Just a note, this is not the Adele song 🙂 It’s a scary book about scary mermaids. As I was reading I seemed to remember the story and then it hit me. It was one of many in Paula Guran’s Anthology about mermaids and other creatures of the deep that I’ve read ages ago.
But because I’ve simply loved The Shape of Water, I wanted to give the story another go and see if it was better.
Yep, still good.
“You’re a miracle,” he breathed.
“You’re a miracle,” the mermaid echoed, before it leaned up and carefully, almost delicately, ripped away his throat.”
The story begins with newspaper clippings and documentary-style formatting showing that a tragedy happened on the latest expedition ship sent forward by the massive media giant Imagine to document the existence of mermaids.
“Cultures around the world have reported sightings of sirens, selkies, and other sea-dwelling peoples for millennia. But we’ve never been able to find any hard scientific evidence that could prove things one way or the other. Could so many historical accounts be wrong? If they’re not, why can’t we find these elusive creatures? Are they smarter than us? Faster than us? Or are they just that determined not to be found? Whatever the answer, the Atargatis will return with conclusive proof. Whether mermaids are myth or misunderstood reality, we’ll be bringing you all the facts, all the details, and all the excitement of an answer that humanity has been seeking for ages. Join us. Learn the truth.”
Sent above the Marianne trench, a team composed of scientists, hired mermaids and a film crew – set up to “prove” the existence of mermaids and in the process document deep sea life in an unexplored area of the ocean.
“We’re deep in the uncharted Pacific now, floating above an isolated branch of the Mariana Trench. This location has been known to sailors and seafarers for centuries as a dangerous place, which perhaps explains why so few cruises or military journeys are willing to pass through these waters.”
The scientists are all over the “Prove that mermaids exist” project as they need published papers to get tenure and even a “hoax” type of TV show can provide means to meaningful research.
Science was competitive because it was full of scientists
The TV station also provided some live “mermaids” from a team of good swimmers who would be released into the water without telling the film crew as to when and where. If they managed to get footage of a mermaid fin or a bit of hair, they could use it as “evidence”. When the girls were asked why they were taking part in this documentary and why they chose to be mermaids of all things, their reply was quite sweet.
“I always loved mermaids,” said Teal. “They’re beautiful, elegant, and unreal. I figured if I could make them a little more real, I would have done something good with my life.” “I had a friend who wanted me to go to a comic book convention with them,” said Jessica. “I kept pointing out that a woman in a wheelchair would stick out a little, and that I didn’t like being treated like an obstacle. I’d always loved mermaids. My friend suggested I dress as one. That way, if anyone stared, they’d be staring at my fins. I bought a second-hand tail from a burlesque performer I knew. I never looked back.”
As they send down probes to get samples of water and organic matter, they accidentally disturb the deep sea life that was native to the area.
“Alien eyes watched the strange metal object as it floated upward. There was blood in the water. Their home had been invaded. They would respond.”
The story is peppered with make-believe stories, scientific facts about deep-sea life and it goes as far as to make assumptions of where mermaids from folklore can come from.
“Marine mammals are attracted to light and sound, as much as to movement. Whatever the probe brushed up against was almost certainly some sort of deep-sea fish or cephalopod. The fact that it did not come up with a tentacle wrapped around it leads me to believe that it did not encounter a squid, which means fish or deep-sea octopus become our most likely candidates. Given the number of fish in the bathypelagic versus the number of octopodes, it stands to reason that the sample is from a fish. Logic stated from the start that it would fall to me. By allowing the rest of you to exhaust your interest in the matter before I begin, I guarantee myself a calm, measured period of study, rather than the circus you have all been putting on for your own amusement.”
I liked how the scientific approach to mermaids turned into a full blown attack from an alien species (resident here on Earth). Just shows how much of the earth and its oceans we have mapped so far.
“We said ‘pretty women in the sea,’ and that was good enough, because who doesn’t want there to be pretty women in the sea? We turned monsters into myths, and then we turned them into fairy tales. We dismissed the bad parts. We were too interested in…in…in pretty women in the sea.”
The monsters do come out to play, amphibian creatures with webbed hands and humanoid postures and eyes.
“Oh, my God,” moaned Alexandra, and turned away, putting a hand over her mouth. It was definitely a face. It could even have been taken for human, if viewed from a distance, on a dark night. [..]There was a nose, of sorts, although it was more a bony outcropping supporting two extended slits than anything that would grace a primate’s countenance. The one visible eye was almost perfectly spherical and glowing from within, bioluminescent green and horror movie black. The mouth was a nightmare of needled teeth set against disturbingly human lips. This was a creature that could pucker up for a kiss right before biting someone’s face off. Most distressing was the hair. It was black, and swirled around the face in hair looks like it’s something more akin to the tentacles…
These creatures have been dwelling in the deep and since the humans disturbed them and they are hungry, they start decimating the “mermaid” population first and then they move to the ship crew members in a swift attack.
They are mimics imitating voices and calls (and thus explaining the singing mermaids pulling sailors in with their songs). And they are hungry – there is no food for all of them in the deep and a ship of that size can provide food for themselves and for their queen (if there is a queen).
“You can see,” he said, voice low and pleasant. “I thought you could. It’s nice to be sure.” “To be sure,” mimicked the mermaid, in an imperfect recreation of his voice. “To be sure.” Peter stared. Mimicry of the human voice as well as the human form. This was aggressive Mertensian mimicry of a degree he had never encountered before. It explained so much about mermaid mythology—the beautiful Then they could call them to the rail, and to the water, without ever letting themselves be seen to be anything more than a lithe silhouette with long, flowing hair.
It’s all for the best though as
Humanity destroys the things it loves. Something mysterious and unique enough to be the source of mermaid legends? We’re going to be all over destroying that.
And if there are no witnesses to the creatures, then they can be deemed as in-existent, tricks of the camera, hoaxes.
The female anglerfish is several hundred times the size of the male. They can be found in oceans and coastal regions around the world. The inquiry into what happened on the Atargatis is still ongoing.
Good horror though and very short read (90 odd pages).