Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Sea Hag -Chapter 12-



Sirena twitched and moaned in my arms and I adjusted my hold so that her head rested on my shoulder, face pressed against my neck. Both of my hands were occupied so I took slow, deliberate steps, relying on Gabe to tell me if I veered off course. He counted down the steps to the stairs that led to the front door and I followed his voice.

I heard the creak of the old wood-and-glass door swing open, and Gabe directed, “Angle her left a little bit. Okay, you’re through. I guess just put her on the couch?” his voice turned salacious, “Unless, you want her in your bed…?”

“Gabe,” I said disapprovingly, but I was actually considering it. For her privacy if nothing else. “Where’s Mom?” I asked.

“Still in her studio, I assume. She’s working on a new sculpture. You know how she gets.”

I did, indeed. Cecelia Maria Mendoza-Morgan was an artist, a pretty highly regarded one. She had started out as a painter, and her work had fetched moderately high prices in galleries all over the world. It was at one such display that she had met our father. Both in New York for business, she a Spanish aristocrat by way of Ecuador, he a noted marine biologist from Oregon invited to lecture at a symposium and dragged to an art show by some colleagues.

The way they tell it, they fell for each other almost immediately, though they came from very different worlds. They left the gallery together and spent the night in a hotel room. And then five more nights, both of them blowing off all other engagements. In the end, they decided that they simply couldn’t bear to be apart and Cecelia happily joined Dr. Jonathan Morgan wherever his work took him.

When she became pregnant, they decided to make it official and finally get married. To the everlasting disapproval of her family. She had us both baptized Catholic which mollified them somewhat.  And she used a moderate portion of her trust fund to secure this house on the Oregon coast so as to raise us as close to nature and, of course, the ocean that Dad so loved.

After Dad died, Mom stopped painting. Stopped doing anything, really, except holding her rosary and crying and praying in Spanish.

My sudden blindness was a shock to all of us, especially me. But it somehow seemed to shake Mom out of her grief, or at least give her something else to focus on. I was struggling with compounded grief for both my father and for the future I had envisioned for myself. My new reality was full of limitations both real and painful. Mom had stepped up to help me through that. And, a couple of years later, she slowly returned to her first passion. This time, though, she became a sculptor. Mixing media and techniques to create brilliant tactile and auditory pieces that had earned her numerous awards, both for creativity and accessibility. 

Our mother would probably be in her studio until sundown, but I didn’t want to keep secrets from her. Especially not here. So I shook my head and moved to the couch in the front room, skirting the coffee table and shuffling sideways until I could safely set Sirena down on its length.

I smoothed and arranged her limbs and checked her pulse and breathing. “Gabe?” I called, hoping he was still there.

“Yeah,” he confirmed from the archway that led to the dining room.

“Do you see any wounds or bruising I might have missed? Her vitals seem okay, and I’m hoping it was just standard ketamine in those darts, but…” I gestured to encompass her body.

“Hold on, I need light,” he said as his booted footsteps clomped across the hardwood floor and I heard a soft click. Oh, right. Light. 

He clomped over and he knelt beside me. I followed his movements as he lifted and turned her with surprising gentleness, inspecting her thoroughly. When he was finished he took my hand and guided it to the spots as he spoke. “Needle mark here, on her outer thigh, and here on the back of her right shoulder. He guided my finger to the place, but I could detect nothing. I nodded and went back to stroking her cheek.

Gabe sighed heavily as he rose and his hand ruffled my hair. “Look, I think there’s still some coffee in the kitchen. Let’s go get some.”

I shook my head, letting the mussed strands fall back to their accustomed places. “No. I don’t want her to wake up in a strange place all alone. I want her to at least see a familiar face.”

He seemed to ponder this for a moment. “Yeah, okay,” he said finally, his steps moving toward the kitchen. “But if we’re gonna keep vigil here, I’m gonna go grab a cup. You want one?”

I turned my face and smiled up at him. “I’d like that. Thanks Gabe.”

“You’re still explaining this to Mom!” he called as he left.

I chuckled and went back to solemnly tracing her features. “What are you?” I whispered. “You shouldn’t exist. Nothing like you exists in the natural world. Are you an alien? A mutation? Were you born or were you made? How can I be falling for you when I don't know anything about you?” I found her hand and gripped it, pressing the backs of her knuckles to my forehead and closing my eyes, not expecting an answer. Not even really sure I wanted her to hear the questions.

“Michael,” she murmured and my head shot up. She moaned again and I felt her shift. I held onto her hand and reached for her face with the other. She thrashed and moaned.

“Sirena,” I crooned, stroking her cheek rhythmically, “Sirena, it’s Michael. You’re with me. You’re safe.”

She sat up suddenly, hissing, and her hand was around my throat, her claws digging into the back of my neck. She was strong. Strong enough to snap my neck, I could feel it. I lifted my hands and tried to look as non-threatening as possible.

“Sirena,” I choked through the crushing hold on my windpipe, “Stop. It’s me--”

Booted steps returned and Gabe said a startled, “Oh, shit,” as she leapt up with her hand still a vice around my throat and moved behind me, putting me between herself and Gabe.

I could feel her chest heaving in great fearful breaths. She was disoriented and frightened and apparently, her first instinct was aggression. I kept my hands up and still and said, “Gabe, don’t move.”

“Yeah, okay,” he said uncertainly and I was relieved to note that he had frozen where he was.  

None of us moved for a long moment and then I felt her shake herself and her hand released my throat. She pushed herself away from me and I reached for her reflexively as I rubbed my throat. She hadn’t actually hurt me, I noted, though she could have. Easily.

“Michael?” she said, her voice breathy and pained. She didn’t take my outstretched hand so I let it fall back to my side. “Michael, where are we? What happened?” she paused. “Who is this?”

“Gabriel Mendoza-Morgan,” said Gabe as he moved toward us and I heard two mugs being placed on the coffee table, smelled the rich aroma. “I’m the one who saved your fishy butt from whoever-the-hell those guys were at the beach. You’re welcome.”

“Morgan?” she said softly. Then stated, moving further away, “You are twins.”

