“Please don’t make me,” Alice murmured.
Her brother, Eric, shot her a look and pushed the plate of food nearer to her face. The salt-water fumes charged through her nasal cavity and landed in the pit of her empty stomach. It lurched forward, but came to a prompt stop when it realized it had nothing to give.
She hated fish; she hated seaweed; she hated not knowing where she would ever find a decent meal, again. She did not, however, hate Eric’s ambition. Since they’d been on their own he had provided well above her expectations.
“What is it?” she asked hesitantly.
“I’m sure you don’t want to know.”
That was true. Whatever it was it would sustain her, but for how long? How long were they meant to live this way?
Pushing the dreary thought from her mind, she closed her eyes; took a deep breath; and scooped the mystery flesh into her mouth – gills and all.
Four years later, the world was still broken, but Alice was fierce and strong. She and Eric had become quite the team, only occasionally having brief encounters with other survivors. Mostly they’d make some trades and move on. Groups were not their thing. Eric had become quite the fisherman – and Alice quite the fish eater. Something about the meat fueled her. She was sixteen now and despite the elemental exposure, hard labor, and lack of rest, she had grown into a stunning young woman. She was tall; lean yet muscular, with eyes of emerald and caramel skin that seemed to glow in the sunlight. She looked remarkably healthy, and it was not lost on her that the men they would come across could not help but gawk. She was never in danger though, and seemed to wield a certain power.
It was the mermaid meat. She knew that, now. She gobbled it up happily every night. It seemed there was enough to last a lifetime – or several. It would have to. Consuming the mermaid’s flesh had given Alice eternal life, and eternal wealth. In these times, that just meant she would never starve, again.
Alice was pleased with her vigor, but it panged her to see Eric suffering, so. The mermaid could only be consumed by one; could only offer its powers to one. Eric had given it to his weak younger sister that day on the beach, and was paying the price with each passing month.
Often, Alice thought about what capturing the mermaid must have been like. She envisioned her brother, mighty and heroic, slaying the creature. In her fantasies, it was like a fairytale. But she knew in actuality, it would not have been so magical. It would have been violent, bloody, and monstrous.
The first time she saw a mermaid was the day before the war. It had washed up on the shore near their house, and Alice had been the first to spot it. The creature had a fish tail below, and smooth creamy skin up top – her breasts bared shamelessly. Her eyes were red and dug into Alice’s soul as she writhed and hissed. She even had horns, just like Alice was told she would. She was an omen, just as Alice had read about.
And now that she had consumed her (or one of her kind), Alice herself was the Omen. It would only be a matter of time.
Just before her eighteenth birthday, Eric drifted off to the next world. She committed his body to the sea, whispered well-wishes to his soul, and thanked the heavens that he would not suffer through her transformation. She could already sense it beginning, and she was ashamed of how good it felt.
The air became thick and clogged her airwaves, filling Alice with a thirst that even six years of destitution had never brought on so strongly. Naked, she crawled towards the sea, carried by her throbbing desire to splash about in its coolness. She huffed and puffed until she finally got far enough out to sink into its abyss. Below the surface her legs stiffened and coalesced until she had only one. A stinging sensation over came them as scales fought their way out of the skin that was simultaneously greening in color. The mass that had become her lower body grew a fin and flailed about, thrashing her body with it. A school of fish tried to scoot by, but Alice caught their scent. She could feel her jaw rip open, tearing at the hinges until her mouth hung low and wide. Instinctively, her body lunged towards the fish and she scooped them into her maw, devouring every last one. Her teeth, small but sharp, shredding apart the contents of her meal quickly and effectively.
She looked around; her body and mind screaming for more. She swam deeper and deeper, following a new monstrous intuition deep inside of her. The scent was staggering, and made her tingle from nose to fin. At the bottom of the sea she found it – a man, strung down with rope and a rock in his lap. He looked familiar, but mostly; he looked nectarous.