The Mermaid Disease
The following excerpts are from the journal of Marco Marendilla, the doctor of a late-seventeenth century Spanish merchant ship. They have been translated from Castilian into English where the words are still legible. Some sections are too damaged or written too illegibly to be deciphered.
May 8, 1689
At home my wife and children await my return. If not for them, I am not sure that I would ever return to land. Seawater runs though my veins; I belong on a boat. I think my eldest daughter feels the same call to the waters as I do. Before I last set sail, she begged me to take her with me. "But Papá," she cried, "it would be a great adventure!"
"A ship is no place for a girl such as yourself," I told her. The waters would be too happy to take a young beauty like my Margarita from me.
The captain and his first mate picked up a few new crew members a week ago before we left my home port. One of the recruits has caught my eye. He is young and skinny with pale, inexperienced hands. He hides his face from me, his black hair like a curtain concealing his features from my view. The boy speaks infrequently, likely because his voice has not deepened. At least he is fast on his feet and quick at learning.
I believe his name is Martín Martínez. I shall watch him closely.
The waters have been rough and the sky cloudy. … says there shall be a storm within the week. I have heard the men talking about having seen shadows in the waters next to the ship. Some sailors believe the shadows are the merfolk, the fish-people. Martín even spoke once to say that he saw one show its head above the water and that it was staring at him. More than that the boy would not say. I hope Martín was tired and imagined what he saw. If not, I fear trying times are nearing.
Dark clouds are visible in the distance and the wind has changed directions. Many men are preparing … for the storm now because in a few hours we will be at war with the water and wind. I shall go help them now.
I am exhausted and no longer know what I can do save pray to Dios. Our ship and its cargo made it through the storm with minimal damage and losses. The crew did not make it through the storm so well.
Let me begin where I last left off. All the sailors were battening the hatches, reefing the sails, and other preparations. Before we sailed headfirst into the storm, a few individuals were told to go below decks. There they could stay out of the way while keeping eyes on the water the ship was taking in. Martín was one of the men told to stay off the deck.
The water rocked the ship violently and large waves constantly washed on to the bow. Many sailors fastened ropes around their waists to one of the masts of the ship so as to not be washed away, myself included.
I do not know what Martín thought when he decided to emerge from below deck and expose himself directly to the elements. However, as he was not expected to be out and trying to help us, he managed to get in the way and everything went wrong at the same time. Andrés took a few steps back without checking behind him and bumped into Martín. The boy lost his balance and slipped. As he tried to stand up, large wave splashed up and the boy went overboard.
It is terrifying when someone falls off the ship. You must react immediately or risk leaving the fallen member behind to drown or get eaten by sea creatures. Jumping in the water puts others at risk, but ropes tossed into the water are easily lost to drowning sailors.
Andrés was the spotter, keeping his eyes on Martín in the water. "Man overboard on the port side!" he cried, his voice loud and clear despite the wind and rain working to muffle his words.
I rushed to the side of the ship to … needed first to heal the poor boy if he was recovered. At the same time, Miguel tossed a length of rope with a loop at the end down to Martín, who was struggling to stay afloat in the large waves. The Martín's arm brushed the rope. I held my breath, hoping that the boy was going to be saved. But alas, a wave pushed Martín roughly against the side of the boat, knocking him unconscious. I cursed and adjusted the rope tied around my waist, planning on leaping into the dark waters to where Martín sunk beneath the waves. Before I could jump, a hand grabbed my arm. Andrés pointed at a figure in the water.
A head popped up in the water near the back of our ship. Fair hair was plastered with water to its face and neck. The head vanished under the water, but a fish tail … to the crew watching. Less than a heartbeat later, two heads broke the surface of the water behind the ship. One was the same from before, but the other head had dark hair and appeared to be coughing. The dark haired one slumped, resting on the shoulder of the fair haired one.
I lost sight of them as a large wave much like the one that carried Martín overboard pounded against the deck of the ship.
"Martín is lost to us," I heard Andrés declare. "Get back to work! We have a ship to sail, unless you wish to follow the boy to the bottom of the ocean."
Men muttered prayers to Dios as they resumed their activities until well after the storm was behind us. Only then did many of us get some rest. The crew members who had been below deck during the storm came out and manned the ship while we tried to sleep.
It felt like I had only been asleep for a short amount of time when Miguel shook me awake and said, "Marco, come quick! You will not believe this." He led me to the beakhead of the ship and pointed out to the water. Not too far in the distance was a dinghy with only one person lying down in it.
"Martín!" I exclaimed, recognizing the small figure …
When Martín's boat was close enough to the ship, one of the men dropped a rope ladder down the side of the ship. As the doctor aboard this ship, I decided to go down to Martín first to make sure he was capable of being moved. I descended the ladder quickly. I kept one hand on the lifeline as I stepped on to Martín's dinghy. When I turned to examine the boy, I was shocked to see the damp shirt Martín wore clung to feminine body curves. Her bosom rose and fell with each breath she took, showing that she was just sleeping. Her arm was slung over her face, the crook of her arm shielding her eyes from the soft morning light.
I pushed her arm away from her face and gasped. The girl disguised as Martín Martínez was Margarita Marendilla Márquez, my daughter.
I whispered her name and her dark eyes fluttered open. "Papá? I do not feel well."
There was no point in getting cross with her. I told her to hop on my back so I could carry her up the side of the ship. She wrapped her arms and legs tightly around me. I climbed back onto the deck of the ship, not caring about the dinghy as the ship continued past it.
