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it feels like there's oceans between you and me

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Jersey
(@jersey)
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 11
Topic starter  
In the crowded depths of the dark tavern, the old man raised his cup to his lips and observed his audience. A younger man with bright eyes looked most attentive, while a few others glanced at each other disbelievingly, laughing outwardly to cover the sounds of their chairs scraping to inch closer. 
“She was beautiful,” He continued, “The perkiest tits you’ve ever seen,”

The hand motion that followed drew raucous laughter, but when he continued in a somber tone the hushed silence resumed. “And she sang the most beautiful song, and I couldn’t help but listen. I don’t remember the words, just the way she looked when she sang ‘em. Probably wasn’t even English,”
He took another swig from his cup, his audience now forgoing all illusion of disinterest and waiting patiently for his next words. 
“But when I leaned in to kiss her, that pretty smile turned to fangs, razor sharp. She almost pulled me over but me mate stabbed her and she swam off, back into the depths.”

The candle light cast menacing shadows on the repugnant scar covering what remained of the man’s right cheek. The wound resembled exactly what he described, a semi circle of flesh removed and scarred from the points of sharp teeth. 

“So you’re saying it tried to eat you?” The young man asked in obvious horror, eyes trained on the scar.

“Well she certainly wanted a taste!” The old man responded darkly, silencing the younger man who retreated back to his beverage. The other men looked around nervously, as if hoping someone within their ranks would dispel such a foolish notion. 

No such man stepped forward. 

Image

The open ocean, for the most part, was a very quiet place. Blue as far as the eye could see, until suddenly there was a glimmer of movement, a quick flash of reflected light. The large Bluefin Tuna swam unperturbed, ignorant to its rapidly approaching fate. Then suddenly the ocean alighted in color, several creatures sweeping up from the depths. Powerful, vibrant tails the color of gemstones propelled them towards their victim. The fish had hardly time to even react before it was overtaken, the water pooling red as teeth ripped and teared. 

The largest mermaid, with a tail longer than the average man was tall, was first to consume her fill. A few others of slightly smaller size did not hesitate to placate their own hunger. There was one mermaid however, much smaller than the rest, who waited patiently for scraps that she never received. There was nothing but skeleton by the time the others had finished. They seemed unconcerned that their smallest sister had not been able to eat and swam away indolently with full bellies. 

The little mermaid began to follow her sisters reluctantly until she stopped, a curious look over taking her features. While the rest of the pod moved back to the depths, she hesitated before beginning a slow ascent to the surface. The growing amount of moonlight reflected all the tints and hues of her opalescent tail, transforming the inky darkness that otherwise surrounded her into a small kaleidoscope of color. 

When she breached the surface, curiosity etched deeper into her beautiful face. Though she had never seen a boat with her own eyes, her much older sister had described one or two in passing. Boats and the creatures they carried were to be avoided. Long ago mermaids had dwelled in the shallows and lagoons, using their powers of seduction and song to lead man astray. But man had progressed far more than mermaid, and in response to the development of guns, weapons, and nets the mermaids took shelter in the expanse of the open ocean. 

Despite the cautionary tales of pirates and sailors, most mermaids had very little interest in the flesh of men and often stayed deep below the surface. Any attack by a mermaid was likely a result of the creature’s boredom or desire for revenge. Men, as a general rule, were not worth the effort. The mermaid herself had never actually seen a man and despite her sisters’ offhand dismissal and disdain, her interest was piqued.
She swam cautiously forward, allowing only her piercing eyes to remain above the surface of the water. The man, or what she at least assumed was a man, was muttering quietly to himself some incantation. The boat he was in did not fit the description of grand size her sister had given, in fact it hardly seemed to have room enough for him. A part of her wished to swim away and return to the relative safety of her sisters, but another part of her pressed forward, urging her on until she was at the very side of the small wooden boat. With upper body strength that seemed to contradict the leanness of her limbs, she pulled herself up the side of the boat gently. Her tail still moved back and forth, keeping her so that her chin just barely cleared the edge of the row boat.

She observed the man in the dark of the night quietly, his eyes skewed shut and his mouth moving so rapidly she couldn’t help but be transfixed. She liked the way his voice sounded, almost melodic in its repetition, and the way his pulse thrummed loudly in her ears. The language he spoke was different than the sharp clicks her sisters used to communicate, but the same magic that gave her singing such a hypnotic, persuasive quality allowed her to instantly understand. 

