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“Do you want to know what war is?” I asked the young, expectant faces around me. They shined up with eager anticipation. Nearly all of them wanted to be in the Army, or Navy, or Marines, or something like that. They nodded excitedly.

“No you don’t.” I told them, all the false excitement gone from my voice. The group I was talking to was about thirteen to fifteen-year-olds, old enough to make their own choices, or so they thought.

"War isn’t fought out where there is coverage. No, that’s something else. If you wanta see war look into the eyes of a soldier on a suicide mission. They are scared stiff; beyond their wit’s end; dancing with Death and flirting with Fate. Look at the face of a person who has to get an amputation with no anesthetic. That is war.”

They looked shocked, I would have been if my dreams had been crushed like this. More than likely I’d just discouraged the lot of these to give up their dreams. I’d always threatened my dad that I would run away to the Army if he didn’t stop hounding me to do something constructive with my time. He never did. So here I am, telling little kids not to join the Army and fight for the dying America.

Nothing against the country, great place. Aside from a few minor details, like America being one of the most glutinous countries, or a high polluter, or other things like that. I love my country but I can’t stand many aspects. Like the lack of a real democracy.

“War is so many things that you people, the average civilian, can’t comprehend. But that’s also life. Any questions?”

A short but muscular blonde kid raised his hand. He was probably about fourteen. “Uh, Miss?” he called out. I nodded to show I had heard. “Why do you say that it’s so bad?”

I tried to control my reaction. Deep breaths are key. “I’ve seen many of my friends die. Some by accident, some by enemies, one by themselves and the thought that they couldn’t go on. If I had the opportunity, I’d never do it again. Everything I do now is affected by the time I spent in the Force. If you can handle that then you should be fine. As long as you can say that watching your friends, or even just people that you care about, die and be fine you’ll survive.

“If you can look into the eyes of the person you just shot for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and have no regret and no guilt and no shame then you’re fine. If you can survive the pressure that’s applied. If you know that every person you kill has, or had, a family and friends and a life before they started to enlist. If that’s alright with you, you’ll have no problem.” His mouth formed a little “oh” of surprise and shock, his eyes widened until there was white all the way around.

“Miss, did any of this happen to you, or are you making it up to scare me? I mean, like, I know it’s not easy but is it really that bad? Sure, your friends will die, but doesn’t everyone?” this was a girl, who looked a bit younger than the average kid here. Her tone disproved that theory quickly, it was the tone of someone who was used to being underestimated- the underdog.

“Yes, most of it. The only one that didn’t happen was the remorse for killing a civilian. That was my friend who committed suicide.” I didn’t go on one of the big speeches that I could have, and really wanted to, because I could tell that it wouldn’t impress her at all the way it had the boy.

“Any more questions?” Not a single person rose their hand. I had to leave; I could feel my past rising to the present again. This would not end well if I didn’t manage to escape soon. “Alright then, thank you all for listening, and maybe I’ll see you around.”

Before I got up to leave I made sure it was okay with the person in charge with a quick nod. She nodded back so I stood up, waved and strode quickly out the door. I made it to my blue Eclipse that was parked outside the meeting place. It didn’t take long to pull the small car onto the freeway and get headed en route towards the beach.

I checked the length of my almost platinum-blonde hair with my right hand. It had grown out nearly down to my waist. D**n. I needed to cut it. Yes, my hair is really light blonde, but I don’t bother to dye it. Once I had, the next day my hair was blonde again. I hate my hair.

I desperately hoped that there were no cops lying in wait for speed offenders. I would be ticketed as much as they could. I was going about fifty miles over the speed limit. Well, they say desperate times call for desperate measures. I made it to the beach in just under an hour.

As fast as I could I parked my car in the long-term parking garage, while making sure not to check the price. I grabbed the denim bag that I always kept in the back and ran to the water’s edge. I wasn’t going to make it. I dropped my bag about forty feet from the edge. No one could see me, there was an almost sheer cliff face where I was running from. The land curved around so that the cliff itself was all but hidden.

I jumped. It was all I could do. I felt my body go stiff and my legs refuse to work, I was changing. My clothes melted away. Literally! My clothes turned to a weird liquid-y substance and fell off my body the way water would fall from yours.

