LITTLE FISH • by Scott James

My mother thinks I am dead. Her toes sift the same sand each year, a barren starfish somehow surviving the picking predations of children, and constant push and pull of the tide. She tucks her knees beneath her chin and watches the surf roll out and in. She wraps herself in a blanket for the morning light, the gulls calling to her: “He is gone,” they cry, “your little fish is gone.”

I have watched her sit through rain in her vigil, beneath burning sun and raging sky. But I am nothing she would recognise here beneath the waves. I am grown and changed. I am a rolling seal, a diving bird, the glint of an aquatic eye.

Before I drowned she looked for my father, but not from the beach, in the bustle and rush of the seaside bars where he found her. I liked to swim. In town I sat waiting, her chasing a glimpse of a face from the past. It is possible she saw him once or twice. I know that now.

Now I go ashore only to mate, creeping, wet beneath the moon, changing, stumbling through velvet dunes, avoiding the fires and music of teenagers. They call to me, thinking me drunk, as I struggle and flap in the shadows beneath the pier. My scales turn to clothes, my scent a perfume desired by mortals like my mother. We are not the men they know from home. We are fantasy, our skin aglow with health and fortune. With the salty rush of the ocean in their hair they are free to indulge, at a price.

Love is a fleeting passion for us, but not for a mortal’s warm heart. They return to linger, bringing our children with them. Beneath the sun, on hot white sands they watch them laugh and play in the surf, watch with pride as they swim further, faster, deeper. Scream when they are taken. There are many little fish like me.

Our own women must call and lure, seduce from afar, lay lines with their music, cast nets with their song. They may not change or ever step ashore. But their beauty is the very art of Amphitrite, and mortal men, with family, go overboard to reach them. The women we prey may be haunted by our memory, but they know our children for a time, and survive, a while, when they are gone. Mortal women are strong. Not so the sailors, fishermen, seamen, who plunge and dive to our watery caves, the craving upon them, our sibilant sirens’ song in their ears.

You may think us malign, tempting your women and stealing your men, but we also do good; the swimmer saved from sharks by a darting dolphin, the floundering child nudged by a seal back to balmy shallows, the hand in the waves the lifeguard seeks.

I would go to her, comfort her, tell her I am well. But to go ashore, other than to procreate, is to break with sacred law. Those lured by the shallow highs of mortal life, or who yet mourn those left behind, will wander ashore and have their time, but be cursed on their return. As they stumble back with the change upon them, it is not a tail and scales they feel flourish in the twilight, but sickly soft organ, tendrils and polyp. The lucky ones make it back to live at least in exile, drifting together in lonely crowds, seething, stinging, hateful jellies. But most fall on the shore, short of the surf, where they lie choking, in change until the dawn, and the hot sun rises to dry and burst them, or children drop rocks to shatter their soft, cursed forms.

And so I cannot go to her, my mother; she must come to me. Seasons pass, three years now, and still she sits and watches, scans the dark and twisting seas. I have tried to go, swim free, and thrive, but I cannot leave her on the shore, some busted shard of driftwood. A mother’s love deserves far more. As she felt my father’s presence here, she feels her son’s sweet spirit near, comes creeping through the salted night to stand upon the creaking pier. I wait below, one quiet tear, through moonlight, in the night, falls near.

She jumps, and I am here.


Scott James writes in Cambridgeshire, UK.


Rate this story:
 average 5 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • joanna b.

    it’s late at night, i gave this the quickest read before bedtime, 5 stars. what an unusual story. i’ll read it more thoroughly come morning but it is a great last read of the day. thanks, scott.

  • joanna b.

    it’s late at night, i gave this the quickest read before bedtime, 5 stars. what an unusual story. i’ll read it more thoroughly come morning but it is a great last read of the day. thanks, scott.

  • Tibor Simic

    I’ve filed this away under the horror romance genre; a mythical being – a monster, really – narrating its story to a modern audience in the atmosphere of dread, tragedy and sensuality. Ann Rice comes to mind.

    It’s not really a genre I care for, but I can’t blame the author if he does. And I think the story accomplishes what it set out to do. The creature is unapologetically, but relatably inhuman; the numerous adjectives give it an indulgent feel; and the sense of dread and despair is sustained to the chilling end.

    So, not my cup of tea, but if you tell me you like Ann Rice’s novels, Coppola’s movie “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, or the World of Darkness games, I’d recommend this story in a heartbeat.

    A question for the author: is the creature your invention, or something mythological? The line “their beauty is the very art of Amphitrite” suggests the creature is related to the Nereides, making it a Tritone, but I’m unaware Tritons procreated with humans in the Greek mythology.

