The following is the original draft for Part II of the prologue in all its misspelled and grammatically incorrect glory. The editorial process trimmed some fat as well as made the whole thing read better. It was subsequently moved and became Chapter 11. The original is posted here to satisfy the curiosity of potential readers and provide some reference for future novels in the series.
A Brief and True Historie of Colony Island
It all began with rusting tridents. Centuries before Columbus, merfolk had migrated to the New World. The waters were hospitable and food was plentiful so their numbers grew and there they stayed. Life was good but they had overlooked one minor fact; iron rusts in salt water. No matter how much care they took of them, one by one, their tridents became useless. They were able to sharpen shells and affix them to pieces of wood but these were at best, stopgaps. At worst, they were less than effective tools in often deadly situations. In the end, there was nothing better than an iron trident when it came to dealing with great white sharks.
Possible solutions to the problem were debated but no answer was completely satisfactory. One idea was to swim back across the Atlantic and obtain new tridents from forges along the coast of the Mediterranean. The flaws in this idea was finding those mer-friendly forges – if they still existed – and finding the wherewithal to pay for them. In addition, carrying hundreds and hundreds of tridents back across the Atlantic was daunting to say the least. Even if they towed small boats or rafts, one good storm at sea would leave them back where they started.
Another camp favoured adapting to what they had at hand. One well-traveled merman had observed their counterparts along the East Asian coast using bamboo for shafts and sharpened shells or stones as spear-heads. While bamboo was native to the Americas, they had no tools to cut and shape the wood much less fashion good, dependable spear-heads. There were other suggestions like using whale bones but it all came down to one thing: They didn’t have the proper tools to do any of this. It was then suggested that they steal the tools from the humans but that option was considered too risky and dangerous.
Finally, it was agreed that they would trade their most plentiful commodity – fish – for metals or things that could be later used to buy tools. Merfolk had occasionally traded with humans over the millennia so there shouldn’t have been a problem. However, after several unfortunate incidents, the mermen decided that they would assume their human form when trading and pass themselves off as fishermen, supplying seafood in exchange for the commodities they needed as well as fruits and vegetables.
Their trade with humans necessitated rafts, dugout canoes and nets, all of which the merfolk learned to make and when the Spanish began to colonise the new world, they learned to build boats and became expert sailors. After all, a boat or canoe gliding along on its own would raise suspicions amongst the indigenous peoples as well as the Spaniards. Their plan was to setup what appeared to be a seasonal fishing village and trade fish for land commodities. After two to four months, they would decamp and move up or down the coast to a new location.
One year, as their fishing season ended, boats and nets were in dire need of repair or replacement. They chose an isolated island on Florida’s east coast as a base. The island was approximately three quarters of a mile wide at most points and nearly four miles long. It was protected from the mainland by a large swamp that ran the length of the island, what would later be known as the Royston River on the south and a series of marshes and narrow inlets on the north. The backbone of the island was ten to 15 feet above sea level with the land sloping gently down to the sea and connected with a similar mainland ridge at the North West end. Other than this point, the only practical way to reach the wooded island was by water.
While most of the merfolk went south for the winter months, a contingent stayed behind to effect repairs and fashion replacements where necessary. Some of the merfolk traveled to human settlements where they worked as apprentice and journeyman carpenters, metalworkers, etc. They brought their new or enhanced skills back to the island where the rest were living and proceeded to build basic huts and shacks to live in.
By the time the main body of merfolk returned, the colony had established itself and both new and repaired boats and equipment awaited the start of their fishing season. At the end of the season, they decided to return to the island to repair their equipment and this time, more merfolk chose to stay for the duration. After five years, all but a handful were staying behind. They learned other crafts from the humans and the colony was thriving on their very own island. The quality of life improved and as more and more houses were built, the merfolk found that living on the shore had its benefits.
They still thought of themselves as mermaids and men but they also thought of themselves as having one fluke in the ocean and one foot on land. In effect, the seducers and seductresses from the sea had themselves been seduced by comfy chairs, warm beds, and hot meals. The town of Colony Island prospered and they were quite satisfied with the way things had turned out.
Not everyone, though, was happy with the turn of events. The merfolk who remained in the sea considered the residents of Colony Island to be sell-outs. They had always thought humans to be a nuisance about which they could do nothing and looked down their noses at the merfolk living on shore, considering them to be pretenders; mer who were trying to be like humans. The residents referred to those in the sea as ‘feral’; a favour which was returned by labeling the islanders as ‘domesticated’. Nonetheless, some ferals decided to have a go at living on land but the results were less than promising. Out of every 50 who tried this, all but 5 had returned to the sea within a generation or less.
