Just another day sitting by the river.
As February fades
I was fishing for my dinner,
when something caught my eye
in my peripheral vision.
Have I lost my mind
if I believe in what I'm seeing?
Haken – Aquarium
Had anyone told me how that evening would turn out, I would have laughed in their face, turned my back on them and thought they were crazy. Such ridiculous horror stories were meant for books, and I intended to keep reality and fiction as far apart as possible. Escapism was good and fine, as long as one could still tell what was real, and what was not. Now I was never a naïve person, I didn’t believe in ghosts or anything supernatural. I always trusted my mind more than my feelings, and my eyes more than my gut, and nothing in the world could have convinced me that what I was going to witness was real. Until I saw it with my own eyes. And still I tried to justify what happened in some rational way, but I couldn’t. It was impossible.
The first of February that year had been as uneventful as could be; freezing cold and incredibly boring. When you look forward to something, nothing can satisfy you. There’s nothing interesting you can do, but to wait for time to pass by. And that’s exactly what I did, until I decided it was inappropriate to turn up late and headed out. On the way, my thoughts wandered off. In only a few days I’d celebrate my birthday, like every year. I’d keep on working hard like every year, and I wouldn’t amount to anything. Like every year.
“Scotty!” I had just arrived to the venue when I heard someone call my name over the music and chatter of the people who were already there. It was a small club in Mayfair, very much on the fancy side.
“So lovely of you to come!” I was greeted by a man in his mid-twenties. It had been a miracle to me that I had even been invited to his birthday party in the first place, but he had even addressed me with my nickname which made him even more likeable. That was his thing, being likeable. Everyone liked him.
Gabriel Edwards was a musician, and he looked like one, too. He looked exactly how I imagined a cliché musician would look like: his brown, about shoulder-length hair hung down in lose curls; he was tall, even for a grown man and his black attire was simple but sophisticated, fashionable, and probably expensive. Not to mention that he was fiercely handsome and incredibly nice. He even had some sort of mysterious aura, that was until you got to know him. Back then I was working as a rather unimportant radio DJ, nonetheless he had invited me personally to his party. People said it was part of his charm. Always being polite, and shaking everyone’s hand, knowing everybody’s name after just hearing it once, and seeming genuinely interested in what you had to say when you talked to him. That and the fact that he smiled like a child on Christmas whenever you greeted him.
I mumbled a quick thank you and handed him a small box.
“It’s just something small.” I said, a bit embarrassed. What do you give someone who already has everything? I didn’t know, yet I still decided that turning up without a present was unacceptable and so I had made him some chocolate chip cookies, which were, according to the internet, his favourite. “Happy Birthday!” I added.
“Thank you so much!” he beamed as if I had just given him the greatest gift he had ever received. “Have a great time, drinks are on me!” I smiled as he thanked me again and excused himself to greet other guests who had just arrived. If anyone else would have thanked me for some cookies with the gratitude that he had expressed, I would have thought they were making fun of me, or being sarcastic. But Gabe Edwards was so genuine, it was almost scary. He was either a really good person, or a really good actor. In the first case, I was scared for his sake. In the second case, I was embarrassed for my sake.
The evening dragged on and I had sat down with some of the roadies. Apparently everyone who was currently working for Gabriel had been invited. When I got up to get another drink, Gabriel made a short speech. How great the year had been, and what a great experience it all was, and he thanked about everyone in the room. After a round of applause the DJ turned the music to another level of loud, and people resumed screaming at one another over the noise.
I glanced around the club, observing everyone for a short while. It was fun to watch people crossing all their boundaries after just a few drinks. What stood out to me was that people tended not to listen to other people, they just waited for their turn to talk. Everything else was just empty nods.
It was already close to midnight, and I decided that I had enough for the night. My teenage self would be disappointed in me. Teenage Scotty would have stayed until the bitter end. I grabbed the coat that I had hung across my chair and said my goodbyes to the people I had sat with. Just as I was about to walk out the main entrance, I noticed something peculiar in the periphery of my field of vision. Gabriel, after looking carefully around him whether someone was watching him, had just disappeared through the staff exit behind the bar, in full gear. And with full gear I mean everything one would possibly wear in an icy February night. Coat, gloves, hat, and scarf. The whole package. When I looked around me, no one seemed to notice that the birthday kid was missing. Everyone kept on chatting and dancing, like they had before.
I, on the other hand, was filled with curiosity. Why would he leave his own birthday party? Why didn’t he want anyone to see him? What could possibly be as urgent as to make him leave in such a hurry? I had no plausible answers back then. Looking back, all I can think about is how my grandmother always used to tell me that curiosity killed the cat. I should have listened to her.
