Your Turn in the Barrel

Perkins straightened his body into the triangular formation favored by the army for pushups and took a long, deep breath.


As he spoke, his words exhaled as steam. That could not be helped. The lower half of his body was threatening to go numb. That also couldn’t be helped.

“Okay,” he said again, “all right, then. Um…yes. Could you angle yourself just a little—” a sudden, cruel hilarity struck him. Angle. Ha. Perkins pulled another breath deep into his lungs, practically choking on salt spray.

“Courage, brothers!” that queer duck, Marsh, paced the rock above them. He shouted inspirational slogans to the men, promise of riches for duties fulfilled. Easy for him to say, his tryst had been with a tropical tart with hips like a betel nut, nevermind the gills.

“I’m sorry, miss…” his courage failed at the thought of pronouncing one of Their names, “could you raise your hips a bit more?”

Golden, slit-pupiled, inscrutable eyes stared unblinking at his awkward body. Whatever it was was shaped just enough like a woman that he couldn’t pretend he was just fucking a flounder like McGee two rocks over. Lucky bastid.

A mouth gaped and choking syllables escaped while it…she ran a webbed hand down his face. It was cold and slick. He realized she was inquiring after his health. He found himself blushing.

“No, no,” he said, “there’s no problem, I’m…it’s just…there’s never been an audience.”

He wondered if those godless heathens had this problem. Performance anxiety, came to the best of us. His upper half, oddly, began to sweat.

Marsh was suddenly in view, bastard snug up in an oilskin and sou’wester hat.

“Is there a problem, Daniel?”

Perkins thought about thanking him not to use his Christian name. Instead he said, “Look, there ain’t any other way to do this?”

“You know very well, Daniel, her kind live in conditions totally, ah, unfathomable to you. You would not survive the coupling.”

“Then can’t she go on land? She’s built like a crooked longshoreman.”

There was a weezing burble from his date, though he couldn’t tell if it was offense or merely air escaping. Right on cue, a freezing tide deluged them, wetting Perkins to the armpits. He let out a gasp like he’d been kicked in the balls.

“It must be done here Perkins, it must be done now. They were very specific.” Marsh’ voice had the insistent edge of a Methodist minister. “If you want to share in the wealth, you must share in the work.” And with that, the Cap’n was off.

“Sorry about that,” he said to his date. Her eyes had gone filmy, now they wiped clear—vertically. He was suddenly fascinated.

“Um…” he said, “yes.”

Across the rocky shore, others had finished up and sat huddled into themselves or, in McGee’s case, enjoyed a triumphant smoke. There was tomato soup waiting for him on the stove at home. Soup and dry trousers.

“Not that you’re not a lovely…” he decided he couldn’t finish that sentiment. “I just don’t seem to be able to—”

With a gesture resembling a shrug, the fish-thing reached down a slippery paw and did something complicated that made him shout and hew against her, emptying himself in the course of a minute.

“Jesus…” he gasped, “God.” He caught her staring at him and smiled sheepishly. “I mean…”

She dove, seeming to dissolve like oil.  Perkins was left standing with his dingle hanging out of his waders, feeling slightly empty.

A month later, Marsh was up and pacing on the rocks again, pontificating on how the deep ones needed their “superior puritan blood.” Perkins thought they probably just wanted to laugh themselves sick at the sight of so many sheep-white bollocks shriveling in the North Atlantic.

He’d picked kelp floaters and arranged them into a crude bouquet. When his lady surfaced he tried the only French phrase he knew.

“Bonjour demoiselle,” he said, “pouvez-vous lécher…”

The fish-woman had surfaced holding an antiquated bottle of thick amber glass. He tasted it and found it to be bourbon.

“That’s a lass,” he said with a grin.


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