Q&A

Hello, everybody!! Twenty-nine days until Abnormal hits bookstores and Amazon, and as a treat I’ll be doing a live Q&A next week about the book! 🙂 (Tentatively looking at Wednesday afternoon, maybe say two-ish PST? Have to check my day job schedule.)

question-marks

Have questions like “What’s Abnormal about,” “Who’s Clare,” “Where did you get your inspiration,” or “What’s your favorite movie”? Comment, tweet, send a PM, whatever, and I’ll answer it next week.

Not sure where to start with questions? Check out my old posts and tweets. If it’s book- or writing-related from the last two years, I probably mention Abnormal or its sequel somewhere in there. My tweets are full of quotes from Abnormal, and not only does reading them give you a sneaky peeky at the book, it also lets you get a feel for Abnormal and maybe what kinds of questions you’d have about it. There’s even a “lost chapter” of sorts in the form of a short story that made it to my blog but never made it to the book! Which post is it? Well…maybe that can be one of your questions. 😉

There’s more in the works, but for now we’ll tentatively “meet” Wednesday at two-ish PST. “See” you then!

 

Advertisements

Covering all the bases

It’s gotten to that time in the publishing process: meeting with the cover designer and discussing concepts.

It’s tough as an artist to let someone else take the wheel when it comes to designing the cover for my book. I hand-painted the cover for WHISPERS OF DEATH and then scanned and tweaked it in Photoshop myself. Did all the formatting for the Createspace printing and the Kindle cover. Did the same thing for Kamikaze Butterflies (only that one was all digital). I even made my own “covers” for the ebook/Kindle only stories and compilations. But now? Now I have to put my labor of love into someone else’s hands.

Not that I’m having problems…. the crew at Rhetoric Askew is great, and they listen to their authors. I don’t just get whatever cover they want; I get to have input and convey my opinions. It’s cool, but yeah, I guess I’m more of a control freak than I realized.

Time is ticking towards the release date. So. Damn. Close. I can’t tell you how close yet, but it’s soon.

Getting published before 40 when I just started writing novels a few years ago is a pretty exciting thing. I hope that Book 2 and the subsequent books in the series are just as good as Abnormal is going to be.

Don’t worry. You’ll get to see it in due time. 😉

Heroes and Villains

cat typing gif

Now that the stress of impending preapproval is lifted, I can focus more on novel work. I’ve fleshed out the first batch of protagonists and “primary secondary characters” (in my world that’s a thing), so now it’s on to the antagonists. I already know much more about my characters than I did previously, including details that may not even make it into the story. I’ve heard that doing this can help make the characters richer and more “real,” but we’ll see. If anything, it might inspire me to make some tweaks that could enhance things.

Is this a stalling tactic to avoid actually working on the story? Possibly. I am still waiting on a critique/edit from a friend (who is doing it pro bono, which is totally cool and worth the wait), so having promised that I wouldn’t make changes to book 1 before getting her feedback back I have to be patient…but that also means I have to be careful how much fine tuning I do to book 2, because I don’t want to “perfect” it only to have to go back and make sweeping changes based on her notes. The last thing I need to do is have to go through a book and a half of story to make things fit and flow.

As it is, there are already changes looming on the horizon. Some of the characters decided they wanted certain aspects of themselves to be recognized, so I’ll have to see about getting that done. Luckily they’re small changes, but they’re changes nonetheless.

I’ve also gotten new ideas for book 3 and possibly book 4. Some of the characters I’ve devised don’t even appear until 3 or 4, so it gives me confidence that I’m moving in the right direction story-wise. If I had gotten to the point I’m at without books 3 and 4 brewing on the back burner, I’d be worried. Book 2 leaves off on a cliffhanger, after all…can’t have that happen without knowing what comes next!

It feels so cool to have a whole series blossoming in my head, especially for a girl who once thought she’d never have more than a short story’s worth of idea. Now I have one novel under my belt and many more to come. It’s an awesome feeling.

But enough about that. It’s time to get off my butt, sit down, and get cracking.

