Science Fiction & Fantasy

CHOSEN ONES

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Fiction

Great Gerta and the Mermaid

That notorious ship that sailed to the wretched isle known as Neverland under the leadership of one James, self-styled Jas., Cook, called the Jolly Roger, has most naturally been a subject of intense study among historians. Yet even the most meticulous of these scholars have often failed to note that among that dreadful crew sailed at least one woman, Gerta, or, as she named herself, the Great Gerta, or, as she was named by others, Gerta the Girthy.

This cannot be entirely blamed on the scholars. Our information about the Jolly Roger, and indeed the Neverland itself, is at best fragmentary, at worst, contradictory. Contemporary documents are few and far between. Witness accounts are abundant, but although the eyewitness testimony of several upright businessmen, a peer of the realm, and at least one judge cannot be lightly dismissed, these reports were often related years after the fact, and were, besides, hazy on the details. Other accounts, from less reliable sources, contain clear exaggerations and outright fabrications, and must and have been treated with extreme caution.

Beyond this, prudent historians have long recognized that a full and complete revelation of every name of every pirate who sailed with that shameful crew would, even now, create enough scandal and horror to topple some of our weaker financial and scholarly institutions. It is therefore not surprising to note that even the most meticulous historians of Neverland and piracy have refrained from creating such a list, and prudently concealed the most outrageous of the names within footnotes, and occasionally beneath pseudonyms. Alas, this care, beneficial as it has been to the world economy, has left Gerta in undeserved obscurity.

The precise name and place of her birth has also been lost to that prudence of history. What evidence we have suggests that she had at least some Spanish blood, as well as strains from nearly every nation at one time claimed by Spain. She was said to claim at least three queens and five kings among her ancestors, but since every member of Hook’s crew made similar claims, this assertion may safely be dismissed. More believable are the reports that she sailed not just the Seven Seas, but seven times seven times those seven seas: several Lost Boys later related that she could speak with authority about nearly all of the isles of the Pacific, the ports of Asia, the harbors of Africa, and the bolts of the Americas. It seems equally certain that she had sampled the rums of nearly every Caribbean isle, and could often identify its source from a distance of fifty paces. No less than five witnesses attest to her accumulation of treasure: as many as seven, and no less than five stout chests tightly packed with silver and gold and gems, buried on an island whose name has also been lost to the historical record.

She had, besides these chests, ten gold teeth: three within her mouth, that shone whenever she cared to threaten her victims or relax with a cheery song, and seven dangling from a gold chain that she never removed from her neck. Two of these teeth were said to have been seized from none other than the great Blackbeard himself, and three more from Anne Bonny. All agree that she bore not one or two but three cutlasses, the sharpest aboard Hook’s ship, and was of that evil crew one of the most skilled at knife throwing—though her accuracy with pistols was less certain.

Her presence in Neverland seems to have been a matter of some delicacy. Peter Pan, for all his desires for a mother (admirably documented by J.M. Barrie in his seminal works of 1904 and 1911, and later by several notable scholars working under the direction of the Great Ormond Street Hospital), had a horrid fear of real women, and certainly would have tried to leave Gerta the Girthy at the top of a cloud or somewhere much less kind, had he known of her. But for all of his discernment in other matters, he seemingly did not.

Certainly the pirates knew. But although at least some of them clung to the belief that having a woman onboard was bad luck (a superstition that getting stranded on an accursed isle with Gerta the Girthy did nothing to dispel) none of them, even Jas. Hook himself, spoke the truth to Peter Pan. Perhaps they did not know of Peter Pan’s gynophobia, and thus considered it unimportant. Or perhaps they felt some sort of loyalty, however weak, to a fellow member of their crew, whatever her gender. Or perhaps they sensed—on the deep level that can seemingly only be reached in such wretched places as Neverland—what terrible things might happen should Peter Pan ever know that a woman—a woman—stalked his isle.

