You were the only thing keeping me from achieving my dreams. You were alone, standing between my ultimate goal and I. All I had to do was to walk away from you. I only had to do what I had done with every single other man before you. It was easy. It should have been easy, but it wasn't.
Did you still remember how it started?
I was your curse, and you would be the end of me. To be with me, you'd have to give up your soul. To be with you, I'd have to give up everything.
“It’s easy,” my mother told me. “All you need to do is sing them something. You don’t even need to put words in the song. Just hum something. Anything.”
She was looking at me with her gorgeous green eyes wide opened. Her white skin seemed to shine under the sun, along as her long brown hair that was covering her breasts and going down until her belly button. She had the same shape than I: fragile, thin, and deadly beautiful. We were all the same, in a way. My sisters and I were alike, except for the color of the hair. We would get mistaken for triplets, sometimes, but we weren’t.
“Mother,” my older sister, Pearl called, “she’s never going to get it. It’s hopeless. We’ve been waiting for her to get it for more than three days. I’m getting hungry, and I seriously need to hunt some men down. I’ve heard them. They’re close. I don’t want to waste more time with her.”
Pearl had always been so excited about hunting. She would forget to practice her voice if it meant that she could get another man. I wished that her remarks didn’t get to me like that, but it did. You’d think that after a century living with her, I would have gotten used to it, but somehow, I hadn’t. I didn’t know if I would one day. At least, Sedna, my younger sister, didn’t do such thing. She looked up to me for advices which I didn’t understand. If she needed to know more about life, she should have come to Pearl. She knew better than I, and she was way older than I. She had at least two centuries of experience that I hadn’t. Maybe Sedna came to me because she felt closer to me: only half a century was between us.
“Pearl,” Mother snapped, “watch your mouth. If you keep talking like this, you’re not going to attract many other preys.” She swam closer to Pearl, and I saw some fear flashing through her eyes when Mother looked down at her. She stuck her nails into Pearl’s upper arm until she bled—I saw the blue-redish blood coming out. Pearl winced in pain, but not a single sound came out of her mouth. I knew she was too proud to admit that she was hurting. When Mother drew back her hand, the marks on Pearl’s arm disappeared just a few seconds after. Wounds didn’t hurt afterward, but they sure did during.
Pearl groaned and fell back on a rock, her golden hair hiding her body, her tail moving in the water. The water was streaming down her body, and her scales were shining under the sun, capturing the attention. Sedna gave her a look and with her tail, she sprayed water all over Pearl’s body. My oldest sister’s head shot straight up, “What are you doing?”
“Didn’t want your body to be dry,” Sedna explained, swimming away towards another rock.
Pearl nodded. “Thank you,” she said before lying back on the rock.
Since it was a beautiful sunny day, it was very harmful for us to be outside of the water. The worse wound we could get was if our body ever ran out of water. If it was all completely dry, it would be such a painful road until death that I didn’t even wish to think about it. Dying like that was the most horrible way of passing away. I would have chosen anything else but this. We didn’t scream a lot when it hurt, but I had seen a lot of my people howling with pain, grating on my ears, while going through such torture. It wasn’t used very often by us, but it was the one technique the sailors had found to make sure we wouldn’t come back for the rest of them.
Mother turned to me again. She was smiling, but I saw in her eyes how aggravated she felt. “Try again,” she encouraged me.
I didn’t want to. I tried to sit on a rock, but it didn’t quite work out like Pearl. I wrapped my hair around my finger, nervously. It seemed that I wasn’t able to sing, but it couldn’t be true. If I couldn’t sing, it meant that I had no purpose living. I could see the worry in Mother’s eyes, and I knew it was why she kept pushing me. She didn’t want to have to stick her nails into my neck until the wounds wouldn’t heal anymore. Kids were wealth within our people, and it was not an easy sacrifice when one of us couldn’t sing, but it was something that had to be done if such thing happened.
