Twisted Tales

by Richard Campbell

The Fisherboys and the Mermaid

The house was in an uproar. There were abundant aunts, countless cousins, scowling sisters and, as if that wasn't sufficient, their frightful friends who made a habit of dropping in at very opportunity. And all of them had much to say.

This would not have been too bad had they only said it to each other. Unfortunately, after saying it to each other at great length, they would turn on him and repeat it at even greater length, with much wringing of hands, noisy hysterics, and melodramatic histrionics.

Fortunately he was out fishing most of the day but his return was always the signal for a deluge of complaint and criticism.

"Why didn't he work harder?"

"When was he going to get a proper job?"

"Why wouldn't he buckle down and earn a proper living?"

"Did he expect them to do all the cooking, cleaning and tidying while he was out all day enjoying himself?"

"When was he going to pull his socks up?"

As his socks were so full of holes that even pulling them on, let alone up, was a fraught operation only to be carried out with due care and attention, the remark was singularly inappropriate.

Of course that was only the start. There were many other things they felt should be brought to his attention. Why, for instance, did he eat so much? Didn't he realise he was depriving them of their just ration of food? Of course he didn't, he was too self-centred, inconsiderate and selfish to even notice.

Then, after many tedious minutes, would come the climax.

Was it their fault that his father and brothers had decamped to parts unknown? No! It was his fault! He'd driven them away, most likely by his laziness. That being the case, it was time he got off his idle rear and supported them as males were supposed to do. Not only supposed to do, but had a duty to do! As he was the only remaining male in the family it was up to him to keep them in the style to which they were accustomed or, preferably, a style which was a good deal better.

A tentative remark that perhaps they could find boyfriends, fiancées, even husbands who would be happy to take them away from all this, provoked howls of outrage. How were they supposed to find boyfriends, fiancées or husbands when they simply hadn't a thing to wear because their indolent and thoughtless brother wasn't prepared to get a proper job and earn enough money for them to go shopping occasionally? And another thing…

"I'll see what I can do," he would mumble. Anything for a bit of peace.

I don't see why I have to do everything, he grouched when he'd finally managed to escape one day. Why can't they do something for a change? They're girls, aren't they? They can sew and stuff can't they? Why can't they make dresses to sell instead of making them for themselves? And even when they've done that they still 'simply haven't a thing to wear'. He trudged along the beach, muttering.

"Hey, Tam!"

He'd been so deep in thought he hadn't noticed his best friend's approach.

"Hi Tem. What's up?"

"Everything," Tem replied comprehensively. It usually was with him. "Whatcha doing?"

"Getting out of the house."

"They been at you again?"

"All the time."

"They're females. It's their job."

"That's just it—what they want me to get."

"A job?"

"A proper job," he mimicked. "One where I make tons of money so that they can go shopping because they simply haven't a thing to wear. They've got cupboards and cupboards full of clothes, but they simply haven't a thing to wear. And because they simply haven't a thing to wear, they don't have boyfriends, fiancées or husbands."

Tem grimaced commiseratingly. "Mine are the same. They're always going on about me getting a proper job too."

"Yours don't have a thing to wear either," Tam stated


"Do they have boyfriends, fiancées or husbands?"

"Of course not. They simply haven't a thing to wear, so how can they get them?"

Tam nodded glumly. "What can we do?"

"I'll tell you one thing I'm not going to do, and that's get a better job so they can spend the extra money I make."

"I feel the same, but if we don't, they're going to nag and nag and nag until they have things to wear. Hundreds of them."

Tem looked depressed. "If we didn't have to support them, we'd do okay wouldn't we? I mean, we make enough money from our fishing for ourselves—at least we would if we ever got to keep any of it."

"So why don't we?"

"Why don't we what?"

"Why don't we keep it. All of it!"

"Are you crazy? When they're not watching us themselves they've got spies everywhere. They know exactly how many fish we've caught and how much we've sold them for. Down to the last coin!"

