A Fish Story, OR, The Ones That Got Away, OR, The Mermaid Solution

by Tsukizubon Saruko (月図凡然る子)
illustrated by Moonshine

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/156450.html)

So there I was. My wrists tied to my ankles, face-down on the matty carpet of what appeared to be an empty bedroom converted to big metal cages, listening to the occasional plink-plink of what sounded like the world’s loudest leaking faucet from the next room, and sharing my cage with what had until very recently been the person I disliked most in the entire world. I was thinking of bumping him from the title in favor of the person who had put me where I was now, see, but even then, I have to admit, it was going to be a close call.

“Oh, that’s nice. Really nice. You — “

Shut up, Dan. I’m telling this.

Anyway, in a situation like this, certain questions come to mind. Like “Mlgh?” for example, or “What?” for another, or “Am I going to get a chance to take a leak anytime soon?” possibly, or maybe just everyone’s favorite: “How did this even happen?”

Let’s back up a little bit and take a look at that one, shall we?

Let’s start with the Quakers. The Friends, as they are sometimes known. Nice people. Pacifists. Some issues in there with not properly revering kings, but I guess that just gives them that rebel edge that everybody loves. Like James Dean, if he wouldn’t take off his hat instead of riding a motorcycle. Influential in the founding of Philadelphia, a city that at the time I lived and went to school about an hour away from by train, which will become important later in this story. Also, now that I think of it, probably pretty influential in the founding of my school, its being a private, boarding, college preparatory, and of course Quaker school. But all that stuff we think about Quakers runs pretty far back into history, right? What are they like today, you might wonder? Well, consider me a material witness, and this my sworn testimony: modern Quakers are, as a community, a bunch of freaking hippies.

In support of my argument, I present the following evidence. Meeting For Worship, the decentralized Quaker idea of a religious service, required of us once a week at Meadowbrook Friends School; this process involved filing everyone in the school into a sort of rustic chapel consisting of circles of wooden benches, and then all of us sitting quietly for forty-five minutes, interrupted only by someone occasionally standing up to talk about God and/or their feelings, or possibly to haul out their acoustic guitar and play an extremely spiritual rendition of “Jerry Falwell Destroyed the Earth” (Ben Kweller, 2007). The Student Body Presidents, by the unfortunately hilarious names of Jack and Dianne, a deeply sincere eight-foot-tall white boy with red dreadlocks and a deeply sincere four-foot tall black girl with smock blouses and a love of gardening, who could scent the tears of homesick first-years at fifty paces and zero in, lion-like, to pounce and attack the weak gazelle and comfort it within an inch of its life. The Headmaster, Tom Schmidt, visible any given morning with his suit impeccably pressed, his peacock-blue tie flapping over his shoulder, as he rode his bicycle up the landscaped drive, jingling the bell cheerfully at passing students. And, of course, last but not least, the fact that if a group of Nigerian drummers and dancers or a local singer-songwriter should happen to agree to some pro bono work, you were likely to get out of half your morning classes to see them in the Eliot And Margaret K. Harrison Auditorium.

Which was how I first heard Peis sing. Which was, of course, the first step toward my current situation. Ha! You thought this bit about Quakers was totally off the rails, didn’t you?

Anyway, Meadowbrook, in addition to being more a weird Quaker hippie religious commune than a high school, also housed the person who, up until the events in question, I disliked most in the entire world. One Dan Radisson, my esteemed colleague here.


See, the thing about private prep schools is that you just don’t get the same social breakdown that you do in regular high schools. In a real high school you have your basic Breakfast Club distribution, right? I mean, I have to assume, John Hughes movies are really the only contact I’ve had with standard-issue American teenaged life. Your jocks, your princesses, your criminals, your nerds, your nutcases, etc. Probably a few more branches than that depending on the size and the type of the school and how close you want to look, but whatever. In private school, though, sports aren’t really a thing; especially in a boarding school, they tend to be more like a subsection of academic achievement, or at least something you do to look good on a college application. Nobody goes to a private school just to play on the football team, is what I’m saying. Hell, I don’t know a prep school that has a football team. You’re there because you’re smart enough and rich enough to go, and you’re there to get into a good college. Part of what this means is that nerds just don’t suffer in private school like they do out in real people school: everybody, however popular or dumb, has a certain amount of respect for smart people. They might give you a hard time for LARPing Vampire: the Masquerade at lunch, but they’re not gonna beat you up for getting good grades, because everybody wants good grades. …Well, at a Quaker school, at least in theory, they’re not gonna beat you up at all. But I digress. See, the other thing is, your popular kids also aren’t the jocks or the princesses: even at a dirty hippie school like Meadowbrook, they’re the future MBAs and the future trophy wives, the sixteen-year-old Cadillac-drivers. They’re handsome and pretty but they also want to get into Yale and can explain what ROI means.

Dan was the future MBA type. He didn’t drive a Cadillac, but let’s be honest, we were boarding, nobody drove much of anything. But he wore button-down shirts to class, was applying strictly Ivy League come hell or high water, rich whitebread family lived maybe ten feet away, all the basic stuff. He had this kinda long but very neat dark blond hair, like he wanted to pull off the emo kid haircut but he just couldn’t stop combing, it was like a compulsion, and a sort of pinched grim look on his face all the time, and a crappy attitude. And me, I’m not afraid to admit it: I was a nerd. I took computer science classes for my electives and burned my free periods playing World of Warcraft. I was also in a double with this guy named Rick Hasmond, and this one time we rigged all the student messageboard accounts so that… well, you know what, maybe that’s a story for another day. My point is, I was a nerd, but I was a smart nerd. And Dan was jumping for those Ivy Leagues pretty much on nepotism, debate club, a Scrooge-McDuck-quality bank vault, and faith, so —

“You know what, I think I should tell it.”

Oh, come on! Okay, fine, fine, Dan got good grades, too, but my point is that he didn’t have that smart smart, you know? And the people who did, he tried to get in good with them, but they also drove him crazy. And he drove me crazy basically just because he was a pompous jerkwad with…

Okay, okay. We just bugged each other. I guess you could call us rivals, in a way, but we weren’t really. We didn’t honestly pay enough attention to each other for that. But I didn’t like him and he didn’t like me.

And then Peis showed up.

