“A Fish Out of Water”
An above sea hunt for the pleasure and song of human women turns disastrous when Ariel, 77th daughter of the Mer Queen, shares rising tides—powerful passion—with the forbidden Erica. Court rivals quickly report her transgression and Ariel finds herself an example of what happens to those who defy the Queen.
Stripped of her voice and placed under a powerful curse, Ariel makes her way above water to Erica’s side. Erica, who is now dying for want of the one thing they can never share again.
A Fish Out of Water turns an old-fashioned fairy tale into an erotic modern lesbian romance exploring boundaries of love and trust, atonement and pleasure.
The foursome who conspired to create the anthology Once Upon a Dyke (2004) were ahead of their time. My contribution was A Fish Out of Water inspired by The Little Mermaid while others tackled Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella with lesbian heroes of course.
I remain very fond of A Fish Out of Water and am pleased to put it out into the world on its own. No subtext. No need to ship the characters. No fade to black.
- Once Upon a Dyke at Wishing Well What a story!
- A Fish Out of Water at The Lesbian Review I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t put it down. It even haunted my dreams and I woke in the middle of the night to just keep ...
- Reader Comments about “A Fish Out of Water” …A silly, crazy, hot rehash of an originally very depressing fairytale…
- Once Upon a Dyke – Lammy Finalist Once Upon a Dyke: New Exploits of Fairy Tale Lesbians This collection of four novellas was a finalist at the 2004 Lambda Literary Awards for LGBT ...
- Once Upon a Dyke at Midwest Review of Books Romantic, funny, thoughtful, and hot…
Her voice plays on my body like the tide. I rise and fall to the cadence of her words while past and present eddy in my mind, muddied by shifting sands of need and desire. She asks me if I want her. The gooseflesh along my arms says yes. The wet I can feel surging between my legs says yes. I try to say yes with the intensity of my eyes, the eagerness of my hands, the curve of my lips.
“Please say yes.”
She doesn’t understand that I can’t give her the one thing she needs to release us both from the cage our passion has created.
I cannot say yes. Or no. I cannot speak.
“Fly, baby, fly!” Ariel gave the cork one last shove with her thumb and whooped at the resounding pop that heralded the gush of bubbling Champagne.
“Happy New Year!” Shouts bounced off curving grotto walls that pulsated an answer in splashes of crimson and gold.
“Only thing humans know how to make that’s worth stealing,” Caliba enthused as she held her diamond glass under the pouring stream.
Ariel, Seventy-Seventh Daughter to Queen Vellia, drew herself up to her full height, which brought the top of her head level with Caliba’s shoulder. “Liberate, please. Mer do not steal, you know that.”
“As you wish.” Caliba sipped from the glass, then sighed happily. “I’ve always liked the human custom of New Year’s Eve. Excellent reason for a party.”
A caterwaul of ill humor turned the crimson lights to burnt red. Ariel clutched the precious Champagne bottle and turned in time to see Laveena’s long sapphire-tipped nails leave four perfect scratches down the side of Zee’s cheek. Blood welled in their wake.
“Oh, to the abyss with this.” Ariel strolled across the room while shaking the bottle, and looked down in distaste at Laveena and Zee writhing as they fought in a tangle of legs and slapping hands. Clumps of costume and hair began to litter the floor.
Thumb over the top of the bottle, she upended the bubbling froth on both of them.
Laveena screeched with outrage. Ariel glanced worriedly at the chandelier, but Caliba appeared next to Ariel. “I’ll make sure it doesn’t shatter.”
Zee rolled out of Laveena’s reach. “I did not start that!” She angrily shook her wet clothes. Ariel was genuinely sorry that the delicate garment of rose petals was ruined, but more damage had been wrought by Laveena’s nails than the Champagne.
“You bitch!” Laveena didn’t bother to quash her mer voice. The chandelier rattled dangerously.
“My, my.” Caliba examined her manicure. “You obviously missed vocabulary classes—”
Ariel quelled Caliba with a gesture. “It’s New Year’s Eve. No fighting. The party hasn’t even really started yet.”
“She stole Kareel again, took her home from a flesh party I had escorted her to!” Laveena gave Zee a poisonous look.
“Yeah,” Zee snapped back. “And we had a fabulous time.”
Laveena scrambled to her feet. “I’m going to tear your face off!”
“Quiet!” Ariel let her lights sparkle faintly. “I’ll let you go party with fourth circle brats.”
“Don’t threaten me, Ariel.” Laveena’s eyes glowed orange. “I don’t care whose daughter you are.”
