's 2013 Horror Write-off:

"Water World"

Submitted by Irene Vallone

You are driving through the desert.
The sun is setting.  The sky is grey-blue, streaked with a rusty orange.
Your mind is foggy in the heat of a Nevada summer, and you do not admire the beauty.
Your place of employment has sent you on a business trip to Nevada, from a neighbouring state.
Your destination was an awkward distance away.  The drive would be long, but you felt flying was too much of a hassle, and you elected to drive.
You regret that decision now.
You crank up your car's air conditioning.  More lukewarm air billows out.  You suspect your air conditioner is broken.
What a lovely time for that to happen, you think.
You press your tongue to the roof of your mouth.
Your mouth is dry.
You make a mental note to stop at the next rest area, and get some water.
Although who knows when the next rest area will appear.
You wonder how much longer it will be until you reach your destination.
You glance at your GPS.
250 more miles, it says.
You glance at your car's clock.
8:26, it says.
You groan and put your eyes back on the road.

Several miles later, you see a large sign by the side of the road.
It is the first thing you have seen in over an hour, other than empty desert.
As you approach it, it becomes legible.
A blonde mermaid with a green fish tail is painted beside the words.  Her eyes seem to follow you as you pass the sign.
You think about stopping there.
It would be nice to stretch your legs for a bit, you think.
Maybe you can buy a drink there, and quench your thirst.
Whether there's a mermaid or not.

The five miles pass uneventfully.
You see a surprisingly large grey concrete building.
A billboard on the roof reads, DR. DARROW'S WATER WORLD.
This is the place, you say to no one.
You pull into the parking lot.  There are no other cars there.
You step out of your car.
The hot air is still and oppressive.
You head for the double doors of Water World.  Each door has a brightly colored koi painted on it.  You suspect they were meant to look happy.  Their faces unsettle you.
You open the doors and step inside.

You find yourself in a gift shop, mercifully air-conditioned, with pale blue walls and a brown carpet.  Shelves, covered with what appear to be small painted statuettes of sea creatures, line the room.
At the front of the room is a ticket desk, flanked by two doors.
Behind the desk sits a rail-thin man dressed in a navy blue turtleneck.  His skin is almost colorless.  His eyes are hidden by dark glasses.
Hello, he says tonelessly.
You respond in kind, and ask him how much tickets cost.
Five dollars, he says.
You approach him, taking out your wallet, and hand him a five.  He takes it from you silently.
You ask him if there is any water you could drink here.
He says there is a sink in the back room.  You notice he barely opens his mouth to speak.  His mouth is little more than a slit in his face when he speaks.
You thank him.  He leaves through the door to the right of the desk.
While he is gone, you look around the gift shop.  There are no T-shirts, or hats, or bags.  Only shelf upon shelf of statuettes.
One catches your eye.  It's a lionfish.  Your daughter loves lionfish.  This would make a nice souvenir for her. 
You grab the statuette and attempt to pick it up.  It will not budge.  Perplexed, you look at it closer.  It is glued to the shelf.
The man comes back into the gift shop with a paper cup full of water.  You take it gratefully, and swallow the water in one gulp.  You feel much better.  You decide not to ask about the statuette.
Are you ready to enter Water World, the man asks.  
You should probably get back on the road, you respond.
Water World is not so large, he says.  You will be in and out quickly.
Hesitantly, you ask for a map.
You will not need one, he says.  There is only one straight path through the facility.  Take the door on the left.
You thank him and head inside.

The inside of Water World is darker than you expected.
The door you went through leads into a long hallway, lined with small fish tanks set into the walls.  The lights are dim.  The fish tanks faintly glow blue.
You slowly walk down the hall. 
One tank is inhabited by a school of finger-length fish, their skeletons visible through their transparent skin.
The one across from it contains a roundish puffer-like fish, its fins beating slowly as it floats in place.  It stares at you as you walk by.  It looks almost mournful.  You make eye contact with it, and find yourself unsettled.
Managing to break away, you look around the tank for a plaque, or some sort of inscription, to find out what kind of fish this is.  You do not see one.
You decide to move on.  You need to get back on the road.  You shouldn't spend too much time in this place.
You walk quickly to the end of the hall, through the door marked REAL LIVE MERMAID AHEAD, and into the next room.