It was pretty much a banner day because a) we got out of classes in the morning to see her, and b) for once I’d managed to sneak my PSP into the auditorium. Nothing against music, but it’s not really my thing most of the time, honestly. Peis — who just got billed like that on her MySpace page and on the colored paper fliers that had been up around campus, Peis, who knew if it was a first name or a last name or a middle name or a band name — was local talent as far as we knew, and the second I saw a baby grand piano on stage with a microphone in front of it my eyes pretty much glazed over.

But man, I will tell you and still not feel ashamed, when she walked out across the stage my eyes seemed to pull right up off the screen, and only a second or two after she started to sing I took out the one earbud I’d had in, too.

Okay, first of all, show me a guy who says he actually likes the trend of “a hot woman” being “a woman so bony she looks like she could puncture a tire with her elbow,” and I will show you a guy who is lying, or at least who is, you know… not me. Big butts and boobs are awesome. Peis was sort of short, and she wasn’t heavy exactly, but she definitely wasn’t little, either. She had these big rolling curves at her breasts and her hips and her thighs, like those round waves a little ways out from shore at the beach, or how water in a stream rolls up when it goes over a rock that’s deep down in the bed. She looked somewhere in her late twenties/early thirties and was really hard to place ethnically, somehow: she had long black hair in these little, shiny curls, clipped up behind her head, and big dark eyes, big strong nose and cheekbones, skin that looked sort of olive-y sometimes and sort of light-brown-y other times. She didn’t look white, she didn’t look black, and she definitely didn’t look Asian, and beyond that, well, I’m not very good at that game, which I guess makes me racist, I dunno. But she was wearing high heels and jeans and a jean jacket and she was just gorgeous, she just made you squint looking at her. And —

I don’t know. I can’t really describe the way she sang. I can’t really even remember it that well, and sometimes that just… it really makes me sad, actually. Which seems sort of stupid now, after everything, but it does. I remember she had a high, perfectly clear voice, and it was all sort of low-key and soulful, but those are just words. She sang. It was the most amazing thing I’d ever heard. That assembly was like an hour and a half long, and I swear I didn’t move the whole time. When the last song was over, it kind of hurt. It was like that.

I didn’t know at the time if Peis had affected anyone else the same way, but I wouldn’t have cared even if I were thinking about it. All I knew was I had to meet that woman, and maybe… I dunno, get a team of architects to build a monument in her honor so she would like me. The Peis Is Great Mahal, it would be called. I think I tripped about seven times on the way out to the lobby, and then about three more all at once when I saw her out there, just smiling and shaking hands. Around her everything else in the world seemed to sprout buck teeth and neck zits.

“G-great show,” I managed to say to her only by pretending to be on my way to somewhere else. Presumably the radiator, based on my angle. But she turned her smile my way anyway, and it was this huge glorious thing like the northern lights or something, all colors in the sky. I thought my shadow might actually have gotten burned into the wall behind me.

“Thanks,” she said, and — and I was like oh shit, oh shit, oh giant steaming heap of bear shit — she actually came away out of the group of people she was talking to and toward me. I stopped moving, but only out of being on sudden Level Orange Vomiting Alert. She didn’t seem bothered by my total unwillingness to open my mouth suddenly, just shook my hand — actually touched me — and stood there smiling into my stupid gapey face. “What’s your name?”

…Fuck! What was my name? I knew this one! Shit, shit, okay, calm down, think back, I’m pretty sure it starts with a J — “Kevin,” I managed, a couple seconds later, albeit sounding like an eighteen-wheeler’s brakes letting go. “Um. Hi.

“Hi,” Peis agreed, grinning. She had perfect, even, and somehow oddly shiny teeth. “I’m glad you liked it. I’m so happy the Headmaster invited me here! I love spending time with young people.”

“Me too,” I said, which pretty much reflects my state of mind better than I could explain it to you. “…I mean. I’m glad. Too.”

She laughed, which managed not to be devastating just by virtue of being maybe the most beautiful noise in the known universe. Even talking she sounded like she was singing. Plus she was still holding on to my hand, which rendered me sort of impervious to pain. “Thanks. Hey, if you really liked it, I’m playing a show in Philly this Saturday.” She fished through her jacket for a couple minutes, and brought out a slightly crumpled orange flier, with her name again in bold type. She pressed it into my hand and I thought I could hear the ocean, which was an odd thought even for the circumstances, in retrospect. “Mackey’s, on Girard. You should come!”

Maybe, if my mom’ll let me, I managed not to say by sheer virtue of elevated Vomiting Alert Status. As it was all I could do was nod, numbly, and Peis giggled again and — tragically — let go of my hand, moving on to other admirers. But she waggled a little wave with her fingers over her shoulder as she did, and that had to count for something, right?

“Thanks, Kevin,” she said — almost sang — as I was stumbling away. And this time I kind of skinned my elbow on the auditorium rug. Very uncomfortable, but so what?

She remembered my name.

And I knew right then that no force, human or otherworldly, was going to stand a chance of keeping me out of Philadelphia that weekend.

Which was a slight problem, as Mackey’s was a bar.

As you might have gathered, I was a pretty law-abiding teenager. I did my homework. I didn’t fight with my mom. I didn’t even like to download MP3s online. “Fuck The Police” was not my theme song; if there were another version called “Fear And Respect The Police,” I might have been on firmer ground with that one. I definitely did not own a fake ID, and I was frankly terrified just by the thought of such things, but I had made up my mind about going to Peis’s show and I was not to be swayed. And so finally, with a large bribe and a lot of pleading, I managed to borrow a driver’s license from my older brother — who lived with my parents again after having a nervous breakdown and dropping out of Princeton, and who I resembled about as much as I did any brown-haired, nervous-looking, skinny guy with glasses, which is to say, passingly — and set out with my fake ID and my new ulcer on the train in to 30th Street, and then the subway to Fishtown.

The guy on the door scratched Jamie’s license a little with his thumbnail, and cast a really skeptical glance at the part where it said my eyes should be blue, but when I kept very far away from the bar on my way in he seemed satisfied. I made my way on jell-o knees up to the second floor, where the venue was. In reward for my unimaginable daring, Peis’s piano was waiting up on the stage… and an unpleasant surprise in the milling beginnings of an audience.

