BEWARE! DARK SEAS: Teach A Man to Fish Today & Two Merrows Eat Your Life by Valerie Willis
Welcome to Beware! Dark Seas Halloween showcase, an annual author & artist showcase that features talented creators. Come back each day, the entire month of October for a scare! Prepare for dark stories, myths & legends, and creepy creations that will make the hair on the nape of your neck stand up straight. May the water have mercy on your soul.
Teach A Man to Fish Today & Two Merrows Eat Your Life
BY Valerie Willis
Arms wide, embracing the salty breeze, I stood on Ireland’s coastline. I’m here! It had been my dream since Granny revealed we had Irish blood to visit here. Seagulls squawked as if to blare, tourist! Folding my arms, I ended the embrace and turned back to the restaurant. I sat back down in my seat in front of Keating’s Bar and Restaurant. My husband lifted an eyebrow while he enjoyed his Kilbaha Bay Crab Claws. I had ordered a bowl of chowder, watching the steam float off on the breeze like today’s plans.
“Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.” Sighing, I sipped my latte. “You think the captain will change his mind about cancelling today’s fishing excursion?”
“I doubt it, babe.” He speared a chunk of crab meat with his fork, dunking it into the white sauce. Chewing his food, he managed to say, “It’s choppy out there.”
The tops of the waves were jagged and white, the shallow depths enough to make the water rougher. The water crashed against a rocky shore, white curtains shooting upward and the wind sweeping it away. Despite sitting near the water’s edge, sea water never sprayed our table.
There’s nothing like Florida’s shorelines of endless sand. I’ve been in thunderstorms, lightning striking all around us. Hell, I was on a twenty-one-foot boat when the engine died, and we were walled in with two-story swells. Dad thought we’d have to call for help but he fixed the engine. A wave had choked the exhaust, killing the oxygen to the pistons.
“Huh?” I broke my grimace from the water and my husband shook his head. “Honey, we can ask again or maybe see if there’s some alternative.”
“S-sure.” Spooning up some chowder, I accepted my fate. “It just sucks. He offered to reschedule for tomorrow, but we’re flying out.”
“At least they refunded our deposit. Back home, if a hurricane hit, you’re lucky if they’re that generous.” He shoved the last clump of crab meat. “Man, this will ruin me. Red Lobster’s snow crab legs won’t cut it anymore.”
I smiled. “I haven’t had a chowder like this since I was a kid. I’m glad we found this place.”
“Ma’am?” I turned around, an Irish accent calling my attention. “Did I hear you wanted to go fishing?”
Leaning back into my seat, I locked gazes with an elderly woman sipping her coffee, her long white hair tossing into the wind. Her appearance was how I imagined the Irish Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley to look the night she terrorized the Spanish off Florida’s coast: a white night gown, sword raised, and lightening striking at her back!
“That’s right. We were supposed to go with the Fishing Adventures place up the road here, but the weather is supposed to only get worse.”
“Ah, I see.” She folded her paper and pondered, “Did you try the other side of County Clare?”
“Sorry, I’m as touristy as it gets, I can’t seem to wrap my head on where the county areas are.” I blushed, “But, I assume if this is like Florida, it’s on the other side of the peninsula?”
“You’re a bright one.” She chuckled, winking at me. “It’s alright, lass. But yes, you can fish off the Kilkee pier. It’s only about a thirty-minute drive northeast. Right down R487, the road right here, in fact.”
I looked to my husband who folded his brow in thought, “That might work. If it’s like back home, the pier might provide tourist packages and there’s a chance the water is deeper on that side.”
“Oh, it’s deeper alright.” The old woman took another sip of her coffee, a glitter in her eye. “My husband and I live on that side, but I grew up here in the bay and come back from time to time to enjoy its waters.”
“Thank you.” I smiled, turning back to my chowder. “Looks like I might get my Irish fishing trip after all.” I lowered my voice, “Should we buy her coffee as a thank you?”
The husband leaned over and shook his head, “Too late, she’s gone.”
Startled, I twisted back, the table empty save an empty coffee cup and pages of a newspaper fluttering in the wind.
How on earth did she vanish so fast?
The old woman had steered us in the right direction. As promised, half an hour later we were standing on a sand and rock shoreline filled with boats and fellow fishermen. Now, who would be willing to take us fishing? Walking down the docks, I paused to stare aimlessly at the ocean. No white caps snarled at me here, but the waters were darker, deeper. With an inhale, I took in the salty scent as if enjoying the subtle differences in the smells of roses.
