“Bye! Thanks for the flowers!”
The bell on the door rang cheerfully as I flung myself out of the flower shop, Flower Power. But I felt anything but cheerful. I felt sad, depressed, and frankly, a bit sorry for myself.
I know, I know, self-pity is never good. But here’s the thing:
People die. I knew that since I was 2. 14 years of knowing people kick the bucket some time in their life. So it’s no surprise that at one point, your best friend and mom are going to die.
Here’s the other thing: your mom usually dies when you’re 50. Your best friend, at age 60-80. Typically not when you’re 15.
And yet here I was, briskly walking through the chilly March air on my way to the cemetery.
The memory of their death was fresh in my mind, even though it had happened a year ago. It was a vacation at Srem Beach—2019’s March was super warm.
On the vacation was my mom; my dad; my little brother, Zuko; my best friend, Parker Woods; and I. Mom and Parker went with me to the beach early in the morning. Parker crept in the water, and then…he was gone. Drowned. Dead.
Everybody was horrified. A couple days later, we were about to leave when my mom said she was going to go for a swim. The same thing happened to her, just 3 days after Parker’s tragic death.
Okay? Two people I loved were buried in a cemetery at age 15. So I think I deserved a bit of pity.
It was March 15th, exactly a year since Parker, poor, poor Parker, died. My mom’s anniversary of her death was very soon, so I was going to the cemetery for her and Parker.
I admit it. As I trotted through town, I cried.
I finally reached the end of the parking lot, where the gate to Markle Cemetery stood. I was about to push through when I saw something—someone—standing there.
A boy, who looked my age. He was leaning against the gate, staring out at the cemetery. He looked like…
“Parker?” I said, so shocked I was afraid I was going to pass out.
The boy turned around, and yep, I passed out.
I blinked. Where the heck was I?
I blinked some more and looked around. Lying on the grass in between a cemetery and a parking lot, that’s what.
“Kimora?” Parker said from about me.
I looked up. He smiled and helped me up.
“Whuh?” was all I mustered. “How…how are you here? You’re dead, right?”
“Actually, I am,” Parker nodded thoughtfully. “But I’m here anyway.”
My stomach decided it wanted to exit my stomach, and my throat was the best option.
My eyes were probably covering half my face as I stared at Parker in amazement. I poked his arm. “You’re really here.” I hugged him and started sobbing. “You’re really here!”
“I missed you, too,” Parker grinned.
“But how?” I punched his arm. “Did you fake your death? Why? To freak me out? Oh, that better not be it. You were gone a year, you idiot! Do your parents know you’re alive?”
“Kimora, I think you’re misreading this situation.”
I studied his face and my smile melted. “Huh?”
“I am dead.”
I opened my eyes. Apparently I had fainted again (I’m normally not the pass-out-y type, but my dead friend was alive! But also dead??? Anyways, it was really weird…), but this time, I was in Parker’s arms and not on the floor.
“How long was I out?”
Parker set me down. “A couple seconds, Drama Queen.”
I stood up super-fast. “Okay, you've got to explain. You’re dead. I saw you drown.” I wanted to cry because while Parker was…here, talking about his death made me remember me and my mom trying to save him, then I remembered my mom, then I remembered my mom drowning, then I wanted to sob. “And you say you’re dead. Then how the heck am I tackling you right now?”
“You’re what?” He looked confused and I tackled my best friend.
“WHERE WERE YOUUUU?!”
Call me Drama Queen too, whatever. Wouldn’t you tackle your best friend who was dead but alive but dead?
“I was underwater,” Parker said, “okay? I was under Srem Lake this whole time.” I stared at him and we both plopped down on the grass. Parker took a deep breath and started to explain.
“I’m dead. Got it? Dead. 100%, completely dead. But I’m here. Not alive, but here. See, if you die in Lake Srem, you die. But come back as a mermaid, merman, whatever. Lake Srem actually is super-deep. It expands under the beach. Seriously. Srem Beach isn’t rooted to the ground because our homes are under it. Right. The people who have died in the lake are revived with fish tails, and we live in the lake. We can breath underwater and have some power over water. We have houses and stores and shops under the lake, just like on land.” He waved his hand towards the city, gesturing to everything. “It’s awesome down there. Really awesome.”
“Alright,” I said cautiously, “so you’re dead. But back. But if you can live underwater as a merman, why are you here? Last time I checked, Srem Beach was 100 miles from here and you had legs.”
Parker laughed. “Yeah. Well, for just one hour, exactly a year after you died, you’re allowed to visit anywhere you want on land. Anyone you want.”
“And…you came to me.”
“But your mom! Your dad! Your little sister!”
My best friend locked eyes with me. “If they knew I was…back, but couldn’t ever see them again, it would break their hearts. I can’t do that. I’m telling you because…you can get through this. You can know and be happy. You have perseverance, Kimora.”
I took this to mean ‘you’ve lost so much that you can handle anything’, but I still smiled. “Thanks. I’m glad you’re alive.”
“Back,” Parker corrected. “I’m still dead, as, uh…a dead thing. My human body was smashed on some rocks. Don’t worry—when I was transformed to merman I kicked the rocks. I’m here in a temporary, human body.”
