The gray clouds are crunchy against the cherry night sky. A large white building stands concealed behind a brick wall. A girl stands at a window. Her dusty blue eyes search the dark air. Her thick auburn locks wind down all the way to her waist. She has a secret. Her secret is not that she sometimes steals her brother’s pearly candies. Her secret is not that she has scratched her name into the top of her bunk bed. Her secret is not that she has the poem about her mother. A breeze crinkles her thin pale hospital gown. She shivers. Her secret is that she can speak.
The scene shifts. A man with clear eyes, a handsome face and amber glasses scratches his nose. He is wearing a suit. He remembers all the blue tears and broken voices. He begins to speak. His voice is like chalk.
“Half mermaid children are not living. They do not feel, though their bodies develop much in the same way and rate as human children. A mermaid and human mating is unnatural and so is the offspring they produce. The DNA cannot mesh together properly and what’s essentially created is a thing whose organs function effectively but whose mind does not. Furthermore, it has come to my attention that an article was published voicing suspicions of why the hybrids vocal chords are removed. This is merely for safety reasons…,” he pauses, “As you all know, mermaids can hypnotize humans with their voices, and force them to do anything that the siren, or mermaid, desires including killing themselves. This would, first of all, be an invasion of privacy and a possible threat of death towards the instructors at the facility. Thank you.”
The girl is not at the window anymore. She is holding a piece of paper. The paper is old, with crinkles and smudges like yellow and black veins. The font is Times New Roman. She heard that was a common font in the ancient civilizations of the 2000s. It reads:
Rusty blonde hair
Foaming down her back
Dusty blue eyes
Pale, milky skin
And her tail,
Like swirling gray satin
Rain slashes the red sky
She disappears under the clear water
Watching as the rain hits the water
Water twisting like wild, perfect glass
All is silent, dark underneath
She stares at you with her blue eyes
She knows the poem is written about her great grandmother, a mermaid. They lived on the bottom of a sea of water. The humans live on the bottom of a sea of air.
The man with the amber glasses sits in a plastic chair. You can see his hands. They look soft and warm. His arms are covered in small silky black hairs. His hands are trembling slightly. He grabs the microphone.
“When the hybrids are 15 or 16 years of age, they are put to sleep and their faces removed. We use every part of the animal. The hair is used for extensions, wigs, cushioning in furniture and pillows. The organs are donated for scientific purposes. The hands and feet are used to model shoes and bracelets. The meat is packaged and eaten. The bones sold in pet shops. And, most importantly, the stunningly beautiful faces sewn on PURE humans.”
The girl watches her brother. His pink lips are open like a fish gasping for air. Blonde locks fall over his forehead. His sheet is arranged around him like a white flower. She has to save him and herself from being put to sleep. She kisses him on the cheek with her thick red lips and scans the room quietly quickly.
All of the sleeping faces of her fellow mermaids. All of their features perfect, enchanting, otherworldly. All of their hair long and thick and glossy. But she also notices the pink scars on their necks, where the vocal chords were removed. And she sees that a few of the bunk beds are empty. She remembers a girl who used to sleep in one of the empty bunk beds. She had soft hands and green eyes. Another empty bunk bed belonged to a girl who called two boys darling. Yet another used to belong to a boy who always wore a silky red bracelet. She turned away.
She stared at the metal exit door. Pale, watery mold blooms at its center. She speaks the password. She had heard it so many times from her instructors. They don’t care if the hybrids know, for if they could never speak, how could they open the door? The door slams open making a loud smack that hangs in the air as the door hits the wall. She breathes in the crisp, swirling blue night air and runs.
The man with the amber glasses now wears a purple t-shirt and dark jeans. His arm is slung over a chair and he watches the man sitting across from him.
“It changed my life, it really did. Look at me then.”
He pushes an unfocused picture of a pale boy with pink pimples across the table. He is slightly pudgy and his whitish lips are pursed in a frown.
“Look at me now.”