He had been pacing down the streets, throwing looks over his shoulder. I wasn’t an expert in these matters, but he certainly gave the impression of not wanting to be followed. I felt like a spy, pulling my hood over my head, and wrapping my scarf around my face. If he’d see me now, I wouldn’t have any explanation for my actions whatsoever. I lived nowhere near where he was going, and had no reason to be there. I felt like I was invading his privacy. I was invading his privacy, but at the same time I couldn’t help myself. I wanted to find out what shady business he was involved in.
At Green Park he went underground. There weren’t many people in the station to my dissatisfaction, which made it harder for me to stay hidden. Nevertheless I managed to stay undiscovered as he took the Jubilee Line to Westminster and then the District Line to Tower Hill. If I had been surprised before, I sure was confused now. He strolled around Tower Park and headed towards Tower Bridge.
This Area was beautiful at this time of year and time of day. The only time when London was actually bearable, was either in the middle of the night, or on Christmas morning. That’s when nobody wanted to leave the house, and only few did.
Snow had begun to fall again, and everything was layered in a thin white sheet of it. It made the whole place even brighter. London is always shining. Day and night. It’s never really dark in this city. Even when you live an hour outside of London, the sky will always glow from the spotlight that it generates.
I followed him in a safe distance, when he suddenly stopped to turn around for a second and I quickly pretended to marvel at The Tower. I almost thought my cover was blown and I prepared myself to tell a totally credible lie, but my mind was blank. I swear I could feel his stare in my neck. I waited for him to grab my arm and furiously scream at me, demanding to know why I was following him. But he never did. How I didn’t seem suspicious to him, was a miracle to me. Who in their right mind would visit The Tower in the middle of the night? I waited for a few more seconds, then turned around. He had disappeared from my sight.
I felt so foolish. Why had I been so stupid? It was none of my business anyways, why would I follow someone in the middle of the night? I was sure there was some sort of law against whatever it was that I had been doing. Stalking, I thought to myself.
Since I was already there, I thought I might as well enjoy the view, and the fact that only very few people were around. Also, it would probably take me ages to get home. I sighed. What great ideas I always had. Incredibly stupid, Scotty, why would you do that? My breath escaped my mouth in little white puffs. I could slowly feel the cold creeping into my limbs. I had almost reached the bridge when I saw someone hushing down the pier. It could have been someone else, nevertheless I decided to follow the shadow into St. Katherine Docks. If it was Gabriel, I definitely felt foolish now. He probably owned a yacht or something. Why on earth did I think chocolate chip cookies were a nice present to give to him? I had almost reached one of the little paths that lead out into the waters of the dock, when I saw a person standing at its end. It was definitely him, I could make out his figure clearly against the light that was reflected by the water, sparkling like liquid gold. It splashed against the edges of the docks, in a slow, hypnotising rhythms. The air smelt like the sea, a bit fishy and a bit salty. Nevertheless, it smelt cleaner here than in the rest of the city. It was quiet. Besides the water, only faint noises of cars could be heard in the distance.
I retreated back into the shadows of a tree that had been planted by the side of the pier and prayed it would give me enough coverage from the light that is London. Inquisitively, I observed Gabriel, as he stood there. I wondered whether he would just stay there, and do nothing, or whether he would take off his clothes and maybe go skinny dipping. At this point I thought there was almost anything that could happen. But he just stood there, and did nothing.
After he had been standing there for what seemed like ages, I decided that Gabe Edwards was in fact not involved in any shady business. He had come here to get away from it all, and I had simply followed him to his safe place, where he could be alone and away from the world. I felt ashamed that I had even assumed he was involved in anything dishonourable, and I felt ashamed that I had followed him and invaded his safe haven. I would go home, make myself a cup of tea and forget all of this ever happened, and I wouldn’t tell anyone that I had followed him in the middle of the night, like a stalker.
Just when I was about to step out from behind the tree, a light whisper could be heard throughout the docks. He had said something, I was sure of it. I quickly retreated into the shadows and fixed my focus on him once again.
There! He said it again, slightly louder this time. I wasn’t quite sure exactly what he had said, so I waited for him to say it again. And after a few seconds passed, he did.
I could feel my eyebrows furrow in confusion. This whole scenario didn’t make any sense to me whatsoever. Maybe I had had too much to drink, and I was just hallucinating all of what was playing out in front of me. Gabe Edwards was not some sort of nutter, who’d run off in the middle of the night to shout gibberish at water. Nevertheless I remained hidden behind the tree, waiting for him to leave so I could sneak out without being exposed, I had decided it would not be of advantage if someone would find me, drunk, and spying after a so called local hero. Slowly but surely the cold became almost unbearable, but Gabriel still stood at the end of the path, motionless. Like a statue he remained still, silently staring at the water in a hopeful manner. A few more minutes must have passed, when an unfamiliar sound reached my ears. An irregular splashing of the water could be heard, interrupting the monotonous waves that hit the boats in the docks. My eyes widened in horror, and my hand whipped up to cover my mouth, before a scream could escape my lips.