The Lost Boys, in contrast, dreamed of telling Peter Pan the truth quite often, but somehow, whenever they meant to, they said something quite else entirely. How many of the other residents of Neverland knew is unclear, but they, too, kept their own counsel, for reasons equally unclear. Most of them had reasons enough to dislike pirates, and to aid Peter Pan, but in this one small thing, they seem to have kept their silence.

And so Gerta’s presence on Neverland went unnoticed—at least by Peter Pan.

Whether this was entirely positive—for Gerta or for Peter Pan—may be debated. On the one hand, this meant that Gerta, too, remained trapped on Neverland along with the Jolly Roger and its terrible crew. On the other hand, our sources, slender as they are, suggest that Gerta quite enjoyed certain aspects of Neverland—namely, the weather and the rum that mysteriously never seemed to run dry—and quite disliked others—namely, the Lost Boys and Peter Pan.

She was not a maternal woman in the slightest, and held particularly non-maternal feelings towards a group of small boys who continually interrupted her drinking and sleeping. Three independent sources tell us that Gerta personally and habitually dangled various Lost Boys right over the mouth of a gaping crocodile, though it should be noted that among the pirates, this was an approved and standard method of distracting such fearsome beasts. Her hatred of Peter Pan was second only to that of Hook: she could not and did not think it right for a small boy to go flying into the air harassing his betters, an opinion she stated loudly and often, using language that quite bewildered and terrified the Lost Boys, though her fellow pirates applauded.

We know, too, that Gerta spent many hours tramping through the isle of Neverland, loudly singing “Yo Ho Ho,” suggesting at least a certain tolerance for the place. It has been suggested that Gerta only made these excursions on the orders of Captain Hook, whose desperation to find some way to kill Peter Pan or escape the island never lessened right up until the moments before his death. But it seems equally possible that these excursions sprang from the simple desire to step upon land again, however unfirm. Even the most pleasant life aboard a ship can become tedious after a time, and life aboard this particular ship was rarely altogether pleasant, even without the constant harassment from small flying boys. Wretched as the isle of Neverland was and reportedly still is, it was not completely without its pleasures: a sparkling lagoon, great trees, fields of sweet sugar cane, hordes of parrots, and children falling from the sky as if begging to be tortured. And in at least one reported instance, it seems to have led to a most pleasurable diversion indeed.

It was, witnesses tell us, Gerta’s habit to practice swinging her cutlasses against the sugarcane, grass, trees, and even occasional parrot that she encountered, to retain her skills without risk of injuring a fellow member of the Jolly Roger crew. She was apparently engaged in such practice—punctured with several “Arrrs, arrrs!” and “Scurvy dogs! Scurvy dogs!” (Captain Hook insisted that all of his crew members practice pirate cant on a daily basis; he had very exacting standards)—when she caught sight of a small, dirty boy creeping through the heavy foliage, moving towards the mermaid’s lagoon.

In Neverland, a small, dirty boy can be only one thing: a Lost Boy.

It is unusual to find a Lost Boy alone, but not unheard of. From time to time, a solitary Lost Boy would creep out for a solitary adventure, if only to prove that he could have adventures without Peter Pan, he could, and could survive without Peter Pan, he could. These adventures happen more frequently when Peter Pan is away from the isle, but sometimes when Peter Pan is on the isle, but busy with the other Lost Boys, or new arrivals, or fairies.

As in this particular case, a circumstance that perhaps made this particular Lost Boy a bit bolder than most, knowing that Peter was somewhere close, if not nearby, and could rescue him.

Which Lost Boy in this particular case is unknown. Let us say Curly; other records note that Curly frequently found himself in this sort of situation, and when he later returned to London, he certainly spoke of a pirate who resembled Gerta in all particulars, suggesting more than simply one chance encounter. It could well have been Curly, indeed, but even if it was not, Curly will do as the Lost Boy creeping through the foliage.

