by Jensine Lynn
A stunning sunset powdered the sky with pink blush, and shiny berry chap stick lined the horizon. One tiny cloud dotted the soft expanse like a subtle mole above the jaw.
Yesterday, the woman said, “This may be the ugliest beach on the continent, but I don’t care,” while gazing fondly on the man sitting next to her. She watched as he raked his fingers along the golden sands and surfaced a red candy wrapper.
He nodded. “Eet definitely is. I’ve seen dem all—dis is de ugliest.” He gave the litter a look of disgust, slightly wrinkling his nose as if he’d picked up a dead crab instead.
“If you’re content to meet here though, I don’t mind.”
He grinned, threw the wrapper into the wind, and glanced up at her. “I’m glad. You’re a, uh, dear friend, Mekenzi.” The sun burned hot yellow as it hit the horizon. The woman’s shiny hair reflected its brilliance. “I’ve never known a girl with hair es long and silky es yours.”
“Oh, really?” She gazed on his beige, tightly curled locks which glittered in that same scarlet light.
“Really,” he said. He wrinkled his nose and frowned before he placed his fingers into the tide to clean his hand of the garbage he’d touched. She giggled at him.
The next day, she again waited for him under *Urlingten’s Pier on the beach where they’d first met. They’d been meeting for over a week and planned to as long as he was in the area.
*Urlingten’s Pier is a well-known landmark located just south of Braxter on the south-western coast of Amekra.
Typical beach-goers, generally some mix of surfers, tourists, and elderly humans, didn’t venture the couple’s way given there was nothing beautiful to see there. Urlingten’s Pier earned the reputation as, “the pollution acropolis of the south-western coast,” from a *local newspaper because the water quality so dreadful the tides were rumored to cause cancer in humans.
*Kharla Surdint, “Sharks Aren’t the Problem: 10 Silent but Deadly Vacation Killers,” Braxter Biz and Babes, Summer edition #671, 299 aa
The shores were green and brown, sick with city refuse. The mysterious man joked Urlingten’s Pier was the diaper of Amekra. But not unlike a diaper or anything else, the south-western beaches were slightly more tolerable, perhaps almost beautiful, in the warm glow of the Deepening.
He came from the surf with an amazing accent and good looks. She came from the parking lot with sushi and curiosity.
After swimming to the shore and taking a seat, he gazed about, surveying every stretch of sand around them. He smiled and beckoned her over when he was certain they were alone.
Mekenzi the Amesytin smiled back and reclined next to her new friend. Her black hair spread out around them, tangling with an assortment of debris from the rising and falling tide. They sat together and watched one another as they had every evening. Mekenzi sometimes wondered what his skin felt like…
Placing the foam take-out containers between their waists, she took the lid off the *berry salt while he ate several cuts and hardly chewed before swallowing. The plastic bag which formerly held the sushi blew away and floated over the ocean. They both watched for a moment, disgusted.
*Berry salt is a popular but pricey seafood seasoning from Ualia; a sea salt in which the water was evaporated from it using the heat and smoke from burning purple rasponyan berry bush wood with ripe berries still attached.
“Not like one more bag can make this beach any worse,” Mekenzi said. Her eyes followed the red letters shouting, “THANK YOU!” as they twisted, curved, and disappeared into the radiance of the setting sun.
The man snickered and continued eating in silence. He was always hungry when she came to greet him, insisting such extensive swimming worked up an appetite. For his job, he traveled across shorelines and was often required to dive deep into the currents to map out the topography of the land and the ocean floor.
Ta’nu’na was a cartographer… though he never told Mekenzi what exactly his maps were used for. He preferred to sketch every detail by hand at his own pace, because he claimed his maps were more accurate that way. She was unaware people still drew traditional maps.
“What’s your home like, Ta’nu’na?” She asked, letting his eccentric name bounce from her lips.