“Are you lost?” The mermaid asked quietly, her voice accented and lilting. “Your boat is rather small,” She observed, seemingly entirely oblivious that he was probably acutely aware of that fact.

 

   
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Mira
 Mira
(@mira)
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Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 120
 

Never before had his identity—priest—rang so foul as it did on the lips of the tavern denizens tonight. It struck him like an oath in church, but he supposed it was to be expected in a pirate haven. Rarely did the men and women he had willingly come among do anything but curse, mangle, and maraud. They had even taken his Christian name, "Gabriel", and replaced it wholesale with their least favorite word—

"Priest."

There it came again, and there was no denying he had come to respond to it. Gabriel turned on his barstool with a wince, but quickly recovered the open, patient expression of a man of the cloth. He just wished his identity hadn't been reduced to something found at the bottom of a spittoon.

"What can I do for you, my son?" Of course the question sounded ridiculous the moment it left his lips. In polite society he might have been called "father", but the craggy seafarer who address him now was many decades his elder. The salt of the sea had cured every observable inch of the man's hide, until he looked as if he had far surpassed any mortal milestone Gabriel was familiar with. Methusalah, he thought. The man could have been fifty or a hundred or a hundred and fifty years old. The long scar that raked his face was its own horror.

"You like old sea stories, eh, priest?" The man listed into the bar beside him, although that might have been more to do with a pair of sea legs acting up than overindulging in liquid vice. "I know it's not our wine or our women what tempt you from your lodgings this late at night."

Gabriel was acutely aware that the eyes of the tavern were trained on their exchange. Even the pianist, who had few fingers and no musical gift that Gabriel could discern, had paused on his bench; when his eyes locked with the priest's, he grinned. He was missing more teeth than his instrument.

"I do," Gabriel agreed. "That is, I enjoy some stories." He could not in good conscience lie, even to his present audience. "Though there is one book I prize above all others."

"What 'e means is 'e prefers even his women of the sea to be fully-clothed, don't you, priest?" someone volunteered from across the room. This raised a lascivious cackle from the women present.

"Does he prefer women?" another voice demanded.

"Let's find out!" A busty prostitute (sans bustle, he was soon to discover) frothed into his lap before he could fend her off. In his attempt to escape off his stool in the opposite direction, another woman crowded in close with a giggle. He felt a third pair of taloned hands petting his hair from behind.

"Priest!" the seafarer barked in the face of all this. He was not a man who liked the attention to be elsewhere. "I could use your God's help with something!"

One of the women released his collar, and it snapped up and hit him in the face. "God preserve me, yes!" he exclaimed. "I mean… the Lord's ways are mysterious, but I can certainly lend you a hand in gaining his attention, my son." This offer was quite strenuously made, as his shirt was now open and greedy hands appreciatively explored the rare, smooth plane of his chest. Ragged-nailed fingers wound through the leather thong around his neck and scrabbled at his cross pendant like bottom-feeding crabs. The seafarer signaled for him to follow, sneering, and Gabriel sank like a scuttled ship beneath the ladies to escape out the tavern doors.

He was immediately dismayed to find this wasn't a private excursion; in fact, it appeared to be an epilogue to the old man's story. The tavern's other patrons followed them out into the night and down toward the docks. Gabriel took advantage of their night-shrouded parade to smooth his ruffled hair back into place and refasten his collar. He was determined to keep up appearances and exist as more than just an example of religious piety among them. It was a momentary lapse into vanity lost on everyone, including himself.

The drunken promenade came to a halt at the end of one of the docks. The wild, astringent smell of the ocean knocked the clinging sour perfume of alcohol from their ranks. One man toward the back pitched over sideways and fell off the dock, but the splash he made barely drew attention. Everyone was focused on what the seafarer—and what Gabriel—would do next.

"Me dinghy," the old man introduced them. Gabriel nodded, as if he knew the first thing about boats and their types other than that they floated on water. "Some spot troubles her. Think your God can fix it it?"

"Our God can certainly have a look."

Silence fell. Gabriel remained rooted to the spot. Someone near him cleared the phlegm from his—hang that, her—throat.

