Chapter 2: Calypso
Updated: Mar 11
I swam to the mouth of my cave, looking up at Medeina’s shining face. Even through several hundred feet of water, her grace shone down, illuminating the vast sea. A cold current washed over me, raising goosebumps on my slick, clammy skin.
The school of lantern fish who had been following me while I paced the floors of my home darted back inside, fearful they may be spotted by any nearby predators. We had a mutually beneficial arrangement. I let them live in the safety of my cave and, in return, they provided me with light, and they cleaned my home by eating up the plankton and algae that seemed to continuously gather here.
“Barnacles and bubbles. I do hope he’s okay.”
It was probably the tenth time I had uttered those exact same words in the last fifteen minutes. My human would be at the sea’s edge, fishing for mooneyes right now. Tonight was the last night of the full moon and if he didn’t catch enough, his family would suffer. “Oh, Triton, please make sure my human has a successful night. Don’t let his family suffer because I’m not there to help him.”
“How do you know that’s what your human is doing? They’re not pets, you know. And he’s definitely not yours.”
Startled by the voice from a dark corner in my cave, a large cloud of ink billowed out around me. “Ah, Arion, look what you made me do.”
“It looks like you soiled yourself again.”
“It’s ink, you nasty crustacean. What are you doing here?”
“I’m checking in on you,” he said, snapping his giant crab pincers at me. “Making sure you’re not galivanting around, doing things you’re not supposed to be doing.”
“To make sure I don’t go see my human?” I spat the words back at him, rolling my monstrous round eyes for maximum effect. “Don’t worry, I’ll never go back now. I mean, look at me. You turned me into some sort of horrid squid monster. It’s not like he ever saw me before, but now, if he did, I’d scare the ink out of him, as well.”
“Humans don’t ink.”
“I don’t care. You know what I mean. The boy’s family might starve now because of what you did to me. Enough is enough. Turn me back into a mermaid. I’ve been like this for four days. It’s humiliating.”
“I changed you so that you’d never go to the surface again. I did it for your own good.” Arion scratched at the cave floor, stirring up a cloud of gray silt. “And how do you know the young man’s family will starve?”
“I heard him praying to Triton. It’s possible he figured that if our king knew why he was fishing for mooneyes, then maybe he’d help him.” I swam past my mentor, a crab I too often referred to as my chaperone, letting my overly long tentacles drag over his red-shelled body. I wanted to make it clear just how revolting I looked and felt.
“Pfft. Triton and his horrible children only help themselves. Look at what Prince Draven did after you shunned him. Just because he couldn’t get the prettiest mermaid in the entire sea to marry him, he lied to his father, telling him that you were practicing blood magic. And, to make matters worse, the sea slug said I was teaching you how to do it. Oh, glorious starfish, I miss the merkingdom. I used to have front row seats at the coliseum. I used to get to watch plays and listen to music from the best seat in the house. Now I’m stuck out here with you in this dank cave in the middle of nowhere. Even the sharks won’t venture out here. There is nothing to see. Nothing to do. Nothing but miles and miles of boring nothingness.”
I wrapped my tentacles around myself, turning up my beak-like nose. “It’s not my fault. You’ve met the prince. The guy is nothing more than a… scavenger.”
“Careful there, sweetie. I’m a scavenger.”
“You’re a giant crab with an even bigger heart. And the only reason you’re a scavenger is because you don’t want to hurt a living thing – unless it’s me, of course. You could hunt any fish in the sea if you chose to. I’ve seen how fast you can move when the mood strikes you. I watched you cut through a fisherman’s net with your pincers like it was nothing more than seaweed.”
“Those fool humans had netted a school of merchildren. What else could I have done?”
“You risked your shell to save them. Even though you turned me into this horrid monster, I still love you.”
“I love you, too, my little sea witch apprentice. I’ll do anything to protect you, even if it means turning you into a horrid squid monster.”
“Can you change me back? Please? Tonight’s the last night of the full moon. I need to make sure my… he... caught enough fish to sustain his family.”
