Family Meal (Short Story)

(It’s FREE Fiction Friday! This weird tale has gone through many changes. I originally wrote it about 5 or six year ago. It’s evolution started with an adulterous mermaid who birthed a hybrid underwater creature and ended with a chill.)

“What the hell is this?” Hunter glared through the underwater cavern walls. 

Pearl glanced from the growing egg to her husband. His bloated face writhed with hatred. He grabbed the glob ready to dash its contents on the rocks and spill the baby’s blood.  

“No.” Pearl swam to him and gripped his veiny forearm.   

He set the egg down“Hois it that our child grows with legs? Human legs! He gripped her arms so tight she feared they would pop.   

“Treacherous mer, answer me or I will destroy this thing.” He grabbed a rock and struck her with it. 

She grasped her face. Her gills throbbed and painted the water with blood. “Hunter, I never imagined it possible.” 

“Stop.” He sneered. “You needn’t excite yourself so. You belong to me and are therefore bound to feel remorse for birthing that… that abomination. Just tell me, is it mine? Some curse as it were?” 

She thought back to the man. The human.  

Tall, shoulders back, his top half rippled like a merman. Nothing like the puny people she tasted before. 

Her long hair clung to her shoulders in waves as wild as the ocean that bore her. She flicked her tail from the shallows and becalmed him with a song. Her voice softened and she readied the sharp jetted ends of her fin. 

He neared her, but never close enough to spear him. He stopped and waited for her. 

Frustrated and intrigued, she sang stronger, clearer, hoping to reel him in with her last lyric  

He dove in 

She sunk beneath the surface to cool herself from the beaming rays casting their colors at the end of day. His arms cut through the water almost as well as her husband’s. He moved like a fish.  

She stared at each stroke. The speed alarmed her. She dodged him and raced behind a rock formation beneath the waves.   

She readied her tail. One swipe will do. She crouched in for the kill, but he dove deeper than expected. She lost sight of him.  

gentle stroke brushed her fin and she jerked backward.    

The man resurfaced for a second to fill his lungs, then dove back to meet her. His eyes shined brighter than the water she breathed.  

She cast a flustered gaze on him and whipped her tail.    

He dodged and caressed her shoulder so tenderly that she lost all sense. The light brush of his fingertip contrasted to the rough bruising ways known to all mermen. 

She paused. Everything she thought she knew disappeared. She followed him when he pointed up to get another breath.  

She broke into the air and gazed at his solid face in wonderment.  

His breath sounded like the wind. His square chin suited a chiseled face. 

She imagined this creature─this fish with no tail─lived in or around water. She smelled the sea in him. It poured through his veins 

 She pulled back and swam further out.  

“Please don’t go.” He chased her once more.  

She drew her pointed tongue over sharp teeth and waiting for him to catch up. 

He caressed her cheek, slid his hand over her shoulders and down. Goose bumps ran through her torso into her scales.   

She nipped his neck. Her teeth craved his meat, but the tough flesh, protected him. Weathered and brown it held a secret she wished to understand. Restraining herself from devouring him, she pressed her body to his. He scales opened.  

New fears awakened as she came back to the present“No, she answered her husband’s question. 

Hunter turned away from her.  

Unable to move she knew her punishment would be great. “I only wish her freedom from blame. I take it all.” 

 “And what of shame?” He ripped a chunk of stone from the rock formations surrounding them. “You will know shame.” He slapped her with the stone. 

Her gills twitched. The passageways that filtered air when surfaced took over and she inhaled water, choking on her tears. 

She gasped for her child, reached to the egg. Her vision went blurry and she sank into a black nothingness. 

*** 

Hunter glared at Pearl when she revived. In the calm of the rockery, his violent yellow eyes glossed over. Pinched scales relaxed. He turned and held up a baby girl, legs and all. His cocked his head. The little thing kicked its feet together as if it wanted a tail like his.  

“Please, let me hold her.” Pearl forced shook her head and blinked away her pain. She longed to take her daughter away, save her from their kind.  

