Behind the glass of the iceberg, the mermaid’s eyes were open.
“Amazing,” sneered Dr. Parsons. He leaned closer to the tiny screen. The black and white image flickered, disrupting the view like an old illusion. Duck. Rabbit. Duck. Rabbit. Human. Fish. Human. Fish. “The discovery of a lifetime. Well done, Dr. Omari.”
Omari sighed at Parson’s half-hearted congratulations. “Thanks,” he said, voice flat. Discoveries weren’t so useful anymore.
Amelia could barely see between the shoulders of the two senior scientists. But it was enough. The mermaid was like an enormous statue, longer than any whale she’d seen on the old Nautilus expeditions. She had a wide caudal fin to propel her forward, and smaller fins were placed periodically along her tail, all the way up to the longer pectoral fins where arms might have been in another evolutionary route. A harpoon pierced her chest.
She wasn’t pretty. She was missing the curves of a human woman, which made Amelia feel better about the two men scrutinizing her. The mermaid’s face was dominated by a shadowed jawbone that suggested a wide mouth filled with teeth. But there were also delicate tentacles that flowed up and around her head, now immobilized in the iceberg, that gave her a Medusa-like presence. Her intense stare bored through the screen at Amelia. Parsons was right. It was the discovery of a lifetime. Amelia had to remind herself that the mermaid was the frozen one, not her.
Omari spoke again, rubbing his temple. “I was tracking a break in the ice shelf last year when I found her. My, uh, colleagues wanted to keep her a secret, but…” He trailed off in the way most people did these days, as if to say, Who’s left to stop me?
Dr. Omari cleared his throat. “I wanted a marine researcher to look at her, someone with a bit more biological knowledge than me.”
“Sorry I didn’t make it sooner,” said Parsons, squinting at the image.
He didn’t explain why. Omari was likely in a similar situation. No more funding meant Parsons and Amelia had to run the lab at URI themselves, feeding and monitoring the remaining experimental subjects, the fish and mollusks Parsons deemed too important to eat. Yet.
Dr. Parsons considered the hazy image. “Well, it’s definitely mammalian. Likely pelagic. She’s got thin tentacles, almost like a cuttlefish, off the back of her neck. You see, Amelia?”
Amelia nodded, not moving closer to the screen. She knew that he mostly wanted a body to talk at, to confirm what he was thinking.
“How old is the ice?” Parsons asked.
“I dated the closest ice core to about 2,000 years old. Not uncommon for the icebergs around Greenland,” lectured Omari. “I found her next to an old island settlement called Innaarsuit. A different glacier destroyed the town decades ago when half of it calved off in their bay. According to reports, this berg is on its way south now. Though it keeps shedding pieces.”
Parsons nodded absently. “I need a closer look to determine age, genus, more anatomical details. Even with that thin nose, I bet she has a blowhole. Perhaps the back of the neck, protected under those tentacles.”
Omari interrupted his scientific process. “I designed a submersible, but this was the only footage it took before failing. I thought with your resources at the University of Rhode Island, the expeditions, you might be able to take a clearer picture, maybe even a video.”
“You want the Nautilus,” growled Parsons. “You’re working for them.”
Omari opened his mouth, but Parsons stepped forward, getting in his face. “We already told the Crisis Committee no. Even if we did know where the Nautilus was, we wouldn’t just offer the most valuable research vessel in the country to some rich asshole who claims he’s trying to fix the world when he’s the one who fucked it!”
“You don’t understand-” started Omari.
“How much are they paying you to abandon your principles?” Parsons continued, low. “A couple of NIH grants worth? Did they promise to take you with them?” He bumped against Omari’s chest, making him stumble back against his desk. “Did they promise to save you too?”
Omari averted his eyes.
Parsons spat at his feet and turned, stalking out of the office.
Amelia followed, glancing back once at the screen. From a greater distance, the mermaid looked more lonely than threatening. Her eyes calling out. Omari wore a similar expression.
