St Ives – Sea change (a modern fishy fairy-tail)

Now

Sergeant Nance looked around the room which was full of ephemera, a watch, a purse, bank card, bag, everything, a person’s life in minutiae. Unwashed cups were in the kitchen sink and the overflowing rubbish bin gave off a strong smell of fish.

“Looks like nobody’s been home for days Sarge.” PC Watts’s voice came from the bedroom. “She had some rather interesting magazines in her bedside cupboard” he remarked as he came out of the room. “Always thought Andy was a dyke.”

“Do we still use words like that Constable? Try a little more decorum in future please!” she checked the room for herself, searching through the wardrobe. “Looking at these I would say she’s definitely the owner of the clothes on the beach.”

Five days earlier, a woman’s clothing had been found neatly stacked on Bamaluz beach just before the incoming tide had a chance to take them. Until yesterday there had been nothing to identify the owner until a concerned Ted Garth, landlord of The Gaff Cutter had asked if anyone had reported Andrea “Andy” Locke as missing, she was one of his bar staff and had not been seen since closing time five days ago.

“Well I didn’t put the clothes and her not turning up or work together straight away but it’s been playing on my mind so I thought I’d best report it.” He had said.

If only you had made the connection earlier Nance had thought, all that’s left of you is a pile of clothing, was it accident, suicide or something much worse? Now they knew who she was perhaps they could solve the riddle of her disappearance.

“Sarge?” it was Watts again. “Have a peek at this.”

Nance went into the bathroom to see an old iron claw-footed tub full of brackish water. “Smells like the sea?” she remarked, regarding the motor-driven device on the floor.

“It’s an air pump for a fish-tank, my dad’s got one for his aquarium but this one’s a real big bugger!” replied the constable.

The policewoman saw something glittering on the bathmat and transferring it carefully to an evidence pocket held it up to the light. “It looks like a large scale?” she thought aloud.

“That’s one big fish” said Watts.

Nance had seen golden scales like this some time ago while stood on a beach with the security guard from the art gallery. Both had agreed never to speak about what had happened again…

Five weeks ago

Andrea Locke was eager to go home. She’d had enough of drunk customers tonight with their loud and lewd remarks, normally she would give as good as she got, telling them if they were typical examples of men she was far better off without one. Occasionally she would get chatted up by a new customer and after politely refusing often got comments like. “Well you don’t look like one of them!” Andy wondered if she was expected to be burly, have short cropped hair and wear a boiler suit or something instead of being short and petite with long blonde tresses.

Jackie Tremayne was still at the bar, she liked him’ he was a good laugh and never gave her any trouble. She quite fancied his posh girlfriend even if she tended to go on about daddy’s money a lot. “You look fed up Andy?” observed the artist.

She looked at his knobbed fingers around the pint of Tribute. “Are you getting on any better with them now Jacko?”

Several months ago a man called Crispin Smythe had stamped on the artist’s hands from a combination of spite and jealousy before disappearing into the night with jewellery and credit cards belonging to the posh girl, a certain Priscilla Hartford-Jones. Smythe had turned out to be Smith, a confidence trickster with a history of violence wanted in the Midlands. No-one liked the maggot but he hadn’t been seen since that night but the expensive speedboat he’d bought with Pris’ money had been found adrift near Newquay.

“They’re healing well enough my lovely, I’ve started painting again and Pris’ has rented me a studio on Street-An-Pol, I’ve put all my old stuff in there and have already sold a couple of canvases to some emmets.” he leaned forward conspiratorially. “Don’t tell no-one Andy, but Pris’ is doing a spot of modelling for me.”

“Don’t you worry Jacko, your secret’s safe with me but since you’ve already told half the pub I don’t think it matters somehow?” she assured him with a smile.

