She's mine 

click to enlarge she_s_mine_-_proton.jpg

Illustration by Proton

Today is the day. Today I will end Hannah's life as a landfolk.

"Morning, Carbon!" Her singsong voice echoes off the damp concrete walls and shivers through the water into my scales. She carries a bucket up the metal stairs to the platform at the top of my tank. "Ready for breakfast?" she asks as she throws a dead fish in the water.

I'm too excited to eat. Too nervous for anything.

Because today is the day.

"What's wrong, buddy? Should I get the vet?"

I don't understand all of her words. She speaks the air, and while I've learned some of the sounds — morning, breakfast, tank, no, jump — I have no idea what she's saying most of the time. That's okay, because today I'm going to fill her lungs with water.

Today she'll learn to speak the ocean.

Hannah walks down a few steps and puts her hand on the glass. "You okay, buddy?"

I press my hand over hers on the other side of the glass. It dwarfs her tiny landfolk fingers so all I can see are my own green scales and translucent webbing. I don't reply; I'm not allowed. Noise brings the painful metal loop that shocks like an electric eel and leaves me gasping water, limbs shaking.

That's why she still calls me Carbon when my name is Calumet. I'm not allowed to tell her my name. Not yet.

"Can you still perform?"

"Perform" is another air-word I know. That's why they fished me out of the ocean and brought me to this dreary, loud, sterile place — to "perform" for them. Once a day they let me out into the sunshine to do tricks for the landfolk, who cheer and laugh and bang on the glass until this gray, lonely room is a relief instead of a prison.

I smile at the note of apprehension in her voice, my lips pressed together so my sharp teeth don't show. My teeth scare the landfolk.

Hannah smiles all the time — wide smiles that show her strangely-flat teeth. This is what I love about her, the wide smiles and constant chatter and bright brown eyes. Somehow, this place isn't so dreary with Hannah here. She's a spot of kindness, especially after my first "trainer"—a short, cruel woman with a temper. Which is why, today, I'm bringing Hannah into the water with me. I will replace all of the air inside her with water so she can stay with me forever.

"Last chance for breakfast," Hannah pats the tank and walks to the long tube that separates my holding tank from the outdoor arena I perform in. She lifts the glass sliding door, and the energy of the audience travels up the water to my tank, dancing in my scales.

"See you in there, Carbon."

I swim through the tube, relishing the last moments of relative peace before I enter the arena and the crowd gives a deafening cheer. Children pound on the glass and scream, "Carbon!" Someone throws something in the water and I let it sink. The sky above me is a perfect blue with wispy clouds — I'd never seen the sky this close before I was captured. I'd never been this close to the surface. I was a hunter, swimming the deep ocean for schools of fish, bringing them back for the brightly colored merfolk who never left the safety of the reef.

I was caught on a hunt, but now my prey is Hannah.

She stands on the platform and the music swells, drowning out the voices of the audience. They hush, the music softens, and Hannah smiles bright. "Welcome to Oceanica — the world's first and only mermaid marine park!"

The crowd cheers again. They'll cheer for anything. They'll probably cheer when I pull her into the water. Anything to be entertained.

Hannah talks while I do tricks. Swim as fast as I can from one side of the large tank to the other. Jump as high as I can out of the water. Spin circles and swim slowly in front of the glass so they can see everything about me, from my tailfin tipped with the dark purple of a black torch coral, to my green scales, to the gills in my neck. But not my teeth.

Never my razor sharp teeth.

They don't want to be reminded I can kill them if they get too close to the water.

Eventually the music starts again, and my muscles begin their dance routine almost on their own. I swim closer to the platform than normal, eyeing the distance, trying to calculate how high I'll have to jump to reach her. The landfolk taught me to jump as part of my routine, but as I near Hannah my tail stroke pushes me down instead of up. I'll have to break from the routine to jump when I need to.

I kick hard, speeding up, building momentum. My heart races in anticipation. The audience won't notice the change, but Hannah will. We've done this routine countless times, and I'm never off.

"Carbon?" She moves to the edge of the platform, leaning over to peer into the water. "What are you doing?"

"My name is Calumet!" I jump, cresting the water, and grab her, trying to keep my nails from piercing her soft, fragile skin. She screams as her feet leave the platform, and the audience echoes her scream. They didn't cheer after all, but I do. As soon as I'm back in the water I let out a celebratory "whoop!" and spin.

Hannah is in the water. With me. She'll be mine the same way I've been hers for so long.

One of the landfolk yells and runs towards the platform. He's going for the painful loop — I have to hurry.

I dive deep, Hannah in my grasp. Bubbles stream from her nose and mouth and she reaches for my neck, going for my gills. I push her away gently and her chest heaves, water rushing in. She begins to jerk in coughing spasms, bubbles bursting out of her as water replaces it.

Yes!

The first, painful shock hits me and my muscles spasm, forcing my hands to release her. But the loop isn't as painful in this much water as it is in my tiny tank. As soon as it stops, I lunge for Hannah again. She's stopped coughing — she's not moving at all. I grab her face and put my lips over hers, forcing water to fill her lungs.

I place my palm over her chest, but her heartbeat is missing, not sluggish like it should be. I press harder, desperate to feel a weak flutter or thump.

Heart heartbeat is gone, stolen from my grasp when I let go. It was the loop — it had to be. That landfolk man killed her.

"No!" I roar and clutch her face, my nails sinking into her skin. "She wasn't yours to take! She was mine!"

My breath struggles through my gills in panicked gasps and the pocket of air inside me begins to grow, forcing me towards the surface. I kick for the bottom, trying to put as much space between myself and the loop as possible, but a second painful loop enters the water.

"She's mine!" I scream.

The pain hits again, stronger this time, and my hands clench, nails shredding her skin. Blood blooms through the water like squid ink. I can't even scream now. Can't move. Can't breathe.

As the pain overwhelms me, I dream of the reef that I call home. The colors, the sounds, the movement. Every part of me reaches for that vision, knowing I'll die in this sterile tank, just like Hannah did. My vision blurs with seafoam and I imagine her at the reef, her fins tipped in the bright, cheerful yellow of a queen angelfish. Neither of us will make it home again.

click to enlarge rebeccaenzor.jpg

Rebecca Enzor is an analytical chemist and fantasy author in Charleston, where she lives with her husband, two dogs, three cats, and sometimes chickens. Rebecca’s debut novel, Speak the Ocean, will be out Summer 2019 from Reuts Publishing.

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Proton is an illustrator and painter based out of Charleston. His mediums include water color and screenprinting. He has been known to add feet to his illustrations when asked.


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