The Mermaid’s Game

📅 Published on December 4, 2021

“The Mermaid’s Game”

Written by Chisto Healy
Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 10.00/10. From 3 votes.
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Darren stood at the bow of the boat, staring at the beautiful topless woman that floated and bobbed in the water nearby, her fire-red hair fanning out into the sea around her. She was smiling at him. It was the most gorgeous smile he had ever seen, big, with full lips a shade of blue-green as opposed to the red or maroon he was used to seeing. What was she doing out here in the middle of the ocean? There was nothing out here. He hadn’t even seen any other boats, not for days.

Well, whoever she was, she was wonderful. He knew that much. His eyes soaked up the curves and contours of her face and followed them down to her perfectly tanned arms and the large swollen breasts that floated out before them. Darren would have loved for her to come on board, and he considered inviting her to do just that. He closed his eyes for a second and fantasized about making love to her in his cabin, those luscious green lips entwined with his own dried out sun-bleached lips, her tanned body atop his sunburned one. The seemingly endless voyage finally felt worthwhile. The countless days went by no longer mattered, and tugged at his sanity. His body twitched. He could almost feel her slender hands upon his flesh. He needed to see her again. Yet, when he opened his eyes, she was gone. Nothing was before him but the vast expanse of the never-ending dark blue ocean that had been suffocating him for months. She had seemed so real.

Darren blinked and stared at the water. He squinted and strained, but the woman was gone. If she was real and not just a hallucination from too many days in the sun, she had somehow disappeared when he wasn’t looking. He shook his head. He’d been out on the water too long. He had known that already, but now he was starting to see things, to imagine things, or allow his brain to trick his eyes. After a while, when you’ve been out here long enough, everything starts to look like a beautiful woman. He imagined himself humping a rock face, and he chuckled cynically.

“You’re not going crazy,” Clark said, walking over to him. He patted Darren’s back and then looked over the railing at the empty water. “But if you see her again, you’d do best to act like you didn’t anyway. Trust me on that. We don’t have that much longer until this is all over, and we don’t need the kind of trouble she could bring.”

Darren shook his head and blinked more. He glanced at the ship’s captain. His confusion was evident. “If I’m not going crazy, then where the hell did she go? You may be able to not look at a beautiful woman’s naked breasts, but I don’t have that skill, Clark, especially after seeing no one but you for so long, no offense.”

“Develop that skill,” Clark said. “She’s not human, and she’s not alone. I brought you along on this trip to help me, but I’ve been doing this a long time. I know what’s out there. You’re going to have to trust me. If you see her again, act like you don’t.”

Darren raised an eyebrow and looked at him quizzically. “I’ve been out here with you way too long for you to get all cryptic on me now. Speak plainly, Clark.”

“Do you think there are a lot of naked women floating around in the middle of the ocean? She’s one of the Mer. Is that plain enough?” There was an intensity in Clark’s sun-dried gaze. His bronze skin seemed ready to crack as if the fire in his eyes was too much for his face to handle.

“A mermaid,” Darren said, looking back out at the water. Even though the concept was half-crazy, somehow, he knew it was true. Clark had never given him a reason to distrust him, but it wasn’t even that. It was something deeper, something instinctual. Like the answer just made sense out of his experience somehow. “I didn’t know Mermaids were real. Are they dangerous?”

“They’re extremely dangerous,” Clark told him. “But it’s not the female you need to worry about. It’s her mate. And if you see her, he’s nearby.”

Eyes still on the water, Darren said, “There are mermaid men?”

Clark sighed. “The Mer have men and women and unions, just like us. The men are very possessive and jealous, though. They will kill anyone that touches their women or even tries to. You keep looking at her, and he’ll perceive you as a threat.”

“Not much different than humans,” Darren said with a laugh, finally pulling his eyes away from the water. “You’re right about that. Just like us.”

“It’s not a joke, though,” Clark said. “They’re volatile and plenty capable. What’s worse is, the women enjoy it. They flirt with sailors just to anger their mates and see the violence that they are willing to commit in the name of love. It turns them on. It’s all a game to them and not one that I want to play. The stakes are too high. Get me?”