On deck, the crew swarmed us, wishing to see the boy they thought had died in the storm. As soon as Margarita dropped from my back and on to her own two feet, I pulled my daughter in front of me so I could hold her to my chest. "I need a private audience with the captain," I said. Captain Fernández, who had been standing nearby, nodded. I picked my girl up and followed him to his private quarters.
When we reached the room, I set Margarita down in a chair and told the captain about my daughter. He was surprised, but took the news well. He even offered Margarita his bed while she recovered.
The captain then left me with my daughter to share the news with the rest of the crew. I examined Margarita more thoroughly than I had when she was floating in the dinghy. That brings me to where I am now.
Margarita is running a fever, but is mostly unhurt. She has a large bruise on her forehead and what appears to be a bite mark on the side of her left leg, right above her ankle. The wound concerns me, so I poured some vinegar on it and wrapped it up.
My girl is resting now, but I asked earlier her what she remembers after going overboard. She responded that she recalls nothing but me waking her.
Margarita's condition worries me. Her bruise has faded, but her temperature has neither risen nor fallen from the fever it is now. The mark on her leg – which Margarita insists on calling a bite mark even though she cannot remember how she got it – has healed over. Black markings the exact same shape and size of the bite mark still remain on her skin. She is also starting to complain about aches and itches around her throat and shoulders. …
I have heard a few men grumbling. "Women bring bad luck to a ship," they said. I wonder: since only Margarita has suffered on this trip, do women bring bad luck to ships or do the ships bring bad luck to women?
My daughter moved out of the captain's quarters and into our sickbay, also known as my glorified supply closet. There is enough room for a one person to lay down, maybe two if you re-arrange the crates and do not mind the lack of personal space. There is also a porthole (although no cannon to go with it, due to the medical nature of the room) offering light and fresh air.
Margarita's fever went down, but now she refuses to let me perform even the most simple of check ups on her. That worries not only the doctor part of me, but also the father. She acts strange and almost never speaks. Every time I go see her she only sits and stares out the porthole. I worry about …
We docked into port two days ago. We will be here for two more weeks before heading to our next stop in …
I tried to get Margarita off the ship, but found that her legs were locked together as if rope had been tied around them. She can flex and extend at her hip, knee, and ankle joints, but it pains her to separate her legs. Because of this, my girl is unable to walk. At best she can shuffle around a little bit.
She asked me with tears in her eyes, "Papá, what is wrong with me? My neck is not right and my legs are all bad. Am I going to die?"
"No," I tried to soothe her. "Of course you are not going to die." Then I pushed her hair to the side to reveal slits along her lower neck. They resembled fish gills so much that sight of them sent a shiver down my spine.
What is my daughter becoming?
She must have caught the look on my face because she turned away from me to look out of the porthole. She rubbed the tears out of her eyes and cleared her face of all emotion. She whispered, "I remember scales brushing up against me and feeling warm skin in the cold water."
I tried to put my arm around her shoulder to comfort her, but Margarita shrugged my arm off. "Look at the bite mark now," she ordered.
I knelt down on the floor and pushed away the piece of fabric Margarita had tied to cover the mark. Underneath I saw the black mark, though there was a startling new addition: little fish scales were growing around it. It was something that should have been impossible.
"Ay Dios mio," I breathed, trying to think of what I could do.
Nothing more was said between us. I left the room to go pace the main deck and think.
Margarita is gone.
While I was off the ship my daughter convinced one of the crew, José, to take her to the deck. She proceeded to jump overboard and into the water. Though José leaped into the water after her, he could not find her and she never surfaced.
When I returned and was told what happened, I had no idea what to do. My dear Margarita, my eldest daughter, gone? No, impossible! Lost, I wandered over to the sickbay, where I had last seen her. On the floor I found a piece of paper. On it she had written:
I need to go now. Tell Mamá, Vulmaro, Zulimar, and María that I love them all very much and miss them. Do not let any of them cry too much because I am not really gone. At the very least, I will always be in your hearts, just like you all are in mine. And do not blame yourself for what what has happened to me, Papá. It is nobody's fault but my own for sneaking away from home and getting myself into this misadventure. It is my fault for going overboard during that storm. It is my fault for catching this mermaid disease.
The mermaid disease. That is what I call my condition. I dreamed last night that I had a fish tail in place of my legs, so why not romanticize this malady of mine? Plus, I have scales on my legs, gills on my neck, and the urge to swim. I might as well be a mermaid.
I am sorry for leaving you this way. There is nothing left for me on land. I do not know how much worse this mermaid disease will get and I do not want you to obsess over finding a remedy. Live your life and do not worry about me or what might have happened had you done something different. Que sera, sera.
Remember, I love you and always will.
With all my affection,
We are back on open waters. We only have a few more short stops in … home soon. It shatters my heart thinking of how the family will react when I tell them of Margarita. Oh, my dear Margarita. I keep looking at the water, hoping to see her. A few times I thought that I saw something in the corner of my eye, but Miguel jokes that I am becoming senile in an attempt to lighten my mood.
It seems the waters have taken my Margarita from me after all.
Feb 28, 2014: Just to be clear, this story is not about Margarita or Marco. It's set in the modern day and will focus on a girl names Kelsea. TMD will be a very mixed-up retelling of Beauty and the Beast (and I'm not just talking about the fact that there are mermaids). I think explaining any more will a bit confusing. Hopefully this crazy idea of mine will actually work. Just bear with me! ;)
Thank you so much for reading. I hope this first chapter isn't horrible/disappointing. If you have any questions, feel free to ask!
(Whew. It feels good to finally post this.)