I know I disappeared from the online world for a week and while I’m not pretending it didn’t happen, I’m not explaining it quite just yet. Instead, here’s a story. It’s a four-parter.
Once upon a time I had this friend. Call him whatever you like–Steven, say, or Jordan. Even Markus. It really doesn’t matter, since even the names implies that this is just an allegorical tale to prove a point. Let’s stick with calling him M.
So M spends time at the beach. Not enough that you would say a lot, but a fair bit. Not enough that, if you were looking for him, all of M’s friends would tell you he’s at the beach duh, but enough that if, when you called him up and said “Hey M, what’ve you been up to today?” and M responded with “Oh I was at the beach,” you wouldn’t think of it as a strange or out of place answer. Anyway M’s at the beach one night and sees this lump of slimy algae and seaweed all bundled up together in a messy knot. It’s not an unusual sight, except that it triggers a thought in M’s head.
Are you paying attention? Because this is when the plot starts.
M looks at the pile of seaweed and thinks it looks distinctly person-shaped. This is a terrifying and out-of-the-ordinary observation, and M finds himself propelled towards an investigation. He walks over to the large clump and starts digging into it. He’s clawing at the clump with a kind of determination that’s a little uncommon with M. There’s no pretenses about what M is doing, and he’s not going about the process delicately. He isn’t holding his body carefully to minimize what parts of his anatomy come into contact with the wet, sand-infested mess but with no inhibitions he is leaning into his work so that his shirt front rests on the pile and a briny damp spot appears on the cotton. He isn’t kneeling carefully on his knees but has instead laid down and sacrificed the bottom half of his jeans to be drenched. Not once does he flinch as the waves roll into his leg, splashing up his side. He’s found what he’s looking for and his nails are filling with tiny scraps of kelp and grains of sand as he works his way through the outer layer of the entangled kelp strands.
At one point M pauses in his work and lifts a filthy hand up to tuck some strands of hair behind his right ear, ignoring the way the lock of hair now sticks wetly to his head. Using the same hand, he rubs his nose gently to rid himself of an itch and fails to register the sharp briny odor assaulting his nostrils. As he pauses for these two small distractions, he looks down at the grave he has been so focused on uncovering and methodically examines his work.
He knew she wasn’t human the moment he saw her face, and he told me, long before he saw the rest of her and the more obvious differences. According to M the bone structure was unlike any person’s face–so delicate but also bold, as if… It was hard for him to create an appropriate analogy. It was as if a bird decided one day to dive into the ocean head-first and chose to live there, under the water’s surface, and the resulting decision evolved and was turned into a human-esque creature.
Shared ancestry with dolphins, more likely, I remember saying to tease him. He didn’t appreciate my comment. In fact, M almost refused to continue until I finally apologized, assuring him that I did want to hear more.
M was never the same after the night he found the creature’s body. He called her a mermaid, but made it clear that was only because he wasn’t comfortable taking on the responsibility for naming an entire new species of sentient creatures. He was always very adamant on that last point–their sentience. I always thought it was a strange point, since M only ever saw a corpse, but by then I knew better than to argue. Perhaps I should have, though. Looking back, his insistence could clearly be the first sign of many for what was to come.
At first, and for a long time after, his fixation made sense. I mean, if you found something that should be, by all accepted accounts, impossible, you would be invested in your discovery as well, if only to repudiate the inevitable accusations of madness lobbed at you from all sides. I was sympathetic. I really was. Even though by the time I reached the beach, all proof was gone. Reclaimed by the ocean that originally served up this mystery, most likely. Or, as M claimed during his darker moments, kidnapped and processed by the same agency that had prevented the truth from coming to light before now. After all, M would insist, it’s impossible to think this is the fist time this has happened. Clearly some kind of cover up is occurring, he would suggest.