Gerta did not try to creep after him. For one thing, her size and the thick crunch of her boots made that impossible. For another, she quite detested creeping anywhere. Her preferred method was to swing aboard a captured ship with a Jacob’s ladder, her cutlasses, and plenty of AVAST YEs and YO HO HOs and SHIVER ME TIMBERS and several bottles of rum. Proper piracy, she called that, full of noise and terror. She was not alone in this opinion, though others in Hook’s crew preferred subtler, crueler, and above all quieter methods. And for a third, the pirates all knew that the best way to capture or kill a Lost Boy was to tire out the Lost Boy, thoroughly. That was easier said than done, and much easier done without creeping than with it.

And so Gerta shouted at the top of her lungs. “AVAST YE!”

Or so two of our accounts have it. A third, related by a pirate decades later, states that Gerta only said a polite “Good afternoon,” but that given Gerta’s strident tones, this was rather like forty fiddles played poorly, all at once, only worse.

It is perhaps understandable that our other reports use AVAST YE instead.

That polite greeting—or the shout—sent the Lost Boy off on a run, to the detriment of the foliage in the area. At that, Gerta took off in pursuit. Quite apart from her own personal hatred of all Lost Boys, Captain Hook’s word on this was absolute: any Lost Boy must be captured or tortured or killed or forced to walk the plank or all four at the same time and at once. She had longer legs than the Lost Boy—that is, Curly—and was about to catch up when they charged out of the foliage and into the sands that bordered the lagoon. The Lost Boy was running so quickly that he quite failed to notice the water and ran right into the lagoon, tripping and falling flat into the water, then tumbling so that his head stayed below the water and his legs waved frantically above, sending waves across the once-still waters of the lagoon.

Gerta strode towards him, laughing at his plight, and at his struggles to tumble himself upright. It is not surprising that she laughed; as we have said, she was cruel. Nor was it a surprise, at least to Gerta, to hear the laughter of someone else quite nearby: where one Lost Boy was found, another one often lurked, laughing, and the fairies often filled that isle with their mocking sounds.

What was a surprise was the laughter seemed to be coming from beneath the sea. Gerta knew enough about boys in general and Lost Boys in particular to know that they could not laugh under the sea, at least not without difficulty and not without help. Prudently, she took a moment to seize the Lost Boy—Curly—by one frantically kicking leg, pulling him out of the water and dangling him from one hand, while she used the other to tie that leg to the bit of rope she always kept by her side for emergencies like this. Then—still holding the Lost Boy upside down—she strode further out into the lagoon to find the source. This was most inconvenient for the boy, since it meant that his head often dipped into the salty waters, but Gerta was not concerned with that. She was concerned with what she saw bobbing out of the water.

“Shiver me timbers,” said Gerta. “What is that?”

Only three creatures are capable of an underwater laughter that can reach the surface and still sound like a regular laugh: mermaids, dolphins, and feather duster worms. This was neither of the latter two, though dolphins often frolicked in the lagoon and feather duster worms sheltered in its reefs. Neither group was inclined to pay much attention to the doings of either Lost Boys or pirates unless disturbed. The mermaids were in a very different situation: the lagoon was then and now one of the few refuges for their kind anywhere in the world. If we can—and do—deplore Peter Pan for his frequent involvement in kidnapping and entrapment of both innocent and less innocent creatures, we can at least applaud him for this. The mermaids did, but remained wary: they, more than the dolphins or the feather duster words, understood how capricious their savior could be, and kept a wary eye on the lagoon at all time.

Our histories do not clarify the precise relationship, or perhaps relationships, between the pirates and the mermaids in Neverland. That they knew of each other is certain; that they interacted on a regular basis is more doubtful. Certainly the mermaids often felt called upon to save a Lost Boy or two from the pirates; equally certainly, at least one pirate—Gentleman Starkey, by most accounts—felt impelled to save a mermaid or two from the Lost Boys. But this appears to have been Gerta’s first encounter with a mermaid, or, at least, her first encounter to involve conversation.