For the Love of Hate

The crunching of gravel and the squeal of the old pickup’s brakes signaled that Arlene was home. Oh, thank God, he thought, she made it home. He glanced at the clock: two thirty-five in the morning. The bar was only five minutes from the backwoods Alabama trailer park they lived in; that meant she had gotten so drunk it had taken them at least twenty minutes to drag her out after closing time – give or take ten minutes, depending on whether she had gotten lost on the way home again, or whether she had shaved a few minutes off her commute y cutting through the neighbor’s property. They’d have to pay he Johnsons’ landscaping bill again if she had.

He pulled a beer can out of the refrigerator and, like a trained Labrador, waited by the screen door, holding the beer ready for his owner – wife, actually, but she may as well have been his owner. When Arlene called, Bobby came to heel, head bowed and eyes lowered, flinching at the slightest hint of impending rage from his mercurial wife.

Bobby and Arlene had been married for thirty-three years. Bobby had felt like such a lucky young man. He was short and slightly built, with a bulbous nose and acne-scarred skin. Arlene was tall and athletic, with a beauty and grace that had gotten her voted Homecoming Queen two years in a row. She had been so sweet and innocent at the time. He had gotten a decent job after graduation, working in a respectable bank – something that, looking back on it, may have contributed to her interest in him.

Life seemed perfect back then.

Over the years, Bobby had begun to wonder if he’d made a mistake. Sweet, innocent Arlene was nothing of the sort. After they were married her temper manifested more and more frequently. The drinking only made it worse.

Despite her obvious alcoholism and drug abuse, she blamed the miscarriages and stillbirths e’d had on Bobby. It was clear to Bobby that she thought there was something wrong with him to prevent the babies from carrying to term. “If it weren’t for your messed up sperm, I’d have a baby by now,” she had said on their fifth anniversary, just moments before throwing a vodka bottle at his head. He managed to duck, but not soon enough to avoid the shards of broken glass bouncing off the wall. He knew the cuts weren’t severe enough to warrant a trip to the hospital, but he would have to clean and bandage them.

That was the day before he got fired from the bank. The bank manager was sick and tired of Bobby showing up to work with bruises, stitches, and broken bones. Bobby never corrected his manager when he yelled at him for getting into too many bar fights.

Arlene never allowed him to share the bed with her after that.

Arlene refused to work, stating that it was the man’s job to provide for his wife. bby took whatever job he could find in order to make her happy, or as close as she ever came to being happy. Often he worked two or three different jobs at a time to support his wife’s alcohol habit, as well as a myriad of other vices, including marijuana, ecstasy, and even heroin. No one much cared if the janitor, construction worker, or mechanic looked beaten.

Paying bills became difficult. One day, in a fit of rage, Arlene shoved him off of the porch behind the trailer because their cable had been cut off. Bobby’s back cracked loudly when he landed. The surgeons had managed to preserve his ability to walk, but he was no longer able to work. Between that and the hospital bills, he would not be able to afford cable for a long time.

After that, they could barely afford to pay the rent on their small trailer in the park near the edge of town and to cover the most basic of groceries. Arlene’s drinking and drug use wasn’t affected by the drastic decrease in income, and he knew she must have been cheating on him by pimping herself out to her dealers. He should have left her. He should have packed his meager belongings, taken the pickup, and driven until he was sure Arlene would never find him again.

He should have. But he didn’t; he couldn’t.

He was jarred from his reminiscence by the sound of Arlene’s footsteps on the porch. She was taking longer than usual to walk from the pickup to the back door that night. He would have gone outside to check on her, but he learned long ago that pointing out her weaknesses would only lead to a black eye and a one-sided fight that would last well into the morning. Instead, he stood with her beer at the ready. From the sound of her retching and the vomit splashing on the wooden steps he knew she was nearly inside. Despite the pain she caused him throughout the years, his palms became sweaty and his heart fluttered in his chest s he waited for her to appear. Thirty-three years, and his body still reacted as though they were newlyweds.

She practically fell through the doorway when he opened the screen door for her.

“Dagnabbit, Bobby,” she slurred, “why’d’ya go and do that? could’a tripped an’ hurt my angle or somethin’.”

Before he could stammer a response, she snatched the beer out of his hand, popped the tab, and drank half of the can in one long swig.

“Did you have fun at the bar tonight, dear?”

