Twenty-one

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Her eyes widen slightly before her body slumps forward, her blood already seeping into the tiles on the floor. Slowly, I meet her gaze, finding her blue eyes glassy and wide, their usual light missing.

My hands start to shake. I move them in front of my face, staring down at my blood-stained fingers in shock. Panicked, I start to roll Muriel's body toward the night enclosure pool until she rolls right over the ledge, hitting the water with a sickening splash before disappearing in a wave of blue and red.

My eyes fall on the Muriel's uniform on the bed, bile already making its way up my throat. Hurriedly, I strip and jump into the shower, scrubbing at the blood staining my fingers until my skin is red raw. Then I dry myself and get dressed in Muriel's uniform, a layer of sweat beginning to coat my forehead.

I move toward the water where Muriel's body lurks at the bottom, her blood having turned the water a crimson red. My eyes stay transfixed on her shapeless shadow, but I don't have time to break down.

I look at my watch. Thirty minutes. Thirty minutes to get onto the monorail and back to the parking lot without being caught. I grab my bag, throwing my books inside of it, along with my compact mirror.

Once in the tunnel, I glance to my right, able to see the employee door Reece had told me not to use. Instead, I head toward the bottom of the tunnel, my body still trembling.

The sound of far-off footsteps commands my attention and I freeze, my freedom suddenly slipping from my grasp. The footsteps get closer, forcing me to grip the pair of scissors in my pocket as I get ready to use them on whoever comes around that corner.

I have come too far to give up now, too close to simply turn back, and even if I did, it would be too late. Muriel's body lays floating in the night enclosure pool. As soon as they found her, they'd be getting rid of me the same way they got rid of Muriel.

No, this time things are going to end only with my freedom, and so I grip the scissors with all of my might, waiting for the figure to turn the corner.

An old man walks toward me, wearing a dark navy jumpsuit and a blue cap that shields his eyes from my view. He gives me an easy smile when he gets closer, and I feel my body relax a fraction as he tilts his hat at me.

"Afternoon, miss," he says as he passes, and I force myself to smile back. He glances down at my shirt and frowns. "You should wear your ID on the front of your shirt," he says, his dark eyes finding mine. "Management go crazy, otherwise."

I reach into my pocket and wrap my fingers around Reece's key card, lifting it up for the man to see whilst making sure Reece's picture is facing me.

"Oh, I know," I say in a light voice. "I was just about to put it on."

He smiles again before carrying on behind me. In the distance, I can see the gray double doors that read exit and I hold my breath, crossing the distance until both my palms are flat against the doors. I push them open with all of my strength, suddenly thrown into bright, blinding sunlight.

Guests continue to roam past me, not having the slightest idea I have just escaped from my enclosure, that I am the same mermaid they've been ogling all morning. They talk and laugh with ease in their groups, eating ice creams and drinking from tall, blue cups that say Mertastic on the sides.

One guest is wearing a Marine World t-shirt with mine and Crystal's faces printed on the front, and just the sight of it makes me feel as if I am going to keel over. Crystal looks happy in the picture, her eyes bright and a big smile on her face, though I know it isn't genuine.

Neither is mine.

I force myself to look away, knowing I'll break down if I stare for too long. Instead, I focus on the flowers either side of the pathway, the spurting water fountain soaking little children in the distance.

It is disorienting how much more there is to Marine World outside of my enclosure. Flowers and buildings I have never set sight upon before, snack stalls brimming with oddly shaped foods. It is as if this alone is a whole other world, and I realize even the world I've been living in has only been a slither of something, a piece.

I want to marvel at it, to explore the other parts of the place I've called home for so long, but I know Reece is waiting for me and no matter how strong my desire to explore is, I desire my freedom more.

I'm about to turn when I spot the enclosure in the distance, the words Merland scrawled above the cave's opening. I head toward it before I can stop myself, needing to see the girls one last time before I leave them behind. Nervously, I enter the viewing tunnel until the blue waters of the enclosure surround the glass either side of me, throwing me back into a world of water and coral.

Except this time, I am the guest.

A/N

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