He settled her on the ground, wary of her fragility, the hollow nature of her existence. Walking away left him feeling nauseated and uncomfortable, as if a string had been run into this throat and around his stomach. Once at the water, he gagged, leaning onto his knees, and hacking a length of saliva out of his throat. He’d forgotten to count and tried to estimate how long ago he’d left her underneath the trees.
“One minute. One minute ago,” he said.
The water extended to the horizon, and Haruki thought that they must be on one of the more remote islands in the Ogisawara chain. Some way in the distance, he traced a fish beneath the water. Larger than a snapper, its scales were golden and its head a confusing shape. Haruki took a deep breath and straightened to get a better look. He’d never seen a fish like this so close—he was young, and had fished for only a decade, but he’d heard stories from the older men in the sturdier boats.
“Izanami,” he shouted. “Izanami.”
He feared to turn around before her time was up and so ran to his boat, collecting a sturdy net and serrated knife from the foot of its bow. Stripping off his shirt, he waded into the water and tracked the creature under the water. It was fast, and its tail kicked strongly. Its head, he saw, was cruelly shaped. Not human, neither was it truly a fish. The top half reminded him of a hairless snow monkey, pink, with deep-set eyes in heavy brows and a round face, while its tail was that of a great green dolphin, one of the Bottlenose creatures, which would come to play beside his boat.
It was a Ningyo, a mermaid, by another name. Anyone who caught it would suffer bad luck, but its flesh, if eaten, would heal the worst of wounds, cure the direst ills. He thought of Izanami in the forest behind him and discarded all thought of ill fortune.
“But do I stab it through the neck,” he thought, “or the heart? First, I must catch it in the net before any thought of using the knife.” He stuck the blade through the belt at his waist and made his way closer, only inches removed from the Ningyo’s course. It didn’t swim out to sea as he expected but continued instead in a figure-of-eight making speedy rotations under the water. He watched it carefully, nervous of its reputation as a shape-shifter. It could become a shark, or a great whale, and take him beneath the waves. There was glory in dying, for a man of the sea, in such a way.
Robin White is a writer and teacher from the United Kingdom who has recently moved to New York City. Robin has been previously published in Bartleby Snopes, Dogzplot, and the Eunoia Review.