“And what do you think will happen to him if Triton finds out he’s harvesting his prize fishes? More importantly, what do you think he’ll do to me if he finds out you’re helping him?” The crab’s eye stocks swivelled towards the cave’s entrance. “Speak of the devil…” As quickly as he’d arrived, Arion scuttled back into the shadows.
Luna, my best friend, came swimming into my cave, rapidly tapping her throat. Her skin was pale, her long flowing hair a sea-foam green. The mermaid’s sapphire blue eyes were wide, bulging out of her head. At first, I thought it was because she was struggling to breathe, but then I realized that the sight of me frightened the cockles out of the little princess. It wasn’t until I explained that it was me, and that Arion had changed me into my current grotesque squid monster form, that she finally calmed down. The princess understood what it was like having a chaperone lurking at her side all the time. Where I had a giant crab hovering over me, she had Octavius, a repulsive little octopus who, I thought, resembled a miniature kraken.
“Let me guess. You lost your voice again?” Luna nodded and tapped her throat again. “When are you going to learn, girl?” I said. The young princess, who had been my best friend until her brother banished me, was nodding furiously. She had a penchant for fire shrimp. Perhaps an addiction was a more appropriate word for it, the way she risked life and fin to steal them. All too often, she had a bad reaction from eating them, causing her to lose her voice; a condition that could last many days. The bright red creatures were a species of crustations carefully cultivated and farmed by sirens. My skin darkened at the thought of those cursed winged mermaids. They were the reason land dwellers feared mermaids and killed us on sight. The sirens used their magical voices to lure ships towards their rocky island homes. What those vile creatures did to the humans afterwards was too gruesome to think about without making me shiver.
Luna blew out a few bubbles, her way of pleading with me to hurry.
“This is the last of the remedy I made. I don’t have the ingredients to make any more.” I swam close to the mermaid, cringing when she shied away from my grotesque form. If my best friend was frightened by my appearance, there was no way a human wouldn’t be absolutely terrified. “I have a favor,” I whispered. “One that could get both of us into deep water.”
A smile crept across Luna’s face. I knew exactly how to manipulate her. She might have been Triton’s daughter, but she was a free spirit, an adventurous soul who would do anything for fun, even if it meant angering her father. If it meant infuriating her brother, then all the better.
“You can’t tell anyone that you’re doing this for me, especially your brother. And you’re going to have to give Octavius the slip. He would report us in a heartbeat if he knew.” The girl scowled and blew out a stream of bubbles, making her hair swirl about her head. Of course, she understood. Luna gave her chaperone the slip all the time. It was the only way she could visit the sirens’ shrimp farm without her brother finding out. I held up my heads defensively, giving her a big smile.
I pressed my lips close to Luna’s ear, barely breathing my words loud enough for her, and only her, to hear. After I finished explaining what I wanted her to do for me, she pulled away. Her eyes were as wide and shocked as when she saw my horrific new body for the first time. The girl suddenly blushed scarlet and nodded furiously while a mischievous grin pulled her cheeks wide.
“Thank you. You’re the best friend I’ve ever had.” And with that, I fluttered to my wall of potions and scrolls and retrieved the last of my fire shrimp cure. “Please hurry. The night is nearly gone, and it will be the last time Medeina fully shows herself for a long time.”
Luna snatched the bottle from my hand and, with a flick of her tail, disappeared in a cloud of bubbles.
“What were you two whispering about?” Arion asked, creeping out from his shadowy hole. “Please tell me you didn’t send her on a fool’s errand?”
“I didn’t send her on a fool’s errand.” The words came out too quickly and my body turned a horrid shade of green.
“You’re lying to me, Calypso. You know how I feel about that.”
“I only did what you asked.” My body switched from ghastly green to pathetic pink. “You told me to tell you I didn’t send her on a fool’s errand, so that’s what I did.”
“What am I going to do with you, child?” He snapped his pincers at me. “If she gets caught, we’ll be shark bait for sure.”