Here’s a short story that I’ve tried entering into several contests. It didn’t make the cut for any of it, so I figured I’d just post it and not worry about it anymore. Enjoy.
Back to Sea
“Would you keep up, Mickey!” Lisa snapped, even as she continued her quick stride along the rocky beach.
Her boyfriend Zane snorted. “Let’s just leave him,” he said, speeding up slightly.
It’s easy to move fast with such long legs, Mickey thought resentfully. Scrawny even for an eleven-year-old, he huffed and puffed as he jogged to keep up with his teenage sister.
Mickey hated it when his mom made him come to the beach with Lisa. Their mom claimed she just wanted to drag him away from his PS4 once in a while, but everyone knew how nervous she was about Lisa spending too much time with her older, deadbeat boyfriend. At nineteen, Zane possessed a lot of attitude and not much else. He also appeared to be forever between jobs. Luckily, Lisa would be leaving their small town on the Oregon coast for the University of Washington in Seattle come the fall, but in the meantime their mom was terrified Lisa’d wind up pregnant.
Hence why Mickey was so frequently forced into the role of chaperone.
Out of boredom, Mickey picked up a long piece of driftwood, immediately adopting it for use as a walking stick. This slowed his progress even further, but he kept it anyway. He liked how the object felt in his hand, its surface eroded smooth from the strong current of the salty water.
“God, could you be any slower?” Lisa blurted out in frustration.
“Sorry,” Mickey muttered, even as he stifled a sigh. Lisa and Zane remained well ahead of him, leaning in close to each other and whispering. The poor boy felt like such a third wheel.
Mickey stared off at the crashing waves in longing. It wasn’t that he hated walks on the beach. Far from it. As a child who’d been born and bred so close to the Pacific, Mickey held a healthy affection and respect for the ocean. He loved it. He just wished his sister allowed him more time to observe the tide pools or explore around the larger boulders. Even so, he felt determined to enjoy the walk, and it was a beautiful, if overcast, day.
Strong winds propelled tall waves against the base of cliffs further up the beach as the tide started coming back in. Soon, the ground beneath their feet would be under several feet of water. Mickey closed his eyes for a few moments and breathed in the sea’s air. There was a very distinct odor to the ocean. Aside from sand and salt, there was a freshness to it that could never be replicated further inland. The ocean contributed life into everything around it, as the cries of seagulls and the many scuttling crabs could attest. Like Mickey, they belonged here.
His own distracted thoughts came to a halt when he ran into his sister’s back. “Hey!” Mickey said, rubbing his nose. “Why’d you stop?”
Lisa said nothing—an unusual reaction from her—so he looked around her narrow back to find out what was going on. When he did, Mickey’s heart raced even as all the air left his lungs in a rush.
The creature before them was like nothing he’d ever seen. Tangled in a heavy net and weighed down with fishing sinkers of various sizes, a giant tail flapped frantically against the rocks and sand of the otherwise deserted beach. Muscles rippled beneath the thick blubber as it strained to free itself.
No scales, Mickey thought. There should have been scales. All the stories said half-fish. Yet, the bottom half of the creature more closely mimicked the gray, rubbery skin of a dolphin. Predictably, the animal’s most noticeable feature were the two arms currently tearing at the netting. A swathe of dark, poorly cut hair shielded the merperson’s face, but when it turned on its side, Mickey caught a glimpse of the creature’s chest. A blush rose up his neck and into his cheeks as Mickey identified her as a girl. Definitely a girl.
Despite her resemblance to humans, the mermaid appeared alien to Mickey’s young eyes. Her silvery torso tapered wide with more blubber and heavy muscles, and her spindly arms felt out of place on such a thickly developed body. Webbed fingers ending in sharp nails clawed continuously at the source of her trapped state. The mermaid’s every movement attested to her status as a wild creature, and one which now resided in a most unnatural environment.
