it's cold. joohyun doesn't know if anyone else notices but it's always cold out here. sometimes she forgets; sometimes it's bearable and she can live. but sometimes it's not and it's chilling to the bones -- she can't sleep.
she watches the stars then.
they look funny underneath the water, all blurry and wobbly. she wants to touch them, to straighten them up. she wants to see them up close, but going up the water is dangerous, forbidden at times so she doesn't do it. only once she dared to stick her head above water.
she's seen things that are not underneath, she has seen lights everywhere, big moving circles, explosions, she's heard laughter and music, she's seen strange creatures that almost looked like her. she was small then, she wanted to follow them to play with them; she had opened to sing and call them but her mother quickly got her, shutting .
even though she was above the water for less than a minute, she longed to be there for more. she wanted to feel the feeling of wind again, she wanted to feel the warmth of the sun.
joohyun looked at the dark cave that called her name. it's been doing that since she could remember, but it's getting louder now. how do they know her name? what do they want? the dark waters are dangerous, she can't go there alone, but with someone calling for her, she can't help but feel the pull. she knows that there's something out there for her. more than the life she has now.
"joohyun unnie, what are you up to this time?" sooyoung swims over to her.
sooyoung was taller one of the mermaids, her tail incredibly beautiful. her voice was the most enchanting, calling others over into the sea. everyone in the sea world knows mermaids mean doom, once you see one it's over. no matter if it's your life literally or figuratively. there won't be much luck in your life if you once saw a mermaid and lived. sooyoung likes to play with that, she likes seeing people suffer. joohyun doesn't know whether to blame her or not.
humans had hunted them for decades, thankfully, no one really has proof they're real but the body count is still there from both sides.
joohyun has never killed anyone nor does she plans to. she just wants to co-exist with everyone, she just wants to- she looks over at the surface, a long longing stare that sooyoung notices.
"what are you thinking about again? you never tell me."
"it's always 'nothing' with you. you can tell me your troubles, you know? you don't have to bear it alone." sooyoung swims closer, rounding a circle around her.
joohyun feels her eyes become red. it's the salt water, she swears. nothing to be alarmed about.
"have you talked with the mother today? she wanted to see you."
"me?" joohyun asks, surprised, "why?"
"i don't know. she's always got ideas." sooyoung shrugs with one shoulder.
"but-- ideas for me? she never thinks of me."
"oh, please, you're her favorite." sooyoung laughs.
"i'm not." joohyun says as if she's consoling sooyoung.
she knows she's tender-hearted, she won't tell her but she gets hurt too. sooyoung always wants the approval of taeyeon unnie, no matter what she does is done for that reason.
"whatever, just go and talk to her, unnie."
the mother, or just taeyeon, is the ruler of their sea. she doesn't know how that happened, or who made it so, but it's been this way ever since joohyun was born. all mermaids call her the mother because she saved them when they were just little mermaid roe. she protected them until they grew as she protects them now.
not every mermaid was born like this, of course, there were families and mermaids from other seas living together now. mother taeyeon rules over them all still. everyone listens to her with no arguing.
as does joohyun.
"i have noticed you having some troubling time, child," she says.
her life could be divided in half -- before she saw what was above the water and after. and it's funny because joohyun doesn't feel anything different since that day that she went to the surface. she doesn't know why just now everyone keeps noticing that she's different than others. is she giving it away? did something change in her appearance?
"joohyun! joohyun! joohyun!"
"do you hear that?" joohyun turns her head.
"will you tell me what's bothering you? i'm worried, you know i care about my children."
joohyun stays quiet. maybe it's a good idea to talk to someone, she can't keep on living like this; half wishing for the sun and half wishing for the tides.
"unnie, have you ever felt cold in here?"
"cold?" taeyeon frowns, it's obvious that she doesn't understand what joohyun is trying to say.
"i feel different, i hear voice calling my name. i know it's not my imagination -- don't even start! i feel like i've been destined for something different. i want-- i want to-- i want to go to the surface, unnie!"
taeyeon looks outraged, joohyun cringes, "absolutely not!"