She paused. “They don’t know about her, do they?”
Omari shook his head, miserable. Amelia left them both behind.
In the parking lot, Parsons swore. “Those bastards.”
“At least we know the Committee doesn’t have the Nautilus,” said Amelia, trying to keep pace with him.
“I already knew that,” Parsons muttered. “They won’t stop emailing me.”
He unlocked his car, an old silver Prius with crumbs and glass between the seats in equal measure. He got in and shut the door, pressing his fingers against his eyes. “No respect for the scientific process. Did you hear about the Saturn mission?”
“No.” Amelia buckled her seatbelt. She had stopped listening to the news after hundreds of scientists died in a Crisis project called Atlantis. They were crushed under the water pressure before they could even drown. All she knew about the Saturn mission was that ten experts had been hired by a Crisis billionaire to launch a rocket headed for Titan, one of Saturn’s moons.
“They exploded,” said Parsons, starting the car. His eyes were ringed in red. “That’s what no test runs get you. Maybe if those assholes had started trying to fix the planet a little earlier, they wouldn’t have to leave it.”
Ten more dead, Amelia thought as Parsons began to navigate the disaster that was Boston. She, too, wasn’t about to put her life on the line for some rich idiots who couldn’t see the so-called Crisis until it affected them. So, she had opted to continue her assistantship at URI with Dr. Parsons. There were no more actual diplomas to be had, but she liked the science—the repetition of testing and retesting, playing with the data—and she had nowhere else to go.
“How big do you think she was?” asked Amelia. “It was hard to tell on that screen.”
Parsons swerved to avoid a crumbling brewery, the smell of yeasty desperation in the air. Surely, he was considering the implications on the oceanic ecosystems, the studies that could be done.
“Omari’s an idiot,” Parsons grumbled as he sped up past a homeless encampment. “They’ll feed him and house him, but they won’t save him.”
Someone was wailing, a baby or a dog, it was hard to tell by sound alone, but Amelia had learned not to look. Neither she nor Parsons had anything to offer them anyway.
“She was beautiful,” said Amelia as they drove, fantasizing about road trip snacks and her mother teaching her how to navigate the Denver grid plan. Amelia hadn’t been home in three years. Before her stipend ran out, before the Crisis. It would be snowing there, and here too, she supposed, if the climate wasn’t ruined. It was more than snow in Colorado now. Ice storms. Electrical grids down. Her whole family freezing in their home at the “official” beginning of the Crisis. While she looked at shellfish.
“At least we left when we did.” She closed her eyes, trying her best to block out the sounds of the dying city. “You were about to hit him.”
“I wouldn’t have hit him.” Parsons scoffed. “I have some self-control.”
Amelia made an involuntary sound in the back of her throat. He didn’t look at her, but he did blush. Good.
Less than a week after Amelia’s family died, their names on an online found bodies list, Parsons’s hand settled on her thigh. She almost let him. Amelia had been analyzing data, staring at a computer screen for hours. She was tired. So tired. Students in her cohort were either dropping the program or committing suicide at an exponential rate. She’d calculated it. His hand was warm on her thigh, and she couldn’t think of the last time someone had touched her. Amelia rubbed her eyes, blurring the rows of numbers on the screen, and then slapped his hand.
“Don’t,” she said. Her palm stung.
Parsons liked to pretend he hadn’t done it, but she remembered, even as she continued working with him. At least he was ashamed. Back on campus, they entered the sea-weathered building that housed the School of Oceanography, and Amelia greeted the familiar standing banner of a six-foot-tall lobster in the foyer. Parsons locked the door behind them. In the lab, a dozen dead bivalves floated near the top of the large tank. Amelia plucked each one out of the water while Parsons tinkered with the faulty feeder. They ate the mussels and oysters at his desk, sharing an ancient bottle of hot sauce to cover the taste. Amelia knew mollusks should be consumed fresh, not half a day after their death. And these were gritty, being tested to the limit of their filtering abilities. But there wasn’t anything else to eat, other than chalky nutrition rations the government had distributed to pretend they had control over the situation. As he ate, Parsons stared down the automatic feeder still half apart beside his plate.