“I’m glad,” I smiled. We hugged each other and I wanted the moment to last forever. Parker had been my closest friend (NOT EVEN CLOSE to in a romantic way, people who are thinking it) since I was born. He had died, but now…he was here. Talking to me. Hugging me, just like old times.
“Soooo…” Parker grinned. “I have a surprise for you!”
I clapped my hands. “Ooh, I love surprises! And getting one from a merman who has died will be super cool! What?”
“I can show you our underground city.”
I pumped my first up. “NICE! This is gonna be awesome.”
“There’s something that’s going to make it even more awesome,” Parker smirked, “and you’re going to love it. So. A couple days after I died, who drowned?”
I shut my eyes. “My mom.”
“And where did she die?”
“In the lake, duh.”
“And what happens when you die in Srem Lake?”
“You get revived as a mermaid.” Pressure built up in my ears when I realized what that meant. “Can…can I see my mom?”
The last thing I saw was a beaming Parker nodding before I fainted dead away.
Okay, seriously. 3 faints in one day? I’m sorry.
When I woke up, the first thing I tasted was salt. No. It tasted like salt and had a texture like salt. No, more grainy. I realized what was in my mouth and gagged.
I looked around. I was lying on the sandy beach. Parker was next to me, glancing at the waves. He realized I was there and said, “Oh. Good. You’re up. Kimora, welcome to Srem Beach.”
I stared at the choppy waved bitterly. I had nothing but bad memories of this place. “How’d we get here?” Parker just glanced at me smugly.
“Here,” Parker laughed after seeing my expression. He handed me what looked like a stick of gum. “chew it.”
I took that as a satisfactory answer and popped the gum in my mouth. A second later, the gum was gone in my mouth. I reached down to itch my ankle and…
My fingers brushed against slimy scales.
“YUCK!” I hollered. Dead fish? Jellyfish? Oh, please let it not be a jellyfish.
I glanced down. Lucky for me, it wasn’t a jellyfish. Unlucky for me, it was a fish. But…the fish was my legs.
I then realized it was good. I WAS A MERMAID!
I grinned as I examined my legs—er, tail. Where my legs used to be was a 10-inch-thick tail, starting at my waist. The translucent scales shimmered rainbow for a full 4 feet, before melted into two wide, thin clear scales—or whatever you call the edge of a mermaid’s tail.
“This is awesome!” I hollered and glanced at Parker. He also had a tail. “Wait, what if someone sees us?”
“Nobody’s around,” He smiled, “but just in case, let’s bounce.”
We slithered (apologies for that mental picture…) down to the water. Parker slid in and disappeared under the waves. I stifled a shriek, remembering the consequences the last time that happened. I got into the water and ducked my head under.
Sunlight streamed into the lake as Parker and I swam farther away from shore. Soon, we were 100 yards from the beach and I was still holding my breath. We had only been swimming for 20 seconds, but our tails sped us along super fast. You know how when you out on swimming fins? Mermaid tails are like that times 5.
I had to breathe. Parker was, and yet I couldn’t make myself. The water was so thick and watery, and I was certain I would choke if I took a deep breath of liquid.
I imagined my face was tomato red as my lungs screamed at me for air. A minute had passed, and I finally steadied (kinda…) my rattled nerves.
I took a deep breath, ready to take a—
I DID IT! I cheered in my head. I breathed and breathed and breathed, the water filling my lungs but acting as air.
“Nice job,” Parker said.
I stared at him. We could talk underwater?
I smacked my head (which was hard in a lake). Duh. It would be pretty hard to live in an underground city if you couldn’t talk.
By now, my dead friend was back, I had sprouted a tail, and I was breathing underwater. My brain didn’t even give talking underwater a third thought (seconds thoughts are a myth. If something deserves another thought, you obviously think about it 3 times)—it was just like, Welcome, weirdness, my old friend!
“Thanks,” I smiled, “nothing like learning to breathe.”
Parker snorted. “Woohoo.”
We swum in silence for a few minutes before I asked, “Hey, when’re we going to be there?”
“Where?” Parker squinted. Then he smiled. “Oh, there there.” I nodded and he said, “Well, Kimora…look down.”
I couldn’t believe I had missed it. 30 yards or so beneath us was a glittering city. It looked like New York, but way more beautiful.
The buildings and skyscrapers (surface-scrapers?) were the most gorgeous colors, all shimmering with touches of gold and silver. People were swimming all over—on the ground, over a house, by the 20th story of a building's window…
“Oh my god.” My mouth tasted like copper. (Salty copper. Looking at you, sand!) Land was nothing compared to this. “This is where you've been living for a full year?”
“Drowning in Lake Srem doesn’t sound so awful after all, eh?” Parker snickered.
I elbowed him. “Yeah, yeah, it’s awesome. But don’t forget the reason we’re here!”
Parker nodded and we swam down, down, down in the amazing underwater city. We stopped outside a house, on the steps. Parker started to knock but paused before his hand touched the door.
“Your mom gets to come to land in a couple days, you know. But it’s time for you to get a head-start!”
I grinned and he added, “Do you want to do the honors, Kimora?”
I whispered my agreement and confidently faced the plank of wood, carved in beautiful shapes and patterns, separating me and my amazing mother.
It’s time to see you again, Mom, I thought, and I rapped on the intricate door.