-Until one day
-Upper, upend, uandino, unfortunate, under, underwater, ubiquitous, urban, unfair, urge, utter, ultimate, unauthorized, umbrella, ukulele, undersell, unbridled, unwise, unable, unicorn, unique
In all of the universe, there was perhaps no one quite as unlucky as Urcellus Marin.
He should not have been so unfortunate, all things considered; his Uncle Urwin had been fishing the Channel between Overcliff and Crossway long enough to know the most under-trafficked areas, and with the upswing in the use of large nets for trawling, they were able to bring in enough fish to undersell the urban, single-line fishers. These ubiquitous “small-timers” would complain about the unfairness, but Urwin would shrug and, ultimately, they all would have to agree that it was “just business.”
In fact, Urcellus knew that if anyone could build a case for the unfairness of fishing practices around the Channel, it would be the Marin family, as the one thing that severely hampered their fishing efforts was the continued existence of the mermaid kingdom, Undersea. As long as Undersea maintained its boundaries, the fishing wardens of the Channel would block off whole sections where fishing was not allowed. Uncle Urwin was smart enough to realize how unwise this was, as the fish would gather in these “unauthorized” sections, where common fishermen were unable to get to them, thereby drawing more fish away from the sections they should have been allowed. Day after day, Uncle Urwin would deliver the ultimatum that today would be the day he would urge the warden to unbar these sections, even for a few hours, just long enough for him to cull from the masses of fish and enjoy the unfettered freedom of less competition, but day after day, he would give up, and Urcellus would accompany him to the old trawling grounds, just bordering the unsanctioned areas, and their voluminous nets would bring in an underwhelming number of unimpressive fish. By the time Urcellus was old enough to begin fishing himself, he was well and truly unhappy about the whole situation.
“Unconscionable!” He uttered, and stomped out the door. He would show those undeserving wardens just how underhanded his family could be! He would teach them to try and force the hand of an unstoppable trawling business! The young man gave vent to unbridled rebellion as he marched to the docks and unmoored his boat. Rowing straight out to the very edge of the “unauthorized” zone, all the way to the furthest buoy from the shores of Crossway, Urcellus made his protest known by jamming his mother’s umbrella—a flamboyant, lacy thing whose loose ribs caused the contraption to undulate with even the slightest breeze—in the top of the small float. Unfettered and entirely undisturbed, Urcellus lowered the unwieldy fishing net, and undertook the task of waiting until the small bell on the underside of the boom began to ring, alerting him to the fact that the nets were full, and he could leave.
Urcellus sighed and leaned back in his boat as he brought up his father’s ukulele. He strummed a few of what he considered to be chords, unmindful of whether they were actually in tune at all. The boat rocked gently back and forth; Urcellus felt the unshakeable weight of relaxation settle over him, and he soon fell under the spell of the soothing waves. Up in the sky, the sun beat uncomfortably, so much that Urcellus had to shade his eyes from the unrelenting brightness. He could rest his eyes; the unsuspecting fish would swim right into his net…
The shrill clanging of a bell jolted Urcellus out of his unconsciousness so hard that he nearly upended himself. The boat was unbalanced, leaning heavily toward the side with the net; he had definitely made an unwilling catch! Urcellus leaned against the winch, hauling the net toward the boat. He grunted at the unexpected weight, but he would not be undermined in his goal! As the net drew closer, Urcellus peered at the contents; it wasn’t a net full of fish like he wanted, but the mesh wound tightly around a unique creature he had never seen before. The unmarred, white body encouraged him; the size of this fish alone was sure to produce plenty of meat to split into small fillets and sell to unsuspecting villagers. However, as the creature twisted, Urcellus glimpsed another feature that he was unequipped to handle: a single, wicked-looking, twisting horn protruding from the animal’s head.
“What’s this?” Urcellus murmured to himself, “an underwater unicorn of some sort?”
They fought back and forth for several minutes, each one uncompromising in their efforts. Try as he might, Urcellus was unable to get a clear view of exactly the underwater creature he was dealing with—right up until the moment the “unicorn” gave a mighty heave, breaking the beam holding the net and upending the boat completely. Urcellus didn’t have time to gasp for breath before he found himself underwater.
