Astounding Creatures (An Aquatic Christmas Adventure)

Max had rented his house in San Francisco and had moved to the cottage he and his love Mehitabel had built together in Secret Cove. The house was beautiful with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, but Max grew tired of the Ghosts and Demons who invaded his privacy. Besides that, he was engaged and ready to make a new start. He and Mehitabel started with the cottage near the isolated beach and would find a larger home to share as well.

A few days before Christmas he walked the beach with his closest friend Teddy. It was 2021 but they’d been friends practically since their births in 1849.

As they walked on the beach Teddy pointed out some splashing in the water near the rocks. “Looks like seals,” he said to Max.

“I have a story for you Teddy,” said Max.

“Alright,” said Max. “Have I heard this one before?”

“No, you haven’t. It was 1882. You were in London that Christmas with my younger brother and sister. My sister that you’d later marry.”

“Much much later. We were so young then. Only thirty three years old. Time flies.”

“Mehitabel and I were here at the seaside cottage she was living in at the time. It eventually fell down, so she had a new one rebuilt sometime in the 1950’s. Anyway, I hadn’t planned on being with her that night in 1882, but I couldn’t get her out of my head…” Max stopped.

“You used her when you wanted her.”

“She wanted it too.”

“She was in love with you.”

“I know that now.”

“You’ve been engaged for three years now. When are you getting married.”

“I don’t know. It continues to be complicated.”

“Only because you continue to be complicated my friend. I married your sister. It can’t get more complicated than that.”

Max laughed. “Look out on the rocks there. See the Christmas tree?”

Teddy saw a tall cone shaped structure built out of driftwood and covered with an elaborate pattern of kelp and seashells. On the very top was the skull of a seal with two gull wings sticking out out from each side like a strange ocean angel.

“Where seals, or otters or something is splashing? It looks like some sort of nest from Hell.”

“They haven’t finished it yet.”

“Who? Seals? Otters?  Divers? Surfers?”

“No.” said Max. Then he smiled. “They’re back.”

“Who is back?”

“I was starting to tell you about them. Mehitabel and I were staying at the cottage. We’d spend our days and nights making love and walking on the beach. The night before we’d gone into town to find food. Oh, how that woman can hunt unlike any other Vampire I’ve ever met.”

In the morning we went for a walk on the beach. Out on that very same rock was a crude structure but not so tall or elaborate, just sort a pile of driftwood and rocks covered with shells and kelp. The next thing you know we heard a commotion down the beach. Someone or something was dragging a man out of the water. It looked like seals maybe, but it could have been people. In the fog, and at that distance we just couldn’t tell.

We ran down the beach and found a man face up in the sand, fully dressed, with a large seal skin pouch next to him. He looked to be dead until he coughed up some water and looked up at us.

“What happened to you?” I asked.

Mehitabel kneeled next to the man. “What is your name dear sir?”

“Ned,” said the man. “Captain Ned Horn of the Sea Maid.”

We both stared in disbelief. The Sea Maid was a grand steam ship that sailed between San Francisco and Sacramento, but a month previous to our finding Captain Ned Horn, the ship had exploded just north of Monterey Bay. Thankfully everyone aboard, passengers and crew, had been found alive. All except Captain Horn. It turned out that the explosion was caused by a mad man wanting revenge on his wife who was leaving him. The search for Captain Horn had been called off weeks ago.

We helped the poor man, who was soaked and freezing to death, back to the cottage where we gave him dry clothing and wrapped in in blankets by the fire. Thank goodness he and I were about the same size. 

When we asked him where he’d been he told us the most astounding story.

As you can imagine after the first explosion I got my crew and passengers into the lifeboats. We could see the shore, and there was no chance of them being tossed upon rocks. I had gone back to my cabin to get my important papers and logs, when the second explosion tore through the ship and knocked me right into the ocean. The sock of the cold water and the force of the explosion shocked my system. I could not breathe, or think, or even remember how to swim. Mind you I am known for being quick with my thoughts and actions, as well as being a strong swimmer. My fogged mine began to clear when I saw blood, my blood in the water. This is Great White territory so the idea of becoming dinner for a giant demon fish was none too pleasant. I tried to swim but the pain from my shoulder and leg left me without the ability to do much except weakly tread water. 

I found myself succumbing to the cold and sinking beneath the water. All I could think was that I’d never see my wife or my children again. Suddenly, as I prepared to fill my lungs with water and die, I was engulfed by warmth with an embrace of God only knows what. 

To tell you the truth I thought it was seals, or my imagination as my soul slipped out of my body. I thought about getting home for Christmas to see my children and hang ornaments on the tree together. How odd it is when one is under the worst conditions the sweetest memories come save you from panic and despair. Then I completely blacked out. 

Well, I will tell you that I awoke in the most amazing place. I was in a cave, but this was not an ordinary sea cave. A treasure trove of luxuries were everywhere. Not as piles of pirate loot but more like the interior of a fine home of the extremely rich and eccentric. 