It was pompous, obnoxious, pinchy-faced Dan Radisson. And he had another one of those orange fliers clenched in his pasty little hand.

“Dude, I’m standing right here.”

At this point you should picture a squinting, dramatic-soundtracked, Western-movie-saloon-style circling staredown, only you should also understand that that is not really what happened, because Dan looked like a ghost that had died on a golf course and I was about 5’6″ and had thick black-rimmed glasses and a tendency to start sounding sort of heliumy when I got excited. I saw Dan. Dan saw me. We both knew exactly what the other one was doing here. How could Peis have invited him? She was an artist! He didn’t understand her at all! Couldn’t she smell the lack of a soul and the Republican registration when he got close? Okay, no, no, I’m just fucking with Dan now. He’s actually a libertarian. The point is, we saw each other, we marked each other, and we did our absolute best to ignore each other. With occasional pauses between songs to glare, once Peis’s opening act started playing.

And then Peis came onstage, finally, and we pretty much stopped paying attention to each other or anything else altogether.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do after the show — I really wanted to try to talk to Peis again without doing my impression of The World’s Most Retarded High School Senior, plus I didn’t want to have to walk past the guy at the door again yet, even on the way out, but staying seemed even more awkward, and Dan was there. Before I could debate it too much, though, the last thing I could have expected happened.

“Hi, guys!” Peis said in her sweet sing-song voice, and somehow without any apparent intermediate steps she had her arms linked through one of mine and one of Dan’s, respectively. Which was particularly impressive for her to do without either of us noticing, considering that we’d been standing on diametric opposite sides of the venue. “It is so great of you both to show up, I love you! Please stay and have a drink with me?”

Well, you can probably guess what we both said.

“Would you get out of here?” Dan hissed at me, leaning across the little bar table, as soon as Peis had left to get us drinks. “Just for your information, Schulemacher, Peis invited me tonight, okay? Why do you have to butt in and wreck my chances?”

For clarification purposes, I should note that ‘Schulemacher’ is my last name. Dan Radisson was the kind of guy who would call you by your last name.

“What, and you’re the kind of guy who always calls you by your full name?”

No. …Your name is stupid. Anyway —

Your name is stupid. Schulemacher.”

ANYWAY. I looked around to check on where Peis was, then leaned right back in at Dan. “Well, for your information, she invited me too, Radisson. You’re the one wrecking my chances.”

“What chances?” Dan said in a sneer. “Did she turn into a, a busty elf archer played by somebody’s fat aunt Sally in Cleveland when I wasn’t looking?” Which were of course fighting words, but then Peis was coming back and we had to get out of macho leaning mode fast. She had a bottle of champagne and three glasses, and poured for all of us.

“Gosh, you guys, this is so wonderful tonight,” she said, putting her hand on her chest right on the cleavage framed in her little tank top. I think I whimpered. “It was really, really sweet of you to do this, you must have had so many other plans on a Saturday night!”

I think, looking back, both Dan and I avoided her eyes a little. And each other’s, for that matter. But Peis just smiled, handing out the champagne flutes.

“To new friends,” she called the toast, and we drank to it.

And that, my friends, is the last thing I remember before the situation I first described. Somehow, between getting it to the table and pouring it out, Peis had put roofies in the champagne.

“…Did you seriously just use the word ‘roofies’?”

Roofies, Dan. It’s the truth and you know it. Mickeys. Knockout drops. Date rape drugs.

“You are a fucking unimaginable tool.”

Look, do you mind? I’m trying for a chapter break here.

There we go.

So I woke up with my face in the carpet and Dan jabbing his toe in my side, which gave me a weird deja vu moment back to the time I fell asleep on the floor of the west computer lounge after lights out, but that is also a story for another time. Dan was hissing “Wake up, wake up, you’re useless!” and I just managed to be glad he’d actually put on real people shoes instead of the pointy leather dress things he wore to school. Who does that?

“Some of us want to look remotely respectable. You dress like a twelve-year-old with no friends. Anyway, he was being useless, he was unconscious for what must have been at least twenty minutes after I woke up and he was drooling. I thought I was going to drown before anyone came, between that and the — “

Hey, shut up! I said I’m telling it. …And I don’t drool!

“Jesus, you always drool. I’ve thrown out four pillowcases.”

Malicious lies. I have to do everything around here. What Dan has neglected to mention is that he was tied with just his hands behind his back, not hog-tied like me, which in theory would mean that he could walk around and explore our surroundings a little, maybe even start working on an escape plan. But no, Dan was so scared to be alone that he —


Whatever! Anyway, I was hog-tied, and in that position really the only thing you can do when somebody wakes you up and you’re startled is fall over on your side. So that’s what I did. At least it got my face out of the carpet, but it did not really improve anything comfort-wise, I can tell you.

So first I said, “Ow!” Then I reconsiderered and said, “Quit kicking me!” And then I got a little more on the ball and added, “Where are we? What happened?”

“I don’t know,” Dan said. All I could really see of him was his feet and his knees at this point since he was sitting right in front of me, but I had to assume the rest of him was out there somewhere. “I think it’s a house. And it smells kind of… wet. And moldy.”

“Well, that helps,” I told Dan’s knees. I managed to roll myself back over onto my front somehow, since having my arm squashed under me wasn’t really working for me, and propped my chin on the floor. Now I was facing the door to the room, which was sort of relatively comforting, if for no good reason, since it wasn’t like I could do anything even if something did happen. We were both quiet for a minute, whether to think or because we couldn’t stand talking to each other anymore.

“I think Peis kidnapped us,” Dan finally said, sounding really sorry about it. I was mostly relieved, because it was what I’d been thinking too, but now that he’d said it I’d have to argue with him.

“No way. She wouldn’t do something like that.” I wriggled myself around a little more. The ropes around my wrists felt really weird — kinda slippery and tough. “…Um. I think.”

There was a clanking sound from Dan that I thought was probably him thunking his head back on the bars.

“It was.”

Well, I’m glad we got that sorted out! “I don’t even know what I’m doing here!” he started whining. “I never should have come, I’m supposed to be working on my applications, but — ” I was about to interrupt him to say something witty and cutting about this —

“Or drool some more.”

— but then we both shut up. There were sounds outside the door, might have been there for a couple minutes already, and they were coming closer. It sounded like footsteps.

