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  • Jenna Calloway

Ms. Wyld's Ride



Patrick held on to the struggling marine biologist, having managed to inject the sedative into his neck, and yearned for his days of white-collar crime. The fourth and fifth elbow strikes, while considerably weaker than the others, still hurt. He braced himself for the sixth, but the man dropped to his knees and Patrick let go. Incoherent babble escaped the biologist’s mouth; he collapsed face down in the inch-thick layer of fake snow. One of the unforeseen additions to Aquatec Industries marine transport brayed loudly in Patrick’s ear, pushing close to investigate.

     “This doesn’t concern you,” he told the penguin. 

     Several loud thwaps and clangs reverberated around the 26-foot-long trailer, joining the hum of the vehicle’s refrigeration unit. A few penguins investigated Patrick’s open duffel bag, strewing medical supplies, and tossing cans of hallucinatory aerosols around the space. Another, its head wedged inside a scuba flipper, bobbed furiously, banging into the fiberglass walls. The rest waddled on top of the unconscious biologist, formed a huddle, and dismissed Patrick’s attempts to shoo them away. 

     “Fine, have it your way,” he said.

     Patrick knelt, turning the biologist’s head to the side so he didn’t drown. He wasn’t about to risk any further complications to Ms. Wyld’s meticulously planned heist. She already had him by the short and curlies. He ran a finger over the puckered scars disfiguring his right palm.

     “Just a reminder, Patrick dear,” Ms. Wyld had whispered, holding his hand firmly onto her elegantly decorated dining table. “You are just a con man who took advantage of my son’s naiveté. The only reason I’m not turning you in is because I can use your special talents to recover my stolen goods. So, again – my name is Miranda -,” she grabbed the silver dessert fork off her napkin and drove it deeply into his flesh, “but ONLY to my friends.”

     Patrick shivered inside his fleecy staff jacket. Hopefully, the penguins wouldn’t interfere with his two other tasks. He could only imagine what she’d do to them – and him- if they did. 

     Patrick looked at the foam-lined holding tank situated by the loading doors. Ms. Wyld’s prototype for a specialized aeration diffuser hung loosely over the side, dripping water on the floor. He walked over, slipping slightly as the truck maneuvered around another corner of the twisted coastal highway. Removing the screwdriver from his pocket, he disconnected the motor of the aeration unit and placed it on the ground. He lifted the disk-like coarse diffuser gently, put it beside the motor, and piled the snow around both for protection. Another task under his belt, he dropped the tool and pulled another hypodermic from his pocket. He took a deep breath, readying himself to tackle the most complex part of his assignment.

      A rare mermaid specimen floated on the water’s surface, partially blissed out on the benzodiazepine the biologist administered pre-voyage. Discovered two years ago amongst the rugged estuaries of the sub-Antarctic archipelago, the unusual species became highly coveted (and profitable) aquarium exhibits – but only in conjunction with a heavily enforced code of silence and the hallucinatory aerosols released around their enclosures. The truth was that mermaids resembled more humanoid mudskippers, not the gorgeous mermaids and mermen of multi-media fame. Patrick doubted people would pay such a fortune in admission prices if they knew the stunning exhibits were only a chemically induced, brilliantly marketed fantasy. 

      The mermaid half dozed, one of the creature’s protruding eyeballs closed while the other stared at Patrick. He grabbed her arm and roughly injected the needle. Finger-like projections from her webbed hand seized his elbow, her muscles rigid under layers of placoid scales. Gritting his teeth against the pain, he held his breath and waited until her grip loosened. He watched as the staring eye clouded over and rolled back into her head. He let out a breath and thought about the merits of going straight when this was done. 

     The waterproof X25 watch on Patrick’s wrist vibrated. He leaned against the tank and double-checked the mermaid. Everything now depended on Ms. Wyld’s son in the cab of the truck. “Ok, kid,” he typed into his watch. “Got your mom’s signal. Time to subdue the driver.”

#

     Sure. Easy for Patrick to say – he hadn’t seen the man.

