Thirteen

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At three, I take my break as usual, my stomach churning when Rob's head swivels around the side of my door. It means I'm not going back into the enclosure for the one-on-one experience this evening. I'm going for an experiment, instead.

I head into the bathroom and pretend to wash my hands, needing a moment to gather some courage before we head towards the testing facility.

I've felt nothing but exhaustion since Crystal killed Jaqueline, barely able to sleep through the night anymore, though it doesn't look like it. My skin remains unblemished, free from the hardships currently plaguing my mind, and for once, I'm thankful for my genetics. The last thing I need is for the trainers to start trying to feed me more pills.

Once I'm ready, Rob leads me through the tunnels again but instead of taking a left at the end to head toward the testing facility, we take a right. I anxiously trail behind him through door after door, until he finally pushes open a large metal door.

Fluorescent lights flicker on, revealing a white, spiral staircase at least several floors high. I slide my hand up the gold railing as we climb, something feeling familiar about this staircase, though I can't put my finger on why.

Once we get to the fourth floor, Rob holds his card to the sleek, black pad and the light flashes green. We step into a room that looks similar to the testing facility, with the same glass water tanks lining the back wall.

I expect Rob to lead me towards the tank again, but he pulls me toward the corner of the room, where a familiar, white cube sits. It's a machine I've only ever been in twice, and both times had made me wish they'd put me in the tank, instead.

Before I have time to be afraid, Rob is ushering me through the cube's door and closing it behind me, causing my legs to suddenly weaken as though unable to hold my weight.

Slowly, I lower myself onto the plain, white bench, for once wishing I was back in the enclosure, waving and smiling at guests. The last time I'd been in this cube I was twelve-years-old, and I'd kidded myself into thinking I'd never have to stop foot inside it again.

A mechanical noise groans out through the vents and I brace myself as the temperature plunges, squeezing my eyes shut.

Every time I'm forced into these conditions, I can't help but wonder why. My purpose is to perform for the guests, so what good comes from learning how long I can hold my breath for, or how cold I can get?

"Please," I croak once the air becomes bitter, my voice sounding rusty. "Let me out."

I hear the familiar muffling of the intercom being switched on, before Dr. Wells' voice rings through the coldness. "You're fine, Aura. Remember what I told you the last time. You can warm yourself up if you just focus on controlling your body temperature with the power of your mind."

"I can't," I whisper, a headache beginning to radiate between my eyes. "I can't. I'm too cold."

My breath comes out in clouds of smoke, the air now so cold that goosebumps have formed up the length of my arms. I try to think back to what Dr. Wells had told me the last time I was in here, but my mind is thick with fog.

"Imagine a flame along your spinal cord," Dr. Wells soothes. "Feel the warmth slowly spreading through your limbs."

I do as she says, recalling the first time Teresa had lit a candle for me. I remember I'd watched the candle burning for hours, fascinated that something so beautiful could be so destructive.

I picture that same flame now, imagining how it would feel to have it flicker near my frozen skin. Warm, inviting, like the kind of embrace only Teresa could give.

Tears form as I try to remember her features, but I can't. My memories of her have faded over the years, her features so distorted it's like trying to recall a dream.

A small spark ignites, a glimmer of warmth in the tip of my fingers that makes them twitch. Surprised, I focus harder, imagining the fire spreading through the rest of my limbs until I'm consumed in its flames.

"You're doing it, Aura," Dr. Wells says, her voice sounding somewhat excited by this achievement. "You're raising your body temperature. Keep going."

My eyes flicker open as the feeling intensifies, my insides swirling with heat. But there is more than just warmth in the pit of my stomach.

There is fire, and fury, and a desperate desire to burn until Marine World catches alight.

A/N

Hey Readers! What do you think of the book so far? Who's your favorite mermaid? 🧜🏽‍♀️🧜🏻‍♀️🧜🏿‍♀️

Those of you who are rereading might also notice this is a new chapter that wasn't in the old version, so hope you enjoy!

Also, I know this is a shorter chapter butttt the next one will be longer! Please remember to vote, comment and share ❤️

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