He frowned as he thought. His muscles glimmered in the sun’s fleeting light. Salty water coiled down his hair and dripped onto his shoulders. She liked his freckles and the strange way he ate. For some reason, she assumed he was older than she was, though she couldn’t be sure. His coarse voice and pessimistic eyes fascinated her.
The man watched her play with the surplus of rice for a few moments before he said, “Eet’s not special.”
She sighed. He sighed, too, distracted by the *Blue Energy Moo bottle hiding under her hair.
*Blue Energy Moo is a popular milk-based energy drink that is dyed blue to resemble cow fur. It is sold in Amekra and a few Eurikan cities because caffeine only noticeably effects Humans. Most Omeings do not care for its overbearing flavor.
Three days ago, Mekenzi went from surfer blonde to her natural hair color: rich black. As the now dark-haired Mekenzi walked up the beach, Ta’nu’na stared, but didn’t say a word.
“You don’t like it?” she said, pulling it into a bun, “I can bleach it again!”
“No, no! I-I love it.”
“You do?” She let her hair fall again onto her shoulders in dark cascades as her worried eyes sought more validation.
“Yes,” he said as he beckoned her to sit down with him. “I didn’t know thet was possible… your hair changed colors like a cuttlefeesh.” As she sat, he touched a strand and pulled it toward him to look closer.
Mekenzi laughed. “People dye their hair all the time.”
“Not where I come from,” he said. His eyes were alight with curiosity as he lifted some to his nose to smell it. When she laughed harder, Ta’nu’na frowned and withdrew in embarrassment. Then he said, “What es bleach? Why make your hair a, uh, deefferent color?”
She blushed and gazed at the rolling tide. “I’m… I’m Amesytin.”
He winced, thinking deeply about what relevance that statement could possibly have in their conversation and removed sand from his left ear with his pinkie finger.
“This is what my hair is supposed to look like—what I was born with.”
“Ah,” he said, still wincing.
Mekenzi rolled her eyes and looked up at the sky. “I’m being ridiculous.”
“A leetle bit, yeah.”
She scraped at the sand in front of her for a few ticks, then said, “Omeings don’t usually live in Amekra. And people here are… kind of… racist against Amesytins.” She paused.
“Do you even know who the Amesytin’s are?”
He waived a hand. “Of course.”
She paused again. “Yeah, so people don’t like us. They think we’re all crazy like the *Death Hawk and Daaden Lasdon.”
*The Death Hawk is the Erbedian equivalent of the Grim Reaper. He is an Amesytin assassin with wings who wears a hawk mask. He was infected with Lyphamuy about 100 years after The Great Conquest and executed hit lists for Emperor Daaden Lasdon in Kinhaun.
Daaden Lasdon was an Amesytin General who traveled with King Ayris Fulkert. Daaden found the forbidden cave on Kadaun and reintroduced the ancient parasite, Lyphamuy, to the worlds. He then rebelled against the king, took refuge in Kinhaun on Erbede, and began his own empire, thus bringing about The Great Conquest and changing the history of the worlds forever. He’s earned the title, “The Most Horrible Person to Ever Live.”
“And what does thet hev to do with your hair color?”
She nodded and replied, “I fit in better with blonde hair. I looked more like an Onu or Human so people wouldn’t treat me differently when I was in public with my friends. But… now that I know you, I felt like I was lying about myself.”
“I mean, wouldn’t you, or maybe… don’t you want to fit in with everyone else sometimes? Blend in like you belong?”
“Eet’s a leetle harder for me than changing hair color.”
“Well yeah, but you probably would if you could.”
“I don’t know thet I would. I’m quite beautiful.”
Mekenzi laughed and shoved him.
Day after day, Mekenzi hoped Ta’nu’na would elaborate about his home. He hadn’t told her much of anything about his heritage. She decided he would have to tell her tonight, or she’d threaten to leave.
“You have a northern accent. Is it cold where you come from?”
“Eet is pretty cold. I don’t mind de cold though—I hev thick skin,” he said. “How do I explain where I come from?” He reflected on his life for a few moments and squinted his eyes. “Hm, well, I don’t really like thinking about it.”