     The colossal driver overflowed the seat, confining Andrew to a small section against the passenger door. He casually drummed the steering wheel, keeping beat with some 1980’s hair band blasting through the radio. Aside from a brief introduction at the beginning of the trip, there was little conversation between the two. Andrew was sure that John gave up trying to engage him; the physical intimidation factor having dropped Andrew’s speech capacity to a series of monosyllables.

     Until that moment, Andrew felt prepared. He had done various jobs around Aquatec when his mother worked there so maintaining relationships with the transport drivers was easy. He knew all of them and trained accordingly. Months of karate, MMA, and dance battles honed his petite frame into a deadly machine. But he hadn’t recognized this one.

     Still, his mother was relying on him, and he didn’t want to disappoint her again. It was now or never. He re-swallowed the rising remnants of his chicken burrito breakfast, then inhaled sharply. He leapt.

     The seatbelt across Andrew’s chest yanked him back. “Ow…”

     “Did you say something, son?”

     Andrew turned his burning face to the passenger window and scanned the side mirror. Distant headlights occasionally illuminated portions of the darkened coastal highway behind them, but with the curves of the road and the canopy of thick old-growth cedars blocking the moonlight, it was difficult to tell how far away they were. Steeling himself one more time, he unbuckled the belt and sprang again. He managed to wrap a sinewy arm around the driver’s neck. The truck briefly wavered over the centerline before John removed a meaty hand from the steering wheel, covered Andrew’s entire face with his palm, and shoved him off, rendering him utterly useless.

     “So,” John pressed a burly arm against Andrew’s chest, “I feel like there is something we need to discuss. The truck or the contents?”

     Andrew shrank against the seat and looked at him blankly.

     “What. Are. You. Stealing? The truck or the contents?”

     “Oh…,” Andrew shifted uncomfortably against the weight, “contents.”

     “Hmm. And your job?”

     “I’m supposed to…subdue you.” Andrew flushed, watching John’s enormous belly undulate with uncontrolled laughter.

     John placed his hand back on the wheel and wheezed. “Did you…snort…bring a weapon, or was that…mmph…it!?”

    “There’s no need to be offensive. I know Aquatec’s drivers. YOU weren’t supposed to be here.”

     “Aw, I fucked up your plans, huh?” John wiped a tear from his eye. “I drive special transports – rare marine animals are a hot commodity on the black market and there are…,” he grinned at Andrew, “lots of small-time criminals looking to hijack the odd truck or two. Easily intimidated though and, frankly, just not that creative about it. Stupid even.”

     “My MOM is not stupid!” Andrew said, then quickly clamped his mouth.

     “Your – mom?” John glanced at Andrew, repeating his name under his breath while tapping his fingers on the wheel. “Oh shit, you’re Miranda’s kid! She’s in on this?”

     “Hells yeah! She’s a sweetheart. Super cute. We’ve gone on a coffee date a time or two. Huh…Aquatec fired her, right?” John turned off the radio. “Care to explain?”

     Andrew froze. In the side mirror, the distant headlights seemed a little brighter, or at the very least consistent, but he couldn’t focus; his brain seemed unable to process anything other than sweetheart, cute, and date.

     “Kid?”

     “Um, right.” Andrew pressed the bridge of his nose, trying to erase all the grotesque imagery forming of his mother and John together. He blew out a breath. “The reasons they gave for her firing weren’t real. They just wanted to trash her reputation so they could steal her side project. You know about the mermaids, right?”

     John shifted into a lower gear, nodding.

     “Ok, so Mom had the idea to invent a new filter and diffuser so that the hallucinatory chemicals used around the enclosure could go through the water without hurting the mermaids. She recognized that it wouldn’t be enough for people to just look at the creatures anymore. Her system would allow customers to have interactive experiences without…well, knowing exactly what they were swimming with…”

     “Basically, every teenage boy’s wet dream fantasy.”

     “Gross!” Andrew blushed, looking at his feet.

     “Please! So, Aquatec found out, decided to steal her prototype, run their own little experiments so they could profit off her invention in their own timeline.” John downshifted again, slowing the truck. “Alright, listen up. What happened to your mom was bullshit, so if she wants her invention back she should have it. However, you’re still going to have to…mmph…subdue me. I get paid extremely well for specialized transports and keeping the whole ‘mermaid’ thing a secret. I have no intention of losing that. A chokehold should do. I’ll slow down and keep the wheel steady until you can grab it.”