“I have a plan,” he began. “For when we’re out of subjects.”
Amelia drowned an oyster in hot sauce, filling the shell. “What plan?”
“For when we’re out of food completely.” Parsons shifted his eyes to hers. “I just wanted to warn you. Not encourage you–” he stammered. “You shouldn’t go along with it. But I’m done. I have no desire to leave the lab, and I won’t work for Crisis money.”
Amelia understood, shook her head. “I’m not…I won’t do that.”
Parsons nodded once. “Good. That’s good, Amelia.”
Amelia wondered if she was supposed to argue with him, to convince him not to do it, that they would find some other way to live, but she didn’t have many arguments left in her. Who was she to stop him?
Early the next morning, Amelia threw up off the side of the grad lounge sofa. Instead of cleaning the sick off the carpet, Amelia moved her things to the classroom next door, dragging the sofa with her. She wrote DO NOT DISTURB on the chalkboard and fell back asleep.
“Get up.” Parsons was standing over her, sweat dripping down his forehead. “We found it.”
Amelia made no effort to move, her stomach still untrustworthy. “What?”
She took in Parsons and his stubble, the manic glint in his eye. “Where?”
“We’re leaving in ten minutes,” he said, not explaining further.
“To find the mermaid?”
He was already out the door.
Slowly, Amelia rose from the couch and gathered her few belongings—a duffle bag of clothes, her passport, and an old letter from her mother. She met Parsons in his office, and they walked from Bay Campus proper out to the docks. The E/V Nautilus was bobbing smoothly in the harbor. There was a pirate on board. The man was portly, and a heavy beard hid his grin. He had lost a leg. Recently. There wasn’t a wooden peg in its place—he leaned on a crutch instead—but the stitches at the end of his thigh were fresh and awkwardly done. The wound, still inflamed.
“James!” the man shouted, hugging Dr. Parsons.
He, surprisingly, hugged him back tightly.
“This is Amelia,” Parsons said, pulling away. “Amelia, this is my college roommate, Captain Phineas Honey.”
Captain Honey shook Amelia’s hand with both of his own, balancing adeptly between her and his crutch. “Lovely to meet you, girl.”
“Nice to meet you.” Amelia smiled back at him as Parsons leaned over the side of the ship to puke.
As the skeleton crew prepared for launch, Honey regaled Amelia with the tale of how he’d found the Nautilus in a dock up north. After Honey’s own boat had been stolen and sold for parts a few months back – a fate much more tragic than simply being stolen and sailed away – Parsons had mentioned the Nautilus to him, its mysterious disappearance. The university must have been maintaining the docks before the area was taken over by locals, but Honey and his crew managed to smuggle the Nautilus out. Despite Honey’s big gestures and loud voice, more than a few details were missing. Amelia was left wondering what exactly he had to do to steal the ship.
Once they set off, leaving URI and the shore behind, Parsons and Amelia inspected the ROVs. Argus and Hercules were untouched – sitting like boulders on the ship’s bow. They needed people to pilot them. Amelia had focused on data analysis during her previous missions, but Parsons had a conceptual knowledge of how they worked. They would have to learn how to operate the remote vehicles before they reached the icecaps of Greenland, more than 2,000 nautical miles and three weeks away. But at least they had the lead from Dr. Omari – the island of Innaarsuit. Not that they told him about their expedition.
Time dragged over the ocean. Amelia trained with the ROVs, communicating via radio between Parsons on the bridge and the rest of the crew. Honey taught her how to fish, though he insisted on instructing her while switching between the various languages he’d picked up in his travels—Japanese and Russian and Portuguese—with the crew chuckling from their respective posts. There weren’t many fish to be caught anyway. Later, he taught her different ways of navigating—the ship’s ENC software, a coffee-stained map, the stars.