“Oh. I’m sorry I brought it up,” she said, though she wasn’t.
He smiled at her, his wide lips locked and curled tightly almost like an eel. “Eet’s fine. I understand.”
“You hev questions. Let’s see… it’s cold and small, kind of like a, uh, small agricultural community. Only we are feesherman not farmers. And our community—if it can be called thet—it’s so dirty from de city up de coast. Thet city, they, uh, hev lots of factories with bad stuffs in dem: chemicals, garbage, Blue Energy Moo bottles.”
Mekenzi laughed at this unexpected vocabulary. “Blue Energy Moos!” She shook her head and rolled her eyes.
“Eet’s gross. Eet’s like this,” he said, pulling garbage from under her hair. He read the label on the side, “Thank You for Recycling.” He growled as he turned and threw it up the beach away from the water.
“What city was it? Was it in Kinhaun or Eurika?”
“Our home es called Maru’vomuva, in Kinhaun. Thet city, was a, uh, a small one. Eet’s called Maelid—all poor people and factories. Dey are Amesytins like you, too.”
Mekenzi looked away and examined a distant fish skeleton on the shore. “I haven’t heard of those places.”
Earnestness sparked Ta’nu’na’s eyes. He leaned close to her and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Hevn’t you seen what dose, uh, dose see-through plastic connectors do to animals?”
She shook her head.
“Baby turtles crawl across de beach, get stuck in dem, and live de rest of their lives trapped inside a plastic bottle cuff. I tracked dem before. De leetle turtles grow up ugly and mangled, Mi’kenzi, mangled.”
“I didn’t know that was a real thing. I thought it was just one of those propagandist campaigns… but you would know, after all.”
“Eet’s very serious.”
“How did you learn so much? Did you go to school?”
“Ha!” He laughed. “My people don’t learn barnacles from de school except how to feesh and survive.”
“So how did you learn my language?”
“Feeshing ports. Ship crewman. Piers, yacht clubs, stupid people making out on beaches. I’m very good et eavesdropping.”
As she thought about their conversations, she realized Ta’nu’na, or Tuna affectionately, was charming in a grungy, truck-driver sort of way. He was covered in scars and scrapes like sharks she’d seen on the Outdoor Adventures channel. He had a strong grip, too. He’d shown her how to snap a fish in half using his bare hands.
“Why did your mom name you Ta’nu’na?”
“Oh, dat’s a very weird thing. I was de only one who was given a, uh, name by my mother, and et made me feel very special.”
She frowned. “Why is that weird?”
“Everyone else gets named by de school. You know, by deir personality and de way they look. She named me thet after de tuna feesh, because they’re so fast and long—like I am.”
“You are really tall.”
“Long,” he reiterated, “*fourteen stretches and five thumbs. Tall es for people who stand.”
*14 st 5 th is equivalent to 9′ 10″ in American English measurements.
“Wow!” She pursed her lips and furrowed her brow. “How did you get measured?”
“My friends wanted to know—my feetfriends—and I did, too. I hev de bragging rights now, you see. I’m much longer den any footed man.”
Mekenzi laughed. He loved boasting about himself.
Five days ago, Tuna told Mekenzi how many women of his kind, the *Ma’ru’fo, were in love with him.
*Humans from Earth would probably call Ma’ru’fo mermaids. It’s possible the Ma’ru’fo people group is where Human mythologies and legends about half-fish people originated. Mainstream Erbedian media and science was not aware of the Ma’ru’fo people until around 200 aa, because of the Ma’ru’fo people’s elusive and aloof behavior.
“Thet’s de real reason I lasted so long in de school. Dey thought I was as crazy as a shark, but oh, how beautiful I am!”
“You are pretty beautiful.”
He waived his hand dismissively. “Feesh care about beauty. To be beautiful and strong is to survive.”
“Why haven’t you ended up with a ma’ru’fo woman?”