"Only because we sell our fish where they can see," Tam argued, contemplating the docks where the female population collected every day to gossip, spread scandal and display themselves to the few males remaining in the village (in spite of simply not having a thing to wear!). "Why don't we try selling our catch somewhere else?"

"They'll follow us."

"Not if we go far enough."

"you mean, well, run away from home?"

"Why not? Just about everyone else has."

The more they considered it, the more the idea appealed.

"They'll tell their boyfriends to follow us."

"What boyfriends? They haven't got any because…"

"…they simply haven't a thing to wear!" the boys shouted in unison before breaking into fits of laughter.

When they got their breath back Tam said slowly, "There are other places, you know."

Tem looked startled. The next village was a considerable distance down the coast. "It's a long way away."

"All the better. What have we got to lose?"

Tem considered it for all of two seconds. "Let's go!"

"We'll need our nets."

Having explained that they were going further up the coast where, someone had told them, the fish were more numerous, bigger and easier to catch, they collected everything they possessed, which wasn't much because of the 'simply haven't a thing to wear' syndrome, and strode off confidently. Once of sight, they turned inland, circled the village and ran in the opposite direction until they were out of breath. They grinned at each other, After all, they had known each other for fourteen years—all their lives in fact.

"So how are we going to do this?"

"We have to get a lot further away but I'm hot and tired. How about a swim to cool down?"

"We don't have anything to swim in."

"When did we ever? And it's not like we haven't done it before."

They had of course, but they seldom swam in the sea, any more than an overpaid banker physically swims in money although metaphorically it's a different thing altogether.

Within seconds they had stripped and hurled themselves into the waves. After splashing around for ten minutes, they came out, allowed the sun to dry them and dressed in their genuinely 'simply haven't a thing to wear' clothing again. Then they picked up their nets and walked on happily.

Eventually they found the perfect spot. In the distance they could see a village slightly larger than the one they had left. It was close enough to sell whatever they caught, but far enough away to give them privacy.

They cut fronds and branches and built a hut close to a small stream. The weather was warm but, somehow, it felt more comfortable to have a home, however humble. Then they fished for their supper and went to bed secure in the knowledge that they had escaped the infamous, 'simply haven't a thing to wear' affliction.

Their complacency lasted exactly a week.

They had no trouble establishing themselves as piscine suppliers and had built up a loyal clientele when they became aware that the girls, who paraded on the docks every day, were eyeing them admiringly. Boy like, they preened and began to return the glances. Within minutes they were showing off and so deeply involved that they didn't notice the admiration metamorphosing ominously into the acquisitive.

Convinced they were hunters and the girls their prey, each imagination went into overdrive, flaunting itself in the lower regions as they contemplated the (so far unknown) delights in store. Until, with a horrid jolt, their fantasies shattered like champagne glasses hurled into the fireplace after giving up their glorious content.

"You've sold a lot of fish today," one of the girls remarked. The others nodded in agreement.

"And earned a lot of money!" several more added.

"Do you think, I mean would you, just for me, I don't like to ask, but you are boys and…well, you see…"

"We simply haven't a thing to wear!" the girls chorused as if they had been practising together for weeks. They hadn't of course, they were simply obeying an inherited genetic instinct.

Tam and Tem looked at each other aghast, their hopes (and other things) deflating rapidly. Had they come all this way only to fall victim to another group which suffered from the identical ailment?

Fear made them brave. "Er, neither have we," Tam mumbled.

"In fact, we're going to buy stuff for each other," added Tem.

"What?" shrieked the harpies. "We simply haven't a thing to wear and you're going to get stuff for each other? What sort of boys are you? Have you forgotten that it's your solemn duty to…"

Tam did the only thing he could think of. He put his arms around the astonished Tem, pulled him close, and kissed him.

Tem wasn't the only one astounded. Silence fell as if the screeches had been cut off by a knife.

"You're, you two, you're, you're actually…" stuttered the bereaved maidens.

"Yes," Tam replied, with as much conviction as he could muster.

"But what will happen to us?" screamed the viragos.