"… right." He shifted his heavy robes back and climbed down into the dinghy. The pitching of the waves beneath the bottom of the boat turned his stomach, but he steeled himself against the unfamiliar sensation. His audience made their various trades by the sea; if he had any hope of gaining their respect, he had to hold queasiness at bay. "Um… yes. What seems to be the trouble?" he asked. His voice sounded as shaky, and frankly green, as he felt.

"She's sprung a leak," the old seafarer deadpanned. Gabriel went rigid, his entire body screaming in revolt. The audience clustered like barnacles along the dock laughed in amusement at his posture, and Gabriel realized too late that every path to escape was blocked off. All that remained to him were the dark, churning waters beneath the bucking boat. He grabbed hold of the dinghy on either side to stabilize himself.

"He caused the storm to be still, so that the waves of the sea were hushed," he quoted to try and reclaim some of his nerve. "Now, where might this leak be located? I confess I can't seem to find any water coming in."

"Oh, it's coming in all right." The seafarer smiled like a jack-o-lantern in the glow of the lamp he held aloft. The leer was lost on Gabriel, who was too busy chasing the circle of light it threw and stooping to investigate whatever corner it happened to illuminate. "Or is it going out? Mayhaps I made a mistake."

"Going…?"

Before he could conclude his parroting echo, Gabriel felt the boat lurch sideways beneath him, as if another momentary weight had decisively exercised itself. He came unbalanced and fell into the belly of the dinghy. Water sloshed over the side, soaking his robes, and then a wet coil of rope hit him in the face. He grabbed for it, but it was no use to him now that it had been untied from its mooring.

"Bon voyage, priest!" the old seafarer crowed from the end of the dock. " 'less you know how to swim, that is!"

Gabriel scrambled toward the aft end of the boat—at least what he presumed was the aft end—but there was no mortal hope for it. The dock receded into the night behind him as the tide pulled him inexorably out to sea.

"Good people!" he called back to the howling, ghoulish gallery of faces. "Never fear! God shall return me to you soon! By his grace, I will be back on your shores in less than a fortnight, and you will understand then the miracle of my faith!"

"Miracle the lad didn't beg for his life."

"What a waste of a perfectly good dinghy!"

"Bad riddance to good rubbish," one of the prostitutes lamented with a sigh. "Oh well. Anyone for a tumble?"

 

I don't love you as if you were the salt-rose, topaz
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:

I love you as certain dark things are loved,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

 

The sun beat down on him like the switch of a good sister across the hide of the wicked.

Gabriel groaned as he shifted. He had lost track of days, and couldn't remember the last time the sun had actually set from its blue fixture. His entire body ached like it was one big bruise. He had dispensed with his robes a while ago, although not as soon as someone who wasn't a total fool might have, and seen the unintended benefit of minimizing his sunburn—and increasing the rate of his body's dehydration tenfold. His sweat-soaked shirt was open, and the pendant around his neck had burned an angry red crucifix tattoo beneath his collarbone while he slept.

God would either save or deliver him, he knew. He just wished the schedule could be expedited.

Night fell eventually. A full moon rose, and innumerable stars exploded in a symphony of light far above his head. He gave communion with a bit of dry fish he had found stored beneath one of the dinghy's benches. He began to murmur a prayer, almost without realizing; he sealed his eyes closed to try and listen to the familiar words as they tumbled past his lips.

This was likely his last meal. After this he would be out of food; an ocean full of fish, and Gabriel was hopelessly ill-equipped to survive. That morning he had tried lunging at one of the gulls that landed on the dinghy, but famishment and dehydration made his attempt lumbering, and even slightly embarrassing, when the bird didn't take off, only edged a little further down the side of the boat and blinked a gimlet eye at him. It was a look that was enough to make him deeply regret the church's body-bread comparison.

And of course, he didn't know enough about the sea to understand what the appearance of a bird that nested on land could portend. All he saw when he opened his eyes was water, and a horizon that appeared to stretch on infinitely beyond human comprehension. Once or twice he had hallucinated land, only to face crushing disappointment when the mirage shimmered and vanished before his eyes. It was a cruel trick the Devil now played on his senses.

Once he had finished his prayer, he broke off a piece of the fish jerky and started to chew. He didn't know how the pirates managed to eat this when they had so few teeth between them to put to the task. He gazed vacantly out into the darkness, chewed, swallowed. Someone said something. His eyes flickered down.

