A Horror of the Life Aquatic

Ms. Alighieri,

I recently received correspondence from a colleague who is currently abroad. His missive depicts a horrific scene, but one that falls outside of my typical purview. I am providing you with a transcription of his letter, rather than subjugating you to his original, scrawling handwriting.

No need to thank me.

Dr. Matthew T. Caulfield


Dear Matty,

I hope this letter finds you well.

For my own part, things have been a bit like that line from “The Godfather”: Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. Unfortunately, life on the open ocean hasn’t quite been the quiet retirement I had hoped for.

Seems that once you get a scent for the Abnormal, it gets your scent right back.

As you know, I left port in Cape Cod some months ago with a skeleton crew. An aimless venture of the Atlantic, nothing more. Some quiet bass-fishing here and there. Thought maybe I’d make my way over to the land of the Queen. Never been before. Not to mention, the Brits really know how to drink!

Then again, so do the Krauts … and the Frogs … and the Irish.

Hell, I guess it’s mostly everyone but those yuppies back home with the man-buns. (You like that, heh? When I get to visit back home, my grandson likes to teach me the slang that the kiddos use.)

Anyways, the mate was a former Marine, from somewhere out in the Midwest. Illinois? Indiana? Iowa? No matter. His name was Frances Gillespie–good lad, Frankie. Just dull enough not to ask too many questions, and just quick enough to jump on the spear when he was needed. He looked like he was itching to get his sea-legs, and I was in need of some steadier hands.

And the cook was Jimmy Callahan. You remember Jimmy? I introduced the two of you at the Union Oyster House in Boston back in ’92. Jimmy was right hoppin’ mad we couldn’t sit at JFK’s booth. We got kicked out because he punched that bartender. Well, Jimmy hasn’t changed much. Just as well. Us old fogies have to stick together.

So, we set out in search of quieter tides: me, Frankie, Jimmy, and a few others. And oh, we got them. For a little while, at least. Reeled myself a 137 cm bass. 70 pounds! I mean, we caught that current right on up the coast. Ended up near Greenland. Saw the Aurora Borealis–the Northern Lights–if you haven’t seen them, Matty, you’ve got to. Even in all my years, in all the places I’ve been …

Every time I see those lights, it’s something else.

We puttered around the west coast of England for about a week before stopping in St. Ives. (Got myself a Guinness at an honest-to-goodness English pub.) Not much else there.

As much as I’d like to say I’m writing for purely social reasons, I have to tell you, things took a turn for the Abnormal after we got back into the Channel. It was a little more than a week later, and if we hadn’t just been coming from port, I would have accused Frankie of seeing things–and he’d seen his fair share of English ladies while we were there–you know how boys can think with the wrong head. I’d have thought he was seeing with the wrong eyes, too.

But it was just before sundown–that time of night where the sun casts its last light over the ocean–and Frankie runs down below deck to get me. Tells me there’s some woman out there, calling out!

Good lad, he is. And good on me for picking him. You see, Matty, a smarter boy might have tossed a life-preserver right out to her, and a kinder boy might have jumped in to save her.

But while he might not be that bright, Frankie knows when something’s not right–and that gut feeling saved his life for sure.

I told him, “Grab that box, son!” And I pointed to my personal toolbox–heh, toolbox, indeed. You’ve seen it, Matty. The four-by-one with the foam inlays.

“Yes, sir!” Frankie wasted a moment saluting. Old habits, I guess. But after that, he was right behind me, right back up on deck.

“Alright, now. Set it down and open ‘er up, Frank.”

He did just as I commanded. Inside was that tracker tag gun that Tony Lemza whipped up for me while I was out West, following chupacabras.

“You see this, Rifleman?” I held it out for Frank to see. “It’s a specially-crafted homing beacon designed to emit sonar pulses down to 400 meters. A man much smarter than you or I designed it, but it doesn’t take a genius to operate. You just shoot it, and this little screen here, tells us where it is.”

“You, uh,” Frankie–good boy–hesitated. “You want me to shoot that lady?”

“Frankie, that ain’t no lady. And you can bet your ass I want you to shoot it. Fire when ready, Jarhead!”

Did you know they train Marines to be riflemen before anything else, Matty? God love the Marines. That boy had the sight up to his eye so quick it almost knocked me on my ass. He took the shot, and not more than a second later, the sonar detector started putting out pings.

Of course, the awful thing took off, but sure enough, we had the track on a real-live mermaid. I think at first she thought we were trying to make a kill shot. Honestly, if I’d been a bit greener than I am now, we might have just shot at her. But she took of east. So, east we went.

It was only another day or two before we made it to Le Havre–over in the west of France. That’s where the mouth of the Seine is … and that’s also where our signal stopped. It seemed curious, until I saw a sign for the little island that we passed: Réserve Naturelle de l’Estuarie de la Seine. What better feeding ground than a nature preserve? Lots of things slower than fish for her to catch and eat.

On that day, dawn rolled around. Perfect time for her to pick off some early morning grub–some of the birds enjoying the quiet of a dewy, French sunrise, probably. But I had my glass at the ready, with Frankie nearby with the detector.

“Straight ahead, sir.”

That she was.

I got a glimpse of that ugly sea-wench, and it sent a chill straight down my spine. That gossamer, scaly-green skin. Those wretched black eyes. The vicious sharpened teeth. And disgusting, webbed hands, with little claws at the end.

“You ready, Frankie?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Fire when ready.”

That time, Frankie had my good rifle–sighted just to the right of the dorsal protrusion. We were going to wing her real good. Scare her all the way home! Back to the nest. And the salvo of that rifle sounded so sweet in the morning air. I heard the crack, and a mighty shriek fired back at us. The bewildered howl of that seaborn harpy ripped through the crew. But we tagged her. And believe it or not, it looks like she’s heading for Paris.

Thing is, Matty, I’m too old for this business. This bitch may have put herself on my radar (pun intended, heh), but I can’t be the one to take her and her hell-breathing sisters down.

That’s why I’m writing to you. I know you’re just the “werewolf” guy, but I’m hoping you know someone who might be willing to come out this way–maybe even someone who’s already in France.

I’ll keep the tracker on. If anything changes, I’ll be in touch. Oh, and say hi to your folks for me, will you? Tell your dad to lay off the pork rinds.

All the best,

Isodore “Iz” Bagley

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