"I don't know," responded Tam, beginning to drag Tem away. "Why don't you try making dresses to sell?"

"Make dresses? Are you mad? How can we make dresses when we simply haven't a thing to wear?"

Unable to refute the logic of this, Tam decided that retreat, however ignominious, was their only option.

Trembling with fear, they fled.

"What will we do about selling our fish?" Tem quavered when he was able to control his voice.

"We'll sell to the older people."

"But those, those…" he couldn't bring himself to pronounce the dreadful word.

"After we kissed, do you think they're going to take any more notice of us?"

"We didn't kiss. You kissed me. They'll still be after me to, to…"

"I don't think so," stated Tam. "You didn't exactly push me away, did you?"

"I was too surprised. I hope you're right. Except…I was hoping…"

"I know. I was hoping too," admitted Tam sadly.

"We're never going to get the chance, are we."

"Not unless we give them everything we've got."

"I know, but I've been wanting it so badly."

"You know that I have as well. But don't you think the price is a bit high?"

"The rest of our lives price? I suppose so. But I was hoping…"

"Me too. But we'll just have to forget about it and stay as we are."

Tem sighed, but agreed. The expressions on the horrid creatures' faces, to say nothing of the dreadful phrase, had seared his soul.

Gradually, as the weeks went by, things settled back to the way they'd been before. They sold their fish, scornfully ignored by the predators, and with the money built a more permanent home. It even had a fireplace! The nights never really got cold but it was a pleasant luxury. They agreed it had been the right decision to run away, but regretted that one thing in their lives would never be, and coped with it as best they could when they were alone. Unsurprisingly, that coping became ever more frequent as the days passed.

Coping was in this unsatisfactory state when one day they cast their nets into the sea. Tam's came up empty but Tem's was so heavy his companion had to help him pull it in.

And there in the net, instead of a financially rewarding batch of cod, was a mermaid.

She looked exactly as described in fairy tales with long blonde hair, blue eyes in a very pretty face, but (rather disappointing to the two boys) a green scaled tail instead of legs which seemed to be something of a defect. Her voice was charmingly seductive when, after gazing searchingly at her captors, she said imploringly, "Oh Fisherboys, please, please will you help me?"

Tam and Tem fell instantly in love (though with some reservations about the defect). Closer inspection revealed, however, when they conveyed her tenderly to their house, that perhaps the defect wasn't quite as serious as they had at first supposed even though, for some reason, it had never been mentioned in any fairy tale they had ever come across.

"I have lived such a hard life under the sea," the mermaid told them huskily, "I'm a princess, you know, but such a poor one, never enough to eat and never happy. I was kidnapped, you know, and made into a slave. Oh, the awful things I've had to do. Scrubbing the turtles, polishing the shells, combing the seaweed, delving into bad tempered oysters for pearls and getting my fingers nipped, untangling the Gordian Octopus Team after rugby matches. Oh, horrible!" she shuddered.

The boys' tender hearts were wrung. It wasn't as if you could cut the knots like whatshisname, some old King or other, the untangling would have had to be done by hand.

They made her comfortable on the bench and lit the fire. Tam, who was the better cook, made a seafood salad for her while Tem sprayed her with salt water to keep her scales damp. It was a lot of work but they were sure it would be worth it in the end.

The mermaid gazed at them with passionate eyes, while speaking in her seductive voice.

"You boys are so wonderful. So kind, so strong, so noble! I really don't know what I would have done if I hadn't met you. And when I think of how snarled the octopus wrestling teams got—and, well, you can't just cut the knots out you know, you have to untangle them by hand and as each tentacle comes free, it, well, it takes liberties! I'm so glad you boys aren't like that…though, I suppose, there are liberties and liberties…"

Tam and Tem looked at each other with fast beating hearts, rising hopes, and rising other things as well. Did she mean, could she mean…? Maybe, after all this time, something they'd been hoping to get rid of would finally be got rid of.

"Are you quite comfortable?" Tam asked sitting down beside her. "I'm afraid we don't have any cushions, but if you'd like to lean on me…"

"And me," offered Tem, sitting on her other side.