     “Um, ok. Thanks.” Andrew leaned forward. “So you and my mom…”

     “Just go!”

     Andrew nodded. He pounced, lean arms clasping the man’s neck in a Japanese stranglehold.

     John sighed, slipping one hand over Andrew’s to change the angle of his fingers. “The baroreceptors are here; you have to push firmly.”

     “Oh.” Andrew applied more pressure.

     “That’s bet…”

     John slackened, his weight slowly slumping to the left. Andrew threw his arms up in victory before realizing the man was still gripping the wheel. 

#

     The truck angled sharply, knocking Patrick off his feet. With every abrupt swerve and grinding wobble, his body slid along the floor until it came to a stop against the insulated wall along with a small avalanche of snow, debris, and chattering penguins. Dizzy, he squeezed his eyes shut until the tilt-a-whirl inside his head ceased. He shivered against the cold and tried to sit up, but a weight on his abdomen held him in place. Muffled braying and a thick ridge of hard plastic digging around his belt line caught his attention.

     “Great,” Patrick muttered, reaching down to grab the edge of the scuba flipper. The penguin on his stomach protested, swinging its stuck head frantically. He pulled the flipper from his belt and held it until the bird unwedged itself. A warm current of urine and excrement rewarded him. The newly freed penguin ruffled its feathers and waddled off.

     “You’re welcome,” Patrick sat up, a wet streak of pink guano covered his jeans. “Jackass!”

     He rose slowly, wrinkling his nose as the scent of rotting shrimp and ammonia-soaked tobacco radiated from his pants. I’m going to be a model citizen after this, he thought. His watch vibrated – ALMOST HERE. EVERYTHING READY?

     No, your kid’s an idiot. YES, he typed back.

     The inside of the trailer was in disarray. The penguins wandered around, tossing the scattered debris, and stopping only when something piqued their interest. Patrick looked to the holding tank, relieved to see that it hadn’t moved. At least…The fake snow surrounding the tank was mostly gone, lost to the assorted piles caused by Andrew’s erratic driving. He couldn’t see the prototype and the mermaid was no longer floating on the water’s surface. An outside portion of the tank had a sheen of ice, as did the floor underneath it. A wave of water must have carried her out of the tank. 

     Patrick struggled to breathe through his mounting panic and scanned the space. The marine biologist was now on his back, pushed awkwardly against the refrigeration unit. Beside him lay the mermaid. Both still appeared unconscious, but Patrick wasn’t taking any chances. He felt his pocket for an extra hypodermic and found nothing. They must have fallen out during the slide. Biting the inside of his cheek, he staggered to where they both lay. The biologist snored and Patrick knelt to check the man’s pulse. Slow and steady.

     He watched the mermaid. The creature’s gill slits opened and closed rapidly, her breathing labored. She moaned. He slid his arms underneath her back. “Come on, you slimy fre…”

     The mermaid shifted, staring at him through bulging bioluminescent eyes, and clutched his throat. Patrick tried to break her grip but to no avail. He clawed at her wrist in desperation, tearing off patches of her scaly armor, and kneed her hip. Her grasp loosened. He tore her hand from his throat and stood up, readying himself to deliver another violent blow.

     “DON’T YOU DARE!!”

     Patrick froze, blinded by the brilliant LED lights flooding the interior. The loading doors were wide open, bringing in the salty ocean air and, as his eyes adjusted, he could make out a nondescript grey van. “She isn’t to be harmed,” Ms. Wyld said and stepped on the bumper of the transport truck.

     “Harmed!? But – she…,” Patrick’s protest died in his throat. Ms. Wyld’s cold gaze surveyed the truck, then fixed on him. He watched as two penguins sauntered over to the doors. 

     “Ewww, is that what they look like?” Andrew said, appearing at his mother’s side. “I mean, I know they aren’t like my posters, but I hoped you might have exaggerated.”

     Ms. Wyld turned, locking eyes on her son. Patrick gulped. Despite her five foot frame, the woman seemed to tower over Andrew.