"why?" joohyun stands her ground, "i know humans are horrible, but when i looked-- they looked happy. unnie, don't you understand? we're horrible too. we lured them in, we make them believe that there's a life for them here-"
"they hunt us for sport!"
"we hunt them for sport!"
"just because they do. if we lay down and do nothing we'll be extinct. they have to fear us, it keeps us safe. you won't be safe there going willingly. you'll put every mermaid in danger, exposing our existence like that!"
joohyun twists . she doesn't want to live her life for the existence of others. screw others, she wants to live her own life and if it happens to put others in danger so be it. she'd rather that than live in this state she's in.
"you don't want that, do you?" taeyeon asks as if reading her mind.
"no." joohyun tells the truth quietly, she knows she's just being unfair but if anything happened to sooyoung or taeyeon because of her, she wouldn't be able to live with herself.
"so we've agreed? no surface?"
"yes." joohyun lies. "no surface."
big, round and white in the middle of the sky. moon follows her as she swims on her back. the stars around it disappear and reappear, making her eyes hurt a little. the sky is so vast she's lightheaded.
"moon." she says out loud, the way humans would say it. "stars."
she slowly floats on the water that looks pitch black in the night, letting the waves carry her wherever they go. she closes her eyes and listens to the sound. there's so much sound, there never is underneath the water. she can hear strange things that awaken her curiosity, that she wants to check out, see for herself. she imagines all kinds of shapes, some unlikely to make that sound whenever she hears something new.
then she hears footsteps and freezes. her eyes fly open and she hides herself in the water but doesn't dive in. for some reason she's willing to find out who is walking on the pier at this time.
a bright flash of light scares her, she reels back in shock, but nothing happens. she blinks back the spots in her eyes and looks around to see if anything changed. there's someone sitting in the sand at the beach, making light with some rectangle thing in their hand. but nothing seems out of ordinary.
another flash and she's back underneath the water. whatever that is, she doesn't want to have anything to do with it. it seems dangerous. she swims further into the sea before diving in deeper.
"joohyun, joohyun, over here!"
joohyun stops, staring at the place the voice is coming from. she feels her heart start to thunder in her chest when she realizes what she's about to do. she's about to look for the voice. she can't live in the unknown, she needs to put a voice to a face. who is calling her and why?
she slowly swims to the dark cave, the water becoming darker and darker the closer she gets. all the sea creatures sleeping don't see what she's doing, they'd probably try to stop her.
she swims inside.
it's pitch black until everything lights up in bright color. red, pink, blue, violet -- all the colors that shine against the rocks. she sees a man in a scuba diving suit sitting on one of them, swinging his legs. she stops. is she being called by a siren? is she about to be killed?
"joohyun, i've been calling you for so long, do you know how boring it is to wait? very boring, that's how," he says, the snorkel moving along with his words but the voice echoes all around her like it's coming from everywhere at once.
"you should be. anyway, you're here now, so what's done is done." he stands, but instead of putting his legs on top of the rock he just floats in water. "so, i heard you like the human world."
"where did you hear it from?"
"is it important? don't you want to hear what i can do for you instead?" he asks, moving around like a mime, mimicking his own words.
"you think so loud i heard you from the other side of the earth. there, happy? now," he pauses, imitates tightening his tie, "how you feel about some legs, girl?"
"legs. you want 'em?"
"i-i don't under-"
"i can grant you a wish, a wish that you want so badly-- to walk among humans. for that you need legs. do you want 'em?"
"i'm... sure, but why are you doing this?"
"i'm a happiness spirit." he says. "you're so unhappy, it stinks."
"so that's it? you just want me to be happy?"
"well, there are a few rules." he says. "first, any touch of water that will touch your legs will make them grow back into a tail until they dry. two, you have twenty-four hours to decide if you want to live as a human forever or do you want to go back into the sea."
"wait, i didn't agree yet!"