A bit of fish dropped from his mouth.

There was a woman propped on the side of his boat, glowing ethereally in the moonlight. Gabriel was at least right in thinking her unearthly, although entirely wrong in guessing her area code. "An angel," he identified with wonder. He shook his head. "God forgive me," he muttered, because his first thought, by comparison, was of an all-too-earthly shade. He found the angel stunning in her beauty, in the way he had observed fishermen stun their catch by dealing them a sharp blow between the eyes. The lurch he felt when he beheld her had nothing to do with the waves below, which were so gentle as to almost be still. Maybe he had just gotten used to them by now.

"Yes, I'm afraid it is rather small," he said in the tone of an apology. He winced in the aftermath, though he was not quite worldly enough to achieve a true level of embarrassment at how his admission might be taken. Then, drawing on his last reserves of strength, he pushed himself into a straighter seated position.

Gabriel pondered the turn of events as they looked at one another. Surely the angel was here to take him home to God's kingdom. He didn't feel especially expired, but he certainly would be soon. Perhaps God had looked down on his efforts in the pirate town and decided to reward him early for all his thankless toil.

That heaven-sent face, and even her eyes, could make him learn to love the color of the sea. Did his own eyes, his brain, deceive him? It was likely… but did the visitation's gaze flicker to the piece of salted fish he had dropped? She appeared as transfixing as she was transfixed. Gabriel bent slowly to pick up the slab of jerky.

"Here."

At the expense of his remaining energy, he managed to move closer to the angel, only catching his knee once on the middle bench. He realized as soon as he arrived that he would not be able to sit up on his own, and leaned against the low railing across from her as he sank down into the burden boards. He stretched his arm forward and offered his last meal.

"Take it. Please."


   
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Jersey
(@jersey)
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 11
Topic starter  

The mermaid eyed him cautiously, clearly spooked but nevertheless a curious creature. She thought at once he was handsome, the kind of man her sisters spoke of dragging to the depths with giddy pleasure. A predatory, instinctual part of her mind thought of doing the same. She was far more timid than her sisters however, and he stared at her with a strange expression on his face she could not place. She found the longer she held his gaze the less wary she became. 

His voice was deep, not harsh but certainly not melodic in the way that she was familiar. She had also not heard of this “God” before nor did she understand his plea for forgiveness. She rested her chin against the cracked, rough wood of the small boat, watching him with intently with bright eyes. He responded to her observation apologetically, and she lifted her head to nod knowingly as if she had great experience in the matters of proper ship size. 

It was then she saw piece of fish, and as interested in him as she was, the desire to feed surpassed such intrigue quickly. Her eyes focused so intently her pupils dilated further in the darkness, the strong stench of fish reminding her of her painfully empty stomach. He came closer with the jerky, settling down with his offering in hand. The mermaid knew only of traps and nothing of kindness, so she flinched back so that only her eyes peeked above the edge of the dinghy. His hand remained extended, and he uttered a word she did not entirely understand. She repeated the word ‘please’ silently to herself, the sound of it unfamiliar on her tongue. She knew the meaning of the word, she simply had no prior context for his selflessness. 

With great hesitation, the mermaid pull herself up once again. In a flash of milky white limbs she snatched the fish from his hands, gulping it down with the desperation of a starved animal. She swallowed thickly, the dryness of the fish unpleasant despite the reprieve it offered from her hunger. She realized then, the same pain she had felt so did her companion. 

“You are far from home,” The mermaid stated as though realizing it for the first time. She did not know were home was, but she knew this man and his kindness did not belong in the open ocean. 

“I can take you home,” She continued, sudden excitement dawning on her when she remembered the small bit of land not far from where they currently floated. 

She disappeared briefly, submerging under the water to further inspect the boat. It was a peculiar craft, she noted, made of a strange substance she’d never seen before. She ran her hands along the underside of the boat, feeling for something that would allow the boat to move forward. Confused, the mermaid returned to the edge of the dinghy, but this time directly behind her new-found companion. Her chin nearly rested upon his shoulder as she spoke quietly in his ear.

“How does it go?” She murmured, puzzled. She gave him very little time to respond before moving quickly, shifting away from him and pulling herself so far up the side of the craft that her entire upper body became exposed. Her eyes hunted for some kind method of forward momentum inside the craft, circling around it until she once again faced opposite from him.