“Yeah, it is. Getting this face changed my life. Think about it. Let’s say a girl says to another girl, ‘I have a cousin’.”
“The other girl always says, ‘Is she pretty?’ If yes, in fact, she is, the other girl immediately likes her more. It’s the truth.”
“What about those hybrid things that the faces are cut from?”
“Those are not people. They are basically objects. Think about a diamond. Would you say, ‘Do diamonds have feelings?’ No, you wouldn’t. If a diamond looked like a human, should we say we shouldn’t buy them? They’re pretty and expensive. But not alive. Most certainly not alive. ”
She feels alive. The air crackles with sounds, and the moon coats everything silver.
She sees a city in the distance; from afar it looks like tangled goblets of white light.
She knows exactly what to do.
There is a soft clink of violet champagne glasses. Bubbles the color of babies’ skin float around the room. Women purse their coral colored lips while men fiddle with their navy ties. There is a sleek image of a beautiful female face with cloudy gray eyes projected on the wall. The people hold something that looks like a menu. The prices of the faces are listed upon it. There is a cameraman in the corner, filming the event. The man with the amber glasses is speaking.
“This is one of our finest pieces. The eyes hypnotize you like storm clouds and emit a slightly dangerous or mysterious look. The lips are slightly upturned giving the appearance of always being on the brink of smiling. As for the jaw—“
Suddenly, the wooden doors burst open and a girl with auburn hair and blue eyes slides in. Her face is stunning, even more than the other hybrid on the screen. There are murmurs; “I want that face,” is heard among them. She runs toward the podium where the man with the amber glasses stands. Her voice crackles over the microphone. A voice that is unsure of itself as if still surprised it can create sound. She speaks with a soft broken accent like brown sugar.
“You can’t avoid death or aging. Trying to will, will, only result in loss.”
She looks down at her fingers, tearing at the small ripped scales on them. The camera is swung over to her.
“You seek perfection, and we pay the price. Your pursuit of beauty is a flee from death. Because you flee death, we meet it for you. Hybrids, as you call them, do have feelings. We feel the burn of pain, as you do; the hot shivers of love and the webs of dreams you spin when it is unrequited. I have cried. We have cried. We are not above envy, hatred or selfishness. Our vocal chords are removed so that they cannot speak against their murder. There was a mistake. Mine were not cut out. We are—”
Before she can continue, the man with the amber glasses picks her up and carries her behind a curtain. The red velvet separated them from the outside world as they stared at each other. He continued to carry her. He carefully placed her in the leather seat of his car. She started to scream, “Help! Help!” She was going to die. She began to wail. She would never see her brother again. He covered his mouth with a soft hand and gently revved the engine. They sped away. They arrived at a pastel colored house. He picked her up again and brought her inside. He place her on a scarlet bed. She was so tired, but she shouldn’t go to sleep. She shouldn’t. She slowly closes her eyes.
She wakes up. There is a dusty, rosy mirror against the white wall. She glances at her reflection and gasps. There must be another person next to her. She looks around the room. No one. Then she looks in the mirror again. She has blonde hair and green eyes.
A week passes. The sun streams lazily onto a dirty blue velvet chair. The man with the amber glasses sits in it, reading.
The girl is standing in the doorway wearing a sunflower yellow shirt and chewing on rubbery green gum. He pats the seat next to him. This time she sits down.
“My whole family thinks you’re an airhead.”
“I’m not stupid! You just called me dumb.”
“No I didn’t.”
“I am not an airhead. Airheads are the pretty, stupid blonde girls. Which I’m not. “
“You’re very pretty.”
There is a moment of silence. She is blushing, not looking him in the eye.
“Thank you, but—” She says nervously.
“Yes you are.” He tenderly puts his hand on her knee. She blushes even more. Her skin feels like it is clunking together and her hands are clammy. The touch of his hand sends a small shiver down her back. She is looking all the way to the right, pretending to stare at a faded red book, anything to not look him in the eyes.
