The familiar green truck slammed on its breaks in the parking lot of the marina, black skid marks fanned out from the dark spot beneath the tires. Without hesitating, Tom sped out of the truck cabin, leaving the door wide open without a care as he raced over to his daughter.
Niylah had collapsed on the ground as soon as she stepped foot off the ground. Having a gun pointed at her and watching, helpless, as the man she once called 'Uncle' sped off with Joy shoved in the backseat of his pick-up truck. He ran around to place his rifle under the cover of his mismatched canopy protecting the truck bed. Niylah considered going after him now while he was unarmed but she knew she was no match for a man who spent days reeling in fish, especially when Joy was unconscious. She doubted she'd be able to bear Joy's weight while avoiding a gun.
“He took her.” She sobbed as her dad pulled her into a warm embrace. She felt safe in her father's arms like all her worries were muted. She couldn't remember the last time she let him hold her like this.
“What do you mean? Who took who?” Tom's head whipped around to survey their surroundings. Except for the pungent odor of fuel assaulting his senses, things appeared to be in order. But, there was someone missing.
“Oliver took Joy!”
“Why would he do that?”
“I don't know!” Niylah's eyes stung and her bottom lip quivered, tears gathered along her tear ducts, but she tried to hold them back. “We weren't going to hurt anyone, we just wanted to stop the boats!”
Niylah couldn't hold the floodgates back any longer. Tears ran down her cheeks, and she tried to get words out between sobs. “He-He caught us and he took her! He had a g-gun!”
“What?” Tom stared down at her, an incredulous look taking over his features.
“Why would he take her!” Niylah was inconsolable at this point. She buried her face in her dad's chest, snot running from her nose. She could taste the saltiness from her tears as they trailed down to her top lip.
Tom pulled away to force her to face him. She wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand, her eyes feeling puffy and raw. She wiped her nose clean with the back of her sweater.
“Niylah,” he said. “We're going to save her.”
Tom didn't wait for a response. He ushered Niylah into the truck, made sure they were buckled in, and peeled out of the parking lot. There was no hesitation.
“Where are we going?” Niylah asked as the outside world flashed by. Tom usually followed the rules of the road, he was always cautious in case there were kids running around, but it was the middle of the night and they were in a hurry. Niylah tried to remain calm, but she had no idea what they were going to do to Joy or what they were already doing to her.
“I know where Oli would take her,” he said. His brows furrowed and his jaw set; it was a look of pure determination. Niylah knew this look. He wore it often and there would always be a crease in his brow whenever his face relaxed.
“Dad, I have to tell you something,” her voice cracked and she had to clear . She was scared to tell him. What if he didn't believe her? What if he did?
Indigenous stories from all parts of the world were full of shapeshifters and mythical creatures much like Joy. Was it that far-fetched that a species, similar to man, might exist?
Tom didn't tear his eyes from the road. “I smelled the gasoline.”
“I-” She stopped herself. That's not what she was expecting. “It's not that. I mean, it is, but...”
She chewed on her bottom lip. The whole ordeal with Harris and Joy was so terrifying that she had completely forgotten that they were just about to commit a crime themselves.
“I just needed to help her. It was the only way I could think of to stop the overfishing.”
“You could've come to me, Niy.”
“On the dock. I heard that man threaten you!”
Tom finally pulled his attention from the road to glance at her. There was an uneasy silence that filled the cabin.
A sigh broke the unbearable quiet.
“No matter what, Niy, I'd protect you. That man you saw, he was one of Malden's guys. Money was tight and I was struggling to stay afloat. In came Malden, offering a bunch of us big money if we kept up with his demands. Well,” he let out an exasperated sigh. “The money kept coming, but the demands weren't met. Eventually, I ended up owing him a bunch because I couldn't keep up. We tried to keep our families out of it, Oli and me. His boys are on my crew, but we took care of the finances.”
Tom gripped the steering wheel tighter, his knuckles turning a ghostly white.
“About Joy...” Niylah started. “She's different.”
Niylah examined her dad's face, looking for any signs that would give away his knowledge of Joy and her secret. He was a stoic man, so it was no surprise he revealed nothing.
“What do you know?” Niylah asked, cautious.
He glimpsed at her out of the corner of his eyes before fixing his gaze on the street ahead. “I know what Joy is and so does Oliver. That is why he took her. He thinks Malden will toss our debt and release his sons if he shows up with her.”
Niylah's stomach dropped so far that she thought she was going to throw up. She chewed the knuckle on her thumb to try and ease the sensation away. Her suspicions were right; Harris knew what she was and Niylah didn't want to imagine what horrific things they had in store for her mermaid.
Perhaps noticing his daughter's unease, Tom pressed on the gas pedal, the truck picking up speed. Niylah had no idea where they were heading. The world around her was engrossed in complete darkness save the few street lights that dotted the path here and there and the headlights illuminating the broken white lines on the road.
“We'll save her, Niy. I promise.”
Despite his words, she had an uneasy feeling settling in the pit of her stomach. Something dreadful was awaiting them, she just knew it.