And she does not seem to have previously met this particular mermaid, who by all accounts was beautiful even by the standards of mermaids, who already accounted themselves the most beautiful people on the isle. (Lacking photographic evidence, we must simply take them at their word.) She had pale green or blue-green skin; thick, long, luscious green hair sprinkled with black pearls and shells; a perfect, tiny little nose; and attributes that our prim Edwardian tellers termed voluptuous. And like all of the mermaids on the isle, she wore nothing other than fish scales. The water in the lagoon was quite, quite warm.

It is perhaps no wonder that as the mermaid rose from the waters of the lagoon, and hauled herself out on a nearby stone, Gerta stopped talking, and even the Lost Boy, who had presumably encountered mermaids more frequently, found his jaw dropping open, though he later said he was just trying to get all of the salt water out of his mouth.

“What are you?” asked the mermaid, with a salty voice. “And what is that?”

“My prisoner,” Gerta said proudly, ignoring the first question. She knew, as did all pirates, that it was rarely wise to admit to being a pirate in Neverland, though the other denizens would guess.

“No, I’m not,” protested the boy. “I’m a knight.”

Both the pirate and the mermaid could not help laughing at this—as did, to be fair, the Lost Boys when they later heard the story. This small, dirty, dripping boy dangling over the water, a knight? Gerta almost laughed hard enough to drop the boy, but not quite.

“A knight, be ye?” Gerta said. “How very interesting. Very interesting. And what be ye knighting for?”

“A quest,” the Lost Boy said. “An urgent quest. So can you please untie me, Madame Pirate?”

Gerta might have responded to that bit of politeness, but the mermaid interrupted. “Are you hungry?”

“Yes,” said the Lost Boy.

“He’s honest, anyway,” said the mermaid.

“Then he won’t be minding answering a few questions for me, would he, boy?”

The Lost Boy had dealt with pirates before. “How many is a few?” he asked, warily.

“As many as needs be to satisfy me.”

“Well, if it means being untied, I’ll answer you,” said the Lost Boy bravely.

Gerta smiled. It was a terrible smile, filled with gold. The Lost Boy shook. “What be ye creeping through the foliage for?”

“I told you. I’m a knight. On a quest.”

Gerta cannot be blamed for not believing this. “And what be ye questing for?

“A great ruby,” said the Lost Boy, with an anxious look at Gerta’s cutlass. “Beneath the sea.”

The mermaid laughed. Gerta brought her cutlass closer to the boy. “And ye be questing for this ruby, which ye be saying is beneath the sea, on dry land?”

The mermaid laughed another salty laugh.

“Well, I was heading towards the sea,” the Lost Boy said.

This was true, and Gerta’s eyes narrowed.

“A great ruby, is it? And how would you know about this great ruby?”

“The fairies told me.”

“The fairies,” said Gerta, with disdain. Like all of the inhabitants of Neverland who were not fairies, she had a healthy contempt for them.

“Yes, the fairies,” repeated Curly. (We have decided on Curly.) “And not that Tinker Bell, either,” he said defiantly, before either the pirate or the mermaid could object. “Other fairies. They know things.”

“They know very little about the sea,” said the mermaid. “Even less about what is beneath it.”

“They know about that ruby,” insisted the boy.

“And what do they say about it?”

“That it is big, and grand, and red. And—” the boy had a sudden fit of inspiration—“it kills pirates.”

“Does it now.” Gerta rotated her cutlass thoughtfully. “And what sort of ruby be a killer of pirates?”

“No sort,” said the mermaid, who knew rather more about magic than either the boy or the pirate.

“This sort,” said the boy bravely.

“A ruby that be a killer of pirates,” Gerta said. She placed the tip of her cutlass against the throat of the Lost Boy. It was quite a balancing act—holding a boy and the rope tied to him with one hand, the cutlass with her other, while standing in the waves of the lagoon, but Gerta the Girthy managed it. “I think this be a ruby I need to obtain for meself.”

“You can’t,” said the Lost Boy, who was probably Curly, but might have been Nibs. “I told you, it’s beneath the sea.”

“And how were ye be intending to reach it, then?”

