A flash of gold.
That’s all she was at first. A flash of gold in the morning sun. She could have been a lost necklace washed ashore, or a bottle with a message inside, or a drop of sunlight escaped to Earth.
“D’ya see that, Jed?” Boone asked. One big, meaty finger pointed toward it. “What’d’ya s’pose that is?”
“I’ll have a look,” I told him.
Boone huffed. He sunk back into the dingy rocking in the waves. The tide crept up towards him. He floated, then sank. Floated, sank. Floated, sank. In minutes, he started to snore.
Saltwater splashed about my ankles as I hopped from the boat. Wet sand tried to swallow my feet as I made my way toward that flash of gold. I heard splashing as I drew near. Sea foam tossed up and down, catching sunlight as it fell.
The flash of gold became shimmering scales on a restless tail.
She was tangled in fish netting. Her hands, webbed with thin skin between the slender fingers, clawed at the earth. She had seaweed plastered to her shoulders and scales trailing up her spine. There were gills on her throat and they flexed and strained as her tail splashed and her nails scratched the ground.
The netting was wrapped tight around her tail, her tail that glinted gold in the sunlight.
She tensed as my shadow fell over her. Her eyes were wide. The gills on her throat flared.
I held up my hands. “I can help,” I told her. She stilled. She let me come closer, but I could still feel her fear. I wondered if she’d ever seen a man before – a human man. I reached toward her and her eyes were glued to my hands.
I took the netting, gently as I could, and began to peel it off her.
Two nicked scales flew into the water and, in pain and panic, she splashed me hard.
“I’m sorry!” I said. I held up my hands, my only defense, and again she stilled. She reached one webbed hand toward mine. She pressed our palms together. Her skin was slick with saltwater. Her eyes met mine. She lowered her hand and placed it back on the sand.
Her lost scales glimmered gold in the water.
I returned to the netting, mindful now of her fragile scales.
“There,” I said as the last stitches fell away. She looked at me, and I looked at her.
The sea foam rolled beneath us. It washed over her tail, and over my ankles. She inched towards the water, spared me one last glance, and then drifted into the sea.
I watched the water until she disappeared, her flapping tail washed under the waves. The water lapped at my feet, and a glint of gold caught my eye. One of her scales was tucked into the sand.
I plucked it between two fingers and held it up to the sun.
I put it in my pocket and, with one last look cast toward the rolling waves, I began to make my way back down the beach.
“Well?” Boone asked when I returned.
I touched two fingers to my pocket, where the golden scale remained.
“Nothing,” I said, because Boone wouldn’t understand. Because I still didn’t believe it. “Just a trick of light.”