The next room is darker still.
There are no walls.  Only huge tanks.
The water inside casts wavering, flickering shadows on the ceiling and floor.
The fish inside are large.  Perhaps as long as you are tall.  They stare ahead dumbly as they swim in circles in their tanks.
You feel yourself becoming thirsty again.  You need more water.  You think about going back the way you came and getting some more, but you do not go back.
You walk forward towards one of the tanks.
One of the fish swims toward you.  It opens and closes its mouth blankly.  Its saucer-eyes stare.
You feel strange.  Empathetic.  Although the fish is eerie, you sympathize with its plight, its barren tank home devoid of any rocks or weeds.  You wonder why.
You manage to break eye contact and move on slowly.  You feel its gaze piercing your back as you walk away.

Water World gets darker as you move on.
You wander through pitch-black halls and down empty flights of stairs, lightless and soundless save for the ambient light and sound of the tanks.
Past fish twice your size.
Three times your size.
Five times.
Their glazed eyes stare.
Some angrily, some hungrily, some mournfully.
You are still thirsty.
You feel your skin getting dry.
You feel strange.  Maybe you're coming down with something, you think.
You feel itches on the sides of your neck.  You scratch.  You touch what feel like paper cuts, one on each side.
You look up and see a massive fish, its eyes the size of dinner plates, drifting through the tank in front of you.
Its scales are red-pink.  Its lips are human.
Its tank glows a sterile blue-green.  The water looks cold.  You think about joining it.  Drifting carelessly through the water.  Hydrating your dry skin.
You press your right hand against the tank.  Your fingers are becoming stiff.
You look at your right hand.  A centimeter of webbing is between your fingers.  It was not there before.  At least, you don't remember it.
You look at your left hand.  It matches.
You look at the fish.  It is looking back at you now, with sad unblinking eyes.  Its mouth flaps open and shut.  You get the impression that it is speaking, silently.
You wonder what it has to say.

You find yourself on a catwalk over an enormous pool.  You look down at the water.
The water is illuminated.
A huge fish swims in circles.
It is dark and serpentine.  Something like fifty feet long.
It stares up at you with emotionless eyes.
You fight the urge to jump off the catwalk.  To join the fish in its cool, watery home.  To refresh your drying skin, and quench your thirst in the water.
You fight the urge.
Bewildered, you rush ahead.
What the hell is going on, you wonder.  You need to get out of here now.
The door at the end of the catwalk reads:
Without a second thought, you slam through the door.

You are in a large round room dominated by a circular pool.  Everything is much brighter in here.  Your eyes adjust.
You see the mermaid.  She is erect, her upper body out of the water.  She is facing away from you.
There is a sinking feeling in your stomach.
You try to breathe, and fail.  You make a loud gulping sound.
The mermaid turns around slowly.
She fixes her deadened cue-ball eyes onto yours.  Her swollen, lumpy, sparsely-haired head undulates sickeningly.  Her human-like skin is slick with mucus. 
You cannot breathe.  You feel yourself drowning.
Slowly, you step toward the pool.
You are so thirsty.
Your skin is so dry.
You need water.
You stop yourself, but do not go back.
The mermaid begins to slither towards you.  You hesitantly recoil.
She gasps hideously, like a drowning woman.
You cannot breathe.
You are so thirsty.
You need water.
You take another step towards the pool.
The mermaid's filmy eyes stare into your own.
Dimly, you realize you have not blinked in some time.
Your skin is still drying out.  It feels almost scaly.
You feel itches on the sides of your neck.  You do not scratch.
So thirsty.
Need water.
The mermaid gasps again.
You hear a voice.  Distant.  Muffled.  As though you were submerged.
Need water.
You step forward and fall into the pool.
You are falling through the darkness.
You are breathing.
Your itches are soothed.
You see a dark thin figure at the water's surface for a moment, which quickly disappears.
You pay it no mind.
You are not happy.
You are not sad.
You feel nothing.
The mermaid swims above you.
She gasps again.  You hear another voice.
She pulls you next to her and cradles you like a child.
Autonomously, you begin to suckle.
You dimly feel your joints tightening.
You do not care.