THE DROP (Short Story)
In celebration of Halloween, my favorite holiday, here's a reprint of my short story, The Drop. It's my take on the old mermaid legend. It was first published (in a slightly different form) in Horror Garage, # 9, in 2004.
Michael B. (The Prince of Space)
Cyrell Biggs was just about to pop Buster Plump upside the head when the Colored Mermaid stuck her head out of Lake Armstrong and gave him the finger.
Cyrell dropped the lug wrench Moniqua Plump had given him to “beat the fat dog- killer’s brains out” with.
“Goddamn it!” Buster said. “Where’d he go?”
“Boss, I just saw---,” Cyrell said.
“Stanky Methuselah,” Buster said. “Biggest catfish anyone in this lousy town ever seen smelled or heard of. I had him hooked.”
Cyrell tapped Buster on the shoulder on- account- of he was looking in the wrong direction. The Mermaid was still there, bobbing about twenty feet from where they floated in the Sweet Minnie, Buster’s tired little dinghy. She held one elegant black arm out of the water and extended her middle finger.
Why, she’s ugly as two- week- old bladder panties, Cyrell thought. He thumped Buster again. “Look!”
“What, man?” Buster said.
The Colored Mermaid dove. Cyrell saw that long black tail uncurl, its flukes glistening in the moonlight, before she sank out of sight.
“I saw her,” he said. “She--- It --- daaahhhh.”
Buster rolled his eyes -and his chins- and smacked Cyrell upside his head. The smack startled a nearby heron, who uttered a suggestive squawk and took off.
“C---Colored Mermaid,” Cyrell gasped. “I saw the Colored Mermaid.”
Still scowling, Buster glanced out over the water. The freckles on his nose twitched, then his eyes squeenched up even tighter.
“Well now,” he said. “You might be right.”
Cyrell ogled Buster like a neutered coonhound with a new set of nuts. “You believe me, Boss?”
“Hell yes,” Buster said. “Seen her myself once.”
He glared at the patch of black water from whence the mermaid had flipped them off. “She probably stole Ol’ Stanky right off my hook!”
Something big splashed in the dark.
“Anytime you’re ready, bitch!” Buster hollered.
“When’s the first time you seen her?” Cyrell said.
“Back when I was--- fifteen," Buster belched. "Me and my daddy was night-fishin’ over the Drop.”
Cyrell shuddered. Everyone in Pepper’s Flip, Louisiana, Pop. 1643 knew about Lake Armstrong--- and the Drop.
“My daddy told me it’s almost a mile deep, Cyrell said.
“Your daddy was stupider than you are,” Buster said. "They got a network of bottomless caves down there. You swim down too deep and you’ll wake up in Hong Kong with lava shootin’ outta your ass.”
“Yeah?” Cyrell said.
“Drop’s never been measured though,” Buster said. “’Cuz nobody gives a raggedy goddamn.”
“I heard the ghosts of lynched runaway slaves be walkin’ ‘round down there,” Cyrell said, breathlessly- He knew he’d come out here to do something but he’d forgotten what it was- “When the moon is full and the mist gets heavy you can hear them screamin’.”
Buster snorted. “Screamin’ for what?”
Cyrell glanced around before answering. “Human flesh.”
“Hmmmmph,” Buster grunted.
“I heard the FBI even come out here lookin’ for UFOs back in ‘77,” Cyrell said.
“Awww bullshit,” Buster said. He produced one of his hand-rolled Dominican cigars and lit up. “Wasn’t no flyin’ saucer snatched my pap. Colored Mermaid done that. I seen it.”
“She took Big Pooty?” Cyrell said. “But you told me he got drunk and run off with the Panther Girl from the African Soul Circus.”
Buster plopped his butt down, plucked a fifty-ounce bottle of Black Ram out of the cooler and cracked it open.
The night heaved a warm sigh.
“Snatched my daddy out this very boat,” Buster said. “Same way your mama snatched the wig off Loquatia Jenkins’s head, down at the Uppity Crab.”
