The Trampled Rose
Ok, so one time I posted a story on here that really bombed. It was called "Daughter of The Seas". However, over time, I have made some imporvements and completed the story. enjoy
June 16th, 1896
The red schooner was tossed from side to side, riding the rough waters of New England. It was early morning, time for checking the lobster traps which lay at the bottom of the sea, miles away from the coast. Luke Barker, owner of the vessel, stumbled out of his cabin, still suffering from a hangover the night before. Usually, he would drink during trap runs, and then sober up at night, so that he could keep an eye on his deck hands in the tavern. But the last week, he had begun drinking with his men, hence the hangover.
His men came upon their first trap of the day. A deck hand pulled out the gaff, hooking the trap by its floater, and then pulled up the rope to bring it on deck. It was the same process, repeated so many times that it pained Barker simply watching it. He was the best seaman in the harbor, and always hauled in the largest catch, giving him the money to hire “Paid Slaves” as he called them.
Something was different this time, the trap was heavier, and it required all three deck hands to lift it. Barker was ashamed of them.
“What’d you damsels do this time? Get caught on a patch of seaweed?” Barker scoffed. His deck hands fired back.
“If you’re so strong, then come and help us!” One hand shouted. Barker laughed, and then steadied himself against the side of the schooner.
“Nonsense! That’s what I pay you men for.” he said.
As they worked to pull up the trap, a bright flash of colors exploded in the water, nearly blinding the men. They let go of the rope. Luke Barker lunged for it just in time. He yanked back, trying to retrieve his catch. The trap was much heavier than he had expected. It moved in circles under the water, as if he were hauling in a fish. The deck hands joined him, and helped to pull the trap back to the surface. Bright colors glimmered in the sun, along with the tail of a fish, splashing in protest as it was pulled from the water.
The creature was beautiful. Four men shivered as they brought it on deck, not believing their own eyes. But the colors were not the source of the creature’s beauty; because the creature was half human.
I watched in awe as waves crashed against the cliffs, rolling backward out to sea. Breathing in the salty air, I leaned against the railing, looking out at the ocean beyond. The wick behind me was dull and unlit as it turned on its carousel, made irrelevant by the noonday sun. I stood enraptured; the New England coast was a beautiful sight during the summer.
Being the son of lighthouse keepers, Mother and Father always kept me busy with chores. That day, I was asked to clean the windows of the lantern room. Storm clouds were coming in, and Mother thought it would be best to have the beacon ready to guide the boats when they came home from checking traps.
Soap oozed from the rag as I smeared it across the glass, wiping down every inch, blotting out any unclean spot. This was not hard work, but it weighed on me heavily. There was no future in it, so far as I could tell. Mother caught me daydreaming, and yelled to me from the ground where she was washing our clothes.
“Abraham! Please scrub harder, do you want them to think our house is deserted?” Mother called. She used a gentle voice, but a firm in her words.
“No Mother.” I replied.
I scrubbed fiercely at the glass, hoping someday that chores would be over. But that would never happen, not as long as Mother was around. She relished work. It was her joy. I could never understand this, and never tried to. Because she enjoyed hard work, she thought that everyone else did too; especially me.
The lamp rotated inside the lantern room, creaking with age. I saw little need in cleaning the windows, for the beacon could shine through any barrier of filth. We all took pride in the lighthouse. It was the guide of lost mariners, and had been since the days of old. Most fishermen disregarded it, that is, until a storm or heavy fog came along.
As I was working at the windows, the first boat was coming back to town. It was a schooner, tearing across the rough waters. I recognized it. It belonged to Luke Barker, a rough fellow I had seen in the taverns many times. The red hull was unmistakable, Barker was always proud of its queer color, said it made his boat the prettiest one in the harbor. I smiled thinking of old Luke. He was an overbearing sort of fellow: loud when drunk, and cranky when sober.
Most of the fishermen spent hours away from home, sailing far out to sea as they collected traps, never returning until late at night. The lobsters were very scarce in those days. Luke Barker always hauled in the largest catch, and no one knew how he did it. When asked, he would reply ‘It is because no one will take the time to understand the ocean the way I do.’
From my high vantage point, I saw a flash of colors erupt on the red schooner, followed by the flopping of a strange creature on the deck. I heard Luke Barker yell at his deck hands, standing back from the thing, pointing at it with his finger. The men threw ropes over it, and swatted at it with gaffs, quickly subduing the unruly catch. I had never seen such beautiful colors before; they glittered in the sun, reflecting all the way to the lantern room. Then, Mother caught me slouching again.
“I don’t see you scrubbing Abraham.” She shouted. I knew that I had better get back on the job; Mother was very intolerant of laziness.
Just as I began scrubbing again, a mystery flashed through my head. What on earth would Luke Barker doing in town so early? It was only noon, and he never returned until nightfall. None of the fishermen returned until nightfall. The traps were far out at sea, and it took a full day to check them all. I had to ask someone.
“Mother!” I hollered mildly. Mother was raking my trousers across the washboard, slaving over her own bit of labor.