When I attempted to stand up, pain shot through my leg like the fires of Hell. Something was broken or torn in the worst way. As I leaned back on my bed of soft pillows the first one came in to check on me. 

His hair was dark and brushed back from a pleasing face of a handsome man. I thought he was maybe a dwarf due to his short stature, then he lifted himself up to my level. From head to waist he was a man, but where his legs should have been was a slim tail of a seal. 

I have no words to express the awe I felt when I realized that I was in the presence of Mermaids. 

Soon more came in expressing greetings in the English language but with a strange almost cat like accent. They wanted to touch my hair and my face, but most of all they wanted to look at my legs. The small ones, the Merchildren asked me to wiggle the toes of my good leg. That sent them into fits of merry laughing.

A Merwoman who introduced herself as Oletee came and sat down to me. She was dressed in a fitted jacket made of what looked like iridescent fish skin, with mother of pearl buttons told me that they would keep me until I was healed, with one condition. That condition was that I would tell not a soul about the whereabouts of the Merfolk caves.

“We were like you once,” she told me. “The Merfolk lived on the land, but the ocean called upon us. Eventually we became like the seals, who also walked among us. Don’t raise your eyebrows Man named Ned, we are as human as you are. Land walking humans are woefully ignorant about life on our planet. The Earth is almost all water. Why are the land people always surprised that we choose to live in the vast oceans? Then again, there are men like you who live make their living on boats, even bringing your families aboard despite the dangers.”

“Does my family know where I am?”

“No, not yet. We will get you back to them when you heal and are able to make the journey. We have watched you Captain Ned Horn. We have seen you by the rail of your boat with your wife in her long dress. We have watched as you point out the whales and seals. We have watched you with your children on the beaches as you tell them stories of the sea.”

“You said you would take me back? How can I ever repay you?” I asked.

“Tell us stories of your life on the land,” said Oletee.

So, each day I was healing I told them stories of my life. The learned about trees as tall as the ocean is deep. I told them about grizzly bears, and horse races, and trains. I told them about art museums, and weather stations, and holidays. I told them about everything. Most of all I told them about my family. Of course I mentioned that I wished to be back by Christmas so that I could decorate the tree with my wife, our daughter, and our two sons. That brought an unexpected tear to my eye.

The Merfolk were touched by my story, for they also had tears in their eyes.

The day I was well enough to go home they gave me a watertight seal skin bag to hold my ships log, papers, letters from my wife and children, treasured photographs, and small gifts of rare shells and carvings from the Merfolk. I was bundled up in sling and taken to the surface of the water where for the first time in a month I could see the sun.

I told them to take me here, to the Silent Cove. The only folks who go there are the Vampires. They will never tell stories about the Merfolk. Yes, the Merfolk know who you are. The learned from the Selkies who sometimes go out among them. I assured the Merfolk that they would be safe at Silent Cove. Yes, I know who the Selkies are, humans who change into seals when they don their seal skins and hit the water. They’re a tricky sort but good to know.

I came to learn that the Merfolk are in touch with people of the land. They trade goods and information. The Merfolk also know of others who are different, such as yourself. Don’t look so surprised, I’ve known about you for ages. I’ve seen members of your kind take passage on my ships for two decades and never age a day. I’ve seen you never eat a morsel of food in a week’s time and yet never act hungry.

Sea Captains know about all of the creatures of the sea and land. We would be daft if we did not. 

The Christmas tree on the rocks was from the Merfolk, God bless them. God bless you dear Vampires for finding me. I will always be in your debt.

So that my dear Teddy is the story of the Christmas tree on the rocks and the astounding creatures who built it. Do you believe me? Max asked his friend.

“What? About mermaids? Why wouldn’t I?” 

“It is rather fantastical.”

“Max, you forget who you’re talking to. Both of my children are Vampires, I’ve met a Sasquatch, and my wife’s best friend is a Ghost.”

“Points well taken,” said Max.

From the path coming down to the beach both of Max’s wolfhounds and Mehitabel came running down.

“Max, Teddy, we need to go down the beach to the Merfolk Christmas tree,” she called to them. “In a few minutes the lights are going on.”

“Lights? They have lights? How do you know?” Teddy asked in wonder.

“They texted me,” said Mehitabel.

“Merfolk have phones?”

“Of course they do, along with waterproof LED lights. You didn’t think they’d just sit in the oceans and not take advantage of modern technology?”

The three Vampires watched in wonder as the Mer-tree started to glow with green, red, and golden lights. It was a secret holiday tradition in Secret Cove, brought to life by astounding creatures. 

No matter who you are, no matter who your family is, or where you come from, I wish you a very Merry Christmas, full of mystery, love, surprises, and wonderful shared stories with those you love, or might one day love.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

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