by Meg Grimm, the Story Spinner
Finnegan Rutherport lived by the sea. A terrible accident had taken his voice many years ago before any villagers could remember what it sounded like.
Every day, the old fisherman donned a different medallion around his neck that he had acquired from sea adventures earlier in life. Each medallion represented a god or goddess of another land. Since the old man had no religion of his own, he thought he would try his luck with venerating any deity he could before passing on to the afterlife.
One morning, Finnegan went out on the water in his small skiff and knew immediately that something was amiss. The sky was a strange color, and no pelicans cawed from above. Villagers thought a storm approached, but the old man knew this was no storm. What it was, he was not yet sure.
As the morning waned on, no fish were caught. Finnegan gave up and turned the skiff to shore. When he was about a half of a mile from the dock, he was surprised to see young Jim, a village boy, splashing about in the waves.
What a brave lad, Finnegan thought to himself, as no one else had ventured to the water that day.
Then, Finnegan witnessed a most terrible thing followed by a most miraculous thing. A monstrous shark fin rose out of the waves and charged the boy. The child saw it, too, and froze. Finnegan paddled as fast as he could while the shark circled, one, two, three times, and then dropped under the water.
The old man winced know what was coming. But just as suddenly, the fin appeared again. This time rushing away.
The boy left the sea and fell down as though dead upon the sand. When Finnegan arrived, he saw in astonishment that Jim was only fainted. The old man lifted the small body into his arms, and as he did, a glint caught his eye. The child also wore a medallion. It was the Christian cross.
After Finnegan returned Jim to his family in the village, the fisherman went home to his isolated shack across the sandbar and promptly switched his medallion.
Meanwhile, the fishing community had become aware of the shark. When others spotted its dorsal fin glittering like a diamond mountain, it was determined to be a Great White and the largest they had ever recorded. No one dared step foot in the water. Not even fishermen entered their boats for fear of being capsized.
The next evening, truly strange things began happening.
That night, the village awoke to a woman’s screams for her husband. Young Jim's father had left his bed in the middle of the night without a trace. His mother had followed her husband's footprints to the twisted pier, but there was no sign of him. Search parties were formed. The mainland was not far, but one would need a boat to travel there, and none were missing. The man seemed to have vanished into thin air.
But Jim’s father was only the beginning. One by one, a new female shriek pierced the nights as other wives awakened to empty bedsides. Grief-stricken islanders searched endlessly for their men, but to no avail. The fluorescent fish taunted them all the while, its fin ever slicing through the waves near their shores.
They were cursed, they now believed, and it was the monster shark that had brought it upon them.
“We must kill it,” announced young Jim while they all gathered in the Presbyterian meeting house one morning. “That’s what Father would do.”
“The boy is right,” they agreed, and all the strongest, bravest and best men who remained planned to attack the shark on the marrow. All but Finnegan Rufferport.
The old man sat in the back of the wooden house with no way to tell them they were wrong. For Finnegan now knew the cause of the trouble. He had noticed another fin in the waters.
That night in the shadows beneath the sea, a mermaid smiled at her pet. The red eyes of the shark followed her graceful form as she swam toward the village again.
Above the waves, the moon hid behind overcast skies. Rain and wind surged toward the island, but the villagers had gone to bed, resting a little easier now that they had a plan.
The sea vixen came ashore with a light splash. Magic swirled about her until green skin became as pearl, and human legs appeared in the place of fin. Around her neck hung a golden chain entwined with sea weed and upon it an enchanted lute, which she held to her emerald lips and began to play.
Across the island, heroes rose from slumber. Fearless Finnegan Rufferport himself started awake.
Across his room, a woman with golden hair stared at him. Her eyes churned with all the colors of the changing tide and she bid him come with her. Bound by enchantment, he did.
The illusion led Finnegan out of his shack. He stumbled over sand dunes and rocks but felt nothing. He saw only darkness and the beautiful woman bathed in strange green light.
