Slip-slap, slip-slap. Someone tosses their last bite of pizza crust into the water. It’s on the surface a second before one of the Mer snatches it. Pokes his eyes up—a male for sure with that vibrant orange head-crest—blinks, drops back into the water.
“My god, that was one of them?” the guy asks, holds his girl a little tighter. She’s wide eyed, looking like she’s just seen an act of cannibalism. These upper folk, so fucking skittish.
Grail snaps his Zippo closed. “Mm,” drags on the thin cigar. A blend of his own. Cloves, a hint of lavender, sage, tobacco of course, and something he won’t tell anyone about. Puts that hint of a sparkle into his eyes. You won’t notice it, unless you do. Has to catch you off guard. “Yes indeed, a real life Mer.”
“I-I’ve heard you can talk to them,” says the girl.
Looks like she’s in her twenties, but talks like she’s stuck in her teens. Why? A ploy? Must serve her in some way. Grail’s seen the act before, plenty, it’s annoying is what it is. “Sure, I have whole conversations.”
The guy scowls, face warps into disgust. “Foul. Why would you want to?”
Grail shrugs. Because they have things to say? Why talk to anyone? he wonders. “Alright, you ready to see the sights?”
“Absolutely. I’ve heard it can be a real horror show.”
- - -
Grail kills the engine, the fan spins to a stop. They’re down a side tunnel that dead-ends in another fifty yards. Or so it seems. Drop below the water and you can keep swimming. Assuming you’ve got some serious lungs, or air, or gills. A year back, in the midst of a drought, the water was a few feet lower. Grail was zooming along, not paying attention. Fan-boat went into the tunnel and his head slammed into the arch. Fell into the water, got disoriented, couldn’t find his way out. Would have drowned right there if it hadn’t been for the Mer.
They rescued him. He asked what he could do to to return the favor. They asked that he keep using the fan boat, nothing with a prop. Too many had been injured, a few killed. Grail took it a step further. Made it his mission to help the Mer any way he could. One way was to ensure that no one used a prop in the tunnels. Hadn’t been a Mer injury from a boat since. As thanks the Mer gave him a small supply of an herb they grew. Once dried and smoked it…Ah, well, that’s a story for another time.
- - -
“Is this where we’ll see some?” the guy asks.
“Should see a whole lot in a minute.” Grail pulls the half-smoked cigar out of his jacket’s inside pocket. Lights it. The end burns blue. He smiles. “Here they come.” He nods towards the hidden tunnel where he’d been rescued those years before.
“Oh my god—look at all those eyes. There must be…Five, six…Nine, twelve—are we safe here?”
Slip-slap, slip-slap, the boat rocking in the water. Grail nods. “I’m about as safe as can be.” Puts his foot against the guy’s shoulder—shoves. The girl screams for a half second before a slick wet hand covers her mouth. The arm is ribbed with lines of green, purple, and deep shades of blue.
“Screamer, huh?” Teol asks, shoving the gal’s head underwater. Removes her hand from her mouth, bubbles break the surface.
“Fucking hell, you should have heard these two.”
“No thanks.” Teol chuckles. She shows no sign of effort keeping the girl under water. “You need anymore safmil?”
Grail takes another drag, lifts the smoke, “I’m good. These two should last you—what? A week?”
Teol nods. “Sounds about right. We’re expanding the garden though, might need more fertilizer soon.”
Grail laughs. “Fertilizer. Right. See you around.”
“Tonight?” Teol winks.
Grial nods. “Okay, yeah. Tonight.”