All her life Kailani had been told the same thing time and time again.
Mermaids cannot fly.
Whether it was by her parents, instructors, or classmates, they assured her that it was not possible. Yet no matter how many times she was told, no matter how many times she was teased for believing it, whenever she looked to the skies and then back to herself she knew that it was possible. It had to be. The sky called to her and she planned to answer. She dedicated her time researching all that she could about merfolk from myths and legends to biology and different breeds of mermaids. When she was old enough to go out on her own, she left as soon as she could wrench herself from her overbearing parents.
After years of studying and searching, Kailani had found what she was looking for. During her travels she picked up on some rumors about unique spectacle unlike no other. Off the coast of Florida there was a troupe of merfolk known as the Soaring Seafolk, said to be capable of launching themselves higher than any dolphin and soaring like an eagle. She travelled countless miles to catch a glimpse of them and when she couldn't reserve a ticket for their latest show, the dreamer resorted to sneaking a peek at one of their practice sessions.
Out in the Florida Bay, she caught the team in the middle of a training session near a rocky cliffside. Kailani kept her distance and hid behind one of the many rocky protrusions jutting from the water. From a distance, she could make out what they looked like when they were floating still. Their upper halves were human, and even from a distance she could tell they were skilled, well-toned swimmers with strong arms and chiseled chests fitting an Olympic athlete. Aside from making her self-conscious about her own figure, she wondered if they could live up to the hype and actually fly or if it was just all talk. It's not like they had special wings sprouting out of their backs or jetbacks or anything of the sort.
One of them shouted to the others and Kailani thought they had spotted her. She squeaked and instinctively hid behind her rock. When nothing happened, she poked her head out just in time to see one of them race across the water. Their speed was indeed impressive but it was when the performer breached the water that's when she saw what made them special.
Merged along the waist of the leaping mermaid was a long, slim, silver fish body. Along with an aquatic flat tail, they had two transparent sets of fins along their lower half. It reminded Kailani of the wings on dragonflies that would occasionally skim the water's surface near cliffsides and coasts. With their backs straightened and their fins outstretched like wings, the athlete was able to glide through the air like it was second nature. The other performers joined in and flew past their teammates, performing elaborate turns in air, circling each other, and one even managing to pull off a loop de loop. It must have been nice for them to transition from the sea to the sky easily and fly away from all of their problems down below, Kailani though to herself. Kailani felt a kinship with them as if she was meant to take to the skies and glide like them.
Except she wasn't like them. Unlike most mermaids, Kailani was part manta ray. Whereas their skin was a more fleshy, pinkish hue like a human, Kailani's skin was as white as alabaster and her back as dark as the night time sky. She had long flowing black hair on her head along with two horn-like nubs jutting out of her temple. Instead of a regular tail, she had a lithe stinger that many kids compared to a rat tail when she was growing up. What stood out the most about her were the two wing-like membranes that stretched out from her arms down to her waist that made her look like she was wearing a wingsuit. Or like she was a horrific bat monster, as many of her peers pointed out when she was a little girl.
There had to be a secret to their flight. They had drastically different bodies but she saw no difference between her fins and theirs. In theory she should be able to fly just as well as them. It didn't look that hard. All she needed to do was copy their moves and get a running start, or in this case swimming start. So what if she was a slow swimmer and had a dainty little tail? That wasn't going to deter her in the slightest.
She dove into the water and propelled herself forward. Kailani flapped her arms trying to build up momentum and swished her tail back and forth. She pulled back up and aimed straight for the surface trying hard to remember what those other merfolk were doing. Back straight, arms out, ready for flight. Kailani put all her energy into this one task and charged ahead like her life depended on it. This was her moment to prove everything wrong. That she wasn't bound to the sea and destined for the sky! The manta ray broke the surface and….
… got about three ft in the air before flopping face first back in the water. She didn't drop the ball so much as it slipped out of her fingers and it crashed through the floor. There was no denying that was a horrible first try but Kailani wasn't about to give up just yet. Building up some speed, she tried again and the second she leapt she flailed like a chicken for a good three seconds before belly flopping back into the water. It was a pitiful display that one of the performers managed to notice. He stopped his training and pointed to the others where she went. A few seconds later she jumped out again with the same humiliating albeit amusing results.
