Asha was a mermaid with an iridescent purple tail, sea-foam green skin, floating blue hair, and narrow silver eyes. She lived in the ocean, of course, and she hated eating fish.
“You have to eat something,” Asha’s mom told her one evening, like she did at least once a week. “You’re going to waste away into nothing.”
Asha frowned and watched the fist swim around inside the bowl trap, a dish that held live fish that mermaids ate out of. They could eat dead fish, of course, but they weren’t very good and why bother to kill them when you could slurp a fish cleanly down your throat and feel the satisfying sensation?
They sat around a flat rock their father had found several years ago in the south sea. He’d dragged and pushed it all the way back to their home, a modest cave in the coral reef. The rock was big enough to hold the dishes of everyone in her family - her mom, dad, herself, and her three little sisters. They could just go swimming around the reef and gobble up all the fish they ran into, but that was seen as impolite and unrefined. Instead, her mom swam to the local mermaid market a few minutes away and bought farmed fish that were said to be full of healthy vitamins and extra nutrients.
Asha hated the little guppies and would have preferred a seaweed salad. She would have said something, but her mom would have just reminded her that she’d had it for lunch and needed something with protein in it for dinner.
“She probably wants to eat seaweed again,” the middle sister said.
“Shut up, Pearl,” Asha snarled at her.
“Hey, we don’t talk like that in this cave.” Asha’s dad peeked over the evening newsrock he’d been reading. Each day the merpeople at the news station etched out the reef’s news on stone and distributed the arm sized rocks to each home before dinner. It was thought to be an important job, but the few times Asha had read the rock’s news, nothing important seemed to be on them. There was the one time the youngest sister, Mera, had been featured for winning the swimming acrobatics contest at her school. They kept that news rock proudly displayed in the greeting room, the first room of the cave so anyone who came over could see it. All the other rocks got discarded in a heap outside their cave and once a week, the news recycling team would gather the rocks and reuse them.
Pearl stuck her yellow tongue out while their dad wasn’t looking.
“I know you’re not a fan of fish, Asha, but you need nutrients. Everyone says that Hermit’s fish are the best around. Can you try to eat a few, even if you plug your gills while you gulp them down?” her mom said, putting the small trident down that she used as an eating utensil.
“I know. You only tell me this every day.”
“Asha.” Her dad put down the rock altogether and she knew she was in trouble then. “You will not talk to your mother that way. Check yourself before you shipwreck yourself.”
“Fine. I’ll go somewhere I actually fit in.” Asha blew out an angry stream of bubbles and with a flick of her tail, she swam out of the cave and into the bustling evening of the coral reef.
It was a beautiful world just outside their cave hole, but Asha barely registered the vibrant colors of flickering fish, waving sea anemone, sunbeams piercing through the deep blue of the ocean, and various forms of other merpeople going home after a long day at work.
Using her anger to fuel her tail, she glided through the water, weaving in and out of coral formations, dodging the schools of fish, and making sure to go so fast no one she knew would try and stop to talk with her. The last thing she needed was any of their neighbors, the Anglers, to stop and demand where she was going in such a huff.
There weren’t many places to go in their cozy reef. Over the years, the reef had shrunk, the coral dying off in the warmer-than-before water. All the merpeople were worried about the future and what the neighborhoods would look like should more coral die. They had at least three committees working on the issue and Asha’s dad was on two of them.
As it was, the coral was tightly packed with the merpeople population and the only real place to go when one wanted privacy was outside the colorful protection of the coral and into the graveyards. This was the grey lands that separated the reef from the wide open ocean, before the ocean floor dropped off steeply into waters that Asha could only speculate about. The merpeople didn’t go that deep. They hardly even went to the graveyards unless someone was being buried.
Asha loved it there.
It was grey and dark, as the sun didn’t reach this part of the sea as well. It was quiet too, with a few mopey fish that wandered through the dead coral and the tall rocks the merpeople used as grave markers. The last time she’d been there was when her grandmother had died from an unfortunate squid attack. The merpeople didn’t have many predators but sometimes something sinister would come up from the depths that was so big, it wasn’t bothered by the merpeople’s defenses. The squid had been easily the size of the whole coral reef. Her grandmother had fought hard with the other warriors, but it’s snapping beak had broken through her armor all too easily.
Feeling sorry for herself and missing her grandma, the other person she had felt almost understood her, Asha finally settled on a rock. It was atop a little rise and gave Asha some view of the area around her.
“Bonjour,” a voice said out of the gloom and startled Asha.
“Oh, excuse me.” A figure emerged from between two gravestones and floated in front of Asha. It was humanoid but completely transparent. Asha watched a bit of flotsam swirl behind him, mesmerized. “I am Jacques and I do believe you’re sitting on my rock.”
Asha stared for several moments at what she could only assume was a ghost. She’d heard of ghosts from stories her grandma had told her. The merpeople might have been deep underwater, but they had still heard some stories from the disgusting humans above.
“This is your rock?” she finally asked.
Jacques shrugged and Asha was able to focus beyond the fact that he was a ghost to notice he was wearing a military uniform of some kind. “It’s just a humble rock, really, but it’s all I’ve got and seems to anchor me to this spot, so I like to think of it fondly.”
“Oh, by all means.” Asha hopped up and gestured to his rock. “It’s a very nice rock.”
“I think so.” Jacques settled on the rock and she could still see it through his lap. “So what’s your name?”
“A pleasure, Asha,” Jacques said, offering her a bow while still sitting down.
“Er, do you know you’re a ghost?” Asha said.
It was Jacques’s turn to blink for a few minutes, processing. “I do suppose that makes sense, now that I think about it. I’ve been stuck in this spot for forever. I have no idea how long. I’ve lost count of the days, and I have to admit, I’m dreadfully lonely.”
Asha settled down on a smaller rock, close to Jacques, and put her chin on her hand. It was easy to forget about her anger with her family when sitting in a mermaid graveyard with a ghost.
“Tell me your story.”
“Sure thing. I’ve just got to remember it. I can barely remember my name, but something is far more interesting to me right now than my own story,” Jacuqes said, copying her posture upon his own rock. “Are you a mermaid?”
Asha nodded, smiling for the first time in a while. She had no way of knowing that the smile with her sharp, spiked teeth would unnerve any human, but since she was sitting in front of a ghost, it wasn’t much of a problem.