's 2013 Horror Write-off:

" The Mermaid "

Submitted by Rhakshasarani

Jemmy Smith may not have had enough brains to fry an egg, but he knew a mermaid when he saw one. That pastor-man in the little chapel on the hill had called down Yahweh’s thunder, banished all the fishermen’s old gods back to the deep. He called pink-cheeked Jesus to watch over their haul, rather than the old man with goat legs that ended in fins. As if a carpenter knew anything about fish.

Jeremiah Standard Smith knew fish more than he knew letters. She wasn’t blonde and fair-skinned, and she stank something fierce, but there was something so distinctly un-fishlike about her that Jemmy knew he’d bagged the big one. He turned the rest of his catch out for old Neptune and rowed to shore.

He knew how these stories went. The maid wept and begged to be returned to the sea, but the fisherman took her to wife instead and enjoyed health and prosperity… unless she found her girdle before nine years were up. Jemmy was no fool, he checked her for anything resembling a girdle or any kind of jewelry he could bury. But she owned nothing finer than the pink of her insides when she drew breath through her gills.

Doubt tickled Jemmy’s mind at first. He brought her to his bed and watched for her to cast off her scales and turn smooth-skinned, but she lay there gasping.

She didn’t eat. She didn’t thrive. For the first three days he’d thought she’d die, but she just kept on living. If you could call it living. Jemmy poked and prodded but found no husband-hole, so he made one with his knife. After a while he got used to the smell.

Jemmy would sit in church on Sundays and grin a secret grin while the pastor called the village his flock, his sheep. Jemmy was no goddamn sheep, he was a man, and he knew it. The others at the dock complained about his reek, but Jemmy knew they were just too soft, used to city soaps with perfumes like women.

The weather turned hot and the mermaid got sticky. Things started falling out her, organs most likely, but no organs he’d ever seen. Something that looked like a white rubber sandwich plate, a froth of blue-white spheres, a hollow bubble that evaporated when burst. He tried cooking one and found it spoiled the flavor, so he took to shucking them raw, like oysters. She didn’t seem to care, didn’t seem to need them. It seemed to Jemmy he caught more than his fair share of fish, or maybe the other fishermen just gave his boat a wider berth now. He was prosperous, but his gut was troubling him. He paid the doctor two whole pennies only for a physical exam to turn up nothing. Jemmy decided he was done with doctors.

One day the preacher man bust in the door of his shack while he was kneeling down by the maid’s prone body. She moved a little less these days, and Jemmy knew exactly why. He greeted the pastor with pride.

“What in Jesus’s name have you done, Jeremiah Smith?”

Jemmy grinned with pride. “It’s a sea-maid pastor. I’ve took her to wife.”

The pastor crossed himself. “Now why’d you go and do a thing like that?”

“Because it’s sea-bizness pastor, you wouldn’t understand. She’s mine and now she’s fixin’ to have my brood.”

The pastor’s mouth dropped open. “No, Jemmy, no!”

“She’ll bear my kin, pastor, mark my words, and then no man in this village will be able to pull a line without tithe to me.”

The pastor shook his head. “No, Jemmy, you don’t understand. That ain’t how it happens. That’s not how they breed.”

The agony in Jemmy’s gut doubled.