"Hey Jamie, did you see that?"
"Yeah, what's she doing? Some sort of mating dance?"
"If it is, it ain't doing anything for me."
The troupe stopped everything and a few pulled out their phones to take video and snap pictures of the disturbed mermaid. While they got a laugh out of her attempts, Kailani wasn't in a laughing mood. She was absolutely livid. With every failed attempt, she became angrier and more determined to try again. And again. And again.
After her twelfth failed attempt, she was exhausted. Wading in the water resting her sore body, she could hear the merfolk not too far away mocking her pitiful attempts. It brought back miserable memories she had from her past. At least they weren't calling her names like devilfish. Yet their penetrative gaze left her with a sickening lump in her stomach that filled her dread. She wanted to shout them out but what could she say? Stop laughing at me for copying you? That's no way to act to someone spying on you? If she were half shark than maybe she could have gotten them to stop with one nasty look. Except she wasn't half shark, she was just an embarrassment that didn't belong there. With gritted teeth, she swam down towards the ocean floor where she could wallow in her misery alone. At least she was good at that.
Holding back her tears, she descended to the depths below and kept going even though her arms were still sore from her falls. After she checked to make sure that none of the Soaring Seafolk were following, Kailani noticed a kelp forest beneath her that would make a suitable hiding place. She dove into the the mesh of algae and piloted through the shoots of greenery while the recent haunting laughter remained with her. The reeds continuously smacked her in the face causing her sorrow to mutate into rage. As soon as she found a clearing, she struck the ground and cursed herself.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid!" She shouted into the void. Surrounded by stalks of kelp, Kailani punched the sand causing clouds to rise up and scare off any tiny crustaceans. Her fists hurt from slamming against the ungiving ground but it was the only way to vent her anger. "Why did I think that I could just learn to fly by spying on people? Why couldn't I just wait a week or whatever and get a ticket like a normal person? Why am I so weird!?"
She grabbed her head wanting to pull her hair out in rage but clutched her nubs instead, and got a grim reminder of why she couldn't. Every time she saw her reflection she saw why. She wasn't pretty or colorful like other mermaids and her voice couldn't enchant sailors. At best she was good at startling people at night and making people glad they didn't look like her. The moment she heard about the Soaring Seafolk, she felt like there was someone out there that would understand where she was coming from. It all sounded idiotic the more she dwelled on it.
Kailani wasn't sure what to do now. She had no plan on what to do afterword. What to do or where to go. She tore out a stalk and tore it to shreds before dissolving into a sobbing fit, letting her anger and sadness disappear into the depths of the ocean and get lost in the kelp forest.
Except they weren't lost. Her cries of anger were picked up by another individual in the distance. Someone who's presence blocked the sun and cast a shadow over the entire forest below. Kailani didn't even notice until it was hovering right over her shrouding her from the light. She thought it might be a passing boat but then it occurred to her that at this depth, the only way light could blocked if it was right over her. If she had looked up ahead of time she would have bolted out of there immediately, but she missed that opportunity. She turned around to see a large, daunting figure that was roughly five, maybe six times as tall as her and thrice as wide. All of her anger turned into fear as she felt it's gaze upon her. She knew some merfolk could grow as big as a whale but she had never encountered any until now. Kailani cowered and bundled herself up fearing the worst was about to happen.
"Hey, are you alright?"
"….huh?" Surely she had misheard. That voice sounded much gentler than she would have expected from being like this. Kailani darted up and got a better look at this person.
Apparently this was a gigantic merman with the lower half of a whale shark and the size to match. His upper half was indeed human, albeit chubby for someone of his size but not yet obese, and short, messy blonde hair that suggested he never used a comb in his life or found one large enough to tame his mane. Most importantly, he wasn't looking at her like she was going to be his next victim but sharing a soft smile like a kid on the playground.
"I hope I'm not interrupting anything. I was just on my way to see the Soaring Seafolk practice when I heard you over here."
