Leo the Mer-Guy! Chapter Eighteen: The Bite

“Oh, uh, wow,” Leo said, mind racing  as he processed Alfia’s words. He could be a pond Mer. A mer-person. But not just any mer-person. A were mer-person. A were mer-person witch.

 

Who could shapeshift, look like anything.

 

Look like himself.

 

Leo understood, on a practical level, that this was a big decision. That this would change his life. That there would be problems–big problems. That it wouldn’t magically make his life any better or any cooler. That he would have responsibilities.

 

Leo had read his fair share of fantasy novels. He knew it was not a unicycle ride through a spring park.

 

Knowing all this, he still knew his answer, immediately, enthusiastically, and without reservations.

 

The answer was yes.

 

He’d always loved the water, he’d always been a dreamer, he’d always been queer. He’d always wanted to help people, stopped by a powerful loneliness and shyness. A powerful fear.

 

This was, in one sense, a purpose for Leo. A commitment.

 

He was crying, but it was underwater, so no one could tell. Still, his throat was tight, his chest burning. He didn’t deserve this gift.

 

“Yes,” he said. “You can do it. I want to help.”

 

Alfia grinned. They made some sharp, loud noise, like a dolphin at a rave, clicks echoing through the murky water. A half dozen mer-people showed up, forming a circle around Leo, including Aristea, who looked pumped, shaking and dancing in place.

 

“Are you ready?” Alfia asked.

 

Leo squared his shoulders, lifted his head, and nodded.

 

Alfia swam forward, coming close enough that Leo could see the glittering chips of green and blue in their eyes. “This may hurt.”

 

Using their webbed hands, Alfia tilted Leo’s neck, exposing the tan skin to the glowing light.

 

“I’m doing it in 3, 2, 1,” Alfia said.

 

Then they bit down, their sharp teeth piercing the skin of Leo’s neck.

 

Leo bit his lip, cutting off a pained groan. He’d had his blood drawn before, but this was way worse. The pain was sharp and unending, beating out a rhythm that felt like he was bleeding out, he was dying. Had he made a mistake trusting these people? Was this actually the end?

 

His eyelids fluttered, his fingers and toes going fuzzy. Just before he could pass out, he felt his body growing warm all over, vibrating and tingling through him like he was in a jet-fueled hot tub.

 

The whole world went bright, stadium-light white, then disappeared in a slurry of bubbles.

Leo the Mer-Guy! Chapter Seventeen: The Prophecy

Okay, Leo could get down with this. The knowledge that gender mattered here, too, that they looked at it differently, inspired Leo. This was no Harry Potter. “So what did you mean you’ve been expecting me?”

 

“Oh, there’s a kind of prophecy or something,” Aristea said. “Let me get my egg-parent.”

 

Aristea disappeared into the tealy gloom, out of reach of the orb of light they had summoned. A beat later, they came back with an older-looking mer-person who had a darker-colored tail and some scars across their shoulders.

 

“Greetings, Leo,” the new person said. “I am Alfia, keeper of the prophecy.”

 

“N-nice to meet you,” Leo said. “I’m Leo.”

 

“Yes,” Alfia said, “I know who you are. The prophecy speaks of a young human boy, misunderstood and unseen by his birth community, who will act as a bridge between worlds, connecting the mer-people to the witches on land.”

 

Leo swallowed, his ears going hot. “I’m really sorry,” he said. “You might have the wrong Leo. I’m just some kid. I have no idea how to do all that.”

 

Alfia’s green lips wobbled up into a slightly comical but no less genuine smile. “Oh, child,” they said. “You do not need to know anything. You just need to be exactly who you are.”

 

“Easier said than done,” Leo said weakly.

 

“We can help, possibly,” Alfia said. “I have an offer for you.”

 

Leo waited for the mer-person to continue.

 

“We are pond Mer. There are Mer in the oceans, in rivers and streams. We are all different from each other, but connected by our love for the water and what it gives us. Us pond Mer have a special ability. We can change our forms. 

 

“For this reason, we welcome our young ones, our tad-Mers, to experience and change forms as much as they like. It takes some energy, and can be tiring, but it has led to a community of people who deeply understand each other and value themselves. 

 

With one bite, I can transform you into a Mer person. However, it will not be as though you were born one of us. You will still maintain a part of your human heritage. This means that, under a full moon, a new moon, and a half moon, you will be Mer, but under other moons, you will be human. If you desire to spend your days in the water, with us, we can find a way to do that. So how does that sound?”

