this story was commissioned by Phil Velasquez
and written by Quentin 'Cubist' Long

  Go ahead and call me Jenny; I don't mind in the least. And my life is good. Really. Heck, I've got no financial worries! But even so...
  I loved the ocean. That's why I lived in Saralito, a coastal village south of Monterey Bay. And I wasn't just the best female mechanic, I was one of the top 5, period! Specializing in boat engines, of course. I could also do cars, but drydock gave me a much better view of the Pacific. I would have been happy to live out my life in Saralito, sailing in my spare time, and eventually having my ashes scattered over the sea. But as the saying goes -- 'Life is what happens to you when you're making other plans'.
  In Latino cultures, they talk about 'the thunderbolt' -- love, very sudden and very intense, sort of like Cupid with nuclear-tipped arrows.
  Dear Lord, but the thunderbolt hit me hard!
  Saralito's a small town, everybody knows everybody. So the moment I laid eyes on Jimmy, I knew, deep in my soul, two things: One, he was new in town. Two, he was the one for me. Love at first sight... even now I can't explain it. He's no Matthew Broderick, not even Mel Gibson or Clint Eastwood; he's got a paunch and a receding hairline, and just from looking, you know this man has never even thought of plastic surgery. With Jimmy, what you see is exactly what you get. He's genuine, through and through.
  He was bringing his boat in for service -- sounded like his spark plugs were fouled, and I didn't care for the color of the smoke from his exhaust. And when I saw his face, well, that's when the thunderbolt struck. Fortunately, I managed to take care of business even though my brain was frozen -- I just thank God that I had my professional routine to fall back on!
  Oh yes, I fell hard for Jimmy. But he didn't feel the same way about me... He liked me as well as he liked everyone else, but I needed more than that! Well, if he didn't want me, what did he want? I asked my friends, because the small-town grapevine is better than the New York Times, and I learned all about my Jimmy.
  I already knew he was the Reverend James Dungallaway, just recently transferred to the local diocese (or whatever his sect called it). He, too, loved the ocean, and more: He loved mermaids. He spent much of his free time seeking out stories and pictures with mermaids in them, which quest took him to unfamiliar corners of the Internet.
  So there it was: My Jimmy's heart was so filled with dreams, he had no room left in it for any real woman. There in my houseboat, bathed in the light from my computer's screen, I wept...
  Then I smelled brimstone -- not sulfur; real brimstone smells different -- and heard a throaty voice outside: "Good evening, Jennifer. May I come in?"
  I had no idea who it was, but I didn't feel like taking chances. As I got my gun ready, I said, "Hold on. I'm not decent yet."
  Through the peephole in the door, I saw a professional-looking woman in a grey silk suit and a reddish (sunburnt?) complexion. I whipped open the door, leading with the barrel of my H&K -- and she didn't bat an eye!
  "You're cautious. I like that."
  "And I don't like strangers poking around my houseboat. Explain, or I shoot you."
  She smiled, revealing pointed teeth. "I'm a demon, Jennifer."
  What!? At that moment her -- its -- eyes flashed, and everything made sense: Of course demons and angels, and all the rest of those theological entities, existed!
  "I apologize for adjusting your worldview like that, but I've found it saves an enormous amount of time explaining. Shall we get down to business?"
  It was a demon, yes, but... it hadn't done anything bad, and it had asked my permission to come in...
  "Alright," I finally said. Once we were both seated in my living room, I asked, "What do you want with me?"
  "I'm here because I could sense your unfulfilled desire."
  "What about my soul?"
  "Is that an offer to sell?"
  It nodded. "Just asking -- even if you had been offering, I wouldn't have taken you up on it. Being immortal, I prefer long-lasting business relationships, and buying a soul is a one-shot deal. So tell me: What do you want?"
  I knew, and I realized that it didn't matter what the cost would be; even if the demon lied, I was willing to sell my soul, if only...
  "I want Jimmy to love me the way I love him."
  "Very well," it said, staring at nothing in particular. "I see that he's going to host a beach party, two Sunday evenings from now; there's your opportunity. Hmmm... Can't affect James, he belongs to the Competition... Are you willing to change?"
  It smiled, and its fangs looked nastier the second time around. "I think I can help you," it said, extracting something shiny from a briefcase that wasn't there a second ago. It was a silver lamé dress, with a plunging neckline and black embroidery that made it seem to be covered in fish scales from the waist down. "Put this on; you'll become a mermaid on contact with seawater, and he'll be yours, guaranteed."
  A sudden whiff of brimstone made me sneeze. When I looked up again, I was alone... with a rainbow-shimmering dress draped over the other chair. I got up to stroke the fabric, which sent an electric tingle up my arm, but decided not to try it on now. God help me, I believed the demon had spoken truly -- but it hadn't said whether or not the magic would work twice!
  I hung the dress in the back of my closet.
  The party happened just as the demon said; Jimmy's church announced it the very next Sunday. You see, it was Jimmy's way of introducing himself to Saralito, to the people he intended to serve.
  And then, on the night of the party... the dress. It fit perfectly, like it was sprayed on, and it emphasized curves I never thought I'd have. Whatever its fabric was, it felt very good to the touch. I tingled all over -- especially where it rubbed against me when I moved -- to the point that I literally got a buzz off of it! The buzz should have been a clue, of course, but I wasn't thinking clearly at the time.
