by AJ Hartson and Wakey Nelson

Dumi flipped his ears as he let the current carry him along. He’d been drifting for days with no sign of any food along the ocean floor. It was the hungriest he could ever remember being in his three years of life. He would have settled for a snail—heck, even a measly bristle worm—just so that he could have something in his stomach. 

But no. Everywhere he looked was barren, no signs of life to be found. When food had gotten scarce, he had decided to strike out for one of the deeper trenches in the hopes that he would have more luck, but even here it seemed that something was terribly wrong with the ocean food chain.

A flicker of movement off to the right caught his attention. Something was gliding along the ocean floor, and he propelled himself closer so that he could investigate. It was white with red markings on it, two loops at one end along with a larger opening and what looked like a hollowed-out space inside, and he twisted and peered at it to try to decide if it was edible or not.  It didn’t look overly promising, and when he poked it with a tentacle, it just floated a few inches away. Hmm. Not food, then.

His stomach ached from hunger, though, and he figured it couldn’t hurt to try one more time. He bobbed over and maneuvered himself so that he could shove his face through the larger opening to see whether there was anything tasty hiding inside the object. Disappointment filled him when there was nothing to be found—not even a single crustacean.

The current changed around him, alerting him to something larger approaching, and he tried to back out. As he did so, the loops seemed to constrict, wrapping around him and tangling in his ear flaps. He started to panic, thrashing about as he tried to free himself from the object.

“Well, what do we have here?”

He heard the voice seconds before hands scooped him up, holding him firmly in place. Deft fingers worked the loops free from around his ears and pulled the object from his head. 

He contorted himself to see what—or who—had grabbed him, and his eyes widened when he saw one of the merfolk. They had long hair the color of the indigo murk at the bottom of a yawning trench, their tail the shade of the pale twilight zone where the shallows dropped off into the deep waters that he lived in. They smiled at him, teeth needle-sharp, and he shivered as he hoped that the merperson wasn’t as hungry as he was. He’d never heard of them hunting his kin for food, but as he’d already discovered, hunger could make creatures do things they wouldn’t normally consider.

To his enormous relief, the merperson just held him up and studied him for a second before saying, “You’re skinny. Come, let me feed you.”

Satisfied that he wasn’t on the menu, Dumi allowed the merperson to tuck him under their arm as they swam deeper down into the trench. They seemed nice, he thought, and he couldn’t help wiggling from happiness when they arrived at a small cave and he saw the food laid out inside. There were sea worms and amphipods galore, and he nearly jetted over to the small stone table to dive in before remembering his manners.

He glanced up at the merperson and found them smiling at him knowingly. “Go on. Eat your fill.”

No further prompting was necessary, and he plopped himself down on the table and began inhaling whatever he could reach. It didn’t take long before he was stuffed to the gills. He chuffed quietly to himself as he turned to the merperson, who was watching him fondly.

“I’m Moran,” they said. Dumi did a little spin, flapping his ears to create a trail of bubbles that spelled out his name. “Dumi—what a lovely, strong name.” He preened at the attention before a yawn overtook him. Moran gestured at a small overhang in the rock. “You’re welcome to stay here, if you like.” They paused, then added, “It gets lonely here sometimes. Most of my kind have moved on, but there are too many old memories in this cave for me to leave it.”

Dumi swam a quick circle around them and bumped them with his head, nudging their hand until they chuckled and scritched just behind his ear fins in the spot that always made him want to flop over on his back. 

“I take it that’s a yes?” He chuffed again in response and changed his color to a celebratory fluorescent pink, and Moran smiled down at him. “I do believe we were meant to meet, my little friend.”  Dumi flipped his ear fins in agreement before swimming over to the little nest in the overhang. It was the perfect size for him, and he curled up into a cozy ball inside. 

His belly was full of tasty food, the current in the cave was a gentle swirl around him, and he could hear Moran humming an ancient sea song under their breath across the cave. It felt like home, and as he drifted to sleep, he thought to himself that he might have just lucked into finding a new best friend.


© Copyright AJ Hartson and Wakey Nelson

AJ Hartson (they/them/theirs) is a queer kanaka maoli writer currently based out of Minnesota. They grew up on a steady diet of fanfic, horror, fantasy, and science fiction, and they have a soft spot for stories that push us to collectively imagine what a different world could look like.

Wakey Nelson is half of a small screen printing business called Chibi Yeti, and they are dedicated to getting their art out into the world!

Read the Rest of the November Issue

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