Things did not always go well for the islanders though, as they considered themselves to be not quite as good as humans. Over the years, the residents developed something of an inferiority complex and anyone who tried too much to emulate humans was considered to be putting on airs. For their part, the humans in the area thought of them as ordinary fishermen and shop-keepers. A bit odd perhaps, but human nonetheless.
As the years passed, the main road through the town of Colony Island became lined with storefronts and though the primary industry was still fishing, businesses sprung up to service the needs of the fleet as well as the residents. Many of the houses had large garden plots and the owners made money by selling the produce. Colony Island actually had an economy of its own.
Things changed – for the better – in the late 1800’s when a fishing boat snagged a net on something in deep water. Two of the fishermen – William H. Tench and Thomas Waterman – shifted to tails and swam down to free the net. What they found was the wreck of a Spanish ship en route from Havana that had been separated from its escorts and blown far off course in a tropical storm during the 16th or early 17th century.
The overladen ship had sunk in deep water with all hands and was eventually forgotten; the price of doing business on the sea. The cargo was Columbian gold; lots of it. There was so much of the gold that humans would certainly ask questions as to where it was found and how it was recovered; Questions whose answers would raise even more questions and ultimately endanger the Islanders’ secret.
The town fathers decided that the money would be used for the benefit of the residents. It took some doing but most of the gold was melted into ingots and, one by one, quietly sold on the Havana exchange as well as in other countries in the region. The full value of the gold was not realised but nonetheless, Colony Island was fabulously wealthy by the standards of that day. While by far, the largest share was claimed by the town, a modest but still quite valuable amount was given to the crew with the lion’s share of that amount going to William H. Tench and Thomas Waterman. Even so, the other members of the crew were still very well off financially.
In the early 1900’s, the town began to put its share to use by buying kit homes from Sears and Roebuck as well as other vendors. Many of the mermen found work in assembling the new houses and demolishing the ones they replaced. A century later, there was a cadre of tradesmen, builders and construction workers descended from these men who did most of the building and repair on Colony Island and worked construction jobs on the mainland when there was nothing for them at home. Many of the homes in and around the county seat of Royston were built by mermen from Colony Island.
In 1906, Christophorus Kolidakis arrived on the island from New York City. The only son of the Greek fishing magnate, Mikolas Kolidakis, Christophorus had been invited by the town fathers to help modernize the fishing fleet as well as build a processing plant and cannery. He was handsome, had a natural charm about him and was very popular with the residents, both those within the fishing community and those without. Within two years, Christophorus would have never needed to pay for a dinner again if he had so chosen as there were standing offers of meals at home with the islanders. He was the first human that many of the residents had encountered on a regular basis and most merfolk found him to be, far and away, very different from the somewhat frightening image that the term ‘human’ seemed to conjure.
For his part, Christophorus loved Colony Island and while much of his work could have been handed off to associates – both human and otherwise – he chose to handle all of it himself, leaving for only very brief periods of time in order to return to New York to visit with his family and help handle the affairs of his father’s business. Christophorus was actively contemplating bringing his family to the island for an extended winter holiday when tragedy struck; his parents and sisters were lost in a tragic boating accident off of Long Island. Suddenly, he was all alone in the world.
The residents were devastated to learn the news and as Christophorus prepared to travel home for the funerals and to take the reins of his father’s company, he was humbled by the town’s response. Resident after resident stopped to offer their condolences and beg him to return to Colony Island as soon as he was able. After two and a half months in New York, he made good on his promise to return and finish his work there, using his late father’s private railroad car for the trip. He need not have worried about transportation between the railway station and the island as seemingly every car in the town had made the trip in order to welcome him home.
There is still some debate to this day as to how it happened or whom was behind it, but Christophorus ‘accidentally on-purpose’ learned of the islanders true nature and was subsequently invited to become one of them. Touched and moved by the outpouring of affection from the residents, he decided that this was how and where he wanted to spend the rest of his life. While he still made trips back to New York City, he transferred as much of the company’s management as was practical to Florida.
Some years later, Christophorus sought to give back to the town that had welcomed him into its heart and he commissioned a Greek revival building to be used as a town hall. It featured mosaics of sea life in the lobby and directly beneath the pediment was carved ‘The Temple of Poseidon’. As much as the residents loved and respected Christophorus Kolidakis, the majority considered the building to be an abomination and actively planned to tear it down the moment he left Colony Island for good. In 1941 the opportunity to do just that presented itself.