Very oddly squishy, splashing footsteps.

We probably would have looked at each other if I could have moved my head that far, but before I could even try it, the door opened.

What happened then was weird-looking enough to start with, and I could hear Dan kind of making a gurgling noise in his throat, but I can assure you it looked even weirder from floor level. The door opened, and a small gush of water splashed in, running around the edges of the jamb and soaking into the carpet. Which probably accounted for a lot of why things smelled moldy in here; it sure didn’t look like the first time that had happened to it. It probably also accounted for the squishy-sounding footsteps, since we could see that the two guys who came into the room were walking through nearly ankle-deep water, just running by like a little creek or something in the hallway they were coming from. The hallway looked like a pretty normally house hallway, except for having a little creek running all through it. The guys were about our age — nobody we knew, though — one of them wearing jeans and a band t-shirt, the other one kinda gothed up, both of them pretty good-sized and with these totally blank, vague, staring into space expressions on their faces. They looked like the teenager extras in a zombie movie or something, or at least like they were at one hell of a show.

And they’d probably been to one, at least, because they were carrying Peis between them.

Except… she wasn’t Peis. Well, she was, but she wasn’t. For starters, she was green. Maybe sort of a blue-green, actually. And much scalier than I remembered her being. And it was easy to see, because she was, and I felt this was extremely unsporting all things considered, completely naked. Her hair was a lot darker and thicker and shinier, and it looked wet and like there was a lot more of it, all over the place. She was beaming like usual, but her teeth looked sort of like pearl now, and much, much sharper than they had been before. She definitely, I am quite certain of this, had breasts. I definitely had no shortage of visual confirmation of her possession of breasts. And also, a long, scale-covered, lazily flipping long fish tail.

Which you might have thought I would have noticed first and not last. But you’ve gotta understand, I’d sort of hung up about ten inches north of there.

And a couple seconds after I’d finally noticed this I heard Dan go, “Oh my God, you’re a mermaid!” so I don’t think I was exactly alone in this, either.

Peis laughed, which was still totally bubbly and adorable and Peis-like, and wriggled her big fish tail. “Sort of, yeah!” she said, with the standard audible exclamation point, and wriggled again. “Thanks, guys, could you put me down now? It is so sweet of you to do this, what would I do without you?” The zombies looked vaguely pleased, and set her down carefully on the floor, where she sort of reared up in a friendly way on her hands and tail. She still definitely had breasts, and now they were a whole lot closer to my eye level. “Oof. Gosh, it’s hard to get around when I’m being myself, you know?” She beamed at us into the cage. “Hey, you guys. Feeling better?”

“What’s going on?” I tremulously and anxiously asked Peis’s breasts. She flicked her tail a little, in a charming sort of way.

“I’m really sorry to just spring this on you,” she said, making deep, sincere eyes at us. “You must be pretty mad at me.” Fortunately, she kept going before Dan or I could manage to fall all over ourselves saying No, no, not at all! It’s… very hard to explain in retrospect, but —

“She was very cute.”

…No, you’re right, that was pretty much it. I mean, super cute. Anyway, she managed to keep us from embarrassing ourselves further. “The thing is,” she said in her sweet singy voice, “I need kind of a big favor. See, I can only mate every hundred years or so, and it has to be with a virgin human boy, right?” By this point I was already only half listening; I was very badly snagged on the word mate, although almost equally badly snagged in the other direction by her fish tail. “And I really want to make sure I have a good chance this time. There’s almost none of my whole family left, and there used to be so many of us. I just get lonely, you know how it is, right? And besides… I know how lame it sounds, but biological clock, tick tick, you know?” She giggled tinklingly and we both laughed too by what I assume was involuntary reflex. “So that’s why I brought both of you back here! Because, you know, I really only get one chance with each guy, so I figured, two of you, no problem!”

“So… what’s the favor you want, exactly?” Dan asked, sounding kind of hoarse himself. Peis beamed, and flipped her tail around again.

“You really don’t have to do that much, honest. All it is is, I lay some of my eggs, you get some semen on them, and then I eat your skin off while you’re still alive. Pretty simple, really! Is that okay?”

“Sure, no problem,” I very very nearly said, to Peis’s breasts, almost before she was done speaking. The only salve to my dignity was that at exactly the same time, I distinctly heard Dan say, “Oh, yeah, fi — ”

And then there was a brief but terrible pause, while both of our brains suddenly came sprinting to catch back up with us, screaming and waving their metaphorical arms.

“Wait, e-eat our skin?” I squeaked, finally — that helium problem again, I mentioned that. “Is — is that really necessary?”

Which, I admit, was a pretty weak protest for the circumstances, but I was about as off-balance as you might expect. Peis made that sad, puppyish face again, and I could only defend myself by returning my full attention to her breasts. Surprisingly easy. “Yeah, I’m so sorry,” she said, and to her credit she really did sound pretty contrite about it, relatively speaking. “I feel so bad, but I really need to do it to get my strength back up after I lay my eggs. Also it’s really, really delicious.” She licked her lips a little, and… suddenly even her breasts couldn’t keep my attention completely away from that little flash of her sharp, pearly teeth. I swallowed so hard my Adam’s apple nearly bounced off the floor like a superball. “I know it’s a lot to ask, but you won’t be too mad, will you?”

It is fair to say I had absolutely no idea how to respond to that. Or if I was ever going to get my stupid gapey face unlocked enough to even try, for that matter. Anyway, by then it was already too late. Peis lifted her arms, and the zombie-guys who’d brought her in bent down to pick her back up again. “Okay, I’m going to go get ready, and we can get started in a little while, all right? Don’t go anywhere!” She giggled again, flicking her tail as the guys got her back into a chair-carry, and then waved over their shoulders as they turned and took her out of the room. “See you guys soon! Thanks so much for helping out, it really means a lot to me!”

You know that long silence that comes right after the doctor says, We got the test results back, and I’m afraid I have bad news. Have you ever heard of flesh-eating bacteria growing inside the eyeballs? …No? Well, I do, because I am basically certain that it is exactly like the silence that fell over me and Dan right then.

“Did you know she was a mermaid?” Dan said, finally. His voice sounded very loud. I was still staring at the door at carpet-level, but I shook my head slowly.

