Fisherman

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.)

Erasmus

The house is wrong. It is wrong that the house was even built. Call it a castle if you must. It might warrant it for size, but it would be a misnomer, as it is something else. It’s not a castle. Castles are things that humans make. It’s not really a house. Something so vast is not a house. It can’t be a house. Not if it has all those rooms, those dank warrens of chambers, where no one goes. To call it a home is not quite right either. Though three live there. Only the three cats. They have lived there longer than anyone but they themselves could possibly remember.

Call it a building. Call it a structure. Call it an edifice.

The cats wish it would be gone. For they are its servants and its guardians, pledged to watch over the structure and keep its magic safe. For the castle is powerful. In itself. It is energizing. They wish it would just vanish as the island upon which it sits vanished long ago. You cannot see the island in its channel. Isoltane needs no fog to hide it. It is invisible. You cannot see the stones of Isoltane. That is the name the witch gave the stones which hold the form of the house or castle or whatever it is.

Isoltane and the island upon which it sits are invisible until a human foot steps upon the island. Then all becomes clear. But men in boats or ships can only find the island, find Isoltane, by accident. They must accidentally land there. This has only happened twice. There are creatures in the water who fend off sea-goers who would be sea-comers. This is an additional finny protection. These creatures have ways of reducing the chances that any human will set foot upon the island. But sometimes they slip up. Twice they did fail to prevent landings. Both arrivals ended badly and the accidental guests never left the island. They are at the bottom of the island. Those men are at the bottom of Isoltane. Their boats are ashes at the bottom of the sea that sloshes coldly against jagged, green stones which gird the island over which Isoltane floats. Yes, Isoltane floats (ever so slightly) since a witch’s house must not rest upon the earth.

Isoltane is an aeolian dwelling. It is powered by wind, the strong winds of the channel. The uppermost floor of the castle (here I will give in and use that word) is open to the sky at either end. It is a channel for the winds that come off the water, off the waves. It is a tunnel to channel the winds that come off the water and its cold waves. The wind screams through that hall and there are machines which catch it, which harness its power. These machines turn other machines below and the power of the sky animates the strange house. The sea, then, manages the house. The house belongs to the sea in whose channel it sits. Nobody knows who built it. Probably someone enchanted by the witch whose house (not home) this once was. Witches do not have homes. They have houses. Or perhaps the stones were levitated into place by musicians whose instruments possessed the charms to accomplish this. This was a quite common form of home construction in the Ancient World. A magician who could ensorcel stones with his lyre would make a good contractor in those days.

The three cats occupy the three levels of Isoltane. Erasmus the Elder occupies the uppermost floor. He has patroled it for many human lifetimes. Merribelle the Huntress watches over the second level of Isoltane. And Dolor the Miserable patrols the lowest level of the castle.

The cats of Isoltane gather frequently to pool their information and fine-tune their strategy. Make no mistake: the guardianship of Istoltane is a military operation. You might think they lead sedentary existences, since they are cats and since humans so rarely arrive there. This is not so. Though humans rarely chance upon the island, the original owner of Isoltane makes frequent and vicious attempts to reclaim her former house. This is the witch Mgraga, the one who built Isoltane–or caused it to be built. Even the cats do not know which is correct. Isoltane was already standing when they were stolen from the Celtic priests they served so well and brought here against their will.

Merribelle was in the Green Serpent Chamber listening to the player piano which she had asked to play The Meribelle Concerto. This was one of her own symphonic compositions and she was still trying, after seventy years, to determine whether this composition was truly finished. She never knew for sure. Certainly, she had no problem with the eponymous and vainglorious title. That was fine. But the music That was a different story. The player violins had just reached the scherzo, which sounded like cats screaming and running all directions, and this portion of the composition pleased her still, pleased her mightily. At this moment of supreme self-satisfaction, Erasmus padded into the room and launched into a fusillade of criticisms. The charmed instruments stopped playing instantly.

Merribelle swung around as though her tail had made the decision on its own and faced her fellow feline-in-arms.

Erasmus was not criticizing her concerto. He was nothing but supportive when it came to Merribelle’s composing. It was rather her defense of Isoltane that he sometimes judged less than satisfactory. But then Merribelle considered him a worrywart and a fussbudget.

“And if Mgraga were to appear at this instant at the weakest point of defense on this floor, would Isoltane not fall back into her claws this very day?”

“Oh please! Do you think I would be enjoying these few moments of leisure if I had any doubts about my defenses?”

“Well, there was the Beltane Incident.”

“The Beltane Incident was due to the eclipse and you know that. Any cat would have had a breach on a night with a conjunction like that. And she was repelled.”

“I seem to recall Dolor repelled her. From your floor. Not his. Why should a watch-cat have to defend a floor other than his or her own?”

“In any case, Erasmus, I have checked my crystal points and everything is functioning smoothly. I even changed two quartzes today that were supposed to be good for another fortnight. Just to make assurance double-sure.”

“That’s good. You haven’t bought any more of those generic crystals online, I hope? I nearly jumped out of my fur when I saw those in the network. They’re made by trolls not gnomes, you know. Trolls produce…

“Trolls produce substandard defense crystals. Yes, if I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times from you. And we’ve been through this as recently as last full moon. If you’d like to run a check on my floor’s network, just say so and let’s be done with it. Besides, if you watched WNN you’d know that Mgraga is vacationing in the Southern Ether with her sisters right now. She was featured on a program just yesterday.”

“I don’t watch WNN because I cannot stand the pro-witch propaganda, the outright proselytizing. And I think they sometimes give out misinformation to misdirect. In fact, I’m sure of it. How could you possibly trust witches to give you good news?”