So different than the waters back home. Florida just feels wild and bright with life. Here, in Ireland, there’s this ancient and aged beauty to it all. Deep green and earth-toned rock cliffs look like the gods of old dropped them here like a child’s building blocks.
“Who’re you looking for?” Shaking my head, I realized my husband had left me behind and an old sailor in brown waders gnawed on his pipe staring at me. “Not too many tourists give a glad eye to the ocean. You lose a loved one to the sea?”
“Ah, n-no.” Mustering a smile, I revealed my secret, “Since I was small, I’ve always loved going fishing and everything to do with the ocean. Always reading books and pissing off my high school Marine Biology teacher over how much I knew.”
He laughed, nodding, “You plan on fishing today?”
My smile broke, “I had plans. The fishing excursion we had planned cancelled since the bay was too rough. They offered to reschedule, but, we’re heading back to the states tomorrow.”
“What a shame, real shame that is.” He gnawed on his pipe, combing his fingers through his beard.
“There you are.” My husband had circled back, “You can’t just stop like that without telling me.”
The sailor narrowed his eyes and a smile broke out, “I’ll take you fishing.”
“Ah, that would be so cool.” I lit up, how cool to fish with a local instead! This is more our speed!
“Oh man, I’d love that, but we don’t have a temporary license.” Jacob rubbed his neck, his mind in super thinking mode. “We were aiming to go with a charter for that reason or maybe see if there was some package for pier access here.”
“I haven’t done a charter in a while, but my license is good.” The old man was shuffling in his many pockets and produced a paper. “Here we go,” Unfolding it, he showed us his proof of his Charter and license expiration, “Still good ya see.”
“Well,” I looked to my husband with puppy dog eyes, “I’m willing to go, are you?”
“Psh!” Jacob gave me a skeptical look, “I rather fish with a local than the charter.”
“We’ve got a deal then?” A plume of smoke boiled from his smile.
“Uh, well I suppose first we should discuss the price?” I pulled in my excitement, “We were going to pay €450 for a full day, but how about €300 for about two or so hours?”
The old fisherman held out a hand, “That seems fair. Curious to see how you do out there.”
We followed him to the old boat and nostalgia filled me. It was about the size of my Dad’s last boat before divorce wrecked all that I held dear. Climbing on board, he tossed us some weather worn life vests and we were off. Feeling the rocking of the hull on the rolling waves and the familiar slap of water brought a sense of freedom. The grin on my face made my cheeks ache and every time I glanced at Jacob, he chuckled at me.
Fishing trip is happening! YES!
The motor slowed, and the old man came away from the wheelhouse and started to drop anchor. My husband and I lurched forward to offer a hand of help and he waved us away. Pulling a lever, the anchor slammed into the deep blue waters with a loud splash. The chain hissed and rumbled for quite a while before stopping and going slack. He tilted his hat to us, a smile wide on his face.
“Don’t hesitate to put me to work.” Jacob was beside himself and eager to start fishing. “I ain’t afraid to bait a hook, sir.”
“Captain,” corrected the old man. “Captain Coomara.”
“Captain Coomara.” I smiled, “I can bait my own hook as well, just let me know what I need to do since I’ve never fished here before.”
“Ah, you’re fine.” The old man rummaged through a panel in the floor and pulled out two heavy and thick rods. “You two ok with bottom fishing?”
“Yes, sir- Captain.” Jacob’s face reddened, catching himself. “We’ve done it plenty in the intracoastal and ocean back home.”
“Good, good.” He was checking the weights and line, testing the drag and making adjustments. “I’ll bait the hooks. Can’t have my guests getting their hands dirty. Ah, there we go, ladies first.”
Handing me the pole, I was relieved I was familiar with the tackle being used, “Just drop it straight down till it hits bottom, right?”
“Yes ma’am.” The sparkle in his eye was teamed with a raise of an eyebrow. “You’ve definitely done some fishing, gal.”
“Heck, she out-fishes me most days.” Jacob took the pole from Captain Coomara. “Thank you kindly, Captain.”
“Aye, don’t thank me until you catch something though.” The old man leaned over the edge of the water. “It can be choppy up here, but down there, she’s calm as a summer’s breeze.”
Smiling, I turned to my side of the boat. Flipping the lever on the reel, the line flowed freely chasing the weight beyond my view and far into the depths below. My finger caressed the line rushing over it. A thump vibrated across it and I closed the lever, setting the drag into active mode.
Daddy always taught me to let it hit bottom then reel it in about two or three turns.
