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Of Priests and Mermaids

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Well-crafted prose can’t hide derivative ideas and unfulfilling spins on premises

Synopsis

A collection of fascinating short stories from J.C. Nova that you will not forget in a hurry. A young priest with hidden skills and a double life is forced to face what he has run away from for so long. Nightmare becomes reality when a single girl stumbles on a creature that wants all of her. A member of an elite defense squad is tasked with delivering a package, but it turns out things are not what they appear to be. A man falls in love with a mermaid who wants more than just love - and many other tales. Step into a world of intrigue that has been carefully curated by a master storyteller, and prepare to be engulfed by the unpredictable!

Of Priests and Mermaids is a collection of speculative fiction short stories by J.C. Nova, spanning such topics as military experiments, alien invaders, mermaids, and schoolyard bullying. Not all the stories are speculative; all of them offer – or profess to offer – some sort of twist in their short runtimes.


Unfortunately, while the stories in Of Priests and Mermaids are well-written in terms of craft – Nova’s grasp of prose and description is excellent – the stories themselves don’t do much to experiment with the premises given, and occasionally fall into tropes best left in the cliché graveyard. It’s hard to get excited about a anti-bullying vigilante who feels like an anime caricature of Japanese girls, or mermaids that are exactly the vicious devourers-of-men that they’re depicted in myth. (There’s also a story from the perspective of a rapist that, rather than being fascinatingly twisted or subversive, ends up indulging in all the wrong parts. He meets a bad end, but it’s still a trudge to read.)


Of course, there’s no such thing as an untold story; nor is this the kind of short story collection that any two people will come away from with the same opinions. There are some fascinating ideas and twists on old stories in here, and in those cases, I just wish the pay-off had been better. Overall, though, I’d like to see fewer literary collections with thinly-veiled criticisms of women in every entry, and more that follow through on their central ideas with the same zest with which they’re presented.


I’d recommend this book to folks who enjoy shorter, straight-to-the-point speculative fiction, and people looking for speculative fiction that plays fast and loose with the boundaries between fantasy and science fiction.

Reviewed by

I enjoy reading new books and fiction, and have a fresh, unique perspective as a Canadian queer disabled person.

Synopsis

A collection of fascinating short stories from J.C. Nova that you will not forget in a hurry. A young priest with hidden skills and a double life is forced to face what he has run away from for so long. Nightmare becomes reality when a single girl stumbles on a creature that wants all of her. A member of an elite defense squad is tasked with delivering a package, but it turns out things are not what they appear to be. A man falls in love with a mermaid who wants more than just love - and many other tales. Step into a world of intrigue that has been carefully curated by a master storyteller, and prepare to be engulfed by the unpredictable!

Under a Silent Moon

 Simeon threw the rock and waited, watching the smooth pebble skip over the water’s surface. Under the light of the full moon, the ripples, triggered by rock touching water, had a mesmerizing dream-like quality. The silence was almost weird; there were no sounds of crickets from the bushes that surrounded the river, even at this time of night. Perhaps, they were aware that a strange event which had been ongoing for years was about to play out again and they had decided to watch in discreet silence from their homes in rocks and logs around the river. Once more, Simeon made another rock skip over the water, leaned for a moment against one of the tall trees that dotted the river’s edge, took a look around to ensure no one was watching, and then slowly began to walk down to the river.


The day had been tough, like every other day of his life. Farming had its good days, but most of the time, especially in the village, it was tough for a lowly farmhand like he was. It was going to sleep at midnight and getting up well before dawn, daily. Then, there were the animals to feed, pens to wash, woodblocks to chop, fields to weed… It went on and on. Many thought he was lucky to be employed by four of the ten nobles in the village, working in their massive fields with hopes that he would move from farmhand to chief farmer. And then what? Lord of the manor? Deep down, Simeon was tired of the drudgery of his life. He wanted more, but the question was, what is more? 


He had no clue. 


He had never known his parents, and his earliest memories were of the dark, depressing orphanage he had escaped. After that had been life as a handyman, and then as a farmhand, each course marked by glum monotony, and a growing lack of fulfilment.


That was until she had come into his life.


He was at the dark river’s edge now, expectation rising with every step. It had been a moonlit night and he had thrown the stones as always. The water was warm, strangely so, now caressing his bare feet and dancing around his ankles as he stood in the water. Then he squatted, took one final look around to ensure he was alone, before slapping the calm surface of the water hard. Once. Twice. Thrice. And then he paused, waiting and looking out into the distance.


