Blue ice stretched to the horizon, fading into the blinding rays of another waning winter sun. She shivered violently as the shifting mass groaned under her feet. She instinctively glanced down, looking for cracks under the transparent sheen. Suddenly, she tensed and dropped to her knees.
Desperately clawing at the ice, she screamed.
Mine continues below.
Her wail carried on the wind, a sound she’d never made before. She heard the low, raspy air escape from her lungs and knew that none of her friends underwater could hear her through the ice.
She pounded on the translucent frost again. A salmon stilled with the motion and she tried to raise her voice to its previous pitch, but without gills she could not make the sound. Having lungs made her voice too hollow.
Crystal dropped heavily onto the thickening ice, feeling the strange sensation of cold against flesh. The sun dipped below the horizon leaving pale streaks of pink and lavender stretching faintly in the sky. Approaching night looked so different above the water, Crystal realized. She wondered whether it could ever get as black as it did under the waves.
A hawk circled overhead. She watched it briefly, wondering whether it might dip down to the water for a fish. She thought to track the bird and see where there was still water to slip into; find a spot where the ice wasn’t so thick that it couldn’t be cracked. The glacier had moved so abruptly. She’d never thought her quick adventure onto land would turn deadly. She’d never realized that water could be so elusive in a land of ice.
The hawk flew westward, out of sight. Crystal’s eye caught another movement behind her and turned to see a bear lumbering toward her, its nose in the air. She thought she must still smell slightly of fish, though her scales and tail were now gone. She peered down at the feet that only hours ago had been flippers. Only a little webbing between her oddly-shaped toes remained. Her legs were nearly two separate entities, no longer gracefully combined into one powerful extension. The human body was so awkward, she thought. No wonder the other mermaids kept their distance when a person happened to fall into their sea.
By now the pastel sky was blackening and Crystal felt the drop in temperature as she shivered uncontrollably atop the ever-thickening ice. She stood and hugged her arms around her body; a futile endeavor against the quaking chill of her body. She howled into the night sky and heard an animal howl back. She forgot her cold for a moment and stood in wonder of the sounds of the world above water. She’d never thought that earthbound mammals might communicate with each other the same way the dolphins and whales did below.
The trouble was, she didn’t know what that animal was saying, or how to tell it that she needed help. All she could do was howl again, slamming her feet down in frustration as the last bits of northern lights melted away.
The ice seemed even firmer, even more resolute in its plan to keep her from returning to the world beneath it. She was trapped on earth with her ill-equipped skin and painfully-frozen lungs. Only a hawk, a bear, and an unknown creature crying in the night knew her fate. Her father would wonder where she was, swimming the oceans in search of her. He’d never think to look above the crest of the waves to the place where ice made land. He’d never expect that she’d disobeyed everything he ever taught her and was now in human peril.
She felt drops of water inch down the stiff skin of her face. It was salty, like the sea, and seemed to mock her. There was very little of her left at this point. Just a few wisps of scales and silt evaporating in the frigid air around her.
She gazed down at the black ice beneath her. She saw the ghostly outline of her pale white feet. The webbing of her toes was nearly gone. She bent down and scratched furiously at the last remnants of her former life, releasing a faint odor of fish that both excited and calmed her. There was just enough trace of fish oils left, she thought.
Then she turned to the black space behind her and peered into the darkness, extending her fishy fingers in front of her.
“Come and get me,” she beckoned.
It took a few moments then Crystal felt the trembling ice beneath her as the space before her moaned. The bear’s breath was warm, if fleeting.