As a pup you’d dreamed of swashbuckling adventure, but by the time you’d left school at fifteen you’d learned those days were long over. It took another four years with the Merchant Navy to learn that pirates still skulked about lawless ports—and even some of the less-traveled coasts in Europe and North Africa. Getting too close to France or Great Britain was risky, but the crew you’d joined had stealth on their side, a daring streak a mile wide, and more than a little luck.
Their luck had run out last night, but you didn’t know it then. What you know, right now, is that someone’s swimming up to your boat—even though you’re thirty miles out. You’re the first one to spot her. You point, calling over the other men. You’re silent as they speak.
“What in hellfire is that?”
“An otter, I think, sir.”
“What is she doing—”
“I think,” you say to the rabbit who’s speaking, “that’s the barmaid from last night you had the hots for.”
“So it is!” He punches your arm. “And you had the hots for her.”
“We all had the hots for her,” the captain, a wolf like you (although easily twice your age), growls. He’s right. Tall, green eyes, long red hair, so well-curved. He cups his hands around his muzzle and shouts: “Ahoy!”
The otter’s close enough to wave to the boat. She does. “Hello again!” she calls, in that beautiful Irish accent you remember.
“Miss Tallulah?” you blurt. “What are you doing out here?”
“I’m going fishing, lad,” she calls back.
“Come aboard!” the captain calls. “Throw Tallulah a rope, you fools!”
She laughs. “But I haven’t caught my fish yet.” She disappears under the waves.
“How could she get out here this far?” You shake your head. This feels wrong.
The crew starts murmuring.
Then, about a quarter-mile off the port bow, a whale breaches.
No. It’s not a whale. It’s Tallulah. No. It’s Tallulah’s head and shoulders. And now chest. She’s as gorgeous nude as you’d have imagined, ocean spray dazzling and gleaming as it streams off her, and there are whoops and hollers on deck… for all of two seconds. Wait. How big is she?
She keeps rising. And rising. She’s standing on the ocean floor, over three hundred feet down, and the waves crash around her waist.
The otter girl puts her webbed hands on her hips and looks straight down at your ship, and grins wickedly. When she speaks, it’s the voice of a thunder goddess. “Now that is a lovely little fish.”
She arcs down, like a swimmer in a shallow pool, arms straight ahead of her, sweeping them back as she gracefully arrows right for your boat.
By sailing standards, the steamship you’re crewing is little, barely eighty feet stem to stern, a crew of under two dozen. Built for light work around rivers, it’s not what you think of when you think “pirate ship.” That’s the idea. Stay close to coastlines, strike fast, get back to a sympathetic port. Even so, you never thought of the boat as tiny. Now you do.
“Hard to port!” the captain yells. “Starboard side, cannon ready, fire at will!”
Nearly all of the crew starts scrambling as the boat starts to turn. It takes time to move the artillery into position; you hear men dashing below deck to roll them into place. You only have three, and each one needs two operators. Most of the time your quarry surrenders after a warning shot or two, although you’ve sunk more than one vessel after plundering it—whenever the captain has a “feeling” that leaving them alive will cause trouble. He didn’t have any “feeling” last night, though, did he? Dorgissey had seemed like one of those sympathetic ports. Tallulah had listened so keenly to you all sharing exploits… and letting slip where you were heading next.
You don’t go help move the guns, though. You grip the starboard railing tightly, transfixed by your approaching doom. She’s moving faster than your ship is, faster than your ship can, and maybe your crew will get in a few good whacks with the breechloaders, and then she’ll get in just one good slap, or a thwack with that shapely, terrifying tail, and it’ll be all over.
She slows down, and turns to her starboard—your port—keeping on an interception course. Her head stays in front of the boat, right where you’re going, and the distance is closing fast.