I cocked my head at her with a half smile, not sure what the problem was. “Yeah, he’s my twin brother. Is something wrong?” I tried holding out my hand again but she ignored the gesture and began to move around the room. I could hear her strange, soft footsteps accompanied by a click of nails on hardwood. I turned, tracking her movements, confused.

“Who is your father?” she demanded suddenly from over near the front door.

“The fuck is happening right now?” Gabe made his own demand for information, and I actually agreed with him for once.

“Our father was Jonathan Morgan,” I said simply, hoping to calm her enough so she would explain. “What is this about, Sirena?”

She hissed and I could hear her pacing. “That’s why you looked familiar. That is why I trusted you! You look like him. Did Venter send you? How much did he give you to earn my trust?” she demanded. “Is he here? I’m not going back, you hear me?” She was stalking around the room, her voice rising. “Show yourself, Altus, you coward!”

I moved toward her, making shushing motions with my hands and made sure my face was pointed at hers. “Sirena, please. I don’t know what you’re talking about. There’s no one here, and no one paid me anything.” I splayed my hands out to the sides, offering them to her. “Do you really think I nearly drowned myself on the off chance that you would come save me? Kind of stupid as plans go, don’t you think?”

“Did you say Altus Venter?” Gabe chimed in, unhelpfully. “Like, the billionaire?” 

I moved closer to her, hands outstretched and gave her my most sincere and placating smile. “Sirena, we’re not going to hurt you. On the contrary, we got you away from those that would. You’re safe here in our home. I promise.”

Her long fingers finally slipped into mine and my smile grew broad as she threw herself into my arms with a tiny hiccuping sob. I wrapped my arms around her and held her for a long moment, her face buried in the space between my neck and shoulder. “I’m sorry,” she whispered into my chest. “I’m so sorry, Michael. This is just--I can’t believe they found me. After all this time, I don’t know why they are even still looking.”

Gabe sipped coffee across the room in the most obnoxious way possible, letting us know he was still there. I smiled and captured her face between my hands. “It seems like we have some things to talk about. Do you think you maybe wanna sit down, hash all this out?”

She nodded, her hands covering mine as she did so. I couldn’t help it, I leaned in and placed a kiss on her forehead before taking her by the hand and leading her back to the couch.

I asked if she wanted some coffee and she physically recoiled at the offer, but gratefully accepted the offer of water. I asked Gabe if he would get it from the kitchen, partly because he could do it faster, but mostly because I didn’t want to leave her side. She sat with her whole side pressed against me, leg to shoulder, her hand wrapped around mine. Her fingers were easily half again as long as my own, the webs stretching all the way to the last knuckle. And those thick claws. She could rip a man’s throat out or snap his neck with equal ease.

My hand went to my neck as I remembered the feel of her claws there. The strength of her grip. I didn’t realize what I was doing until she said quietly, chagrined, “I didn't hurt you did I? I wasn’t trying to. I was just confused. Frightened.” She was inspecting my neck, her claws making delicate trails that were sending shivers of pleasure down my spine. I shook my head and then her mouth replaced the claws and she was kissing a trail down to my chest--

“My God, you two are like a couple of highschoolers,” Gabe boomed into the room. “Keep it PG in the common areas, for Christ’s sake. Don’t make me get the hose.” He paused before Sirena and then moved back to his chair across from us while I heard her guzzle.

“Thank you, Gabriel,” I said with minimal snark. I slapped my palms lightly against my knees. “So, let’s start over. Sirena, this is my twin brother Gabe. Now, apparently, you knew our father, Dr. Jonathan Morgan. Would you like to tell us more about that? Because, I’m pretty sure he never mentioned you to us.”

The sound of an empty glass on the wooden table. Sirena taking a steadying breath. Gabe sipping quietly.

“I am not a natural creature,” she said finally. “I once had a twin as well. We were created from the same recombinant DNA, one male and one female. We were created from a mixture of human and animal genes, the result of countless hours and billions of dollars in research. All highly illegal, of course. But to a man like Altus Venter, laws are merely suggestions. He was the founder and owner of Project: Deep Blue.

“Venter’s goal was to remake humanity. He was building underwater habitats that he said would become humanity’s home when the surface became unlivable. But, for humans to survive long term, he said, they must ultimately evolve and adapt to living underwater. This was why he created us: to be the genetic Adam and Eve of his new human race.”

“Augh,” spat Gabe, disgusted, “You mean he wanted you to-- with your own brother?” 

“Yes,” she said simply. “We were raised in an underwater laboratory, by scientists, including your father. We didn’t know about that taboo. We only knew that it would be our duty once we reached full sexual maturity.”

“I don’t remember Dad ever mentioning working in a secret underwater lab with two illegal genetic experiments, do you, Mikey?”

I glared briefly in his direction and searched out Sirena’s hand to hold. She squeezed back in reassurance. “I imagine there was a pretty hefty and ruthlessly enforced NDA involved in  a project like this, Gabi,” I said, using the nickname he hated. I squeezed her hand and prompted, “Go on, Sirena. What happened? How did you escape?”

“I met your father, Dr. Morgan, when I was small. Maybe four or five years old. My brother and I were well kept. We were fed and educated. We were studied, yes, but never mistreated. We were taught many things by some of the most intelligent people in the world. Your father was particularly taken with us, I think because we were the same age as you, his children. He taught us all about the sea. About all of the life within it, and about ourselves. He taught me that my skin was like an octopus, able to change color and texture at will. I have a dolphin’s ability to echolocate and I can stay submerged on a single breath for nearly two hours thanks to my gills.

“But mostly I remember how loving and affectionate and playful he was. The other scientists kept their distance from us, emotionally which, in hindsight I suppose, was probably for the best. Your father was the closest thing to a father I ever had. When he left, a piece of me left with him. And then…” she didn’t say anything for a long while. Gabe and I both recognized the trauma of loss in her silence and sat in stillness and patience for her to continue.

Her hand squeezed mine and then her other hand touched my cheek, turning it toward her. She swept the hair off my forehead with her claws, running them through my hair. I smiled, small and uncertain, wishing for just a moment that I could see what her face was saying.

“You look so much like him,” she said.