Jacko left at the official closing time, Ted had decided against a lock-in tonight as a couple of the local coppers were drinking there, off duty of course. It was a clear starry night and the moon was full, most of the emmets had gone to bed so after clearing away Andrea decided to have one last look at the sea before going back to her small flat. She had no-one to go home to, Su Lin, her last partner had left some weeks ago.

Andrea descended the dodgy steps to Bamaluz beach and stood listening to the incoming tide, it would put a limit on the time she could spend down there. She heard a sound not unlike that of a dolphin’s call and spotted a white seal, its skin glistening in the moonlight. A white seal in St Ives? She thought, there were Common Seals aplenty here perhaps this one was an albino? As it came closer to the beach Andrea realised it wasn’t a seal but a woman, obviously skinny dipping. “Hey, it’s dangerous to swim  alone at night!” she called. The young woman started in surprise then swam away faster than Andrea had thought possible.

Now it was her turn to be shocked as a fish like tail flipped up when the woman submerged, Andrea stayed until the tide forced her to leave but the creature did not reappear.

Fliiik had often spied the blonde girl on the beach at this time of night standing there wistfully. Once she had brought another girl with her and the mermaid had watched curiously as they began to kiss but as they became more intimate she had swum quickly away, uncomfortable at spying on their lovemaking.  After that Fliiik often found herself thinking how it would be to hold the blonde girl in her arms, tonight however, having been spotted by her object of desire, she had fled in panic.

There was only one person who Andrea felt safe in telling about the strange sighting, he was something of an expert in local mythology. So next day, she sought out the Pendinas gallery “Jacko!” she shouted upon entering, he was obviously in the back.

“Who’s that?” asked a familiar female voice.

“Sounds like Andy from the Cutter.” he replied and he appeared at the door to the rear studio holding a paint stained rag. “And what can I do for you my lovely?”

Andrea was admiring one of the many mermaid paintings of mermaids he had for sale “I want to talk to you about these” she indicated the aquatic beauties.

“Looking to buy one are you?”

“Nah, bit expensive for me” she leaned forward. “Jacko, I think I’ve seen a real mermaid, looked a lot like her” she pointed to a particular painting.

“That’s one of them Jack based on his sister” said Pris’ coming from the back. I’ve never met her but apparently she’s a bit odd.” she was buttoning her blouse and noticing Andrea’s attention blushed guiltily and explained. “I’ve been sitting for a painting.”

Jacko winked so only Andrea could see. “Where did you see this mermaid then?”

“On Bamaluz beach last night.” replied Andrea.

“Last night!” he laughed. “What was she doing moon-bathing?”

“Look my love I have to go, doing lunch with Tabitha and the ladies” said Pris’ kissing him on the way out.

After she had gone Jack turned to the barmaid. “So you’ve been seeing merfolk have you, I know I sank a few last night but how many did you have?”

“I’m being serious you tuss.” she related the previous night’s events.

“Are you sure it was one of the sea-people?”

“Yes I’m bleddy sure, didn’t half look like the one Pris’ says is your sister.”

He shrugged. “That’s not the one, she got it wrong. Look Andy I’m not saying it was one of the sea-folk but I’m not saying it wasn’t. There’s a lot of truth in these old fisherman’s tales but I’ll tell you this for nothing, mermaids aren’t all sweetness and light like folks think, it’s said they used to enslave folk with their songs and there’s some who say they used to eat those who got on their bad side. If I were you Andy I’d stay well clear, just in case.”

“P’raps your right, you coming to the Cutter tonight?” she asked.

“Nah, Pris’ wants me to go to some fancy bash over Truro so I’ll have to give it a miss.”

“Okay, see you later then.”

“Ta-ra Andy, you remember what I said about the sea-folk!”