I did exactly what Dad had taught me time and time again. The weight could be felt scraping rocks or even the sandy bottom. Amazing how much can be translated through the line and rod. The boat tilted one way, then the other. Swells were large and after being anchored, made their height far more intimidating. My balance faltered for a split second, my hip jamming into the railing.
Crap, I almost went over!
Unlike the recreational boats I had fished on, this was designed for commercial fishing. The railing was set lower to make it easier for tugging nets on and off the deck. Shuddering, I spaced my feet to gain extra agility and balance. With rough seas, it became a physical endurance game to stay up right. My finger tugged on the line; still no sign of fish. A large swell was rolling in from Jacob’s side, under the hull, breaching on my side and the deck tilted hard. I stumbled few steps back, gripping the railing to keep from falling back—
The world slowed, nausea waving over me. Turning, I could see Captain Coomara looking over the railing.
“JACOB!” Dropping my rod, I rushed to his side only to be met with blue water. “JACOB!”
Scrambling, I was tugging on a rope fastened at the wheelhouse. My chest ached, my heart slamming against my sternum. A wave rolled in, the boat tilting again.
He had a life vest! Where did he go? Why isn’t he responding!
Looking at the incoming blue swell, orange caught my eye. I tugged harder on the rope, freeing it at last. My eyes found the bright orange and my body began to shake. Jacob was missing.
No way, no way this is happening…
“JACOB! JACOB!” Shrieking, tears were falling.
We’ve been boating and fishing so much, there’s no way he would have taken it off.
Closing my eyes, I shook my head.
I need to focus; this isn’t the time to break down, Anne!
Opening them, I realized Captain Coomara had gripped my life vest to steady me.
“What are you…” I paled.
A knife cut the straps of my life vest, and it began to slip off. He gave me a violent shove, my hip catching and I found myself falling. His shark-tooth grin and pitch-black eyes were the last thing I saw as I sunk into the icy water. The shock of the cold water sent a hard and stiff shiver through my muscles. I managed to hold my breath, but I was sinking as fast as the weights on my line. Eyes stinging in the saltwater, I had succeeded in holding onto my life vest, but it did nothing to slow my descent.
Something’s not right, something’s…
Searching my body, I found no signs of being tethered to weights.
Why am I sinking, this isn’t natural…
My lungs were stinging, my ears feeling the pressure from the depth. Light was fading so fast. The water was crushing in, squeezing ever harder. At last, I opened my mouth and a flood of water filled me until the black abyss filled me. My eyes squinting, am I in a cage?
“When you said you were sending over supper, you didn’t tell me we were having Floridians!” I could hear Captain Coomara’s voice, giggling. “You’ve outdone yourself, Maggie.”
“Well, it saves us the swim over there.” It was the old woman from before! “I feel bad though, she’s a sweet girl, that one.”
My eyes shot open. I laid on my back in what looked to be a lobster’s cage.
I know this story…
“We can keep her around for a while.” Offered Captain Coomara. “She’s a lover of the sea… hard to eat a soul so wonderful.”
Swallowing, I sat up. We were in an underwater cave, items floating in the water all around. At a table made for two there they sat, Maggie and Captain Coomara. Both of them looked different, dangerous even. Green scales twinkled in the magic of the underwater fire and danced in their pitch-black eyes. They grinned and carried on a pleasant conversation, teeth triangular and jagged. Their fingers webbed, holding cups of some sort of drink and from the waist down, fins.
Merrow. The Irish fairy tales were true. Then, this means, I’m dead, drowned, and in…
“Th-this is a soul cage, right?” I braved to make my presence known and they looked over, intrigued.
“You’re a bright one.” Maggie sat down her cup. “You know the stories then?”
I nodded and swallowed, “I know you eat the drowned souls of sailors, fishermen and such.”
“You do, now?” Captiain Coomara took a sip of his mysterious drink.
“I-I thought your name was familiar, Captain.” I steadied my nerves, “It means sea dog, right?”
“We should keep that gal.” He remarked to Maggie.
“M-may I make a request?” Swallowing, I had no pull here.
“You can try.” Maggie motioned with her webbed hand.
“If you intend to keep me, that’s fine. May I simply have my husband join me?” I fought the tears clawing to spill forth from my eyelids.
They broke out in a great roar of laughter. Captain Coomara slapped his knee and gasped for air. The sound of their chuckling echoing against the cave walls and vibrating through the water. Calming, he looked to Maggie and she shook her head no and nodded to him. He would be giving me my answer.
“I’m sorry wee lass.” He cleared a tear of laughter from his cold eye. “We’ve already ate him with our tea.”