First, there was nothing. Just the rushing of the river, slow currents that moved along lazily to God-knows-where. Then, in the grey misty distance, what appeared to be the top of a cap quietly broke surface and began to move towards him rapidly. He watched, his eyes beginning to gleam with expectation, and then the form became a face, a hauntingly beautiful face over wet shoulders, that were over well-formed bossoms that perfectly accentuated the sashay of lithe perfect hips. 


She was beautiful – as always. 


A smile danced around the corners of her mouth as she walked right out of the water. It was the transformation from the waist that always fascinated him, somewhat drowning him in a mental cocktail of horror, delight, and awe. Her waist to her feet was covered with glistening fish scales that were grey in the moonlight. He watched in wonder as the fins around her ankles slowly pushed their way into her skin as her lower body took on a more human form. The scales blended with skin, and before he could observe further, she was in his arms, lips on his, and at that moment, as always, everything else faded. She was his, he was hers, and in the end, nothing else really mattered...


Not long after, they lay on their backs next to each other, arm in arm, gazing at the moon. There were still no sounds from crickets or nature. All was still. Finally, she broke the silence.

"I am tired of seeing you only once a month.” Simeon sighed softly, beginning to rub her arms before replying in a soft voice.

"We see each other only once a month because I can only reach you when the moon is full.”

"Because you do not want to be with me, Simeon!”

"But I do, my love…”

"Then come with me, my love.” Her voice was insistent. “Come with me.”

"I cannot, my love. Not now.”


There was silence, and then she chuckled suddenly. He turned to look at her, a slightly quizzical look in his eyes.

“Simeon, you do know that I am a queen, and I am not used to not having my way.” She turned to him, leaning on an elbow, and gazing into his eyes with those clear blue eyes that made his world swim. And then, when she spoke, her words took his breath away.

“Simeon,” she sighed softly. “Don’t you want to see my world?” There was another pause. “Don’t you want to meet your sons?”


At the moment she spoke, he thought he had heard a soft rustling sound in the bushes around them, but his mind was more preoccupied with what she was saying. His sons? He had sons that were not… The thought was too much to comprehend. Not fully human? As the thought hit him, the sounds around him became unmistakably louder, the clear rustling of feet, and Simeon jerked around in time to see four young men walk out from the bushes that surrounded them. They walked slowly towards where he lay, a look of recognition on their faces as though they had always known him. In the gloom of the night, he could just make out scales and fins melding into skin. Simeon jumped to his feet, panic gripping him now.


“Ama…” he started, backing away, but the words were not coming out right from his quivering lips. “Amatheia, who are these? What is going on? Why…”

“These are your sons, my love…” She was on her feet now, and she kissed him on the lips, turned sharply and began to walk towards the water’s edge. “And we have come to take you home.”

Her last words were said with a sense of finality he had never heard before. His head began to swim and he thought he was going to faint, then the dizziness gave way to panic - and panic gave him wings. He fled – he didn’t have to look behind him to know they were coming after him. And by God, they were quick!


Simeon heard them running behind him, then they were beside him in a flash, and before he could scream, strong hands seized him. “PLEASE!” Simeon screamed, but the young men were deaf to his cries. They held him up like undertakers, two on both sides, with grips like vices, his struggling form held up in the air like a bothersome casket, and they began the walk to the water’s edge.


“PLEEEEASE!!!” Simeon screamed again, with enough strength to raise the dead. Somewhere in his mind, he prayed someone would hear him and come running. Hoped that someone would come on time to save him. Hoped that the fear of being seen by human eyes would make these mermen panic, maybe drop him. None of that played out. Not tonight. Amatheia simply gave a nod and began to walk down into the river, water rising from ankle to knee to chest, with the young men, his sons, following in her steps. The look on her face was firm, but he could not deny the softness in her eyes when her gaze fell on him. He was right above the water now and he struggled in vain against his captors.


“PLEEEEEEE……”, but that was as far as he got before the group was totally submerged by the slow currents of the river.


And the only evidence of what had transpired under the silent moon was air bubbles.


And Simeon’s shoes.

About the author

"I'm going to frighten you. Or Inspire you. And if you're neither, well, I tried!" J.C. Nova is a fiction thriller writer with several works credited to him. These include "Kissing Snakes", "Our Favourite Demon" and "Of Priests and Mermaids". He is also a guitar and martial arts enthusiast. view profile

Published on February 20, 2019

Published by

30000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Thriller & Suspense

Reviewed by

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