Gerta was, as we have said, large, and fearsome. The cutlasses in her hands were wicked and sharp. It is no wonder that the Lost Boy shook as he answered, as did those telling the tale later. “I was . . ..I was going to ride a mermaid.”

Ride a mermaid?” interrupted the mermaid.

“Arrr,” said Gerta. “Ride a mermaid?”

“So I could breathe underwater.”

“Takes more than a mermaid for that, me boy,” Gerta said. “Some deep knowledge of Davy Jones himself, that takes.”

“You don’t ride a mermaid,” said the mermaid, who apparently felt the need to clarify this point as soon as possible. “You just take her hand. That’s it.”

Both the pirate and the Lost Boy turned to look at her.

“Well, then,” said Gerta heartily, and although she did not point her cutlass towards the mermaid, she did let her eyes roam up to the mermaid’s face, and down to her tail, and back. “Seems like I’ll be fetching that ruby after all.”

The mermaid blushed, and eyed Gerta up and down. “But I don’t know where it is.”

“I do,” said the Lost Boy.

That was a foolish thing to say; it meant that Gerta’s cutlass was under his chin again. “And being the kind, generous sort of boy that you are, you won’t mind showing it to us, would ye?”

“No,” said the Lost Boy, who might have been one of the two Lost Boys known simply as Twin, though his voice shook.

“Then let’s be going.”

“Now?” asked both the mermaid and the Lost Boy, at once.

“Wouldn’t want this little lad changing his mind, would we? And—” Gerta lowered her voice, to even more fearsome levels, “wouldn’t want me Captain missing me and coming out in search, would we?”

Even still dangling upside down, the Lost Boy managed to shake his head.

“And I’m sure this fine lady won’t mind me company for a bit longer, if a jewel be involved.”

Put like that, the mermaid could only agree.

“Then it’s off we be going then.”

It was all very fast, but historians assure us that this is the usual way of adventures in Neverland, and the other two did not argue.

“Don’t we have to shiver our timbers first?” asked Curly.

“That’s only for real pirates, and you, my mole, are not a real pirate.”

“This is not wise,” said the mermaid. She glanced up to the sky, which had shifted into twilight, which in Neverland has more stars than twilights elsewhere. “But it is adventure, and the island might like that.”

“It’s a ruby, if this silly mole speaks the truth. And Hook will like that,” said Gerta, and with that, the three of them were travelling to the bottom of the sea.

• • • •

The bottom of the sea is not very far, in Neverland. It is one reason why the Jolly Roger did not do much sailing while in Neverland: bad enough to be trapped on that wretched isle; far worse to be trapped with the bottom of the ship ripped to pieces. Nonetheless, this part of the story has raised questions, whenever it is told, since neither Lost Boys nor pirates are renowned for their skill at breathing at the bottom of the sea.

It is entirely possible, indeed, that this part of the story is entirely made up, and seekers of the truth—a quality difficult for any historian to distill, and harder still for historians of Neverland—may wish to skip this scene, with assurances that the part that comes after it has raised fewer questions.

Gerta held on to the mermaid’s left hand, very hard, and Curly—it must have been Curly; this part of the story was related by, among others, the Twins, but not in a manner that suggested that they had ever been down to the bottom of the sea—held on to the mermaid’s right, even harder. That was the only way that they could breathe, though the mermaid used the gills on her neck and they kept using their mouths. It made Curly look quite like an odd little fish, which in turn made Gerta and the mermaid both laugh.

But not for long. The way to the bottom of the sea is not safe, even for mermaids. At least three times they had to remain absolutely still to avoid the detection of the dangerous, pirate-and-small-boy-eating sharks who liked to stop by the lagoon from time to time in hopes of snacking on some tender flesh; this was particularly difficult for both Gerta and the Lost Boy. Again and again, the mermaid had to pull both of them away from some fragile coral, or some stinging jellyfish, though for all her efforts, the Lost Boy did scrape his ankle against some fire sponge, which woke him up in tearful screams two nights later, much to the annoyance of Peter Pan and the other boys. (This part of the tale has a distinct sense of truth about it.)

