The Savage BlueBy: Zoraida Cordova
Shut out from heaven it makes its moan,
It frets against the boundary shore;
All earth’s full rivers cannot fill
The sea, that drinking thirsteth still.
—Christina Rossetti, from “By the Sea”
For a merman, I’ve done very little deep-sea exploration.
I grew up in chlorine pools, racing from one end to the other until I became the fastest kid in all of Brooklyn. Those were fishbowls compared to the endlessness of the Atlantic Ocean.
I kick my legs harder and harder alongside the belly of the ship until I grab hold of the ladder.
I consider shifting into my tail, but then I remember these are my last pair of cargo shorts, and I’ve not yet mastered the half-shift combination of legs and scales to cover my goods. Instead, I let my gills develop, only freaking out a little that I, in fact, have gills. Then I give myself a pat on the back for being able to control them. Cold water trickles in and out, and I wonder if that’s something I’ll ever get used to.
With one hand, I secure my footing on the ladder and let the ship do the heavy lifting. With the other, I lean out to the ocean, combing my fingers through the water. I want to shout out the thrill of the moment, of the powerful ship cleaving the ocean like a knife through the smooth skin of the sea. But I stop myself, realizing that shouting would give away my position to my opponent.
War games aren’t supposed to be fun, not the way my guardian describes them. War games teach you skills—fighting, hunting, hiding. All meant to achieve one thing: survival.
I’m four days shy of turning seventeen, and though I was technically born with a blue fishtail, I’ve only been a merman for two whole weeks, ever since the Sea Court returned to Coney Island to hold a championship for the next king. That would be the Sea King (my grandfather) and me (one of four remaining champions). Yeah, me a king. I’m not in Coney anymore, Toto.
The clucking wail of a dolphin echoes from below. He swims up alongside me, and for a moment, I forget about Kurt lurking nearby. I reach out a hand and touch the dolphin’s slick skin. I can’t understand the sounds he’s making, but I can sense the urgency. He dives downward and disappears into the blue shadows.
Then I see him.
Kurt’s glowing violet eyes lock on me. He undulates like a serpent rising from smoke. His dark hair billows with every kick.
Kurt takes the dolphin’s place beside me, like we’re two cars racing on an empty road. He swerves to his left as if to knock me off my ladder, but I kick out and he swerves to the right. In our last skirmish, we managed to disarm each other. But I didn’t account for the small knife strapped to his bicep.
Kurt holds the knife by the hilt. He raises it over his head, flicks his wrist back and forth. He wouldn’t. As my guardian, he’s in charge of making sure I don’t meet an untimely death. He wouldn’t.
But he does.
I dive to the left. My back hits the ship hard, and I let the current pull me away. His deep chuckle lingers in the rustle of water. He takes hold of my ladder and hoists himself back up onto the ship, which is getting farther away.
My muscles burn with every breaststroke, every kick. Then the dolphin returns, and I realize that being the grandson of the Sea King comes with some perks. His big black eye gleams at me, and I wonder why dolphins always look like they’re smiling. I grab hold of his dorsal fin.
In seconds, we’re caught up with the ship. I pat him on his back and grab hold of the ladder. Halfway up, I see Kurt’s knife an inch deep into the wood. When I pull it out, there isn’t much resistance. I break the surface and my gills shut against the wind. My body feels a hundred pounds lighter. The blisters on my soles pop and bleed with every step until I’m over the rail and planted on the deck. I strip off my T-shirt and toss it to the side.
I brush my wet hair from my eyes and spot Layla and Gwen leaning on the railing of the quarterdeck. All they need is a tub of popcorn, and it’d be just like being at the circus. Layla’s biting her nails down to stubs. She runs her hands through the mess of her thick brown hair, which is growing bigger and bigger with the rising heat. Her hazel eyes flick between Kurt and me. He’s holding his knees and breathing hard. He quickly adjusts the sheath at his hip. Great, he’s got his sword back.