Yes, I entered the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge, again. Last year, I received 0 points on both entries. (Boo!) But, I enjoy that challenge. This time around, I was wary to get Romance as my first genre prompt. I mean, I write romance. My work has been accepted by 14 publishers, I teach classes in it. GULP. But, I charged forward.
Two secondary required elements were an Aquarium and a Jalapeño. I've always had a desire to write a mermaid character (Blame growing up watching Splash). Plus, I live in Long Beach with one of the most gorgeous aquariums around! I could do this!
Here's what I came up with:
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A Wet Tail
By Louisa Bacio
The warm waters caused by El Nino brought in a number of unusual sea creatures along the Pacific Coast, but the most exotic was Jocelyn. She should have known better. Swimming close to a rocky cliff, an undercurrent caught her tail and sucked her in.
Her life experiences didn’t prepare her for the consequences.
A huge wave crashed, battering her into the rocky shoreline. Jagged edges tore at her flesh and fins, and her life force bled out into the darkening ocean. Her head struck against one sharp point, and another wave caught her limp body and threw her onto the rough beach. At the last minute, she shifted into the shape of an oarfish.
As a mer-shifter, she wasn’t held to the traditional shape of a mermaid. She could assume fish, human or the folklore mermaid form.
Soothing hands caressed her body, running along the curves, mending the lacerations. All the while, a deep male voice sang, crooning words of love and adventure. Jocelyn fought for consciousness, a flash of bright light blinded her and she glimpsed a fuzzy shape. The form of a man leaned over her.
“It’s going to be all right. We’ll get you all fixed up,” the man soothed in a smooth voice. “Isn’t she a beauty? We’ve never had one wash up alive.”
Trapped. She battered against an invisible wall. The only thing she saw was her own reflection. Small fish swam around her, and she appeared to be in her natural habitat – the California coastal region – except that’s where the similarities ended. She swam upward, reaching for the sky, only to find it blocked off with a brown top.
A man stood near the edge, peering down at Jocelyn and her mates. “She looks disturbed,” he said. “I wonder what we could do to make her more comfortable.” He ran his fingers through his dark hair, making it stand up at weird angles. The image through the water distorted her view even more.
As time passed, and the sounds around her slowed down, Jocelyn made the decision to shift form. To escape the confinement, she’d need to walk out. Nude, the water felt much colder. She swam to the edge of the tank, and climbed a ladder. The air breathed a sharp contrast against her skin. Walking down a darkened corridor, she left wet footprints on the cold floor. It had been a while since she’d taken human shape, and her knees wobbled with each step.
Above, a giant humpback whale hung suspended from the sky. Her heart ached at the stillness of the magnificent sea creature. A door labeled “Belmont Aquarium – Employees Only” beckoned her enter.
To the right hung an assortment of white jackets, and she took one, slipping it over her shivering form. Why must creatures in this form cover up in order to be warm, when in all other shapes her body naturally regulated?
“Can I help you with something?”
It was him.
* * *
Justin didn’t plan on working so late on a Saturday night, especially after the Aquarium closed its doors. As the lead marine biologist, though, he was fascinated with the sea creature who’d washed up on shore. By all accounts, the strange creature should not have lived, but she had and he was determined to let her loose in the wild.
While pouring through a research text, he munched on stuffed jalapenos, leftovers from dinner at Mama’s house.
The sound of the outer door shutting drew his attention. Soft footsteps padded down the hallway, and when he turned there stood a woman with long streaming blond hair that appeared almost green under the florescent lights. Her hazel eyes glowed amber and a sense of knowing her, intimately, came over him.
“Are you lost?” he asked.
Although she wore a white lab coat, her legs were bare underneath. He’d never seen her in the facility before. A rumbling from her stomach launched into the room, and she focused on his food. She opened her mouth, as if to say something, and shook her head, before turning around. Droplets of water glimmered on her pale legs.
“Wait, Miss, are you hungry?” He held out a pepper, wondering at his own lack of alarm, and she turned toward him. “Come on. I have plenty to share.”
Stuffed with Spanish rice, veggies and three types of cheese, Mama made the best dish, if one didn’t mind a little spice.
With her eyes, she followed the movement of his offering, until she drew close enough to take a bite. She smelled like the ocean on a clear day after a spring rainstorm. Eyes closed, she hummed appreciation, and he counted a silent one-two-three-four, and her eyes and mouth popped open, and a tear streaked down her cheek.
* * *
As explosion of flavor assaulted Jocelyn’s senses: A smooth, creamy substance, rich texture and then a burst of heat that flared across her tongue. She opened her mouth, panting. Oh, that was good.
Reaching out, he brushed the wetness from her face, sending shivers through her body. “I should have warned you. It can have quite the kick.”
The melody of his voice lulled her, and she reached for the hand holding the substance. As hers closed over his, warmth filled her body, creating a ball in her stomach.
“I like the kick,” she said.
Laugh lines crinkled around his eyes. “Good to know.” As he talked, she watched his lips. What would they taste like? On tiptoe, she raised, pressing her body against his, her cold lips against his warm ones. Slowly, she opened her mouth and their tongues danced the language of the earth, of the sea and of the universe.
She knew this man who had saved her, and somewhere within his soul, he recognized her. Now, joined together in a way neither quite understood, they faced a new reality.
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Scores came out last night, and I earned a 0 out of 15 points. *sniffle* Written feedback doesn't come out until next week, and I promise to share, because that's how we learn ... right?
Until next time,