The look she shot him chilled him to the bone. She attempted to crush the can with one hand nd heaved it in his direction, missing by a couple of feet. The can bounced off of the screen door as the beer sloshed onto the peeling linoleum. Despite the uncharacteristically weak toss, she nearly lost her balance with the motion. Bobby saw several fresh needle marks on her bare, skinny arms. Her hair was dull, thinning, and matted. Her teeth had become chipped and grey. The once-lustrous skin and eyes were now yellowed with jaundice.

“Forget the shtupid bar! D’you know they cut me off?! Me! I practic’ly pay their rent for them. Big ol’ jerks.” Her eyes glazed over as she looked around the small kitchen. “Where’sh the TV?” she asked.

Bobby frowned, because Arlene herself had sold the television two weeks ago to buy some ecstasy from one of her dealers. By that time she had long since stopped caring about the cable. “Don’t you remember, dear? We sold it.”

She grunted in response and stomped down the narrow hallway, bouncing back and forth off the walls. Bobby trailed after her.

“Arlene, what happened tonight?”

Crumpling to the ground next to the closet, she began sobbing with deep, hiccupping breaths. He wasn’t sure how to handle this. Arlene didn’t cry. Arlene yelled. Arlene screamed. Arlene punched and kicked and wailed. But Arlene didn’t cry. Not once in thirty-three years. He didn’t know if he should try to comfort her or if it would send her into a rage. After several minutes, he decided to risk it. Slowly, as if approaching an injured animal, he crouched down next to her and lightly laid his hand on her shoulder. Surprisingly, she leaned into it and covered his hand with her own.

“Danny gave me the AIDS, Bobby,” she whispered. “He said he’s had it goin’ on ten years now. Knew the whole time, never once told me ‘til last week.”

Bobby didn’t know what to say. He’d known that the drinking, sex, and drug use was detrimental to her health, but he had never considered the possibility that she would contract something serious from it. She was too tough, too strong.

She heaved a shuddering sigh and pulled herself up to a standing position, using the knob on the closet door for support. Bobby stood as well, preparing to catch her if she fell. She opened a drawer and began to dig through the wrinkled blouses that she never bothered to fold. Bobby thought she must have been looking for a clean shirt to change into, because the one she was wearing had vomit on it.

Her shoulders slumped and she leaned against the top of the dresser. “Went to the clinic today an’ got my test results. Doc says I got six months. Maybe a year, if’n I’m good. ‘S why I been gettin’ so damn thin. I’m so messed up Bobby. So messed up. I don’t s’pose you could make me a cup a’ coffee? Y’know, to relax me.”

Arlene never asked for coffee, but it was so ingrained into Bobby to follow her every command that he didn’t question the unusual request – or the fact that it was indeed a request, rather than an order. He turned around and headed back to the kitchen. It took a few minutes to find the coffee pot because it was so seldom used. He had just pulled it out from behind a stack of pots in the cupboard when he heard it.

A lone gunshot.

Dropping the coffee pot, Bobby ran to the bedroom, his heart pounding in his chest. He didn’t have a weak stomach, but the scene in front of him nearly caused him to lose his meager dinner. Arlene had shot herself. She’d done it right, too: barrel in her mouth, ensuring she wouldn’t flinch and miss. All that he loved about his Arlene was splattered on the bedroom wall.

He picked her up and cradled her body in his arms, rocking back and forth. He held her until sunrise.

Distantly, Bobby knew he should have been happy. Arlene had berated him every day for decades. She had cheated on him, stolen from him, and beaten him. She had long ago given up the right to be mourned. So why couldn’t he let her go?

The pistol was still in her hand. Bobby looked at the glinting metal weapon with something akin to desire. Arlene may have been his downfall, but she was still his first and only love.

Bobby gently uncurled her fingers from around the pistol grip and took the gun. He didn’t put it in his mouth as she had; he aimed it straight at his heart.

He held it there for several moments, surprised at his hesitation. Arlene had been the only woman he had ever loved and he had never been able to imagine life without her, yet he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. Yes, he had loved Arlene, but had she really loved him?

Slowly he lowered the gun to the floor and laid Arlene’s body down next to it. Thirty-three years. Thirty-three years of his life had been taken by this woman. He felt a weight lifting from his shoulders that he hadn’t even been aware he was carrying.