Cyrell winced as Buster brayed: Mama out-drank men three times her weight in that same establishment most Saturday nights. He dog-paddled through another blast of Buster’s ridicule, a sooty waft of cheap beer and cigar smoke that hecatombed the hairs in his nostrils.
“You know what I enjoy?” Buster said. “Drinkin’ beer, smokin’ cigars and stompin’ a mudhole in yo’ stupid ass.”
Nearby, a geriatric skunk soiled its nest. Cyrell’s excitement faded into the crappy backdrop against which the rest of his miserable life was set.
“No one except me is gonna believe you seen the Mermaid,” Buster said. “Nobody’d give a damn no how.”
Cyrell nodded: In a town full of broke Blacks, poor Mexicans, indigent Indians and White Trash, Cyrell Biggs had the bottom of the totem pole all to himself.
“Cousin,” Buster observed. “You ain’t just dumb. You got the double distinction of bein’ ignorant too.”
“I ain’t bright,” Cyrell agreed.
“Boy, you make Junebug Bicks look like a road scholar. And he been brain-dead since they fished his ass outta this lake.”
Cyrell nodded. Everybody knew the story: How Junebug got drunk one night and took a header off Ellington Pier; how, when they found Junebug lying face-down on the shore a few hours later, he’d been bled half-dry from slashes on his chest and thighs and some other places that made Cyrell squeeze his knees together if he thought about it too much.
“Cyrell,” Buster said. “You’re worse than dumb: You’re nigga- dumb, and that’s ten times dumber than regular dumb.”
Buster cracked Cyrell across the back of the head-
-and Cyrell’s last piece of strawberry Bubble-rific bubble gum shot out of his mouth and hit the water with a loud plunk!
“I’m talkin’ to you, man!”
“Sorry, Boss,” Cyrell said.
“I din’t become owner of Buster’s Barbecue Empire to be
disrespected by an ungrateful asshole like you.”
“You ain’t sorry yet,” Buster grumbled. “But you gonna be.”
Cyrell blinked. “What?”
“Take us out,” Buster said. “Catfish bite better over the Drop.”
As he turned away, Buster’s penny loafer snagged the business end of Moniqua’s lug wrench.
“What the hell is that doin’ here?”
Cyrell grabbed the wrench, trying to ignore the flush of guilt burning up the back of his neck. Buster was glaring at him the way a night owl eyes a back-broke rat.
Happily ever after, muchacho.
The thought of Moniqua waiting set Cyrell’s heart a ‘flutter.
You make sure he’s good and drunk, she’d told him. Then pop him and dump him.
Cyrell steered the Sweet Minnie toward deep water. He coughed, trying to hide the secret little smile he got whenever he thought about the way he loved Moniqua.
‘Specially that little noise she makes when we’re mem-o-ratin Chin- Chin, he thought.
Moniqua’s dog Chin- Chin was the reason Cyrell got
lucky three nights a week behind the animal shelter out on Route 9.
“Buster threw my baby into a cremation canister while he was sleeping,” Moniqua told Cyrell one day. “Fat son- of- a bitch paid the Animal Control man a hundred bucks to take a long lunch while my Chin-Chin burned.”
Sometimes Moniqua wanted to “commemorate” the little Shih-Tzu on top of all seven cremation canisters. Sometimes Cyrell had to limp home after commemorating Chin-Chin all night long.
Oh yeah, Cyrell mused.
Moniqua didn’t seem to mind that the Lord Jesus Christ had given Cyrell the brain of a half-dead Chinese jackass. Then again, Cyrell figured there was one hacked- off Asian burro gunning for the man who got his cock & balls to boot.
Ay, muchacho, Moniqua said, the night they christened Chin-Chin’s canister. That’s a lotta chorizo.
The Lord had been good to Cyrell in that respect.
Around that time, Shed Wilbon- the ex-con who fixed trucks down at Hy’s Auto Repair- came sniffing around. Pretty soon he and Moniqua started carrying on like they were sharing a dirty little joke without letting Cyrell in on the punchline.
“I said hand me another beer!” Buster yelled. “You’d best pull your head out your ass, Cyrell Biggs!”