Leo the Mer-Guy! Chapter Sixteen: MerCulture

Leo had just enough consciousness left to nod in affirmation.

 

His mouth popped open, desperate for oxygen.

 

Instead of filling with cold rushing water, Leo took in a ragged, gasping, but completely oxygenated, breath.

 

He opened his eyes.

 

He was at the bottom of the pond.

 

A glowing light about the size of a lightbulb illuminated the water around him. Beneath his feet were sand and stones and shells.

 

He was in an air bubble as big as those human hamster balls Leo had been hearing so much about.

 

Just outside the air bubble, small, brown fish swam past.

 

And there was a person floating there looking at him.

 

Except they weren’t a person, not exactly, at least. They had a tail, like an actual fish tail. It was brown-gold and scary and lined with fins, and looked way different from Ariel in the Little Mermaid. It was a lot more… fishy.

 

They had a human torso, but their skin was toned grey-blue, and was just as scaly-shiny as their tail, with gills lining their sides like ribs. Their fingers were webbed, their lips plush, their nose slitted and smooth against their face. Their ears were pointed like Spock’s and had small cilia fluttering off of them in the water current. Their hair moved in one big piece, oily and slick.

 

And their eyes.

 

Their eyes glowed orange, with dark pupils like a cat’s eye.

 

Leo was frozen. He stared at the other person in shock.

 

It was a lot to take in.

 

The fish person lifted a webbed, blue hand and waved it. Their bubble lips pursed in an awkward smile. They hugged their other arm around their sparkly torso. “Um, hi?” the fish person said. It was bubbly and strange, but somehow Leo still heard it, still understood. “Are you Leo?”

 

“Um…” Leo wasn’t sure how to respond. You didn’t really get taught the protocol for this kind of thing in school. “Yes?”

 

“Oh, good, cool,” the mer-person said. “I’m Aristea. We’ve been expecting you.”

 

“Oh… wow,” Leo said, feeling like an idiot. “What pronouns do you use?”

 

Aristea blinked and cocked their head. “What?”

 

“Like how should I refer to you? She spoke, he spoke, they spoke…”

 

Aristea shrugged. “Any of that is cool,” they said. “We don’t really use the same uselessly exclusive social constructs down here.”

Leo the Mer-Guy! Chapter Fifteen: Into the Depths

Leo disappeared underwater.

 

He closed his mouth to stop the questionable water from getting in. He wasn’t prepared to taste that earthy latte. It was pitch black, blacker than black, with no sign of light. The water got deep enough that his feet couldn’t touch the ground.

 

He came up for air, gasping for breath and treading water.

 

“Leo–” someone called out.

 

And then he dove.

 

Eyes closed, mouth closed, wishing he could close every orifice, Leo swam toward the bottom of the pond. His hands and feet were so cold now that they hurt in little sharp points, like pieces of glass were sticking into him from all sides.

 

More than anything, he wanted to give up, to leave, to swim back to the surface and give his friends an embarrassed and rueful grin.

 

But he didn’t.

 

How many times in his life had other people pulled him back from stepping into water? How many times had he been rescued from zoo enclosures and mall fountains full of wish pennies? Too many times to count. His parents loved bringing it up at family reunions, though he knew that in private they were concerned about him.

 

This was the first time he’d actually done it. He’d actually succeeded in bending to the will of the water, to the urge to bury himself in it.

 

Leo expected to hit the bottom of the pond after six or seven good paddles. He’d been on the swim team in middle school for a hot minute and could really pick up speed.

 

But it didn’t happen. The water seemed to be endless. Leo’s chest grew tight, burning, his hands numb, his paddling weak.

 

Was he going to die here?

 

Was he literally going to die here, in some random pond in the middle of inhabited suburbia in the midwest?

 

The water around him grew warm. A weak, teal-white light started to glow beneath him. He was too tired to move. His eyelids fluttered open, his throat begging to open up.

 

Yep. This must be what dying felt like.

 

He closed his eyes. At the very moment he decided to give up, to breathe in the water, a warm and slippery hand clutched his.

 

“Let us help you,” a wavering, underwater-y voice said, somehow in his head and not. “Will you let us?”

Leo the Mer-Guy! Chapter Fourteen: Down He Goes

Leo’s plan was met with seven wary expressions and seven sets of bugged out eyes.

