The room is quiet save for a slight wheezing behind me, and I lie still for a moment with my face in the pillow, comforted by the sound of somebody else's presence.
Smiling slightly, I turn to see Muriel's blue eyes on mine, her face crisscrossed with the slithers of sunlight pouring in from the balcony windows.
"I've missed you, little sister," she whispers, pressing her hand to the curve of my cheek. I instinctively reach up and slide my own hand on top, her skin as warm and as soft as I remember.
"I miss y–"
My eyes flicker open to a view of the ceiling, my body cold despite the rays of sunlight brushing my skin. With my heart now pounding I quickly roll over, finding Muriel's space on the mattress as smooth and untouched as it was before I'd slept.
I squeeze my eyes shut, desperate to send myself back to sleep so I can see her face one last time, even if it is only in my dreams. But it is no use. My body fights harder against the demands of my mind, forcing me to give up and glance toward Reece's bed.
His bed is empty, only an imprint in the stark, white sheets where his body had once been. My eyes shift over to the small bedside table, where Reece spare gun sits against the wooden top. I expect he must have woken up early and left to get some supplies, so I decide to have a long shower whilst I wait, allowing the pounding water to sooth my aching joints.
Seeing Muriel in my dreams has shaken me, reminded me of just how much I miss her and the other girls. But it has also given me a slither of strength, of courage. Marine World may have already claimed both her and Crystal, but I'll be damned if I let them claim Asia and Jewel, too.
After working out the tangles in my hair, I dry myself and get dressed in the white robe provided before switching on the kettle and making some coffee. I do it just like Reece showed me back in the motel room, feeling somewhat triumphant when it turns out the same way his had. I might not have grown up knowing how to do certain human things, but thanks to Marine World's helping hand, I'm a quick learner.
With my steaming coffee in tow, I grab the packets of food from the table and perch myself on the edge of the bed, gorging myself on strange foods labelled peanuts and chocolate whilst patiently waiting for Reece to return.
Having spent so many days together in such close proximity, it feels strange having him gone for so long, like I don't quite know what to do with myself.
After I've demolished the rest of the food, I grab the clicker from the bedside table, mindlessly flicking through channels until I come across a voice that sends a shiver down my spine.
"Welcome to Marine World."
Where every visit is different, I automatically think at the same time as the commercial, a commercial I've seen play repeatedly on the transparent tv screens through the glass of my enclosure.
The voice is of that same woman–silky, enthralling, the kind of voice that could convince you anything is possible.
And she does.
The Marine World logo swirls across the screen and the cameras zooms into a shot of a green, scaly tail gliding through water so clear it can't possibly be the same water from our enclosures. The shot pans out to show a mermaid swimming through her enclosure, her long, brown hair floating in waves as she sways her hips against the currents.
"Home of the only mermaid enclosure in the world."
The clip switches to three mermaids I don't recognize swimming side by side before they break the surface and give the camera a smile. It has always been Muriel, Jewel and Asia in the commercial, filmed long before Crystal and I ever came along, and there is only one reason I can think of as to why Marine World would bother changing it now.
They're getting rid of Asia and Jewel.
"You need to see it to believe it," the voice says, and it dawns on me that this is the real reason the guests flock to Marine World. Not because our routines are good, or because we are beautiful to watch, but because Marine World sucks them into a land of fantasy, a land where anything is possible–even mermaids.
A picture of Marine World's entrance flashes across the screen now, the words, Marine World. The place where dreams come true, written underneath a logo of a mermaid.
I stare at the screen long after the commercial has ended, a wave of nausea slowly creeping through my body. Yes, I think darkly, my hands clutching the bed so hard I'm surprised my fingers haven't pierced through the covers.
Everybody's dreams but ours.
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Marine WorldScience Fiction
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