Mariah set the radar alarm for a 20 mile radius, stretched out in the cockpit and closed her eyes. She had trained herself to take cat naps instead of sleeping multiple hours at a stretch. Solo-sailing required a skipper to be on constant alert.
A soft bump woke her with a start. She sprang to her feet and scanned around the boat. Only inky darkness and the soft lapping of water against the hull. A low cloud cover had descended, blotting out most of the stars and the navigational instruments showed no objects in her vicinity.
Wondering if she’d hit a piece of driftwood, Mariah flicked on her headlamp and glanced over both sides. Nothing there. Clipping onto the lifeline, she made her way to the bow.
She felt his presence before she saw him; a feeling that someone was watching her, making the hair on the back of her neck stand up. She spun around just as he ducked below the transom.
“You there! What do you want?” Her heart was racing but protection of her home and self took over and she cautiously inched towards the back of the boat.
The head reappeared. It was covered in jet black hair, shiny from the sea water. The eyes reflected in the lamplight were surprised and she heard the words, “I come in peace” as if whispered from the wind to her ears.
“Who are you and what do you want?” She demanded.
“I’m tired and need to rest. I mean no harm. If you’ll allow me to curl my tail around your keel for a spell I’ll be on my way.”
From her vantage point on the deck she could make out what looked to be a young man hoisting his torso out of the water to peer at her.
“Your tail? What are you? A fish?” She asked.
“A fish?” he answered with slight disgust, “I should say not. I’m a merman, obviously.” He flicked a teal scale-covered tail upward and waved the fin at her.
“What the?” Mariah exclaimed. “There’s no such thing as mermaids.”
“Then I must be a figment of your imagination. I could say the same about humans, who don’t live in my world.”
“This is ridiculous. I’ve sailed all my life and never seen anything like you. How is this possible?” Mariah, now more intrigued than frightened, stepped into the cockpit to get a better look at him.
“Would you like to come aboard? Or will you die if you leave the water? Do you even breathe air?”
The merman’s laugh sounded like windchimes in the wind.
“Thank you. I’d love to sit for a bit.”
In the blink of an eye, he launched himself up and over the stern rail and onto the seat across from her. In place of the tail she had seen just moments before were two legs.
“I’m Rigel. I didn’t mean to scare you. My pod is expanding and I’m scouting for a new home base. I swam far today and am too tired to dive deep for a nap on the ocean’s floor. When I felt you enter my quadrant I thought I’d take the liberty of catching a ride. I wasn’t very subtle though.”
Mariah stared in disbelief at the naked man sitting before her. “You have legs? I thought you were a merman.”
Rigel laughed in that delightful, tinkling way again.
“Our original ancestors, the sea-god Poseidon and sea-goddess Amphitrite were of human form. Members of our clan retain the ability to morph our tail into legs for short periods of time. Yes, we breathe both air and water, and no, I won’t die on your boat.”
More at ease, but still incredulous, Mariah exhaled the breath she’d been holding. “That’s a relief. I wouldn’t want to have to tell people that I killed the first merman I ever met. I’m Mariah.”
“I thought mermaids were mythical creatures that lured sailors into reefs with their songs,” Mariah said.
Rigel smiled. “Some merfolk would like to sink the ships that traverse our oceans. I prefer to live in harmony with all species of air, land and sea.”
“You are far from shore. We rarely see lone boats of your size on this quadrant. Are you lost?”
It was Mariah’s turn to laugh now. “No, I’m on my way to Hawaii. It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to do a solo ocean-crossing.”
Rigel frowned. “By way of Japan?”
“Japan? No, my course is set for the island of Oahu.”
Rigel tapped his head with his finger. “Trust me, you’re headed for Japan. I have an internal compass.”
Mariah pulled the small compass from her jacket and compared it to the large one on the helmstation. They differed by several degrees, which over the course of hundreds of miles would have taken her far off course.
“Oh, no! I had my compass recalibrated before I left.”
Rigel stood at the binnacle and placed his hands on the compass. A soft sizzling sound filled the night air and Mariah felt a tingle of electrical current run through her body. “There you go, back on track.”
“Thank you! You’ve saved me days of wasted travel.”
“No travel on, or in, the water is wasted. I do need to be on my way. These legs get itchy.”
Mariah noticed the red rash on his thighs and apologized for keeping him.
“Thank you for the respite. If you feel that you’re off course again, Mariah, look toward the stars.”
As quickly as he had leapt onboard, Rigel gracefully dove into the ocean, leaving just a tiny ripple behind.
Mariah watched the water for several moments, but the merman didn’t surface. A sudden wave of exhaustion flowed over her and she sat down and closed her eyes.
The radar alarm went off and Mariah’s eyes flew open. She sprang to the screen but no object appeared.
The dream came back to her in a flash. She pulled up her GPS tracking and noticed a sharp correction in her course an hour prior. Then she glanced at the port side cockpit seat. She picked up the piece of wet seaweed and looked upward.
The cloud cover had cleared and moon beams shone like diamonds on the empty ocean. There he was. Rigel, the brightest star in the night sky, guiding her from Orion’s belt.
Written January 2020 for To Live & Write in Alameda’s monthly “Alameda Shorts” challenge with the theme of “Star.”
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