Buster unleashed a gastric detonation that offended a family of gators lounging in the reeds. Caught unawares, the big bull performed an involuntary “death roll,” righted himself, and sank quietly out of sight.
Buster was glaring at Cyrell in that strange, hungry way again. Then he looked out over the water.
“You don’t see her when she gets you,” he said. “Night she took Big Pooty, I only caught a flash of that long black tail, slidin’ around my daddy’s throat like a big wet cottonmouth. Then he was gone.”
“Jeeesus,” Cyrell said. “Would’ a been neat to set a eyeball on her. Like that Goat- sucker they got down in---”
Cyrell’s voice tapered off. Then he shot to his feet.
“Hey, Boss! You think they might could put me on one of them TV shows about para-natural experiences?”
Buster cussed and belched at the same time.
“God-bhrraaapp your ignorant ahhrrauuggg, Cyrell. Some amphibulous whore snatches my lovin’ daddy and makes me an orphan. What the hell’s so ‘neat’ about that?”
“Boy,’bout the only thing more mentally inert than you might be a bag o’ hammers,” Buster said. “And that slut I married, of course.”
“Don’t---” Cyrell rasped, before he could stop himself.
But Buster was rollin' and he didn’t notice.
“Between you and that no- account egg sack it’s a wonder I ain’t treated myself to a tri-state killing spree.”
Hit him, Cyrell thought. Shut that fat mouth for good.
“Reckon I’ll start with Moniqua,” Buster said. “Gut her like the hog she is and put my wallet outta its misery.”
Cyrell chewed his bottom lip, swallowed liquid iron.
“Hand me my goddamn rod,” Buster said. “Came out here to catch me some catfish and here I sit, talkin’ to a natural- born fool.”
Cyrell stood there with blood dribbling down his chin.
“Oh, move outta my way, dummy.”
Buster shoved Cyrell out of the way and bent over.
Cyrell drew out the wrench. He gripped it with both hands and raised it the over his head. Then he closed his left eye and drew a bead on the hole in Buster’s afro.
“I know you two been doin’ it,” Buster said.
Cyrell’s eye popped open. “What?”
Buster stood up. Instead of his fishing rod, he was pointing his Redhawk .44 Magnum at Cyrell’s nuts.
“Y’all must think I’m stupid too,” Buster said.
“I got eyes everywhere, Cyrell. Ears too.”
“Got me a certain lady-friend who uses special equipment to keep up with Queen Moniqua when I’m gone.”
“Special equipment?” Cyrell whispered.
“Video, Cy,” Buster said. “I got forty hours of you and my wife humpin’ like rats.” He lifted the Redhawk. “You stabbed me in the back, motherfucker.”
African terror teamed up with Baptist guilt and sucker-
punched Cyrell in the kidneys. He raised his other hand, the one without the wrench.
“I---I gotta pee,” he whispered.
“Show it to me.”
Cyrell froze. “What you say?”
Buster stepped closer, his eyes hooded, a hulking silhouette in the half-light of the full moon.
“Show me what she’s been cheatin’ for, Cyrell, or I’ll put a bullet through it.”
Buster thumbed back the hammer on the Redhawk-
-and Cyrell reached down with his left hand, unzipped his pants and let them fall to his feet.
Buster stared for a long time. Finally, he nodded.
“You two was ‘bout the only family I had in this world,” he said. “That’s a sorry- ass thing for a man like me to admit to a man like you. Pull them britches up.”
Cyrell complied. Meanwhile the malignant puffer fish living in his bladder giggled and doubled its size.
“We gonna settle this like men,” Buster said. “If you win, you get the girl. I don’t hold no grudges.”
Cyrell’s brain was screaming around the inside of his
skull like a Hot Wheels racer on a bright- orange plastic loop-de-loop.
“What if you win?” he said.
Buster waggled the Redhawk. “Me and Moniqua gonna make our own video,” he said. “Something featurin’ a lot of close-ups of my foot breakin’ off in her ass.”
Cyrell’s racer flipped off the track. He’d had Moniqua every way that lust, opportunity and business hours at the animal shelter allowed. He couldn’t have been more busted if he’d filled himself with helium and tried to float up a porcupine’s ass- crack.
