That wintry afternoon, the gentlemen of the town gathered in the widow’s parlor, warmed by the fire Ursula had stoked just prior to their arrival, and by the brandy poured generously by their hostess. The ocean fisherman was among them, and regaled them with stories of the deep. Ursula found a place in the hall where she could listen, helpfully ignored by all the adults.
“Did you see any mermaids?” one of the townsmen asked, triggering a kind of ribald laughter that Ursula had learned to associate with male-only gatherings, a laughter that had a predatory tone buried within it.
“No, sir,” answered the fisherman. “But sea monsters, that we did encounter.”
“I know there are schools of whales out there. The natives tell stories of them, and their meat and oil supplying whole tribes through a winter.” The local gentlemen nodded agreement with this statement from one of their number.
“Not whales, sir, although yes, we saw many of them. If we had been so equipped, we could have fetched back a dozen for your town alone.” They all chuckled. Fishermen would have their tall tales. “No, the monster we met did not show itself, except in its thievery of our harvest. That is, until one moonlit night, second to last before we planned to turn for port, when I alone was on the deck.”
Ursula moved closer to the doorway, to hear every detail. Other than the fisherman’s voice, the only sounds were clinking glassware and crackling fire.
“We were hauling in nets full of herring and other sea fish, and expected rich rewards. Yet, for three nights running, any nets left in the water overnight were ripped and empty in the morning. We had plenty already on board, but decided to give it one more night before giving the sea back to itself. I volunteered to stand watch, to see if I could determine what monster was responsible for the loss of our catch. I fully expected a whale, or a school of barracuda. I am not, by character, prone to believing in monsters or myths. Most of my fellows gratefully accepted my offer, as they were far more superstitious than I.
“That night I wrapped my coat around my shoulders, added an oilskin atop that, and paced the decks. Clear and cold, and that full moon made it seem almost daylight.” The fisherman took a deep draw of brandy. “I saw the monster, and swore if we made it safely to port, I’d never return to the sea again.”