“Yes Abraham?” She replied.
“Look at the boat.” I said.
“I’m busy darling.”
“But Mother, what is it doing here? The boats don’t finish checking the traps until dark.”
Mother turned around, and a curious expression flashed across her face as she saw Barker’s boat.
“Ask your Father, he might know.” She replied. I could tell this occurrence puzzled her, as it did me.
Father was a wise man. Not much of a worker, but willing to put hard labor in when it was required. This made for an amusing relationship between him and my mother. They would constantly have arguments about Father pulling his weight. To me, it was hilarious when their same old spats would break out at dinner. Father could never stay angry for very long, and neither could mother, so they always ended their fights with a kiss and a laugh.
I opened the door of the lantern room, looking for my Father. Mother had kept him busy today, much to his chagrin. He was lying on the floor beneath the lamp, getting ready to change the wick, which had burned out. I could see that he was in a bad mood, mumbling to himself under his breath, telling himself that he would be the head of our house from now on, not Mother. I asked him my question.
“Father, that red schooner is coming back to town. What are they doing?” I asked. He continued to absent-mindedly mumble to himself.
“What?” He replied. Father had a way of making people repeat questions that irritated everyone.
“I said there is a boat coming back to town. What do you think it is doing back so early in the day?”
“Heaven knows Abraham. Could be they caught a Kraken in their traps.”
“They may have sprung a leak somewhere out by the fishing grounds. No need to worry Abraham.”
Leak or not, I had a feeling that Barker’s return had something to do with the strange creature on deck.
After finishing the lantern room windows, I asked my parents’ permission to go into the town. They granted it to me, also handing me a list of groceries that we needed from Cantwell’s store. I didn’t mind buying the groceries, it was a joy to leave the house and go into town.
Bellford was a good mile and a half from our lighthouse, hidden deep inside the bay. A lengthy walk, but Mother always said that exercise was good for a growing boy. It was a fishing town, and I had lived there all of my life; never crossing the county line. There was a mercantile, two taverns, a courthouse, a blacksmith, a newspaper, a bank and several small businesses. But this was only half of Bellford. On the other side was the harbor, where most of the town resided. After all, it was a fishing community.
As I arrived, the town was especially deserted. No one was walking the sidewalks, and no one was in the buildings that I could see. I strode into Cantwell’s mercantile. The owner, Arthur Cantwell, was sitting behind his counter, taking an inventory of all merchandise. Beneath his balding head was a pair of new spectacles, resting low on his nose as he counted barrels of flour. The storekeeper was very meticulous.
“Good Afternoon Mr. Cantwell.” I said. He looked up quickly, brightening with a smile.
“Ah, Hello there Abe. Just finishing up the inventory here, a shopkeeper’s duties never end!” Cantwell said happily. He was one of the few townspeople that I liked.
“Much easier than lighthouse keeping.” I replied.
“I doubt that very much. Minding a store requires my brain as well as my back.” He scribbled on a piece of paper. “So what brings you here this morning?”
“Mother and Father sent me for groceries, I have the list here.”
“Hmmm… It’s a rather long one. Are you sure that you can carry all of it back?”
“I can make trips if I have to. Anything to keep me away from Mother’s chores.”
Arthur Cantwell bounded across the store, grabbing items on my mother’s list. I stood in the middle of the mercantile, mystified by the disappearance of the town. If they had all gone to the harbor, it must have had something to do with Luke Barker’s colorful creature. Besides, he had only been gone for two hours. I had never known a fisherman to come home after checking the first traps.
Cantwell gave me an old potato sack to carry the groceries in. I was relieved at not having to carry the load in my arms. The sack was half full when a young, ink-stained man walked through the doorway; I had met him only once.
He was Clinton Foles, a hard-nosed newspaper reporter from Portland, who had come to Bellford to start his own paper. But I shouldn’t say that he was a man; for he was only a few years older than me. Foles quickly made enemies in town; his negative articles about the fishermen’s rowdy parties in the taverns had the town divided. The fishermen despised him. The women and businessmen adored him.
“Hello there Arthur!” Foles said as he walked to the counter. “Where’s the town run off to?”
“Who knows, Abe here is the first customer I’ve had all morning.” The storekeeper replied. Foles helped himself to a free peppermint.
“Careful there Clint, the mints are a penny each.” Cantwell cautioned. The newspaperman slapped a penny down on the counter, threw the mint in the air, and caught it in his mouth.
“Strange, that’s what it is. Never seen anything like it.” Foles said. I decided to join the discussion.
“You saw something?” I asked. Foles turned to face me, running his finger along a reporter’s notepad.
“Yes. As a matter of fact, I did.” He turned sideways again to get Cantwell’s attention. “You know that ruffian, Booker, or some name like that?”
“Barker?” I suggested.
“Yes, Barker, that’s it. His deck hand came into town an hour ago, yelling something about a creature they found near the traps.”
“Is that so?” Cantwell commented, listening intently.