He may be old now–hairline receding, sagging skin, aching bones – but he was alive and, previous injuries aside, in relatively good health. For all he knew, he could have another thirty-three years left in him, or more. He had married the Homecoming Queen once. Maybe, just maybe, he could find a new queen.

Room 1313

Clare coughed as her touch stirred up decades of dust, the precious book disintegrating beneath her fingertips. Not decades, she thought, centuries. She felt a tightening in her chest as she imagined the poor author whose tales would now never be read. It must have been a beautiful story. After all, the title was The Shining. Clare vowed to look it up on the Database–when her life settled down and she wasn’t on the run, that is. It must have been an important book to whomever once stayed in this rundown hotel room; before she destroyed it, The Shining had shown quite a bit of wear, the kind of wear that a book spine only achieves through countless openings and hours upon hours of page turning.

The room was of an older style, all straight lines and sharp corners. It had probably been called “modern” in its day. Nowadays, with nature being a commodity that dwindled at a rapidfire pace, most people brought the little nature that remained indoors, hoping to protect it from the ravages of time and warfare that decimated the landscape. The shapes of furniture, decor, and even the walls themselves often were more organic than the things left to die outside.

Clare could feel an unease about the room. Something had happened here, something so traumatic that the emotions fueled by the event still lingered. She caught wisps of memories as they drifted through the air, dancing with the dust motes left by the murdered book. A child playing. A mother crying. And, even more disturbing, peals of mad laughter. The madness touched Clare’s mind and she closed it off, fearful of what might happen if she let the oil-slick insanity ooze into her consciousness.

A strong yet smooth hand grabbed her dusty one and tugged. Clare jumped, startled, until she remembered: Eli. He had gone off in search of the proprietor of this hotel, or at least the squatter in charge. Clare had forgotten all about him as she meandered through the rooms, grateful that they lost the Squad that had been hot on their heels.

“C’mon,” he said, his tone gruff and commanding, the worry on his face belying his true concern. “I found Lookout. He’s gonna let us stay here for a few days, but not in this room.”

“What’s so special about this room?” Clare asked, her interest piqued.

A shadow passed over Eli’s face, though the lights never shifted, and the hand that held hers pulled harder. “Nothing. It’s just a room. We just … can’t stay here.”

Clare followed Eli out of the room with a reluctance that was as palpable to her as his lie had been. It wasn’t “nothing” that was interrupting her explorations.

Eli had one of those blasted Psy-blocks though, so Clare was left to try to guess at what had gone on in that room all those years ago. The memories held by that room were fearful, yes, but also intriguing. She wanted to know more. As they exited, Clare glanced at the number on the door. It almost made her giggle.

Room 1313. Many hotel contractors from this era were still superstitious enough to skip any occurrences of the number thirteen, let alone a double-whammy like this one.

“How the hell did you get way up here so fast?” Eli’s voice cut through her musings, and she craned her neck to look up at him.

“I dunno,” she said. “I was just looking around.”

He grunted and put an arm around her shoulders, guiding her away from the cursed room with a little too much force for her liking. Eli was an Athlete, and it was Clare’s experience that sometimes Athletes forgot their own strength. His grip on her shoulder was vicelike, almost enough to bruise. She’d have to talk with him about that.

Leaning against the wall by the stairwell was a man Clare assumed to be Lookout. The man was taller than Clare, as was nearly every grown man–or teenaged boy, for that matter–but nowhere near as tall as Eli, with a bald head and mocha-colored skin. It was hard to tell, but Clare guessed that he was naturally black. People like Clare and Eli, who didn’t have access to the finer things in life, couldn’t choose their skin tone. Being the proprietor of an abandoned hotel in a Dead City generally didn’t give one access to the finer things in life.

Lookout had a blank expression on his mangled face, and Clare knew that he was Abnormal like she and Eli. From his name, she’d guess that he was a Hawkeye. The damage to his visage suggested the same.

Some Abnormals–Abnormals who were caught by the government Squads–had the misfortune of being sent to the camps. Clare had seen horror stories of the camps, broadcast like old-time satellite TV directly into her cerebrum when a survivor was near. Lookout wasn’t broadcasting (probably another black market Psy-block like Eli’s) but the degree of brutality that had ruined this once-handsome man’s face was rarely seen outside the camps.

