A sliver of light broke past the closed door. Carly rearranged herself, folding her tiny hands together on her lap. She clasped them so tight, her fingers hurt. It helped calm her. Swishing her tail in the murky depth below her, she shifted slightly on the rock, trying to find a comfortable position.
But the only comfortable place was under the water, deep down where prying eyes wouldn’t see her.
Carly listened to squeals of horror as the children stood in front of Armon-Ra, the two headed man. The sounds drew closer, changing to sighs of wonder and adoration. They’d be admiring Adonis, the centaur. He always let the children pet his silky smooth flanks.
But the children took the most pleasure from her long green hair and scaly skin. And they always called her Ariel, no matter how much she tried to convince them that wasn’t her name.
Two more years remained in her contract. Far too long. Unclasping her fingers, she picked at her itchy skin, dehydrated from lack of deep water. Small pieces flaked off like scales, littering the rock beside her. Brushing them away, Carly watched the speckles drift into the brackish water, littering the surface like phosphorescence.
“Ariel. Ariel.” As expected, the children shouted out the name of a fictional mermaid as they rounded the corner and stared at her, eyes wide. From big to little, they jumped up and down, screeching and shoving to get closer to the low glass wall separating her from her onlookers. Delight turned to shock and horror and Carly tried, without success, to cover the welts on her arms.
“Mommy, is Ariel sick?” A little girl tugged her mother’s hand.
Sick, Carly thought. Yes, I am. Sick of this place. Sick of the lack of cool salty water brushing against my skin. Sick of the confinement.
“Maybe she needs a holiday,” another little girl suggested. Tiny fingers splayed against the barrier.
Carly slid into the water, swam up to the barricade, splayed her fingers like a starfish to match the small outstretched palm.
A holiday. Carly smiled at the thought. Just what she needed.