Well, fuck it.
Mick wiped the greasy film of shift-sweat off his face and hauled the scrawy chef up from his almost face-plant onto the kitchen tiles. He should have let the man fall. A knock on the head and a bloody nose, easy to explain anything else yer man had to say as a hallucination.
I mean, shapeshifting lobsters were always going to sound made-up to outsiders. People who’d actually seen some sort of weird shit, though? Far harder to talk out of it than you’d think from the movies.
It didn’t matter how weird, impossible, or just fucking odd it was, the old ‘it’s just a dream’ rarely stuck the landing. Most people knew there wasn’t anything outside of the world they’d got used to, so when it impinged on them it made an impression. They might try and believe it was a bit of late night cheese, not enough shut eye or whatever but something in their brains knew better.
A slice of amygdala–or whatever–that had kept their ancestors alive had logged they’d seen something WEIRD and it wasn’t going to shut up being Very Concerned about that.
So if you wanted to pull that off, you needed something more mundane to distract the brain into being Very Concerned about. Bad drugs, were good. A lot of drunk scallies around here had seen some Weird Shit ™ after a night popping pills on the beach. Head trauma was another, people believed they’d seen something but were more concerned about the knot on their noggin.
It was a shame that hadn’t occurred to Mick before he grabbed the lad by the back of his apron. He just wasn’t used to being on the sharp end of this sort of thing. Most of the time the only eyes peeping at Mick when he shifted were seagulls. Maybe the occasional judgemental selkie if he was lucky.
Well, shit. Mick would just have to deal with it. One more thing to add to his list.
There were no stools in the kitchen. Mick propped the blond up in a corner, head tipped back against the wall so he didn’t swallow his tongue. When he wasn’t trying to scald Mick to death for his white meat, he wasn’t a bad looking guy. He had a narrow, fine boned face, with a stubborn chin and scruffy hair that looked like he spent a lot of time with his fingers buried in it.
“I am really sorry about this,” he told the man as he unlaced his right boot. “But, you know, needs must.”
Two minutes later–squeezed into a pair of skinny jeans that were going to cut the circulation off in his dick–Mick lifted the pot off the boil, turned the hob off, and legged it out the back door.
“You owe him now,” Gran said as she slid a fishcake out of the pan and onto Mick’s plate. “Law of the ocean.”
Mick grabbed a bottle of ketchup and upended it over the plate. He whacked the glass bottom briskly with the flat of his hand until the red sauce globbed out over his lunch.
“Balls,” he said. “That’s just some droll tellers spin on it. No magic in bribing someone to cut you lose instead of bashing your head in.”
He cut into the fishcake with the edge of his fork–the sauce squished between the tines–and stuck a chunk of it into his mouth. His gorge tried to rise as he chewed, still-frozen chunks of salmon gritty between his teeth and the rest of it sloppy with hot grease.
Gran tried her best, but she was a sea hag. She’d picked up humanity in fits and starts from what she could see on the shore and on the fishing boats. It had given her a good handle on swearing, flirting, and tying knots, but she preferred her food live and wriggling. She’d only taken up cooking since Mick got her a Sky hookup in her cave.
It was Gordon. Loved Gordon did his gran, thought he had a way with words.
She clipped around the back of the head with one hand. “Don’t try and smart mouth the law of the ocean, boy,” she said. “Someone catches a magic fish, the fish has to do them a favor. The salt with turn on you otherwise, the currents will always be up your ass. Now eat your dinner, you’ve had a shock.”
No kidding. His lightly scalded ass still stung from being hung over the pot. Mick smushed the fish and burnt crumb over the plate to mix it more
thoroughly with the ketchup. It didn’t make it taste any better but it sorta blended the different icks together.
“Whatever, the favor for the chef that tried to cook me can wait,” he said. “Until I find out who tried to have me killed.”
Gran tched. “You’re the lobster king, being killed is your destiny,” she said. “If you don’t give that mortal his favor, the salt will bring your destiny forward.”
One day someone would say ‘Lobster King’ and it wouldn’t sound like a joke. Not today though. Or at any time in the last two hundred years since someone had stuck Mick with the undersea crown when he wasn’t looking.
Traditionally the crown of the sea–well, this stretch the coastline–passed from head to head in a fierce battle that turned the tides to blood under the moon and whitened the beaches with shards of bone. Except, over time, that kind of thinned the ranks of the salt’s best and fiercest. Whole bloodlines of mermaids had gone extinct as they tore each other throats out, harems of their males left to find new homes. The selkies had to arrange marriage with Irish seals to rebound their population. Plus none of the kings or queens lasted more than a few months, so even the most ambitious grew a bit…wary.
So when the last Shark King bled out, the crown sank to the bottom of the ocean, the various contenders had gone ‘after you’. Mick hadn’t even been paying attention, and he’d ended up the only one who didn’t step back when the new king was asked to step forward.
Even his gran.
“I can’t do anyone a favor from a lobster pot, can I?” he pointed out. “Stupid. If anyone wants the crown, I’d just hand it over.”
“Wouldn’t work,” his Gran said. She dried her barnacle-scabbed fingers on her apron and scuttled across the cave floor to her recliner. “Sovereignty can’t be handed off, it has to be bled for, sacrificed for. If you just handed the crown over, the salt would bring it back to you soon enough. Only way to stop being a king of the salt, my ‘ansom, is to die or hand it off to your own sprat.”
“Pretty lad, this human?” Gran asked. She winked one of her eyes. “A king’s cock could be considered a favor.”
Mick winced. “Oh, c’mon. Gran, we talked about this. No matchmaking. Not after last time. Bits washed up on shore for weeks.”