“You sound like you know from experience,” Darren said. “You’ve faced them before? What happened?”

“What do you think happened? Do you hear what I’m telling you? I’ve lost many crew members to the Mer. Please don’t add to that list, Darren. Just do what I’m telling you. Don’t look, and don’t engage.”

Darren nodded. “How come they’ve never gotten you? How did you get away?”

“I didn’t do anything badass if that’s what you’re thinking. I don’t so much as look at them. They might as well be coral to me. It’s the only way, even after they’ve gutted one of your guys and dragged him into the depths. The sea is a dangerous place, Darren. There are many dangers. You must know them all and not give in to them, ever. You don’t play their game.”

“Right,” Darren said, turning his eyes back to the water. “I can’t believe you had to pretend not to see them after they killed your crew. That couldn’t have been easy.”

“Easier than joining them.”

Darren pulled his eyes off of the water, feeling suddenly wary of what he might spy out there. Icy fingers crawled up his spine even in the heat of the sun that was baking them to a crisp. He forced a smile and worked to change the subject. “Hey Clark, what’s in the cargo we picked up? Why did we do all this? Is it worth it?”

Clark shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know, man. I learned a long time ago not to ask questions. I just do my job. It’s still better than pirating, right? I mean, at least I’m getting something I’m intended to and not stealing. Sure the cargo could be hot, but that’s not on me. I’m just a courier.”

“So, a blind eye is your specialty, huh?”

“It better be yours too. Don’t make me regret choosing you for this job, Darren.”

“Course not,” Darren said. He watched Clark walk away, and then his eyes moved back to the water. He was searching the surface for shadows underneath. Was she gone? How many were there? His mind took the bait and showed him images of a school of half-human fish lurking under and around their ship, waiting on their moment to strike. He shook off the vision and backed away from the edge. He couldn’t seem to et far enough back to feel safe. The waters were pretty calm, but his nerves weren’t. He decided to go lay down. For the first time since he’d been out here, he was beginning to feel seasick.

The following day, Darren saw the woman again, floating, her full naked breasts bouncing on the water’s surface like buoys. She looked his way with that enticing smile and batted her big green eyes at him when he looked back at her. Darren looked around for his captain, but he wasn’t nearby. He sighed and looked back at the beauty. It was hard to think of something so sensual as dangerous. His eyes left her then and searched the waters nearby for signs of another. He had been told it was the mate he had to fear. He didn’t see anyone but the red-headed beauty smiling his way, but that didn’t mean that no one else was there. He hadn’t forgotten how easily she fell out of sight when she wanted to. “Clark says you’re a married woman,” he said to her. “That’s bad news.”

It was hard to pull his eyes away from those caramel-colored breasts with their sun-browned nipples and her thick full lips of green that matched her magnificent eyes, but Darren thought he did see a man’s head just above the surface of the water, back behind her. Was this the game? Was the male waiting to see if he was going to play? Darren imagined Clark’s men being torn and eviscerated by a snarling merman full of razor-sharp teeth, and it was enough to make his decision. He wasn’t willing to take that chance. He wasn’t going to play anyone’s games. “I don’t mess with another guy’s girl,” he said to her. Sorry lady. I’m not interested.”

Darren turned and walked away. The only way he could get himself not to stare at something that looked that good when he had been on the water so long was not to be where he could see it. The temptation was more than he was capable of resisting. He thought even Clark was going to start looking good if they didn’t get home pretty soon, and he definitely didn’t swing that way. A drunk night with a close friend had proved that to him long ago.