There, from the depths of the icy water, a head had appeared between two yachts that were docked opposite of the little path. It glided through the water, approaching Gabriel, who had now kneeled down, his eyes fixed on whatever was coming towards him.
I don’t remember much about what had happened afterwards. In one simple moment, my whole world had collapsed. Because there, at the end of the little path, hand in hand with Gabriel Edwards, sat a creature that opposed to everything that I thought to be the truth. It had whispered something to him, and he shook his head as answer before he had reached out his hand, to help the creature out of the freezing water and onto the path.
I could see its oddly proportioned body once it was sat beside him. Gabriel’s legs, dangling over the ledge, were nowhere close to reaching the water, and he was tall, even for a grown man. But the creatures’ fins were still inside the water. The upper body seemed to be too small in comparison to the lower half, there were no curves on its body, and it looked almost a bit starved. The scaly skin on its lower body had a dark shimmer of colours; black, blue, turquoise, different shades of green. The upper body wasn’t covered in anything. It was so pale, its skin was almost white, and at some parts it seemed to be transparent. There was another fin running from the base of its neck to the small of its back. Its long, wet hair stuck to its back in loose strands.
It kissed his forehead, and he kissed its mouth. And then they sat in silence, only an occasional whisper was exchanged now and then.
I don’t even remember how I got home. I woke up in my bed the next day, the light of day was already leaving again. I shot up, made myself a cup of coffee and opened my laptop. I wasn’t going to let this go. I had never had any illusions whatsoever, and the menacing cough I could feel creeping into my body suggested that I had in fact spent an entire night out in the cold. I furiously scanned the internet for information on sea creatures, read endless forum posts on supernatural sightings of merfolk, but nothing of it seemed to have any similarities with what I had seen. Maybe this freak of nature was unique. Maybe there were no others.
I also read several tabloid articles on Gabriel, looking for some gossip that could have any significance. Being one of London’s most eligible bachelors, still being single had led to a massive amount of gay rumours about him, but despite that, there was nothing to be found.
That night, and all the nights to follow, I found myself on the way to St Katherine’s Dock again. Night after night I waited. Sometimes Gabriel Edwards would come, sometimes he wouldn’t. Sometimes he would show up and the creature wouldn’t. But never would the creature show without Gabriel standing at the end of the path. I tried to see a pattern in their nightly meet-ups, but they seemed to be completely random, and every time they met, they always did the same. He would help it out of the water, it would kiss his forehead, and he would kiss its mouth. And they would sit, embraced in one another’s arms and whispering to each other. I could never make out what they were saying, and my curiosity killed me for it.
One clear night, I was fairly sure Gabriel would not come, I decided to go out on the path and call for the creature myself. There I stood, my legs shaking, as I called in a weak voice. At first the sounds wouldn’t leave my mouth.
“Aedre?” Nothing. No creature, not even a splash. I called again, this time I could hear myself say the odd word. But even after I cried it out the third time, the creature didn’t show. I scanned the docks, trying to make out whether it was hiding somewhere, watching me. My heart rate had accelerated to a pace where I felt as if my heart was about to jump out of my chest. My palms were sweating, my mouth was dry. Suddenly something splashed behind me. I jumped around, ready to run. I could see the circular movement, of where the water had been disturbed, spreading out, but no creature.
“No creature”, I whispered to calm myself. It had probably just been a fish. I turned around again, to have a last glance around the area. I thought I saw a light shadow moving just below the waters’ surface, but as quickly as it had appeared it had disappeared again. I turned around to leave, but I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw something lie in the middle of the path, blocking my way. I stepped closer and bowed down to take a look at the deformed object.
I swear the shrill scream that pierced the night could be heard throughout the city. Instinctively I kicked the dead fish off the platform, and sprinted towards mainland, down the pier and as far from there as possible. Only when I reached the main street, I saw Gabriel come towards me. Hectically I turned around, and with no other way to go I ran back into the docks. My loyal tree covered me from Gabriel, as he paced down the pier.
This time, he only called for the creature once.
“Gabriel!” It was the first time I really heard the creature speak. I had never heard a voice like that before. The way it had called out to Gabriel, was as if it greeted a long lost lover who came back from the dead. So melodic, melancholy, and full of love. It was divine.
The moment did not last long however, when they started to aggressively whisper at one another. It went back and forth, and at one point I thought either of them was going to leave. But then Gabriel sat down and the creature pulled itself on the platform. It kissed him on the forehead and he kissed it on the mouth.
“Aedre, please take me with you.” Gabriel spoke, his low but steady voice echoing in my mind.
And the Aquarius did.