While she was relieved to see he's not here to harm her, she wasn't in the mood to talk about the Soaring Seapeople. Instead, she dropped down to the ocean floor and lied on her stomach. "Oh...you're going to go see them too?"
"Oh yeah! They're amazing!" He praised, like an overexcited fanboy. "Have you ever seen anyone fly like that? Well I mean, aside from birds... or planes."
"Yeah, they're something alright." She said dejectedly. While she was trying to be polite, this guy wasn't picking up on the fact that she wanted to be alone. Subtlety was not going to get her out of this situation. "Look, whoever you are, I-"
"Oh right, sorry. My name's Sidney. Sometimes I get excited meeting new people I forget to tell them my name. What's yours?"
She pinched the bridge of her nose and paused to take a deep breath. "Okay Sidney, I'm Kailani. Now if you don't mind, I want-"
"Wow that's a pretty name!"
She scoffed at that but judging by his sunny demeanor he probably meant that. "Thanks. If you want to go see your fish friends, you might want to get going."
"Well they're not really...never mind. Sorry again for scaring you."
"It's fine." She turned his back to him and went back to moping. Sidney wanted to keep the conversation going but he saw the signs that she was done with him. He was just about to leave when he managed to hear her mutter to herself, "Usually I'm the scary one."
"You're not scary." He said swiveling his body around. She rolled her eyes and wondered if he was just being naïve or messing with her. If her family couldn't convince her than he didn't have a chance either. Again, she did appreciate the gesture.
"Are you kidding? There's a reason I'm called the devilfish back home."
"Why's that?" Sidney asked, as he came down to her level. He was already getting comfortable laying on his stomach while his tail parted the thicker, tougher strands of algae as if they were blades of grass. It was clear to her it wasn't going to be easy getting rid of this oblivious, irritating guy. So she would have to point out the very obvious features that others have ridiculed her for having.
"Isn't it obvious?" When he shook his head she groaned and facepalmed herself. "The horns? The batty wings? The wiry tail?" She pointed to every one of her features yet none of them even fazed him.
"So? I'm pretty sure there's a human that dresses like that and people like him. I don't think he has a tail but he's got a robin."
"Well I'm not him. I'm just some freaky manta ray. If they aren't scared of me, than they think I'm crazy." She folded her arms in a huff and wondered why she was even telling him all of this in the first place.
"You too huh? It's not easy for me either." Sidney asked with a waiver of sadness in his otherwise cheerful attitude. "Sometimes I forget that I'm a pretty big guy and everyone else isn't." He plucked at a stem of algae roughly ten feet long in his thick fingers and let it float to the ground.
"Oh please, you're just a big teddy bear."
He chuckled and rubbed the back of his head. "Well I do like hugs, but not many people want one from me. You must give great hugs. With your wings it probably feels like getting hugged by a blanket."
For a moment, the corner of her mouth twitched upward. "I bet they are," she muttered. He basically gave the perfect description of the hugs her mother gave her whenever she had a bad day. She could really use one of them but she was miles from home, and all because she wanted to chase a dream that could never come true. There was a moment of silence that followed, neither of them sure what to say next or where to take the conversation. Now that she got her tranquility, she wasn't sure if she wanted it anymore. It's been a while since she had a quality conversation with someone, and from the sound of it the same went for Sidney too. As refreshing as this was for her, it felt wrong to stall him any longer. "You should probably get going before you miss their practice."
"Huh? Oh right. I almost forgot." She was about to wave him off and thank him for the company but then he said, "Actually it's alright. I can see them another time."
"Weren't you just talking about how amazing they are?" If she were in his position, she would want to go watch them than talk with her. At least they could fly.
"Yeah but I can watch them anytime. I never get to talk with anyone nice like you."
"Nice?" She said recoiling at the sincere compliment. The glider had been called many things like creepy, eerie, weird, loner, but not nice. Which would explain why she was flattered by the remark "Well…you're not so bad yourself. I'm sure if people gave you a chance, they'd see you're a real great guy too."
Sidney bashfully looked away appreciating that more than Kailani imagined he would. "Oh gosh, sorry I cut you off earlier. Sometimes I get caught up and talk over people. What did you say you wanted earlier?"
