For Karen Lynn (@R_Typewriter) who prompted: The Little Mermaid/Gyrocopter.
One thing these prompts have taught me about myself is that I write long. I’m always pushing the upper edge of what is technically flashfiction!
“You’re sure about this?” asked Marina. She shifted in the tub Justin had carried up the hill. Her elbow clanged against tin, her tail slapped a wave of seawater over its rim. “This… whatever it’s called again.”
“Gyrocopter.” Justin didn’t look up from where he was fiddling with pedals and gears and other parts whose names Marina didn’t know and whose purpose she couldn’t fathom.
“It doesn’t look entirely safe.” Marina felt bad about complaining, not after she had promised. But she hadn’t realized until her first up-close look just how homemade the contraption looked. After all, Justin had made it following a diagram in a book, using parts scrounged from all over the palace…
Justin walked over and said, “Marina. I have tested this out. Taken it on solo flights. With weights. It can safely carry up to five hundred pounds. I don’t take your life lightly, you know.”
There was a smudge on his face and grease on his hands. His eyes were very blue and his teeth very white in his grin. “So stop worrying!”
“All right,” said Marina, smiling back.
Warmth spread inside her.
The smile didn’t last long.
“Isn’t this great?” Justin yelled over his shoulder, above the roar of the motor. “You can see the whole countryside spread like a quilt from up here.”
The gyrocopter dipped. Marina’s arms tightened around Justin’s waist. The wind howled, whipped her hair, and tried to steal the leather jacket and woolen blankets Justin had given her.
She had laughed when he’d been concerned about keeping her warm.
Now she understood.
“You all right, Marina?” He craned to look back at her.
“I’m fine! You focus on flying this thing,” she shouted back, shamelessly fibbing. She had promised and she wouldn’t let him down.
But she buried her face in his shoulder, inhaling his scent of sweat and grease and leather. He was as solid as a rock and hot like the sun. She heard the beat of his heart, the flow of his blood in his veins, the swish of air in his lungs.
He felt so alive, and in that moment, so was she.
“There’s the town!” Justin’s voice echoed in his chest. Marina peeked over her shoulder, just as the gyrocopter descended lower. She bit back a squeak in time.
A pastiche of tiled roofs in all colors. Grey streets winding through them like eels. Rigid things sticking up that must be trees.
For all of her life, she had seen this place only as a smear of colors upon a hillside. Now she was actually looking down on it. Excitement bubbled in her stomach, easing the knot of tension.
People rushed about in a flurry of color. For years before she met Justin, Marina had thought clothing to be some kind of natural plumage. There were humans rooted like anemones, staring straight up or ducking into buildings like crabs hiding in shells. Others made high-pitched sounds that rang in Marina’s ears… oh.
Justin gave a whoop and cheer as he flew low over town. A man shook his fist at them.
“Um, Justin? Maybe we shouldn’t be—?”
Justin leaned forward, so suddenly Marina almost lost her grip on him. A woman in red stood in the street, pale face tilted up, eyes and mouth rounded.
“BEATRICE!” Justin roared down. “MERMAIDS DO FLY! NOW WILL YOU MARRY ME?”
“So she wouldn’t have you after all,” said Marina the next day. She sat on a flat-topped rock not far from shore, her tail in the water where it belonged, thankyouverymuch.
Justin lay on his back, arm over his eyes, shielding them from the sun’s glare. “It was worth a try.” He didn’t sound too crushed. “But she’s not the type to say yes to a prince, just because he asks.”
Not when there are four unmarried males between said prince and the throne, thought Marina. She’d lurked under piers and heard the gossip from fishermen and fish-wives. But she didn’t say it out loud.
Justin rolled onto his side and propped his head on his arm. “What about you and Salty Fish?”
“Solitapherius,” corrected Marina. Her whole body thrummed when she said his name.
“Whatever. Have you worked up the nerve to talk to him yet?”
“Justin.” Marina combed the tangles from her hair with her fingers. It gave her an excuse to hide her face. “He’s the First Prince of the biggest mer-state I know, and I’m only the second hundredth hatchling of a minor king.” A king who had yet to acknowledge her existence. Marina had hung on the fringes of the court all her life, surviving on scraps, keeping her head down, keeping out of politics.
“So what? Your parentage doesn’t determine your worth, Marina.”
Surprised, she looked at him as if seeing him for the first time. He was a prince, yes, but also a scholar, explorer, and inventor. While his relatives tried to gain his temperamental grandfather’s favor, Justin went his own way and did his own thing.
She’d always thought success came easily to him. But yesterday she’d seen him fail. And yet, here he was today, another adventure in his eyes.
I don’t have to be afraid, she realized. I can fail… and it’ll be fine.
She laughed, threw back her hair, threw him a dazzling smile. “I’ll talk to him! At the ball tonight, even! Thank you, Justin!”
She slipped into the sea’s welcoming embrace, waved farewell. He shouted Good luck! as she dove into the waters.
Yesterday, a mermaid had flown. Today, that same mermaid could introduce herself to a mer-prince. And tomorrow… Marina grinned.
Who knew what she would do tomorrow?