By Josie Hunter
Ember’s hazel eyes flashed open, darting all around. Startled, she tried moving, but discovered that she was floating languidly. Dark blue water seemed to press all around her; Ember felt the absolute weight of gravity. Moss and pieces of trash danced in the water. The lake, she realized.
To her surprise, she wasn’t dead. She could’ve sworn that she would be after the car accident. Ember drove angrily from her boyfr—well, ex-boyfriend’s house—through the pouring rain, swerved on a slick spot on the bridge and slammed into the guardrail, which catapulted her feeble body through the windshield and into the Dell Lake. She wasn’t dead, though. Fortunate or not, she couldn’t decide.
She inhaled a deep gulp of water. Instead of her ribs structuring her torso, slit flaps opened and released the water. Gills?
Ember rotated her head, a sharp pain crippling her movements.
Easy now. You were in an accident, an airy voice said.
Who said that? Ember thought. She began to wiggle her newfound body forward, soon gaining momentum to easily slice through the murky water.
Your guide, the voice responded.
That halted Ember’s swimming. My guide? she asked.
Yes. I am Seaton, Mother of the Living Waters.
Yes, my dear. Now, quiet your questions and go.
Where? First of all, why the fuck am I a fish? How did this happen? Ember shimmied her lithe aquatic body through fallen tree branches and a sunken boat.
Well, you must find the answers. The answer is in the question.
What? Look Fish Mother, just get me out of here.
I’m afraid I can’t do that, my dear.
Ember widened her eyes, the water becoming clearer as she did so. What? What do you mean ‘you can’t’? . . . Hello?!
The voice—Seaton—didn’t respond.
Hello?! Ember yelled in her head, hoping to summon Seaton again.
Ember rolled her eyes and exhaled a breath, a few bubbles tumbling out. She did what Dory in Finding Nemo insisted: she just kept swimming. For what seemed like miles.
For whatever reason, Ember’s life was spared. Or was rather respawned. Although her human life ended tragically, she was granted another life. One of a fish. She wasn’t sure why, but it wasn’t like she could ask for help either. Or at least, Seaton wasn’t providing answers. She just had to . . . go with the flow.
Ember thought of her parents, Millie and Joe. They were simple people. They went to work, tithed at church, and served their community. And repeat. She knew that even if she had the opportunity to explain what happened, they wouldn’t understand. With all due respect, their minds just didn’t stretch that way.
As Ember swam through the dark waters, she felt her mouth open wide and chomp on the school of microscopic organisms. She wanted to gag, but her body rejected her desire. It was her new nutrients, and her new aquatic body was hungry. She had no choice. That bothered her. Ember went on like that—eating anything she came across—for a while. Am I a catfish?
Yes, my dear.
Seaton?! Ember’s eyes widened as she heard the angelic voice of her guide.
Yes, I am here.
Why’d you leave me a while ago? I had questions.
And I told you where you can find your answer.
What? Please stop talking in circles. If I can’t get out of this situation, at least help me understand it.
I have. You must choose to listen. The answer is in your question.
Again, Ember was met with silence.
Ember grumbled and kept swimming. A catfish? Why? What did I do to—then the realization hit her as to why she transformed into the infamous fish. Her ex, Michael.
Earlier that day, Ember drove to his apartment. For the first time. They had carried on an online relationship for several months and he finally demanded to see his girlfriend whom he had come to love. Ember was nervous . . . to say the least. They had actually lived in the same county, but he didn’t know that.
She didn’t look like her dating profile picture either. Her picture was of a beautiful young woman with olive-toned skin, jet black hair that tumbled into curls on her shoulders, and a flirting smirk on her face. Whereas the real Ember had fiery red hair, a thick coating of freckles, and a face recovering from adolescent years of acne. Michael—in real life—was exactly whom he had portrayed online. He had a head full of brown hair, a square jaw with grey stubble climbing down to his hairy chest, and . . . sincere green eyes. Imagine his devastation when he finally met the woman he thought he fell in love with only to realize that the girl online wasn’t real at all. Or at least, wasn’t Ember.
Michael went on a tirade—rightfully so. He demanded to know why Ember had played him. Why she catfished him. Ember hadn’t had the best luck with guys. She had a great personality, but she felt her looks held her back. She could never tame her intolerably curly hair and her face had many dark marks. Ember wanted a guy to like her for her—not her looks, so she tried online dating . . . but with a fake profile picture.
When she saw Michael was real, she felt immensely guilty and sad for him. He broke off their relationship and said he never wanted to see her again. Then she drove off, angry. In the rain. And slid off the road.
And now, she was actually a catfish. Oh, how the tides have turned.