“I started asking dem for commitment, ‘Hey, lady… uh, I don’t want a friend tonight and a stranger tomorrow. I want a family. I want you to stay with me and our keeds, and we can teach dem together,’ I would say, because my feetfriends told me about thet. I wanted to be married very badly like my best friend.”
“That might be the most adorable thing I’ve ever heard,” she said, blushing. “I want some handsome guy to say that to me.”
He scoffed. “And dey didn’t. Eet worked every time—dey swam away just es quickly es they fell in love with my face. Thet’s when I really got the reputation es Stupid Tuna. I’ve scared away ninety-six women and counting. Some of dem were very beautiful, too. But why would a man want to spend de night with a feesh? I can hardly look et them anymore.”
“Ninety-six,” she said. She looked at him. “Tuna, did you say you’ve declined ninety-six?”
He shrugged. “Yes, ninety-six. I hev started thinking thet, uh, maybe I really am crazy stupid for wanting those things. Maybe feesh cannot have families or homes—”
“Wait, wait, wait. How many girlfriends did you have before that?”
“Uh… thet is—thet was before I knew better. They weren’t really what feetpeople call girlfriends.”
Mekenzi leaned toward him and poked him in the chest with her finger. “So how many?”
He scratched his nose and mumbled, “Feesh will be feesh. Eet’s all they know. But I don’t do thet anymore. I hevn’t for many years now, and thet’s when dey finally couldn’t take me anymore.”
“So you’re kind of radical as far as they’re concerned because you don’t take advantage of more women.”
“Yeah, thet’s what I’m saying.”
“And your feetfriends taught you that.”
“Yes, I may get lonely now, but eet’s worth it. Maybe I’ll find a crazy lady like my mom.”
Mekenzi smiled. “I want to meet your mom,” she said, looking back at the man with his dark eyes, long ears, and shimmering, freckled skin. “She sounds cool like you are.”
He sighed through his small, sharp nose. “My poor mother was de laughingstock of de place. Thet’s why they made me into a, uh, cartographer—so they could send me and my crazy ideas away. I was kind of a hothead. Steell am. But they would berate me all de time. I hated et.”
“That’s so sad.”
“And I loved my mom. I loved thet lady because she wanted me when no one else did. They say thet’s what went wrong. Thet, uh, she ‘ruined’ me with her crazy obsession. So they say, uh, ‘Stupid Tuna, go make maps.’ I did. I come here to de diaper of de seas and other places no one wants to go. I go to beautiful places, too.”
“They sound like the stupid ones to me. I like you, and I think you’re clever, Tuna.”
“I like you, too, Miss Mi’kenzi.” After a few moments, he said, “Thanks for listening to me like dis. No one ever does—not even my other friends.”
She smiled at him, inched closer, and put her head on his freckled shoulder. He smelled deeply of salt and fish, like the ocean when surfing and a gulp is accidentally swigged. She realized she didn’t mind; she loved the ocean. “What about your dad? You never talk about him.”
He laughed out loud for the first time since she’d met him, though she wasn’t sure why. He even exposed his teeth by accident. They were long and sharp like a barracuda’s.
Mekenzi almost shifted away in surprise, but forced herself not to.
“I never had a dad! Like I said, we don’t hev families, Miss Kargil. We don’t even hev houses. We don’t even build things. We hev de school only.”
“I suppose that makes sense.”
“Ma’ru’fo live like de fish dey eat.”
Mekenzi’s dolphin sound ring tone went off from her purse sitting behind them. She shuffled through her bag and answered, “Hello?” She stood and walked a few stretches away. “Okay. That’s fine.” She clicked the handheld off and turned toward Tuna. “I’m sorry. I have to go.”
“Es something wrong?”
“No… my parents are just mad at me for some reason. They get like that sometimes.”
The next Deepening, she gazed at Ta’nu’na’s sharp cheekbones and long ears, the gills on the underside of his jaw, and the webbing between his fingers. He had fins all over, on his forearms, back, sides, and tail. His skin was soft and firm like a dolphin or a stingray.