    • S Conroy
      The creature makes me think a bit of a Selkie. Selkie's live mainly as seals, but can shape change and procreate with humans on land. At some point in the legends though, they usually end up returning to the sea and abandoning their human partners.
      • MPmcgurty
        Thank you. I was trying to think of the word but never when I was near a computer. :)
        • S Conroy
          You're welcome. :-)
  • Tibor Simic

    I’ve filed this away under the horror romance genre; a mythical being – a monster, really – narrating its story to a modern audience in the atmosphere of dread, tragedy and sensuality. Ann Rice comes to mind.

    It’s not really a genre I care for, but I can’t blame the author if he does. And I think the story accomplishes what it set out to do. The creature is unapologetically, but relatably inhuman; the numerous adjectives give it an indulgent feel; and the sense of dread and despair is sustained to the chilling end.

    So, not my cup of tea, but if you tell me you like Ann Rice’s novels, Coppola’s movie “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, or the World of Darkness games, I’d recommend this story in a heartbeat.

    A question for the author: is the creature your invention, or something mythological? The line “their beauty is the very art of Amphitrite” suggests the creature is related to the Nereides, making it a Tritone, but I’m unaware Tritons procreated with humans in the Greek mythology.

    • S Conroy
      The creature makes me think a bit of a Selkie. Selkies live mainly as seals, but can shape change and procreate with humans on land. At some point in the legends though, they usually end up returning to the sea and abandoning their human partners.
      • MPmcgurty
        Thank you. I was trying to think of the word but never when I was near a computer. :)
        • S Conroy
          You're welcome. :-)
  • Paul A. Freeman

    Spooky, or what? I’m moving to Bolivia.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Spooky, or what? I’m moving to Bolivia.

  • Lisa Walpole Finch

    Not just a good story, but also lovely, haunting, poetic language. Scary and beautiful.

  • Lisa Walpole Finch

    Not just a good story, but also lovely, haunting, poetic language. Scary and beautiful.

  • MPmcgurty

    I enjoyed this tremendously. Lovely prose, wonderful imagery. I read it several times just for its haunting quality. There are some real gems in here. I especially like the images of the mother waiting and of the cursed beings falling short of the water and being crushed by children (maybe the creature’s own child). I’ll never look at another jellyfish without thinking of this story. I very much appreciate how the full story was revealed but without dialogue or action. I’m very envious.

    Paragraph 3 still does not read smoothly for me after several readings. I like para 7 but I felt the narrative mood was broken by directly addressing the reader (“You may think…). The last sentence in the second to last para could use some work. All little things that would make this a nearly perfect tale for me.

    Really nice, Scott. Looking forward to reading more from you. Cheers.

  • MPmcgurty

    I enjoyed this tremendously. Lovely prose, wonderful imagery. I read it several times just for its haunting quality. There are some real gems in here. I especially like the images of the mother waiting and of the cursed beings falling short of the water and being crushed by children (maybe the creature’s own child). I’ll never look at another jellyfish without thinking of this story. I very much appreciate how the full story was revealed but without dialogue or action. I’m very envious.

    Paragraph 3 still does not read smoothly for me after several readings. I like para 7 but I felt the narrative mood was broken by directly addressing the reader (“You may think…). The last sentence in the second to last para could use some work. All little things that would make this a nearly perfect tale for me.

    Really nice, Scott. Looking forward to reading more from you. Cheers.

  • It took several more than one reading for this. I found it equally brilliant as it is flawed. I give 5 stars for creativity and imagery. On points of grammar and ease of understanding the points diminish. While I like stories that leave something to my imagination to see, or wits to put together, I think this made both more difficult than needed.

    I think I enjoyed this more as a writer, than a reader. I think it worth studying to sharpen my own skills.

    Perhaps it is like Beowulf and Shakespeare; both examples of classic literature. But one is damn easier to comprehend. If the word “mermaids” wasn’t listed in the tags, I might still be scratching the old noggin on this.

    No rating, averaging star counts on this doesn’t make sense to me.

  • It took several more than one reading for this. I found it equally brilliant as it is flawed. I give 5 stars for creativity and imagery. On points of grammar and ease of understanding the points diminish. While I like stories that leave something to my imagination to see, or wits to put together, I think this made both more difficult than needed.

    I think I enjoyed this more as a writer, than a reader. I think it worth studying to sharpen my own skills.

    Perhaps it is like Beowulf and Shakespeare; both examples of classic literature. But one is damn easier to comprehend. If the word “mermaids” wasn’t listed in the tags, I might still be scratching the old noggin on this.

    No rating, averaging star counts on this doesn’t make sense to me.

  • terrytvgal

    Haunting and unexpected. It became clearer when I googled

    “Amphitrite”– perhaps others knew the reference but mythology is not my thing. 3stars… probably deserves 4 but It’s tough to judge what I can’t easily understand. Thanks so much for the story, Scott.