And although the Lost Boy tried to follow the directions he had heard from the fairy, either he had misheard, or forgotten, or the fairies were quite, quite wrong, since the ruby was not at all where he thought it might be. He and Gerta were very soon cold and miserable, which is a part of adventures no one likes, but the Lost Boy was determined to get the ruby for Peter Pan, and the pirate as determined to keep the ruby from Peter Pan, so they kicked on, sending each other the occasional glare when they thought the mermaid wouldn’t notice. Swimming in between them, she of course did.

But at long last—days, by some accounts, or hours, by other accounts, or minutes, by the most plausible account, Gerta spotted a shimmering red dot atop a green and yellow mound off in the distance. She began to kick off in that direction, not stopping to warn her comrades, who were caught rather off guard, but dragged along by her determination. (It is possible that Curly’s unfortunate encounter with the fire sponge happened at this very moment.) Their route was interrupted again by some fierce barracudas, but Gerta barred her teeth at them and the mermaid opened her mouth, and the barracudas fled, allowing them, at long last, to reach the ruby.

It was quite firmly stuck at the top of a large boulder coral, and the mermaid made it quite clear, through a series of gestures, that she could not allow any of them to harm the coral, which made removing the ruby quite tricky. And then Gerta pointed to shadows, seemingly not all that far off, but closer than they looked, under the sea, and heading in their direction. The three sharks they had evaded before had been merely a scouting mission for a group of twelve sharks, and behind them, no less than nine leopard seals, come straight from the Antarctic, desperately hungry, more than willing to consume a pirate, a boy, and a mermaid.

It was a most desperate situation. The Lost Boy could not free the ruby, and both the mermaid and the pirate guessed—correctly, the rest of the Lost Boys later agreed—that Curly (or Slightly; it might have been Slightly) would not leave without the ruby, or at least not without a struggle, whatever the dangers from sharks and seals. Gerta could not let go of her cutlass, not with the sharks and seals approaching at such fast a rate. And if the mermaid let go of either, they would both instantly drown. The pirate and the mermaid gave each other frantic glances, before arriving at the same thought: they both dove down to try to free the ruby with their teeth.

As they did so, their lips—quite accidentally—brushed together, and as they continued to work the ruby with their teeth, their lips continued to brush together. Such was the extremity of their condition that soon it was not brushing, but pressing. To some avail—the ruby grew looser and looser as their tongues and lips continued to knock against it. Though they were so intent upon their work that they almost failed to notice that their lips were touching.

Both of them had, the Lost Boy said afterwards, most peculiar expressions when they rose up from the rock, the ruby clasped between Gerta’s lips. The mermaid’s tail kept twitching. But they had no time to discuss the matter: they had to reach the surface, and quickly, while evading the sharks and the seals. This was tricky: the mermaid might have been able to outswim the sharks, but not while clinging to Gerta and the Lost Boy. They had only one option—to hide their passage upwards as best as they could.

This was not easy for Gerta, accustomed as she was to open attack, or to the Lost Boy, accustomed as he was to shouting, or even the mermaid, accustomed as she was to Neverland. More than once all three were convinced that they had breathed their last. They frequently paused to duck behind a coral outcropping or another, trying to keep their breathing as quiet and as free of bubbles as possible, so as not to alert the sharks—which is quite tricky, beneath the sea. Each time they did so, the mermaid paused to check Gerta’s lips with her own—presumably to ensure that the ruby was still there. It was so distracting that Gerta finally pushed the ruby into the mermaid’s mouth. Which was not as reassuring or helpful as it might have been: Gerta was still so concerned about the ruby that she soon felt the need to check the mermaid’s lips with her own.

All in all, it was a most uncomfortable retreat to the surface, especially for the Lost Boy, who counted himself fortunate to be left out of all of the lip checking, but found himself quite ill at the sight—not to mention deeply concerned for the ruby, which he quite considered his own. Though, it must be noted, not concerned enough to try to take the ruby from either mouth. Lost Boy or not, he had enough sense for that. And besides, circling around them were the sharks.