Italy and then Germany invaded Greece and as America had not yet entered the war, Christophorus felt that it was his patriotic duty to swim to Greece and join the resistance. He immediately gifted the town a small part of his fortune and changed his will in order to make Colony Island the sole beneficiary if he should not survive. In early September, he bade the town farewell and was escorted well out into the Atlantic by part of the town’s fishing fleet, flying both American and Greek flags. Reporting from the war zone was sketchy but eventually, news reached Colony Island about unexplainable sinkings of Axis ships in the Mediterranean. Limpet mines were suspected to be the cause but how they came to be attached to the targets was a mystery.
The demolition advocates had little time to celebrate as America was drawn into the conflict three months later. Inspired by his example and the realization that their life on Colony Island was over if the US lost the war, many of the mermen chose to stand shoulder to shoulder with the humans and enlisted in the armed forces. Not all of them returned. On the home front, Colony Island’s fishing fleet received a Presidential commendation for their part in the capture of a German submarine during Operation Drumbeat. They were also responsible for sinking a second sub but kept that quiet as the news would have raised too many questions about how they managed to accomplish this feat.
Eighteen months after the cessation of hostilities, the Mayor received, via Christophorus’ lawyer, a cheque with the instructions that the funds be used to erect a war memorial in honour of those who served in uniform during the conflict. By almost unanimous consent, the name of Christophorus Kolidakis was included amongst those on the memorial. Accompanying the cheque was a letter from Christophorus announcing that he had decided to settle down on a small island in the Aegean with a nice Greek mermaid he had met along the way. The foes of the town hall wasted no time in petitioning that the structure be immediately razed. To their dismay, public opinion had reversed itself and the vast majority of residents took umbrage that anyone would want to tear down the now beloved Town Hall. Public sentiment was such that those campaigning for demolition were advised to go to sea for a few years for their own safety.
The postwar prosperity that blessed the rest of the nation seemed to bypass Colony Island and nothing was more affected than its fishing business. The whole industry was starting to change and as factory ships began to make their appearance, fish stocks began to decline. While the fishermen of Colony Island could still catch enough fish, there was no way that they could compete with the factory ships and centralised processing facilities. In the late 1950’s, the Island’s processing plant shut down. The fleet would either take its catch to a facility up the coast or try to sell it for local consumption. All this sent the Island’s economy into a tailspin as the residents were ill-equipped to deal with such a radical shift in such a short time.
Some of the residents – particularly the more recent arrivals – returned to the sea while others sought work on the mainland. An enclave of Colony Island merfolk sprung up in Royston as a way to avoid the daily commute and in time, the enclave would be made up mostly of young professionals with a more cosmopolitan outlook than the islanders. While they would come back on weekends to swim and catch up on things, the Island was no longer their home. The inferiority complex that had all but vanished during the war years quickly reasserted itself and the islanders turned inward. As a result of this, members of the enclave eventually stopped coming on weekends as they found the whole town too depressing and looked for other places to swim.
Participation in activities that were perceived as human fell off and music was seldom heard in town. The phrase “Awww, that’s just something that humans do” became common currency and anyone who did things such as attending their child’s school play was perceived as trying to pass as human. To be sure, there was still life in the town and, on an individual basis, people were more or less happy but Colony Island was not what it once was.
The post-war population boom also affected Colony Island as mainland housing developments crept closer. While the swamp to the west of the island was an un-buildable barrier, the town used the bequest by Christophorus to buy buffers to the north and south of the island. The marshes and narrow inlets to the north were designated a wildlife refuge and the land south of the Royston River was developed as a small, wooded buffer community and some members of the enclave were persuaded to move there.
The one bright spot was the Colony Academy; also known as just “The Academy”. For decades, children of the residents had been educated on the island through high school. As education standards improved, the town could no longer maintain a K-12 school system for the relatively small numbers of children on the island. It was decided that island children would attend the county high school and also the middle school if the parents wanted. The elementary school became a private academy that taught most of the island children in that age range as well as a significant number of children from the Royston enclave.
The Academy gave the island children a chance to learn the in’s and out’s of interacting with humans such as: flashing your fins is not a good idea for show and tell and learning to keep your legs if you found yourself in the water with humans. Students studied the usual elementary school subjects as well as those more associated with life in the sea. The Academy also offered after school programmes for those being home-schooled as well as those attending the County public schools through 12th grade.
For the majority of the Island’s children, attending high school was their big adventure in life and they made the most of it. Upon graduation some attended the local community college and a few went on to university but in the end, most returned to Colony Island or lived within the Royston enclave. Over the years, Colony Island has produced tradesmen, professionals, a few All-Americans and one High School valedictorian: Penelope Anne Tench. Urban Mermaid is her story.