I opened up my mouth to sing, but I couldn’t get the words out. I couldn’t get anything out. The words were just stuck inside of me, somewhere I couldn’t reach. I closed my mouth, shook my head, and sighed. “I’ll never get it, Mother. Pearl’s right. Maybe you should just do it, and it will be over.” I closed my eyes, waiting for her to actually do it. Pearl was right. She had witnessed my failed attempts to have a beautiful voice like hers for three days, but in reality, I had been practicing for more than a year. I should have gotten it by now. I should have been able to sing with the most powerful voice ever heard. I should have been able to capture people’s attention, to make them want to listen to me forever. Even Sedna could! And I couldn’t. My deadline was soon. If I couldn’t sing within a few months, Mother wouldn’t be able to give me extra time.
She sighed. “We’ll try again tomorrow.”
I quietly nodded, and I swam away, going under the sea, going deeper than I had ever gone before. Neither Sedna nor Pearl tried to follow me.
I didn’t exactly know where I was headed. I was lost in my thoughts, and I hadn’t seen which way I had taken. It didn’t matter. If Mother whistled in the water, I would hear her, wherever I was, and I would find my way back to her. The water was getting darker and darker. Even for me, it was getting hard to see clearly. I decided to swim back up, but it didn’t change. The water wasn’t changing. I could see the sun, though. It was very weird. I got to the surface, and I emerged from the water. I had never seen this place. The waves were violent, and I could hear someone laughing. It chilled me to the bone.
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t the mermaid that cannot sing.” The voice was even creepier. Goosebumps appeared all over my arms, and that was something because it never happened to me. “I wonder how you’ll even survive, now that you’re pretty much useless.”
I looked up, and I saw her, walking on the rocks. She was wearing a white dress, and her long black hair was wet, as to indicate that she had been swimming, too. She glanced at me with the darkest pupils I had ever seen, and it did scare me. I wanted to dive back into the water, but just by one look, she froze me: I couldn’t escape, nor could I move. I tried to scream, to talk, but it seemed that my mouth and lips were sealed as well. Something in the water curled up around my entire body and had me move towards her. She kneeled down in front of her as I tried to get away, but not a single muscle responded to that silent prayer.
“You’re Oceane, right?” She didn’t wait for me to nod—I couldn’t. “Tethys’s last born.” It wasn’t a question; it was an affirmation. She’d heard of us.
I didn’t ask her who she was. It was obvious. I had always thought that her existence was a myth, but it didn’t seem like one at this precise moment. She seemed more real than I could have imagined. Mother had warned me about her. She said to stay away, to never look her in the eye, to never speak to her. Pearl had laughed and said that this was only a myth, something to prevent all of us to swim too far from home. And I had believed Pearl. It seemed to me that she had explored almost all the sea and hadn’t found what was standing in front of me. The mermaid that traded her fishtail for a pair of legs—with no possibility of coming back—and all of this for the love of a man, for a cursed life, for an eternity of pain. The legend said that she’d do anything to be normal again.
She looked into my eyes, and it felt as if she was profaning my soul. She was like a malicious spirit, and I wanted her to go away. I wanted to close my eyes, but she grabbed my chin with her hands, forcing me to keep staring at her.
“I heard of you,” she said, letting go of me. Somehow, I could still feel her fingers on my chin. “Humans and mermaids have been in a constant war against each other for as long as I can remember. It is said that one mermaid will bring the two peoples back together. According to the legend, she would be unable to sing, and you know what that means. It makes her unequipped to hunt.”
“And what makes you think that mermaid is me?” I asked. I didn’t feel the water around my body, and my fishtail was moving under the water freely.
“Your eyes,” she answered. “They are black, and it is known that mermaids’ eyes are either blue or green.”
“What about yours?” I said. “They’re brown.”
She laughed. “That’s because I am not a mermaid anymore.”
I remembered Mother talking about her. I remembered all the horrible things she had said about a mermaid that couldn’t be like the others, a mermaid that stand out. I could still feel the anger and the hate in her voice. Mother hated humans. Every mermaid hated the human kind. That’s why they were our preys. They were so easy to kill while they still hadn’t quite figured out how to kill one of us. The thing was that we needed them to procreate. Before, we didn’t need to sing to hypnotize them. They would come to us willingly. Now, we had to go look for them really hard. I couldn’t even remember where and why all the hate started, but all I knew was that Mother would never ever want to make peace with them. I think that she would rather die than being kind to one of them. So if I ever came to her and told her that I was the one, that I was the one all the mermaids had sworn to destroy, I’d be doomed. I couldn’t let Mother down. She had lost a newborn before me, and she was getting too old to have another one. I was her only hope. I couldn’t let her down. I couldn’t disappoint her. I couldn’t be different. I had to be like everyone else. And I would.