“You--- can’t--- hurt her.” he said.
“You and me gonna settle up fair and square,” Buster said. “Soon’s you drop that nigger-beater.”
Cyrell’s eyes narrowed. Buster was as slow as molasses in January when he wasn’t drunk, and he made Cyrell do all the heavy lifting at work. Cyrell, on the other hand, could move like good gossip when he wanted to. And he was wiry and tough into the bargain.
A smile flickered at the corners of his mouth: He was beginning to think he might finish the evening with the same number of testicles he began it with. He dropped the lug wrench and raised his fists.
“I been fightin’ since I’m two years old,” Cyrell said.
Buster smirked. “Fightin’ common sense.”
Then he shot Cyrell in the chest.
“Fair and square!” Cyrell screamed as he fell. “You said fair and square!”
Buster grinned and kicked him in the nuts.
“Didn’t build a culinary empire so some half- Mexican whore and her back-stabbin’ retard could take it away.”
Then he stooped and grabbed the lug wrench.
“Been good to you, Cyrell. Ever since mama made me play with you ‘cuz you was feeble in the head.”
Buster raised the monkey wrench and brought it down hard on Cyrell’s right kneecap. Cyrell howled.
“I gave you a job, man,” Buster said. “Good job too.”
Buster belched, and smashed Cyrell’s other kneecap.
Cyrell whooped in a great shuddering breath to scream.The hole in his chest whistled Dixie. He scuttled backward, his legs dragging behind him through the blood trail he left in his wake.
Buster minced over the blood, hoisted his foot-
“Smilin’ faces tell lies,” he sang.
-and brought three-hundred and fifty pounds worth of beer, barbecue and bullshit down on Cyrell’s ankle.
“Snap. Crackle. Pop,” he said.
Pain put on a Fourth of July Extravagana in Cyrell’s brain. He heaved his upper body up onto the side and stretched out his right hand out over the water.
“Comin’--- comin’ to save you, honey,” he said.
Blood droplets dripped from his fingers like rubies thrown into the abyss. The droplets left a thin black film on the surface for a moment. Then they were absorbed.
“Cold--- Hurts,” Cyrell gasped.
Buster’s beard stubble scraped his left ear.
“Ain’t even a piece of what I’m gonna do to your girlfriend, Cy.”
“Don’t---don’t hurt her,” Cyrell said.
Far below them, a ripple of light flickered in the depths of the lake. Buster didn’t see the light, not even when, a moment later, it flickered again, closer this time. But Cyrell saw it.
Something was rising toward them.
“Help me,” Cyrell whispered.
“I tried to help you, asshole.”
Buster grabbed Cyrell and headbutted him. Cyrell staggered and almost fell over the side, but Buster grabbed him. He lifted Cyrell off his feet and crushed him to his chest in a bear hug.
“Ooopppshh,” Cyrell said.
Buster looked down: Two of Cyrell’s teeth clung to the pocket of his Walmart Xtra-Portly bowling shirt.
“Xtra-portly my ass,” Cyrell giggled.
Buster went crazy then. He beat Cyrell with his fishing rod; beat him some more with the wrench; even busted a full Black Ram upside his head. Finally, when he’d run out of blunt objects, Buster shoved Cyrell's head underwater.
Cold rushed in and shoved twin railroad spikes up Cyrell’s nose. His ruptured lung didn’t permit the luxury of holding his breath so he sucked ice instead.
Stupid, he thought. Ignorant. Mentally inert. Idiot.
Then he saw her.
Through water as black as the heart of midnight she rose, shimmering like the memory of a childhood dream. The Mermaid slid between bright beams of moonlight, slipping into shadow one moment, aglow with mutant sea-shine the next. Ghostlights danced along fan-like ridges lining her skull and spine. Her eyes shone like pearls in the gloom. Her skin was the color of pitch, smooth and scaled like the new hide of a great black serpent.
Buster hauled Cyrell half-out of the water.
“We’re right over the Drop, cousin.” he said. “But don’t worry. You’ll have company down there real soon.”