The sharks were still circling when they broke the surface of the water and hastily climbed upon a nearby rock. This was hardly safe either—the rock was slippery from water and seaweed, and the sharks were still nearby—but it was safer than below the sea. They all, even the mermaid, took several moments to catch their breaths, and then, Gerta, still practical, tied the Lost Boy tightly to the rock.

“Now, where be this cursed ruby?” asked Gerta, after the Lost Boy—that is, Curly—was safely tied up, and the mermaid seemed capable of speech again.

“With me,” said a voice behind them, rich with storms and winds.

All three of them turned towards the voice. It came from a magnificent creature on a nearby rock, fully nine feet tall—or she would have been, had she been able to stand upon her tail, which mermaids could not. Her skin was a rich deep blue; her hair the deep shimmer of mother-of-pearl. Even Gerta, who knew little of mermaids, could recognize her as a queen by the coral and seaweed crown upon her hair, and the seven great pearls on the edge of her tail.

“Majesty,” breathed the mermaid, bowing deeply, nearly knocking Gerta—whose hand had somehow ended up back in hers—off her feet in the process.

“Majesty,” repeated Gerta, who was wise enough to know when to be polite, bowing herself and nearly knocking over the mermaid.

“Ma’am,” squeaked the Lost Boy, who remembered just enough to be polite.

“And mine it shall remain,” said the mermaid queen, quite as if none of them had spoken, holding up the ruby, which was now gleaming in her hand.

No one, then or now, could explain how the ruby had gotten from the Lost Boy, the pirate, and the mermaid, to the mermaid queen, who was quite on another rock, but that was not the main concern of either the Lost Boy or Gerta the Girthy.

“That’s not fair,” howled the Lost Boy. “It’s mine—that is, it’s ours. The fairies told me about it, and we went and fetched it. Not you.”

“This is an isle of fairness, not fairness,” said the mermaid queen, looking at the pirate and the mermaid. The Lost Boy did not understand, not then, but the pirate who later recounted this part of the tale—no less a figure than the fearsome Noodler—was said to have paused at this bit, for a long drink, and needed two more tankards of ale before he could continue.

And with no more courtesy than that, she dove from her rock down into the sea.

“And them royals be wondering why we turn to piracy,” said Gerta, only under her breath, so as not to corrupt the boy or offend the mermaid. (In both respects, she undoubtedly failed.)

The Lost Boy looked crushed, as well he might. He started to take off, only to be stopped by Gerta’s rope, which was still around his leg. “Can I go now?”

“Can I? Can I?” mocked Gerta. “And what should you be saying, Lost Boy? Or is it forgotten every bit of fine grammar that you have, boy?”

The Lost Boys had not, fortunately enough, studied grammar under Gerta, but Curly—if this was Curly—remembered the lessons he had learned at the sword of the cultured Captain Hook and the tongues of some of the children brought to Neverland. “May I go now, Miss—that is, Sir Pirate. Only, it’s not really may, is it? Because you’ve tied me up, so I can’t go.”

The mermaid threw a starfish at him. “You shouldn’t argue grammar when you’re tied up.”

“Then you should untie me, so I can.”

But Gerta had another thought. She turned to the mermaid. “Did you trick me?”

“Would I trick a pirate?” asked the mermaid.

“Yes,” said Gerta.

They heard a splash behind them. Gerta turned, and cursed; the Lost Boy had taken advantage of her thought and the mermaid queen’s visit to cut his ropes and swim away.

“You will see him again,” said the mermaid.

“Yes,” said Gerta, sadly. “We always do.”

The twilight finally faded, leaving them alone beneath the moon and the stars, which seem more numerous, in Neverland.

“In all of this,” Gerta said, “I never did learn your name.”

“I haven’t got a name,” said the mermaid. “Peter Pan calls me ‘that mermaid,’ or ‘that mermaid over there’ when he’s feeling more conversational.”