Honey was a better companion than Parsons, still in possession of a sense of humor. And much better than Amelia at restraining Parsons when he wanted to punch someone in the face. Occasionally, Honey volunteered to be that face, causing Parsons to back down and go lie in his bunk for the rest of the day.
Scanning underwater with the ROVs was depressing. If the world was dying, the oceans were dead. It had been less than two years since URI stopped the research trips, but the seas had transformed. No more marine greenery, and the few fish they saw were dull, as though their scales had given up on reflecting sunlight.
On the crew’s last practice run before approaching Greenland, there was a pod of dolphins laid out on the seafloor, their pale, curved bodies fallen in a row. At least they had died quickly, all sunk together. Amelia looked away.
Innaarsuit was halfway up the west coast of Greenland, but Captain Honey looked troubled by the time they reached the southern tip.
Amelia was on deck, having gotten her sea legs, closely watching Honey tie and retie knots before trying it herself. He made a complex knot as thick as his fist before untying it and dropping the rope back into Amelia’s hands with a grunt.
“How long ago did you say your Dr. Omari found the mermaid?” Honey stared out onto the flat sea.
“Last year,” said Amelia. “Why?”
“I saw icebergs here last year.” Honey tapped a finger against the wood railing. “Big ones. Now, the water barely looks cold.”
Fifty miles south of Innaarsuit, they saw the very tip of an iceberg above the water. Parsons ordered the two ROVs deployed, and the crew hustled to place them in the water with the Nautilus’s small crane. They were connected via cable with the larger Hercules ROV taking on the ship’s movement underwater so that Argus—with its better camera—could remain steady and go deeper.
Captain Honey piloted Hercules while Amelia navigated Argus. They had determined early on that she had steadier hands, and more patience, than Parsons. But the ice revealed nothing. Parsons suggested searching the seafloor instead.
“There!” he shouted after a few minutes. “Bridge to Nav, hold position. Video push in.”
Amelia zoomed Argus’s camera, aiming its lights at a large shape on the seabed. The entire crew began talking at the sight of the mermaid’s corpse on Argus’s video screen. Again, Amelia was reminded of a whale. A dead giant.
There had been a whale fall on a previous Nautilus trip, the fallen skeleton supporting an entire ecosystem. Octopuses pulling themselves along its cartilage and sharks keeping guard above, swimming down to tear off large bites and scare off lesser fish. The URI research team revisited it the next year. They found its bones picked over and polychaete “bone-eating” worms covering large swaths of the skeleton-like dark orange moss. Biological debris around the body still fed deep-sea scavengers. They hadn’t been able to return the year after.
Out of the ice, the fallen mermaid’s carcass was enormous, and its body was mostly untouched. Bones only showed where the flesh had decayed. Its tail followed the same structure as the whale’s, but its upper body was a confusing mix of dull scales up to her neck, human-like ribs peeking out of her sunken chest, and a thick layer of blubber waving in the current where a few visitors – come and gone – had nibbled. They had to be dead now, to have given up such a feast. The harpoon was gone, pulled away by the current. Her eyes still stared, but she was less menacing. Petrified. Alone. Amelia felt something give way under her sternum. This will be all of us, she thought, soon.
The crew was getting rowdy. Captain Honey told a few of them to pay up.
Parsons interrupted their transactions with a serious tone. “Bridge to Navigation, move five meters to the east and hold.”
Amelia flinched at his voice but obeyed, circling the body of the fallen mermaid. They should get a sample, see how old she was, how she lived, what she ate. But for once, Amelia felt no need to follow any line of scientific questioning. She simply obeyed. And then she saw movement. Very faint. On the other side of the mermaid’s massive body, something was feeding.
“Video push in,” said Parsons.