   
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Mira
 Mira
(@mira)
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Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 120
 

Lord, he wanted to fall into that voice. His reaction was visceral; he leaned in, as if she had reached out a cool hand to caress his weather-burned cheek. He let his eyes drift closed. Hearing another speak, after so many days lost at sea, was worth its weight in last meals.

He opened his eyes.

It became very clear to Gabriel, in the moment the angel exhibited more of herself, that he definitely hadn't ascended. He was still bound by the desires of the flesh—or in his case, its mortifications. His eyes darted away instantly before he could drink a longer look of her. "Where are your clothes?" he croaked before he could stop the question. "Er, your heavenly robes?"

He averted his eyes again as she circled him. Of course an angel would have no use for earthly trappings like garments. Cloth would burn to cinders upon touching the flesh of so vivacious a creature. Still, he had been raised in the church to revere woodcuttings of angels so illustriously enrobed one could hardly tell if they were male or female (or completely sexless, as the Bible seemed to imply). Seeing this angel, in all of God's glory, was enough to snap him out of his dying stupor—only to feel as if he would perish from shock the next minute.

I can take you home.

He did raise his eyes eventually when no rapture came, and the fear of her sudden departure gripped him in the issuing silence. The angel was still with him, gliding quietly around the dinghy. Her sea-green eyes, illuminated by the moon and almost cat-like in quality, seemed to shine with the faint quicksilver sheen of the wild creatures that had unnerved Gabriel since boyhood. The holy man was no favorite with animals, nor they with him; he saw no salvageable soul shining through when he looked at them. The ability to see evidence of inhuman soulfulness had been trained out of him long ago.

But God forgive him for comparing his delivered rescuer to something so base as a beast. He tracked her progress around the boat as best he could, fuzzing his peripheral to protect her modesty (or his, as it were).

"How it goes…?"

She referred to the boat, he realized. Gabriel turned his head back and forth on a swivel, then groped around the bottom of the dinghy. His hand touched something coarse and saturated, the physical manifestation of all he felt in that moment.

"Er…"

He held the rope up impotently.


   
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Jersey
(@jersey)
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 11
Topic starter  

To his questioning the mermaid only looked blankly, her head listing slightly to the side as a confused dog’s might. “Clothes,” She echoed, the syllables unfamiliar on her tongue. She reached out, hands ghosting over the strange material that covered his thin body. The animal instinct in her knew he was unwell, would have been easy prey should she be tempted. But there was something placating that blood lust, something inside of her indicating she was better off with the man as a friend rather than food.

Her curiosity emboldening her, she began to circle the boat and approach him. His eyes followed her in a bleary fashion she did not understand, internally documenting that the poor creature was not only likely a hopeless swimmer but possibly near blind. How on earth had they survived so long? Sympathy for the poor creature growing, she suggested gently that she could take him home. His eyes, dull with hunger and suffering, brightened at the suggestion. She disappeared briefly under the water, surveying his dire circumstance with even more confusion. As she resurfaced, she voiced her concerns from behind his back, speaking with a child-like confusion. He held up rope, something she recognized in traps from the depths. Her features cringed into a brief snarl and she ducked lower into the water, until she hesitantly came to the realization he did not intend to her harm her. The rope itself looked so nonthreatening, hanging listlessly from his hand.

She grabbed it so quickly their fingers hardly had time to touch. The mermaid said nothing, disappearing beneath the depths as their journey began.

The island was not a far swim, and the setting sun had only begun to rise when she started the unfamiliar task of getting him to land. He had fallen asleep, lulled by the waves or total exhaustion, and as the boat crested ashore she followed. At first she pulled herself with her hands and elbows, but the closer she got to shore the strangest feeling overtook her lower half. She focused on that sensation, and with clumsy, newborn legs she stumbled onto shore after the dinghy. She collapsed once or twice, unfamiliar with the need to support her entire body in such a way. With a huff of frustration, she rose again, using the side of the boat to pull herself back up. A cat like grin overtook her features as she realized her success, though quickly flickered and faded when she realized the man she had just saved did not seem appropriately grateful. He was still asleep, deeply so, but it was with no mercy or hesitation she poked him in the chest.

“You are home,” She told him matter of factly, gesturing to the small island triumphantly. She waited expectantly for his pleased response, leaning heavily over him and the craft.


   
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