Jeffery eyed the water unsteadily. Where is it?
“Jeff,” a familiar voice said as a big hand clamped on his shoulder. He turned to find John laughing hail heartedly as he offered him a drink.
Jeffery declined the drink softly before turning back to the water.
“What are you looking at?” John asked as he sipped from the mug of beer Jeffery had declined.
“Do you think they’re real?” Jeff asked his gaze still on the water. He’d returned to the crew and everyone had welcomed him, but something was different. He couldn’t just get his mind of that creature.
“Do I think what’s real?” John asked, resting his hands on the edge of the ship’s railings like Jeff.
“The stories about merpeople, do you think they’re true?” Jeff asked staring intensely at the green-blue waters beneath him. They were heading for a known seaport and would be there in the next hour. Jeffery’s crew wasn’t made up of pirates or anything of that sort. They were regular sailors on a cargo boat.
John looked over at Jeffery worriedly. His dark hair was being blown here and there by the wind and his eyes had a certain look of restlessness attached to them.
Something must have happened. John thought, giving his friend a pitiful look.
“Why do you ask?”
“I just wanted to know what you thought about it, just trying to initiate discussion,” Jeffery said with a shrug. It was more than just that obviously. But what was he going to tell his friend, that he saw a merman?
John laughed. Jeffery had always been a bright fellow and he wondered what on earth he was doing as a crew member on a cargo boat in the first place.
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen one but that doesn’t mean they’re not real though,” John said, feeling his throat with his free hand. The sea water was salty and wet, even close to the shore.
“Then how do you determine what’s real or not?” Jeffery asked, looking at the now emerging seaport.
“I don’t know. If you’ve seen something you can’t deny it though. It’s solid proof,” John said, making a beat with his fingers as he drummed against the ship’s railings.
“Thank you,” Jeffery muttered, giving John a weak smile. Without really knowing what for John muttered a ‘No problem’ in reply.
The ship moved towards the shore. Jeffery watched as deck workers pulled the ship to the shore with long chains and ropes. He visibly winced at the sound of the stairs being let down for the crew to get down and for the cargo to be unloaded.
He watched the loaders work for a while taking down barrels of wine and crates of fruit, cotton, cocoa, and leather. He yawned, getting a bit tired of watching crate by crate being unloaded, so he headed for his cabin.
The ship would remain ashore for a whole month before it left for another voyage. He planned on remaining in his cabin for the whole time; maybe grab a drink or two once in a while with the other men.
Night came quickly. The loud laughter of men made Jeffery shift in his sleep. He wrinkled his nose as he opened his eyes. The boats usual smell of seawater and exotic cargo was now overshadowed with that of strong wine and beer.
He sat up on his bed as full consciousness washed over him within his dark cabin. He let his eyes follow the shadows that passed by the cabin door; briefly obstructing the light from the lighthouse up the shore.
He tried to stand up but moaned in pain. His left leg was still healing and was terribly sore due to lack of movement whenever he woke up. He staggered to the drawers, taking out a lamp before lighting it, bringing light to the once pitch black room. He winched from the brightness of the light, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand before dropping the lamp on the desk opposite the drawer.
He decided to do some reading and writing amidst the noise and laughter. He noted down his experiences in a journal. Right now he was writing a summarized version of the last months’ cargo voyage which excluded the creature to his mother. He wished to mail it to her later this week, and it would hopefully get to her by the end of next month.
He yawned, rubbing his eyes again before giving his cabin door a frown. There was a loud bang accompanied by the groaning voice of Ethan.
“Get up mate, don’t miss the whole party!” Ethan yelled from behind the cabin door, a churn of laughter from the boat’s drunken residents following afterward.
Jeffery shook his head in defeat. He figured he might as well join them. So throwing on a clean shirt and a pair of shorts, Jeffery left his cabin. He was instantly hit by the sweat smelling warmth of the people dancing drunkenly on the deck. Someone pulled him into a side hug before forcing beer down his throat. He stumbled away wondering if he’d made the right decision by leaving his cabin.
He stumbled about, from one group of sailors and their harlots to the other until he stumbled back first against a woman’s chest.
“I’m sorry!” he apologized sharply as he turned to face a dark-haired lady in a scarlet dress. The woman smiled awkwardly before resting her free hand on his shoulder.
“It’s not your fault. Rowdy night, isn’t it?” the lady pointed out, taking a sip of beer from her clear glass mug. Jeffery nodded in agreement before looking from her to her hand that was still placed casually on his shoulder.
“It is,” he said, trying to give her an answer that would lead to his eventual escape. “And that’s the more reason why I shouldn’t be out.”
“No! You should stay!” The lady insisted, chuckling afterward as she brushed down invisible folds on Jeffery’s shirt.
“It’s okay to be physically but not mentally here,” she muttered with a sigh before taking her hand off Jeffery. He frowned at her, wondering what she meant before coming to a conclusion that she was as drunk as the others.
“No, no. You’re not here, are you?” she accused with a laugh as she waved her finger. “You’re head’s in the water with that creature,” she giggled, dropping her mug on an upturned barrel. Jeffery looked around in discomfort. He’d just realized that they were at the far end of the ship, distant from the rest of the party.
“I don’t know what you mean.” Jeffery denied, swatting her hand that was trying to wrap itself around him. He wondered if John in his drunken state had mentioned anything about the creature.
“You’re in the water.” She stated plainly as her chapped lips turned up in a smile. “I can help you get there, I’m not just a common harlot you know.” She insisted placing her hands over her exposed freckled chest.
Jeffery looked from her to the waters below. She might be drunk but she did get something right. His head was really under the water — with that thing.
“I’ll get you there,” she insisted again, taking his face in her hands. He didn’t try to stop her this time, just watched her inquisitively as she muttered strange but gentle unearthly words.
As her hands left his face he began to experience a choking feeling deep within his chest. It was odd — like he couldn’t breathe.
“W-what did you do?” he choked, coughing furiously as he threw his head over the ship railings in an attempt to get fresh air.
“I’m freeing you, sending you to the water where you want to be,” she muttered as she stumbled to him still in a drunken state.
“Here,” she muttered, tilting his head more over the railings. There was a brief freedom that came with the scent of saltwater and the occasional splatters of water that hit Jeffery’s face.
“Jump over. It’s the only way you’ll live,” she advised before letting go and making her way to the rest of the party, leaving Jeffery suffocating at the edge of railings.
He eventually did the unthinkable and jumped over. His drop was followed by a loud splash and screams from people on board. At first, Jeffery thought he’d destined himself for death by jumping over, but the oddity of the relief he felt baffled him as he sank deeper and deeper into the ocean depths.
Why? He asked himself as his heart rate returned to normal and his struggled breathing subsided. He brought his hands to his face wondering what he’d become. Everything had become clearer under water, more avid.
He tried to kick is individual legs but the effort proved unfruitful. It was as if they were fused together, inseparable.
What am I? He asked no one in particular as he sank deeper into the depths of the water. What have I become?