Your cannons go off. The only sign that she even notices is her widening grin, just at the waterline. You remember how lovely that smile was last night, but those cute fangs are much taller than any man. She’s not even swimming toward your boat now, is she? She’s letting you come to her. The otter’s grin is getting ever wider—
“Full reverse!” you hear the captain yell.
The ship shudders as the engines go into reverse. Your movement slows as you watch those giant cute fangs rise into the air, immense jaws parting, waves sloshing over her lower lip, upper lip—now high enough and close enough you have to tilt your head up to see it—glistening not with water but saliva. She’s taking up most of the horizon, and your view of her is rapidly becoming just teeth, tongue and throat.
Cannons go off again, but they’re not in the right position. You hear the shells splash into the water.
Even though you plainly see the ship is sailing straight into her mouth, you can’t believe this is happening, even as the bow passes under those huge teeth, over the submerged teeth and lips below, as the sky overhead becomes the glistening red roof of her mouth, as the vessel beaches itself on the expanse of her tongue. The air becomes the otter’s breath, humid, redolent of sea brine and the scent of her morning coffee. The whole boat shudders again and lists to port. You hear screams from below deck, the sound of the artillery crashing loose, the whine of the propellers as they lift out of the water—
You look back and realize her tongue—a lovely tongue you’d so recently fantasized about sliding against yours—has replaced the water along the whole length of the boat. She’s lifting her head out of the water, lifting your ship out of the water, an immense webbed hand coming up behind the stern, either to steady it or to make sure anyone who thinks of jumping can’t truly escape.
Not that you’re thinking of jumping. The ship still slides along that slick tongue, now propelled by gravity and the low friction of the otter’s saliva, and from your vantage point, her lower molars are right off the port bow. Everything glistens, wetly gleams.
She’s not. Not really. She can’t.
The boat shakes again, sliding to the side, a horrible screech coming from the aft as the hull scrapes against her lower teeth. The light level lowers as her jaws close partway, upper teeth smashing into the deck. Is she getting to her feet in the water again? Is she standing? Yes. You think. It’s hard to see the sky through… through the teeth. Someone turns on the searchlight, throwing the back of her throat into sharp, wet relief.
Tallulah tilts her head back.
The screaming and crashing starts anew as artillery and cargo and men tumble down toward the bow. You keep your grip, barely, but you see three men—including the captain—go right overboard. They land on her tongue but don’t even slow down, sliding helplessly forward in a pool of saliva, going over the back of her tongue out of sight.
“Please!” you yell at the top of your lungs. “Miss Tallulah!”
You don’t think she hears you—not until she laughs. A light, melodic laugh, if she weren’t the size of a reef and holding you in her mouth. But she is, and you are, and it feels like her laughter might vibrate the bones right out of your body.
She opens her jaws again. The light increases, and you look behind—up—to see blue sky framed by the back of her teeth.
Then the ship lurches ahead. Down. You get a death grip on the railing as it slides ahead. It’s not the sound of a ship on water. It’s the sound of slickness, of viscousness. It echoes around you.
The ship slams to a stop almost as if it had hit a wall. You lose your grip and careen forward, almost sliding right off, but catch yourself right at the edge of the bow. Your muzzle is almost within arm’s length of the flesh at the back of her throat.
Something splashes over you and you shriek reflexively. It’s hot and wet, a single drop of saliva. You roll over, look back up the length of the ship. You can see the other crewmen who’d been on deck and haven’t gone overboard yet desperately clinging to railings. The deck, the wheelhouse, the crew—you, too—everything glistens with saliva. A thick, glittering strand of it runs from just behind your head up toward the roof of the otter’s mouth.
For the longest second you’ve ever known, a second that feels like it lasts a month, everything on board is still, the outside light slowly fading as impossibly huge jaws close just behind the stern, the only noises the splashes against the deck, the soft slick squish of the immense tongue shifting and flexing against the hull.
Then Miss Tallulah—sexy barmaid, saucy swimmer, apex predator, undisputed goddess of the ocean—swallows your ship, her lovely little fish, whole.