"What I want? Well I want to-" It took her a moment to realize he was referring to when she tried to tell him she wanted alone time. That clearly wasn't the case anymore so she stopped herself before she said anything else but it was too late. Sidney wasn't going to let this go.
"What is it? Tell me, please!" He edged himself closer, invading her personal space with his face. She gently pushed him away and backed up a few feet.
"It's nothing important."
"If it's not important why are you keeping it a secret?"
"Because you'll think it's silly."
"Is it supposed to be silly?"
"Well what's the problem?"
Kailani wanted to tell him why she couldn't but the problem was she didn't have an excuse. From what Sidney has shown, he seemed to be very understanding individual, more so than he people back home and has yet to belittle or judge her in any way. He apparently doesn't have many friends so it's not like he can tell anyone about her insane dream and may actually relate to what she's going through. Plus he'd probably keep asking and begging pretty please until she caved in.
"Alright fine! I…..I want to fly!"
"You mean like the performers?"
"YES! I want to fly like a bird, soaring in the sky, riding on the wind! I've never wanted anything more in my life! I don't care how many times people tell me I can't or that it's impossible, I won't stop until I can fly!"
They was a pause as Kailani panted and waited for whatever Sidney had to say. Although she was concerned that he couldn't even comprehend what she was trying to say. He may be sweet but he's definitely not the brightest lantern fish in the sea.
"Is that all? I can help with that." He answered.
Now, Kailani thought she had prepared herself for any kind of reaction he could give her. She was ready to break down and simplify everything she just said. She was ready to shout him out if he so much as guffawed at her. She was ready for him to offer some empty platitudes meant to cheer her up. What she wasn't ready for was for him to nonchalantly tell her he could make her dream, one that she had spent her entire life pursuing, come true as if it was no simpler than opening a jar of pickles. What could he possibly know about the secret to flying? It was too good to be true.
"You know how to help me fly?" She reiterated, making sure that they were on the same page.
"Oh totally. As long as you don't have a fear of heights. We can do it right now, if you want," he answered, pointing towards the surface.
Instinctively she wanted to scream "Of course I want to! It's all I've ever wanted!" but showed some restraint. After all, this sounded too good to be true. He probably just meant that he was going to give her a ride on his back and make whooshing noises or something. Rationally, if he did know how to do it than she would have heard about this by now just like she heard about the Soaring Seafolk. He couldn't know how to fly.
But what if he did? That thought kept her from immediately turning him down. Well that and because he looked so eager to show her it reminded her of the kids back home showing off to their parents a new trick they learned at school. It was honestly adorable even though he was larger than her entire bedroom and could eat her like popcorn shrimp. Still, the thought of finally living her dream made her tense up. This was so sudden. She needed time to prepare but worried she might be overhyping this. Kailani couldn't set herself up for disappointment again.
Whatever the case, she needed to tell him something. If this was her chance to finally take flight, she had to take it. At the very least, she wanted to humor him and let him feel useful.
"Well….if you say so."
"YES!" He pumped his arms and swished his tail fin like a happy dog. Quite fitting considering he was as hyperactive as a puppy and large like a St. Bernard. Turning around he pointed to his dorsal fin. "Go ahead and grab on."
Kailani reached out but stopped herself from grabbing his fin. If he was telling the truth, she needed a moment to steel herself. She gripped his fin and gave a gentle tug to let him know she was holding. He balled up his fists and swam up towards the surface with his new friend riding on him. For such a large swimmer he didn't go very fast. Which proved helpful to Kailani's stomach as it did summersaults all the way up.
What didn't help was when they reached the surface and he spun around to float on his back. With his arms stretched out and his dorsal fin drifting flat. The manta ray grabbed on to his tail and pulled herself up onto him. None of their surroundings stood out to her. She didn't spot anything that could be used to help her fly. Unless he planned to cast some sort of magic spell on her, there was no way she was going to get airborne. Although based on the little time she's spent with him it wouldn't surprise her if he did.
"You ready Kailani?" he shouted to her.
"Ready? Yeah, I guess. You sure you know what you're doing?"
"Of course. I used to do this all the time with the kids back home!"