Even after she was out of sight, her image still bounced around behind his eyes. There was no denying her beauty. It was hard to get her out of his head. Clark said she was dangerous, though and Darren believed him. No one knew the sea like Clark did. Darren tried to focus on the mer that he couldn’t see but could see him. Suddenly, he didn’t like having his back to the water. He felt vulnerable, unguarded, afraid. He swung around and found his red-headed temptress was gone, the water bobbing along, swaying back and forth to its natural rhythm. Games, he thought, Clark’s right. It’s all games. The hair stood up on his arms, and he wished this trip were over. He felt an overwhelming need to get home and be done with this. The pay was good, but he’d had enough of the sea for a while. He longed for his small apartment loft, far from any sign of water outside of the small sink and the shower stall.

He felt eyes on him, even though he seemed to be alone, and it didn’t sit well with him. He felt uncomfortable with whatever was happening out here. His skin crawled like it was alive, and wanting to leave without him. Someone was behind him. He could feel it. He spun around and found Clark there. The captain of the ship extended his arm. He was holding a pot. “Thought you might be hungry. You alright. You didn’t see her again, did you?”

“No,” Darren lied to avoid the lecture. “I’m just not feeling well. Maybe it’s because I’m hungry, in which case, thank you for saving me.”

Clark shook his head and laughed, turning around. Darren followed him to the tables on the lower deck, but not without pausing at the top of the stairs and looking out at the water. He thought he saw a man in the distance, just his face, breaking the surface of the water and staring in his direction with hard green eyes, but he blinked, and it was gone. He hoped to God it was his imagination. Whatever it was, it was enough to get him to hurry down those stairs.

Two days later, Darren thought he saw the woman bobbing along behind the boat. He took Clark’s advice and didn’t so much as look at her. How was she still there with how long they’d been sailing. He thought it was because they were passing through the mer’s territory, but now it seemed like the sea people had come with them. He went to find Clark. “I think that mermaid followed us,” he said when he did.

Clark met his eyes and nodded. “Of course they did. This is all part of the game. They’ll follow us across the entire ocean if they’re bored enough. Just pay them no mind, and eventually, they’ll find someone more interesting and break away. Then they’ll be someone else’s problem.”

“You think they ever get snared in fishing nets?” Darren asked.

“If they did, we wouldn’t know,” Clark told him, “because everyone on that boat would be killed, and they would be cut loose.” He turned and walked away on that note, and a chill danced its way over Darren’s spine.

The next day, Darren was staring at the stars. It was a literal light in the dark. He needed it. He was homesick and over it, but Clark said it would only be a few more days before they made it back. He wished a woman was waiting for him back home. She didn’t have to look like the woman in the water. It just would have been nice to know that someone was at home waiting on him, anxious for him to get back. He had never married, though. It wasn’t for lack of trying. It just seemed like it wasn’t in the cards for him. His apartment was empty. There was no one waiting, no one that would even know if he never made it home.

Darren noticed the mermaid then, smiling at him from the water beside the boat. It was like she could read his thoughts or feelings. She knew when he was vulnerable. She showed herself when he needed to see her. She was feeding off of his loneliness, and that pissed him off. He knew it was a manipulation, part of the game, and why it worked. It made him so angry. How dare she? It was just cruel, and to do it with her husband waiting in the wings, hungry for blood. It was just so messed up.

He looked at her, and she gave him a little wave to go with that charming smile she always wore. His free hand ran over her wet breasts. More flirting. “I don’t want you! I don’t like you! Shoo! Scram!” Darren yelled at her. “I’m tired of this crap. Why do you keep following us? Why do you keep tormenting me? Go away!”

He threw the cup he was drinking from at her. She easily avoided it and waved her finger at him as if she were saying shame to a naughty child. Darren growled and stormed away, done with her, husband or no husband. The boat jerked hard, and he lost his footing, slipping to the deck and landing hard on his knee. They had stopped moving completely. Suddenly, Clark was standing before him. “What did you do? What the hell did you do?!”

Darren shook his head. “I did what you said to do. I told the mermaid to get lost. I don’t like being toyed with.”

Clark stared angrily at him, his lip curled in a snarl. “I said to ignore them, not disrespect them. Now you’ve pissed him off. You played into her game. Now there’s a good chance that we’re both going to die, so thank you very much for that.”