“Absolutely, I thought it was strange. The whole town followed him to the harbor to look at it. If I hadn’t been busy fixing the press, I’d have gone to have a look myself.”
“A creature?” I asked.
“I have no idea what the man was talking about, but it must have gotten the town excited, they haven’t come back yet.” Foles furrowed his brow as he pointed at me. “Have I seen you before?Have I sH”
“Yes, at the festival last year. You interviewed me.” I replied nervously.
“Oh yes, I recall that. Mrs. Honeycutt had a lobster crawl up her dress. That was the only entertaining part of the night.”
We laughed for a moment, and then Cantwell handed me my sack full of groceries. I threw it over my shoulder, preparing to make the long walk home. But before I left the store, Foles stopped me.
“Say, umm… Albert?” he asked. I turned, facing the newspaperman.
“Abe.” I replied. Foles could never remember names; he was always getting the townsfolk’s names mixed up in his paper.
“Yes, Abe, of course.” He handed me a notepad. “Today the press needs to be repaired in time for tomorrow’s edition, but I need to cover the creature story. Could you go to the harbor for me and find out what’s going on?”
“Certainly! I’d be happy to.”
“Good, it is probably nothing, just a dead carcass that Barker found on the water.” Foles began walking back to the gazette office. “Simply write down what you see and I’ll try to make a story out of it.”
I was thrilled. Gripping the pencil and paper tightly, my life of boredom was soon to come to a temporary end. I had no experience in journalism, but I had read enough Bellford gazettes to know what made a good story. The words would come to me, rolling through my head like musical notes.
It was not a long walk to the harbor, there was even a paved street which led to it. After all, the fishermen were the lifeblood of the town. Or, to put it more accurately, they were the lifeblood of the taverns.
The sounds of the Ocean were coming to me as I came near to the harbor. Gulls cackled in the sky as waves sloshed against the docks. This was a different kind of sea than I was used to; it was a nasty, foul-smelling one. There was little beauty about this place.
People passed me as I headed for the harbor. They carried on their faces expressions of shock, talking with one another excitedly. Several recognized me, grabbing my arm and telling me ‘Abe, you must see it to believe it. It’s fantastic!’ They pointed with their fingers toward the docks, telling me to find Barker’s red schooner, where the creature was locked in a cage. I was now excited myself. If it had to be locked in a cage, then it certainly wasn’t a carcass.
The second I set foot on the docks, stench hit my nostrils. Fishing harbors always carried the scent of decay, rotting flesh, and bait. This made me thankful that I lived in a clean lighthouse.
Up ahead, a crowd of people gathered around Barker’s schooner, pointing at the ground and murmuring among themselves. Luke Barker, big as a mountain, and drunk as a sailor in San Francisco, saw me and beckoned me over. I would finally see the creature for myself.
“Back away everyone! Here comes that Walden boy!” Barker yelled. He violently pushed people away, laughing as he did it. Some even fell into the water.
One of them was Mabel Harvey, the town gossip, and wife of the Mayor. She was indignant, screaming at Barker, calling him everything but a four-letter word. The old sailor simply laughed in response, pouring the rest of his whiskey on her head as she treaded water.
“Have a drink with me woman!” He shouted. As she pulled herself back onto the dock, Mabel whipped out a sewing needle, and plunged it into his backside.
Evidently, Barker was not drunk at all, because he screamed in pain, tossing the bottle into the water. Everyone exploded in laughter.
“That ought to teach an oaf like you about how a lady is to be treated!” Mabel growled with a red face.
“You’re no fun woman! Go back home and boss your husband around.” Barker declared.During this scuffle, the crowd cleared, giving me a slight vision of the sea creature.
I ran across the dock, creaking boards as I went, wanting to get a glimpse of it. The cage was already in sight, but it was too small to contain anything dangerous. This disappointed me. Rather than a fierce Kraken, I would probably find a bizarre fish. Not much of a news story. It was no wonder that Foles would rather spend the rest of his day fixing the press.
As I approached the cage, I could see that it was some kind of fish, with scales and a tailfin. It was beautiful. Each scale shimmered in the sunlight, changing colors as they sparkled. I was spellbound by the beauty of it, stunned by the show of colors beneath a cloudy sky. But as I moved closer, I saw the other half of the fish. From waist up, it was the body of a woman.
My heart jumped into my throat. Lying before me in the cage was a thing of legend, a mythical creature that existed only in fairy tales. There she was; living, breathing, and made of flesh and blood. I wanted to touch her, I wanted make sure that she was real. Her beauty was magical.
The mermaid’s blond hair flowed down to her tail, gracefully falling from her head. As she awakened, her eyes shined brightly, flashing the color of teal. Her breasts were covered by a patch of purple and green scales, which ran along her sides down to her fish tail. She had no jewelry on, except for a bracelet on her left wrist. It was made of iron, with a golden band on the inside, carrying an inscription. The words were unfamiliar to me. They were obviously written in a foreign language.
