Breathtaking (Flash Fiction)

For the photo that inspired this flash fiction story, please visit Flickr: L’Albufera: Momentos #16.

Nothing is quite as beautiful or breathtaking as a sunrise.  Well, nothing quite as beautiful, anyway. Lots of things can take your breath away. Like an unexpected dip in the road, or a punch to the gut, or really bad news.

But mostly being plunged face first into cold water.

It was an hour before dawn. Father had set the fishing nets out overnight, and it was my job to rise before the sun and pull in the catch.

Half asleep, I yanked on the lines to cinch the nets. I stubbed my toe on a rock and muttered a curse.

The water cursed back.

“Ouch! My hair is stuck in your net, you insensitive oaf!”

I spun around, looking for the source of the voice. Nobody in sight.

“Down here, you imbecile.”

I blinked and looked at my feet. Just above the waterline was a blonde head, and the net was draped over her, flattening her locks to her round face.

I leapt backwards and tripped on that same damn rock, landing on my ass with a splash. Disdainful laughter bubbled from the girl’s perfect mouth.

Girls. I didn’t do well with girls. I was used to girls laughing at me disdainfully because it happened all the time.

Trouble was, I still hadn’t gotten the knack of talking to them, even after all my failed attempts. So I sat there, soaked through to my bare ass, as my mouth worked soundlessly.

“You look like a fish when you do that.” She rolled her eyes as she pushed at the net with slim, pale arms.

“Where did you come from?” I finally managed.

Her delicate fingers paused in their attempts to untangle her hair. Her dark eyes narrowed and she appraised me skeptically. “From under the sea,” she finally said with a toss of her sodden head.

Maybe the net was too tight. Or maybe I  hadn’t heard her correctly. “Across the sea? From one of those islands out there?”

“Don’t be thick. I came from under the sea. Down there,” she said, pointing to the water.

I laughed. What else was I supposed to do? But while my mouth was open, busy with laughing, a cascade of dirty ocean water found its way inside.

I could hear her laughing as I choked. And when I looked up, I saw her swishing a thick, scaled tail back and forth like an impatient feline.

“Your mouth is hanging open again, fish boy.”

I tried to think of a witty retort, but all that came out was “you’re a mermaid!”

“Captain of the Obvious vessel, are you? Now, when you are done gawking, can you get me the hell out of this net??”

I splashed to my feet, and almost fell face first back into the water. I shook my head, hoping to dislodge what I was convinced was a trick of the eyes in the grey light of pre-dawn. All I dislodged was seawater. The gorgeous blonde with the tail was still there.

“But mermaids are just myths,” I said shakily. I was mesmerized by her tail flicking back and forth.

“Don’t make me splash you again to prove my point.”

I reached into my back pocket and pulled out my knife.

“Finally. Just don’t poke me with that thing, clumsy fish.”

I’m not a fish. You’re a fish, I wanted to say. My head was still spinning. Father had told me the mermaid myths, although I always thought he was joking. Said they were rare, but more common in our part of the world because the big ships couldn’t get through the islands and shallow waters. All sorts of mystical and mythical beings alike were claimed to have been spotted in our waters.

I had always assumed it was tricks of the light or too much to drink before pushing off in a skiff, but here she was, a living myth, right in front of me.

I stopped short as I grasped the net in my hand, knife poised to slice it.

I remembered something else about mermaid myths. If you set one free, or saved one, they were required to grant you a wish.

“Wait a minute. Do I get a wish?”

She looked at me blankly. “A wish?”

“For setting you free. The legends say when a fisherman frees a mermaid, he gets a wish.”

She glared at me for a minute, but then gave me a put-upon sigh. “Alright, fine. A wish it is. Now cut me loose before my gills run dry.”

I couldn’t remember if the legends said they had lungs or gills or both. Oh hell, what did it matter?

I reached forward and sawed through the net. After fumbling for a few minutes, I finally got her free, although I had to slice through chunks of her glossy hair to do it.

She made a frustrated sound. “Do you have any idea how long I’ve been growing this out? Men.”

Hey, at least you’re free, I wanted to say. But I only managed a pathetic mumbled apology.

“You really are a sad sot, aren’t you? You going to wish to be a big, strong manly man who can talk to women?”

I felt my skin flush. I wasn’t going to wish for that now. Not with her mocking tone.

“I wish for a kiss. From you,” I finally squeaked out. Now at least I wouldn’t die without ever having kissed a woman.

Just in the nick of time, too.

“Alright, then. Pucker up, fish boy.”

As the skyline blushed with the rising sun, time stood still. The sea was pale purple, the reeds meet their reflection in the water, and what was left of my father’s mutilated fishing nets bobbed on the ripples.

Her lips locked over mine, and without warning, she pulled me under the surface. She sucked the air from my lungs. I could hear her distorted laugher and I took a breath, filling my lungs with water. I flailed, trying to get to the surface, but she had tied the fishing line around my ankle. I watched my last bubble of air trickle to the surface, where the water had turned pink, and the last ripples from my thrashing stilled.

Father would be so angry about his nets.

Sara is a Kansas-grown author of the fantasy and horror persuasions. She is convinced that fantastical things are waiting for her just around the corner, and until she finds the right corner, she writes about those things instead.

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