"Kids? What are you talking-"
She didn't get a chance to finish because Sidney's tail dipped and then catapulted her off like she was a pebble.
"Told you I could make you fly!" He called out to her, his pupils following her until his eyes couldn't roll any farther back into his head. "Wow, she went a lot farther than I thought she'd...uh oh."
He rolled back onto his front and went after her as she hurtled through the air. The only experience she could compare this to was the time she got swept up in that powerful ocean current. Only she wasn't in the water this time but roughly 25 ft in the air and struggling to straighten herself out. Even so that didn't stop her from flailing her arms as if she could still maneuver about. The wind streamed around her harder than any breeze she felt before, and she had experienced some serious typhoon in her life time. Her fins blinded her vision but what she was able to see gave her her first sense of vertigo.
As she panicked though, the wind caused her fins to billow out and she found her arms being forced out into her normal swimming position. Kailani was freaking out and for once wanted to come crashing down. She wanted to return to the safety of the water where she could plunge deeper than she had ever gone before and spend the rest of her life hiding in shame for even attempting such a foolish act and trusting this complete stranger.
Yet oddly enough, her descent took longer than usual. She wasn't coming down in a harsh crash like usual and was actually getting more air time than ever before. As the situation sank in and she felt the subtle tug of gravity pull her down, she acted swiftly and stopped fighting the wind. She craned her head down and aimed for the water as if she was still beneath the waves and gliding across the coral reefs. She went into a nose dive and was reaching the water a lot faster than she wanted to be. Acting on impulse, she tried to pull out like she would underwater and to her amazement she succeeded just in time to avoid dropping like a rock. With that said, she wound up skipping briefly like a stone tumbling a bit before returning to the depths she was more familiar with. By the time Sidney reached her, she was still frazzled from the landing but otherwise safe.
"Kailani! I'm so so so so sorry, I didn't mean to launch you that far. I never had to launch anyone big like you, just kids. Well at least until their parents told them they couldn't play with me anymore. You're a lot heavier than them. Wait no hold on! I didn't mean to call you fat or anything. Of course you aren't, I just didn't want to toss you onto my tummy or on my face so I tried harder but I messed up! You're not mad are you?" His happy go lucky behavior was gone and now he was trembling before the much smaller mermaid. Considering how she was giving him the stink eye Sidney might have every reason to be afraid of her.
"Mad? MAD! You tossed me in the air without giving me any warning and sent me hurtling all the way over here!"
"So…you didn't like it?"
"Like it!? I was terrified! I've never gone that fast before, let alone gone that high! I didn't know what to do! The wind was whipping in my face, I was soaring helplessly above the clouds…..I…..I felt the wind beneath me for the first time." Her facial features softened as a realization dawned on her. "I didn't just crash. I was able to glide for a bit. I was flying!" The adrenaline was wearing off but now she had hope and excitement coursing through her. Sidney wasn't sure if she was still upset or if he was in trouble. Kailani was giddier than a kid at Christmas, swishing her tail back and forth bouncing in the water barely able to contain her squeals, let alone her excitement.
"Does that mean you're mad?" Sidney asked, flinching and shutting his eyes just in case.
Kailani shot him a look and told him, "Launch me again!"
Now Sidney was getting a taste of the same confusion Kailani suffered earlier. "R-really? Then, you're not mad? A-and you don't hate me?"
If that didn't sound so sad she would have laughed at the absurd notion. "Of course not! Now what do you say? Got another round in you?"
With a smile and nod, Sidney fell back with his arms out and kicked up his tail. Kailani giggled and raised her arms from the ensuing wave he splashed at her. Once he was in position, she climbed back up on his tail and waited for what came next.
Filled with newfound confidence and determination, she responded, "Yeah!"
Clenching her fingers together, she got launched back into the sky again. The rushing wind didn't frighten her as much though the terror was there. As the ocean seemed to shrink the higher she went, Kailani tried to replicate what happened last time. She held her hands out, let her fins puff out, and stopped tumbling. She evened out but something was wrong. Maybe her eyes were playing tricks but it felt like she was higher than before but nowhere as fast. In fact, she found herself falling once more.