Sitting up inside the cage, the mermaid looked into my eyes, which were frozen with awe. She was afraid and breathed frantically, gripping the iron bars with her hands. I watched as the damsel looked at the people around her, and then dropped her head down, sobbing heavily. Compassion flowed through me. I reached out my hand toward hers, but as soon as the mermaid saw it, she leaped back, eyes wide with fear. Her scales lit up in a thousand different colors. She tried to crawl away, but was blocked by iron bars on her flank. I tried to calm her.
“Don’t be scared, I won’t hurt you.” I said as I offered my hand once again. The mermaid relaxed, leaning closer to the middle of the cage.
She looked at me, puzzled at my behavior. I spoke to her in a soothing voice, offering my hand again and again. Her teal eyes were sparkling, she seemed to be on the verge of trust. I was almost there. The crowd of people sat in silence, watching as I befriended the mythical beauty. The mermaid still remained stiff as a board, not quite ready to trust me. Desperate, I reached my hand inside the cage, trying to remain gentle.
“Careful boy, this one bites.” Barker blurted out. This startled the mermaid, but she still had her eyes on me.
The people laughed at his joke, but I was not defeated. I reached my hand back into the cage, trying once more to earn the sea beauty’s trust. This time, she was more comfortable than before. I sat still on one knee, begging her with my eyes.
The mermaid reached for me, placing her delicate hand in mine. Her skin was a smooth as a newborn baby’s. Warmth spread from her hand into my body, melting my insides. Something was coming from the mermaid’s soft grip, something magical, and something that changed me forever. I was overwhelmed by love that we felt, and did something bold.
I brought the mermaid’s hand to my lips, kissing it behind the knuckles. She gasped, and then let out a quick breath, shocked at my action. Her hand jerked out of mine. The people around us were too amazed to laugh, they murmured, and then let out a soft applause. The mermaid jumped to the back of her cage, cradling her kissed hand, rubbing the spot where my lips landed. She could not understand what I had done, and was trying to make sense of it. As I watched her tilt her head quizzically, a large hand slapped me on the back, knocking the breath out of me.
“Atta boy Walden! None of us have been able to come near that devil’s concubine.” Barker laughed. He was jolly like a drunk, but seemed very sober to me. I had never seen him so happy without alcohol in his belly.
Everyone there applauded, stunned by my ability to kiss the mermaid’s hand. Evidently, she bit and scratched everyone else who tried before me. Several of the men had cuts on their faces, and one of the ladies had a bite mark on her hand. It was then that the magnitude of what I had just done finally set in. Jane Honeycutt, wife of the Reverend, and assistant town gossip, thought very highly of me.
“That was extraordinary! You’re a lion tamer!” She exclaimed. I looked down in embarrassment, not sure if the mermaid would enjoy being compared to a lion.
“No… She figures I’m too homely to be cruel.” I replied. Jane waved her hand in dismissal, still ecstatic with gossip material.
“Nonsense! I must tell your parents, they’ll be proud.” Jane began saying goodbye to some friends as they went home. “Clint will need to put this story on the front page!” As she said this, I was reminded of the errand that I had promised to do for Foles.
I whipped out the notepad, walking over to the cage once again. There was no way to describe such a beautiful creature. The pencil trembled in my hand as I attempted to write something down, but no words came to me. Luke Barker saw my pencil and paper, making his happy mood vanish. He ripped it from my hands, launching it into the ocean.
“That scrawny newspaperman isn’t going to steal my glory!” Barker yelled. Now he was back to being his old self.
“Hey! I was supposed to write an article for him!” I replied. Barker didn’t budge.
“Well you’re not going to now! So get on home if you have nothing better to do. This mermaid’s mine.”
I began walking away, puzzled by the entire experience. So many questions raged through my head. What did Barker intend to do with the mermaid? Why was he so jolly but yet sober? What was the magical feeling coursing through my veins when I held the mermaid’s hand? Was it love? What would Mother think of my long absence?
The latter question was weighing on me more, for I had been gone far too long with the groceries. I was certainly in for an earful when I got home.
I wiped paint across the side of the lighthouse, dribbling in places. My hands ached from the hours I had spent applying a new coat of paint to the lower part of the lighthouse. This was my punishment for staying in Bellford too long. Mother was forgiving, but she wouldn’t let my laziness go uncorrected.
The ocean was beautiful that day. All of the clouds had disappeared, leaving only sunshine to take their place. I enjoyed the scenery; it seemed as if everything in life were less serious. For instance, the work I was doing didn’t bother me for some reason, instead, it felt good. My imagination had been running around for hours, trying to sort out fact from fiction. Mermaids were real, and if they were, then what other sort of legendary creatures existed in the depths?
Mother was coming around the other side of the house. But someone was with her. It was probably her and Father coming to make sure that I was getting the job done. Two buckets of paint had been used, and I had given the old lighthouse a beautiful coat. Therefore, I welcomed their critique of my work.
When they came around the side, I saw a man who was not my father. Skinny, young, and dressed in gentlemen’s clothing was Clinton Foles, the newspaper man. I didn’t know what to make of it. He seemed nervous, scratching the back of his head, wiping sweat from his face. Mother introduced us, again.