Hunter’s eyes softened as he smiled at the little girl. He poked her rosy cheeks. “What a strange little worm.” 

The baby cooed and wrapped her hand around his bloated finger“We can overlook her legs. This little thing is as insignificant as a broken piece of coral. 

Pearl closed her eyes. “She has no fins.” 

He grasped her feet. “These are adequate.  

“But her smell is strange.” 

“It is not a human scent.” He gripped the baby under one arm. “I will call her Coral.”  

“It doesn’t matter what you name her. They others will kill her.” Pearl darted in front of him. 

He knocked her aside. “I will tear apart anyone who tries.”  

Pearl swam by his side, head down. A wayward fish swam away and Hunter grasped it in his teeth before it could retreat. He chewed it to bits and regurgitated chum into the baby’s mouth  

I am her mother. Pearl gaped. Why won’t he allow me to nourish her? She peered at her daughter’s pink flesh. The features plumped like a human’s. Her mind drifted to the man who fathered the child.  

She sank into her guilt. Silence consumed her 

Hunter’s voice broke into her thoughts when they neared their home, “Everyone, come welcome our daughter Coral.”  

The deep cave system housed many of their friends and family and all came out to see the new addition.  

Pearl glanced around looking for an escape. Coral looks too human.   

What’s this?” Hunter’s older brother reached them first. He looked upon the child and laughed.  “I thought you had no sense of humor. It’s okay everyone,” he yelled aside, “no mer child yet, just a small snack.” 

“No.” Hunter growled. He held the baby out for everyone to see. “This is my daughter. She breaths as we do, and swims better than any land dweller. These are not legs. He flicked at her feet. “Anyone who say otherwise will answer to me.” 

Pearl stiffened.  

Her sister, Sapphire, flitted to her faster than the neighbors gathering. “She’s beautiful. What do you call her?” 

Pearl’s tongue twitched.  She looked to Hunter and shook her head. Before he could answer, his brother sneered. “Sara, or should it be Rachel If it looks like a human, it should be named like a human. 

Pearl shrank back. Hunter thrust the baby at her and raced after his brother. 

She held her daughter for the first time, but no joy thrilled her. Fear rippled in her cold body.  

Hunter curved his tail. His brother pointed deadly fins at him.  

The baby slept in her arms. A strange series of high-pitched squeals came from its mouth and she grimaced. I cannot love it. It won’t live long here.   

Hunter struck hard. His brother dodged his sharp tail end once, but was cut on the second blowThey shifted, moving like sharks fighting for a meal.  

Pearl clutched her daughter tight.  

Hunter bit his brother. For this he received a sharp stab of the tail through his left shoulder 

“See what we have wrought,” Pearl whispered to the Coral. 

 Sapphire licked her black lips. “Your excursion brings excitement. Look at them fight. They’re enjoying this thrackas. And this little thing…” She fingered the baby’s toe.  

Pearl yanked her daughter away. “She’s not a thing. She doesn’t belong here.” 

Hunter’s screams rumbled. He head-butted his brother with a grunt  

His brother spit a sharp yellow tooth from his protruding jaw and pounded Hunter’s wound with his elbow, laughingHunter gripped his brother in a tight grasp. He locked him against his chest and squeezed mercilessly 

“Kill him.” Pearl glided forward.  

Hunter squinted at her. He nodded. His brother struggled to break free but remained unable. Hunter jabbed the sharp end of his fins through his opponent, stopping just short of his own face. He released the body and flicked it with his tail as if it were a piece of seaweed.  

Hunter heaved with triumph. Her name is Coral. Anyone who disputes my daughter’s heritage will die. 

Sapphire patted Pearl’s arm. “You are further indebted to him.” 

Pearl swished her tail. Hunter waved her over. She swam to him clutching Coral close but he wrenched the baby from her grasp. He led her home as if nothing had happened and doted on their daughter until she fell asleep.  

 “She is very like you.” His voice rippled on the waves in their cavernous home.  