Clare feared the camps more than she feared whatever had happened in Room 1313.

Scratching at the scar that ran from forehead to jawbone, Lookout stood up straight and glared with his remaining eye. Clare didn’t need to be a Telepath to know that he was pissed.

“The fuck is she doing running around upstairs?” he asked Eli. “I thought you said you told her to stay downstairs.”

“I did,” Eli deadpanned. “You try keeping this chick in line.”

Clare jerked out of Eli’s grip and stood back on one leg, her arms crossed over her chest. She straightened her spine and raised her chin, trying to make herself seem imposing, but with her short stature and tiny frame she doubted she struck any fear into the two men. “I’m a grown woman. I can go wherever I want.”

Lookout rolled his good eye and turned back to Eli. “She may be too stupid to know this, but you certainly know damn good and well to keep her away from that room.”

If there was one thing Clare hated, it was being dismissed. She stomped forward, her bootheels thumping on the threadbare carpet, and stood in front of Lookout. Poking a slim finger into his chest, she did her best to return the Hawkeye’s glare with one of her own. “I wouldn’t call me stupid if I were you; I’ve killed men for less.”

Lookout raised his eyebrow. “No you haven’t.”

The edges of Clare’s vision turned red. She felt something pulling at her from behind–from the direction of Room 1313. It was a rage so strong it nearly toppled her over, and she took a step back to stabilize herself. One of the things left behind in that room had sensed her ire, and it locked on to her like a tracking round. What surprised Clare more than anything was the source of the anger. It wasn’t the grieving mother. It wasn’t the laughing madman.

It was the child.

How could a child hold that much rage? Its memory had been cheerful when she was in the room, happily at play. Her neck swiveled almost of its own accord, turning back to face the forbidden room.

“Oh, shit!”

Lookout’s voice came to her through a thick fog of memories. In the distance, she felt him try to grab her arms, try to hold her back. She felt Eli’s familiar hands on her waist, fighting the gravitational pull that the dead child had on her. Her physical sensations were dulled though, drowned out by the emotions emanating from Room 1313.

Clare had never felt such strong emotions, not even in her own mind. Had this child been a Telepath in life? Based on the age of the hotel, it would have been at the dawn of the Abnormals, when science had not caught up with nature to identify them for what they were. Most early Abnormals were weak in comparison to today’s evolved versions. If the child had been an Abnormal, it would have been quite powerful … had it had the chance to grow to adulthood.

Before she knew it, Clare was staring up again at the numbers 1313 etched into the chipped plastic plate on the door. Both Eli and Lookout were still latched on to her, their desperation seeping through their Psy-blocks, but Clare was lost to the past. This child was furious, offended by the dismissal it felt in a kindred spirit, so to speak. The child had been dismissed as well, and it did not like the feeling in the slightest.

The child had been dismissed before. By other children. By its grieving mother. By the laughing madman.

The madman was the final straw.

Clare watched the scene unfold in Room 1313, unaware that she had even opened the door. The light wasn’t on, but that didn’t matter. She was seeing a time in which the light had been on, a time in which the little Telepath had gone from playful imp to psychotic demon.

The child–Clare could see now that it was a little girl who looked to be about six or seven–hopped and skipped around the small hotel room, her fine brown hair bouncing and trailing behind her. Her mother and father, however, were not enjoying the trip as much as the girl was. The girl’s mother had tears streaming down her face while the father poked her in the sternum and laughed. It wasn’t the same joyful laugh that the little girl emitted as she scampered around them; it was an evil laugh, a merciless laugh. Clare saw no bruises on either mother or child, yet she got the distinct impression that one or both of them had been abused repeatedly by the father.

The actors in the play she watched were long since dead, but through the eyes of the child they were all very much alive. At first.

Then Clare saw why Lookout didn’t want a Telepath anywhere near Room 1313.

After tugging on each parent’s shirt and begging for them to play with her, the playful child grew frustrated. Frustrated and enraged.

“Play with me!” Clare heard on the soundtrack inside her mind. “Play with me!”

The mother continued crying. The father continued laughing. The little girl frowned and stomped her little foot. She dropped the toy she had been holding and gave her mother a hard shove, harder than a girl her size should have been able to give.