“Abraham, this is Mr. Foles from the gazette, he wants to see you.” Mother hollered. I climbed down the ladder, being careful not to fall down.
“Your painting is excellent dear.” Mother said again, walking away to leave us alone.
“Thank you Mother.” I replied. Foles appeared ready to talk about something urgent.
“Did you happen to get that article written? I desperately need it for next week’s edition.” He said in his laid-back manner. I gave him the only answer I could.
“No, I didn’t. Barker took the paper and pencil from me.” I replied. Foles looked out at the waves trying to assess the situation.
“That’s what I thought would happen. I guess you see now why I sent you instead of going myself.” He explained. Revelations shot through my head like comets.
“So the press wasn’t broken.” I suggested.
“No, that was just an excuse. Barker has been trying to wring my neck for weeks.” He looked down at the rough waters beneath the cliff. “Ever since that last complaint article.”
“Shall I try again?”
“No, don’t risk it.”
We stood there in silence, watching below as waves crashed into the rocks. Foles ripped his derby hat off, smacking it on his right knee. Something was bothering him.
“Something strange is happening Alfred.” He said, mixing his names wrong again.
“What do you mean?” I asked. As if anything could be stranger than the mermaid capture.
“Well…. I never grew up around the fishing business. But when a fisherman sells his boat, I know there has to be a good reason.”
“Someone sold their boat?”
“Yes. Barker was waving the bill of sale all over town.”
“Barker sold his boat? His red schooner? That’s upsurd! That schooner was his pride and joy; he would never let it go!”
“Well, he did.”
“But how will he make a living?”
“I don’t know, that’s what I can’t understand.”
“You should ask him.”
“He’s been locked up in the taverns filling himself full of whiskey, and he’s surrounded by ruffians who’d love nothing more than to work me over. Barker is untouchable as far as I’m concerned.”
“I could go into town tonight, they won’t hurt me. Perhaps I can report what he tells me to you.”
“I’m not sure, those boys can become quite vicious when drunk.”
“Nonsense, they know good and well that it is not safe to harm a lighthouse keeper.”
I finished my painting work on the lighthouse, and was free to go into town, as long as I stayed out of trouble. It was evening, and Barker was going to be living it up in the Red Gull tavern. He liked that place, because it had plenty of room inside to fight. One other tavern sat across the street, a small one where most of the businessmen drank. But the fishermen definitely preferred Red Gull.
I arrived in town, this time it was not so deserted. Ladies and gentlemen walked the streets, taking a stroll as the sun went down. Several of them went into the café, and some stood in the street talking with friends, but most hovered around the Red Gull entrance.
Something was different tonight, because the front was being renovated. A new sign was being nailed above the swinging doors. It read, ‘Daughter of the Seas Tavern: home of the mermaid.’
The people outside the Red Gull simply looked at the new sign, refusing to go inside, because entering a tavern might make them a target of gossip. One of them was the Reverend and his wife, Jane. They saw me, and made sure that I didn’t go unnoticed.
“Abe Walden, what a pleasant surprise.” The reverend said. His wife waved her hand, smiling politely.
“Oh, hello Reverend. How do you do Mrs. Honeycutt?” I replied. A few queer moments ensued.
“I’m afraid that your mermaid’s locked up dear, they won’t let anyone see her except for patrons.” Jane said. I knew I wasn’t a patron, but I was going to see her somehow.
“I’m sure that I’ll see her eventually.” I answered with a sly smile. This was going to be difficult with the Reverend and his wife watching me.
“I wouldn’t be so certain, they close at midnight, and I don’t think they allow boys inside.” The Reverend added. He had just made it all the more difficult with his last remark.
“Luke Barker’s a friend of mine; he’ll make sure I get to see her.” I said.
The couple and I made small talk for a few minutes, discussing the upcoming Church picnic among other things. Time was running out. No alternative remained except to rush into the tavern in plain sight. It would tarnish my image, but I had to see what had become of the mermaid.
As the Reverend and his wife began talking with someone else, I busted through the swinging doors. The smell of unclean fishermen hit my nostrils, stunning me for a moment. Most of them hadn’t bathed in weeks, and it showed in their scent, making me hold my breath as I walked through the crowd inside. Several seamen noticed me, pointing at me and mumbling. They wondered what a boy was doing in a drinking establishment.
Luke Barker was sitting at the center of the bar, pouring whiskey down his throat. Several men sat beside him, patting him on the back as if he had just won a prize fight. I knew he could give me some answers, so I went straight toward him. But before I arrived, a large hand grabbed my shoulder, sending shockwaves of fear through my body.
“Sorry son, but we don’t allow boys in here.” The stranger said. I turned around, and saw a huge figure, wearing a menacing black beard to match.
“I didn’t come here to drink, just to see the mermaid.” I pathetically replied. The stranger shook his head, and pulled me away with his arm.
“The mermaid’s for paying customers. And you ain’t one.” He replied gruffly. I tried one last resort.
“But I’m a friend of Luke Barker.” This seemed to mean something.