Down he sank, unable to draw breath, or even to gather enough strength to propel himself back to the surface. His prize catch, unfettered by the boat as it was now, swam swiftly away in the unmerciful current, its speed unhindered by the presence of the tattered remains of Urcellus’ net still wrapped around the body.
The young man felt his lungs begin to burn as he hung there in the water. He had been utterly unsuccessful in nearly every aspect of his ignoble mission, and now he would not even survive to give an account for his deeds. Urcellus hung his head—and witnessed an unfamiliar shape heading toward him from an area even deeper in the water. It glinted in the sparse shafts of sunlight, and it moved too quickly for him to distinguish its shape. Urcellus nearly unleashed a scream right there in the water as a cold, slippery appendage wrapped around his shoulders, and a thick, gooey substance smeared over his face. The appendage let go, and the new creature appeared in front of Urcellus.
Now, he did scream, his mouth springing open unwittingly and the sound escaping his throat. Urcellus inhaled precisely one breath before he realized what had happened: he had screamed, and breathed, underwater, and yet his airways remained clear of liquid.
How could this be? He raised his hands up to his face, and felt the uneven blobs of sticky, stretchy substance. His eyes moved to regard the apparent source of this substance: a creature far too fish-like to be recognized as human, yet too human-like to be dismissed as a fish. In other words, a mermaid.
“Olleyo,” the creature opened her mouth and sounds escaped, as if speaking, “Ehm Yssandra; whettar yoo doonear?”
Urcellus could only blink in response; he could piece together that the mermaid was trying to introduce herself, but he didn’t want to find out what happened if she knew he could understand her!
The mermaid swam closer, her dark hair streaming back as a solid-gold scallop shell glinted just under her chin. She smiled and might have been friendly and welcoming to him, but Urcellus was by now thoroughly unsettled. He flailed backward with his arms, and looked up toward his boat.
The mermaid looked as well. “Oonee taggetta these errface?” she burbled in her strange, quasi-human language.
Urcellus didn’t even want to look at her. He flopped and flailed in the water, trying to push himself upward through the liquid. The mermaid with the dark hair swiftly placed her hands under his arms and bore him toward the surface with powerful strokes of her violet-hued tail.
Urcellus felt his head break the surface, but the sticky substance remained, and so did the mermaid. He saw her pull out a wide leaf of some sort, and smear it over her own face, leaving the gooey coating from the underside of the leaf behind on her mouth and gills. She saw him watching her, and showed him the leaf.
“Uandino,” she gurgled. “Grozon thussee flor.”
Whatever it was, Urcellus couldn’t help noticing that it enabled her to breathe the air with her gills, in much the same way it enabled him to breathe underwater. The very idea scared him: what if the mermaids could climb onto the land? Would they start undermining the human kingdoms?
The mermaid still waited by the side of the boat, watching Urcellus as if she wanted something, but what could it be? A large, ungainly shape materialized under his boat, and the young fisherman had only enough time to recognize a large white body wrapped in fishing net, when the spear-like horn pierced the surface of the water very close to the boat. The mermaid looked down at the water with fear in her eyes as the “unicorn” flashed past her, and her expression became all the more urgent when her body suddenly disappeared under the water, tail-first. Urcellus sat in his boat, quaking in fear as the unicorn emerged from the water, with the mermaid tangled in the net he had cast over it.
“HELP!” the mermaid shrieked very clearly, but Urcellus had seen quite enough of this forbidden zone. He took up the oars and rowed with all his might back to the dock. He didn’t even mind that the family fishing legacy had ultimately ended with him. From that day forward, Unlucky Urcellus would remain in Crossway, and never set foot near the water again.
Did you enjoy this story? As it so happens, "Undersea" is the name of the mer-kingdom in my book, Princess of Undersea. This story was intended as somewhat of a slapdash tie-in story--those who have read the book may recognize the mermaid, Yssandra--at least her name, anyway! Hope you enjoyed it, and if you're interested in finding out more, click the hyperlinked text above, or just go to the "Princess of Undersea" page at the top of the blog!
Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series: ( * Continuations of Suggestion Box installments)