"So kind, so kind. And how exciting it is for me to be in a real house instead of a cold damp palace. You have no idea what it feels like, it's just, I'm a little chilly, do you have anything I could put on? It would make me feel so, so human, to be wearing something."

The boys owned nothing in the female line, of course, but Tam fetched his new pullover and Tem brought his scarf and woolly hat. She looked very fetching in them though it was a pity her upper body was now swathed, they had been enjoying the view. At least her tail was still uncovered, including that fascinating reservation that didn't appear to be quite such a defect at all now. Their imaginations began to work overtime as they, in the most friendly and comforting manner possible, pressed against her to guard her from catching a chill.

The mermaid made no effort to push them away. In fact she seemed to enjoy the closeness, but became a little coy when they kissed her.

"Oh boys," she breathed, "You mustn't go too far, at least not yet, not until we know each other better. But I don't know, I suppose there is far and far…"

Emboldened, the fisher boys kissed her again with rather more passion. Her efforts to hold them off seemed a little feeble, but promised so much that their hearts began to beat even faster.

"Oh you mustn't," she said unconvincingly, not noticeably discomposed by their ardour. "But you're both so strong, so handsome, I find it hard to resist you, only, only…"

Showing rather more determination than she had up to that point, she pushed them away saying in a breathy voice, "I like you both so much and I want to stay here with you forever and ever, but, you see, apart from what you've lent me, I simply haven't a thing to wear!"

It was like discovering half a worm in an apple, and knowing exactly where the other half was. For a moment they were filled with horror, then, two minds with but a single thought, they grabbed the protesting mermaid, charged down to the sea and threw her back, closing their ears to her heartrending cries as they made their way back to their home.

It was their third escape and even as they regretted losing the mermaid (and especially not losing something else) both boys began to wonder if in fact the mechanics of losing the something else might have been a little difficult to achieve with a mermaid.

Tam sighed regretfully as they sat in front of their dying fire. "It's never going to happen is it? Uless we're prepared to be slaves for the rest of our lives."

"You don't think that there might be one somewhere who has something to wear? I wouldn't mind sharing her with you."

"I don't think so. How many females have we met and every single one of them simply hadn't a thing to wear?"

"You don't think that there might be another mermaid…?"

"Even if we found one, would you want to take the chance?"

"It's so hard."

"Getting harder all the time."

The fire had died and the place was a little chilly by the time they came to terms with their loss (or lack of it).

Tam sighed. "I'm going to freeze tonight without my pullover."

"Me too, without my scarf and woolly hat," agreed Tem, whose taste in nightwear was a trifle eccentric.

"Maybe we could, you know, sort of snuggle together to keep warm," offered Tam tentatively.

"Good idea. Otherwise, you know, we could easily freeze to death if the temperature drops later."

As they lived in a temperate zone this was somewhat unlikely.

Once they were cuddled together in bed, they found that the temperature rose rapidly. As did other things.

Tam held his friend a little more tightly. "Tem, you know the lack of loss which we've been wondering about? Well I just thought that there might be a way after all. It wouldn't be quite the same but it would keep us going until, one day, maybe, possibly, we'll find someone who has a thing to wear and we can lose it properly."

Tem snuggled in closer. "I've been thinking too, remembering really, that awful day when you, you know, kissed me. The kissing part did feel nice. I suppose we could. Only until we found someone, of course. But in the meantime, I mean, until then…"

They kissed. Tentatively.

After a surprisingly short time they were no longer tentative and had discovered that the mechanics were, after all, quite easy to work out with a warm—even hot!—companion. So different from a cold, damp, and to be honest, clammy mermaid with a possible defect.

Relaxed happy and satisfied, Tam looked at Tem. "I've always loved you, you know, I just didn't tell you."

"I didn't either but I've always loved you too. How come we finally found out?"

Tam smiled and hugged him. "Because, when we came to bed…" they nudged each other, giggled and shouted with one voice, "…we simply hadn't a thing to wear!"

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