     “Aw, so cute!” Andrew said, casually petting one of the birds. “How did I do, Mom?”

     “It’s really not the time for validation,” she said, scowling as a flipper-faced penguin leaned against her. “Go open the vehicle so we can get out of here.”

     “Sure, but should I help Patrick first or…”

     “ANDREW!”

     “Right. Sorry. On it.” Andrew jumped down, moving toward the van.

     Ms. Wyld shook her head and stepped further into the cargo area. “I believe you said everything was ready, Patrick. In what parallel universe, is this,” she held her arms out and spun around, “ready?”

     Patrick bit back a litany of possible responses. “I had it ready…the driving wasn’t in my control,” he muttered.

     Ms. Wyld scrutinized him, a slow half-smile forming on her thin lips. “Why don’t you take the mermaid to the van and place her in the small pool. But, before you go, tell me – where’s my prototype?”

     “I…,” he shrugged, then gestured towards the assorted snow piles. “I don’t know.”

     Patrick moved cautiously, watching Ms. Wyld while he busied himself looking for a hypodermic. She navigated through the strewn contents, searching the snow. He let out a breath when she pulled the motor unit from a pile but quickly held it again when his hand hit the aeration diffuser.

    Ms. Wyld glowered in his direction, freezing him mid-bend over a debris pile. “It’s scuffed,” she held out the motor. Patrick stood up; the aeration diffuser lay in his hand, impaled through the filtration system by the screwdriver he carelessly dropped. She walked to him and grabbed the cracked unit, face red. Her breath came out in staccato bursts.

    A high-pitched shriek filled the space.

     But not hers.

    Patrick saw the mermaid move toward them. He startled, frantically scanning for a needle. “Help me find…” The hardened expression on Ms. Wyld’s face stopped his speech.

     She slipped around him, broken prototype firmly in hand and exited the truck. 

     The mermaid slithered toward him, screeching. The penguins waddled to her as if in response, chattering away, and dropping their assorted treasures within her reach. Including a hypodermic. He steadied himself and lunged. 

     Patrick dropped to his knees and managed to get a light hold on the syringe before the creature crashed into him. They grappled on the floor; her breathing labored as she tried to wriggle out of his grip. He felt her weakening and pinned her to the floor. He poised the needle and aimed for her gills. 

    WHACK!

     Patrick swayed; starbursts of white danced in front of his eyes. The scuba flipper-obsessed penguin bobbed its head around his face. “Go…away.” The penguin continued to nod madly, landing another blow. Woozily, he pushed the bird away and dropped the needle. The mermaid writhed underneath him, then with a burst of strength, violently knocked him off. His head bounced against the truck floor, and everything went dark. 

#

     The mermaid dove one more time into the pool, then scurried past the rocks and burrowed into the soft sedimentary soil encompassing the custom-built enclose. Ms. Wyld smiled, watching through the plexiglass barricade separating the enclose from the patio.

     “Seems you made her happy, Miranda,” John said, flipping steaks on the barbecue. “Much better environment than Aquatec’s laboratory. Natural.”

    Miranda walked to the cooking area and slipped an arm around him. “I couldn’t have done it without you. Thanks for getting the penguins home.” She stood on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek. “And keeping quiet.”

     “You’re welcome, gorgeous. Glad to help you get back what was yours to begin with.”

     Gorgeous? Andrew shuddered. He pulled his chair closer to the patio table and gestured toward the enclosure. “So,” he said, “how long are you punishing Patrick for, Mom?” He watched as a lovesick Patrick lounged on one of the rocks, staring longingly down at the nesting mermaid.

    “Do you care?”

     Andrew considered.

     “Besides,” she said before he could answer, “is it really a punishment? He seems quite content to spend time with his dream girl and I’d like to keep him around until I get my aeration diffuser rebuilt and ready for experimentation again. I think he owes me that.”

    “Then you’ll let him off the hook?”

    She pulled out the chair next to her son and ignored the question. “Let’s eat.”




About Jenna Calloway:

Jenna is a massage therapist, writer, and book coach living in Northern British Columbia with her two beautiful humans and assortment of quirky animals. Her flash fiction has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine and at  www.freedomfiction.com


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