Andrea remembered what Jacko had told her, of course, she ignored it and that night before leaving the pub put on a bathing costume under her clothes then rushed excitedly to the beach. Unfortunately a bunch of young Emmets were already there shouting and throwing stones into the incoming waves so feeling disappointed, she walked along the path next to the cliff-side car park. On hearing the dolphin noises again she went to the edge to gaze out across the sea, Andrea thought she saw a brief flash of white but it had disappeared before she could register it properly. As she slept that night she dreamt of a beautiful girl with the face of Jacko’s painting swimming to her through the tide.

The next night Andrea got off an hour early and raced down to the steps almost bumping into a man with a small wet terrier proudly carrying a ball. He bade her a good evening and she replied in the affirmative before descending to the beach, where she sat waiting for the figure to appear. Andrea was not disappointed and on hearing the dolphin-like clicking she made sure the beach was completely deserted then removed her outer clothes to stand at the tide’s edge in her swimsuit. Sure enough, the white figure appeared so she waded in to waist height to see the mermaid as she surely must be bobbing gently with the waves. Unsure as to what to do she waved at the mysterious woman, who dived quickly below at her gesture. Damn, I’ve frightened her off again!

Suddenly the mermaid came straight up out of the water in front of her, it was impossible to tell her hair colour but her skin was almost luminescent in the moonlight. The apparition wore a shining chain with a single large pearl around her neck and the most amazingly pert bosom. Andrea gingerly reached out to touch her arm to see if she was real and was surprised to find how warm the woman’s skin felt.

The mermaid was who watching hwith almost birdlike movements of her head, said. “Hlllllo?”

“Hello my name is Andrea, do you live round here?” god I sound lame.

“Fliiik.” replied the mermaid.

Andrea, confronted by this mythical creature felt dumbfounded and was unsure what to do next. The mermaid suddenly moved forward and kissed her, flicking her tongue into her mouth, before swimming quickly into the distance with a beat of her tail. Andy touched her lips and smiled, she was the woman in Jacko’s painting. The one Pris’ said was his sister!

Andy barged into the gallery next morning to find him putting paint onto a mixing board. “You lying toad Jackie Tremayne, I saw that mermaid again last night and she looked like that painting there, your bloody sister!”

“Keep your voice down Andy, Priscilla is here!” he hissed.

“Too late for that Jack” Pris’ appeared in the doorway wrapped in a long shawl “I think it’s time for an explanation.”

He had avoided telling her the truth about Flick for so long and now she had heard it from someone else. He explained to them how his mother had been entranced by a merman when he was only a small boy and the resultant child was Flick. A mermaid while in the sea but once completely on dry land she would assume human form, the exchange between each being quite painful to endure. Pris’ mouth was almost a complete O after he finished but Andrea smiled wryly. “So you now know about my sister, how do you feel about me?” he asked Pris’.

“Don’t be daft, Jacko, I still like you but I want to meet her!” she demanded.

“I don’t know about that, I’ll have to ask her?” he replied with a look of concern.

Pris’ turned to Andrea. “Is she as beautiful as the painting?”

“Doesn’t do her justice” she said dreamily. “I’ll buy it I don’t care how much it costs.”

“It’s yours Andy, you can have it as a gift.” said Pris’.

“Hey how am I supposed to make a living if you give my art away?” Jack complained.

“Who pays for this place?” asked Priscilla pointedly…

The next day Jack took his fiancée to the special place where he met with Flick, far along the coastal path just past Porthmeor beach. It was broad daylight but there was no-one about and only a few knew of the hidden way down to the beach, sitting on a large rock he reached out with his thoughts.

“Well where is she?” she asked impatiently.

“You’ll have to be patient my lover, sometimes she doesn’t come at all.”

The tide was turning when a series of dolphin like clicks were heard and Fliiik popped her head out of the water. “K-k?” she asked.

“Bloody hell!” said Pris’ with a start.

“Flick, this is Pris’ she wanted to meet you.”

“Hlllllo Rssss” said the mermaid, she looked just like Jackie’s painting with long auburn hair, pale skin and beautiful green eyes but also had a mouthful of sharp pointy teeth like some predatory fish.

