The weeks before a name was announced proceeded like every year before it: sleepless nights, sporadic teary eyes, heavy silence around the dinner table—it was just a part of life everyone learned to accept.
Every year, the humans send up one of us—one of the mermaids that keep their oceans clean and fish in their stomachs. We are vastly outnumbered compared to them, which ostensibly leaves us as their sacrificial slaves.
One could argue that this arrangement isn’t all bad, after all, they leave us alone for most of the year, merely demanding a large share of our fish and weeks of our time pulling trash from tourist-trap beaches.
The only bad thing is how the humans react if we don’t follow their rules.
The last slaughter was over a decade ago, and it still stings fresh. Everyone lost someone after our home waters were poisoned, a parent, sibling, aunt, uncle—everyone felt the hollow sting of loss.
Since then, most have learned to keep their heads down. We quietly hand over nets overflowing with fish, we meekly gather soda cans and soggy cardboard boxes for their easy disposal. We simply don’t have the numbers to win freedom.
Every year one of us is strapped into a small rocket and launched into space, where we are snatched from the sky by the fearsome Elixons that inhabit the moon. Every year the Elixons feast on one of us, a sacrifice they demand in order to leave defenseless Earth alone.
In past decades, this sacrifice has been late, or resulted in enough resistance from us to be delayed by a day or two. The humans learned the hard way to keep the sacrifices on time. At first, the Elixons killed a thousand of them, the next day it was million, and the humans didn’t wait around for the third day’s killing to multiply by itself again.
Ultimately, the Elixons are in control. The humans have them convinced that we, the mermaids, are the most enthralling and beloved of the species on Earth. Our supposed purity and god-like qualities are the sole reasons why the Elixons aren’t demanding human sacrifices. In reality, human sacrifices could be done in larger amounts without harming their population, and, most importantly, humans are bigger than we are. More meat for the Elixons.
Last year, it was one of my teachers from Hunting and Survival. This year it could be my dad, my brother, my best friend—anyone. I’m tired of living in fear, never knowing who might be snatched from my life and slaughtered without a second thought.
The humans use a computer program, I’ve heard, to pick a name. Sometimes it’s obviously not as random as they claim; the instances are infuriatingly numerous.
In the days before the announcement I, like everyone else, try to stay as busy as possible.
Today, I’ve decided to skip classes and swim the entire boarder of my city, for no good reason other than to stay occupied. I put my hair, which is blue, not red, like all of the humans assume, into a bun and exchange a look with my mom before I leave. She’s sitting listlessly, her golden tail curled protectively around herself. We both know why I’m leaving.
“Don’t be too long, Isizel,” she said quietly, almost out of habit. I nodded and shut the door behind me.
I was going to be gone long, very long. Hopefully all day. Then, tomorrow. The big day.
The water becomes still and quiet after I pass the main structures of town, a stark difference from what every one of us was feeling. Even so, I enjoyed my swim. The colors of the ocean, the light blue of the waves and the deep navy of the depths, brought the same comfort they had for so many years. It made me proud to be a Beast of The Sea, as they called us. A mermaid, one of the last.
I swam on my back, looking at the florescent colors of my tail. Every mermaid’s tail was slightly different, a unique factor that set us all apart. Mine, my personal favorite, was mostly white, but sprinkled with scales the colors of the ocean and clear shimmery chips that glowed rainbow in the sun. I’m now eighteen, old enough to have a fully mature tail.
I’m also old enough to be sacrificed.
The next day I woke up with a start, bleary eyed and panicked. It didn’t take long to remember why.
My small family had one last meal together, each of our lives a guarantee for a few hours longer. Then came three o’clock.
As usual, the humans arrived. There were dozens of them in their ugly, metal tubes that spat out smelly oil and hurt our ears with their loud engines.
We met them at the same location every year, with some mermaid clans required to travel for many hours to reach it. My clan was close, close enough to watch the specially-adapted rocket lower into the water from a boat on the surface. The foreboding ship’s shadow cast ominously on the crowd below.
Once the name was announced, we had ten minutes before being forcefully loaded into the small compartment of the rocket.
I hovered with my family and the rest of my clan, gathered around the bottom of a large, thin rock that rose in a spike to the water’s surface. It felt unreal, watching the Army general reach for a sealed bag.
The tears had already started. Mother’s wept in agonizing anticipation, wrapped around their husbands and children, unable to look up at the human who bore someone’s fate.
Others swam silently, looking up blankly. I was among them. The years of this process had become numbing. The mistreatment, the brutality, it was starting to feel like what came with being a mermaid.