“So I’m told.” My smile felt a bit sad as I ducked my head and kissed her palm. 

She took another deep breath, fortifying herself and let my face go. “Dr. Morgan, he -- had issues with Altus. I don’t know what specifically, but they disagreed often. On the day that their mutual antipathy came to a head, it was so bad that I could hear it from outside the lab, in the water. I couldn’t make out the words, but they were actually screaming at each other. Dr. Morgan left after that and I never saw him again. Shortly after that -- maybe days -- everyone started packing things up, in a hurry. They were shredding things and burning others. Some they just pitched outside, into the ocean. Altus came and told my brother and I that we were to be moved to a new facility. There had been a security breach. We were frightened, but there was nothing to do but obey.

“Then, a guard came in with two trays bearing our evening meals. I hadn’t seen him before and he was cold and armed and something in his eyes frightened me. I was going to tell my brother not to eat it, but he had already done so. His tray hit the floor and he fell, foam spewing from his lips. I screamed and tried to help, but he was already dead. Gone. Just like that. The guard stepped forward, to do what, I don’t know. I went mad. I leapt upon him and tore his throat out before he could even scream for help. I ran down the halls, looking for an escape. I was mad with grief, rage; feral. I don’t remember much after that. I may have killed more if they got in my way. Eventually I found an airlock and just let myself out. No one chased me. I swam off and disappeared into the sea.”

“You’ve been alone all this time?” I said, though I knew that answer. I searched out her hand to squeeze it. “You were just a kid, though. Surviving in the wild alone must have been…” I searched for adequate words and, finding none, finished lamely, “difficult.”

Her small exhalation at that made me smirk in return. “Not as difficult as you might imagine. I was designed to live in the water. Trained to survive there. Mostly it was the loneliness that got to me. I’m human enough to crave social interaction, but not human enough to actually be able to interact with them -- you. Thankfully, other marine mammals helped me fill that void. Porpoises and other whales are really quite affectionate and playful. There were pods I met up with regularly during the year that sort of adopted me. We slept and played and travelled together until they headed for waters too cold for me.”

“Yeah, but it wasn’t all just ‘playtime-with-dolphins, unda-da-sea carefree’, was it?” Gabe said flatly. “You were fuckin’ shit up for fishermen all over the place, weren’t you?”

“Gabe,” I said warningly.

“No, he is correct,” Sirena said with a brief squeeze of my fingers. “Everyone needs a purpose. I made it mine to halt overfishing wherever I could. I’ve seen first-hand the devastations corporate greed has wrought on the oceans. I’ve cut dolphins free from tuna nets, dodged whaling ship harpoons, watched as those who couldn’t were slaughtered. My friends.” Her voice grew heated, heavy with emotion as she continued. “I’ve seen sorrow and carnage you can only imagine. So I count those fishermen lucky that I broke only their equipment, and not their necks.” I could feel her tension through our contact,she was fairly vibrating with rage and she spat the last sentence with a venom I hadn't known she possessed.

I heard the leather chair groan beneath Gabe's shifting weight and waited, tensed to step between them if it came to that.

“Whoa, whoa!” cried Gabe and I relaxed a bit. “Okay, that’s totally fair. No need to get all...spiny.” What? He must have seen the confusion on my face. “Dude, she went full pufferfish!” He was laughing, delighted as he said it. “That is so cool,” he murmured.

“I’m sorry,” Sirena withdrew from us, sinking a bit more into the couch. “Sometimes my skin...reacts to the way I’m feeling. I don’t always realize it’s happening.”

“Now she’s turning red!” Gabe provided, “Like, actually candy-apple red!” 

I felt her shift around, moving in nervous little motions. “Thank you, Gabriel, but I think you’re embarrassing her now.”  I ran the backs of my fingers up her arm and skimmed along the edge of her jaw, but whatever changes were taking place, I detected only smooth, slightly rubbery skin. “Sirena, it’s alright,” I assured her. “You don’t need to hide or be ashamed of who you are. Gabe can be an ass sometimes--”

“I’m sitting right here!”

“but he’s the best man I know. He’s always had my back and I know he’ll do right by you, too.” 

“That’s right,” came our mother’s voice from down the hall and I stiffened, my heart hammering in my chest. “My boys are the kindest, most loyal, best--Madré de Díos!” Something clattered to the floor as she stopped in her tracks and everyone went utterly still.

Some Things Never Change Alternative Ending

So, I confess, I wrote this ending first. But then, it didn't make me happy, and I decided Jules should be with Erick. But since I had already written this, I decided to let you read it as well and decide for yourself which ending you prefer. 

Please let me know in the comments which one is best. Or even if you liked the other ending better, like I do, perhaps reading this one will soothe your pain for Tony. It did for me, a tiny bit. 

Here is the Alternative Ending, enjoy!

Thanks again for all your feedback and company along this road. You're the best!

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

The Sea Hag -Chapter 13-



My head swiveled around as the older woman entered from behind and to my right. I had heard her coming, of course. We all had, but we had all opted to freeze rather than fight or flee. Which, under the circumstances, was probably the best course of action. Still, my instincts screamed at me to flee flee flee, but Michael’s hand was still wrapped around mine, holding me in place, sure as an anchor.

 The woman stared at me, piercing blue eyes identical to her boys’ and wide with shock. Her hair was a golden brown liberally streaked with grey and tied back in a messy bun. She wore baggy and soiled overalls and, where her fair skin was visible, it was smudged with soot and paint. I could see Michael’s sensuous mouth in hers even though it was currently locked in a little “o” of surprise.

She had dropped something metal and bowl-shaped when she first saw me and she and I had not moved our gazes from each other since. 

No one spoke for a couple of heartbeats, so Micheal cleared his throat and said calmly, as if I were just a normal human woman he had invited over for tea, “Mámá, this is Sirena. Sirena, this is my mother, Cecelia.”

I had no idea what to do at this point. Michael’s grip on my hand hadn’t loosened so I stayed seated on the couch and tried a small smile and a brief head-bob by way of greeting. 

