A few months ago, when the darkness had paid me a visit, my way of coping was to hurt myself. To hit my head against the glass of the enclosure in the hopes that maybe, if I hit hard enough, the pain I felt inside would stop.
On the third blow, I remember I hit so hard that the pain stunned me, and for a moment I just floated there, frozen in time as though nothing else in the world existed.
Crystal doesn't move an inch, doesn't make a sound, but it's as if she's trying to tell me something with her eyes, and I lean into the metal gate, desperately searching her face for thoughts she is not brave enough to speak.
And then I hear it, the faint sound of the experience door being swung open and just like that, the trance I've found myself in is broken. I swim upward as fast as I can to the surface, breaking the water in time to see Lucy peering over the water's edge, her expression troubled, as if trying to piece parts of a puzzle together.
Why hasn't Jaqueline come back after the experience? Why are the mermaids not back in their night enclosure? Her eyes now hone in on the body below the surface of the next enclosure, the realization settling in as she begins to scream.
The noise is enough to jolt me into action and I swim up to the ledge, my heart pounding in my chest as I gear myself to tell Lucy that it was an accident, that this isn't what it looks like, but she jumps away from me before I can even open my mouth and slams her finger on the alarm button on her watch, her screams drowning out my pleads for her to stop and listen.
Moments later, four burly men march into Crystal's enclosure at the same time three charge into mine, their expressions hard and unforgiving as they try to fish us out of the enclosure by throwing large nets into the water to capture us.
Lucy stays cowering in the corner of my enclosure, screaming and pointing as the men shout at me to swim towards them. Frightened about what they'll do to me once they catch me, I try to swim away from the net, but the net seems to follow me, pursuing me until I'm tangled in its grasp.
The thick ropes rub and scratch against my skin as I struggle to untangle myself, but they don't seem to care if they hurt me, that the net is bending back my tendons in ways that causes me pain. From the grinning faces of the men who drop me onto the concrete floor, they're just happy to have caught me on the first go.
Hands reach out at me now, clawing and pulling on the net as a man with wire rimmed glasses looms over me with a pointy needle, moving the point closer and closer to my neck as cold, calloused hands hold me down.
My eyes widen in fear as the man grins down at me, slowly pushing the point of the needle into the side of my neck. I slowly stop struggling as a warmth spreads through my body, and when the darkness finally comes for me, I open myself to it.
I wake up in a small room made of half land, half water, but unlike the experience rooms, the room is bare and lifeless, with stark white walls instead of the glass windows I've grown accustomed to.
I sit motionlessly with my back against the wall, my tail sprawled out in front of me. My eyes are fixed on my bruised fingers as they swirl in the water beside me, and I long to be under there, where I can cry until it hurts and have the water wash the evidence away.
Out on the land I feel exposed, vulnerable, but the water's too cold to stand, a far cry from the warm, fresh water I'm used to in the main enclosure, which means I'm forced to stay put and hold in the tears they told me are never allowed to fall.
What's worse is I don't even know who it is I want to mourn for. Jaqueline, the only trainer who has ever been there for us, or Crystal, who is no doubt going to meet the same fate as Muriel.
I still can't understand it, can't allow myself to believe that someone as sweet and as caring as Crystal could have murdered Jaqueline, and yet I'd witnessed it with my own eyes, Crystal holding her down like a weight, waiting until Jaqueline's human lungs could no longer take it and then turning to me, looking at me as if she'd done me some kind of favor.
Is it possible to witness something and still believe it not to be true? Is seeing not believing? And if so, why does it feel as if none of this is real? As if this a horrible nightmare I'm sure to wake up from? I wrack my mind for an answer, a possible explanation as to why Crystal would have done what she did. Has she simply lost it? Has she finally cracked?
We've all felt the pull of insanity during our time in Marine World. Muriel would claw at her skin, Asia would cut herself using the rocks, Jewel pulled out her beautiful hair and Crystal would swim around and around, but the girls and I have come to rely on one another and when insanity takes hold of one of us, the rest of us are there, ready to help them through the darkness.
Crystal's been spinning more and more lately, but she's the only mermaid who's never tried to hurt herself, and yet she ended up hurting-killing-our trainer, a kind woman who didn't deserve to die.
And now we're all going to pay the price.
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Marine WorldScience Fiction
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