Monstrous May, Pagham-verse, world building

#MonstrousMay Day 10: Mermaids

Graphic and Prompt Credit: Johannes T. Evans

Crustaceous Merfolk

A piece I wrote last year for Monstrous May… Reprise!

Under the stars on a summer night, a land shoal drunkenly scatters. One of the group makes his way to Unger Point, and rests where the tide laps at the edge of the shingle, on its way in. He lies down, not knowing the tide is coming in, and the water laps closer until it is around his ankles. 

With the rising water come the folk. 

    Usually, the folk have their fill of sand worms and picnic remains, but every so often there is a feast like this. They are quiet, emerging from the foam on jointed legs. On land, their shells are slick and shiny, and their skin reflects the inky navy of the night sky. Their burly claws encase tender, muscular flesh, made all the more succulent for sharks in deeper waters by feasts like these. 

    They mass when the feast is spotted. 

Some smaller of their kin have arrived first and are already peppering the body with their starred shapes, making tiny, high-pitched burbles to attract the others. The starfolk glisten in the night, phosphorescing, and the body seems to glimmer with diamonds. They have swarmed to the easiest places – the eyes, the soft lips, which had been parted in sleep, and so fill up the mouth cavity. Starfolk clamp down with their venomous bellies, and feed. The body is already swollen with the reaction from their bites. The enzymes break down the fat and flesh from the inside, and what bubbles into the mouth is sucked up by their pulsing, glowing fronds. Chubby cheeks and big, glazed orbs for eyes make them look cherubic, their bulbous heads unencumbered by cartilage or bone, blown up into the squishy mockery of human babies by a system of air and water sacs they use for propulsion. The puckered rosebud lips are for this purpose – the feeding happens underneath the starred limbs. 

    The shellfolk are much bigger and enjoy the results of the starfolkโ€™s enzymes. They, in turn, break down the bones and allow access to the marrow, break through skin and allow the starfolk to feed within the wounds. There is enough for all. 

    The body has four limbs, tubular and jointed like the shellfolk do, but most of the feast is in the trunk of the torso. 

    The shellfolk break pieces off with their claws, shredding the meat as the internal organs break down and ooze into gel. The body twitches feebly – it was probably alive when the starfolk began, but cannot last much longer. The lungs wheeze and gurgle but this could be from the shaking of the body and pressure upon it now that the shellfolk are there. Starfolk drop off the parts the shellfolk are stripping, plopping onto the sand and scuttling back to swarm the dripping wounds. 

The shellfolk have eyes like sheep on retractable stalks, and they roll in their sockets, assessing the feast. Seal-heads with human features sniff out their prey. They discourse over food with clicks and whistles. They feed from two mouthparts – the ones that might pass for human in the face that could not, and the mandibles located in their chests, at the lip of the shells that fuse to their tough, seal-hide skin. Their skin ripples in reflection of the changing sky, a chameleonic wetsuit. 

Mastication takes place in the human-like mouthparts and the stomach, which is filled with grinders. The softer flesh is tasted, enjoyed. Bone and gristle, as well as less tasty morsels – a matter of personal preference – is delivered direct to the stomach through the lower mandibles for nourishment. 

The starfolk burble as the tide creeps over the body, now thoroughly dismembered and split apart. The patch of shingle where it lay is full of waving claws, jointed legs that scuttle and shift the pebbles, and tiny sparkling blobs that plop off into the water when sated, bobbing back out across the waves in myriads of bloated crystalline lights. 

There is little left. Some cracked bones picked clean. Some ribbons of intestine, shredded and lying on the stones like limp strips of bladderwrack. The sea will wash it away and fish will tuck in, and the shelled folk will submerge and scuttle back to deeper waters. 

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