Darren’s eyes went wide. “I was just trying to get her to leave me alone. I didn’t mean…”

“It’s too late for that,” Clark said. “Get your gun and be ready to use it. He’ll be coming.” When the other man ran off to follow that instruction, he pulled a pistol from his belt and held it out before him. He was trying to keep his hand from trembling with the nerves that ran through him like electricity. He stood away from the edges of the boat but kept his eyes on them. He knew he was coming. It was just a matter of when and from where. He had known that they would put their hope in swaying Darren, which would keep them off the ship. He was banking on it. Now they were desperate, drawn to violence. He’d seen it before, and it always ended badly.

When Darren got back, he was nervously clutching his gun. “What do we do now?” he said quietly, his eyes dancing from side to side, watching the edges of the boat, waiting for the imminent attack.

“We wait,” Clark told him. “Just stay vigilant.”

The seconds that passed felt like hours. The men kept turning and looking, clutching to the guns in their hands, prepared to use them. The attack didn’t come. Maybe Clark had been wrong. They were both thinking it, hoping for it. “Why did the boat stop?” Darren asked in little more than a whisper. “Did you stop it? Maybe we should get moving. Just try to make it home.”

“They hooked us, Darren. The Mer have technology. It’s different but effective nonetheless. They fashion things out of stone, bone and coral, but they’re not simple-minded creatures. Their designs are elaborate, their crafting reliable. They basically anchored us, attaching hooks to our hull that are attached to chains carrying weights. It’s actually worse than it sounds. If the hooks punctured us, we’re also filling up with water. That’s probably why the attack hasn’t come. They’re waiting for us to capsize. I’m going, to be honest with you. It’s not good.”

Darren nodded and swallowed the lump rising in his throat. “Should I go see? Take a look? Maybe I can dislodge them, get us moving. Maybe we can reach land.”

“Yeah. Alright,” Clark told him. “ Go check. Assess the damage and get back quickly. We need to cover each other’s backs.”

When Darren ran below, Clark stared into the gentle rocking sea and said, “Alright. Where are you? Come on. We both know you’re there. You’ve been waiting a while. Do you want to do this? Let’s do it.” His thumb flicked the safety off his gun.

A loud bang issued behind him, and he spun around. The merman was there. He was enormous, his arms and torso built of rock-solid muscle, and his fishtail was as big as a great white shark. His flesh was tanned and weathered. His hair was as long and red as his mate’s, and his eyes hard. His arm was already moving by the time Clark saw him, and his spear launched through the air.

Clark’s eyes went wide. He tried to move, but he wasn’t fast enough. The spear of shell and bone went through his shoulder. He cried out and dropped his gun, slipping to the deck. The merman drew a knife of sharpened bone and snaked towards his unarmed prey. His tail swooshed back and forth, sweeping the deck. The pain in Clark’s shoulder was intense. He grimaced and tried to scoot away from the half fish/half man that towered over him.

Darren came up just in time, saw the merman and fired his gun. Clark’s attacker moved with the bang of the gunshot. The merman flipped over the edge of the boat, disappearing into the water. “Did I get him? I think I hit him, but I don’t know,” Darren said.

He ran to the edge of the boat to look, and Clark screamed at him to back up. “I don’t see him,” Darren said as he did what he was told. “Maybe I got him or at least scared him off.”

“You won’t see him,” Clark said, gritting his teeth against the pain. “ And you certainly didn’t scare him off. He’s smart, just waiting on his moment. What about the boat? How bad is it?”

“Bad,” Darren told him. “We need to do something, or we’re going to go down. I tried to pry the hooks loose, but they’re heavy, solid. They wouldn’t budge. The water isn’t trickling in, Clark. It’s coming strong.”

“Get the cargo. We’ll take the rescue boat and try to escape. We’re not going to out-paddle the mer, though. We need to kill it before we leave, or we’re screwed. Here’s to hoping the boat lasts long enough for us to do that. Keep your guard up. Next time you need to know for a fact you didn’t miss.”

