THE MERMAID’S REVENGE
Part One and Two
By Michael Jordan
You may wonder why the date August 18, 1997 sticks in my head. I’ll tell you why.
It was the day that me and Maxie did a terrible thing, though we hadn’t meant to hurt anybody; we were just two 12-year-old boys enjoying the long holiday, but nobody, except Old Skeets, who is dead now, believed us back then and nobody believes now even though I
But let me start at the beginning.
We were fishing near the culvert by Old Skeet’s bridge that day, the August sun stinging our backs and the fish refusing to bite the fat worms that we had dug up from behind the fowl pen in Maxie’s backyard.
Finally, Max sucked his teeth and said: “Leh we go by the blacka.”
I hesitated. Maxie grew up rough with a set of big brothers and didn’t have to account for his movements. The licks I got for going in the Big Gardens to fish on Bird Island—me and Max swimming and beating the water with our rods to chase the caimans away was still fresh in my memory.
I was about to make up some lame excuse when Maxie said: “I know a spot where Ralphie pull up a big houri long like he arm”showing his own thin, sinewy arm for emphasis.
Ralphie was one of Max’s big brothers and the thought of pulling up a houri long like his arm made me forget about the licks.
Old Skeets was in his yard, his back to us as he sat on a low stool, patiently weeding with his cutlass.
He didn’t see when we slipped away down the Tucville back street and into Festival City, then to the back of North Ruimveldt, and eventually, we were on a dam, with the Lamaha canal, black and silent ahead of us.
Maxie led the way south down the dam, crushing dried leaves and rotting plums. Fish splashed occasionally in the still black water, and I felt the familiar stirring of excitement as we headed further south, the thought of catching a houri as big as Ralphie’s arm keeping me going, even though, behind the trees, I sensed that the sun was going down.
Finally Max said, “Right here”, and we stopped at a turn on the dam, where the trees were thickest.
He pointed to a spot near a log that had fallen in the water.
“Is right there Ralphie pull up the houri.” He had dropped his voice to a whisper.
We baited our hooks, then shifted apart to cast our lines. Max had chosen the spot by the log. I found a spot where the branches of a tree leaned close to the water. I always tried to imagine a spot that I thought the fishes would like, and this shady area seemed like the ideal place.
I bobbed my line a few times in the water and then sat back and waited. Almost immediately, my cork began to bob frantically and then began to sink.
I waited until it had sunk almost out of sight, then pulled on my tamarind rod.
There was a frantic splashing and a pink-and white sunfish came into view. Max came over to watch as I unhooked the sunfish and put it in a salt bag. I baited my hook again, placed it at the same spot, and waited.
Not a minute had passed before I was pulling up another sunfish, then a nice-sized houri. Ten minutes later I had added four patwas to the bag.
And now I was having that weird sensation I sometimes had; a feeling of having some sort of connection to the fish; a feeling that I could fish out the entire Lamaha if I wanted.
Maxie had taught me to fish a year ago but I was the one who always came home with the longest string.
Old Skeets said that it was because I was ‘water sign’.
He would sometimes, sit near the culvert, watching us Tucville boys, chuckling knowingly at my strange luck.
Max was still trying his luck at the same spot where Ralphie had caught the giant houri. Every now and then he would pull frantically on his rod and suck his teeth as his hook came up empty.
I could sense his impatience.
After I had pulled up yet another sunfish he muttered: “Ah going to another spot”. With that, he walked past me and headed further up the dam, and disappearing from view.
I was baiting my hook about ten minutes later when I heard Max yell my name.
“What?” I yelled back.
“Ah got a big one.”
I wrapped up my line and hurried in the direction that Maxie had gone. Eventually, I spotted him.
He was hauling on a cast-net ( I would later learn that he had found it tucked behind a tree). His sinewy biceps were bunched as he struggled with something large that was trapped inside.
I helped him to pull the net to land, then we squatted on the dam to examine the fish.
It was about four feet long, it had a pink-and-white colour and it was like no other fish we had ever seen.
It appeared to have no scales, its teeth were tiny and harmless. But, to me, the strangest thing was its eyes.