The mother fell, her head arching towards the corner of the bedside table. Clare tried to reach out a hand to catch her, but her arms were bound in the real world by Lookout and Eli, who were still entangled in their attempt to keep her from advancing.

Unable to stop what had already happened, Clare watched in horror as the mother’s head collided with the sharp corner. A section of scalp peeled back and a crack echoed in the past. The father, who Clare now recognized as being drunk, laughed even harder.

The mother’s still-breathing body twitched and writhed on the floor, blood spurting from the massive head wound. She tried to gain her footing, to push herself up, but she kept slipping in a growing pool of her own blood. While it sickened Clare, it sent the father into fits of hysterical laughter. After several stomach-churning moments, the mother finally stopped struggling, her gasps now quiet, her body still. The girl smiled up at her father, believing for a moment that she had finally gotten her mother out of the way enough that they could play together.

He didn’t want to play, though. When she reached for his shirttail again, he pushed her aside and stumbled to the small desk across the tiny room, where a near-empty bottle of amber liquid awaited him. The little girl’s hands clenched into fists at her sides, and she screamed with a volume that only angry little girls can achieve.

“Play with me!”

Daddy took a swig from his bottle and snorted. “Fuck off, brat.”

“No …” Clare’s voice was barely audible. “Don’t say that to her. Don’t.”

He set the bottle back down, a terrible mistake. The girl may have been small, but she was more than tall enough to reach the desktop. She snatched the bottle from the desk and glared at her father.

“Play. With. Me.”

“Give that back you little cunt!” He bent over to try to grab the bottle from her, but she held it behind her back, just out of reach.

In his stupor, he lost his balance and fell to the carpet at the girl’s feet. She raised the bottle high and brought it down on his head. The past echoed with another crack as his skull fractured from the impact and the weight of the glass bottle. His body jerked in response, and the little girl giggled. It was a tiny, high-pitched version of the father’s own laugh, and in the back of her own mind Clare wondered if the two weren’t afflicted with some inherited mental illness.

Not that it mattered. They were long dead–the father a little longer dead, but dead they were.

Who killed the little girl? Clare thought. She knew from the memories and emotions swirling around Room 1313 that the girl had died there, but the scene had yet to play out.

No one came to check on the little girl. Once she grew bored with turning her father’s head into Play-Doh, the girl sat on the bed and pouted. It was a disturbing sight, this beautiful little girl covered in blood and bone, angry at the world for not giving her a playmate.

Days passed. The girl grew hungry, and because she couldn’t reach the chain on the door she couldn’t leave the room to find food. Tears streamed from Clare’s eyes as she watched the little girl try to eat the only food available to her. Uncooked flesh is tough, though, and she couldn’t get her tiny teeth through it.

Clare’s body wracked with sobs as she watched the girl die of starvation after more than a week with nothing but congealed blood to sustain her. As the girl drew her last breath, more than a hundred years in the past, Clare’s mind was released.

Clare, Eli, and Lookout all fell back into the hallway. No longer held captive by the little girl’s memories, Clare’s body was free of the supernatural force that held it, and the physical forces of Eli and Lookout pulling her away from the room slammed them all into a pile on the floor. Lookout was the first to untangle himself from the mass of limbs, and he shot up to slam the door to Room 1313 shut.

“Goddamnit, Eli. I told you.” He spat on the door and turned to walk back towards the stairwell. “You’re dealing with her fucking nightmares tonight. Her screams had better not wake me up.”

Sinking Feeling

Gerald couldn’t believe his luck. The first man to walk beneath the ocean’s waves, first to wear the new technology. Breathing underwater? Brilliant. 

So why did he have such a bad feeling about it? There was nothing under there except for fish. Nothing to worry about. Gerald was a scientific-minded man. He knew the rumors were nonsense. 

As the helmet was lowered onto his shoulders, the weight seemed tenfold compared to the test runs in the tanks. Something was going to go wrong. He knew it with as much certainty as he knew that the earth was round. He was going to die that day. 

Still, the logical part of his brain pushed him to the edge of the boat. Pushed him over the edge. Into the water. Beneath the surface. Toward his demise. 

The pressure was somewhat relived by the suit, but still he felt the waters closing in around him, sealing him into what would be his grave. 