Kareel, easily setting the evening’s standard for slinky, moved out of the gathered crowd. Her gown, shimmering with prized Angelfish scales, cupped her breasts and hips like a lover’s greedy hands. “I’ve had it with you, Laveena.” Her stiletto heels—a toe-pinching human affectation that suited her long legs—kissed the floor lightly as she advanced on her sometime lover. “Ariel, I know exactly whose daughter you are, and I ask you to take witness.”
Ariel would for a long time regret that she didn’t hide her smile. “I’m listening.”
Kareel looked over the sodden Laveena, shaking her head. “We are done. Your voice has no song for me.”
“You don’t mean that!”
“We are done,” Kareel repeated. She turned to Ariel. “I mean it this time, Ariel.”
“Do you really? That’s what you said last year, and the year before.”
“And last century, and the one before that,” Caliba chimed in.
Kareel slowly pushed her elegant bronze hair over her equally elegant bronze shoulder. “Yes. She has watched too many of those human movies. Witness it.”
Laveena gasped in horror as Ariel raised her hand. “You can’t do this, Ariel!”
“You’re sure?” Ariel looked directly into Kareel’s eyes. “Absolutely sure? I’m not going to be able to undo this one. I don’t want to undo it either. This scene got boring two hundred years ago.”
“Do it.” Kareel closed her eyes.
Laveena leaped to intervene, but Caliba stepped in her way. It was always useful to have the tall, muscular Caliba at her back, Ariel thought. She summoned her power and cast the spell in a matter of moments. It wasn’t hard for a daughter of a queen, and resolving lovers’ spats was one of the few perquisites of rank a seventy-seventh daughter got to enjoy. It was a good spell, and would hold for a while. If Laveena wanted it undone she’d have to find someone stronger than Ariel. Not that there weren’t plenty of mer who were stronger. The difficulty lay in getting any of them to care enough to help out the unpopular Laveena.
“This changes nothing.” Laveena eyed Caliba with a near snarl. “Kareel sings for me before anyone else. Get out of my way.”
“Next thing you’ll be saying Kareel should be exclusive to you.” Caliba shrugged. “That would be so human.”
“Shut up, Caliba!”
Caliba struck a pose. “Kareel…you…complete me!” She spun in place, spreading her arms dramatically to appreciative laughter. “I honestly…” she made a loud choking noise. “I honestly…love you.”
“I do not like that human drivel!” Laveena looked about to jump Caliba, but that would have been a mistake.
Kareel gasped and opened her eyes. “Is she speaking?”
Laveena and Caliba were continuing to trade insults. Caliba was winning. Ariel had often wished for Caliba’s quick and easy wit. Ariel nodded at Kareel. “She’s jabbering away.”
Kareel’s smile was savage. “I don’t hear a thing. How wonderful. Ariel, I thank you.” She bowed deeply, with her head tipped back. Ariel made sure she carefully studied the ripe pleasure of Kareel’s ruby-studded breasts. To have ignored them would have been rude, especially since several times in their past she and Kareel had dallied. It hadn’t been particularly well-mannered of Kareel to leave with Zee when she’d arrived with Laveena – especially to a flesh party – but Laveena had overreacted, as usual.
Laveena slipped past Caliba and seized Kareel’s arm. “I know you can hear me. You need me! You can’t walk away.”
Kareel pulled her arm free, shaking her head. When Laveena made another grab, Ariel said silkily, “Do not make me do worse, Laveena. She chose and so did you.”
“You had no right to do this!” Laveena’s snarl was so enraged that Ariel nearly stepped backward. “Who do you think you are, working magic on me? Just wait until my aunt hears about this!”
Caliba, casually cleaning her nails with the long garnet-tipped pin that she’d slipped from her collar, said, “Yes, we know. Aunt Travesta will be here any minute to avenge you. We’ve heard it all before.”
Laveena gave Caliba a withering glare, but addressed Ariel, her face twisted with malice. “You have no idea what you’ve done, Ariel.”
Ariel knew that Laveena was highly connected, but she was hardly concerned. Laveena had managed to alienate her more powerful relatives over the last several hundred years. Travesta of the First Circle, favorite of Queen Vellia, had yet to waste her influence on such a pain-in-the-kelp niece. A daughter of the queen– even a seventy-seventh one –had precedence.
“I’m giving you a chance to change,” Ariel said. “Caliba is right, you’re behaving worse than a human.”
“Beautiful Ariel, smart Ariel, so kind, so good, so unbelievably perfect!” Laveena added, her voice dripping with spite, “Not so perfect. Maybe I would like Kareel in my bed, but at least she’s mer. You only run hot with humans!’
There was a collective gasp and Ariel fought down her rising color. “I haven’t bedded above sea in decades, and you know that.” She paused to laugh in her most sultry manner. “And most of those here will witness I am hardly shy at flesh parties. But since I decreed no fighting, I will forget you said that.”
“I won’t,” Caliba muttered.