“I think you’re making a mistake,” I told her. “I’m not who you think I am.”
“Oh, I know exactly who you are.” She shrugged. “But it’s fine if you want to deny it. The truth will hit you soon enough.”
She got up, and she started to walk away, but I stopped her. “No, wait,” I called her back. She turned around and our eyes met and locked. There was something frightening about her, and yet, I couldn’t find out what it was. I didn’t know if it was because of her history or if it was because she used to be a mermaid, but something about her gave me goosebumps. “Someone told me that you … that you had powers,” I began.
She kneeled down in front of me, and she studied my face, looking carefully in my eyes as to see if I really wanted this—or if I truly deserved it. “Once a mermaid, always a mermaid,” she whispered coldly.
“Could you …” I paused. “I know that I have no right to ask, but … I desperately need … to sing.”
Her laughter became louder. “You need a voice?” she asked. “You need my voice?” According to the legend, she had a beautiful voice, a voice that could capture anyone’s attention, a voice that could be heard across the sea.
I nodded. “Yes.”
“There will be a price to pay for my voice, little mermaid. You shall be warned,” she said.
“You’d give it to me?” I didn’t think she’d cave in so easily. I thought she’d let me beg her a little, but clearly, she didn’t want to lose any time.
“I would, but everything comes with a price, and I’m not quite sure that you’d be willing to pay it.”
“Tell me,” I demanded.
“If you agree, there is no coming back,” she said.
She took a deep breath, looked at me once again, and she said, “I’ll give you my mermaid voice in exchange for a scale.”
A scale. It chilled me to the bone. She couldn’t truly want that. A scale. No sane mermaid would ever give that to her, knowing what it could do, acknowledging its power. Scales were the dearest thing a mermaid possessed. None gave them to anyone. Ripping one from the fishtail was like profanation. I couldn’t do that.
I think she saw the panic in my eyes because she immediately sighed. “Not yours, stupid. You’re not old enough; your scales are worth nothing yet.” She licked her lips. “I want Jewel’s.”
And to the mention of that name, I completely froze. Jewel’s scale. She had to be kidding me. “But she doesn’t …”
“She does exist,” she replicated. She seemed absolutely sure of that, but still. Maybe I was looking for an excuse because I really didn’t want to do this, but Jewel … She was a legend. No one knew if she truly had lived, if she still did, or if she was just a myth. No one alive had seen her, but mermaids said that she was still around—at least some of them did. There was a big mystery around Jewel’s fate because no one really talked about her. All that I knew was that she was probably the most powerful mermaid to have ever existed. “Here’s the deal. I’ll give you my voice and two years to find her and bring me back a scale. If you can be back in two years right here, you can keep the voice. But if you’re not back, I will rip every scale from your body to uncover your human legs”—I shivered when she said that because just the thought of walking made me nauseous—“and I will hang you until you are completely dry. And don’t expect to die after that because you won’t.” She smiled evilly. “So, do we have a deal?”
I looked at her and thought of it for a second. It was crazy. I didn’t want to die like that. I didn’t want to know the pain of being dried, and I didn’t want to lose my fishtail! If I didn’t success, she would put me through the worst torture. But finding Jewel … It was like trying to find a sand grain into the sea. It was merely impossible. I wouldn’t even know where to look first.
“But how do you expect me to find Jewel? The sea couldn’t be bigger.”
“When I’ll give you my voice, you’ll know where to find her,” she assured.
Finding Jewel didn’t seem like the hardest task. Ripping a scale off her fishtail was. But if I agreed, I would sing, and Mother would be proud of me. Pearl would stop making fun of me, and I would finally be the role model that Sedna deserved. Truly, I had nothing to lose. If I knew where to find Jewel, it would be easily done, and quickly done. It would be worth it. I would give her the scale, and she would leave me alone. Deep down, I knew that it was a very bad idea, but I found myself nodding, “You’ve got yourself a deal.”