The Price of Beauty

The song was as melancholy as it was beautiful, drifting through the air as soft as a forlorn sigh. Charlotte had been out walking in the woods behind her home, as she did every night, when she had first stumbled across the musical trail. Perhaps it was the ethereal quality to the sound that had sparked her interest, or maybe it was the depths of loneliness in the voice that had resonated with her; but she had felt so drawn to the sound that, without a second thought, she had begun to try and track down it’s origin.

That was how she had found herself lost in the dark corridors of an old abandoned factory. the building was cold with the damp which hung in the air, water dripping monotonously onto the concrete floor; the few shattered glass windows which sat high in factory walls were so small, that the moonlight could barely penetrate the dense shadows within.

Despite the unwelcoming surroundings, Charlotte didn’t hesitate in following the pull of the song further into the depths of the factory, down several flights of stairs which led into the basement. The moment Charlotte stepped into the room, the spell of the song released her, and all went quiet. Without the music to fuel her curiosity, Charlotte suddenly felt a lot more tentative; but nonetheless, she continued further into the chamber. The basement glowed with an eerie blue light that seemed to be coming from an industrial sized bulb at the end of the room.

Upon further inspection, however, she realised that it wasn’t a light at all; it was, in fact, a giant fish tank, filled to the brim with water which shined like the sea under the full moon. To Charlotte’s amazement, she found that the tank was not empty; for there, floating deep within the body of water, was a woman.

Charlotte knew that she should’ve been afraid, but she was too enamoured by the beautiful creature before her to feel any fear. Her skin was the rich colour of gold; her long hair, which snaked through the water, was the same deep red of the most remarkable sunset. Those qualities alone would have made her exceptional, but there was one other feature that made her extraordinary: for in the place of legs, the woman had the most spectacular turquoise and silver tail, which glittered and winked in the glow of the water.

The instant Charlotte thought to ask the woman’s name, the answer was somehow planted inside her mind: Melody. Startled by this revelation, she wondered whether the other woman, Melody, could hear what she was thinking. As if in response to her thought, Melody smiled at her, revealing a set of pearl white teeth, and nodded.

Once again, Charlotte marvelled at how unbelievably striking Melody was, with her curvaceous figure and skin adorned with jewel-like scales. Glumly, she noted that no one would ever admire her the way that she admired Melody.

Again, Melody’s voice trickled effortlessly into her mind like a stream of thought: What would you give, to be as beautiful as you perceive me to be?

To that question, Charlotte could only think of one reply: anything.

Melody gave her a complicated smile; then without another word, she reached down, and plucked one of the beautiful silver-blue scales from her tail. She then swam to the top of the fish tank and dropped it over the side into Charlotte’s awaiting hand.

If you wish it, take that scale, and place it upon your skin. Then to all the world, you will appear as beautiful as you believe me to be.

Excited, Charlotte didn’t hesitate to lift up the hem of her skirt and place the scale on the side of her thigh; instantly, it fused itself to her skin, as though it had always been there. Charlotte looked up from where she had placed the scale, and to her own astonishment, she found that her reflection had completely changed. No longer did she feel imprisoned in a body which she could never love: as her once dull brown hair now seemed to reflect all of the colours of the rainbow, and her previously blotchy skin was as clear and bright as porcelain.

Thrilled, she turned to head towards the door, desperate to show her new self off to the world; except, when she went to step forward, the ground came racing up to meet her, and she slammed into the concrete floor.

Dazed, she looked around, perplexed as to what had caused her to fall. It was then that she felt it: the tingling in her legs. She looked down to find a thousand scales in the process of engulfing her lower body, and within seconds she was adorned with a fully fledged tail.

Tears sprung from her eyes, and she desperately tried to pull the scales away from her legs, but it was no use. Then came the pain in her throat, as if each breath was bringing less and less oxygen to her lungs. She clawed at her neck, desperate to relieve the pressure in her chest. She tried to cry out for help, but no words came. She soon began to drift out of consciousness, her eyes fluttering closed.

It was then that a surprisingly strong pair of arms swept her up, and a moment later, she felt a surge of cold water consume her. Air instantly filled her lungs, and she opened her eyes to find herself inside the fish tank.

A girl, completely stripped naked of clothes, stood watching Charlotte through the glass. Her hair was a dark mahogany, her skin a muted olive tone. She was neither beautiful nor ugly, her face not particularly memorable, and yet Charlotte was sure she had seen her before. She wasn’t sure how it was possible, but she thought perhaps it might be…. Melody?

The girl outside of the glass smiled as if in response to the thought, a brilliant flash of pearl-white teeth. Then, she turned on her heel and walked away, leaving Charlotte alone with nothing but the reflection she had always wanted for company.

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