“No. No, it… actually never came up.” We took a long, thoughtful pause. “Did that just happen?” I said at the end of it.

“Yeah,” Dan said. “I’m pretty sure it did.”

I lay still and kind of eerily calm for another long, silent moment. And then sudden panic seized me. I made what I’m sure could only be described as a masculine and outraged bellow —

“He made a noise like a dog toy in a garbage disposal.”

— it’s called NARRATIVE LICENSE and then I started thrashing against whatever I was tied up with, and mostly succeeded in knocking myself over about half on my side and half on my face again. I don’t know how long I would have spazzed around like a half-stomped bug on my own, but then Dan scooted over and kicked me again, which actually did wonders to clear my head. Not to mention make me at least look forward to seeing his skin get eaten.

“Quit it!” he snapped at me, sounding like he was about to burst into tears and don’t even start Dan, turnabout is fair play. “Just calm down! You have to think of something or we’re never going to get out of this!”

I glared squintily up at him from my faceful of carpet, still panting from all my thrashing. “…Why do I have to think of something? Why can’t you get us out of this?”

Because you’re the smart one!” Dan said in an agonized hiss, which would have been an incredible and deeply spiritual vindication at any other time —

“And I’ll deny it to my dying day, like I’m doing right now.”

Whatever lets you sleep at night, dude. Right then I barely even noticed, anyway. Still, it did the job; I bit my lip and started trying to wrestle myself back up out of the carpet at least, and Dan bumped into me a couple times either to try to help or to give me more bruises. Finally I got wrangled around so I was upright and facing his knees again, and I could think a little better.

“She said… she needed to mate with a virgin, right?” I said, slowly, after a minute or two of catching my breath. Dan didn’t say anything for a minute, and then I could kind of see him nodding, way high above me.

“Yeah, I think that’s what she said.” He craned his head down to peer at me, which gave me a really stellar view up his nostrils I could have done without. “So?”

“Well — ” I cast around, trying to believe in a little glimmer of hope I saw in the back of my head. “Well, then she made a mistake, right? I mean, or we just misunderstood, there’s no way she could’ve meant us. We’re…”

But I trailed off there, because I’d just looked up and started taking a really good, hard look at Dan: a complete, 360-degree look, which included some of the only careful and deep thought I’d ever cared to do about Dan Radisson to date. And it was clear from looking into his face that Dan was taking the same kind of long, deep, very searching look back at me. …And then, very abruptly, both of us stopped being able to look at the other one at all.

“We’re dead,” Dan said in a low, defeated tone, and I dropped my face straight into the moldy carpet and groaned my agreement.

And left it there for a couple of minutes — and then, at the end of them, lifted it suddenly back up, staring straight ahead of me. “Or…” I said, and then faltered when I got Dan’s attention. And then took a deep breath and kept going. “Or, wait. Maybe we’re not.”

Dan frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Well, think about it.” I hesitated again. I was pretty sure that, if I had known a week before what I was going to be about to suggest right now, I just would have said that I’d go ahead and kill myself and save everyone the trouble, but it really is amazing how much you want to live sometimes. “She needs virgins, right? So… she couldn’t use us anymore, if we, you know… … … stopped being virgins.”

“And how are we supposed to do that?” Dan said after a beat, already looking annoyed from my long pregnant (no pun intended) pause. “I mean, the only girl I see around here is a mermaid thing who wants to eat my skin.”

“…Are you seriously an idiot, or are you, like, trying really stupidly to hurt my feelings?” Dan’s scowl didn’t get any more comprehending, though, so I sighed and wrangled myself up a little higher. “Look. What I’m saying is, before she comes back…” Ugh, oh god, still not too late for an honor-suicide — “…we could have sex.”

We got the test results back, and I’m afraid I have bad news. Have you ever heard of Exploding Penis Syndrome?

“With each other?” Dan squawked, at top incredulous volume. I glared at him as intimidatingly as I could from two inches off the floor.

“Hey, I’m not exactly drooling about it myself, dickweed, but I don’t know about you but I happen to really like my skin! …Okay, so we’ve had our differences since I hit puberty, but like, I still consider us friends!”

“You’ve hit puberty?” Dan countered. I chose not to dignify that with a response.

“The point is, you know, like it or not, we’re in this together, so…” I tried this time to fix Dan with a very serious and steely gaze. “We might as well bone for our lives.”

There was another brief pause.

“…Okay, you know what,” Dan said, “I’ll do it if it means you’ll stop talking.”

Fortunately for Dan, I am a man of good humor and compassion, who sets little store by his vanity and who forgives slights made in times of great stress.

“He bit my knee.”

I bit his knee. Forgivingly.

Anyway, once we’d sorted that out, Dan ended up helping haul me up off the floor — with no small amount of grumbling and ill grace — so we could go kind of back-to-back, even though with my being hog-tied this sort of put me in the yoga position from hell. Pose of the Resident Evil Monster, I think it would be called. But at least that meant we could both undo each other’s knots, or, more accurately, scrabble frantically and curse a lot at each other’s knots and get absolutely nowhere. Our breakthrough finally came, though, when I remembered my bat’leth keychain actually had kind of a sharp edge, and preemptively shut up, Dan, your face is a stereotype.

“That doesn’t even make — “

So Dan managed to get my keys out of my pocket, which, let me tell you, was a pregame show that really stunningly failed to heighten my anticipation in the slightest, and to saw through whatever was cutting off the circulation to all my limbs with it, and then once I’d fallen over and the feeling had returned to my extremities I did the same thing for him. The stuff around his wrists turned out not to be rope or anything, but something dark green and shiny that looked like seaweed. Okay, so Peis was a theme decorator. Everybody needs a hobby.

So then we had our hands free, which was a marginal improvement at least, even if we were still in a cage and all. We sat and caught our breath for a minute. And then, out of nowhere, I was struck with another surge of hope, in the form of an idea.

“Dan, hang on a sec!” Oh my god, how could I have been so stupid, maybe there was actually a way out of this that didn’t involve Dan Radisson’s penis. Dan glanced over at me, wide-eyed, and I was actually excited enough to forget myself and grab him by the shoulder. “I can’t believe I forgot — Do you have your phone?”