"but you did! when you swam into this cave, you decided your fate. good luck." he snaps his fingers and everything goes dark.
joohyun coughs up sand, lying face down at the beach. it's early morning, the sun is warming up her back. she feels weird like the skin is not her own, something is touching it. she looks back to see the sea behind her, waves stopping just a few inches before her legs.
she looks down at her new legs instead of the long tail she had before. she doesn't know what to do with them. they are wrapped up in a blue texture, it feels stretchy when she tries to pull them. she tries sitting up. her is squishy, feels strange to sit on it -- do humans do that naturally? her top is white, with weird circular things holding it together. she saw humans wear it before, she thinks. it must be normal here.
she looks around, there's only one human around. they are laying down next to a glass bottle, eyes closed. joohyun stands, her legs are wobbly. like a toddler, she waddles over to them, just before she reaches them she falls, right on top of them, unfortunately. they startle with a yelp and sit up, staring at joohyun wide-eyed.
"hello!" joohyun greets her cheerily.
"hi." she blinks at her.
she raises her hand to wave, "i'm seungwan."
"hello, seungwan. how are you, human?"
"uhh? i was..." seungwan looks around, realizing just what position joohyun caught her in, "i normally don't sleep on the beach, i do have a home, you know, but..." she nudges the bottle with her foot.
"it's okay. nature is healing." joohyun puts her hand on the middle of seungwan's chest. she it there for a while before patting and grinning widely. she doesn't realize but seungwan starts leaking from her eyes.
"um, that's really weird." she said in clogged-up voice. "i don't know why i'm crying."
"it's okay to be sad, seungwan." joohyun says. "you have to let it out, otherwise it will block your mind."
"it's really blocking me." seungwan agrees. "i'm a music producer you know?"
joohyun crosses her legs, sitting down more comfortably to listen to seungwan's story. seungwan laughs at that, joohyun looks really cute like that, with her ears sticking out and all. she wipes her tears.
"they want to drop me."
"what?" joohyun frowns, whoever they are they sound bad.
"i haven't produced a successful track in months. they want to get rid of me. i don't know what's wrong with me." she sighs, "i don't usually drink alone-- outside-- till passing out either, so don't judge me too much about it."
"i'm not judging you, are you judging me?" joohyun asks back.
"i'm-" seungwan pauses, "yeah, i am judging you a little, sorry."
"as long as you're sorry." joohyun grins.
"i don't know why i'm telling you all of this." seungwan mutters, putting her head in her hands. "my head is killing me."
"maybe you should drink some water." she gestures at the sea and seungwan cracks a smile.
joohyun stops. she wasn't trying to be funny but the look on seungwan's face is worth it. she looks beautiful, like coral reef but better. she's never felt such a funny way about anything before, it tickles her heart. she wants seungwan to know. she leans real close to seungwan, in her haste she takes both of her hands in hers, pulling her to her chest. seungwan turns bright red.
"you're lovely. you're so lovely, seungwan."
"well, you're, er, you're very beautiful yourself, joohyun. probably one of the most beautiful people i've seen but this is a bit too forward, don't you think? i don't want to touch your s in such a public space."
"my s?" joohyun looks down where their hands meet, "oh," she laughs, "i'm trying to make you feel my heart."
"it's excited around you. i want to get to know you more."
"that's wonderful." seungwan says as if in daze.
she can't believe someone like joohyun is talking to her at all. she's like an angel that came down from nowhere, landing next to her. she's captured by joohyun, she's strange in her own way but so open, much more open than other people are in the industry or even everyday life. she doesn't hide what she's feeling and she says what she thinks. it's refreshing like a glass of cold water on a sunny day. the way the sun makes her hair shine is enchanting seungwan, she wonders where did she come from, how come she didn't see joohyun before.
but she's not in a good place right now, she doesn't know how to be a good human. she doesn't know how to be welcoming and how not to scare her away. she knows joohyun probably means well and rejecting her is hard with that look on her face, but she has to do it. she's afraid of accidentally hurting joohyun, of making her sad, making her look and think differently of her. it's just their first meeting but she doesn't want that. she wants joohyun to remain happy.