“You think you have friends? Just wait,” was Laveena’s parting shot. She stalked from the chamber in the direction Kareel had headed.
“She can’t leave, I want a duel.” Zee had not bothered to staunch the flow of blood from her cheek. “For her disgusting touch to my face and her insult to you.”
“Stop,” Ariel said. The party was better off without Laveena. “This is foolish.”
“Are you suggesting I’m not worth it?”
Zee was too hotheaded for her own good, Ariel thought. She wished briefly for the power to fix everybody. Squabbling was boring. So far, this entire party was boring. Maybe she and Caliba could sneak off to a flesh party later. Sex would be more fun than this. It was a party night, after all, and maybe someone would have a grand entertainment to watch. “It’s a holiday. No fighting tonight. I don’t want to spend tomorrow explaining to some toady of my mother’s why my parties turn into brawls. This matter is closed and there will be no duels. Is that understood?”
Zee finally nodded, but not until after her eyes suggested that she, too, felt Ariel had overstepped her authority. What authority, Ariel thought with a touch of bitterness. It wasn’t as if a seventy-seventh daughter was truly powerful. She knew how to have a good time, and those who hunted with her had no trouble securing delicacies and entertainment. The only real power Ariel had was over whom she invited to share in the spoils of some daring and lucrative hunts. Zee wasn’t willing to risk being ostracized.
Turning to Caliba, Ariel murmured, “Next year I’m revising the guest list!”
It was long after the chime of midnight when Ariel found Caliba ensconced with several hunting friends. They’d all had far too much Champagne, Ariel thought, as she woozily claimed a cushion of her own.
“She was a virgin to womantouch, I’m telling you,” Morova was saying. “She sang like none I’ve ever had.” She smiled softly. “She cries for me still.”
Caliba burped. “I lost a voice this week. It’s always sad.”
“Age.” Caliba shrugged. “She had a sweet song, too. Her longing murmurs were constant for sixty years. A good feeding.”
Primia drained her glass so sloppily most of the amber liquid ended up on her breasts. “All the ones I pick don’t last. Either they don’t sing for me or die of one thing or another.”
“You need to stop choosing the broken ones,” Caliba said with a hiccup. “You’d have more success getting song out of human men.”
“I tried that.” Primia’s pout grew more pronounced as she dabbed at her chest. “Even Circe only gets song from every tenth one or so. And they soon forget. She keeps hoping she’ll find another Ulysses.”
Morova laughed. “If they still made them like Ulysses, I might try men once in a while. Oh, let me help. Can’t waste Champagne.”
Ariel rolled her eyes as Morova moved in on Primia, lowering her head to Primia’s Champagne-drizzled breasts. Within moments, though, honesty made her admit—at least to herself—that watching Morova’s agile tongue circle Primia’s nipples was nearly as good as a flesh party entertainment.
“You won’t catch me wasting my time with non-singers,” Caliba replied.
“All of yours sing.” Primia gave Caliba a resentful look. “I don’t know how you get so lucky.”
“She knows how to pick them,” Ariel pronounced, which was a simple statement of fact. She might have added that Caliba had been given the song-sense that Primia ought to have had, but thought better of it at the last moment. “It’s been too long since we’ve hunted.”
“It’s no fun.” Morova lifted her mouth from the hard pucker of Primia’s nipples. “Not since the edict.”
“You sound as if you’re not having enough fun here.” Primia ran one ebony hand down Morova’s bronze-tinted leg. “Has everyone been ignoring you?”
Morova parted her thighs slightly. “No, of course not.” She pulled gently on the tip of Primia’s delicately shaped ear. “I will likely head to a flesh party after a while. I miss hunting, that’s all. Every so often a human woman can be memorable. Not as good as mer, I’m not saying that,” she added hastily. “It’s their songs. I’d never go above sea if it weren’t for that of course.”
“Songs,” Caliba said with a sigh. “I could really use a few new voices.”
They all sighed in unison, so deeply that their mervoices emerged. In response, the walls around them shifted from a carefree orange to a pensive blue.
A hunt, Ariel thought, would be welcome. Even more than feeling the puddles of Champagne in her blood, Ariel could hear the delicate songs of her past human lovers. They slept, and dreamed, and in their dreams remembered what the love of a mermaid had been like. Those songs were mer right for giving humans peace in the upper seas. Everyone, including her mother the queen, was sung for by some human woman, somewhere.
Caliba, who attracted women just by breathing, had a vast choir singing for her. Ariel preferred her songs quiet but intense. A hunt, she mused again, would be grand. Like Caliba, she’d lost a singer recently. Oh, be honest with yourself, she thought crossly. You know it’s not just the song you’re after.