The Great Gerta twisted her mouth, as she was accustomed to whenever that name was mentioned. “Peter Pan,” she snarled, though in her mouth it sounded less like a name and more like a string of words parents do not wish their children to say. “I hate Peter Pan.”

“Yes,” said the mermaid, sadly. “I can quite see that. For you are not a child.”

“I think I was a child, once,” said Gerta, but her voice had no assurance in it. It is hard to remember such things, in Neverland.

“That is not something wise to admit to, in Neverland,” said the mermaid.

“True,” said Gerta. “Especially since my desires right now are not very childlike.”

And she bent down to kiss the mermaid full on the lips, and shivered as the mermaid responded by drawing her closer, to let Gerta feel the wet sleek skin fall and pulse against her own.

We must not be shocked at this. Pirates do wicked things, as do mermaids, and kisses happen in Neverland more often than Peter Pan knows, or would like to know. And Gerta had swallowed quite a lot of rum that day. (She swallowed quite a lot of rum every day, until her escape from Neverland.) The mermaid had consumed quite a few oysters. (She consumed quite a few oysters every day, and never did escape from Neverland.) They kissed, and kissed again, wicked as it is was, and then did still more wicked things.

“I wish I could take you aboard my ship,” Gerta whispered. (It was not, of course, her ship, but she sometimes thought of it as hers, and saying so sounded better.)

“I wish I could take you to my reef,” the mermaid whispered. (It was, of course, her reef, though she had not seen it in a very long time, and often forgot it was hers.)

“Is this love?” asked Gerta, after a few more moments.

She was, we must remember, a pirate.

“I think perhaps,” said the mermaid.

She was, we must remember, a mermaid.

Our sources record no more of the conversation.

• • • •

No one in Neverland stays in love forever, or even for long. The causes of this are much debated, but the results are not: the love between the nameless mermaid and the Great Gerta outlasted every other love, great and small, on or near that island, and yet it only lasted four months. By then, the mermaid had realized that pirates were far noisier than even she had expected, and Gerta had realized that mermaids were far duller than she could ever have dreamed. So Gerta gave the mermaid one last salt- and rum-laden kiss, watched the mermaid dive deep, deep into the sea, and returned to Captain Hook. Over the rum that mysteriously never ran dry, held deep in the bowels of the Jolly Roger, they cursed women and fairies and mermaids, and swore with loud oaths that they would not stop until they had rid Neverland of Peter Pan. “And that crocodile,” added Captain Hook. Gerta roared and took another sip of rum.

It could all have happened to someone else entirely. Indeed, after only a year or so, the mermaid was quite convinced that it had all happened to someone else. “Imagine,” she told a parrot. “Me, falling in love!” Her laughter rang out over the waves until the noises of shouts and metal clanging on metal warned her that the either the pirates or the Lost Boys were returning, and it was time again to dive beneath the waves. And when the Jolly Roger was at last seized by the forces of Peter Pan, forcing the pirates, too, to dive into the sea, Gerta was surprised to find mermaids there at all, having quite forgotten that she had once spent happy hours kissing one beneath the moon. The other pirates later told tales of her salty responses to the mermaid’s mocking songs; certainly she did not invite any of the mermaids to accompany her when she tried, once again, to escape.

But their story was still remembered and retold over and over and over again, by the mermaids (with the kissing parts) and the Lost Boys (without the kissing parts) and the pirates (with more of the cutlass parts).

And the fairies preserved the kisses, bringing them out whenever absolutely needed for emergencies, which in Neverland happens almost every week, and twice on Tuesdays. After all, they were kisses born from adventure and laughter, and those are almost as powerful as applause, to fairies.

Mari Ness

Mari Ness lives in central Florida. Her other work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Tor.com, Uncanny, Fireside, Diabolical Plots, Apex, Strange Horizons, Lackington’s, and right here in Lightspeed and Nightmare. Her poetry novella, Through Immortal Shadows Singing, is available from Papaveria Press. For more, visit her occasionally updated webpage at marikness.wordpress.com, or follow her on Twitter at mari_ness.