Dan looked like he might actually slap himself in the forehead, which I would have paid a lot of money to see honestly, but I could relate. I didn’t have my cell with me, of course; there was no way I was about to take my iPhone with me on an illicit adventure out to a bar. Those things have GPS, for god’s sake. But if Dan had his

He squirmed up and dug into his pockets, thrashing around until he came out with his own tiny future-MBA-type phone. I could have sworn there were like AT&T angels somewhere, playing a very tinny big flourishing chord of triumph. And Dan flicked it on, practically shaking with excitement, and started hammering at the buttons… and then paused… and then stopped completely and just looked at the screen for a long time.

“What?” I hissed at him. And when he raised his head, I could already see the bleak hopelessness in his eyes.

“Who could I call that would possibly believe us?” Dan said.

Thunderstruck silence settled down over us, and then total, crippling depression. The skin-eating stereotypical-TV-woman-in-her-30s mermaid thing, sure, I could see somebody buying that. But that Dan Radisson and I had snuck out to a bar?

Dan put his phone away, slowly. And then there was another, unspeakably awkward pause; both of us sitting there, not looking at each other. Both knowing what we were going to have to do, and thinking, How do you even start something like this? What do we do exactly? Could I maybe deal with letting her just eat part of my skin?

Dan cleared his throat, and broke the silence first, which I thought really grudgingly was a pretty major show of courage on his part. “So, uh. …You first, or me?”

Ah, clearly I had a romantic on my hands. I sighed, and crab-walked over so I was sitting right next to him. I dunno, I guess I’d kinda just gotten used to being on the floor. “Oh, whatever, let’s go. I’ll do it. The sooner I get your dick over with, the better.”

“I thought I told you not to talk,” Dan said — or at least he started to, but I at least had the pleasure of startling him out of it partway by fumbling into his lap and undoing his stupid preppy pants.

art by neomeruru

There are moments of your life that make you just pause for a second, and really, sincerely question the choices you and other people and the universe must have made to have led you to this point. Staring down at Dan Radisson’s quarter-hard dick in my jerking-off hand was definitely one of them. But, well, there was nothing for it, as long as I was here I might as well do my best at what was, in senior year of high school, admittedly one of my most highly-polished skills. He at least spared me the indignity of complaining to him that the least he could do was get a boner, though, since that problem had solved itself by the time I got to the end of the first stroke — which, again, I might have made fun of if I couldn’t relate so much. Instead I just tried it again, and Dan thunked back into the bars of the cage then, and grabbed fistfuls of the smelly carpet while he let out a breath. Well, at least that was sort of a compliment, at least coming from him. So I settled in, still trying to just rely on force of habit, and really got to work.

“Guess you’ve… got a lot of practice at this, huh,” Dan said, suddenly, after a minute or two. He sounded kinda hoarse, but even that wasn’t enough to keep me from scowling and very nearly making a fist. And he’d told me not to talk.

“Hey, come on, dude, mermaid or no mermaid I’m not gonna jerk off somebody who’s insulting me the whole — ”

“No, no,” Dan said, shaking his head, and he had his eyes closed, I finally noticed, and his whole face looked… actually a lot better like that, now that I thought of it. Much better on the whole pastiness issue and the bitchy expression, at least. “I just meant, uh… you know, you’re. Pretty good at it.”

…And, well, that was something too, huh. It at least shut me up.

“A minor miracle in itself.”

Look who’s talking. Literally!

Anyway, I had to admit, this… wasn’t exactly as bad as I’d feared. There was definitely not a boner problem now, and Dan was kind of biting his lip and making little girly sounds every couple seconds or so, and, well. I had definitely never, ever thought about what Dan Radisson might be like during a handjob, in fact that thought was kind of antimatter to the matter of my usual thoughts about him, but now that I was here it was kind of… interesting. Not that I was starting to get a little short of breath and have my own very different boner problem because of that, it was probably just… lingering fond memories of Peis’s breasts, or… an inappropriate response to danger or… a roofie side effect? Definitely not because having a whole bunch of sexy expressions on it actually brought it to my attention that Dan’s stupid face was actually kind of a nice-looking stupid face. That was crazy internet conspiracy-theory talk.

“Hey, man, um,” I croaked after a second, and then had to clear my throat when Dan opened his eyes and looked all hazy at me. And at least gesturing at my junk made him make a more typically Dan-like expression for a second. “Little help? M-my skin’s on the line here too, you know.”

“I really thought I was clear about you not talking,” Dan said, but his voice sounded kind of breathy and definitely a lot of the attitude had gone out of it. And he was already reaching for my fly anyway, so what the hell.

It took him a second to remember how zippers worked, considering, and then he pulled out my dick and grabbed it. And I squawked a little. No wonder he thought I was good, somebody took the whole teen-grossout-comedy ‘choking the chicken’ joke a little too literally. Maybe he thought if he throttled it enough it’d eventually die, and he could finish his 18 college applications in peace.

“You know, if you want to walk home, you could just ask.”

“Christ, man,” I said, gasping a little, which again was definitely due to discomfort and not because Dan’s hand being on my dick sort of ruled out all other concerns anyway, “I guess if you rip it off I can’t jack off into a bunch of fish eggs, but it’s not quite the solution I was hoping for.” Dan scowled at me, which to be perfectly honest might be because I’d sort of forgotten what I was doing with my hand for a second.

“Hey, just because you lost your grip to carpal tunnel syndrome — ”

These are insults you really don’t want to level at someone who’s holding your dick, I might just mention at this point for everyone’s future reference. Fortunately for Dan, though, I was feeling amiable due to hand on my own dick, so I only squeezed hard enough to really, really distract him. …And all his gasping distracted me, so in the end we both shut up.

Dan’s grip relaxed some after that, anyway, and sitting there facing each other with our legs tangled up and shoulders against the bars of the cage, pants open, stroking his cock and his hand stroking mine, was really… not too bad a thing, as things went. I mean, if you get started thinking like Oh god, I have to come before she comes back, or I’m going to get my skin eaten while I have blue balls! you will find it really, really backfires, trust me, but I actually didn’t have too much trouble past the first. Partly because at least I had something to do, plus Dan kept making little noises that kept me really focused on what was going on right now.

“Do you think we should, like, make out?” he said, now sounding really choked and breathy, right when I was starting to get close. From the look of him when I opened my eyes, he wasn’t exactly about to go hold on if he got a text message chime, either. “Just to… make sure, you know.”

