The Black Tail – the Author’s Ichthyophobia

It may seem weird to you that the author of a mermaid fantasy action trilogy suffers from acute ichthyophobia. Whaaa..? Ichthyophobia. An extremely rare, highly irrational, deeply innate, fear of fish. How bad is it? *Garrrhh* Is it real? *Shudder* Is it manageable? How contradictory, to write a mermaid story and fear fish!!! Read on…

Picture this: Child walks into aquarium. Great white sharks and all manner of fish hover on the other side of the glass surrounding her. Child lies immobile on automated walkways, circulating the aquarium for two hours, unable to find her way out on account of paralyzing fear that the fish notice her and break the glass to eat her.

Picture this 2: Child follows uncles out into the open ocean on a longboat to watch deep sea fishing. Child has to walk across narrow free- floating wooden gangplanks nailed together, with all manner of catch swimming within fishing nets in “squares” on either side. Child falls into a square and is barely lifted out when a gigantic yellow fish (bahaba? barracuda?) shows its great big mouth and then grazes the surface with its endless, scaly belly, probably 20 ft long

Picture this 3: Jaws plays on TV. Child runs behind sofa and hides there until the movie and its trademark music is over. Holds long-term grudge against folks who had the TV on during that programming. Child goes swimming with her cousins in public swimming pool. Cousins imitate Jaws, hum music and chase her out of pool. Child still scarred for life (and not talking to cousins).

… You get the idea. *Goosebumps* Growing up didn’t make my reactions any better…

Scene 1:  Grown-up goes to beach, dips toes into incredibly shallow shore line. Little finding nemo lookalike (barely 2cm across) latches onto her toe with a gentle bite. Grown-up screams her head off and runs helter-skelter for cover. Tourists gawk. Classmate spills coconut juice trying to figure out what the hell happened. She refuses to enter the water for days.

Scene 2: Grown-up sits down in Chinese restaurant. Unbelievable number of fish hover in an aquarium a few meters away. Grown-up asks to switch places. Meal is served, fish with eyes and head entirely intact on plate. Grown-up leaves resto, meal untouched; upchuck reflux on the street.h

Scene 3: Grown-up plays with two labradors by the Pacific coast. Running all about, they get perilously close to the giant waves. Labradors jump onto grown-up’s shoulders with excitement and she falls backwards into the shorebreak. Machine-washed, she scrapes her legs against the rocks. Spots a single jellyfish floating nearby. Grown-up screams and retreats to dry land, chasing dogs away from the water. National park ranger comes running and then raises an eyebrow.

…Sigmund Freud would have had a field day with me. All my life, my crazy fears fed and were fed by recurrent nightmares of fish. My sleeping life has become a looking glass into my very own personal version of hell…

Nightmare 1: Begins in medias res. I find myself swimming in the middle of a shiver of sharks in deep, green waters. The faster I swim, the more I seem to be surrounded by sharks, and yet I’m going at breakneck speed, which is crazy. I decide to change tactics and head for the nearest shoreline to get out of the water. As I near a beach, the sandy bottom is lined by layers upon layers of freshwater crocodiles. In my panic, I step on one and feel its sharp hide.

Nightmare 2: I am trapped inside the mouth of a leviathan. A whale? Rows upon rows of gigantic teeth trap me in. Staring up, I see human skulls rotting at the gumline and in between teeth, like black cavity spots on marble white teeth. There is no way out.

Nightmare 3: I am hiding in a dark cave. Outside, the beach and the shoreline are visible, it’s intensely bright. I see and hear the scraping of a black tail across the sand. It grates. The scales are tarry black, they leave a trail like it’s bleeding. And it’s shaped like it belongs to a giant merman. Somehow, as in all dreams, I realize a few things instantly: a) this thing, it’s supernatural. b) He knows I’m here, even though I’m tucked away and he hasn’t seen me yet. c) He means to catch me, despite his injury.

One day someone said, in reaction to all my whining about my fear of fish and my nightmares… that maybe I was roleplaying a mermaid in my dreams. That turned the whole experience of my nightmares on its head.. from one of passive victim into one of active lucid dreamer… waiting to receive messages from the universe of my subconscious. That’s when my nightmare journal entries started to turn into threads of a story…

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