She tried her best to adjust the knobs of the radio, desperately leaning in, trying to decipher through the static. “Our sources reveal a huge oil slick has poured into the water surrounding the damaged vessel. Officials confirm part of the ship has sunk, and most of the spill is seen near the Baltic Sea.”
Tears welled in her eyes as she pleadingly stared at her radio,wishing it was all a nightmare. “Fishermen in the area claim dead birds and marine life are washing ashore in huge numbers.”
She looked at Eric sternly – “I have to go! They need me back there.”
Eric was equally concerned. “It’s too dangerous! You might get caught.”
Ariel started to cry.
“So, should I just sit here? And do nothing?” She sobbed.
Eric tried reasoning with her. He couldn’t risk losing Ariel again. “Listen to me carefully. Baltic sea is still further away from Atlantica; they should be fine-”
“I don’t care. I have to go.” Ariel interrupted.
Ariel slipped out of the castle at dawn, lips trembling from all her emotions. A million thoughts kept racing through her head. “Where were her sisters?” “Why had her father not maintained contact all these years?” “Did Flounder and Sebastian not miss her anymore?” The thought of Eric saying, “Can you still swim?” right before they kissed goodbye.
Ariel did say she could, but now, she wasn’t so sure herself. She focused on the route she needed to follow and raced ahead without thinking twice. Despite the cold, a thin layer of sweat covered the nape of her neck.
Oh, how she missed the sea. As happy as she was with Eric, life was not the same as it was under the sea. She walked into the sea. Wave after wave crashed against her ankles. Her feet were drenched, but still, no tail insight. She prayed under her breath as she kept walking ahead, one step at a time. The water reached her collarbone, and she started sniffling at the idea of not being able to swim again.
Then, suddenly, Ariel felt a sharp sting across her chest. The pain surging through her body was so intense she almost doubled over. Maybe the Gods were punishing her for abandoning her home and not protecting the seas, despite being the rightful queen of Atlantica. Ariel tried to draw a breath, but it just made her head spin. The next wave pushed her underwater, and instinctively, she took a breath. She could breathe underwater! Ariel, the Mermaid, was reborn.
By now, the Sun had crawled further up in the sky. Ariel waded flawlessly through the water, her magnificent tail glinting in the sunlight and leaving ripples behind her. Ariel dove deep with renewed determination while her tail lashed with great strength against the current. She knew she was close by, but something felt wrong. The silence pressed upon her ears as she swam over a strange, dark, foggy landscape. Ariel could barely see around her, so as she sped through the water, things seemed to loom out of the oncoming darkness. Small fishes flickered past her like silver bullets, but she saw little to no sea creatures otherwise. “Where was everybody?” Ariel could almost taste something like acid in her mouth. She felt sick to her stomach.
A sudden disturbance in the swirling, inky waters jarred her back to her surroundings.
“Who are you? Show yourself!”
A momentary light allowed her to see everything clearly. Bright bioluminescent algae peppered her vision as an ominous creature with tentacles rose up from the bedrock. The ocean floor was a graveyard, full of ship debris and the skeletons of those who couldn’t fight hard enough. Where was all the colour? All Ariel saw was a vast expanse of depressing grey.
“I knew I saw bright red hair,” Said a deep, cavernous voice.
Ariel gasped. “Kraken Ken? Is that you? If you’re here, it must mean this is…” Ariel didn’t dare to say it. Was this all that remained of the place she once called home?
Ken spoke up, “You shouldn’t stay here long, child; it’s not habitable.” His voice cracked with emotion.
“I’m here for my father. Where is Flounder? My sisters???” Ariel asked miserably.
“You don’t understand, do you? Everyone’s gone. I’m the only one left behind because I’m too old and wounded and -” he was interrupted by a prolonged, rasping cough. “Go save yourself.”
Ariel blew a stream of bubbles as she tried to compose herself. The acidic burning in her mouth was getting stronger by the minute. The water wasn’t as cool as she remembered.
“It was just an oil spill; Why did everyone just leave? I’m here. I can help.”
Ken chuckled and responded, “Oh, you naïve one. This oil spill was just one of many disasters that struck us. They hunt whales for their fins. Fish have been going missing for years now, probably ending up in someone’s stew. If they were lucky, maybe they’re still in aquariums for men to ogle at. Waste kept flowing in and dirtying our waters. The condition is so much worse than it used to be. Your father tried his best, but it couldn’t be helped.”
“Those men you’re so fond of. They’re monsters”. He continued angrily. Men who pillage and burn and dirty and devour. Men who try to take the sea for themselves, men who have already taken all of the lands.”
She got a hauntingly peculiar feeling in the pit of her stomach, a feeling beyond sickness, beyond shock. She was paralyzed to the spot, white noise overpowering her thoughts. Salty tears mingled with the water around.
“I can’t be a part of their world. I can’t go back,” Ariel mumbled as she collapsed on rocky spires that were jutting out from the ocean bed. Her limbs started cramping up, and the burning sensation was now overpowering. “This water,” Ariel spoke up, looking at Ken.
Ken continued, “Is poison. You still have time. If you hurry back, you might reach the surface. Go, Ariel!”
Ariel didn’t want to die. Not like this. Eric still needed her. She started swimming upwards. She felt drained and could hear her heartbeat in her ears. Floundering in agony, she dug her nails deep into her palm. She couldn’t breathe. It felt like someone had rubbed sandpaper down her throat. “Is it too late?” She was so close to the surface. Just a little more. She could almost see the light.
Her eyelids fluttered for the last time as darkness descended upon her. She heard herself take one last, jagged breath. Like most deaths, it was anticlimactic. She slowly fell to the rhythm of the current as she hung listless in the arms of the ocean, the warmth of life stolen by death’s cold embrace. After all those years, she was finally reunited with her friends and family.
Written by Ananya Rudra for MTTN
Edited by Shivangi Acharya for MTTN
Featured Image by Kyra Pescador
Artwork by Raskina