“Yeah, good call,” I breathed. I could basically feel my past self from as little as 24 hours ago trying to reach through time and stab me, but damn if Dan’s obnoxious mouth didn’t finally seem kinda worthwhile.

And he grabbed my hair and I grabbed the front of his shirt and we kind of gnawed on each other like the two-idiots-who-don’t-know-how-to-kiss idea of “passionate,” but, uh, sure, that’s all stuff that I’m sure any two guys who hate each other with a sworn eternal vengeance might do, under the circumstances. It got good when we eventually settled down, anyway: swiping around with tongues and sucking at each other’s lips. He let go at one point to lick my neck a little, and that was definitely a benefit of getting another person involved in this, I could tell right away even while I was yelping and there were like lightning-bolts going to my dick. So it only seemed fair to return the favor for a while, which made him make some really interesting noises for a while before it started to seem like anything more than kissing was way too complicated.

So that is how I had my first ever assisted orgasm with Dan Radisson jerking me off and sticking his tongue in my mouth; and let me tell you, if I even need to at this point, I was at least as surprised by this development as anybody. …And possibly even more so when, like half a second later, Dan made a surprised, creaky sound and shuddered around a lot, and then came too. Like all over the tail of my nice shirt, too, which just figured. And you know, you might hear about mutual masturbation and think, gosh, honestly that sounds hard, how do you remember to keep jerking somebody off when you’re coming?, but this neglects to take into account that if you’re like me, by that point in your life, your hand has had a lifetime of repeated training to learn that, if it is jerking a dick and you have an orgasm, what does it do? It keeps jerking it. Like if Pavlov had taught his dog to lick itself, which I have just realized is a horrifying simile, and I’m deeply sorry now that I thought of it.

Where was I. Ah, yes, orgasms.

So then we kind of collapsed in a heap, panting, with our pants down and each other’s hands still in them and kind of pressed together, like somebody’s really confused idea of a postcoital high-five. I had just a few minutes to lean there drowsily and relish my newfound experience and accordant safety — and then suddenly a thought occurred to me that made me open my eyes and look at Dan in alarm.

“Hey, wait a second,” I said, and Dan squinted at me too, looking enjoyably mussed and undignified. “What do you figure — counts, anyway?” Dan frowned, and I blinked a little. “Like… are we sure that was enough? I mean, I’d done that before myself, you know?”

Dan snorted, although his frown was still there and started to look troubled. “Well, duh. It’s not exactly the same thing.”

“Yeah, but is it virginity not the same thing?” I sat up a little. “It’d be pretty stupid if we were here thinking we were safe, and Peis was all like, foul, that’s just foreplay.”

“Foreplay doesn’t have orgasms,” Dan said, but he sat up too, and he didn’t look totally convinced. I shrugged, frowning back at him.

“…Well, I dunno. I guess as long as we’re in a cage, though, there’s not much else we can do. …You think maybe we should, like, keep going? Just to make sure?”

Dan was quiet for a second or two. And getting a little flushed again in the meantime. Just to be clear, we are talking about two virginal-until-very-recently-maybe high school guys, here. “I guess it couldn’t hurt,” he finally said. “What do you figure? Like… oral? …Or would that even count? Do you figure we need to… you know, go all the way?”

“Man, I don’t know, I’m not a cannibal mermaid! I don’t even know how she can tell!” …Of course, that brought up the depressing thought that maybe she couldn’t, and had just guessed correctly based on both of our personalities, but I decided not to say that one out loud. I took a deep, manful breath, instead. “I guess… if we have to, we could have life-saving ass sex.”

“I really don’t know how I haven’t just gagged you by now,” Dan said. I was about to fight that one out with him, rest assured, but then he shot me a sudden, suspicious look. “In that case, though, there’s one question… Who pitches?”

I blinked at him. “…What do you mean? Me, obviously.”

“What do — how is that obvious?

I rolled my eyes and put on a very high — and, to be honest, completely inaccurate — falsetto. “Oooh, you have to get us out of this! You’re the smart one! Come on, dude, you might as well have given me a treasure map where the X is marked GET UP MY ASS HERE.”

“And then I murdered him, and that is why he is dead today.”

As my mother always said, Dan, if wishes were horses, beggars would eat forever. Spluttering “I — what — no I didn’t!” was about as far as Dan actually got, and his grabbing at me pretty much just devolved into a girly slapfight immediately. “Dude, there is no way you’re driving my Hershey highway today or ever. If we’re gonna do it, I’m on top!”

“Yeah right, like you’d — ow — even be able to do it right! We’d be here for like three hours while you woodpeckered my nutsack ’cause you couldn’t even find the back door!”

That, at least, got Dan to fall back from trying to whack my head and just stare at me in a moment of stunned awe. “…’Woodpeckered my nutsack‘?”

A poet is never appreciated in his own time. “…Okay, look. I’m also not a prison rapist so there’s only one way we can settle this.” I dug around in my pocket, finally fishing out the quarter I had left over from subway fare. “I’ll flip a coin. Whichever one of us wins gets to do the other one, and no fighting about it. Okay?” Dan stared at me for another long moment, and then finally his expression just melted into grumpy resignation.

“I call heads,” he said, folding his arms. I sighed, and nodded.

“Okay, fine. Tails. Ready?” Dan nodded, and I flipped the coin.

And fumbled it catching it, and knocked it flying. And watched as it rolled merrily over the thin carpet outside the cage, and out all the way to the corner of the room, where it finally fell down. Dan and I both immediately stood up, and craned up on our toes, but it was no use. It was really a pretty big room.

There was another terrible silence.

“Do you have another quarter?” Dan asked, in a sort of hushed voice. I shook my head slowly.

“That was my last one.” I glanced at him. “Do you?”

Dan shook his head too. We were quiet for another long moment, before Dan finally spoke.

“Oral counts,” he said.

“Oral totally counts,” I agreed, with the grandest air of certainty I could muster.

So that’s how I ended up having my second ever assisted orgasm sprawled out with my shoulders against the wall of a cage, my pants around my ankles, and Dan Radisson sprawling over me and slurping on my cock with a lot more enthusiasm than grace. Not that I was really complaining at the time, mind you. And it’s also how I nearly choked to death and learned the fantastic pain that is snarfing semen into your sinuses while sprawling over with Dan’s cock in my mouth. But that is a tale for yet another day, like maybe the third of next Never, in the year of our lord Two Thousand And Fuck You.

