Elliot’s Beach. Parris Island. A very cold September dawn, wisps of fog trailing across the sand, a clear hard sky, the sea a burnished red. Her favorite time of day, and the best weather for running a platoon of fresh recruits passed the point of exhaustion.
Tear them down and build them back up. The only way to keep the Corps strong.
Their feet pounded the sand, steps in time to the cadence. ”Hail, hail infantry, the Queen of Battle follows me!”
Her breath misted in front of her face, brushed across her cheeks, and blew away. Pound, pound, pound, the sand compressing beneath her boots. Her right ankle was already beginning to hurt.
”The Marine Corps life is the life for me, ’Cause nothing in this life is free!”
Urbanski fell out of step, stumbled, got back into place. Dunstan was puffing his cheeks out like some fish. Cryer was too red in the face, breathing harder than he should. She narrowed her eyes. Keep tabs on him.
”Drop me off in the battle –– “
”Ma’am! Sergeant Dennison!”
She swiveled her head around, peering over her shoulder. Garner was out of place, running up the side of the platoon towards her. The cadence went out of sync as recruits looked around, distracted, wondering at the commotion. Garner gestured frantically, pointing back down the beach behind them. “Adams! Hensley! They’re back –– look!”
She swiveled all the way around, slowing her pace, jogging backwards. Adams and Hensley stood still a good twenty paces behind the platoon, very still, staring out to sea.
”Garner. Get the platoon back to quarters! And call it in! Double time!”
”Ma’am! Yes, ma’am!”
She ran back down the beach as the platoon moved away, voices stronger, louder. Hopefully none of them would be stupid enough to look back … She hissed and bit her lip as her ankle twisted awkwardly in the sand. She kept running.
”Adams! Hensley!” she snapped in her best drill instructor voice. “Back in position! Are you listening to me, Marine?”
Of course they weren’t listening to her. Dennison tossed a quick glare across the shallows, towards the low pile of rock. They were listening to *her*.
Long, wind–swept hair, the green of baby kelp with soft teal highlights. She had pulled out her comb and was running it through the silken strands. Skin whiter than sea foam, firmly–muscled arms rising and falling gracefully. Sweetly–rounded breasts, the nipples and aureole soft red. Tail of iridescent reds and oranges and golds curled round, fin lazily flicking the water.
At least her face was turned away.
”Adams!” She whacked him on the back of the head, hard. He blinked. “Marine! Back in formation!” Another whack. He blinked harder, several times, and finally looked down at her.
She rose up on her toes and shoved her face close in to his, nose to nose. “You wanna be washed out, Marine? Sent home to your mama in disgrace? Back in formation! Double time!”
Rapid blinking and the fog cleared from his eyes. He paled and snapped straight. “Sergeant! Yes, ma’am!” He took off down the beach, boots kicking up sand.
The mermaid continued to comb her hair. She started humming. Dennison’s skin tingled and her nipples hardened. The pain in her ankle eased.
Hensley proved tougher than Adams. It took several whacks to the head, two hard kicks to his backside, and a not so gentle punch to the kidneys to send him staggering down the beach after Adams and the rest of the platoon. He kept looking back over his shoulder, so she threw a rock at him.
The platoon was almost out of sight now. Certainly out of ear shot.
The humming stopped. The tingle turned to goose bumps; prey reaction. Dennison planted her hands on her hips, shoved her boots into the sand, stood straight, and glared across the shallows.
The mermaid lowered her comb. Her head slowly, gracefully, swiveled around. Blue and gold. Eyes the intense blue of the sea at noon, sparkling with sunlight.
Dennison cleared her throat. Deep breath. Sweat trickled down between her breasts. Her ankle was beginning to burn. “You are in violation of the Treaty of 1816. Withdraw from this area immediately.”
The mermaid’s eyes narrowed. Her clear inner eyelids flicked in annoyance and her split tongue danced over her lips.
”Hey!” Best drill instructor voice. Ignore the eyes, the smooth skin. “Get your shiny, fishy ass gone before the MPs get here!” She clapped her hands together and pointed out to sea. “Scat!”
The low hiss that slid across the water had her heart skipping erratically in her chest.
She swallowed and tightened her jaw. “Try it, sister.”
Another loud hiss. The mermaid bared her teeth, tiny, sharp as knives. For the briefest, barest, weakest moment, Dennison wondered what those teeth would feel like, nibbling, nibbling –– And then, with a flick of her tail, the mermaid was gone, rolling gracefully into the water and disappearing beneath the waves.
Long minutes. Dennison remained where she was. She watched the sea, her knees locked. She focused on the pain in her ankle. Breathe. Stay, stay, stay put, Marine.
The rumble of a jeep finally forced her to move. She looked up as the vehicle skidded to a halt on the beach several feet away, spraying sand. Two female MPs clambered out, hands on their side arms. “Sergeant?” the blonde asked.
Limping slightly, Dennison concentrated on her steps. “It’s cool,” she managed. “She’s gone. Gimme a ride back to my platoon?”
The blonde nodded. “Sure thing, Sergeant.”
With a deep breath, she climbed in behind the MPs. As the jeep wheeled around, she caught herself staring out at the sea, straining, hoping to catch a glimpse of beautiful blue and gold eyes, hoping to feel that tingle on her skin. Stay put, Marine. Stay.