The stranger pulled me back through the tavern, past tables of drunken fishermen, laughing obscenities at me. He took me over the Barker, who was pouring back another bottle of whiskey. It required a few moments to get the big man’s attention.
“Mr. Barker, Can I see the mermaid?” I asked, gazing into bloodshot eyes. Barker then yelled so loud that it startled the whole place.
“Well! If it isn’t the mermaid tamer! Why didn’t you come earlier boy?” he shouted, everyone gave a cheer for me.
“Do you mean I’m allowed in here?” I asked.
“Of course you’re allowed in here, it’s my tavern, and I’ll do what I want with it.” He took another swig of whiskey. “Bring the other boys in here so they can have some real fun for a change!”
“You own this place?”
“That’s right boy: lock, stock, and bottle.” Barker threw the empty bottle at his bartender, shattering it on the wall. “I’ll get you next time bar keep!”
“So that’s why you sold your schooner…”
“I don’t need no boat! I’ve got thousands coming to me, thousands! So I’ve decided to sit at this bar and do what I’ve always wanted to do…” He opened up another bottle. “Drink myself to death.”
“Where is the mermaid Mr. Barker?”
“Oh don’t tell me about the mermaid. She’s no fun at all. Won’t drink, won’t kiss, and won’t talk.”
“I would like to see her.”
“Get on over there; see if you can do something with that cold fish-woman!”
“I’ll try. Thank you.”
Luke Barker slumped over the bar, passing out immediately. There was no telling where the mermaid was, so I turned to the stranger beside me, wearing a puzzled look on my face. He pointed at an iron cage hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the tavern. There, lying in a pool of alcohol and filth was the mermaid, as beautiful as ever.
I was horrified. Living in a cage was one thing, but living in a tavern was another. The scales on her tail weren’t colorful like before, but were faded to a dull grey. She seemed lifeless; barely breathing as her chest lightly rose and fell. Something was wrong.
Standing on an empty table, I was able to reach her. The mermaid didn’t wake up when I tapped on the cage door. I rattled the iron bars, trying to open her eyes. As I did this, her head tilted to one side. When she saw me through the cage however, she paused. I reached my hand through the door, trying to repeat the scene at the docks.
The mermaid scooted farther back in the cage, and furrowed her brow as she tried to remember me. Those teal eyes looked at me with suspicion, as if she were nearsighted, or blinded by a heavy fog. I pulled my hand back, deciding it was time to formally introduce myself.
“I.. am… Abe….” I said clearly, pointing at my chest. To make sure she understood, I kissed my own hand to bring back a memory. The mermaid furrowed her brows again, and the plunged her palm into my chest.
“Abe…” She repeated with a smile. Her voice was soft and soothing. I absorbed the blow, and then pointed at her.
“Your name?” I asked. She didn’t understand my words, but the meaning of my hand gesture was clear.
“Noresha…” The mermaid replied, softly hitting her chest as she hit mine. She was weak, something was happening to her.
I reached my hand inside the cage, and it was immediately enveloped by Noresha’s soft touch. The warmth in her hand the day before had gone. Her complexion was much paler, and her breathing labored. Noresha was sick. I kissed the mermaid’s limp hand, putting a smile on her face. The beauty gripped me tight, not wanting to let go, but I had to get away.
Pulling my hand from hers, Noresha let out a cry, beckoning me to stay. She held her arm out through the iron bars, reaching for me. It seemed as if she were trying to tell me something. I stepped back up on the table, much to the amusement of the stranger, who was entertained by her fondness for me.
“You must be awfully special to her boy; she just scratches and bites everyone else.” He said with a chuckle. Alcohol fumes filled my nose as he spoke.
Noresha grabbed my wrist as soon as I stood up, and ran my fingers through her hair. It was dry as a bone. So dry, as a matter of fact, that it nearly crumbled as I touched it. Her hair was lush and beautiful the day before, and now it was nearly falling from her head. The mermaid was trying to tell me something. She was dying, and needed the cure. Noresha needed water.
I put my hand on the side of her neck, caressing her soft skin with my thumb. She looked me in the eye, pleading for help. I had to save her.
“Noresha, I will take you back to the ocean. I don’t know how, but I will.” I whispered into her ear. She couldn’t understand a word of it, but she did understand the tone of my voice. I was going to help her.
Climbing down from the table, I realized what had to be done. Somehow, some way, I would have to break Noresha out of the cage.
Luke Barker slumped over the bar, draining coffee by the gallon. I guessed he was going to try his hand at being sober again. A very bizarre man sat next him, with a suitcase in hand. His very appearance shocked me, so much that I stopped walking just to look at him. Hair covered his entire face, hiding his eyes, and covering his nose. He looked like an animal. This disturbed me terribly. The fellow seemed to be discussing some sort of business with Barker’s drinking pals, waiting for the tavern owner to sober up.