She blinked at me and I darted a glance over to Gabriel. So like and unlike his brother. He had grown his hair long where Michael’s was short, and kept it in a knot at the back of his head. He also kept a long, exceedingly well-groomed, golden beard and mustache that hid the lower half of his face but not his perpetual smirk. His blue eyes twinkled at me in amusement and he shrugged in a helpless sort of way. I narrowed my eyes at him before turning back to their mother, trying to keep my face and posture as non-threatening as possible.

I refrained from looking her directly in the eye, my gaze pointed at the floor as I spoke.  “It is nice to meet you, Cecelia. Your sons are indeed very kind and brave,” I turned to look at Michael. He was staring straight ahead, his ear pointed at our interaction. I felt the involuntary smile that came to my lips whenever I looked at him. I reached out and, with the knuckles of one hand, brushed at some strands of hair at his brow. He started a bit at the unexpected contact then turned to me with a smile. “and beautiful.” I finished.

 “Madré de-fucking-Díos,” she said again, but quieter. She was looking me up and down, looking between me and her son.

“Mámá!” said Gabriel, hand to his chest in facetious outrage.

Cecelia waved an impatient hand at him. “You’re real,” she said to me. I blinked. “You’re real. You’re alive.” she was shaking her head, her eyes never leaving me. “You’re alive and you’re here. Why are you here? How did you even find us?”

“You knew about her?” shouted Gabriel.

“Ma, what--?” Michael surged to his feet, dropping my hand and moving toward his mother. I tucked my legs up out of the way so he could reach her. Evidently Dr. Morgan had disclosed rather more than he was supposed to about the project, only not to his sons.

Cecelia stared at me as I made myself small on the couch, waiting for an answer and ignoring her son’s cries for answers of their own even as she reached out to take Michael’s searching hand.

“I didn’t find you,” I said, drawing myself up as much as I could while kneeling on a couch. “We met by accident. I didn’t even know who Michael’s father was until a few minutes ago. I thought they were working for Venter, that they had been paid to capture me.”

At the mention of Venter’s name, Cecelia spat in disgust, crossing herself and muttering, “Es un diablo.

“Evidently those were his guys down at the beach,” said Michael, his hands were on her shoulders and he towered over her slight frame. “They came after her with tranq guns because they weren’t expecting her to have help. We got away, but I don’t think he’s going to give up just like that.” She snorted derisively and he continued, “I am not about to let this asshole take her against her will, Mámá. Now, it sounds like you know something about this.” She looked up into his face, tears brimming in her eyes and caressed his cheek. He sighed and closed his eyes. “I think it’s time you told us what you know, Ma. All of it.”

“A-fucking-men, brother!” Gabriel stood up, squinting daggers at their mother and moved at them in a herding motion, his arms wide. “But we’re going to the kitchen, because I need a fucking drink for this one.” he looked at me and gave me a little inclusive head tilt in the direction they were heading.

“I had hoped you boys would never have to know,” she said as she turned toward what I assumed was the direction of the kitchen. “But, I admit, it will be good not to have to bear it alone anymore.” 

Michael held out a hand toward me and, rising, I grasped it. He moved down the hall, the backs of his curled fingers skimming along the wall until we entered a cozy kitchen. The feel of the place was rustic but modern. Everything was well cared-for and of high quality, but not flashy or gaudy. They clearly had money and, just as clearly, lacked any need to show off that fact. “Old money” was the phrase that came to mind. Cecelia herself had something of an aristocratic bearing though, I couldn’t say what, exactly gave me that impression. Perhaps it was in the way she served beverages all around, with practiced efficiency. Or the way she politely refused to stare at me, though I could tell she wanted to. 

Michael led me to the table and pulled out a chair for me next to his own. I sat and refused anything but water. I was quite ravenous, but my diet consists mainly of raw seafood. I find most human foods disagreeable and I had no wish to disturb anyone here with my dietary preferences. At least for the moment.

We sat around the heavy wooden table, Michael and I on one side and Cecelia and Gabriel on the other. The light overhead shone orange-tinged and subdued from an old iron chandelier. My hands wrapped around my glass of water and I studied their strangeness through the refraction. Gabriel had a glass of some brown and foul-smelling liquor along with a crinkly bag of  bright orange sticks that he crunched loudly. Cecelia set down a steaming mug before Michael, tapping the side with her nails to make a small rigging sound as she did so, before sitting down with her own. Michael nodded and reached out for the mug with both hands, fingers curled under and skimming over the woven tablecloth, and wrapping around the warm surface and bringing it to his lips.

I couldn’t stop watching him. Operating without sight is nothing new to creatures of the deep, but here on land sight was absolutely vital. I found his adaptations, his compensations for such an enormous disadvantage, utterly fascinating. I wanted to speak with him, to touch him, to be near him always. I had never felt this way; never been so hopelessly drawn to anyone. Being the single member of an engineered species, I hadn’t thought I was even capable of such feelings.

Cecelia cleared her throat, pulling my attention away from my swooning reverie. She was looking at me when she spoke. “My Jonathan and I, we did not keep secrets. Not from each other. Not ever. This was a promise we made long ago.” She sighed and looked between her sons. “When you were five years old, your father was approached by a man named Altus Venter. He was a rich man, an ‘idea man’. He had ideas and he paid others to make them a reality. Then he paid them even more to take all the credit.” She waved a hand as if this was unimportant. “He wanted your father to help on his secret ocean project. Your father wanted nothing to do with it, at first. He had his own research to pursue. But Venter would not take no for an answer. He kept after your father, asking and upping the price until the sum was so much that it would set you boys up for life as well as fund his research for the rest of his days. Your father finally agreed.

“He signed a non disclosure stating that if he told anyone anything about what he saw working on the project, he would forfeit the money and Altus would personally sue us for everything else we had.” She showed her teeth, staring at a spot on the table. She raised her eyes to the ceiling, crying, “Dios! If only that were all.” She shook her head and hung it as she continued, “Your father told me everything, of course. Only after I understood the risks. He told me of you, Sirena.” She gave me a pained little smile and I nodded encouragingly. “You and your brother, Triton. He was quite taken with the both of you. You were the same age as our boys and I believe he felt quite paternal--protective--of you both. He felt strongly that Venter’s plan to breed you together was wrong. He thought that keeping you captive and secret was even more wrong, especially as you neared adulthood. He hated that you had no say in your own futures, no free will.