Abruptly, her frightened eyes emerged from beneath wet hair, and they briefly met Mickey’s mesmerized gaze. In that moment, they didn’t share so much a connection as Mickey suddenly understood her fear. She didn’t belong on land.
As she stared up at the three humans in front of her, this ocean creature struggled in greater earnest, tangling herself even further. The mermaid whimpered pitifully. At this rate, she’d never be free.
Mickey had already taken an unconscious step closer, vaguely considering how he could assist the mermaid back to safety, when Lisa said, “Quick, Zane, grab it!”
“What?” Mickey gasped, snapping immediately out of his trance and back to reality. Zane was already moving closer, his hands outstretched.
“Please don’t—” Mickey said, leaping forward and grabbing Zane’s arm.
The older boy shook him off easily, first knocking the stick from his hands before pushing him to the ground. Mickey landed hip-first. Tears sprung to his eyes as his pelvis hit a rock hard, practically making his teeth rattle.
“Get off me, you twit!” Zane shouted. “Don’t you realize what this thing’s worth?”
“More than my tuition,” Lisa agreed with a grin.
“Hell, you probably wouldn’t need to go to college,” her boyfriend pointed out to her. Wasting no time, the two of them maneuvered to either side of the mermaid.
“If you grab its tail, I can go for the arms,” Lisa said.
“We probably won’t even have to drag it far. Do you think it’ll die out of the water?”
Lisa shrugged, rolling up her sleeves. “No idea. I bet we could get a news station to buy it either way. Or maybe science will pay for it.”
Her boyfriend pulled his phone out of his pocket. “Let me just take a quick selfie first, while it’s still alive—”
Without considering the consequences, Mickey sprung to his feet, snatched up his good, solid piece of driftwood, and slammed it against the side of Zane’s fat head with all his strength. After a gratifying thwack, Zane fell to the ground, dazed, but he quickly began to roll back to his feet. Mickey hit Zane in the face with his stick, breaking his nose. When Zane still kept moving Mickey hit him two more times until his sister angrily wrestled his weapon out of his hands.
“What are you doing?” she hissed. “You might kill him.”
Mickey was shaking in reaction, but that didn’t stop him from lifting his chin to say, “Better him than her.”
Lisa shoved him roughly out of the way and knelt by the twitching Zane.
Uncaring about either Zane or Lisa at the moment, Mickey rushed to the mermaid’s side. Thin arms flung out as he tried to get closer. After about a minute, the mermaid seemed to realize his intent, and she stopped struggling. Her long fingers proved strong, while his were nimble untangling the net. Their hands brushed numerous times, and he nearly jumped out if his skin every time from the cool, glidingly smooth touch. Just as he freed the last length of rope from the mermaid’s left arm, Mickey was jerked back by the back of his hoodie. “Are you insane?” Lisa asked. “Tell me you’re not dumb enough to free this thing.”
Mickey said nothing in reply, and she shoved him aside. Instantly, he grabbed her by the arm and sank his teeth into her wrist, holding on with everything he had. His sister kicked and pushed him, but Mickey’s uncharacteristic bout of strength did not fail him. Finally, though, Lisa kicked him in the stomach, and Mickey gasped for air, the salty taste of blood in his mouth. Yet, he smiled when he saw the nets lying on the beach.
The mermaid was gone. All she’d left behind were creases in the sand, and the tide would soon erase even that evidence. He’d accept whatever punishments loomed in his immediate future. He’d succeeded.
When Lisa noticed the creature’s absence, she slapped Mickey across the face, making his cheek sting. “Why did you do that?” she shouted.
Mickey stared past her chin, noting with subconscious relief that Zane had recovered enough to sit up, a sleeved arm pressed against his broken nose.
“Why did you do that?” Lisa repeated her question. “We could have been famous! We could have been rich! Why?”
Swallowing deeply, Mickey met his sister’s angry gaze. “She needed to go home,” he said simply. “Why didn’t you help her?”