After this odd encounter, I walked out into the cold night, where few people still lingered. Most businesses had closed down, except for the taverns. Decent folk had gone to bed, while the rough fishermen got wild on hard liquor. Only one light remained lit on the other side of the street. It was a lantern belonging to Clinton Foles, sitting in the window of the Bellford Gazette. Evidently, Foles was expecting me.
I dashed across the street, splashing mud on my pants, hoping to avoid being seen coming out of the tavern. The young newspaperman was staring at me through the window, gripping his pencil with anticipation. I would have some interesting things to tell him, and some things to ask of him.
The wheels clanked and cluttered as they rolled over the rough terrain. I snapped the reins, hoping I could get the horse to run faster. Noresha sat in the back of the buckboard, completely unconscious, and fading fast. She absorbed the bumps in the road, rocking back and forth across the wagon. It was early in the morning, and the sun was just coming up. I had worked my daring mission in the dark of night, freeing the mermaid, with the assistance of Clinton Foles.
After reporting to him, I asked the newspaperman to help me free Noresha. He argued with me about it being the same thing as stealing. However, after showing him the cruelty with which Luke treated her, he agreed to help me break her out of the tavern. The cage belonged to the local blacksmith, Horace Tannehill, who was angry at Barker for not returning it. After pleading with him, he gave us a key to open the lock.
Later that night, we realized that I would need transportation to get her to the water. Arthur Cantwell, the storekeeper, had a buckboard and horse kept in his stable out back. It took an hour of argument to get him to help, but in the end, he agreed to let me use his wagon. Cantwell said there were dangerous supplies that needed to be unloaded first, but I dismissed the warning and moved carefully.
I was bringing Noresha to a special place. It was a quaint beach, a place where I had gone many times after a hard day of chores. Only a mile lay between us and accessible water, and I hoped I could get her there in time. Noresha was half-dead, barely breathing, if at all. Knowing this, I snapped the reins even harder, sending the horse into a gallop. Rattling axels screamed in protest, for the buckboard was old. As I made my way to the trail that led to the beach, I saw ten men waiting for me, loaded with weapons.
My heart sank. Luke Barker stood in the middle, aiming a shotgun at my chest. I pulled the reins tight, stopping the wagon. He was accompanied by all of his drinking friends from the tavern, who were fiercely loyal to him. They carried harpoons, gaffs, pistols and every other sort of weapon there is. Standing next to Barker was the hairy-faced man from the tavern, still carrying that briefcase. Clinton Foles was there with them, with a lifeless look in his eye. I knew what was about to happen.
Barker let out a loud laugh, looking at me in disgust. He shook his head, and waved the shotgun barrel at my face.
“Your little trick didn’t work so well boy.” He said with acid in his voice. I was frozen with fear, my plans to save the mermaid had just been shattered.
“Wha-“ I stuttered. Barker was breathing hard, seething with anger.
“That’s right, I’m going to tear you to pieces when this is over! You could have costed me a fortune!” He screamed. His face was red, I thought he was about to pull the trigger.
“Let the boy go Barker, I’m after the mermaid.” The hairy man said. Now I recognized him, he was the wolf man from a circus that came through town a year before.
“What are you going to do with her?” I asked, my voice trembling.
“What do you think? She’s priceless!” Barker yelled.
“That mermaid is a gold mine. I represent the circus, and we have a fifty thousand dollar reward posted for anyone who captures a mermaid. Mr. Barker is the original captor.” Wolf man explained.
“How did you know I would be here? Did he tell you?” I asked, pointing to Foles.
Foles fell on his face, a dagger shoved inside his back. The newspaperman’s shirt was covered in blood. He was dead. Barker laughed.
“Your mama and pappy are gonna end up like him if you don’t step out of that wagon, right now!” He screamed.
“The mermaid’s dying! We must get her to the water or she’ll be dead!” I cried. The Wolf man grinned.
“She’s worth the same to us dead or alive. People will pay the same price to see her dead carcass as they will to see her swimming in a tank.” He said coldly. Terror swept through me.
There were some boxes left in the buckboard, and I decided to throw them as a last resort, for I was outnumbered ten to one. So, pretending that I was stepping out of the wagon, I grabbed a box, and launched it at Luke Barker’s shotgun.
The box exploded into flames, sending shockwaves through the air. Men were running away, screaming and cursing. Pieces of bloody flesh were all that remained of Barker, and his gun was blown to metal chards by the blast. My horse reared, frightened by the smoke and noise. The box contained bottles of nitro glycerin from Cantwell’s store, which exploded when I threw them. It was a miracle.
Realizing my opportunity, I pulled on the reins, trying to get the horse to calm down. The other men scrambled for cover, knowing what the wagon contained. Through the smoke, the horse began pulling me down the trail, where Noresha’s last hope resided. I could see the beach ahead, and snapped the reins harder to get there faster. The mermaid appeared dead.
Two rough men re-gained their composure, and chased me with harpoons. They ordered me to stop, running down the trail. I closed my eyes and ears as I raced toward the salty waters. Wheels rattled along the rocky trail, nearly setting off boxes of nitro. This kept the ruffians at bay.
