with part of the day’s catch to share with his mermaid friend. He whistled his two note call and entered the cave. Cordelia sat on the sand waiting for him, holding her arms open.
“Boris, I heard you singing on the boat today! You didn’t tell me you could.”
He knelt down on the sand and let Cordelia hug him, a hug he returned gently. “Yeah, but Cordi, you can’t come out toward the boats again, okay? There’s a stranger in town, a scientist guy. I don’t trust him, something about him seems slimy.”
She blinked her sightless eyes. “You think he might try to capture me?”
Boris nodded. “Yeah, I’m worried about you. I wish I could bring you up to my house, where I could watch over you.”
“I think that’s a bit much.” she joked.
Cordelia was silent for a bit. “Boris, may I feel your face? I want to know what you look like.”
He shrank away. “Cordi, I’ve never been considered much of a looker.”
“Will you let me judge that for myself?”
“Yes.” Boris blurted before he could change his mind. “Go ahead.”
Cordelia’s hands carefully fluttered their way around his face, he stayed perfectly still. She smiled “What a strong jaw you have. And I’ll bet your eyes just sparkle. You must have to beat the girls off with a stick!”
“Actually, no. Girls give me a wide berth, I’m no good with them.”
“Really?” Cordelia was surprised. “You’re so handsome!”
She still had her hands on his face and felt the burst of warmth when he blushed. She giggled and hugged him again.
“You’ve been such a good friend to me.” She rested her head on his shoulder. “I wish you could stay forever.”
“Me too. I wish I could bring you into town and meet Mrs. MacLir and Iona. But I can’t, we’re just too different.”
Early the next morning, Cordelia heard a distinctive whistle and sat up. “Boris?” She was immediately concerned when he didn’t answer. “Boris?”
She suddenly found herself in a net. “What? Boris?! This isn’t funny!”
“So this is what Bjornson was hiding from everyone?” said a strange voice.
“Who are you? What do you want? Let me go!”
“Lucas to Lance, I have a specimen, get the boat around the cove.”
“Understood,” crackled a voice.
Cordelia cowered down, her mind racing. Boris wouldn’t betray her, that she knew. This man must have followed him down. He roughly dragged her into the water, then into a rowboat.
“Now we just have to get her aboard, which shouldn’t be too hard, then get out of this forsaken town.”
“You can’t take me away from here, my pod will chase you and sink your ship.”
“By the time they realize you’re gone, we’ll be far away.”
Over the noise of the sea, Cordelia heard the sound of the winch and Boris singing “Leave Her Johnny.” There was one chance left. She threw herself hard into the side of the boat, it wobbled, almost overturning.
“Hey!” shouted the stranger.
“Boris! Help!” screamed Cordelia.
Boris stood on the shore, watching the rowboat make its way across from the cave. That was odd, nobody ever came down here, not in a rowboat, and whoever it was was doing a lousy job of steering it! Look at him wobble all over the-
“Why, that slimy little-!”
Boris flew back to the ladder, climbing as fast as he could. When he got to the top, he saw Iona coming with a load of clean laundry.
“Hey, Boris! I’ve got your-”
“No time, come with me!”
“What is it, do we need the rescue crew?”
“Don’t ask questions, just come on!”
Iona followed, leaving the basket on the grass by the path. The pair bolted down the hill to where Boris kept his truck, which he seldom used. He started the vehicle, and pulled away, kicking up gravel.
“Boris, what’s with all the fuss?”
“It’s a long story, but suffice it to say the girl everyone’s been whispering about is in danger and it’s the fault of that little worm scientist guy. He’s hopeless with a rowboat so I’m thinking we can cut him off from his big boat.”
Iona’s eyes went as wide as saucers. She looked out to see the scientific boat pulling out of the harbor. “Uh-oh, looks like he called for help.”
Boris cursed and slammed his foot on the gas. “Hang on, kiddo!”
The truck screeched to a halt in the harbor parking lot. Iona and Boris jumped out of the truck and scanned the harbor for a boat they could use to chase the scientist. They spotted one of Boris’s friends, Allan, fueling up his speedboat.
“Allan! Hey, Allan!”
He looked up at Boris’s shout. “Hey, Boris, what’s up?”
“We need your boat, please, there’s no time to explain, it’s an emergency!”
Allan had never seen Boris so frazzled. “Sure, but-”
“Thanks man!” Boris and Iona jumped into the boat and put on life vests. The girl sat in the prow, while Boris sat in the back, carefully steering out of the harbor before opening the throttle. Iona held on for dear life as they bounced across the waves. They passed the large boat on their way to the cove, beating it out by yards, and came to a stop beside the rowboat.
“You’re not going anywhere, Lucas!” he barked.
“Mr. Bjornson, you can’t stand in the way of progress.” said Lucas, coolly.
“Progress? What’s he talking about, Boris?”
Boris seethed. “Lucas, I’m not a violent man, but if you hurt a hair on her head, you’ll be sorry.”
“You’re in love with this creature, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” Boris growled, “And I won’t let you hurt her.”
“You cannot be serious.”
Boris jumped into the water while Iona grabbed the rudder. Boris swam under the boat and grabbed the other side. With a mighty tug, he overturned the boat dumping Lucas and Cordelia out. The mermaid wriggled free of the net and swam for the surface. Lucas and Boris surfaced not far away.
“Boris?” cried the mermaid, unsure where to go.
“Here I am, sweetheart!” She felt Boris’s comforting presence as he towed her away through the water.
“Boris, look out!” yelled Iona.
He turned, seeing Lucas behind him with a knife. Boris released Cordelia and grabbed the skinny man’s wrist, giving it a sharp twist. Lucas screamed and dropped the knife.
“You’ve broken my wrist!” he howled.
“It’s the least you deserve!” Boris barked.
“I’ll tell everyone that mermaids are real! You won’t stop us!” Lucas shouted.
“Yeah, but who’s gonna believe you?”
Iona stared in wonder. “Your girlfriend is a mermaid?”
“I’ll explain later.”
Allan had spread the word that Boris and Iona had gone off to the rescue with no word about what was going on. The rescue squad, the priest, Mrs. MacLir, and most of the sailors in town had rolled up to help if needed; and they were quite frankly curious.
Iona looked out from the boat. “Oh, great, half the town’s out there waiting for us!”
“For Pete’s sake…” muttered Boris. “I can’t just throw her over the side, she can’t see.”
“If these people are your friends… I trust them.” said Cordelia.
“Okay. If you think it’s best.”
Boris sailed Allan’s boat into dock, looking up at the gathered crowd.
“Are you alright, Iona?”
“I’m fine, Mom! We just got.. It’s a long story.”
Boris gently picked up Cordelia and carried her up to the dock. A gasp and murmur went up from the crowd.
“What have you brought us, Boris?” asked Mrs. MacLir.
“A new family member. This is Cordelia, everyone.”