Kailani leaned back until she flipped over and faced the approaching ocean. Shutting her eyes, she tried to pull back up but wasn't able to react in time. She dove into the water, but it was a smooth dive thanks to her correction. When she resurfaced, the mermaid was left wondering what went wrong. The mermaid propelled herself back over to Sidney, taking her time to analyze the situation, when it suddenly hit her.
When she climbed on the whale shark, Kailani suggested, "Sidney! Next time don't try to aim so high. Let's try it one more time!"
He gave her a nod and once she was ready, he lobbed her up into the sky. Once she felt that she was at the peak of her ascent, the manta ray unfolded her arms and rode the wind letting out a celebratory cheer as the breeze blew back her hair and dried off the tears of joy trickling down her cheeks. At long last, she knew what it was like to fly like a bird. To fly above the waves instead of hiding beneath them.
Sidney watched with a proud smile as he watched her drift above and faintly heard her laughing. The devilfish tilted her arms and put her skills to the test, circling around her gargantuan assistant, performing dives, and then pulling up just as fast. This went on for another hour, until Kailani was absolutely beat. Her arms were sore and her lungs ached from all her laughter. She rested on her back alongside Sidney, both of them pleased with how things turned out.
"So, did you have fun?" The answer was obvious but he just wanted to hear it from her. Or see it when she nodded.
"I wish you could go up there. You'd love it."
"Yeah….but I don't mind watching. I'm used to watching other people have fun." He meant to reassure her with that but all it did was make her feel bad for the gentle giant. It's a travesty hearing that nobody would give this guy a chance. That's when she got another great idea.
Flipping over and swimming over to him, she placed a hand on his side and asked, "Sidney, what do you want?" The whale shark sat up and gave her a puzzled look. "You asked me what I wanted earlier, so now I want to know what you want. After all you did for me, I want to do something for you."
Sidney was dumbfounded. From the looks of it, either he was incredibly selfless and didn't have any desires or he wasn't used to being asked what he wanted. He tapped his fingers together timidly and looked away from her. She could sense he had an embarrassing request too. "Well….. it's nothing."
"If it's nothing than why are you keeping it a secret?" She said with a knowing smirk.
"You'll think it's silly."
"Is it supposed to be silly?"
"Well what's the problem?"
Caught in his own logic loop without even realizing, Sidney winced a little and finally confessed. "I guess what I'd want is….to have a friend."
Much like her, Sidney had trouble interacting with others and despite his outgoing nature, had trouble socializing due to his intimidating size. Even when he helped others out, they usually ditched him once they got what they wanted. He suspected the same would happen with him and Kailani. At the very least she stayed longer than the others. He was ready for whatever excuse she had to make.
What he wasn't expecting was for her to wrap her tiny arms around the side of his body. Looking back around, he found her trying to hug his side despite her diminutive stature. "Hate to burst your bubble, but you already got one right here." The last time they had a silent moment, it was because neither of them were very good socializing with others. This time, it was because Sidney was overwhelmed with emotion and didn't know where to begin to express his gratitude other than to carefully wrap one of his arms around her. If Kailani wasn't careful, he might end up breaking out the waterworks. It would be worth it though. He's a very sweet, gentle hugger.
"So what are you going to do now? You learned to fly so...what's next?"
She took her hand off of Sidney and scratched her chin trying to figure that out herself. A sudden gurgle made her flinch until she realized it was just Sidney's stomach. "Well dinner wouldn't be so bad right about now. And to be honest, I had a whole list of places I wanted to go and see if any flying merpeople existed. Maybe we can go together and see about finding you a second friend."
"I don't know...what if we don't find anyone?"
"Sidney, come on. It's a big ocean. There's plenty of fish in the sea."
"Well..yeah….it's the sea. Of course there are fish there. Though I guess there are fish in lakes and rivers." Before she could tell him it was a common expression, his stomach rumbled again.
"C'mon, we got a lot of ground to cover. You ready?"
With a smile and a nod, the two dove and went on their search. They may not have any food on hand, they did have each other, a whole slew of places to visit, and a whole new world of possibilities to cover both by sea and by air.