“Venter doesn’t see people. He only sees things that he can use and discard when it suits him. He cared nothing for you or your brother, you were just tools to feed his ravenous ego.”

I nodded. I knew perfectly well what a monster Altus Venter was. Michael was still beside me, hands wrapped around his mug. I rubbed my arm against his and was rewarded with a small smile in my direction. I looked back at Cecelia to see her watching us intently, a curious expression on her patrician face. She blinked and looked down at her own mug, sighing heavily. “I fear I ramble. Let me make this shorter: Jonathan decided to blow the whistle. He thought that the worst that would happen was that we would be destitute. He badly underestimated Venter.” She swallowed hard and both Michael and Gabriel were poised as if expecting a blow. I sat up straighter, as if I could ward it off. “Your father was on his way to a meeting with a news channel the morning that his brakes failed and he flew through the guardrail and into the sea. His brakes failed because they had been cut. Cut by a person hired by Altus Venter.” She looked deflated, sagging in her chair, arms on the table, not meeting anyone’s eyes.

“You said it was an accident.” Gabriel was holding his glass so tight I could see his fingers turning white. He was rigid and his face was blank beneath the beard. He spoke into the middle distance. “Altus-fucking-Venter killed my fucking father, and you lied about it for ten fucking years!” He threw the glass across the kitchen where it shattered against the refrigerator.

Michael winced as the glass shattered to his right and I could see his breath coming hard and fast. His fists were clenched, his head bowed. “Why?” his voice came out harsh, hoarse. “Why didn’t you tell us the truth? Maybe we could have done something.” His fist pounded the table, punctuating his words. I could see tears, unshed and glistening when he raised his head to face his mother. “Told someone! The police, or--”

Mijo, no,” She pleaded, cutting him off. She reached across the table but he recoiled at her touch. I saw something inside her break at that and she returned her hand to her lap, defeated. “Mijos,” she said, tears streaming now. “Mi hijos, he didn’t just kill your father, the love of my life. Afterward, he came to me. He told me what he had done. He told me that if I ever breathed a word of it, of any of it--even to you--, that he would kill you both and make it look like I did it.” She sobbed, finally, and put her head in her hands. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, mijitos. I just couldn’t risk it. I couldn’t lose you, too.”  

She sat, small and sobbing. Gabriel was stiff-necked but his beard trembled and tears flowed freely into its depths. He was staring at nothing, breathing hard. Suddenly he stood, causing everyone to jump, and announced that he was going for a drive.

I thought about Venter’s goons who-knew-where and started to ask him if that was really wise right now, but he stomped out of the room and slammed the front door behind him before I could finish. 

I looked to Michael. He sat with his face turned up to the ceiling, tears streaming down his cheeks. His breath came in hitching sobs that broke my heart. I fidgeted silently in my seat, wanting to comfort him but unsure if it would be welcome. Finally, I reached out to press the back of my forearm against his. An offer of contact he could easily pull away from. He didn’t face me, but tilted his head in my direction and wiped at his eyes with his other forearm.

Cecelia raised her head and looked at us with dull, swollen eyes. Without a word, she stood, retrieved the bottle of brown liquor, and padded out of the kitchen.

I was unsure if he had heard her, she was so quiet, so I said, “Your mother has left. We are alone.”

“Good,” was all he said. His mouth was a half-hearted smile as he turned to face me. He reached for me and drew me into his lap. He wrapped his arms around me loosely and laid his head against my shoulder. My arms encircled him in turn, making soothing circles on his back and stroking the side of his face. He laid one hand on my chest, directly over my heart and sighed with contentment.

I stroked his face, his back, losing myself in the sensations of being held, enjoying the comfortable silence between us. His nose nuzzled my neck, poking at the sensitive gills so that I drew back a bit. He stopped and blinked,then raised careful fingers to the sensitive slits. I shivered with unaccustomed pleasure at the sheer gentleness of his touch as he explored their length and breadth. Then he replaced his fingers with lips in the lightest of kisses and I gasped at the sensations it created.

His hand was back over my heart and he stopped, his mouth whispering just over my gills, “Do you like that?”

The warmth of his breath made me forget how to speak. I nodded, but I wasn’t sure if he felt it so I stammered, “Y-yes. Yes, I like it very much. They are--are-- very--sensitive.”

I could feel his smile as he resumed his exploration, making me gasp and writhe and grab onto him as amazingly wonderful, utterly foreign sensations rippled through me.

He seemed to be in no particular hurry, though I could feel him swell beneath my thighs. My hands roamed his back and chest. My claws wanted to rend the thin shirt he wore, keeping me from feeling his skin against mine. But he was being so soft and gentle that rending anything felt counterintuitive, so instead I gripped the edges of the garment and began to tug upwards with small grunting noises. With a laugh against my gills that made me moan he drew back and freed himself from the shirt in one smooth motion. He tossed it carelessly aside and moved in to continue his pleasurable assault.

I halted his progress with a hand on his chest. My eyes were hungry for the sight of him. His face was flushed, lit from within. His lips were rosy, slightly swollen and parted hungrily. I could see his tongue darting in and out in excited anticipation. His eyes were sleepy, lightly glazed with lust, unfocused but pleading. 

Our hands were on each other's hearts. I could feel that they beat in time. How could it be that the first--the only--man I’d ever wanted, wanted me back in the exact same way? I don’t believe in destiny. I don’t believe in true love or other fairy tales. There is always a rational explanation. Always.

Then what is it, genius? I chided myself. But the truth is, I didn’t much care. Whatever it was between us, it was real. It was powerful, and it was the best thing I had ever felt in my life. For as long as this man wanted me, I was his.

Patiently, he waited while I took him in, touching and stroking his face and chest. “Everything okay?” he asked finally when the moment went on a little too long. His eyes were searching, betraying his uncertainty. I didn’t want him to be uncertain. I wanted him to know that I wanted him. All of him. Forever.