I hated it, almost more than the humans and their actions themselves. I hated how we allowed this to become normal.
Before the name was read, before the wailing started, I swam off. As numb as I was, I couldn’t stand to watch again. Especially when I might hear my name this year.
I didn’t want my life to be over, as unfair and hopeless as it was. I didn’t want to be ripped from my family and my home, knowing I was going to be killed in some horrific way and eaten by the Elixons. It was a terrifying prospect, one that was heavy on my mind, though I had tried to convince myself otherwise.
I didn’t go far, just far enough to be able to see the crowd but lose the sounds of crying inside the coral shelf I nestled in. From here, the gathering could almost pass as a party, or a festival. How opposite it really was almost made me laugh.
I closed my eyes, willing the sudden panic to go down. I wasn’t the type to get scared. I fought my bullies and confronted my fears, but this felt different. I desperately wanted to be a kid again, safe in the swaddling of my innocence and naive to the horrors of this world.
I opened my eyes, watching my tear drops float away and meld into the soft current. Then I heard the name, loud and unmistakable over the warbling underwater speakers.
I let out a gasp and fell back against the coral. It felt like something shattered inside of me, and disbelief only lasted a moment before terror took over.
“No!” I cried softly, balling my hands and holding them to my eyes. Tears came through anyway, accompanied by nauseating sobs of terror and grief that bent me over.
I was too young. They must have said the wrong name.
I knew they didn’t.
After reality set in, my first instinct washed over me as strongly as a tidal wave.
Run, run, run. I have the entire ocean, the humans couldn’t possibly track me down. I could go anywhere, to the colder oceans up north, or the tropic oceans by—.
But who will take my place?
The question filled my brain and made my plans of fleeing sink like an anchor. Whose name would be called instead? What kind of life could I have, on the run from humans and my own guilt?
I sank back on the coral, clenching my jaw as I accepted my fate. It was so unfair. So wrong.
“Isizel Untra, you have six minutes to report at the Rock!”
I had to go. I had to hug my parents and my sister and attempt some sort of closing goodbye. It wasn’t possible.
I shut my eyes and pushed off against the coral, swimming quickly back to the Rock. The crowd spotted my approach and fell silent, save for the cries of my mother. I could hear her call my name over and over, her voice cracking and hoarse. My heart broke again.
I turned to her, to hug her before I was loaded into the rocket. Before I swam even another foot, I was grabbed around my waist from behind. I struggled against the man that grabbed me, but he was joined by another who bound my arms and secured my wrists to the end of my tail, leaving me powerless.
“No!” I screamed. “I get to say goodbye! I get to say goodbye!”
My pleas were ignored, unacknowledged by the men dragging me to the rocket.
“I still have time! Let me say goodbye!” I shrieked, my voice becoming hysterical.
I could see my mom below me, held back by my father and others as she struggled to break free. I felt my heart break more than I thought was possible. This couldn’t be real.
Her voice became harder to hear amid the sloshing struggle of the two men opening the compartment of the rocket and grabbing my neck, quickly pushing me inside.
“Please!” I begged, over and over until my throat felt raw. Again and again, I was ignored. They wouldn’t even look at me.
My blood mixed with the salt water as the men pushed and shoved me carelessly into the rocket, my tail and shoulders scraping on bolts and rusted panels. They shut the thick door and a seal clicked into place, bringing my surroundings to a quiet darkness.
It was as dark as the depths and I could hear no sounds, not even the current. The walls of the small, round compartment were pressed against me on all sides. I could barely adjust myself in any way, making my panic more consuming.
I felt the rocket move with a sudden lurch. There were many small lurches, indicating that I was being cranked out of the water. I pressed my face against the wall, shaking with sobs of grief and pain. The water had now turned a light shade of pink.
I couldn’t believe it was over. My whole life, my whole future, gone in only a few seconds. In the utterance of a name I was gone.
The rocket was pulled onto the boat and I could feel the rumble of the jet engines far below me. A few seconds later, I was no longer on the surface. My stomach leapt as I gained altitude faster than I ever had before.
Turbulence ground me against the walls painfully, giving me new gashes and worsening old ones. I screamed, holding on to any dent or bolt my hands could find for some sense of security.
As quickly as it began, it was over. The ride became still and smooth, and I realized with fresh terror that I must be in space. I looked around, as if I would be able to see anything.
With this situational peace came sudden anger. Rage.
This was the last time. The last sacrifice, the last life ended by cowards.
I didn’t know how yet, but I was going to end it.