The fish now lay motionless in the net, and it appeared to be staring at us; not with fish-eyed blankness, but with pleading, fearful eyes.
We stared back in silence at this strange, beautiful fish, and then Max, still panting a little with excitement, stared at me triumphantly and said: “This gun make Ralphie houri look like stupidness.”
“You will have to help me carry it. This thing weigh ’bout forty pounds.”
I stared at the fish, lying silently in the net and staring at us, and the words tumbled out without me thinking.
“We have to throw it back.”
“Maxie, we have throw it back. Something funny about this fish…I don’t even think it good to eat.”
But it was more than that. I was having that weird feeling, that connection.
Max was glaring at me resentfully, but I sensed that he was feeling some of my unease.
Now he turned again to the fish. He rubbed his hand along its side, then pulled it back.
“It feels so…so smooth,” he said, almost to himself.
“Leh we put it back,” I said again. “We gun share what I catch.’
He glared at me again, but then he bent to the fish and we began to untangle it from the net, while it lay silently, watching us.
I really can’t account for what happened next.
Maybe Maxie was thinking of how we would be passing Old Skeete’s home, and he would laugh knowingly when he saw my salt-bag of fish. Maybe he was thinking of how he had failed to bring home a fish bigger than Ralphie’s, but just before we tossed the fish back, Max whipped out his sharp pocket knife, and slashed the fish just below the gill.
I gave a shout of surprise, and at the same time, I thought I heard that fish emit a human-like-sighing sound, and then Maxie had pushed it back into the blacka.
There was a splash, and the fish sank from sight, and all that was left was a thin streak of blood on the black water, and that sigh ringing in my ears…
THE MERMAID’S REVEGE
I didn’t get licks when I got home. But I got a fever.
Eating the fish I had caught was the last thing on my mind, and Max didn’t want them either, so we gave them to Old Skeets, who was watering his plants when we came back.
He grinned and said. “These gun eat good with bread when the Mistress fry dem dry.”
I washed off with soap and Dettol at the pipe in Max’s yard before going home to bathe.
Mommy was looking at Restless or something like that on TV. Dad was out, probably to some meeting. I didn’t feel very hungry, so I went to bed early.
My throat felt scratchy and I knew that I was getting a fever. I left the windows open because of the heat…
The last thing I remember was tossing in bed, unable to sleep, and then, just like that, I was at the blacka, at the spot where Maxie and I had stopped and stared at the fish.
It was night but I could see clearly because of a huge full moon. And I was terrified because I sensed that something was about to happen.
I became aware of an overpowering, rank smell that reminded me of the time I had caught some patwas and left them in a paint-tin for two days.
I was not alone.
A girl sat on a tree that had fallen into the water; a naked girl with long, water-drenched black hair to her waist, a girl about my age or a little older.
She was weeping.
A man sat next to her. He was stroking her hair, murmuring soft words of comfort in a strange language that I somehow understood. He was a tall, shirtless wiry man was long greying hair tied in a knot at the back. On his wrists were two silver bangles that were shaped into entwined, two-headed snakes.
And now I saw something else that made the hairs on my arms and neck raise.
Below her waist, where her legs should have been, was a long, pink-and white fish-tail which swished with her agitation.
I saw now that the man’s body was the same, though the fish-half of him was black as a tilapia’s.
And I was still taking all this in when she looked up and saw me.
She looked at me through her tangled hair; and I thought she was the prettiest girl I had ever seen; prettier even than Rita Lashley, who sat in the bench near me in class; even prettier than the Ashby sisters who lived in Aubrey Barker Street, and behaved like we didn’t exist when me and Maxie would call out to them.
I was looking into her strange greenish eyes and thinking these thoughts before I realised that the man was looking at me, too.
Unlike the girl’s, his eyes were a muddy yellow and they glinted as he stared at me.
They stared at me for a moment, and then the man gently shifted the hair away from her face, and I no longer thought her pretty.
A long, deep, ugly, ragged cut ran from her left ear to the bottom of her chin.
It was beginning to heal, but the tightening skin had pulled the left side of her mouth upwards into a demented grin that reminded me of The Joker in the Batman movie.
She knew what I was thinking, because her green eyes narrowed in fury and her hands went up to hide the scar.