“She… she’s a real mermaid.”

“Well you wanted to see her.” said Jackie, Fliiik put on a display of aquabatics worthy of any of the old sea-life shows, which were now rightly banned, then swam off with a characteristic tail flick.

As the tide turned, Jack led a somewhat stunned Priscilla back up the cliff to buy her a stiff drink at The Gaff Cutter. Andrea wasn’t there as she was working the evening shift “I hope she doesn’t get too involved with Flick.” he informed her.

“Why?”

“Mermaids can sort of get under your skin.”

Now

Sergeant Nance looked at the painting of Flick with an uneasy recognition, she had met this creature before and watched it change from human to fish-woman. Morwenna read the signature “J.Tremayne”, oh Jacko, I should have guessed! She decided it was time to visit the artist renowned for painting mermaids.

“Good Afternoon Mr Tremayne” said the sergeant upon entering the shop.

He grinned. “Morning Morwenna, if you’re after my body I’m afraid I’m taken now?”

“It’s Sergeant Nance if you please Mister Tremayne.”

“Why so formal?” they’d once had a brief thing together, St Ives is a small place.

“Jack please, I’m trying to find out what happened to Andrea Locke.”

His face became serious. “It’s terrible her vanishing like that, I know she could be a bit caustic to some folk but I liked her.”

“So you don’t know what happened to her?”

“No!”

“Look Jack, can you account for your movements over the last five days?”

“What! Morwenna you surely don’t think I had something to do with this?

“You haven’t answered my question, Jack.”

“He was with me!” Priscilla stood in the door to the back studio clad in only the long shawl once more. “Are you accusing him of something? My father has a very good lawyer so take care, Sergeant.”

“I just wondered why she had one of your paintings in her flat, they’re fetching quite a bit now Mister Merman.” she used the name he was becoming associated with.

“Andy was here one day and she liked it so much I gave it to her, okay?” asked Pris’.

“Hmm and have either of you seen anything like this before?” she held up the clear plastic packet containing the scale.

“A big fish?” suggested Pris’.

“Nope.” said Jack unconvincingly.

“Know why she might have a bath full of sea water in her flat?” asked the policewoman.

“No idea.” They both asserted.

“I’ll be off then, Jackie, don’t leave town without letting me know. Oh and if he is painting your picture Miss Hartford-Jones make sure he doesn’t give you a goldfish tail.”

They watched her leave. “She suspects” stated Jack.

“We don’t really know the truth ourselves do we?” asked Pris’.

Five weeks ago

The night after Pris’ had met Jack’s half-sister Andrea found herself stood on Bamaluz beach in her swimsuit again, yesterday another load of annoying emmets had been there drinking, just because they come on holiday here it doesn’t mean they own the bleddy place, she’d thought.

Fliiik approached again making clicking noises and this time swam almost out of the tide to her. Andrea glanced around, peeled off her costume then walked naked into the water and the mermaid smiled, mouth closed so as not to intimidate the human.

“I don’t know what to say to you,” said Andrea. “You are so lovely.” Fliiik grabbed her face and kissed her slowly and passionately, Andy could smell the sea in her hair and the surprising smoothness of her skin, they embraced then began to explore each other’s bodies. Andrea had wondered if it was possible to be intimate with a mermaid but was pleased to discover it was very possible, Fliiik curled her tail around her legs to keep herself steady as they made love in the water. They lay in the edge of the tide afterwards holding each other. “I wish you could come back to my flat and spend the night but I couldn’t carry you all that way I’m afraid.”

Fliiik lifted herself on her arms and shuffled seal-like onto the beach before rolling on to her back hissing as if in pain, Andrea watching in horror grabbed Fliiik’s hand as her tail bisected itself all the way to her crotch, the two halves tightened to become shapely legs the scales fading into her skin as her split flipper shrank to become a pair of feet.

“Sssseee?” said Fliiik getting up on shaky legs.