The one thing the Elixons hadn’t realized yet, the one reason why humans had power, was their belief that the mermaids were sacred creatures, rare and worth the wait of an entire year. If they knew how abundant and large humans are, they would be able to feast every night.
Most importantly, if the Elixons knew how the humans had tricked them, their wrath would be swift, overwhelming, and deadly.
It would be our revenge.
That was my plan. It was rough, and depended heavily on how carefully I chose my words. Even a few seconds of time could save me—they just needed to hear the truth.
Would they even care enough to believe me? Would they listen to the claims of someone who’s clearly desperate?
I had to seem different, somehow. I had to appear…calm?—if that was possible.
Angry, but unafraid.
Indignant, and not hysterical.
I could only prove my point if I followed the plan. It was unlikely that they would listen, I knew that well, but I would rather try and fail than surrender to death.
Doubts and questions crept in the longer I was confined in the rocket. What if I don’t even have a chance to speak? How quickly do they kill us, and will it hurt? Do they eat us alive? Surely not, right?
I felt powerless to stop the onslaught.
I was determined to succeed, a strong determination that eventually quieted my fears enough to allow me to succumb to my exhaustion and into a light sleep.
I woke by the jolt of my rocket, confused. I was moving oddly, like the rocket had been lassoed and was being pulled in strong yanks.
I tensed, resisting the urge to cry again. This was it.
The yanks kept coming until I could feel and hear the grinding of the rocket against metal. Then, silence.
I felt my terror return and I balked at the thought of completing my plan. I wanted to curl up and cry, sob, scream.
Do it for the others! I remembered, the memory a sudden bright bulb in my head.
The door clicked and I gathered what courage I had, though I knew my hands were shaking and tears were prickling my eyes.
The door opened and bright light burned my eyes after hours in darkness. I cringed and shut my eyes, turning my head away from the light.
For the others.
“Isizel? Is that you?” a high pitched voice asked.
I pried open my eyes, trying to force them to adjust to the brightest light I’d ever seen. I squinted, trying to make out the faces of two figures standing before me.
Hurry, I reminded myself, before they eat you.
“The mermaids are not who you should be after! The humans have all tricked you!” I cried loudly, squinting my eyes tightly against the light. I was met with silence.
“Huh?” the voice said, confused. “Isizel?”
“Yes! They send me and my kind up here, but they’ve all got you fooled! They’re bigger, and—!”
“What’re you talking about?” the figure on my right interrupted with a giggle.
My eyes had finally adjusted, but my brain could hardly process what I was seeing. Two small human-like creatures stood before me. They were covered in soft, thick white fur. Their eyes were big and blue, and each was giving me the same cheeky grin.
I was at a loss for words, even thoughts. I stared blankly, watching as two more joined them. Finally, I thought of something to say.
“Is this the moon?” I asked dumbly, craning my neck to look behind me. My pod was losing water. The question I asked sent the creatures into a laughing tizzy.
“Yes, silly! We’re the Elixons!” one cried with delight.
“Come with us!” said another, and before I could process what I had heard I was being picked up by their little hands and taken out of my pod.
I choked, trying fruitlessly to breathe their air. The creatures scurried over to a pool of water, the sight alone making me almost sag in relief. They dropped me in gently and I let the water rush over my gills. Confusion rushed over me equally.
Why was I not dead? How were they cute, not the deadly, horrifying monsters I had heard of?
“We have another mermaid!” I heard one of them cry, causing a second group to rush over to my side. They were smiling, excited and eager to see me.
“The sacrifice is complete! Power down, power down!”
I turned to see a creature yelling into a microphone, waving its arm excitedly.
After it spoke, a rumble shook the ground and metallic screeching made me whip my head towards the sky. A huge, towering gun was slowly aiming up and away from a bluish planet I knew was Earth. The weapon was massive, and seemed like a laser of some sort—or a missile. That was how they held power.
But what did they want with me? With the mermaids?
“What do you want with me?” I asked nervously, fearing a sudden switch in their docile behavior.
“You,” one answered cheerfully, “will explore the waters of the moon. For a year! Then you’re done! Explore, and report back what you find, when you’re done! Then, with your friends, all the time!”
The little thing beamed at me, showing normal square teeth, not the huge spikes I’d expected.
After it spoke, I looked to where it pointed, my brain whirling in dizzy confusion.
To my shock, dozens of mermaids had surfaced in the water a short distance from me and greeted me with a wave. I could see them smiling, unafraid.
I looked around me, at the clear black sky and the small fluffy beings that didn’t want to eat me. The pool of clear, bright blue water stretched out of sight.
I suddenly felt at ease, satisfied that this was the safest place for my kind.
And it was just a planet away.