She schooled her expression, though she thought she had always kept her secret. Only Caliba might suspect. A night in a human woman’s arms meant far more to Ariel than just the song for the rest of the woman’s life. Laveena had been dangerously close to the truth. Yes, it had been a long time since Ariel had indulged, but no mer had ever come close to making her feel the way a human woman could. Even without a real voice, or magic or the features mer considered attractive, human women possessed something else that Ariel hungered for, something she could not quite define.
Laveena’s insult had been a shot in the dark, Ariel told herself. Nobody knew. “A hunt would be enjoyable.”
“I think we’ve shown great restraint,” Caliba said. She whispered loudly to Ariel, “Especially you. I know how much you feed when you go up.”
Ariel felt a pang of alarm. It was as if Caliba had read her mind. “It’s the song I need.” She adopted the sophisticated boredom of a daughter of the queen. “If we could get the song some other way… I suppose human women can be fun sometimes though, physically. It’s not as if they’re good for anything else.”
“The best ones we can’t have anymore, so why even bother?” Morova brooded into her empty glass while Primia coiled around her. “If I’m going for song I want the women who were born for other women. The lesbians. They sing…bless the kelp, do they sing. The ones who prefer men, well, it takes three of their songs to equal one lesbian’s.”
“Lesbians are off limits,” Ariel said firmly. She agreed with everything Morova had said, but the queen’s edict was serious. Too many lesbians had sickened after a night with mer. If the queen discovered any of them had bedded a lesbian the punishment could be severely unpleasant.
“Let’s plan a hunt. The women at that Baptist convention last time were as plentiful as sea shells.” Morova closed her eyes as Primia ran her hands across her stomach. “It’s sounding very good to me.”
Morova’s pronounced pheromones tickled Ariel’s nostrils. She avoided noticeably inhaling the scent, which was making her a little dizzy. Morova’s chemistry had always been powerful but her preference for multiple partners wasn’t one Ariel necessarily shared – at least not for every encounter. Morova was considered great fun at a flesh party, while Ariel herself was only sought out by those who liked intensity and privacy. A hunt, Ariel thought, was sounding better and better.
Primia stroked one of Morova’s nipples. “Meantime, why don’t we move on to a flesh party?”
Morova smiled. Her mervoice rippled slightly as she replied, “I’d like that tonight. Lots of different chemistries, a little of everything.” She kissed Primia softly on the lips.
“Surely, you’re not all calling it a night.” Laveena’s abrupt arrival startled Ariel. She hadn’t expected Laveena to come within a league of her after the scene with Kareel and Zee. She hoped Kareel and Zee were safely away, fucking each other or someone else. Any place but here.
“I’m too tired, Laveena.”
“I came to say I’m sorry, Ariel. And that I’ve heard the most delicious news.”
Primia scooted closer to Morova. “What? Sit and tell us.”
Laveena coiled up on a cushion and reached for one of the remaining sushi delicacies. It had been a fair trade, Ariel thought irrelevantly, the human secrets of sharp, fiery sake in exchange for the mer secrets of sushi. Both cultures had been well-served by that bit of détente. Mer might not need sake, but she saw no harm in wanting it now and again. Like a human woman. What was the harm in a little fun?
“Well,” she began, “There is a flesh party on land, and it’s not yet midnight there.” Laveena licked her lips. “A room full of exactly what we can have. What they call Straight But Curious.”
They all sat up slightly. Primia said, almost breathless, “You mean, the kind of human women who enjoy womantouch, but bond with men?”
“A group of them, all in one party. Wearing obvious indicators so everyone knows what everyone is and what everyone wants. No finding out after you’ve got her stripped that she won’t sing or that’s she forbidden.” Laveena shrugged. “They are also very definitely saying they’re not lesbians, so if we were to accidentally bed one who is, well, that won’t be our problem, will it?”
“Oh,” Morova purred. “No problems with the edict at all!”
Ariel could not help the flush of desire that shook her. It had been a quarter-century since the edict, and Caliba was right. Hunting wasn’t any fun with the queen’s penalties of torture, torture and more torture in one’s mind. Adding a song to her voices would be satisfying, but Ariel knew what she really wanted was to lose herself in a human woman’s passion.
“Where?” Curiosity had gotten the better of her. It was too intriguing not to at least consider, though she did not want to owe Laveena anything.
“Oh,” Primia moaned. “Such a beautiful city. Nearly as cool and deliciously damp as Seattle.”
“I’ve not been to San Francisco in years,” Morova added. She glanced at Primia. “We can hunt together if you like. Share our treats. Let’s go.”
“It’s a large city,” Caliba said warily. “Where?”
“This is the best part.” Laveena’s eyes glimmered with crimson intensity. “An entertainment establishment called the Pisces. The party is called A Fish Out of Water.”
Their laughter turned the walls brilliant green.