Then Buster let him go. Cyrell tried to swim but his legs were dead stumps and he sank like a stone.
But instead of sinking Cyrell was rising, swept upward in the Mermaid’s wake. Her momentum slammed him against the hull of the Sweet Minnie. A moment later, his head broke the surface and he heard someone screaming.
“You might’a got my pap, but you ain’t gettin’ me!”
It was Buster.
Cyrell clawed his way up the side of the boat. He managed to grab Buster’s cooler but the top flipped up and smacked him in the mouth.
Cyrell held on anyway.
Above him in the Sweet Minnie, Buster’s Redhawk went off. The explosion seized the muscles in Cyrell’s neck like a vise. Buster’s second shot tore the air over his head. Then there was a sound like a sharpened Louisville Slugger punching through a sack of pig guts and Buster squealed.
“Hurts! Ahhhhhhh, that huuurrts!”
Cyrell closed his eyes, but he couldn’t block out those sounds: neck bone- twisting, frog leg- sucking sounds that pan-fried the meat between his ears; couldn’t do anything except cling to the Sweet Minnie until the sounds stopped and his strength gave out.
Then he let go.
Safe now, he thought, as the waters closed over his head. Safe now.Cyrell took that with him, down into the dark.
He awoke to the sound of teeth grinding against bone.
The pain in his legs was gone. Cyrell looked down and he understood why.
Buster’s corpse gaped up at him from the weeds covering the sandy bottom. His throat, chest and stomach had been torn open; made feasting places for the mermaid’s children.
Nearly three- dozen semi-human shapes arrowed through the water, their cries filling Cyrell’s head with clicks and moans. A young female, half Cyrell’s size, rose to peer at him. Her skin was pale, her eyes twin pearls. Something that was not hair surrounded her head; a white flurry of thin tendrils. The feelers reached for Cyrell but with a flick of her head, the little mermaid pulled them back. The glowing edge of her tail sliced once at the skin on Cyrell’s bare chest and withdrew.
She was carrying Buster’s face in her hands, black claws hooked through empty eye sockets.
The Colored Mermaid floated out of the darkness.
She was nearly invisible in the shadows save for the burning streamer of red mist rising from two holes between a double row of nipples lining her chest: crimson testament to Buster’s marksmanship. The children encircled her, grasping, darting in and out of the incandescent blood cloud through which she drifted, singing.
She was singing for Cyrell.
Her voice was the cold whisper of eels; her song a dirge, the requiem for a dead and distant sea. She sang of debt and duty, of endings and beginnings.
Cyrell moved, drawn forward by her song.
Shining spines along the underside of his tail pierced the flesh between the Mermaid’s shoulder blades. She screamed. Teeth sharp enough to pierce bone bit into the knot of muscle at the joining place between Cyrell’s neck and shoulder.
They hovered there, limbs and tails entwined, while the water around them burned.
And Cyrell understood it all.
He smelled the woman before she saw him.
Startled, Moniqua dropped her cool drink. The tinkle of shattering glass was a symphony in Cyrell’s ears.
“I thought you wasn’t coming back, muchacho,” she said.
He tasted her confusion: old lemons and dark chocolate. She hadn’t counted on facing him alone. But Shed Wilbon lay a few yards away, his spine shattered, his last cigarette burning the webbing between his broken fingers.
“Is it done?” she said.
“It’s over,” he said.
Cyrell stood in the shadows sifting the dregs of human desire from the air of Buster’s Barbecue, the smell of grease from the cold grills, Moniqua’s musk mingled with Shed’s cologne and the iron bite of gunpowder.
“Why don’t you come inside, where I can see you, Cy?”
“I want to show you somethin',” he said. “Come walkin' with me.”
His fingers twitched. The legs he wore would only last while the moon shone her face upon the waters of the lake, and the children were hungry for the things he could provide for them.
“You’re scaring me, Cy,” she said.
Cyrell nodded, tasting her fear now.
He stepped into the light and Moniqua screamed.
Love, the first he’d ever known, had made a new man of him.
Wise now, Cyrell began to sing.
More stories to come.