Isla was the first of her friends to arrive at the ship, as Cora and Kendra could never beat her in a race. She looked up at the ship in awe. It had sunk years before she was born, and the metal was covered in algae and rust. There was something written on the bow, but she couldn’t read much of the human language. Kendra would know what it said, assuming she ever caught up to read it.
Isla scanned the area for signs of sharks; sunken ships were one of their favorite haunts. She thought she saw something in a porthole, but it was gone before she could identify it.
“Isla!” Cora had finally caught up with Kendra not far behind, “Why do you always feel the need to swim ahead?”
“Sorry,” Isla said, “but I was so excited to see the wreck, I forgot to slow down.”
Kendra had begun to swim closer to the wreck when she noticed something near the bottom of the ship. “Hey! Look over there!” She dove to the bottom and came back with three wreaths made of land flowers. They were beautiful, despite being a few blossoms short.
“There are hundreds just like these sitting down there,” Kendra said, handing each girl a wreath.
“Humans are so strange,” Isla said, slipping her wreath on her head like a crown. “Come on, if we want to explore, we’d best do it now. We don’t have much time before curfew.”
The three mermaids swam to the top of the wreck and gasped. The ship was split clean down the middle, and they could see inside perfectly. There were hundreds of doors with strange symbols on them, and there was a large room with stone floors and crystals hanging from the ceiling.
“This is amazing!” Cora rushed down into the wreck.
“Wait,” Kendra said, “we should stay together!”
But Cora was gone.
Isla swam into the wreckage too. She wanted to investigate the doors, so Kendra was left to her own devices. Isla was fascinated by the human world. Everything was different there, and the trinkets she’d collected from other wrecks were always coveted by those who saw them.
The first door wouldn’t open. Neither would the second, but she managed to push the third open, though it made an awful scraping sound. The room had two beds, a mirror, a pile of wood that may have once been furniture, and another set of doors. She swam over to the doors and slid them open. Inside was a small space, full of human clothing. Isla looked through the fraying fabrics, then pulled out a red one that was mostly intact. She swam to the mirror and held it up, imagining what it would feel like to be human. The mirror was dirty though, and she couldn’t really see her reflection.
She rubbed the grime away until she could almost see herself. There was something else in the mirror too. She spun around as fast as she could, but there was nothing there. Then she heard a scream.
Isla left the room as quickly as possible. “Cora? Kendra?”
“Isla!” Cora looked terrified.
“What’s wrong?” Isla asked, instead of answering, Cora swam towards the top of the wreck. Isla followed.
Kendra was drifting through the water but there was definitely something wrong. Her skin was pale, and her eyes were glazed over, but Isla couldn’t see any injuries on her.
“Kendra?” Isla’s voice was a ghost of a whisper. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Today was supposed to be fun.
“Isla,” Cora said, “don’t make any sudden movements.”
Isla looked past Kendra’s body to see what Cora was worried about. It was the shadow of a great white shark.
“We have to get out of the open,” Cora whispered.
“What about Kendra?” Isla asked.
“We have to leave her. There’s nothing we could do for her now anyways.”
Isla felt sick, but she knew Cora was right. They swam back into the wreckage and looked for an open door. Cora was so desperate to find shelter, she forgot to be careful and cut her hand on a rusty doorknob.
The blood flowed into the water, not much, but it was more than enough to get the attention of the great white. Isla backed away from Cora. It was common knowledge that once a shark caught the scent of blood, it would be driven into a frenzy.
“I’m so sorry Cora,” and she was. There was no way out for Cora, and they both knew it.
“I’m going to try and draw it away. Find somewhere safe to hide, okay?” Cora didn’t wait for a response; she just left. Isla swam towards the room she’d been in before and shut the door behind her. For a moment, it was quiet. And then she heard the screams of someone being eaten alive.
Isla curled into a ball. Her two best friends in the world were dead, and she was stuck in the room until the shark left, and she had no idea when that would be. She’d never felt so alone in her life.
“It must be horrible to lose a friend like that.” Isla’s head snapped up, and she searched the room for the speaker but saw no one.
“I lost friends too.” It was a woman’s voice, but there was something wrong with it. It sounded…hollow, somehow. “They all drowned. Right in front of me. ”
“Where are you?” Isla was terrified. “Who are you?”
“I don’t know,” the voice said. “After my friends died, I died too. You’d think that’d be the end of a girl’s troubles, but not for me.”
“Why not?” Isla asked. She was afraid of the voice but curious about it too.
“It’s bad enough having to die, but it’s even worse when you can’t rest in peace. And yet, my grave is disturbed.”
Isla realized then how disrespectful she’d been. Wearing that wreath as a crown, rifling through the things of the dead. It was a horrible thing to have done.
“I’m sorry,” Isla said, and she really was. “Why don’t you show yourself so we can talk properly?”
The woman appeared, pale blue and semi-transparent. Her eyes were glazed over, just as Kendra’s had been. Isla had heard stories of ghosts haunting shipwrecks, but she’d never believed them, not until now anyway.
The woman reached out for her. Isla backed away, but she didn’t get far before she hit the mirror. Then the woman pushed her, and she could feel the glass bend around her as she fell. It only took her seconds to realize there was no water here.
She gasped, suddenly unable to breathe, and her gills felt like they were on fire. Was this how humans felt when they drowned?
Dark spots danced across her eyes as Isla pounded on the mirror, but she couldn’t get back to the water. The woman’s laugh echoed from the other side of the mirror; it was a cold laugh that seemed to rattle inside Isla’s head, or was that just what suffocating felt like?