For my latest NYC Midnight challenge, I was asked to create a short story under 1,000 words for a fantasy genre. The location is a coral reef, and the object must include a watermelon. Super random, I know. Romance is also a genre I’m new to writing. Anyhow, in less than a day, here’s what I came up with:
(by: Catherine Chea)
Trickles of light from above filtered into the deep blue sea. Fauna could see her dark pink scales better under the patches of light; they were still darker than her sisters’. Even the sun’s rays couldn’t give her more radiance.
Fauna was nearly past marrying age. Any older, and soon everyone would call her a bleach, a word sea monsters use this word to describe single, unwanted seawomen because it reminded them of decaying and dead reefs.
“How was Murck?” her mother asked when Fauna returned home from her swim. It was a dark rock cave deep below the coral reefs, a stark contrast from the bright fluorescent anemone covering the exterior.
“Boring. He only talks about seaweed,” said Fauna.
“Sounds like a resourceful and practical seaman,” said her mother. For what felt like eternity, Fauna’s parents had been setting her up on dates, hoping she’d marry someone.
“Meh,” she shrugged.
She hated these dates. They made her self-conscious and sad. She knew she wasn’t beautiful, and that the seamen she was set up with were either desperate–or even, worse, indifferent to her.
“You’re being picky. Give him a chance,” her mom replied, sprinkling their seaweed salad with salt. “It took me many years to fall in love with dad, right dear?” She glanced at her husband for reassurance, who was preoccupied with reading The Indian Ocean. “You know,” she continued, “your grandma used to say—”
“Dolphins?” said Fauna.
“What?” asked her mom.
“Dolphins,” Fauna repeated. Her gold eyes beamed as though she was five, awaiting presents to arrive. Every so often there would be larger animals, even sharks, in the coral reefs. However, they rarely disturbed the sea monsters and minded their own business.
This time, she could hear dolphins.
Fauna took off. She felt adrenaline pulse through her scales. There were five of them, speeding past the cave. Fauna tried to keep up. It was like a competition to see who could swim the fastest.
“Fauna!” she heard her mother’s angry yell in the distance. Fauna ignored her.
Despite soon becoming a bleach, Fauna felt alive when she swam fast like a torpedo. She had always been seen as too aggressive for a seawoman. She loved competition and was one of the fastest swimmers in their coral reef.
The dolphins rose above the surface and dove into the water repeatedly. Fauna had rarely made a presence above the surface; it was far too dangerous risking exposure of her kind to the human world.
She then considered how little time she had left before becoming a bleach. Curse them, she thought. She resented her fellow sea monsters and their traditions.
Fauna copied the dolphins’ movements and propelled herself above the surface, making a leap into the sky and plunging back down. When she was suspended in the air for a moment, she could see a cliffside loomed in the distance. She plunged towards the water again. As she made her way towards the surface, she saw pink floating objects bobbing on top.
“You should try one,” came a voice.
Fauna jumped. Who was that? She could’ve sworn that she was alone with the dolphins the entire time, who then swam passed her while she was in a daze.
A seaman covered in turquoise scales swam in front of her. He had a thin build and a high-pitched voice that made him seem younger than he was. But Fauna could tell from the hardness of his scales that he was about her age.
“Were you watching me this whole time?” asked Fauna, who felt a mix of anger and amusement. He invaded her privacy, but she was also curious why he was so far in the ocean.
“Yes. I mean, sort of.” He blushed. The seaman then swam upwards, reaching for the floating pink objects.
“Here.” He hands one to Fauna while taking a bite into another piece.
Fauna hesitated. The thing looked strange, with its pink flesh and hard green shell. She finally took a bite. It was the sweetest thing she had ever tasted.
“They call these watermelons,” said the seaman taking another bite. “By the way, you swim fast.”
Fauna didn’t know how to respond. Why would anyone take an interest in her? He seemed pleasant and self-assured, and usually, those guys wouldn’t give her a second look.
“I saw you swimming with the dolphins in the far distance and thought I’d say hi,” he smiled. The seaman then introduced himself as Gill and explained he frequents the rock cliff where leftover watermelons were discarded into the ocean.
“Well thanks for the watermelon, Gill,” said Fauna, trying to make a break for it. He made her jittery.
“Wait,” said Gill. “The Summer Coral Festival is in two days. I’m wondering, will you be my date?” he asked. The festival was held each year and celebrated the ocean gods that gave life to the ecosystem.
“No,” said Fauna.
“No? Why not?” asked Gill, seemingly hurt and bewildered.
Fauna couldn’t think of a good reason. She was scared. She knew if she gave this seaman a chance, she was doomed to fail. Eventually, he’ll find a more attractive and younger seawoman and realize that this was all a big mistake. She was rough and unruly and disobeyed rules. The thought of being rejected made her chest hurt.
“Because I may not be your type,” she said.
“How do you know?” he said. “You seem like someone who likes daring adventures. I’d love to spend time with someone like you.”
This was unheard of for Fauna. Growing up, she was told that a desirable seawoman had to be graceful and beautiful, qualities that she didn’t possess. Could they be wrong?
“Okay,” said Fauna, surprised by her answer.
“So, you changed your mind?” asked Gill.
And so, Fauna’s many adventures await.