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James Elizabeth Cook, 13 May '14

'She’s enormous' is all Lily can think, over and over. Completely bloody enormous.

The deck is slightly tilted beneath Lily as she sits, staring straight ahead and trying not to panic. Bad enough that she had come to a dead stop in the middle of the ocean; anyone would have panicked at that, though Lily is experienced enough to know it never gets anything done and in fact can be a fatal mistake.

But the sight of the huge mermaid towing her ship nearly brings her to hyperventilation.

"So," the mermaid says, her salt-encrusted hair looking like ropes cascading down her vast, dark brown back, her voice a rumble that seems to seep into Lily’s bones, majestic in a way Lily can’t even begin to wrap her head around. "What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this, anyway?" The hand not clasped around Lily’s ship waves vaguely at the surrounding sea.

It takes Lily a moment to respond, stumbling over her words. “It’s- it’s- just a hobby.” After a moment, she hastily adds, “This doesn’t usually happen, I’ve done it before.” The mermaid’s easy grace through the water despite her size and burden makes Lily feel clumsy, marooned at sea like a newcomer who bit off more than she could chew. Her saviour chuckles. It’s like thunder.

"I should hope so, being this far from land!"

There had a been a mermaid at Lily’s school, for heaven’s sake. She’d used a wheelchair to get around and while her scaled body and strikingly inhuman eyes had been something of a shock, she’d been regularly sized. Once you got over the novelty, she was really quite easy to get used to seeing. This one- her name had been some collection of hums and clicks Lily can’t even try and replicate- this one doesn’t even have scales, with smooth grey skin extending up to her abdomen instead, interrupted by ridges and flashes of white. Some relation to whales, perhaps.

After a moment’s silence, Lily tries to pull herself together. “I really do appreciate this.” It sounds a little feeble.

"No problem," the mermaid says, "anything for a pretty face." The wink is audible, her back being turned or not.

Lily resists the urge to sink her head into her hands. There is a good chance she’s bright red. She has absolutely no dignity or rationality left in her, and possibly she’s never going to regain them.

"Anyway," the implacable voice continues, "I haven’t been to the shore in ages. Always good to get the news. We’re pretty behind on things all the way out here, you know. Gets pretty lonely." She casts a glance over her shoulder, eyes sparkling in a lovely face that could have been carved from stone, and it dawns on Lily that the woman is young. Perhaps even Lily’s age, barely an adult. It could be that Lily is, in fact, party to some sort of teenage rebellion, an illicit jaunt of some kind. The thought makes her smile despite herself. A little of her nervousness begins to ebb away at last.

"Must be nice, really," she says. "I love that about the ocean. Nobody to bother you." She lets out a sigh, thinking of the fantastic week she’d had before all this, surrounded by grey skies and grey sea and the work of sailing to keep her hands occupied. Perfect.

"I guess," is her dubious response. "I mean, it’s a bit boring. Mostly old people."

"Rural life, that sort of thing?" Lily hazards.

"Something like that. I know it sucks you got stuck all the way out here, but I’m kind of glad. It’s nice to see a new face once in a while."

"Are you planning on… staying for a while? When we get to shore, I mean?" The question slips out without Lily really considering it.

"I might," is the hopeful response. "You know, hang around the docks for a bit, maybe. Can’t get a chair big enough to go any further," she adds, sounding wistful. The mental image is a little comical and Lily stifles a giggle at it.

"I’ll probably be sticking around for a couple of days as well, is all," Lily says. "I may as well take the time before I get back out there."

"Oh," says the elemental, elegant, enormous mermaid who it seems Lily has decided to make friends with, "Well, great!" She sounds terribly enthusiastic, and Lily finds the last of her previous awkwardness has drained away entirely.

They head for shore.