Excerpt: Sea Lover

He found the merman on the beach, as the sun was setting orange over the horizon and the waves were turning a deep green with foamy, silver tips. The tide was going out, and every time the waves washed over the body lying prone in the surf, they took swirls of dark blood with them.

Ian’s first thought was that it must be a seal, injured and washed up on the beach. He resolved to come back in the morning and drag the thing up to his cottage and burn it so that it didn’t rot and stink to high heaven for the next couple of weeks. But as he got closer, another wave washed in and rolled the figure up and over, so that it was lying on its back. As it rolled, Ian saw a long, spindly arm drop to the side, and a mess of shiny, black hair splay out on the sand.

He dropped the net and tackle he was carrying and ran, his heavy fishing boots sinking into the sand and catching on the rocks and seaweed as he sprinted towards the figure. He fell to his knees at the man’s side as the waves washed up over his body once more, and was distracted for a moment, frantically checking vitals before he glanced over and saw the tail.

Ian sat back on his knees and gave a weak laugh. It had to be a joke. Some very realistic art project that had befallen unfortunate circumstances. But then the figure breathed and convulsed forward, coughing and spitting. Ian stared as the man, or boy—he didn’t look older than twenty—frantically pulled himself over onto his side and pressed his head to the sand, gagging. Then his face tightened, and he made a keening, painful noise, before glancing down at the thick, blubbery, black tail.

Without thinking, Ian lunged forward. “Don’t move,” he said hoarsely, and the boy looked up at him, his dark eyes showing no sign that he understood what Ian was saying. His hair and skin were both dark, too, and Ian wondered briefly if the tail was some sort of cultural attire. Or maybe there was a movie filming in the area that he hadn’t heard about? Then he decided that it didn’t matter, because the boy was obviously badly injured, and he needed to get whatever it was off. He reached for his knife at his side, and swore when he realized that he’d left it in the bag with his tackle.

“Shit. Lie back.” He gently pushed on the boy’s shoulders so that he understood. The boy complied, lying back with another high, keening noise of pain as Ian moved his hands down his torso, desperately trying to find the place where the brown skin met black pelt. He couldn’t.

“What is this?” he asked, flabbergasted. “How do I get it off?”

He glanced up in time for the boy to make a twisted face. The boy opened his mouth, obviously frustrated, and let out another high keening sound, followed by a noise that was halfway between a growl and a bark. Then his head whipped back and he convulsed again, bringing the full weight of his tail up, and Ian saw the injury. It was a gash, deep enough to cut through the muscle and possibly tendons. It was difficult to see the depth of the injury, because blood was gushing up out of it as he thrashed.

The blood spattered Ian in the face, and he wiped at it, stunned. This was not normal. Being a fisherman meant that he had to be able to handle himself in tense and stressful situations, and normally, he was great at it, but this… this was something else.

“Hey,” he said sharply as the boy writhed on the blood-soaked sand, obviously in terrible pain. “You need to stop moving. You’re only going to make it worse. Do you understand me?”

He didn’t know what he was going to do. He couldn’t possibly carry him, and trying to move him would only make things worse. He had his cell phone on him, but there was absolutely no reception out here. He should go and get help. Get his truck and drive it into town, letting emergency services know. But what would they do with something like this? Ian stared at the limp tail on the sand, blood gushing out of the warm, velvety, and obviously very real tail. His mind was in a fog, and all he could think about were news crews and scientists and Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

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