It clung to the torso of the mermaid, mouth lowered. Teeth, long and sharp, tearing at soft flesh. Its tail was long and muscled, but its upper body was more delicate and had the same thin tentacles on the back of its head. A young mermaid. Eyes huge and flashing red in the ROV’s light. The entire crew was yelling. Captain Honey laughed incredulously. Amelia kept quiet, not understanding. It wasn’t fleeing from the ROV as any normal creature would. It hung on the corpse, staring down Argus. And then, the juvenile mermaid stopped moving. She began drifting up, away from the large carcass. Eyes wider than before. Shocked. Dead.
Parsons made himself heard above the crew’s uproar. “Get. The. Body.”
Amelia did not want to get the body. It felt too much like a prize. Like they had set out on a hunt and here was their kill. But she followed orders. She deployed Argus’s arms and scooped up the body of the young mermaid. It was limp, head and tail hanging off the sides of each mechanical arm. She paused for a moment before bringing it to the surface. It was not alive, but she gave it a chance to change its mind – to flash her fins and leave them, denying proof of existence—before she moved Argus back towards the ship.
It felt wrong to leave the adult mermaid, but the Nautilus wouldn’t be able to support her. And her body looked like it might disintegrate if exposed to air. After Hercules and Argus were plucked from the water by the crane and set back on the Nautilus, Amelia joined the rest of the crew on deck.
The body was larger than she expected. Of course, the first one had been the size of a whale, but whales were rarely laid out on ship decks. The young mermaid was still wrapped in a net the crew had used to haul her aboard. She looked vaguely human but less developed than a grown woman and more like a fish in her scales and gills. Her eyes were open. The crew kept trying to touch her, to feel if she was real. If she was slippery or firm. If her scales were sharp or smooth. One man snatched back his hand from her scales, his fingers bleeding. Razor-sharp. Amelia’s mouth twisted into a smirk.
Eventually, Honey got everyone under control, swearing for the first time in Amelia’s earshot. Parsons whispered with Honey for a few moments, and then the captain began shouting orders. Several of the most enthusiastic crew members were sent to double-check the ROVs were cleaned and put away properly. The rest of the men hefted the young mermaid’s body upon their shoulders and followed Parsons to the ship’s wet lab. The space felt cold and sterile. Amelia helped line up three of the large, stainless-steel tables. The men set the mermaid down and stood around, staring. Her torso took up the whole of the first table, and her tail covered the other two, heavy caudal fin hanging off the very end. Captain Honey shooed the crew out.
“Well,” Parsons said. “Let’s determine the cause of death.”
“But,” Amelia began, watching seawater drip off the metal tables. “It’s shock. We shocked her.”
Parsons talked over her. “We need to do an autopsy. Shock wouldn’t be enough to kill a healthy creature.”
Amelia cringed at the word ‘creature’ but didn’t argue. Who was she to stop him?
Captain Honey led the dissection. He leaned over the body, chatting about his first and only year of med school and his more recent experience sewing up his own severed leg. Keeping a casual tone, he marked where he would open the body, following the midline from the base of her throat to her lower abdomen, where her tail began. Amelia couldn’t chat back, sickness rising in her throat. Honey fell into silence too. He wore heavy gloves as he hacked through the scales and a thick layer of blubber—pulling a serrated blade out of his boot when the scalpel refused to cut—but eventually revealed her body cavity.
The mermaid’s belly was full of confetti. Stained with blood and slimy bits of membrane but still shimmering gold and silver in places, the squares of plastic were packed in between her organs, some resembling human anatomy, some distinctly fish-like. After the initial shock, Honey sliced open her stomach and found bits of rotting flesh she had chewed off the adult mermaid. And more confetti. Amelia recalled her last New Year’s Eve party, several years ago now. Felt sick. Refused to be sick.
Parsons and Honey began discussing the mermaid’s anatomy, pulling at her with their gloved hands. Parsons turned her head to the side and roughly brushed her tentacles out of the way, searching the back of her neck for the blowhole he had predicted. He found it, a small one between her shoulders. He pointed it out to Honey, who was digging around her torso, both men ecstatic. No one left to stop them.