  • terrytvgal

    Haunting and unexpected. It became clearer when I googled

    “Amphitrite”– perhaps others knew the reference but mythology is not my thing. 3stars… probably deserves 4 but It’s tough to judge what I can’t easily understand. Thanks so much for the story, Scott.

  • Cranky Steven

    Well-crafted but I missed the point in the end. That may be due to a caffiene deficiency. What did she jump at in the end? I like the sentiments offered but would like more clarity on this seemingly unbreakable bond that holds them both in this sad situation. The “sacred law” seems to assume knowledge I do not possess.

    • S Conroy
      Yes, I wondered too if she jumped into the ocean and thus committed suicide in a sense. Or if she jumped in and spent some time with her son...
      • Cranky Steven
        Hmmmm, it's a puzzlement. Suicide to be with her son would make a sort of macbre sence but I don't think the author meant that. But who am I to say?
        • S Conroy
          Just come back to this story. Maybe, just maybe... "she jumps" is a sign that she is startled. Her human tear has summoned the Selkie and now he is there at her side? So she jumps in surprise in the same moment as he materialises at her side.
          • Cranky Steven
            An insightful comment I hadn't thought of that could well be correct.
          • S Conroy
            You know what else I've just noticed (or delusionally think I've noticed). I'm on a roll here. ;-) This writer is a poet and doesn't knowit. Or maybe does know it. Have you seen those last lines: As she felt my father’s presence here, she feels her son’s sweet spirit near, comes creeping through the salted night to stand upon the creaking pier. I wait below, one quiet tear, through moonlight, in the night, falls near.
    • MPmcgurty
      My take: he wants to comfort her, but he says the sacred law prohibits him from going ashore without bringing a curse down on himself. Question for me is...did she jump because she wants to die and make the grief go away, or did she jump because she really felt her son was in the ocean below and wants to be with him forever? I think that's one of the really nice things about this piece; I can enjoy it either way.
      • Cranky Steven
        MPmcgurty, you are right. This story is thought provoking in a good way. Unhappily, whatever she does, she is cursed and part of his curse. But why were either cursed is such a fashion?
  • Cranky Steven

    Well-crafted but I missed the point in the end. That may be due to a caffiene deficiency. What did she jump at in the end? I like the sentiments offered but would like more clarity on this seemingly unbreakable bond that holds them both in this sad situation. The “sacred law” seems to assume knowledge I do not possess.

    • S Conroy
      Yes, I wondered too if she jumped into the ocean and thus committed suicide in a sense. Or if she jumped in and spent some time with her son...
      • Cranky Steven
        Hmmmm, it's a puzzlement. Suicide to be with her son would make a sort of macbre sence but I don't think the author meant that. But who am I to say?
        • S Conroy
          Just come back to this story. Maybe, just maybe... "she jumps" is a sign that she is startled. Her human tear has summoned the Selkie and now he is there at her side? So she jumps in surprise in the same moment as he materialises at her side.
          • Cranky Steven
            An insightful comment I hadn't thought of that could well be correct.
          • S Conroy
            You know what else I've just noticed (or delusionally think I've noticed). I'm on a roll here. ;-) This writer is a poet and doesn't knowit. Or maybe does know it...must know it. Have you seen those last lines: As she felt my father’s presence here, she feels her son’s sweet spirit near, comes creeping through the salted night to stand upon the creaking pier. I wait below, one quiet tear, through moonlight, in the night, falls near. She jumps and I am here.
    • MPmcgurty
      My take: he wants to comfort her, but he says the sacred law prohibits him from going ashore without bringing a curse down on himself. Question for me is...did she jump because she wants to die and make the grief go away, or did she jump because she really felt her son was in the ocean below and wants to be with him forever? I think that's one of the really nice things about this piece; I can enjoy it either way.
      • Cranky Steven
        MPmcgurty, you are right. This story is thought provoking in a good way. Unhappily, whatever she does, she is cursed and part of his curse. But why were either cursed is such a fashion?
  • Naomi Rawle

    I thoroughly enjoyed this! It was a delightful mix of description and pace. I was able to savour the images that came to mind without losing the thread.

  • Naomi Rawle

    I thoroughly enjoyed this! It was a delightful mix of description and pace. I was able to savour the images that came to mind without losing the thread.

  • Diane Cresswell

    Magnificent… I was on the beach waiting, knowing, feeling and went with her. This is one of those rare times where I am at loss for words. Magnificent.

  • Diane Cresswell

    Magnificent… I was on the beach waiting, knowing, feeling and went with her. This is one of those rare times where I am at loss for words. Magnificent.