A man was night fishing at surf’s edge in the darkness of a new moon.
He felt a strong tug on his rod and the battle began with what he thought must be a hammerhead shark. But as he began to win the contest and reeled the creature to shore, he saw a tumble of arms and legs. These were so pale that they glowed with their own sort of moonlight. These human limbs were almost phosphorescent.
It was a boy, he figured a corpse, some luckless soul drowned at sea.
As he pulled the body onto dry sand, using his hands now, he heard a sputtering, and fish-like sounds came from the mouth. Though it appeared to be a boy with long jet black hair, webs and fins were all about the body. This “boy” had human legs. It was not a merman. The creature seemed stunned from having been pulled from its element.
“Speak!” the man commanded the creature.
But it could only gurgle in the air. Perhaps, he thought, it could speak only underwater.
So the fisherman took his club and beat it to death.
When the fisherman served the flesh of the sea creature in a soup to his son, the boy was puzzled by the strange taste.
“What sort of fish is this?” he asked. A clear distaste was evident in his face, the twisting of his handsome features.
“Monkfish,” the father replied, without looking up from his own bowl.
They had only each other as family. The boy’s mother had died in childbirth. He had learned to trust his father. Though the young man did not like the taste of the strange “fish,” in fact despised it, he dutifully finished the meal.
Soon after that night, the fisherman’s son fell sick. He fell into a torpor and then a fever. He raved in his bed as he tossed and turned. He talked constantly of the sea. He told his father he would die if he were not placed in the sea.
A doctor was consulted but could do nothing. The father felt great shame for having fed his son the flesh of the creature. Oddly enough, he himself had not fallen ill, though he had eaten the same meal.
After more than a week of his son’s suffering and worsening of his condition, the father took his son to the sea. The moon was now restored, bright. He carried the boy to the surf’s edge. He laid him in the soothing, wet sand.
As soon as he began splashing some water on his son’s face, the boy seemed to improve a little. He said it helped.
“These clothes,” his son moaned. The father understood and helped him out of his sweat-drenched vestments. He was horrified to see the fins that had sprouted on his son’s arms, on his legs near his ankles, the webbing between his toes and around his neck.
The boy began to crawl towards the sea.
The father saw him struggling and helped him to reach a depth of water where he could float. He could feel his son growing stronger by the minute as they went further into the ocean.
His son smiled. Then he laughed.
“Thank you, father. Thank you thank you thank thank you….” he said as he swam away.
(This is my adaptation of a Japanese folktale of which countless versions exist.)