“I said I was sorry.”

And I am grateful for small miracles. Whatever. In any case, it was probably a good thing we didn’t go for life-saving ass sex after all, because no sooner were we getting our pants back on and our breath back again (and basking in the pride of virginity presumably lost all over again, for that matter) than squishy, wet footsteps started to sound out in the hall. Dan and I stopped what we were doing and just stared at each other for a second, frozen, and then finished what we were doing in a hurry. It was time to hope we hadn’t overestimated oral sex in more ways than just its ability to live up to the promises of years of internet porn. Peis was back.

…And also, we saw when her zombies opened the door, suddenly really, hugely pregnant, which was pretty disconcerting in its own right.

She went “oof” when they set her down this time, cradling the giant belly hanging out over the top of her fish tail, and I honestly hadn’t known this day could get any more traumatic. “Okay, guys, all ready f–” she started to singsong, once she was down… and then this look crossed her face, like she’d smelled something funny. She broke off in mid-sentence, and blinked over at us: for a second just looking puzzled and kind of goofy, and completely harmless.

And then, suddenly, her brow drew down and her lips pulled back from her sharp little teeth, and she looked furious. And then, yeah, okay, then I could definitely see the harm.

Really, you guys?” she exploded, craning forward toward where we were cowering on the far side of the cage on her tail and one hand, the other one still holding up her gigantic fish-baby bump. “Come on. Seriously? Who even does that?”

“We — ” I started, in a tiny, shaking voice, but she cut me off before I could get anywhere — still crawling forward and practically snarling. Not quite as cute now, at least.

“And not only do you mess everything up, you couldn’t at least not half-ass it? God! I mean, oral, really? Are you trying to insult me?”

“Oral totally counts!” Dan yelped back at her, at the same exact time that I demanded, “How the hell do you even know?”

Peis sighed, hugely, that big growling sigh your mom does when you track mud all over the floor, and pushed up and back on her tail to shake hair out of her eyes. “I can’t believe you would do this to me. I thought you understood how important this is to me. Now what am I supposed to do?”

“Like that matters to us,” I said, with all possible shaky courage, finally standing up straight again and dragging Dan along with me. “At least now you can’t eat our skin!”

Peis glanced back at me at that, and gave me a long-suffering, disgusted look. “No, now you can’t fertilize my eggs,” she said. “I can totally still eat your skin. Guys, would you bring them out here, please?”

At least this time, there was no time for a thunderstruck silence.

“…I can’t believe I didn’t think of that,” I said, numbly, as the zombie guys lurched forward and started working open the big lock on the cage door. Dan seemed to be trying to hide behind me, which I hated to be the one to tell him wasn’t going to work.

“Really? Because I can.” His fingers clawed hard into my wrist. “Got any other bright ideas?”

I took a big, deep breath, while the lock made its dooming click and they started to swing back the door. “Well, actually, I was thinking we might try RUN FOR IT

And we did.

Fortunately for us, zombie teenagers aren’t exactly speedsters. We managed to break right past them, Dan slamming the cage door back behind us and knocking them back when they tried to chase. Peis screeched in freaky fish outrage, and lunged as we bolted past her — but she was right, she really wasn’t much of a mover in her casual outfit. Her scream got muffled for a second, a mouthful of little needle teeth took a swatch out of the leg of my jeans, and then we were out into the wet splashy hallway and running like fuck.

I pounded down the stairs, Dan huffing behind me, aware only in dim flashes of our surroundings going by around us: it was a rowhouse, it looked like, pretty much normal except for the creek running down the stairs. There was an end-table standing in four rubber galoshes on the landing, a cute chintz throw-rug floating lazily by as we passed. I slipped and fell on my ass once and Dan hauled me up, and then we were off again. We hit what looked like an entrance hallway, but the door was completely boarded up and nailed shut — Dan groaned — and then there were thumping, splashing noises from upstairs and I just grabbed Dan’s wrist and kept going, down another flight of descending stairs half-hidden around the corner.

Where are you going?” Dan screamed at me, louder than strictly necessary, especially when we were probably being chased by zombies. I never even paused.

I’m following the water!” I yelled back at him, as we sploshed our way knee-deep down into what must have been the basement. “It’s running, it has to be going somewhere!

That’s how you get out of the woods!” Dan yelled, but I ignored him. I could see something up ahead — something like —

A hole in the basement wall. Framing a narrow, dark, but totally beautiful view of Camden at night, from across the water. Which, by the way, is the only time in history I think the words ‘beautiful’ and ‘Camden’ have ever been used in the same sentence.

I never even slowed down. We just ran right out of the hole, and jumped straight out the back of the house and down, over the waterfall, into the river.

Yes. Into the Delaware River. I undoubtedly still have diseases to this day.

Luckily, a couple of cops picked us up before we could cross state lines, and drove us back to the station while we shivered in blankets and yelled our story with increasing desperation. They gave us at least three drug tests and called our parents, and let us go with a stern warning about just saying no, and the information that an officer had checked out that address we’d been yammering about, and there’d been nobody there. The house had been empty, for years it looked like. …A little wet, though.

I don’t know what happened to Peis. She never played another show around town, although I checked, and after a couple weeks her website went down. Maybe she finally found somebody to fertilize her eggs. I guess I wouldn’t even mind if so, as long as she compromised on the skin issue. She did have a really pretty voice.

But for right then, Dan I just sat on a bench inside the 26th District Station, shivering in our wet clothes and feeling like the world’s most gigantic ridiculous losers, waiting for our parents to come pick us up. And finally, Dan cleared his throat, and leaned in closer to me so he could keep his voice down too low for the cop working the desk to hear.

“Want to come over to my house on Monday and do that again?” he muttered.

And I said, “Yeah, okay,” way, way too fast.

So, there you go. Since you asked, yes, that is the story of how Dan and I got together.

And if maybe a few parts of it were a little bit not true…

“…well, you’ll never know the difference.”



“Dude, I told you you should have told them the one about the ghost Vikings. That one’s way better.”

Man, what is it with you and Vikings?

“I dunno, I just like them!”

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