A D E L I N E C L A R K E
It was calm beneath the surface, especially now that all of Adeline’s panic had vanished, only to be replaced by a strangely calm acceptance of her fate. She knew it was too late for her to do much of anything, so she decided she might as well enjoy the ride down to her demise while she still could. Soon, the already exquisite pain that radiated across and through the thin membranes of her eyes and nose would be joined by an agonizing pressure in her chest. As long as she was still conscious, she would take in the scenery. A few solitary fish swam in the vicinity, seemingly the only ones not chased away by the presence of the enormous ship that had been cutting through the waves. Their scales were in various gradients of silver and gray, shimmering and twinkling in the meager amount of light that had managed to make its way into the depths of the water. Adeline, in another uncharacteristically impulsive act (she seemed to be performing many of those lately), lifted her hand and touched one of the nearby fish. It instantly flicked its tail in an attempt to escape her grasp, its sharp fins cutting into the tender web of flesh between her thumb and forefinger, causing a small cloud of crimson to fill the water. Tiny pieces of algae danced before her eyes, like motes of dust in an aquatic sunbeam. Long strands of kelp reached towards the surface in great green ropes, swaying and dancing in the faint current of the sea. An oceanic forest, it stretched out for what seemed like an eternity, lush and shimmering in the dim, wavering light that managed to pierce through the water’s surface. It tickled her cheeks and wrists, brushing against every bit of exposed skin it could find and, although she disliked the strange texture, she didn’t recoil. Perhaps the kelp was her fate. When she finally died, drifting the the sea floor and settling amidst the rocks and shells that littered it, she would become one with the kelp, reaching towards the distant sky with long viridian tendrils.
That isn’t so terrible, she thought to herself, the faintest of smiles alighting on her lips as a feeling of serenity overcame her. The last of her panic had vanished, overtaken by the calm acceptance that comes when one is faced with certain demise. I have always loved the ocean, after all.
Her lungs were starting to ache now. She wondered if she should just give into the inevitable and exhale, to just get it over with as soon as possible. Drowning was one of the worst deaths of all, and she knew that, so why was she delaying it? Perhaps she wanted to take in as much of the scenery as possible. After all, at this point she had sunken to a place where no man had ever gone before. She was seeing sights that had been hidden to human eyes since the dawn of time. To be privy to such a strange, unknown landscape was a gift, and she might as well accept it with open arms and drink in as much of the view as possible before she expired. She gazed upwards and observed the very last of the light disappear, along with the only world she had ever known. Still staring up at the surface, she slowly drifted into the cold, feathery embrace of the kelp, preparing herself to be wrapped up in its tendrils like an insect in the vines of a predatory plant. She was just about to finally close her eyes and wait for the end when the face appeared before her, its own pair of strangely iridescent and glassy eyes meeting her sight.
Although it was only a single moment, it felt like an eternity. Their gazes were focused solely on each other, blocking out the rest of the world until it felt as if it was just the two of them suspended in space. If Adeline had been capable of breathing in this situation, her breath would have most certainly caught in her throat.
Her father was correct. Just as he repeated on a nearly daily basis, repeating the assurance like some sort of mantra, he wasn’t crazy. The merfolk were real, and the proof was treading water directly in front of her. He was slim, his skin an exceedingly inhuman shade of bluish gray, and when he reached out his hands to touch her, Adeline realized that his flesh was vaguely slimy. Although she was utterly repulsed by the sensation, and every instinct in Adeline was telling her to recoil from those long webbed fingers, she found herself reaching out towards him in response. Her fingertips brushed against his cheek, sliding over the cold flesh and exploring the texture with open curiosity and awe, her eyes unfaltering and unblinking as they took in every detail of the creature’s appearance. Long dark hair, yellow pupils with a thin nictitating membrane, heavy brows, a straight nose…
Question after question filled her mind. How was he breathing? Gills? A blowhole? Something else? Did he have scales? Or was his skin more akin to an amphibian? Did he have human teeth? Or maybe shark teeth? Or perhaps a hard palate like a spiny fish?
It took far longer than Adeline would have liked to admit to realize why he was reaching towards her. Perhaps she had been so utterly enthralled by his physiology that she had forgotten all of her father’s warnings. Or maybe she had been displaying some of that oh-so-common egocentrism humans always have, think that he was looking at her with the same curious, startled eyes. Either way, she was quite delayed in her understanding that he was preparing to pull her even further below the water. Upon realizing his intentions, Adeline grabbed at his hands, doing her best to pry them off of her, twisting and thrashing in an attempt to loosen his grip. Her nails scratched against the creature’s bare chest, causing three straight lines to appear on his flesh, the wounds puckering slightly and releasing trace amounts of blood into the water. The cut on Adeline’s own hand widened, her own ichor oozing out and mingling with the merfolk’s, creating a small cloud of nearly blackish blood around them. The saltwater stung exquisitely, but Adeline was so focused on her struggles that she barely noticed it.
If she was going to die, she was going to do it on her terms, not some fishy freak’s! He didn’t need to pull her downwards, she could drown all by herself without anyone’s help!