Amelia tried to feel nothing, but her body was thawing, warmth spreading from her chest up her throat to her nose and eyes. She was crying. Amelia did as she had learned to do at the end of the world. She excused herself to the bathroom, wiped her tears, and splashed water on her face. When she returned, she helped take samples and studied them under a microscope. There were microplastics in every piece of flesh.
“That’s what killed her,” said Parsons. “The confetti wasn’t helping, but –”
“Or the shock,” Amelia asserted.
Parsons nodded, once. “Or that. But the microplastics and fibers got into every millimeter of her. That did it.”
Amelia didn’t trust herself to speak. She wondered if her own body was full of the same tiny pollutions. It must be.
They sailed back with the mermaid’s body on ice, safe in the Nautilus’s walk-in freezer, so they could study it further at their own lab. During the last weeks at sea, Amelia developed a heartache for the adult mermaid, alone again with a different kind of hole in her chest.
Captain Honey, in exchange for finding the Nautilus, bartered with Parsons to keep the ship. Once they made it back to Rhode Island, he handed over a good portion of his food supply and promised to visit soon. He’d radio once he was within range of campus. After his men moved the mermaid’s body into URI’s freezer, he gave Amelia a length of rope to practice with.
Parsons and Amelia took notes and formed them into papers, though no journals were publishing anymore. Parsons was proud of their work, but Amelia couldn’t feel the same. She barely visited the mermaid in their walk-in freezer. And never by herself. This was different than the bivalves. She couldn’t help feeling they were studying themselves, crouched over a dead body, trying to fill their bellies with something other than sparkling poison.
Two weeks after they returned, Parsons touched Amelia’s elbow with his plastic gloved hands and held it. She shook him off, not meeting his eyes, and continued editing their paper on the mermaid’s reproductive system. Three days after that, Amelia found his suicide note.
We could study her further, but we know what happened. We humans are arrogant creatures, panicking too late, unsatisfied with a lonely downfall. We’ll all die with plastic in our guts. Don’t take the money if you can help it.
Again, I’m sorry.
They weren’t even out of food yet. Amelia could have stopped him. Or maybe she never could have prevented it. She didn’t know. She searched for Parsons’s body for weeks, going out to the dock every day with a net, poles, and hooks. She found nothing but the occasional sad fish, a quick dinner.
Months later, Captain Honey’s voice crackled through the radio. “James, you there?”
Amelia abandoned the sheet of food calculations in front of her and grabbed the radio.
“No,” she whispered. She cleared her throat and tried again. It had been too long since she’d last spoken. “It’s Amelia. Are you here?”
“Amelia, my girl! I’m a few miles offshore. I was stopping by to check if-”
“Yes,” Amelia interrupted. “Yes, I want to join the crew. I can be ready in ten minutes.”
Honey laughed from deep in his chest, a touch of surprise in his voice. “Excellent news! And James too? We’ll make a team yet.”
Amelia went quiet.
“Oh,” said Honey’s voice, weak over the radio waves. “I see.”
“I can be ready in ten minutes,” Amelia repeated, suddenly worrying if Honey would take her without Parsons. “I’ll bring the rest of the food you gave us. There’s not much, but-”
“Bring her too,” said Honey. “If you still have the body. I’ll send my men to meet you.”
The crew numbered fewer than before, and when Amelia hugged Captain Honey on the deck of the Nautilus, he was thin. His beard was scraggly, and his voice was softer.
“I’m sorry to hear about James,” he said, releasing her. “He was a good friend.”
“He was a shitty mentor,” said Amelia, hoping to make Honey laugh. He did, deepening the lines on his face as he threw his head back. It ended in a cough that rattled his frame.
“Come,” he said. “We best cast off before nightfall.” He shouted a few orders, setting the crew off running, and then showed Amelia to a small, but private, cabin.