When he reached the shore, Finnegan fell into a cluster of other men. None could see or feel one another, but each chased his own fantasy.
Meanwhile, the mermaid danced ahead of them all playing wildly. They followed like corpses in a hellish parade. The mermaid twirled through crashing, swirling ocean sprays. Waves splashed high and fierce as she passed. Frothy sparkles lit the air as sea-foam fireflies. Up flew her free hand while she played her song and spun in her witching dance to the twisting pier.
Meanwhile, Finnegan’s dream girl turned again to smile at him, but he caught a glimpse of magic in her liquid eyes. It was only a passing moment, but he knew he was under a spell. He quickly tore his gaze away from her.
All at once, the magic vanished from him, and a shove came from behind. Then another. Finnegan looked about to see transfixed men stumbling onward with no regard to him. Where was he? He could hear the surf.
The mermaid felt the absence of magic when it drained from Finnegan. She spotted him in the crowd, pointed a finger, and at once, the yellow-haired angel was back again, soft and sweet and summoning like a warm breeze. Finnegan traipsed on.
Wet wood of the pier quaked and creaked as heavy footfalls tread upon it. The mermaid’s eyes sparkled in delight. Below, her pet waited.
Finnegan’s golden illusion turned and urged him to come quickly. This was it, he could sense. If he went to her now, it would be his doom. With great effort, he closed his eyes and stopped moving. After a moment, the magic dissolved again.
Wind whipped him about. Where was he now? That creaking...
Finnegan slowly opened his eyes to see dark waves churning below. His toes dangled at the very edge of the pier. Before he could do anything more to save himself, a hard knock came from another doomed soul trotting behind him. It sent the old fisherman falling helplessly through the air. Wide jaws of a shark opened below and swallowed Finnegan Rufferport whole.
A thick, tarry throat contracted to push the man deeper and deeper until he slipped into a large, dark pocket. The air of the space was so bitter that Finnegan would rather not breathe at all, but since he could, there was only one thing to do. In the belly of the great fish, he felt for his medallion and prayed to the God it represented. For the first time in all his life, he prayed with all his heart.
Far above, as the last of the men dropped from the pier, the mermaid dove into the water after them. Once her pet had consumed the men, she began to swim away, but the shark did not follow her. She called, but it turned away. To her surprise, it began to swim toward the shallow reef. Sensing a higher power at work, the mermaid glared and charged furiously into the depths, abandoning her beloved.
The shark’s body convulsed in sharp pains. Puffs of blood spewed from its gills as something was forced through its insides.
In one agonizing thrust, the shark beached itself upon the village shores. It desperately spit out Finnegan Rufferport and died.
Morning sunrays pierced through dark clouds. Islanders rushed to the beach. When they helped Finnegan to his feet, he frantically pointed to the torso of the giant. Widows fetched their fish knives and sliced open the flesh. To everyone’s astonishment, the missing men pushed through the opening and fell to the ground alive.
When the people looked to Finnegan, the voiceless fishermen could do nothing save hold up his medallion, the one that matched young Jim's. The ashamed villagers wondered why they had not sought the same help from the start.
For all the years that followed, nobody ever forgot Finnegan Rufferport. Especially Jim, who grew up to be the most brave of all the fishermen to ever live on the island, and the most devout. He was the one who always told this story, and that is why it is remembered. But most of all, nobody ever forgot who really saved them from evil that summer. They all lived humbly and gratefully from that time on, and wary of magic.
Don't forget to subscribe to this story blog to receive notifications of new stories.
*Inspiration for the shark: A mix of The Meg by Steve Alten and the book of Jonah from the Bible, where Jonah, after being swallowed by a great fish, found he could still breathe and pray inside its belly. The fish spit Jonah out onto the beach so that he could do what he had originally been tasked, which would result in bringing glory to God.
*The village location: The Outer Banks
*This is one of my tales that I wrote when I lived on the Outer Banks in my early twenties, long ago. I thought about mermaids and pirates a lot in those days.
Copyright by the author Meg Grimm.