This is a series of short stories, detailing the adventures of Chelsea Childling. You can start with her origin story or pick any story from the index.
In honor of returning to one of my favorite places in the world, I want to introduce readers to my main source of Pacific Northwest inspiration, Jeremy Jeziorski. In addition to being an amazing photographer, Jeremy is one of my oldest friend and has been hit hard by the pandemic. It’s hard to photograph large social gatherings when there aren’t any. However, his prints are available online for purchase. I’ll be adding them to story-links for this chapter.
Now, here’s your story.
The cold spray tasted of salt. Despite the chill in the air, Chelsea leaned over the side of the boat, letting her hair tumble in the wind. She had thought the prairie to be endless, but watching the ocean merge with the horizon reordered her perception and her soul.
She almost didn’t mind that she couldn’t wear her duster. Layers of borrowed sweaters, and a windbreaker were better than fringe and leather for the long ride and sea battle that awaited.
Bentley pressed against her leg, a whine in his throat. She scratched at his ears, before checking on his life vest, again. She couldn’t believe that they made them for dogs, or that her hunting partners had one.
The West Coast is a different country.
Carla wandered over, eyes wide, white knuckles clutching her life vest. “I hate this.”
Chelsea fought not to laugh. “I haven’t been out in years. I’ve missed it.”
“I grew up on the water. Canoes and kayaks are fine, but this.” Carla rubbed her stomach.
The laugh won the war, and Chelsea chuckled. Carla’s face warmed from bronze to rust red. Bentley padded over to the other monster hunter and rested his head against her leg.
Carla joined Chelsea’s laughter as she rubbed the huge mutt’s neck. “At least one of my hunting partners cares.”
Gene sauntered over to them, offhandedly elegant as he sat down, all long limbs and grace. “I care. In fact, I care so much that I’d like to go over the plan again. Please?”
Chelsea smiled at the man. About her own twenty-two years and seemingly as new to monster hunting as herself or Carla, he’d gone over the plan every hour or so since they’d finalized it. The only sign of nerves that he’d shown.
He pointed to Chelsea and Carla. “The three of us will have harpoons.”
Chelsea hefted the spear. Three feet of light, yet strong metal, with a nasty hook on one end and a loop that fitted to her wrist on the other. She had never used the weapon before. But neither had Carla. Gene had only hunted actual fish with one.
He continued, eyes locked on the harpoons. “Bill will be ready to take off if things get hairy, and Mila is on clean up duty.”
Clean up in this case meant killing any ocean fairies that survived being speared and pulled out of the water. Like their air born cousins, ocean fairies were poisonous.
Mila turned to them with a smile. Old enough to be their mother, the woman had to have survived quite a few hunts. “Don’t forget, all fairies use a glamour. These will look like mermaids. They aren’t. They are viscous, poisonous predators. Closer to scorpions than people.”
Chelsea leaned forward and raised her voice. “What do air fairies look like?”
“Like tiny, beautiful winged women. Until they drop their glamour, then you can see that they are really giant, winged spiders.”
Carla sighed. “Why do they all look like women?”
Chelsea shrugged. “To seem less threatening?”
Gene snorted. “Maybe to non-hunters.” Mila, Chelsea, and Carla all beamed at him, and he preened under their smiles.
They made small talk as they traveled. Carla had grown up on the coast and never gone further than Seattle. Gene was from New England. How and why they got into hunting was a subject avoided. Which Chelsea was okay with. She had zero desire to tell her own origin story.
Instead, they talked about hunting and got a feel for each other’s experience. Carla and Gene had been hunting longer, about two years for each of them. Chelsea had more experience, though. Both of the others held part-time jobs and hunted around that.
“So, you’re old school?” Gene seemed to be reappraising her.
“Old school?” She hoped she wasn’t about to get in a brawl on a boat.
“You live on the road.” A touch of envy entered his eyes. “Just hunt and travel.”
“I guess.” She shrugged. “It wasn’t something I planned.”
She stared out at the water, no longer seeing the glory of the ocean.
The boat slowed, then stopped. Bill and Mila stood, scanning the dark water around them. Chelsea pulled a long length of leash out of her bag and secured Bentley to the deck. He’d still be able to fight, but she needed some means of keeping him in the boat, for her own sanity.
The older couple nodded to them, handing out weapons in silence. They all knew the plan. Gene had gone over it enough on the ride.
Chelsea tightened the wide nylon loop on her wrist. Bill had offered them the harpoon gun, but she kind of liked the feel of this spear. The weight and the way it pulled back into her hand.
I can see where a rope might be useful in a fight, too.
Bill came over, eyes glued to the water. “Sonar has been picking them up for a while. We’re right over top of them.” He looked back to the group. “Remember, do not fall for the glamour. These are monsters.”
Chelsea hurried to the end of the boat, spear in hand. Deep in the blue water glimmered something silver-ish.
Refraction, it’s a thing.
She aimed a little ahead of the streak of silver. The cord stretched, pulling her waterward a step. Then it slowed and slacked. The spear bobbed to the surface.
Chelsea pulled the empty spear in as Gene and Carla threw. They also missed.
A liquid, bubbling laugh rippled through the air moments before something slammed into the boat. Chelsea staggered, ending up in Carla’s lap, with Gene’s hand on her head. They scrambled to their feet and threw again.
This time, the spear hit the water and vibrated, jerking her forward. Chelsea locked her knees, grabbed the rope, and yanked. The other end of her line wriggled and jumped in her hands. She yanked again.
A flash of metallic purple flipped through the air before the spear clanged on the floor of the boat. A tiny woman with a tail, maybe two feet long, screamed and wriggled on the floor of the boat. Blood dip-dyed long blonde hair a grisly red as it flowed from the wound. The miniature woman grabbed at Chelsea’s spear, screaming, her face a rictus of pain.
Chelsea rose to her toes, ready to help the mermaid. Bentley’s harsh growl brought her back to reality. His hackles rose, legs stiff and splayed as he stalked forward, eyes locked on the fairy.
“Stop!” Chelsea grabbed at Carla and Gene harpoon-raised arms. “You hit my dog and you hit the water.” Gene pulled away, a glower on his face. The boat lurched again, vibrating from another blow.
Gene stumbled into Bentley. Panic came over his face as he lost his balance, tripping over the dog. Bentley yipped and ducked.
Time slowed as Gene fell towards the edge of the boat, his brows dipping, almost comically, as he struggled to understand what was happening. Bentley snapped at the man’s arm, but neither the dog nor Chelsea succeeded in catching a hold of him. He tumbled overboard with a sharp cry.
Chelsea felt her own feet lose contact with the boat as more sea fairies slammed into them. She grabbed at the nylon that secured Bentley to the boat. Once she felt secure, she lurched toward where Gene went over.
The boat vibrated under her as the engine hummed to life. She stood in disbelief, heart pounding, as she lost her balance and slipped onto her butt, glaring at Bill.
The older man shook his head. “They pulled him under. There was no saving him.”
She knew he was right and didn’t deserve her anger. She turned her attention to the faux mermaid, who did deserve it.
Bentley had the damned thing between his teeth. His shaking must have snapped its neck, because it was no longer a miniature woman, but something black and scaly; a massive lobster-y thing, with stingers instead of claws
“Bentley, drop it.” The mutt opened his strong jaw and let the lobstrosity fall.
Mila stepped up beside Chelsea. “There were far more than we anticipated. We’ll come back with more people, and more boats.”
Chelsea nodded, a black pit growing her chest. The ocean no longer seemed vast and mystical. Now, it was dark, and needed to be vanquished.
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