Navida stood at the edge of the Santa Monica pier, looking down. It was her last visit, her very last gift.
The first thing she’d done was make a list of everything she hadn’t had a chance to do in her other six visits—she’d parasailed and climbed a mountain and ridden a Vespa and egged a house. She’d done almost everything she’d wanted to. She’d even fallen in love.
His name was Shane and he was an artist. He’d even painted her picture—number 47 on her list. She’d spent a thrilling four months with him. She’d tried to tell him what she was, how she didn’t have much time to be with him, but he’d never really listened to her. In the end it was a blessing—he’d left her for an exotic dancer near Marseilles, said she was too young for him, too young for this life.
The things he didn’t know.
She leaned far over the metal railing of the pier. There were warning signs all over as to what you could or could not do, but she climbed up a few bars of the fencing. Down below, the ocean roiled with the high tide, and three salt tears fell silently into the Pacific.
She breathed in the familiar smell of brine, and the wind touched her face, carrying with it a whisper of the world she was returning to. She shivered slightly, even as something deep within her core yearned for home.
The sun was still resting its full weight on the horizon, though, and she had until the last ray sank underneath the waves.
She’d been gone almost too long this time, using up the full twelve months she was allowed. She’d had Christmas in Maui and New Year’s in Rome. Before that had been Vegas, Sydney, Capetown.
A part of her had wanted to slip away in Sydney—the legends of the Barrier Reef and its beauty were no less down below—but she’d still had six months left, and it would have been a long uncertain journey home.
In the distance behind her she heard the delighted cries from the ferris wheel and other rides. She wouldn’t be able to see the lights lit tonight, or ever again. Maybe from very far away—but no, Navida knew she couldn’t do that. It would hurt too much.
The unfairness stung. They were given seven visits. Just that, and no more. Just enough to let you love it all. Let you want to have all of it forever, whenever you wanted it. She’d been particularly foolish with her visits. No—she couldn’t truly say that. She knew there were others who didn’t use them at all, had never been so much as curious, and that was more foolishness than she could stand.
She hadn’t used hers wisely, though. Her first visit, when she was something like nine to the land-people, she’d gotten so scared she’d only lasted a few days. Still, that was one opportunity she would never get back. Now some thirty land-years later, here she was, barely of-age and begging a silent prayer to Neptune to refuse the sun into his kingdom, just this once.
Neptune. If he even existed.
A brace of seagulls flew overhead, their mournful cries echoing against the beat of waves. Another tear fell as she realized how far the sun had indeed fallen. The end of the pier was unusually bare, left to some lonely men, and here and there a pair of lovers.
It wasn’t that she wasn’t looking forward to going home. Part of her ached for the serenity, the quiet, the deep, the brilliant cavalcade of creatures that this world could never fully appreciate. She longed for her secret hideaways. For her family.
Knowing the day was almost at an end, she slipped her hand into her pocket for her last land-ly pleasure. Carefully, almost reverently, she tore the wrapper off a 5th Avenue bar, reveling in the exquisite crunch. She closed her eyes for a moment, appreciating the perfect balance of peanut butter and chocolate, knowing the peanut butter flakes would stick to her teeth.
She ate the candy bar slowly, watching the sky turn from pink to orange to an almost red.
She could never come back. If she did, she’d never be allowed home. A small part of her wondered how bad that would really be. Her hand closed around the locket Shane had given her, a guilty remembrance she would now have to leave behind. She couldn’t bring anything back with her—those were the rules. The ocean had enough of the land-people’s things in it as it was.
The sun dwindled to nothing more than a speck of light on the horizon and Navida licked the last of the chocolate off her fingertips. It was time.
She worked quickly so as not to draw attention to herself. Climbing over the railing, she edged the shoes off her feet and discarded her clothing, throwing it back onto the pier. She took the locket off last and tossed it behind her head, not wanting to know where it landed, as she might be tempted to turn back for it.
She dropped almost silently into the ocean’s waiting arms, the transformation rushing through her, binding her long legs, covering them with glimmering scales and stretching what had once been feet into strong and swishing tail fins.
She took a deep breath—her first true breath in a year’s time. She had to leave this place, there were too many people, boats, fishing lines. For a moment, though, she just looked up through the water at the full moon that already hung over the sky, a moon for a world she no longer belonged to, would never belong to again. What might have been tears above became just more drops of ocean.
Then, with a practiced push of her tail, Navida began to swim. She was going home.