Andrea split her clothes between them and remembering what Jacko had said, gave the mermaid her shoes to prevent the pavement hurting her feet. Then walking arm-in-arm, with Fliiik wearing her swimsuit and clumping in her shoes, they went to her flat to spend a blissful night together. When Andrea woke the next morning Fliiik had gone as had one of her dresses and a pair of flip-flops.

After meeting again the next night Andrea discovered the mermaid could write English in a fine copperplate script and at her suggestion, they brought up buckets of seawater to fill her old fashioned bath. Then she bought an air pump to oxygenate it so the mermaid could stay at her flat without becoming sickly for prolonged lack of the briny sea.

Jacko had turned up one day to discover why his sister wasn’t visiting so often or demanding things of him, as was her habit, and advised the barmaid of a special tonic that could be made for Fliiik which would help balance her electrolytes while on dry land and since the mermaid’s diet was almost exclusively raw fish Andy learnt to appreciate it so they could share meals together. She was becoming increasingly fed up with her job as a barmaid and disillusioned with people in general, her only close relative being a sister in Camborne who had not spoken to her since she came out. Andrea watched adoringly as the mermaid slept in the saltwater bath, they had been out for a meal in Newquay with Jack and Pris’ the night before, sushi of course, and realised she had fallen in love with a being out of a storybook.

Fliiik opened her green eyes, flipped her golden tail out of the tub, yawned and stretched.

“I love you Fliiik.” announced Andrea.

“Lvvyuo Nndy.” replied the mermaid.

“I wish we could be together all the time.”

Fliiik shook her head sadly for she had to return to the sea at regular intervals. There was a solution of sorts but it would require a great sacrifice from her lover. The mermaid pulled herself out of the bath and lay shuddering on the floor as she changed into a human being, it never seemed to get easier but at least it never got any worse. Walking into the front room on new legs she sat down next Andrea putting an arm around her and kissing her on the cheek.

Andrea’s eyes were full of tears “I hate it when we’re apart Fliiik, I know we belong to different worlds but still…”

The mermaid picked up a pen and pad and wrote in her beautiful script. “There is a way, but it will hurt.”

“How and what do you mean it will hurt?”

“Like it hurts me.” she wrote enigmatically.

“If it means we can be together I’m willing to do it.” Fliiik carefully wrote down in full what was required of her and Andrea read it carefully before nodding agreement.

A short drive out of St Ives was a dark shop that sold crystals and tarot cards to would-be witches and curious tourists but a room at the back was a veritable storehouse of genuine arcane wares. The Wiccan who ran the shop instantly recognised Fliiik for what she was and when her customers had paid for their smiling Buddha figure, turned the sign on the door to closed then took the pair into the rear chamber. After hearing their request the witch asked Andrea the prerequisite three times if this was what she desired while stressing that this could not be undone easily. Pris’ had stumped up a considerable sum without even batting an eyelid upon Andrea and Flick’s request, the money was used to buy a parcel of strange ingredients, that it was perhaps best not to ask too much about and four smooth olive coloured disks of pyromorphite with strange sigils engraved in them.

Five days ago

They waited until the next full moon as the witch had instructed then went to the beach where they had first met. It was deserted as they knew it surely would be and Fliiik, now in mermaid form fetched long lengths of flat seaweed from the tide. When sufficient had been gathered Andrea removed her clothes placing them neatly on a rock then had lain half in the tide while Fliiik used the seaweed to bind her legs tightly together from her ankles to her the tops of her thighs. She gazed into her lover’s eyes. “Ssssurre?” the mermaid asked with a look of concern on her face.