  I also wasn't thinking when I decided to walk to the party. From my houseboat to where my car was parked at least 200 steps, and the dress ensured that each footstep was more, stimulating, than the one before. Long before I reached my car, I couldn't think of any reason to not walk all the way! So I did. It would have been a few minutes by car; afoot, with every new motion providing a fresh tingle of delight...
  By the time I arrived, I was blind drunk -- or I might as well have been. My mind was completely enveloped in a pleasant haze; I couldn't even think, let alone talk or walk! But I didn't stumble. Maybe I wasn't in the driver's seat, but something sure was! Now, I think I know what. But at the time, I didn't know what was steering my body around and using my throat to speak. As God is my witness, it didn't even cross my mind to care!
  Most of that evening is a blur in my memory. My last moments of human life, they're clear; I can't decide whether that's a blessing or a curse. I remember Jimmy and I, out on the far end of the pier, his arm around my shoulders. He might have had a bit to drink himself. I think he did, anyway.
  I don't know how long we were there, admiring how the Moon reflected off the Pacific surf; it must have been quite a long time, because I don't think there was anyone else left awake on the beach. We talked of many things -- dreams, fancies, our mutual love for the sea, and...
  Mermaids, of course. Whatever spoke through me, it danced around the topic for a while. Jimmy couldn't have been entirely sober, for he admitted that he truly did believe in mermaids; more, he didn't shy away when my voice told him I was one!
  And then my body dove off the pier. As promised, the ocean worked magic on me the instant it touched the dress; the unknown fabric burned against my skin, like salt water poured on an open wound! Fire raced through my entire body, for a terrible, terrible instant of agony.
  Then my head cleared, no more pain or pleasant haze, and I felt softness all around me, as if I was resting on the finest waterbed ever made. I drifted lazily, steering with an occasional twitch of, my, webbed hands?
  They were webbed! And the fingers -- my fingers -- were longer and more slender than human fingers could be! Looking down my belly, my generous new tits forced me to curl my entire body forward to see my waistline, the point where skin ended and scales began.
  It had worked! It was real! I was a mermaid!
  I surfaced immediately, fool that I was, so that Jimmy could see and be mine. But he wasn't there! Looking around, I saw him walking back to shore -- and I was with him? How could that be? Then 'I' met my eyes, and I knew: The demon had stolen my body! I tried to scream, but a mermaid cannot speak; no words came from my mouth, just a wild, high-pitched squeal that was drowned out by the roar of the surf.
  Now I saw the truth: It had always been Jimmy that the demon wanted. Not me, Jimmy! But with his faith in the Lord, it couldn't just take him, so it needed a stupid, willing tool... me... to provide cover for its attack on him, and be discarded afterwards. Dealing with a demon; I'd been a damned fool. Literally. And now Jimmy would pay the price, and I --
  They hadn't reached the land end of the pier yet -- maybe if -- I rammed through the surf, my flukes churning the water behind me, and before it got too shallow to swim in, I leaped up into the air! Praise God, my aim was true. I flew over the railing and hit the planks of the pier, bouncing awkwardly and trying to maintain my forward momentum as best I could. They both heard me; I weighed at least 200 pounds if the creaking of the wood meant anything, and I'd slapped the pier at a good 30 knots.
  A mermaid out of water, I soon fell short of breath. As I approached them, scrambling and sliding without grace, my former body tried to pull Jimmy away from me -- but the demon couldn't do it! Even with its unholy strength holding him back, Jimmy actually managed to step towards me!
  I ignored the splinters as I pulled myself along the pier. I didn't know if it was even possible for me to fight the demon, but I had to try! And then it changed its tactics; it let Jimmy go, and both of them raced forwards. I could tell the demon was very angry with me.
  The demon reached me first. It grabbed me just beneath the jaw, and it raised me up, one-handed, my skin shriveling and crinkling out from its touch. I tried to break its grip; all that got me was my fingers going numb on contact. It was getting harder and harder to breathe...
  Even though my eyes felt itchy, I could see Jimmy, finally catching up. The demon didn't notice him; I think it was enjoying the torture too much. He held a silver crucifix before him and he was talking. I didn't catch what Jimmy said, but it was in Latin, and the demon didn't like it at all -- there was a burst of light and brimstone, and suddenly 'I', the demon, was gone. I flopped to the pier like a discarded mackerel.
  I could just make out Jimmy's face... and then everything went black.

-= + =- -= + =- -= + =- -= + =- -= + =-

  When I awoke, I was in a big tank. Waterproofed cameras were all around me. My entire body just felt wrong; I soon realized that my hands were gone, and other things had changed, too. No longer a mermaid, I was just a big fish! Then, gradually, memory returned...
  I'd been in the tank for months, traumatized and incoherent, not showing any signs of being more than the fish I resembled. The scientists were kind enough in their way, but it was Jimmy who came and talked to me every day. He never once lost hope that there was still a human being somewhere beyond the fins and gills... and he called my soul back from wherever it had been hiding.
  It's... different these days. They still study me -- I'm a whole new species, maybe even a phylum! -- but now I'm a twice-a-week volunteer, not a lab animal. I can't be a mechanic, but marine exploration, mapping currents and the ocean floor and so on, brings in a lot more money than fixing engines ever did. And there's Jimmy. I still love him; I hope I always will. Sometimes I wish...
  There's a lot I can't do, but at least we can go diving together.
  This... it could be a lot worse. I'm set for life. There's a man who cares for me with all his heart and soul. I'm helping to advance human knowledge. I can laugh, I can dance. And... you can't tell, not in the water, but...
  I can even cry...