“You still called me stupid”
“I didn’t mean airhead in that way. I meant your head is always in the clouds. When you interrupted the auction, you did not think about the consequences. Stuff like that. I didn’t say I think it.”
“Airhead means stupid.” She says lamely. She admits to herself that it was an excuse to talk to him more. To keep his hand on her knee. She wasn’t offended.
“Listen, I would never call you stupid. You’re not stupid.” He looks extremely worried that he had offended her, trying to get her to look him in the eyes.
He reluctantly removes his hand from her knee and stands up.
“Do you know what the date is?”
“No.” She looks a little sad.
“That’s my brother’s birthday. Oh no, oh no, oh no, please no, please.”
She begins to sob.
“If there is a god, please, please don’t let him die. I’ll do anything. Please.”
She closes her crying eyes, muttering over and over again, “Please I’ll do anything,” her voice cracking. She stops saying it out loud, but he could see she was repeating it as fast as possible in her head.
“What is it?’
There is a pause. Silence.
“Today is the day my brother is set to be killed.”
Her body continues to tremble even when the tears dry. It isn’t cold. The orange sun hangs low and sticky on the blue sky. The man with the amber glasses drives the car.
“Give me your glasses.”
He says nothing and takes them off. He has soft, rich brown eyes. It is the first time she has seen them. She stares at them for a second and then starts to rub the glasses against the rigid car key, sharpening it to a point. She then begins to saw off her hair with the point of the glasses. The man with the brown eyes grips the wheel tighter and his eyebrows rise, but he says nothing. The hair falls in locks to the leather seat, sticking to his light jeans. She then drops the glasses on the floor. They land, cracking. There is no sound except the wind against the plastic windows of the car. They arrive in front of the facility. She shoves open the door and begins to sprint. She slips inside the door, running towards the second, metal door. A man with a lab coat with apple white skin stands outside the door. Her brother stands next to him, his eyes like wilted flowers. She remembers that she must not speak right when she opens her mouth. She points towards her brother, shakes her head no, and then motions towards herself and then the room.
“Oh, there must have been a mistake. Was he trying to replace you?”
She nods. Her brother stands there, still, not comprehending what she was doing. She wants to leave one message for him. Tell him, I love you. She knows she had about one minute more to live. She clutches her face. Trying to drown in all the colors of the hallway to enjoy her last few seconds. She sucks in her breath, opening her eyes wider trying to see everything, all the tones, textures. It is so beautiful, the world. She touches her brother’s soft skin. She feels like trying to freeze this moment in time. She can’t get enough. She inhales her breaths. No one else will ever know her thoughts at this moment. No one else. She wants to scream at him, “I love you” but she can’t speak. What should she do? She breathes in the air, in a panic, counting down her last seconds in her head. She cannot be calm. She has to take everything in. She digs a nail into her skin, pinches her cheek. Her brother clutches her hand. She loves him so much. She enteres the cold room slowly, prolonging the seconds. She doesn’t want to die with the feeling of wasting her last moments. She will be forgotten, just another hybrid face. She always thought she would be the one alive watching the dead faces, but she was going to die. Her thoughts would end, and she would be over. She only got this one person; she never would get to be anyone else. And now her life is over. She won’t get another life, and she is over. Her life will be done. She is gone, over, done. Her thoughts, feeling, being. She will not see. She is not the star of the story anymore, for her, there will be no story. There is no more world for her. The door closes.
Years passed. The company dismissed her intrusion into the auction and her speaking as having been a robot sent from another company to damage sales. People accepted this. The man with the brown eyes walked down the street, wearing a light blue t-shirt. He stopped, his face filling with hope and happiness. He flashed an easy grin and began to run toward a woman with auburn hair and blue eyes. He swept her into a hug. She said in a nasally voice, “What are you doing? Get your hands off of me!”
He then noticed the scars on her neck where the face had been sewn on.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you were someone else.”
He walked away slowly.
E Jeremijenko-Conley, Age 14, Grade 9, Little Red Schoolhouse/Elizabeth Irwin, Silver Key