She lies on the rock, it’s bumps and ridges burrowing new holes into her back and haunches. Her skin was ruined long before, sanded down like wood by harsh storm winds and the biting brine of the sea. Once a rosy salmon-pink, she is now moon-pale. Her hair is ruined, too. Lush and full before, flowing with the ocean’s tide and her own agile movements, her mane now hangs stiff from dried saltwater, brittle as dead coral. The storm has finally passed, leaving behind only a pearl-gray sky and astounding quiet. She never knew such silence down below. The sea had a constant call, every whisper amplified in its soft depths. Up here, in the calm, air lies still and there’s nothing for miles. No prince, no shoreline, no passing ship. Even if one happened by, she has no way of calling it over. No tempting siren song, nor grasp on any human tongue. She only knows the language of the world she’s forsaken, a world of telepathic sonar and the gentle rush of bodies through water.
When she'd made her deal with the devil, she figured it'd go swimmingly. She'd transform, pedal her fresh limbs to the shimmering surface, then kiss its epidermis as she took her first taste of air. Stewing in the honey-hued womb for her rebirth, her form cleaved in a flash of luminescence. But her new slender legs were weak and untried, nothing compared to the graceful strength of her tail. The gills sank beneath her skin to blossom into a set of lungs, the loss of them a drowning. She thrashed, draining every ounce of her will to knife her legs to the surface. But, when she reached it, there was no glitter, no rainbow sunset. Just the roiling, blue-black sea. Mountainous waves tossed her into space, then forced her back down. She fought for every sacred breath. Eventually, she found refuge in a single rock. Lost on this barren island barely twice her length, she clung to it for what little purchase it offered. She laid like that for days, rain drilling into her tender flesh until it was decked in a new set of scales. Waves surged the rock from every angle, intent on submerging her. Curling into a shell, she huddled around her flicker of warmth. The storm had its ebbs and flows, but never let up. When she didn't tremble at the elements, she slept, and when she did not sleep, she cried. She'd sobbed before, but the tears were unexpected. Just another wetness in the end, merging with the rain and seawater. When bereft of tears, she matched the thunder with her own throaty wails.
Now, the storm gone, she can attempt at bliss, or rather the absence of new hurts. She has never known thirst, but it is easily quenched by the pools of rain lying in the rock's crevices. Hunger is nothing but a dull echo, assimilating with the rest of her aching body. Is this what it means to be human? she wonders. The pain of being alive.
She'd dreamt of walking on land, of a life different from the one she led. Had sacrificed everything—her golden larynx, her home—to see the world anew. And for what? She has yet to know even the warmth of the sun.
That night, the sky pries itself open, clouds dispersing, the moon a sliver of what it can be. Tired of sleeping, she lies on her back to look at the stars. It seems so peaceful, to glide with their glint and glow. What must she sacrifice so that she might rise to that nebulous realm? She is moored on this small rock bed, the brutal fact of gravity only more certain when she tries lifting a hand towards the heavenly shine. The hand falls with a splash, floating for a moment, then sinking below. The water is smooth, dependable. Familiar. She wants to feel it all over her again.
Summoning the last of her reserves, she drags herself to the edge and tumbles in, managing to rest on her back, her limbs drifting in slow, swooping arcs to stay afloat. She goes on like this, ignoring how long it will take before she slips into exhaustion, before her legs give out. She only looks to the stars, imagining what they look like up close. Each one a new world to visit. A new life to live.