Stop it, Gerald. There is nothing here but fish. Not even an occasional shark sighting in this area. You are perfectly safe. His internal scolding did nothing to alleviate his fears. 

He walked slowly, mindful of the currents, fascinated by the strength of the water. Such a mundane thing, often thought harmless, yet in such quantities, at such depths, it was a force to be reckoned with. The weight of the suit did nothing to aid him in his movements; the water seemed to be the proverbial immovable object. Each step took a considerable amount of effort, kicking up mud that swirled in the water, lowering visibility. 

So focused was he on his task that Gerald almost didn’t see it. No, not it. Her. 

Here. Beneath the surface. Under the waves. A woman. Swimming effortlessly, bothered not by the water’s resistance. His vision was momentarily obscured by the mud that his boots had kicked up, but the man in him recognized the woman in her, and he knew instinctively that she was beautiful. Beyond beautiful–radiant. A goddess. 

He shook his head in slow motion, hampered by the heft of his equipment and the crushing force of the water surrounding him, trying to clear his vision. Surely there was something wrong with the oxygen flow. That must be it. There was no way a woman could survive at these depths without some sort of protective gear such as he wore. Her lungs would collapse, fill with the salty liquid, and she would drown. 

Perhaps that was what he was seeing; some poor woman had suicided, and her body was drifting at the bottom of the sea, weighted down by the water inside of her, not yet filled with the buoyancy that the bloat of decay provided. 

Then she blinked. Her lithe form maneuvered through the water with a grace that mesmerized him, flowing closer. Moved against the current. Moved with purpose. As she neared, he saw that she was nude, and even in his stupor he had the decency to try to avert his eyes. He tried, but failed. He was drawn to her visage, held hostage by her eyes. 

So caught was he that it took Gerald several moments to notice a glaring abnormality to this woman. She was ravishing–or at least the top half of her was. Below her slender waist, where her hips and legs should begin, was a tail. Like a true denizen of the sea, she had fins and scales, scales which glistened in the light that refracted through the water. It was no wonder now how she moved through the depths with such ease. 

Science be dammed, somehow this fish-woman existed. Mud now settled by his lack of movement, the water was clear and crystalline. He felt his heart rate quicken and the blood flow shift to his groin. The first was a well known sign of hypoxia; the second, though, was purely a primal reaction to the sight before him. 

That was the last thought from his scientific mind. The primitive mind had taken over. Gerald the scientist was gone. Gerald the man was all that remained, and Gerald the man wanted this fish-woman as he had never wanted any woman that walked the land. (Never mind that he could see no way to couple with her; the part of him that would recognize the inherent flaw in that fact no longer existed.)

She paused mere inches from him, her eyes wide and head cocked to the side. Her slim yet toned arm reached out and her delicate fingertips brushed the glass of his helmet. A frown passed over her exquisite features, followed by the rapt stare of wonder. He wondered briefly if she had ever seen glass before, and if she understood this waterlike material that was as hard as stone. 

Gerald’s hand moved as well, drifting to the smooth looking skin of her face before descending to her chest. He paused there to appreciate a firm yet feminine mound. There was no nipple, but then again what need would a fish-woman have for nipples? 

Even through the thick rubber of his suit, he could feel a warmth that was contradictory to her nautical half. If scientific-minded Gerald had been aware, he would have been curious. Instead, he wanted to feel that warmth against his skin.

At this point, he no longer knew what he was doing. He pulled off a glove, allowing the ocean into his suit. He didn’t care. All he cared about was the fish-woman. 

As he reached for her again, she took his hand and smiled wide, exposing brilliant white teeth. White and sharp. Sharp as a shark’s. Sharp enough to pierce his skin. 

Before the waters could fill his suit, she bit into his hand. The animal brain that now controlled Gerald felt a surge of pleasure, and he licked his lips, longing to feel hers against them. 

He didn’t notice the blood mixing with the salty ocean. 

He didn’t notice the nearby shark, which had been circling above since the woman appeared. 

He didn’t notice, until her bloody smile turned cold. 

His animal brain filled with fear, commanding him to flee. 

But it was too late. 

The shark descended. 

And the fish-woman retreated, giving her lover room to feed.