“Oh, very much yes,” I said as I leaned in and captured his mouth with mine. His eyes closed and, as the sweet, hot taste of him filled my mouth, so did mine. I don’t know how long we stayed like that, lips and tongue and sometimes even teeth, melding and probing and dancing. He was rock hard beneath my legs and thinking about it made things tingle and burn between my thighs. His hand passed over my breasts and it made me moan, so he lingered there, his sensitive fingers teasing and inspecting my nipples. I hadn’t known such sensation could be pulled from those strange little nubs. 

The space between my thighs was growing warmer and wetter. I wanted to rub it on something. On him.

On impulse I swung my leg over so I was straddling his thighs, facing him. His hardness rubbed against my wetness and I cried out. So did he, his brow furrowed. I leaned down and bit the side of his neck, holding the flesh firmly but gently between my sharp teeth as I ground down onto him.

He made the most pleasing noises as I did so. I let go and kissed the spot with the imprint of my teeth, licking and sucking my way up to a wonderful-smelling spot just below his ear. I inhaled deeply of his scent and nibbled on his earlobe. His hardness twitched against me and I started to rub myself against him again. I could feel it building to release.I didn’t want to stop.

His hands were on my hips, but they were urging me to stillness, not release. I wanted the release. I needed it. I felt myself snarl in pure animal rage at being denied what I wanted. My hands were on his shoulders and my claws were digging into his flesh. I was no longer feeling playful. I was no longer feeling gentle. How dare he thwart me?

“Sirena,” he was saying my name like he had been saying it for a while. “Sirena, stop. Please, you’re hurting me. Sirena!” His face was contorted in pain, in fear. Of me.

He was trying to lift my hands from his shoulders, to push me off of him, but I was stronger. I was stronger, so he had to do what I wanted. And I wanted release. I ground down against him, but the hardness had disappeared.

Some part of me was screaming. Had been screaming since the first time he told me to stop. I blinked and looked at Michael again. My Michael, angry and terrified. Because of me.

I gasped as reality came crashing back. I leapt back from him, flipping over the table and landing in a trembling, horrified heap. I looked at my hands. There was blood on the tips of my claws. A low moan escaped my throat. I could only see his legs from where I sprawled. One hand covered his crotch protectively.

“Oh, god, oh god, oh shit,” I babbled as I crawled around the table, staying as far from him as I could. “I’m so sorry, Michael! I don’t know what happened, I don’t know what that was!” I saw him sitting in the chair, perfectly still, his face was pale. Two puncture wounds dripped lines of blood down his chest where my thumbs had pierced him. He looked shocked. I wasn’t even sure he could hear me. I moved a little closer, trying to get a look at his back. I saw two sets of four puncture marks on either side of his back and my stomach turned. If I had eaten anything it would be on the floor right now.

What have I done?

“Michael?” I call, scooting closer. On the floor I’m less threatening, I reason. He would have the advantage in a fight. “Michael, can you hear me? I don’t know what happened, but I’m sorry. Michael, you need medical attention--” I reached out, touching his knee--and he exploded out of the chair, knocking it over backwards. He staggered for a second, hands outstretched like he didn’t know where he was.

“Dont!” he cried, his voice sharp, panicked. His eyes twitched and roamed frantically and he held out his hands to where he thought I was, warding me off. I didn’t move. “Don’t--don’t touch me. Just...stay over there, okay?”

“Okay, Michael,” I said meekly.

He took a breath and closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. “What the hell, Sirena?”

“I don’t know, Michael! I swear, I’ve never...It was like something took over when you tried to make me stop. Something primal, animal. I’ve never felt anything like..” Except I had. I realized that I had felt those utterly self-serving urges, that ruthless logic. In the wild I had felt them all the time. That primal knowledge had kept me alive out in the open ocean for ten years. And now it had cost me the only thing I had ever wanted. My heart shriveled in my chest. I wanted to die.

“Sirena,” his glare was withering even if it wasn’t precisely aimed. “I need you to talk to me right now.”

“Michael, I’m sorry,” I whispered, choking on tears. “They made me this way. They made me an animal. I thought I could be human, a real girl,” I snorted miserably and rose slowly to my feet. “But the truth is, I’m not human. I never will be.”

“Sirena,” hearing my name on his lips, likely for the last time, made my heart contract painfully. My head hung as I headed for the exit, skirting around the table so I wouldn’t get too close to him. He followed my movements with his head and stepped forward to get in my way. And tripped over the chair I had left in his path and went sprawling with a low cry.

“Michael!” I cried and, forgetting everything else for a moment, ran to his side.

He grunted and viciously kicked the chair away from him. “Sirena, don’t run away from me,” he said tiredly. “I can’t chase you. It’s not fair.” Then he smiled his wry smile and reached for me.

“Michael, I can’t promise I won't hurt you again,” I begged, not taking his hand.

He shrugged one bloodied shoulder, his offering hanging suspended in the air between us. “Yeah, I can’t promise I won’t hurt you either, Sirena. That’s not how relationships work.” He sighed. “Look, what you did is definitely not okay, and something we’re going to have to talk about further but, if I avoided everything in life that could hurt me I’d never leave my bed.”

I looked at his beautiful face, his eyes. His world was more dangerous than most already, and would be ten times more dangerous with me in it. He knew this and yet he was asking me to stay. This man was no stranger to pain, to darkness and loss, yet he faced every day with courage and hope. I wanted to be more like him. I wanted him to show me how.

I grasped his hand gently and he squeezed back forcefully, rising to his feet and bringing me with him.

“Michael--” I began, but he pulled me close and shushed my objections to silence. He enfolded me in his arms, with my own pinned between our chests, and spoke softly into my ear. “Now we know that we need to take things much, much slower. And that’s okay. Once we figure out this Venter thing, we’ll have all the time in the world.” He planted a kiss on my forehead and I sighed, relaxing into him.

A loud humming noise began outside, quickly growing louder. Our heads shot up, searching for the source and my stomach sank as I recognized the sound. Michael’s face paled and his arms tightened around me.

“Is that a--” he stopped at the sound of a heavy door slamming beyond the kitchen. Gabriel’s voice boomed through the house. “Guys! There’s a fucking Black Hawk helicopter landing on the fucking front lawn!”