As I hit the sand, the buckboard slowed down to a crawl. The two men gained on me again. Snapping the reins even harder, my horse did not respond, but only treaded through the sand. I had to do something. Noresha laid still in the back, oblivious to the danger around her. I would save that mermaid if I had to sacrifice my life.
My attackers were still coming for me, finally making it to the beach. I pulled up on the reins, stopping my horse. Hopping into the wagon, I picked Noresha up in my arms, carrying her the rest of the way. She was heavier than I thought. I also realized that she wasn’t breathing. A harpoon landed behind me in the sand: they were closing in fast. I ran with the mermaid, diving into the tide. Frigid waters shocked my body, daring me to go further. I gritted my teeth and pushed forward. I ignored the butchers behind me.
They had reservations about entering the water, knowing that it was horribly cold. I surged ahead through waves, carrying a lifeless body in my arms. She was dead. Although my sacrifice would be in vain, I felt that it was my duty to protect her. The water was up to my knees, numbing my legs, and slowing me down. Noresha’s tail dragged in the tide, not helping me any. She was helpless now. But I would return her to the ocean anyway, because I loved her.
The two thugs now entered the water, chasing after me and threatening me with their harpoons. I held the mermaid’s body tight, refusing to let her go. The water was now up to my chin, sloshing into my mouth and nostrils. Noresha was entirely submerged. Turning around, I saw the men coming for me, harpoons raised. One of them aimed for me, and threw the harpoon, letting the weapon zip through the air, coming right for my throat. I released Noresha’s body, prepared to die. Time slowed down as the harpoon soared over the tide, twirling as it lunged toward my neck.
Suddenly, I was underwater, missing the harpoon point by seconds. Something pushed me down, saving me from certain death. Whatever it was, it had just saved my life. The thing began towing me by the arm, flying through the water with amazing speed. It was most likely a shark, but sharks would never stalk such frigid seas. I would find out soon enough
If I didn’t get air soon, I would drown. So, I struggled against the thing, trying to get back to the surface. The thing seemed to understand, and took me there. When I erupted out of the water, I saw a beautiful face close to mine, with lush blond hair floating on the water. Her teal eyes looked into mine, and my heart fluttered. Noresha had been saved. Not only did she survive, but she had just saved my life. I wanted to kiss her on the lips, but knew that she would be frightened by it.
A net enveloped us, entrapping me and the mermaid on all sides. Turning my head, I saw a schooner behind us, pulling the net in. Noresha was terrified. She splashed in protest, and worked to free herself from the trap. It was no use. We had been captured. The net was pulled onto the boat, surrounded by fishermen with gaffs.
The owner of this vessel motioned for the others to stand aside, making way for him to get a look at us. He was Daniel Crabtree; Luke Barker’s fiercest competitor. For being small in stature, he had a nasty temper, and thought that he was the toughest man on earth. I cringed, knowing that my hopes of escape were over. He laughed, and sliced open the net with his knife.
“Looks like I should be very grateful to you Walden, you have made me the richest man in Bellford.” He said. I was too terrified to speak.
Crabtree’s men grabbed Noresha, carrying her to the wall of his cabin. One of them pulled out a knife. I sobbed, begging them to release her. But I knew that it was hopeless. Crabtree laughed, he was amused by the whole affair.
“Any farewell words, boy?” he asked chuckling. I finally found the strength to answer.
“You are all monsters!” I shouted through tears of anger. The deck hands laughed along with their captain, finding amusement in my compassion.
A knife sliced through the mermaid’s jugular, squirting red blood all over the schooner. She sprawled to the deck, life leaving her body with every pint. Men stood around us in a circle, overjoyed at the reward money they would receive from the circus. The smiles on their faces showed bliss at the thought of never having to work again.
In the midst of heartless revelry, I lunged for Noresha, grabbing her hand, holding it as she died. As we laid on the blood-stained deck, the mermaid used her last strength to pull my hand to her lips, softly kissing it behind the knuckles.
It has been fifteen years since those events. Now, I bathe in sorrow as I gaze up at the shriveled skeleton once called Noresha. Today, she is the biggest attraction of the Turner circus freak show. I come to the event every year in Portland; not to stare at her, but to pay my respects. Folks give twenty-five cents per person to view the mermaid’s remains, most of whom demand a refund.
They refuse to believe that the skeleton is real, but I know differently.
A boy is sitting next to me, gazing up at Noresha’s body. He is spellbound, just as I was when I first saw her. The youth holds on tightly to the seat of his chair; curiously watching, trying to sort fact from fiction. His imagination runs wild, dreaming up an image of what the carcass might have looked like in the living form.
“Mister, do you think the mermaid is real?” he asks. I have been waiting for such a question a long time.
“Why, yes.” I reply. The boy brightens up.
“My mother says that it’s a fraud.”
“Your Mother is wrong.”
“So do you think it’s a mermaid?”
“No,” I pause, choked with emotion as I looked up at her lifeless body one last time. “It’s a trampled rose.”
Abraham P. Walden
Last edited by Calvin1093; 06-11-2012 at 05:26 AM..