Darren looked at Clark’s shoulder. He wasn’t going to be killing anything anytime soon. It was going to be on Darren to do it, and he didn’t like it. This wasn’t what he signed up for, but what choice did he have. He just hoped when it came down to it, he was able to come through. He felt like he did good when he saw the thing as he came up from below, even if he did miss it. He only hesitated for a moment. It was instinct. He fired before he’d even realized what he had done.

“Hurry! Go! Just get the cargo and bring it up here. I can’t carry it with this arm. We can’t afford to lose it in the flood down there. Go on!” Clark yelled at him. The wounded man was stumbling towards the front of the boat as he bellowed his commands. He needed to get to the first aid kit. When he pulled the spear out, he needed to be able to stop the bleeding quickly, or he was going to be in big trouble. It was going to be like uncorking a hole in a dam wall. It wasn’t going to be easy with one arm, but this wasn’t the first time he had been injured on a voyage. He could do it. He knew how to survive out here.

While Clark saw his wound and hoped the merman didn’t attack again before Darren’s return, the other man was below staring at the cargo hold. He knew that time was of the essence. The boat was quickly filling up with water. The merman could come back, and Clark was badly injured, but curiosity still nagged at him. If he was possibly going to die, he wanted to know what for. He wanted to know what was in the box that was worth his life, worth Clark’s life, worth the fortune they were being paid for this trip.

Darren decided that he had to look, to see for himself, and he shot the lock. When it fell away, he opened the lid of the box, and his mouth fell open. He stared wide-eyed at the contents and mumbled a curse under his breath. The mermaids weren’t playing games. The attack on the ship wasn’t his fault either. Clark was a liar. All of this was on him. He was the one playing games. Darren reached into the box and took out the baby. It was still alive, but it didn’t look good, its tail barely moving. “I didn’t know,” Darren said to the pale child emitting raspy choking breaths.

He carried it up the stairs. Clark was staring at him when he got to the top. His shoulder was spear-free and wrapped tightly with a bandage, the blood seeping through. The spear was in his other hand, a weapon he could still use if he needed to, and by the looks of it, he planned on doing just that.

”Put it back in the box,” he said. “Don’t think I won’t kill you. I won’t have to work ever again if I get home with that. They’re paying me millions for it, and that money is equally yours. We just have to kill the dad and make it back. We can still do this together.”

Darren froze. He didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t draw his gun while he was holding the baby. The baby needed to get back in the water, but Clark was standing in his way with that spear. He needed to buy some time. “There was no game,” he said. “They were following us because you took their child. A child, for God’s sake. How could you?”

“Put it back in the box.”

“It’s dying. It needs water.”

“It doesn’t need to be alive for us to get the money, Darren. You can be a millionaire. Be smart about this. Put it back in the box.”

There was a loud thump behind Clark. He whirled around with the spear raised to face the blade-wielding merman. When he did, Darren kicked him in the back, and he stumbled. It was enough. The merman sidestepped the spear and drove the bone blade up under his sternum. Clark gasped. Blood ran from his mouth as well as his wound, and he collapsed to the deck, his eyes staring but not seeing.

Darren stepped forward and held the baby out. The man took the child and stared into his eyes. “I’m so sorry,” Darren said. “I didn’t know. I swear, I didn’t know.”

A moment passed. Then the merman broke the intense eye contact and nodded. He and his baby dove into the water. The woman was bobbing nearby, waiting for them. She took her baby from her mate and cried out. She sounded like a dolphin, Darren thought. He lowered the small rescue boat and climbed into it. He pushed away from the sinking ship, and the mer let him pass. He hoped in his heart that the baby survived. If it should pass, he had a feeling they would come for him, make him pay for their loss, and he couldn’t say he would blame them. Whether he knew it or not, he was an accomplice. As he paddled away, he said a silent prayer for the mer baby and for himself. He could feel their eyes on him, boring into his back, watching him go, but he also knew if he turned around to look, he would see nothing.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 3 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Chisto Healy
Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Chisto Healy

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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