Monday, March 29, 2021

The Sea Hag -Chapter 14-


Altus paced the command deck of his custom built superyacht, his long legs eating up the polished white marble flooring. He was dressed casually, a white tee shirt under a black blazer and matching slacks. All bespoke, of course, and made of the finest sharkskin, but visually relatable nonetheless. Venter was always keenly aware of the persona he projected and he wanted his public one to be friendly and disarming.

He glanced at the watch on his wrist that cost more than most cars and huffed impatiently. “Really, how hard is it to track down some small town bozo and his redneck truck?” he asked his comms officer, Brian. Or was it Brad? It hardly mattered.

Brian or Brad replied calmly, “They got a match, sir, it’s coming through now. Oh, boy.”

“What?” Altus frowned and rushed over to bend and stare at the screen. 

There was a driver’s license photo of a blonde bearded, long-haired man, who looked like a well-groomed lumberjack, and below read the name: Mendoza-Morgan, Gabriel Angel.

Altus felt his eyes go wide. “Morgan?” he questioned the tech.

BrianBrad made a few mouse clicks, bringing up a couple more photos that looked like they had come from social media. There he saw a clean-shaven, but otherwise identical looking man, tagged as Michael Mendoza-Morgan, and an older but still starkly beautiful Cecelia Mendoza-Morgan.

Altus squeezed his eyes shut and rose to his full, impressive height. He folded his hands together as if in prayer, tapping his forefingers against his lips. “You see how even one’s most generous impulses may return to bite one on the ass.”

“Sir?” said BradBrian uncertainly.

Altus opened his eyes and took a deep breath. “Tell them to ready the Hawk. Tell the Seals to meet me there. I want them in full kit, both lethal and non. I will brief them personally on the way.” He pulled the silver-plated, gold-handled Glock from where it rested in it’s holster under his left arm and checked the slide and the magazine before re-holstering it with practiced motions.

“You’re joining the retrieval team, sir?” The tech was aghast.

Altus smiled as he turned to leave the deck, “Jonathan Morgan’s spawn have stolen what is mine,” he called. “This just became personal!”

Seal Team Blitz was assembled and ready by the Black Hawk helicopter when Altus strode into the hangar. Six pairs of eyes watched him dispassionately as he vaulted into the chopper’s open bay area and sat down, securing his custom Kevlar vest underneath the suit jacket.

“The target is in a house with three other people,” he said, pulling a headset off a hook and motioning for the team to board. “I want her subdued and restrained first thing. I want to reiterate that she is extremely deadly in close quarters, so keep your distance. Her captors, the Morgans, are untrained civilians. Subdue and restrain as well. I’ll want to have a little chat with them.” He donned his headset and made a gesture to the pilot indicating that they were ready to take off as the team strapped in and adjusted their own headsets. The ceiling of the hangar opened, a deep cavern in the middle of the enormous yacht, and the fully armed Black Hawk lifted smoothly through it and sped eastward. 

“The location is isolated,” Altus continued when they had leveled out, shouting into the headset over the noise of the wind and rotors. “A private residence that backs up to a seaside cliff. We should not be disturbed by either neighbors or law enforcement. However,” he reached into a pocket and pulled out a ski mask, brandishing it at them. They all reached into various pockets and pouches to retrieve their own. Altus smiled, his eyes gleaming with approval as they donned their masks. “Good. Best if no one is recognized, yes? We have better things to do than answer tiresome questions from jumped-up authority figures.” He grinned and slid on his own mask. It was custom fitted black silk, of course.

The chopper banked and Altus could see a cliffside emerge from the omnipresent Pacific haze, then a brick red manor house with white trim, surrounded on three sides by old, wind-battered pines. There seemed to be a small barn or shed behind the house and two vehicles sat in the driveway. They were coming in fast, but Altus trusted the pilot to know his craft. They alighted with barely a jolt on the wide, circular lawn on the north side of the house. A bearded man wearing work boots, jeans and a tight, red t-shirt leapt from the old ford pickup in the driveway as they approached. 

Altus grinned like a shark when he saw the man’s wide eyes as he sprinted for the house. His Seals spilled out of the landing helicopter like their namesakes off an ice flow, spreading out to encircle the house. He could hear their captain, Reyes, giving orders through the earpiece he wore and he hung back as they positioned themselves two at each exit, and two at the door to the barn.

“Clear to breach on your signal, Sir,” came Reyes' voice in his ear.

Altus could see the man, poised at the front door, holding a pneumatic battering ram and he smiled magnanimously. “As you will, Captain.”

“It’s actually ‘Chief’, Sir--” Reyes began.

Altus cut him off with an impatient skyward groan. “ Whatever! Do the thing!”

“Breaching,” came the muttered reply.

A countdown of three to one and simultaneous crashing noises as three doors were busted open. Altus watched Reyes and another man draw their tasers and batons before clearing the entryway and going in, one after the other.

He heard the rapid clicking of a taser gun and piercing shrieks. Men yelling both in his earpiece and from the house. Screams and curses coming from the direction of the barn.

“Rear building secure,” said a female voice over the radio. “One female civilian subdued.”

“”Nevermind him! Get her! Get the fucking ties on her, now! Watch those claws, jesus!” A slightly panicky male voice said. “Target is down. Securing now. One male civilian subdued. They put up a hell of a fight.”

More crackling. Repeated heavy thuds. Grunting, then, “Last male subdued and restrained. Christ, this guy’s a beast.” Reyes sounded winded, which spoke well of whichever twin that was.

“Fine work, gentlemen,” Altus said, heading for the splintered front door and removing his mask. “If you could assemble them all in the front room, and make sure they’re conscious, I’d like to have a word.”

He stood in the doorway and surveyed the small front room. It was expensive but worn, the furniture obviously antique and just as obviously lived in. The style was a bit too old world aristocrat for Jonathan Morgan, but it fit his widow all too well.

The team dragged Sirena and the Morgans into the room, one by one, feet and hands bound together behind them with heavy duty zip ties. 

Sirena came first, writhing and snarling, trying to bite the man who dragged her by the arm to kneel before Altus. Her big, black, alien eyes regarded him with undisguised hatred and she bared her sharp predator’s teeth as her breath hissed in and out.

