"... an examination of the human spirit, a darkened mirror that reflects the true nature of the struggle, not only for survival, but for civilization.
"A quirky collection of sci-fi, horror and fantasy, reminiscent in style of John Wyndham. A little something for everyone between the covers."
"Dark, edgy and inflected with just the right degree of lyricism."
BAITED BREATH (Issue #14)
by Jim Valenti
Jeremy reached into his jeans and offered up two twenties.
"It's more expensive than I expected," he quipped. The Bay Constable didn't react beyond what was necessaryfor the transaction.
"Better than not having it.There's a thousand dollar fine for violators." He took the money and handed a folded $5 bill and the paper permit back in reply. "Put it in the front window where it can be clearly seen. Remember, there's a two catch limit. The judge doesn't do well by poachers."
From his spot at the side railing the officer undid the rope knot that temporarily linked the vessels to one another and tossed the line towards Jeremy's feet. He pushed hard against the cabin cruiser's fiberglass hull to free the patrol skiff from its invisible pull.
The weather was cooperative, and Jeremy strode to the transom and popped the top off a white-lidded beverage cooler. Inside, his hands fished through a frozen mush of shaved ice and eventually caught up with a spinach stalk. He peeled a few fresh leaves from the bunch, crisp and green - then he moved to the diving deck where he released them beyond the entry platform onto the salty water. Grabbing a fistful of cherry tomatoes from a plastic sandwich bag he tossed them onto the same spot with a slow-fire plunk, plunk, plunk. Next he dotted the surface with a couple cucumber slices, and then added some fingerling carrots. All these he topped off for good measure with a half-dozen Spanish olives.
While the ingredients sank pendulously in the wet mix, Jeremy returned to the cabin to check his look in the mirror. He ran a hand through his tussled hair – nice enough – and checked his face forsigns of distress. He poured out a splash of Old Spice after shave and rubbed it into his suntanned neck and cheeks. He straightened the collar on his Tommy Bahama print top and smoothed out any unnecessary creases. Satisfied, he retrieved a chilled bottle of Pinot Noir from the under counter refrigerator and made his way back outside. The late sun was melting the horizon, sashaying through a mélange of red and orange and purple watercolor. Jeremy breathed it in deeply and let it back out slowly, richer for the experience. He coaxed the cork from the wine bottle's throat and placed the breathing liquid on a tray sharing a long-stemmed glass with some Ahi tuna and salmon rolls. He selected a Jimmy Buffett CD and moved aft. Setting the appetizers on the diving deck, he eased down beside them, dipped his bare legs into the warm lagoon - and waited.
For several minutes Jeremy sat alone with just the pulsing sky and tranquil sea for company, and that was more than sufficient for him. He ebbed with alternating sensations of calm and nervousness, wanting time to stand still – and knowing there was nothing left for him to do but wait. After a while he replenished the surface with more assorted vegetables, just in case his first offering had gone unnoticed. He wore his patience comfortably like the approaching dusk, and after a few minutes more there was still nothing but the water lapping against his calves and the subliminal lure of Margaritaville.
Eventually, feeling the sea shift course through his toes he realized he was no longer alone – though the sensation was barely present at first. Then, on top of the water just a stone's skip off the stern a subtle swell caught his eye. It was gone almost immediately, so swiftly that he would have missed it altogether had he not been anticipating it. The water smoothed out again, but soon the ripples returned. Deeper and more sinuous this time, the disturbance was trailed by something parting the surface nearby with the fluidity of a synchronized swimmer. Jeremy reflexively started to stand in response and then thought better of it, for he did not want to appear rude. The something was a girl.
She was captivating - beautifully pure, powerfully sleek, radiant in the bronzed light.
"Hello", Jeremy called out to her.
"Hello", came her reply. Her voicewas true to form, lyrical in tone and more comforting than moonlit waves on a summer beach. She maintained her distance but did not retreat from him.
"Beautiful evening," he added.
"Quite lovely," she replied,circling closer. He had her attention.
"Would you like some sushi?" heasked. She seemed confused by the question.
I've got salmon and tuna. They're absolutelydelicious. Would you like to try some?"
"I do like tuna" she said, discarding the leftover carrot at the prospect of an appetizing upgrade. Jeremy produced the nicely prepared assorted seafood plate and she politely reached for a piece nearest to her. Smitten with her flawless form, from the depths of his waistband he discreetly withdrew the hardwood club he'd hidden. Before she had the time to react he bludgeoned her square between the eyes with it. Struck terribly, she twitched briefly and then moved no more as a thin curl of blood oozed from her nose into the surrounding brine.
Jeremy pulled her wet body up onto the diving deck and heaved it forward towards the galley. Exhausted from the effort, he leaned on the gunwale for a moment to catch his breath - and to admire the shimmering retreat of saturated daylight pouring over her glistening skin. She was perfect. Leaving her alone for the time being, he retrieved the floating bit of tuna from the water and in its place tossed extra carrot sticks into the chum slick behind the boat. Then he sank back down onto the diving deck platform to dangle his legs some more, took up the wine glass – and waited. Mermaid season was here.