Amelia regained her sea legs quickly and was able to show off the knots she’d been practicing. Honey put her to work on the Naughty, as they’d renamed the Nautilus. They had to sail further each day to catch anything, storing the rare extra fish in the Naughty’s deep freeze with the mermaid’s body. It took some time, but Honey began ordering them back near shore to steal at night. Based on the crew’s swift, almost business-like competence, Amelia knew they’d done it before. But they needed supplies—fresh water and generators and food. A few months in, she joined their expeditions, knife in hand. Many of those spoils sat with the mermaid as well.
They survived on the ocean for a long while famine, disease, and natural disasters—besides two terrifying hurricanes—left them alone. But one day, the only thing left in storage was the mermaid. The crew had dwindled even further, some having not returned from their raiding parties, others opting for death under the waves like Parsons.
Honey greeted her one morning with a knock at her cabin door and death under his eyes.
“James told me,” he began, “about how you’d eat those shellfish you experimented on.”
Amelia nodded. “It made us sick.”
“I know,” responded Honey, standing in her doorway. “Mack and Cooper. They leapt off the ship last night.”
“We’ll have a hard time handling the Naughty ourselves,” growled Honey, fondly. “She’s a beast.”
Amelia nodded again, understanding Honey’s meaning. They were doomed. Nothing new. “I’d like to try.”
“Are you hungry, girl?”
Amelia shrugged. Nothing new.
“Will you help me with dinner tonight?” he asked. “You know how I am in the galley.”
She did. Mack had been their last good cook.
When Amelia met Honey in the ship’s kitchen, the thickest part of the mermaid’s tail, where her thighs would be if she were human, was sitting on a large cutting board. It was a filet the size of a Thanksgiving turkey, her scales pulled tight over flesh. Cold. And here, too, as she thawed and they began removing the scales and large fish bones, they found confetti.
When they determined that she was cooked through and set the narrow table, Honey raised a toast, the second to last glass of champagne in his grasp. “To Amelia, my favorite crew member.” There was still humor in his tone.
Amelia raised the last glass of champagne. “To you, Captain.”
The cooked filet sat between them.
“Will you dine with me tonight?” Honey asked, not a hint of fear in his voice.
It was a gamble. Whether it would make them sick. Whether it would kill them. She knew Honey was a gambling man, but he didn’t seem invested in the outcome for once. He wasn’t decided as Parsons had been. He was only wondering if this might be his solution for starvation—a permanent exit. And Amelia had been determined to live for so long, so firmly not looking at other options, she had started to question why.
For just a moment, she regretted not studying the mermaid further, seeing what she could have told them about the ocean, about the climate, about humans. But it was too late. And Amelia knew the most important part already. They were sunk, with only their heads left above the waves.
She shook her head, chasing away doubts. “Of course.”
As she ate the filet, Amelia found a few pieces of confetti. No matter, this wouldn’t be the first piece of plastic she’d consumed. The flesh looked like white fish, but it was heavier and tasted meaty, like pork. Together, they ate the whole thing.
In the morning, Amelia woke up feeling sick, but she woke up. Above her head, footsteps dashed across the deck and then the sound of retching over the side of the ship. Amelia raced up to the deck and braced herself against the railing, releasing cold, wet confetti into the waves below. She wiped her mouth. Honey was standing next to her, grinning like he still had a full, warm belly. He offered her a plastic bottle of water, reused so much that it crinkled in her soft grip. Amelia laughed and took a swig. She spit the last of the slimy, bad taste into the waves. For the first time in months, she wasn’t hungry.
Emma Brousseau earned her MA in English and Creative Writing at Texas Tech University. She previously attended a graduate program in experimental psychology which informs the scientific and speculative aspects of her writing. Her work has been published in The Normal School, Necessary Fiction, Hobart, and elsewhere. You can find her on Twitter @Emma_Brousseau or at emmabrousseau.com.
© Variant Literature Inc 2021