My brothers would always tell me stories of the world of the two legged creatures. They have all been up there before, above the white crested, crashing waves. They told stories of blue skies and large wooden crafts with white wings that navigate the sea. There were feathered creatures that could fly high above our ocean home. White, fluffy formations called clouds moved across the wide expanse of sky.
=Most importantly, though, there was a rocky island and a tall, pointy building that shot light into the air. My brothers said that you could see a human boy up in that tower controlling the beams of light.
“What if I can’t find the surface when I’m old enough to swim to the world above?” I had asked my eldest brother, when I was very young.
He laughed at that, and said, “It’s impossible to miss, you just swim straight up.” I listened with eyes opened wide and mouth gaping open, my spirit full of wonder.
That was back when I actually gave a crap about all of that. About the human world and the sky and the boy in the light tower.
Now, I couldn’t care less. I was tired of hearing stories about the “amazing world” above the ocean. Compared to the beautiful place that I lived in, it couldn’t possibly be that special. According to the texts of my people, humans were filthy, disgusting creatures that spilled blood over everything and nearly drove my entire species to extinction. They thought that the Mer were strange playthings to be killed as a prize or kept on display as a pet.
I had dreaded the day when I had to go to the surface and see the world of the humans.
But it was a part of the adulthood ceremony to go and view the other world, beyond the depths of the ocean. Even if you didn’t even care, you weren’t allowed to get married, crowned, or leave the city until you had visited the surface.
So that’s why I was sitting there, my brothers putting the eight royal oysters on my tail, as was custom. My eldest brother lowered the wreath of white lilies onto my head, the special one with leaves made of pearls. They all in turn kissed my cheek, then wished me good luck. I rolled my eyes in response.
I would have loved to throw aside that wreath and eat the oysters pinching my blue and yellow scales. I knew that they would be cramped and sore for many days to come. I growled angrily as I swam upward towards the surface, a pang in my tail from the oysters. I was rather proud of my queen triggerfish markings and tail, and I didn't welcome the ugly brown mollusks disfiguring the brilliant azure and marigold.
I saw the light above me, bright and harsh to my fish eyes. I broke the surface and gasped from the cold air touching my wet skin. It was a feeling that I had never experienced before. The ocean usually enveloped me, keeping me safe.
Above me, a large, brilliant white orb hung in the sky. Tiny white lights also dotted the black expanse above me. To the left was a rocky island jutting out of the waves, just like my brother had said. A large, tall tower rose from the rocks, white with old bricks. The top was glass, with a dome over it. Around the glass part was a metal railing. Two beams shone out of it, rotating around and illuminating the ocean. Large lenses turned inside of the glass, concentrating the burning…. flame, I think it’s called?
But all of that wasn’t what caught my eye. It was him that did. He wasn’t a boy anymore, like when my siblings had visited the surface, but an adult, probably a year or two older than me. The man that lived in the house of light. There he stood on the railing, staring off to sea with a distant look in his blue eye. The other eye was covered by a black piece of cloth tied around his head. He had clothing covering his body, leaving only his arms and ankles exposed. His skin had a pinkish tinge, unlike my bluish one. His white hair was tied in a braid that reached the ground, whipping around in the wind. The man’s hands gripped the railing, and sadness filled his face.
How wrong had I been to think that humans were ugly and disgusting. In fact, it was the exact opposite now. My ugly fish body felt wrong and terrible in comparison to this beautiful creature.
I swam closer to get a better look, and soft singing filled my ears. I couldn’t understand the words, because I didn’t speak the language of the humans, but there was so much power behind them and emotion choking up his voice that I found myself captivated. A single droplet of water trickled down his cheek from the eye that wasn’t covered. I found this strange. Humans lived on land and feared the sea, but could create water from their eyes? Mers couldn’t do that. I closed my eyes and listened to the lovely sound of his singing.
Suddenly, I heard a noise, and my eyes popped open. Coming closer, in the distance, a “ship” loomed into view. It was exactly what my brothers had described them to be like; a giant wooden floating creation with large white wings.
The man in the tower stopped singing, and stared at the large craft gliding across the waves, coming closer. It was about half a mile away from the island, creating a wide berth. Looking reluctantly back at the white-haired man in the tower, I decided to swim closer and get a better look at the huge ship. I ducked through the waves, flipping my tail in short, rapid strokes. When I arrived at it, I reached out a webbed hand and gently touched it’s barnacle-encrusted surface. Swimming along the side of the ship on my back, I looked up and saw, in a place of the deck without a railing, some men pushing another man over the edge.
He was struggling and shouting, fighting the grip of his captors. They shoved him farther forward, until he was only inches away from falling over the side and plunging into the waters below. He would surely die, I knew it in my heart. Hitting the icy cold ocean from that high up would surely knock him out, and he wouldn’t be able to swim to the shore. He would die and sink because humans can’t breathe underwater. His dark brown, wavy hair bounced as he fought the mob holding him, his dark eyes filled with rage.
I then knew that all humans weren’t beautiful. The disease-ridden men holding him were the disgusting creatures I had heard about. Many were missing limbs and others had gaping spaces instead of teeth. Their faces were covered in wiry hair, and their skin was sickly and gaunt. But worst of all was their voices. Mocking and jeering as they pushed the man closer to the edge.
Fear crept into the dark eyes of the human’s face as he was pushed to an inch away from the edge. He fought harder, tan skin taut over his muscles as he tried to escape. But it was too late. He stumbled over the edge of the boat. The man fell, looking like a bird that had lost it’s will to fly, not that I had seen many birds yet. I cried out and swam to where he landed, but he had already sunk beneath the waves. I dived immediately, and found the man dazed and moving his arms feebly to swim, cold no doubt.
The water had frozen his limbs, and he was only sinking deeper. I reached out and grabbed his hand as his eyes closed. I wrapped my small arms around him and pulled him up, pumping my tail as hard as I could. White bubbles escaped his mouth in a steady stream. I swam harder, using all my reserves of strength to try and save this human. I knew that he would drown if I didn't save him. Finally, after what seemed to my aching muscles to be forever, I broke the surface. Swimming as fast as I could, I maneuvered over to the island, dragging the man with me. Closer, foot by agonizing foot.
I finally reached the rocky shore, exhausted and out of breath. I pulled the man up onto a long stretch of gravelly sand and laid him down gently. I wished in that moment that I could provide air for him, but my gills took in water, and my human lungs were much too weak. I leaned down and pressed my ear to his chest, listening for his heartbeat. Ba-dump. Ba-dump. I breathed a sigh of relief at the sound of his heart. I wiped my brow and then looked up at the light tower. And froze. The beautiful man with the long white hair was staring at me with his mouth open. He probably couldn't see me very well from up there, but he could see enough to determine that I most definitely wasn't human. I could tell from the look in his blue eye. We met eye contact for a split second before I turned away, blushing and heart pounding loud enough that I was sure that he could hear it. I turned away to leave, and I saw him outstretch his slender hand and heard him yell something to me.
A little panicked, I launched off the shore into the ocean and dove under. I swam to my home without stopping once; ignoring the fact that I was tired and trying to sort out my feelings.