 

“Uh. What?” Tinashe asked.

 

“I have to go in the pond,” Leo said. “That’s what the wish was telling me. That’s where the answer is. What my magic is.”

 

Silence followed his proclamation. 

 

“Dude, I think there are, like, pesticides and brain-eating amoebas down there,” Ruby said.

 

“Not to mention you can’t breathe underwater,” Juan said with a frown. “Are you planning on retrieving the stone? What are you going to do when you’re in there?”

 

Well. Those were a bouquet of annoyingly good points. Still. Leo doubled down.

 

“The water is calling to me. It will show me the way.”

 

“If you feel that strongly,” Ash said with a shrug.

 

Yasmin stepped forward. “I’ll warm you up when you come back,” she said. “No hypothermia for Leo.”

 

Leo smiled. “Thanks.”

 

He stepped towards the edge of the water.

 

The weirdest part was that it did call to him.

 

Ever since Leo was a toddler, he’d been drawn to bodies of water, stepping in fountains and veering off bridges before his parents could snatch him back to safety.

 

The call of the void was back. He wanted to go in the water. Even if it was gross and full of goose poop.

 

He thought of the people behind him, the rag-tag group of witches that would help him if he needed it. He really hoped he wouldn’t need it. He hoped he wasn’t being absolutely insane right now.

 

No time like the present.

 

Leo took a deep breath. He leaned down, dipping his fingers in the pond. The water was cold, really cold, but it didn’t feel goopy or sticky or oily like he’d feared. It just felt like water.

 

Without glancing back at his new coven, Leo took his shoes off. Then his socks. Then everything except his boxer briefs. He covered his chest with his arms, shivering in the cold.

 

“You got this, Leo!” Tinashe shouted.

 

Leo sure hoped she was right.

 

Despite the way all of his muscles were screaming at him not to, Leo walked into the water. Step by step, it grew colder, choking him in a vice, making his movements stiff. He stumbled, but he kept going, the water slowly rising around his feet, his calves, his thighs, his hips, his chest, his neck, and finally, his head.

Leo the Mer-Guy! Chapter Thirteen: Who You Are

Ash cleared their throat, brushing a navy blue strand of their rainbow hair out of their face. “So, um, yeah, that’s cool that you get it now, but we still have to figure out… this,” they said, gesturing toward the pond.

 

Yasmin called her moon back into her hand, some of the gentle light leaving the glade. The bonfire was burning lower, too, leaving things in a red-orange darkness.

 

“For me, I just had to trust,” Ji-fu spoke up. “And the truth came to me.”

 

“I’m not… much of a truster,” Leo hedged. “I don’t know if I can just believe hard enough and make it happen.”

 

“It’s not about belief,” Juan said. “It’s healthy to question things, to have doubts and worries. It’s about trust. Trusting yourself and trusting us to make sure nothing bad will happen to you.”

 

“Wait a minute. Something bad could happen to me?”

 

Juan’s eyes went big. “No, I mean, well, not recently–“

 

“Not recently?” Leo squeaked.

 

“Alright, alright,” Ruby spoke up, her loud voice echoing through the glade and making some small creature skitter off through the trees. “Leo, what do you think it means?”

 

“I-I don’t know. I don’t really have a manual for this kind of thing.”

 

“This ain’t DND, we don’t need no stinking manual!” Ruby barked out. “Trust in me, dude. Trust in Yasmin’s crazy magic. What could it mean?”

 

“The wish had to do with me, who I want to be,” Leo said tentatively. Juan smiled at him, encouraging him to go on. “And the stone shot out of the fire and into the water. So maybe it has something to do with… water?”

 

Tinashe nodded. “Good start, but I didn’t figure out my public speaking abilities by saying that it maybe had something to do with my vocal chords.”

 

Leo flushed. “I don’t like fire, I do like water,” he continued, scrambling for some kind of connection. “Maybe I need to change who I am to be more like water, to be more fluid. More accepting.”

 

Onyx giggled, face still neutral. Leo had never seen anything like it.

 

“What Onyx means is, while that’s good therapy, L, it doesn’t really have to do with magic,” Ash said. “What kind of magic do you have?”

 

Leo didn’t know. He didn’t have any clue.

 

Maybe that was the clue.

 

“I know where I’ll find out,” Leo declared with a confidence he didn’t actually feel. “In the pond.”