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Jonathan Schneeweiss lives in a small cave in Queens, New York. He emerges once daily to study logic and ancient law at a humble neighborhood learning institution (not for a degree but because he enjoys it). He spends most evenings trying to keep his poor sputtering computer alive and running, ideally long enough to hammer out another story. Aside from his studies, Jonathan's only lifeline to the outside world is his blog Schneeblog.com, where he explores writing methodology using mostly pictures and overly-capitalized sentences. His writing heroes are Eiichiro Oda and John Steinbeck.

Izam's fingers moved on their own. They found his sunken chest. And counted his ribs.
His father would have slapped his hand away. A stupid habit of a stupid boy. A stupid starving boy who counted his ribs when he was hungry even though it only made him hungrier. Izam knew it was stupid but he could not help it. He was so hungry.
The ocean was silent. The boat was still, the fishing line as motionless as ever. A few final rays of sunlight sparkled on the waves. There would be no fish today. No food. Izam's fingers brushed his chest and began counting his ribs again. No food for another day.
The line tugged and the rod tore from his hand.
Izam lunged and caught it. He braced himself against the gunnel. The boat quaked beneath him as he reeled in the monster at the end of the line. He gritted his teeth and pulled with his entire body. The surface rippled and broke, and the monster exploded from the waves.
Izam blinked. There was a splash, and it was gone.
The line went slack. Izam fell backwards into the boat.
But he had seen it. Seventeen pounds! Maybe even eighteen! Enough to eat for how long? Enough to sell for how much? Father would have been so happy. And now it was gone.
Izam scanned the surface of the water again, but all he saw was endless blue rippling gold and orange beneath the setting sun. Eighteen pounds. Enough to eat for how long? His fingers moved to his ribs again, but he caught himself. Eighteen pounds.
A splash came from behind him, but it was small, barely even a splash. More like something coming out of the water, only...
She held the fish in scaled hands. The skin of her arms and shoulders was bluer than the water around her, growing paler at her chest and face. She looked up at him with large dark eyes.
"Is it yours?" she said. Her voice was small and delicate and multi-toned.
"It... got away," Izam said.
"Here it is." She offered the fish in her hands. It flipped and wriggled, but her scaled fingers held it easily.
Izam breathed.
There was a net in the bulkhead.
How many times had his father prepared him? But he looked at her dark tangled hair glistening in the sunset rays. He saw the blue-green skin of her chest and the way she smiled at him.
The net was right there in the bulkhead, but he hesitated. The fish was forgotten. Eighteen pounds? What was eighteen pounds of fish when right before you was...?
"Do you want it?" She smiled and held the fish forward.
Izam could not speak. Her dark eyes beheld him calmly, easily. He wanted to stare forever. And he wanted also to look away and grab the net and never look again.
No one had ever told him. No one had ever said they were this beautiful. How was he supposed to use the net on such a magnificent creature?
"Do you want it?" she asked again.
Father would not have hesitated. He would have fetched the net immediately. He would be rowing home now. It was the right thing to do. Izam knew that. He thought of the houses on the hilltop that overlooked the town. Great big mansions of marble, kitchens filled with cooks and servants to wait on you day and night. Everyone would be happy. No one would ever starve again.
All he had to do...
I'm sorry, he wanted to say. I'm so sorry.
He reached into the bulkhead.
He grabbed the net.
"Come," she said.
A sudden gust of wind rocked the boat and Izam stared at the mermaid's outstretched hand. By now, the sun had dipped below the horizon though the sky still shone gold and red with its rays. Around the mermaid the water had darkened, but her skin glowed with the final flickers of crimson in the trembling waves.
A smile came to her face. Life came into her eyes.
Izam grasped the net tightly.
Behind her smile, Izam saw sadness. And hesitation. And fear. He knew those feelings.
But still, she smiled.
The net fell from his grip.
He took her hand and he dove into the water.
A thick rope wound around his body and wrists. He struggled against his bonds, but all he could think about was the pain in her eyes as she tied him with the dark rope. It was the same pain he had felt just moments before.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I'm so sorry."
She dove deep into the sea, dragging him down with her.
Izam fought for air and thrashed. As the darkness closed in around him, his gaze moved on its own. He found her sunken chest. And counted her ribs.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, February 17th, 2014

Author Comments

Reader experience is the most important thing to me when I'm writing. This story deals with our blindness to the situations of others due to an understandable tendency to focus on ourselves and our own problems. My goal in this story was to create an experience for the reader that mirrored the experience of the protagonist. I intend that neither spares a thought for the mermaid, an independent character with her own story, until the very end.

- jonathan schneeweiss
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