“Well, I do find it entertaining sometimes and not all the news anchors are…”

“I’ll be upstairs,” Erasmus said, “doing my job.” It was worse than curt. It was rude. His tail was virtually in her whiskers before she had even reached the halfway point of her sentence.

Archibald’s Skin

scifi

Archibald’s mother was looking for him. She went into her son’s bedroom to find Archibald’s skin, but not Archibald, lying on the bed.

She hadn’t known that boys could do snake tricks like that sometimes. But it didn’t really surprise her. She had learned not to be surprised at anything boys do. She ran in her silly, marvelous little heels to the back door and put one hand against the wrinkled screen. Her fingers nervously tapped across the gritty, orange-rusted, orange-frosted metal of the screen, as though it were a decayed typewriter. At the same moment, her other equally manicured hand went up over her brow to perform the function of a hat visor as she stared into the full-bore assault of a summer sunset. She was trying to see if Archibald was playing in the field of wildflowers behind their house, as he so often did.

The glare was too much, so Archibald’s mother had to step outside. She could see that many boys were playing.It looked like a spirited game of tag. But she still couldn’t make out any details yet. They were all just silhouettes against the ridiculous histrionics of light the sun was engaging in as it left the earth, or rather, as the earth left it.

Then she saw that all the boys had shed their skins. It wasn’t just her Archibald. All the boys looked like mice that had just been born. It disturbed Archibald’s mother when she realized how much all the boys looked alike now. Which one was her Archibald?

But  she had her answer as soon as she asked, since one red (well, actually, his exposed musculature was almost pink) boy came zipping over to the woman, only to laugh, “Hello, Mother!”

She was not amused.

“Archibald, I’m going to make a roast, and when I stop in your room in fifteen minutes, I expect to see you in there and back in your skin. You will be going to bed early. But I may bring your supper to you there if you’re there the first time I check. If not, not.”

And then she turned and stalked off to her kitchen. She wasn’t going to dignify any possible disagreement by listening further.

Archibald’s mother trusted that he would be a good boy and listen, so she prepared a plate for him. The generous slices of tenderly bloody roast were still steaming among the baby carrots as she carried the plate up the plush stairs, walked it down the plush hallway and entered Archibald’s plush room.

Archibald was in his bed, a stuffed animal laid over his face like a mask. He looked like a little shaman. It was a raccoon. The fake animal covered his eyes. The tail hung down over the side of his face, the side of the bed. It was a realistic looking tail.

“Now that’s my boy!” said his mother. And she brought the plate to his side.

She saw that Archibald had not only gotten back into his skin, lickety-split, but he had also discreetly put pajamas over it. She loved how the pajamas had feet in them that glowed in the dark. They glowed a shade of green that only exists in the movies.

Mother served Archibald in bed. She even tucked his napkin like a bib. It was the royal treatment.

She had been stroking his belly while he ate. The child found it disturbing. The mother did not.

“Mother?”

“Yes, Archibald?”

“I’m quite enjoying your roast, Mother. And the baby carrots are sooo succulent.”

“Good. I’m glad you’re enjoying it, sugar flakes.”

“But, Mother, have you looked in my eyes?”

And it was like a lightning bolt. Archibald’s mother looked into the eyes inside Archibald’s skin. They were not Archibald’s eyes. They were the same color, almost the exact same hue, but they did not have the sparkle unique to the eyes of her son Archibald, which was a bewildering sparkle like lightning in a lake where somebody is politely drowning. These eyes presently inside her son’s skin were more mischievous eyes. They were more monkey eyes.

“Bobby? Bobby Wilkins? Is that you? Is that you inside my boy’s skin?”

He giggled like a drunk in Las Vegas then, though he was just a boy. He felt himself an accomplished prankster, a Loki, the monkey at the top of the tree. And he had even gotten some mature female companionship out of his shenanigans.

“And I have something else to tell you,” Bobby said.

“Go on,” Archibald’s mother said, seemingly without trepditation.

“My Daddy has been wearing your husband’s skin for a week. And you never even knew! Aren’t daddies funny?”

Bobby threw himself back on the bed, clutching the stuffed raccoon, and squealed like a freak.

“Bobby, I knew. Look closely into my eyes now. It’s Mother.”

Bobby leaped forward, puzzled. He realized she spoke the truth. His mother was now wearing Mrs. Hassenpfeffer’s skin. How had he missed that one?

“I’m sorry to inform you, Bobby, that your father is dead. Now we need to get our things together and get out of here. Please run to wherever Archibald is and tell him you need your skin back immediately. Tell him we’re going on a family trip.”

Bobby hesitated. He was to the door but he hadn’t exited yet. He stared with horror and fascination as his mother slipped out of the dress and skin of his best friend’s Mom.

He stared at the crumpled breasts lying on the floor.

He wondered whether it should have turned him on. He was at that age. After all, wasn’t he someone else? Wasn’t she?  But wait. They were both the same.

“I mean it!” Mother suddenly bellowed at him. Bobby saw her teeth had blood in them. Or was that just lipstick?

All he wanted to know, really, was who started it.

But that would take thirty years.

And by then, he would have started collecting skins. Skins nobody really wanted to give him.

“It all began as an innocent prank,” he would often be heard telling anyone who would listen to him. But this was on death row. And he had written a celebrated book about tattoos by then. He had published it the year before the FBI closed in. Nobody reading this bestseller had realized at the time that their enjoyment of the erotic images contained in the book was actually necrophilia.

The name of the book was Skin Jobs.