She was followed by the short haired twin, Michael. He groaned as he was dragged across the floor. The left side of his face was cut and swollen, dripping blood in a steady patter across the old wood floor.

Sirena tore her eyes away from Altus and he saw her anguish as she regarded his wounds. “Michael,” she said, leaning toward him and nearly falling over in the process. “Michael, are you alright? Can you hear me?”

Michael groaned and swayed drunkenly on his knees so that a Seal had to catch him and right him before he fell. “Ngh. What a week I’m having,” he slurred and spat blood onto the floor. 

Reyes came in next, dragging the bearded twin, Gabriel, and, at the same time, the female Seal and her partner carried in the defeated form of Cecelia. Altus indicated that they should set them down before him, next to the others. Gabriel glared daggers at the man through swollen eyes, his face even more beat up than his brother’s. Cecelia stared resolutely at the floor. Her mouth was moving but Altus couldn’t make out what she was saying.

Sirena was looking over each of them and then back at Altus. “Let them go, Venter,” she said, drawing herself up as much as she could, trying to keep his attention on her. “You can have me. I won’t fight you. I’ll do whatever you want. Just, please, let them go.”

Michael turned his head toward her. “Sirena, no.”

“Michael, I--”

Altus cut them both off, waving his hand. “I’m afraid it’s far too late for that kind of thing, my dear. It seems Jonathan Morgan’s continuing legacy is to be a pain in my ass. I should have ended these three with their traitorous patriarch ten years ago.” His lip curled and his eyes flashed as he stared at Cecelia. “But I showed mercy, didn’t I Cecelia?

She stopped her murmuring and looked up at him for the first time, eyes hard and filled with hate. “Puto,” she spat at him, “Vete a la chingada, you murdering piece of shit!”

Altus sighed and reached into his jacket. “See?” he said to the assembled Seals behind his prisoners. “Mercy is weakness, my friends, and weakness invites abuse.” He leveled the gun at Cecelia. “This is how I deal with people who abuse my generosity.” He squeezed the trigger and the back of the woman's head exploded in a shower of red.

Gabriel lunged and screamed, falling on top of her as she fell backwards. Sirena was keening a sobbing moan, but Altus’ eyes fell on Michael. The only one not looking at his dead mother. He didn’t appear to be looking at anything, just straining at his bonds and screaming for his mother over and over, frantic and confused.

Altus holstered the Glock and squatted down in front of Michael. The man didn’t look at him, didn’t even seem to know he was there. Altus waved a hand in front of those bright blue eyes, but they didn’t react, just rolled around sightlessly, tears streaming from them.

“He killed her!” cried Gabriel as he was hauled upright again. “Michael, he killed her! Oh, God!”

Altus watched as the knowledge hit the blind man, watched grief melt his handsome features into something ugly and distorted. Grief had always fascinated Altus, and he’d never had an opportunity to study it up close like this without the subject being aware of his scrutiny.

Altus crouched there like a ghoul, his face inches from Michael’s, eyes wide and glazed with a kind of lust.

The Seals began to shift uncomfortably, looking at each other and especially at Reyes, who cleared his throat meaningfully a couple of times until Altus’ annoyed glare silenced him. Reyes looked away quickly and resumed staring straight ahead. 

Altus looked back at the blind man, studying him a bit closer. Michael was shirtless and he had two puncture wounds high on either side of his chest. They dripped thick, drying trails of blood down his lean-muscled chest.

“Was this you guys?” Altus asked the Seals. They looked at each other and shook their heads. One of them pointed out that Michael had eight more of them on his back. Altus looked at them and spread his hand over the wound, then looked at Sirena. He stepped around to look at her hands and a grin spread across his face.

“Oh, I get it,” he said, looking conspiratorially between the two. “You mated with her!” he laughed. “My God, or you tried, yeah?”

He giggled while Sirena refused to look at him and the blind man turned beet red.

“Oh, oh, that is...disgusting!” he cried gleefully. “I mean, have you seen her?” He laughed uproariously, “No! No, I suppose you haven’t! You know they call her the Sea Hag, right?”

“Sir?” Reyes was eyeing Altus with distaste, though his tone remained respectful and professional. “Sir, if security is a priority, then we should not remain here any longer than is necessary.

Altus huffed, “You’re no fun, Reyes.” He rose and clapped his hands like a teacher trying to get everyone’s attention. “Good news, Sirena. Your blind little boy toy can live. For now. His brother too. You’ve all given me the most wonderful idea. Identical twins are exceptionally useful in matters of genetic research, and I have a nifty new retrovirus that is sorely in need of human testing.” He motioned to the Seals to bring the prisoners as he turned and made for the chopper, donning his mask as he went.

The Seals said nothing as they grabbed Sirena and the men, one on each side, hauling them by the upper arms.

“Gabe?” Michael said quietly, not sure where his brother was.

Gabriel answered reflexively, listlessly. “Yeah.”

Michael sniffed and choked back a  sob. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, man. Mom...I--This is all my fault.”

“No, Michael,” Sirena said, her voice flat and dull. “He was only after me. If you hadn’t met me--”

“Shut up, both of you,” Gabe’s harsh, tired bark shocked them to silence. “That fucking monster, Venter, owns absolutely all of the blame. For all of this. Forever. Understood?”

They were set down with surprising gentleness inside the helicopter. They lay on their sides facing each other, heads to each other's knees while the Seals piled in and the rotors spun up.

Altus donned his headset as they rose and toggled the thing to a private channel with the pilot. He sat back and smiled as the Black Hawk banked sharply and turned 180 degrees to face the house on the cliff again.

There was a hissing sound, loud enough to be heard over the rotors, and two Hydra rockets launched from beneath the helicopter and flew straight at the house they had just left. 

An enormous fireball painted the sky with black smoke. What was left of the old manor house collapsed inward and blazed sullenly.

Altus waved an acknowledgement to the pilot and they banked again, heading back to the Cerulean. He watched Gabriel’s face as they swung around and he could see the flaming smudge that was his childhood home. 

Altus drank in the man’s despair, savoring it like a rare vintage.