It was a long fall. I didn’t even notice when I hit the water. I had unconsciously put my body at an angle to produce the least wave and sound. I thrashed my legs in a futile gesture of hope. My hope died.

Where my legs should have been was a long, fish-like tail. My attempt to kick my legs had pushed me to the surface and above it. I hit the water in anger. I knew the changes that had happened over the short time from me jumping to me getting submerged. My naked body had stretched out until it felt like a wire. My fingers had lengthened and there was now some webbing, thin and clear, between them. My whole body looked longer and more gorgeous, and nude. When you become a meremaid (or mereman but that’s pretty rare) clothes will not stay on the body with a tail---which can really stink for us modest people out there. The tail that now stemmed from my waist was a beautiful medley of greens, blues, and light shades of yellows. My eyes had changed from normal-looking blue to almond shaped ones that reflected the soul of whoever looked into them…or at least they were supposed to.

It took me a long moment to realize that I was in the other form. I thrashed my powerful tail so I was under water up to my eyes. I felt blood diffuse in my cheeks. Like I said clothes don’t stay on no matter how much you wanted them to. My hair stretched around me like a sea anemone. My eyes scanned the water, hoping no one would notice my floating head and think I was drowning, or notice my bag and take it. The denim bag held clothes and “human food”.

I laughed to myself. At least while I was a mermaid the food was better. That was the only thing on the “upside” I could come up with. This had been going on for years. I guess I should give you some history.

Before I get started on that I want to clear some things up. When you see those drop-dead-gorgeous people at the mall, that might not be one of us. Not all of us are beautiful in real life. I have a large hint of beauty but I’m not stunning. I am stronger as a mermaid but that does not necessarily mean that I am a strong human. Strength does not transfer. When I’m human I can’t go to the lake or the beach and get wet. Water itself doesn’t faze me but having it be water that’s free, as in not someone’s pool, will make me change; I can still shower and all that stuff.

It is possible to be a meremaid even if you weren’t born that way. But it’s not easy to change; not like the vampye or zombie. Most of the time meremaids are only half-breeds. When a meremaid “falls in love” with a man…or on occasion it’s a mereman who falls in love, supposedly, with a human woman.  You all know what happens next...

If you don’t get wet for a long time or you don’t “phase”, depending on what you call it, then your body may do it anyway, even if you don’t want it to. Trust me on that one. It won’t be without warning but deciphering those warnings may prove tricky. You might feel seasick or clammy or something like that. That also varies from person to person.

Now, back to my life.

I stayed where I was for a while just trying to figure out what to do. I was hungry. So logic told me to eat. I plunged under the water and swam swiftly to a hollow cave about six miles off shore. As usual there was a school of silver fish. Chasing them was fun, they all moved in unison so they were easy to catch. My head broke the surface and I devoured the fish hastily. It was delicious. After six more I was sated. I licked my lips they were salty from the fish’s flesh and the water.

I was slightly worried that another meremaid would see me and I’d get in trouble. I wasn’t the most appreciated person, so to speak. I got into a ton of trouble over my life. It hasn’t always been because I was caught doing something bad. Sometimes it was just because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. That happens a lot. I wasn’t anywhere near tired, I propelled myself upwards, floating at the surface, and thought. The cave looked fun.

I swam into it. Something glittered on the ocean floor. With it being me and all, I couldn’t help but dash underwater and scoop it up. Coarse gravel fell through my elongated fingers until all that was left was a bronze-colored, circular pendant and a nearly rusted out chain. There was a strange symbol on the metal circle. It looked like a drop of water, but there was many other symbols inside the raised, tear-shaped spot in the exact center. Finding no better place to put it, I slipped the long, rusty necklace over my head. A long stream of bubbles escaped from my mouth when the cold metal hit my skin.

I continued to search around in the sand for any other trinkets and baubles.  Nothing more came up, I was hoping for something that I could sell when I was human again.  I was disappointed even though I was not really expecting any other things to be uncovered.  A shallow shelf was barely below the water at the far end of the cave.  Mentally, I secured the spot’s position, it could be helpful later on.