Monster parent: Sara Amundson
The shipwreck had been a taste of hell: the fires, the screams, the bodies bobbing in a dense meat carpet across the water.
At first, Bob considered himself lucky to have made it to a life raft. Even luckier to have possessed the strength and ruthlessness necessary to ensure he was its only occupant. But that was back when the raft was stocked with emergency supplies and the weather was cloudy and cool.
Now, sun and starvation relentlessly tag-teamed Bob — one hammering down on him from above while the other destroyed him from within — and he was certain the lucky people went down with the ship.
His skin was lobster red where it wasn’t covered in blisters. His cracked lips dribbled blood. Even his tongue hurt. But what Bob hated most was the delirium that had begun wriggling through his mind, filling it with voices and sounds he knew weren’t real.
He let one of his arms trail through the cool seawater, too tired to wince at the swish of salt against his broken blisters. He pressed his other arm against his burning forehead, wishing he could banish the disgustingly cheerful narrator who’d taken up residence in his skull as deprivation shriveled his brain.
Bob bob bobbing along, bibbety bobbety boo, boomed the voice in his head in the rich tones of a game show host.
“Shut up!” Bob snarled.
No, you shut up, the voice said smugly, and an audience of people laughed at its rapier wit.
Determined to ignore it, Bob stared at the water, watching the hypnotic undulations of the waves, focusing on the cool grip of the liquid around his arm. The voice quieted. Time passed. He grew sleepy.
Something brushed his fingers.
He twitched in surprise, and then yelped as a large shadowy figure slid through the water directly beneath his dangling arm. Shark, he thought. He’d seen plenty of them after the ship sank.
Wrong answer, Bob! Try again, jeered the game show host.
He wanted to ignore the voice, but it had a point. That shadow hadn’t been shark-shaped at all. No, it had been… sort of human, hadn’t it?
Fuck, now he was seeing things, too. Bob moaned, putting his head in his hands.
When he heard splashing sounds, he didn’t want to look up. He knew they weren’t real. But they were so loud, he couldn’t ignore them.
He lifted his head and saw a long, glittering green tail slap the surface of the ocean before slipping underwater. He rubbed his eyes. A few yards from the raft, a person popped out of the waves. Bob glimpsed distinctly masculine broad shoulders, a muscular back, and orange hair before the man dived back down. Again, that sparkling tail smacked the water as its owner disappeared.
“God damn it!” Bob croaked. He felt like weeping, but he couldn’t muster the moisture for it. “Why can’t I at least hallucinate sexy lady mermaids?”
If the universe gave Bob an answer to his question, it was an inscrutable one: it came in the form of two pale arms reaching over the side of the raft.
Now, a word from our sponsors! said the brain-show host with malevolent glee.
Bob wanted to howl in terror when he saw what the arms were hoisting into the life raft, but his parched throat could produce only a rusty squawk.
A halo of frizzy orange hair framed the face of a clown. Wormy black veins and rotting gray splotches marbled its fish-belly white skin. Its eyes — hazel and very human — twinkled with good cheer. The clown parted its thick, rubbery blue lips and grinned at him. The impossibly wide smile threatened to split its head in half. Sunlight glinted on rows of shark teeth.
A nauseating stench of popcorn and decomposing sea-life filled the air, so rank it made Bob’s throat ache. The creature emitted a dreadful gurgling sound. Bob’s bladder involuntarily squeezed out its last few drops of fluid when he realized the clown was giggling. The clown winked at him and stuck out its tongue, which was striped red and white like a circus tent.
Bob frantically kicked out with his feet, and one of his heels struck the clown’s bulbous red nose, which produced a loud honk. This didn’t stop the clown from grinning, or from continuing to haul itself into the raft — but the interaction did terrify Bob with its utter solidity. You can’t kick hallucinations in the face.
Seawater sloshed into the raft as the creature finished slithering inside. Glistening black gills in its neck fluttered and its smile stretched even wider. It snatched hold of Bob’s flailing legs, pinning them down. Bob slapped at its face in a panic, and its teeth effortlessly sheered off a few of his fingers.
The game show in Bob’s addled brain was back, the announcer’s voice louder and smarmier than ever. Congratulations, Bob, you’ve won a brand new merclown!
The sea monster’s raspy, eager breath sounded like a roar of applause.
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