"i'm busy." seungwan says.
"you were just lying here." joohyun points out.
"well, i'm up now so." seungwan shrugs and stands up, brushing the sand from her clothes. joohyun helps her, patting her ; seungwan scrambles away.
joohyun takes the empty bottle and offers it to her, paying no mind to seungwan's reaction, "here."
"right." seungwan says in a clipped tone as she takes it. "no littering." joohyun nods in agreement. "i'll- i'll be going then."
"don't go into the sea, seungwan!"
seungwan bows confusedly with a nod and walks off turning back to look at joohyun a few times. she's not sure she should leave her like this, especially when joohyun is waving so joyfully at her. maybe they'll meet again, seungwan has a passing thought but quickly dismisses it. impossible. meeting someone like joohyun is once in a lifetime thing and she knows she wasted it.
she spends the first few hours checking out her legs. she takes off her shoes and analyses her feet, how her toes move, and how far she can spread them apart. she stands on her tiptoes and crouches down. she spins around, she jumps, she runs in the sand -- she finds that much harder than running on the pavement, she tried both! she's just in awe that she can do splits and lunges and twirls that she doesn't care that people are watching her do all these things.
it's fascinating, humans are fascinating. she wants to see more.
she leaves the beach, wandering around the street, watching all the people pass by. she makes faces at babies, and she detours following little laughing kids playing with them for a while. she plays tag and catch, making the children happy. she's happy too, making friends with humans. she likes their laugh.
she's laughing too, the stone heart slowly reveals its' own true form, soft and squishy. she's made to love, she's made to make people feel the love of the world, and she knows that now.
as she's conversing with all the people, enjoying their company and hearing their thoughts on things she can't help but remember one pair of sad eyes.
the first person she met and by far the most interesting. everything else is blander compared to what it felt like when she was with seungwan. maybe it was the magic that wore off, maybe it was the time that was running out but joohyun could swear it was because she was with seungwan that the magic felt fuller. she wants to see her again. there should be some pull there, some sort of connection that could bring the two of them together. something must've broken through to form their meeting. she could ask seungwan what's life like through her eyes; is staying worth it?
so far she's having a blast. she even got to taste ice cream and it was like magic was edible. everything was so heightened, so bright and not wavy at all. just straight and colorful, so so many colors, she's never seen such colors before underneath the waters. the mother never told her of such things and sooyoung has said that humans are evil but all she hears is laughter.
she wants to know seungwan's side of things. she seemed so sad to be in this world, it reminded her of herself -- how she was so eager to go to the land of humans, to mingle among them instead of creatures of the sea. she wanted to see other world and joohyun wonders that perhaps seungwan wants another world too but doesn't know it.
she could tell her. that there is a whole other place to live, she could show her where the sirens live -- a place filled with music. she's a music producer, she would probably love it there. she could use the magic too, they could swap places.
by the time it's dark joohyun is exhausted and hungry. she doesn't have any money so the uncle at the restaurant runs her off. she sits by a cafe and watches people eat food she's never seen in her life, drink drinks that are strange looking. all her life she's only had water; she wonders how something else tastes, she wonders if she'd miss the taste if she'd only had it once.
"i am telling you, it's for real, seungwan. i saw it with my own eyes! i wouldn't lie."
"i know, i know-- but maybe you were tired-- joohyun?"
joohyun looks up to see seungwan with another human standing there looking at her. joohyun lets a smile overtake her face. her growling stomach doesn't stop her as she stands and hugs seungwan close. seungwan hesitates but pats her back twice before pulling away.
"what are you doing here?"
"oh, i don't have any money." joohyun says simply. "i was eating through people."
"you want us to buy you dinner?" seungwan's friend offers and seungwan shoots her a look.
"would you be so kind? i am starving."
they take a seat at the empty table outside and as the waitress takes orders from seungwan, seungwan's friend turns to her.
"i'm seulgi." she introduces herself. "seungwan and i have known each other for a long time. si