“I have never ever been so sure of anything.” stated Andrea, Fliiik placed the crystals at equal distances on her bound lower half and passed her a flask containing the liquid brewed from the pouch of unpleasant looking herbs and whatever else they were then she helped Andrea to sit up while she drank the foul tasting mixture. It had made her gag twice but she managed to get it all down before laying back on the sand. Whatever was in the potion must have been hallucinogenic as the full moon overhead changed colour, rapidly shifting through the colours of the rainbow while Fliiik’s face seemed to blur and snap back into sharp focus. Then it felt as though Andrea’s legs were being squeezed together in a vice, the flesh seemed to melting into itself. She lifted her head to see, in dayglow colours, her toes become webbed and growing longer, thinner, spreading out. The  discomfort became agony as her bones softened and started changin then she screamed aloud while Fliiik held her as tightly as she could.

Finally it was over and Andrea hazily felt the mermaid tearing the seaweed bindings from her body before half carrying half dragging her into the welcoming sea…

Now

“Do you think Flick had anything to do with Andy’s disappearance?” asked Pris’. “I mean all that money… Andrea said it would help them to stay together but perhaps she just conned me and ran off with it?”

“I did say you shouldn’t have given it to her without knowing what it was for, Pris’.” He looked at the half-finished painting of her sat in the peacock chair wearing nothing but an amber necklace. “Get dressed my lover we’re going to the meeting place. I’m going to call my sister.”

“But what if the police have put a tail on us?”

“Don’t be daft girl, this is Cornwall not Los Angeles…”

 

As they climbed down the hidden path a horrible thought came to him. “God I hope Flick hasn’t eaten her!”

“No Jack surely they don’t really eat people?” she was perturbed at the thought.

“Well… it has been known.” Flick had never said what she had done with Smith.

“You must find out, it’s unthinkable. She seems so sweet.”

They sat on the beach for an hour while Jackie repeatedly reached out to his half-sister, finally a figure came swimming up to them and from a distance they could see she had long blonde hair not Flick’s auburn locks.

“Hi Jacko, hi Pris’” said Andrea beating her golden tail to stay upright, Flick appeared out of the water next to her and gave a toothy smile.

“So Andy you’re a mermaid now?”

“My Jacko, you are observant aren’t you?” she replied. “Pris’, I can’t thank you enough, I don’t know how I can repay you.”

“It’s okay. I am having a spot of trouble believing this though.”

“Andy. How, how er are you coping?” Jacko didn’t know else what to ask.

“I’m happy we’re both happy, Fliiik swims better than me at the moment but I’m catching up.”

“And you’re alright just eating raw fish?”

“There’s more in the sea than just fish Jacko.” she opened her mouth to show that some of her teeth had fallen out and pointy replacements were growing in their place “I might find it difficult hold a human conversation when I have mouthful of fangs but that’s a small price to pay.”

Fliiik suddenly looked up, clicked something in an urgent tone and the two mermaids swam quickly off.

“I knew you had something to do with it Jacko!” Morwenna Nance threw something at his feet. “I found that on Bamaluz beach, it probably wasn’t the only one.”

Jack picked it up and examined it. It was a palm sized disc of olive coloured stone with a large sigil carved into it. “What is it?”

“Pyromorphite, a crystal of change or so I’m reliably informed. The blonde with the fish-tail is the missing girl isn’t she?”

Jack nodded.

“And the redhead would be your sister yes?

“Half-sister” chipped in Pris’. “See, I told you they’d follow us!”

“So what are you going to do, charge us with aiding and abetting a mermaid?” he asked smiling.

The Sergeant sat down on a rock. “I like my job Jacko and if I report this well… as I far as I can see it the mystery is solved. Andrea Locke is alive and well and has moved on to pastures new and that’s what I’m going to put in my report. Jack, can you promise me we won’t start having trouble with sea serpents sinking boats or giant octopuses dragging Emmets off the harbour wall?”

“I can’t promise that Morwenna, mermaids are my field of expertise.”

“That’ll have to do, I suppose” Sergeant Nance looked across the water to see the two white seals watching at a safe distance. “Barmaid to mermaid, that’s quite something.”