She snarled something at the man and I recoiled in horror as they plunged off the fallen tree and began to slither like eels up the side of the dam towards me, while I stood there, unable to run, unable to scream—.
I awoke trembling in my bed, and kept the light on for the rest of the night.
I awoke the next day still with a slight fever and with the dream in my head. I was sweeping the front yard at around seven o’clock when Max came at the gate.
I thought at first that maybe he wanted us to go fishing again but the moment I looked at him I knew that something was wrong.
Maxie, who I had never seen cry, stood at the gate with tears streaming down his face.
I immediately thought of his mother, who I knew was sickly.
“What happen Maxie?”
He wiped at the tears then said. “Come and see what somebody do to my chickens.”
I put the broom down and we hurried over to Maxie’s place, which was four houses away. The first thing that I noticed was that Lassie, the old dog with a bit of Alstatian blood; that dog that always growled at me, was cowering in a corner.
We headed to the fowl pens at the back of the yard.
Maxie’s father was rearing chickens, and Max himself had bought about twenty chickens that he was rearing himself.
Maxie, still sobbing, pointed to the pen.
“You see what they do?”
Something or someone had entered the yard last night—walked past big, bad-tempered Lassie—and wrenched off the chicken pen door.
Maxie’s tiny yellow chickens lay scattered on the ground.
Someonne had wrung their heads off.
I helped Max get rid of the dead chickens. He had stopped crying but he wasn’t speaking, either. When I asked him who he thought had killed the chicks, I saw a look of fear flash across his face, but he said nothing.
It seemed to me that that was the day that Max began to change. We had tons of plans for the holidays—we’d fish, play road cricket against the guys from Festival City, play video games at Wray’s shop in South…
But it seemed that Max’s heart wasn’t in any of these things now. I sensed that something was weighing on his mind.
Things weren’t too bright with me, either. I had dreamed a few more times about the fish-girl with the scar and the man chasing me down the back-dam.
About a week after Max’s chickens had died, he came by my house calling for me.
He had always been skinny, but it seemed to me that he had gotten thinner. I saw something else. He looked terrified.
“You could come by me now?”
We sat on his front steps in silence for a few minutes. I could hear his mother coughing inside. Then he said:
You remember that fish that I ketch?’’
I felt goose-bumps break out on my hands. I nodded, dreading what was coming next.
He sighed then said: “I think I going crazy.”
Like I said before, Max grew up rough, but now I saw that he was trembling.
He sighed again: “Since that day at the blacka, I dreaming about a fish-girl with a cut on her face. And—and a man with yellow eyes.”
I had a sudden intense vision of the girl with her mouth turned up into The Joker’s false grin.
“Max,” I said. “You ain’t crazy. I getting the same dream.”
He stared at me gratefully. “At the blacka? By where we catch the fish”
“Yes. I does dream that they chasing me.”
“Me too,” he said. “But my dreams is real.”
Without waiting for me to answer, Maxie stripped off the long-sleeved jersey he was wearing. I stared at the fresh scratches on his back and arms.
“I don’t have anybody to tell this to, he said. Daddy out of town, Ralphie gone Tacama…mommy sick—” he brushed at a tear then muttered: “This happen last night.”
“How?” I found myself blurting out, though part of me really didn’t want to know. .
“I dream I was walking to the blacka. I didn’t want to go, but like something was pulling me.
The two of them was in the water. They was telling me to come in, but I know that if I went near them they would kill me. While I standing on the dam, they start to come out of the water.”
Now his eyes were wide with terror. “Just before they reach me. I wake up. I wake up near the blacka. ”
The place was dark, but I know I was standing at the same spot where we catch the fish; barefoot and in my shorts alone.
“I could hear something splashing around in the water, but I couldn’t see anything. And I think I hear somebody laughing.
“I run, boy. I run all the way home. I was so frighten that I run in the wrong direction. Fall down twice. Scratch up my skin.” He was crying.
I stared at Maxie’s thin, scratched up chest.
“Who you think these people is?”
He stared at me with reddened eyes. “You don’t know? I caught a fairmaid, and she and she father want to kill us because of what I do.
“They want to kill us.”
(to be continued)