Pearl glanced from rock shelf to rock shelf. All the sea’s baubles glittered. Gems, stunning shells, sunken treasures decorated each groove in the rocks, but she no longer found their luster enchanting. Her pretty life evaporated.  

She nodded, unsure how to respond. 

Hunter’s stern face darkened with desire. “But she will be stronger. Smarter.” He chuckled.  

Pearl stared at a trail of dancing bubbles. They floated between her and her husband. “Do you not agree?” He barred his teeth. 

“I fear for her.” Her gaze drifted to the sleeping figure wrapped in its seaweed nest.  

Hunter dove closer. He gripped the back of her neck and glared at her tired face. “What is there to fear when she has me to guard her?” His lips suctioned to hers. His long tongue slashed at hers. His hands bruised her skin, lowered to dishevel her scales.  

She resigned herself to his violent needs.  

*** 

“I will not keep her from them. Hunter’s neck bulged with veins as thick as great sea slugs  

“She’s barely able to keep up with the others.” Pearl covered her mouth. “She could die.” Pearl shrank back. 

Hignored her and swam to Coral’s room. “It’s time you go on a hunt.” 

She flitted into his arms, “Oh, thank you daddy. 

Pearl entered the cold doorway  

“Mommy, what does man taste like? 

Pearl shook her head. Too soft. Stringy.  I haven’t had it in years.”   

Nonsense.” Hunter picked Coral up and swished her about. “I found the tastiest morsel of a seaman yesterday. His blood was like wine.” 

“What’s wine?” Coral asked with a lisp.  

“There are many delicacies you are yet to acquaint yourself with.” He laughed. 

“I hope you know what you’ve gotten her into,” Pearl mumbledShe longed to caress Coral’s beautiful features and warn her daughter of the dangers surrounding her, but Hunter never allowed her to get too close.   

“I will have no part of this.” A crippling anxiety left Pearl’s heart unable to beat steady. She followed her husband as he led their daughter away, swimming in the shadows. She could not remain behind to wait for tragedy. Her body’s too sensitive, she thought. 

Hunter raced to the surface. Coral slapped at the water kicking her feet like a fish. She giggled and laughed trying to keep up with him. He stopped to wait for her as the water lightened by the world of the sun above. Coral flashed her father a loving smile and Pearl stared up afraid to infringe on their bond.  

She bobbed in the underwater worldThe image of the man who ruined her life cut into her mind. I should have eaten him. She drifted in the current.  

A shriek sounded through the leagues and her tail twitched. Pearl raced up to the surface. “I’m coming,” she called to her daughter.  

He’s finally taken his revenge.  She flicked her tail as fast as she could. If Coral isn’t who he wants her to be, he’ll kill her.  She pumped her arms harder.  

Her head burst through the calm ocean surface. A gust of chilly air pinched her cheeks. She slid her gaze aside and found a beach pinkened with bloody sand. Sea foam mixed with the waves as they lapped in and away from her husband and daughter.  

“What have you done?” She screamed, darting through the water. She reached for land and dragged herself onto the grainy sand.  

Coral giggled and wiped blood from her lips. “You’re funny mommy.” 

Pearl blinked. She cocked her head at her daughter and gaped.  

Hunter grasped her wrist and pulled her close. “Come, feast with us.” 

She spotted a body and realized what had happened. She looked from her daughter to the lifeless man sprawled in matted granules. A twisted mouth lay half chewed under a pair of familiar eyes.  

Pearl choked on the air. Her lungs swelled, her gills went dormant.  

Cora licked her hands and rushed to Hunter. “More daddy, I want more.” 

He barred his teeth and bit into the man’s stomach, ripping it open. He reached into the disemboweled body. “Here you are, my little worm.” 

She devoured the flesh and Pearl gasped in horror.  

“Dine with us.” Hunter’s glowing gaze locked on her. “He’s the finest delicacy.” 

He thrust the heart at her.  

She reached for it with steady hands. “Anything you say, my husband.” She forgot the tender caresses of the man who they now ate, thankful that her husband would not eat their child.  

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