MERMAN

By Enola Jones

Illustration by bunny007, used with her kind permission.



August 1968

Two days before Keith's birthday, the others found out about the mutation his power caused.

They knew when things were bad or he was hurt, nothing helped him like contact with water. That was one reason they had bought the Loft it was on a small beach on the Thames. Barely a quarter of an acre of soft, golden-white sand.

When Keith had begun to spend more time in the water, a physical mutation had begun to manifest. Keith would lose his legs they would fuse into a blue-green merman's fluke. And they would stay a fluke until he could dry off.

The most maddening part of it for Keith was when he was a merman, he lost the ability to speak. Speech would return when legs did.

Two days before Keith's twenty-second birthday, a village on the coast was attacked by a pair of bat-winged men. Any hope the Elementals had for a quick battle faded when one of them sliced a wing-tip toward Pete.

As Pete dodged it, his eyes went huge. "They've got razor-sharp edges to those things!"

"Shit!" Keith groaned, taking to the air. "Pete, with me!" he yelled as one of the bat-men rose after him. "John, Roger, keep him on the ground!"

"Yeah, you take the easy job!" John shot back good-naturedly as they redoubled their efforts in battle.

Suddenly, the grounded bat-man whirled, his knife-tipped wing slashing out and finding its target.

Roger roared in agony. He'd mis-judged the wingspan. The tip ripped into his belly, tearing open a long vertical gash just above and to the right of his navel.

The force and angle of the blow lifted Roger into the air, impaled on the wing for a second. Then with a grunt of effort, the bat-man flung the wing out and Roger went flying.

When he landed, Keith's head snapped around. "Oh, hell," he breathed as he wheeled about mid-air.

"Where are you going?" Pete gasped.

"Daltrey in the drink!" Keith quipped over his shoulder as he shot into the cool waters of the Atlantic.

Roger was semi-conscious, trying to hold his breath and force his leaden limbs to obey him as his blood stained the water a brilliant red.

Suddenly, he was jerked from behind and felt himself being dragged up -- very fast! He managed to turn his head to the side and what he saw shocked him to full consciousness.

A turquoise-coloured fluke was cutting through the water at his feet. A merman was hauling him away!

Frightened at seeing legend come to sudden, Technicolor life and fearing he was being dragged away to drown Roger began to struggle.

His chin was gripped and forced to turn to look at his other side, and he beheld the face of the merman who held him.

Keith.

Going limp with relief and blood loss, Roger allowed Keith to haul him to the surface. Once there, they saw the bat-men flying off, one holding the other; who could not fly, as his wing was smoking.

Keith's wide eyes turned to John, who shrugged. "Nailed him through the wing."

"Sure-Shot Entwistle!" Pete laughed, bouncing on his toes with near-manic energy.

John nodded at Roger. "How's he?"

Keith didn't answer verbally. He hauled Roger bodily onto shore, and turned him over, revealing the exhaustion in his eyes and the ugly deep gash on his belly.

Then, Keith hauled himself onto shore. And the others saw for themselves what had happened to him.

"Holy f---!" Pete yelped. Keith pinned him with a glare, and the Air Elemental's high cheekbones and ears pinkened slightly.

John nodded slowly. "Mighty quiet there, Keith. Can't you speak like that?"

At his headshake, Pete quipped, "Maybe we should leave him like that."

Keith spared a moment from washing out Roger's wound to eloquently shoot a double-fingered insult in Pete's direction.

"Needs stitches," John reported, studying the wound and making Roger hiss and bat at his questing hand.

Pete threw up his hands. "Wonderful! How are we going to explain this?"

Roger chuckled weakly. "Leave that.... to me."

And so it was that the papers reported Roger Daltrey receiving stitches for a severe cut sustained by a flying guitar string during one of Pete Townshend's smashing sprees. He would explain over and over that it was so deep because it had inadvertently opened an old surgery scar from a childhood encounter with a swallowed nail.

THE END




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