He looked more like a bottom feeder than a rainbow fish because his taut skin was marbled in browns and grays—he even had dark stripes on his cheek-bones, along his spine from his neck to his tail fin, and on the tops of his arms. His body was lean and muscular from constant exercise and his fish diet.
She smiled while reaching over to touch his curling, creamy hair. Each strand was as a coiled cable, thick and almost plastic to the touch. Instantly, he jerked away as if threatened with a knife.
“No—don’t do thet!” he shouted, gripping her arm tightly in his webbed fingers.
Mekenzi stared in shock, and he slowly released her, looking a little remorseful.
“No, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you’d freak out like that.”
“Thet’s because my hair eesn’t like yours.”
“It’s like, uh, wheeskers on a seal; tells me if a hole es too small for my body to fit through, or if something’s swimming near my head.”
“Yes,” he said, “Eet’s obviously not like yours.”
“Your hair is connected to your nervous system?”
“Mm, all Ma’ru’fo hev hair like mine—well, not es beautiful of course.”
“That’s so cool!” Mekenzi said, then she grinned.
“No,” he said.
In a tick, she had her hands tangled in his hair. He flinched and shook like a child being tickled as she wound her fingers through the curls. Mekenzi laughed heartily, but even more so when he glared at her. Soon he laughed, too.
Then, he took hold of her and tickled her. He was strong, so she couldn’t shake away, and they were both laughing hysterically when he heard footsteps up the shore. As quickly as he’d taken hold of her, he was now in the water far away, unseen in the current as if he’d never been there.
She didn’t think she’d ever see him again, but she did the next Resting. He was eating a red-eyed halibut he’d just caught when she arrived.
“All dose fancy feesh sushis are going to make me fat like a feetperson,” he said. The fish wasn’t entirely dead even though he’d worn a deep, bloody hole in its pale side with his sharp teeth. He ate through its flesh—guts and all—like she ate a sandwich, and it flinched with each bite. Occasionally, he’d pause to spit out stripped bones, and after a few more chomps, it stopped struggling.
Though she knew it should have, it didn’t really disgust her. She didn’t expect any differently anymore. If anything, she was amazed at how large of a fish he’d managed to catch. Though it would’ve been on the average side for a fisherman with a rod, it seemed huge in his bare hands.
“I, uh, hev to leave in four days. My dolphin family will be migrating off de shore here, and I’ll follow dem south, then west to Ualia.”
Tears welled up in her eyes. “Oh,” she said. She sat next to him again and pulled out some sushi to eat, but she suddenly didn’t have an appetite. “Four days until you leave with… dolphins?”
“I travel with them for safety from sharks. We’ll be back dis way in four months,” he continued. Finished with the halibut, he threw it back out to the sea. “Not dat I’m scared of sharks—see det one there? It will finish the feesh.” He laid back on the sand and watched a small cloud in the sky. “No, I’m not scared of them. I just don’t swim in de open ocean with them. Ma’ru’fo call me stupid, but even I’m not thet stupid.”
Mekenzi placed her head on his chest under his gilled chin. If he could have blushed, she assumed he would have. She listened to his heartbeat that was just like hers and everyone else’s and felt the rising of his chest as he breathed through his sharp nose.
“You promise you’ll be back in exactly four months?”
He nodded. “On de very Descent, of thet very fourth month, I will be right here just like we’ve been meeting.”
“How will you know though?”
“What? You think I’m stupid, too?”
“No! You just don’t have a calendar or a watch or anything.”
“Actually, I do hev a watch. Eet just doesn’t work anymore because of de salt water. But I don’t need it anyway, because I hev something better: de moon, de sun, and de stars.”
She smiled, kissed his nose, and replied, “Okay, I’ll meet you right here.”
He smiled and hugged her.
Mekenzi Kargil came back to Urlingten’s Pier every Resting she could for two years straight.
But Tuna didn’t…