Catch of the Day

It is late in the morning, and Jack Sparrow has just caught a mermaid.

Hauling hard on the net, Jack spares a moment to grumble about his torn hands and throw dark glances at his Uncle Ben. The fat old man is slumped against the tiller, snoring hugely, a half-filled bottle of rum dangling from stubby, scarred fingers.

"'C'mon, Jackie,'" Jack mimics in a falsetto, "'Go fishin' wit yer ol' Uncle Ben!' Fishing my arse, this is cruel labor!" For all his complaining, though, he pulls in the heavy, wriggling fishing net; at twelve years old, Jack knows full well how a good catch can keep his family in house and bread. Still, he entitles himself to some grumbling, since he is a slim (not skinny!) young man against a net full of God's most delicious creatures. For example, the large, green-blue tail that is caught in the very end of the net, tangled, and easily as big around as his own waist. The strong Caribbean sun sparkles off it like a fresh glaze of butter. Jack licks his lips and pulls harder. That'll be worth something, for sure!

Ah, the end of the net, at last. Tying the far corner of the net to the side of the little boat, Jack inches the squirming mass of creatures into the boat, not above yanking a few fins as handholds. All that remains is the large green-blue fish he had spotted earlier. Just a few more inches and…

With a smack that sets the boat to rocking, the whole damn fish flops up over the lip of the boat. Examining the end of the tail, Jack concludes that he is a lucky man—the fish was only inches from escape, caught just by the broad, unfamiliar-looking fan shape of its fin. Then a fish-belly white arm reaches over and snatches his ankle, and he swallows a shriek, finally seeing the other end of his magnificent catch.

Wet and dripping, shining with scales and long, seaweed-green hair, a mermaid lies in the bottom of his boat. The end of her tail—the "fish" Jack had been so sure about—is wrapped in the line still clenched in his fist, and he drops it as if it had burned him. "A mermaid," he breathes, almost unbelieving. He'd only heard of them through tales told in pubs, and a few little bedtime stories his mother had sung when he was little. He'd never expected to meet one—in fact, he had laughed at the seamen who talked about being rescued from the ocean by a lovely lady with a fish for legs.

Jack sits down, nudging a fat tuna out of his way. The hand around his ankle is still there, and he stares at it, at the thin fingers and greenish tinge to the skin. The mermaid tries to pick herself up—and it's clear that she is a she, what with the soft face and pretty little female chest lightly freckled with scales—and flops down again, the slippery water and bed of fish defeating her. A little, high-pitched moan escapes her lips, and she stares at him, imploring despite the lack of eyebrows, with big dark eyes the same color as India ink. Her hair is deep green and long, tangled, with some little spines and shells tied into the knots.

Uncle Ben snores on, oblivious. Jack frowns and begins thinking very, very hard.

A mermaid. One that is undoubtedly real, obviously not fake, right there. One that would get his family more money than any catch-of-the-day would, one that would make sure his brothers and sisters ate more and that they didn't grow up to a short, nasty life and a hard death.

But a mermaid. A mermaid that probably didn't expect to get snapped up in his net, let alone be dragged up and into the air. He imagines, briefly, what might be a kind of backward drowning—swimming along, not a care in the world, her tail caught in the line, imprisoned until the slow, laborious haul to the surface, where other fish (her friends?) flop in dying breaths and skinny two-legged boys gawk and prod and sell her to some cold collector. He shudders.

The bottle of rum falls from Uncle Ben's fingers with a clank, startling Jack. The mermaid, too, is staring at the other man, her face terrified as he snorts and twitches. Jack holds himself still as stone, waiting until he is sure his uncle won't wake before standing. Carefully, slowly, he eases the knife from its sheath at his uncle's belt, drawing the blade with a satisfied flourish. A rattling gasp makes him turn, and he sees the mermaid frantically trying to crawl out of the net, her eyes darting from her trapped tail to the knife in his hand.

Of course, Jack thinks. He tries a friendly smile on as he kneels by her fin. "Hello," he says. She stops moving. "My name's Jack. Jack Sparrow. What's yours?" He doesn't think fish-folk can talk, but it's worth a try. She bites a thin lower lip and nervously twists her fingers in her hair, making the tangles worse. Inching the flat of the blade under one loop of hemp, Jack begins sawing sideways, so as not to cut her. The tail under his fingers is strong and hard, cool and slippery from a life underwater. "That's my Uncle Ben. He's not too terrible, I guess, if he's not too drunk. 'Course, he's always drunk, so's there's not much to do about that. Ma don't like him a lot, but she says he helps keep bread on the table, so there you go."

He talks for a little longer, the words more a comfort to him in the face of an unnatural reality than to her, but it helps him pass the time until there is only a single knot against the thick muscle and scale. He hesitates a moment, looking right into the mermaid's eyes. Black as ink, wide and round, they seemed to stare right into his soul. Jack cuts the line.

For long moments, the two stare at each other—one human and relatively dry, the other fish-folk and wet as water. His hand still rests on the mermaid's tail, and he lets his fingers trail over the ridged, sharp-edged fan of her fin as she curls her body up, grasps the lip of the boat in preparation to dive. She pauses, though, and looks back.

In a moment, Jack is being kissed by the mermaid. The odor of salt, water, and fish floods his nose, and his chapped lips burn from the sea-salt dripping off her own. She pulls back, and smiles at him, so sweet and happy that he can't breathe. The tales are right, sea-maids are beautiful, he thinks, and starts when she nudges his hand with hers. Something is in her fist, and when he holds his palm out, the sting-ray spine from her hair drops into his hand. He holds the delicate little thing carefully and almost misses it as she throws herself over the boat and into the water with a splash. Water foams up as her tail smacks down, and Uncle Ben startles awake, fresh seawater dripping from his mustache.

Confused, he looks around the tiny boat, spotting Jack sitting still as the net of fish gasps dying breaths behind him. Coloring, Ben bellows out, "Jackie! What'er you doin' sittin' around? We've got to get this in, boy, not dream! Not get sorting!"

Uncle Ben grumbles and glares, but Jack doesn't notice. As he begins to place the fish into the crates, he carefully twines the sting-ray spine into his hair. A bit of cut hemp from the net serves well as twine, and when he's finished, the little parting gift dangles by his ear like a charm.

As the sails fill with wind and the little boat scuds back to harbor, Uncle Ben finds the whole Jack had sliced into the net. When he begins shouting, and fussing about for his knife, Jack looks back behind the boat, into the clear Caribbean waters, and sees a green-blue tail shoot up into the air, with a high, burbling laugh following it.

The sting-ray spine beats against his cheek, a friendly farewell tapped out in its rhythm. Jack smiles, and his lips burn with salt.

A/N: Thank you very much for reading! The snippets of fishing tech were drawn from Official Fanfiction University of the Caribbean, a wonderful story here, as well as a few Wiki articles.

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Have a nice day!