They swam farther down into the city. Erica looked more closely at where she could see light. It mostly depended on whether there were merpeople in the area. They shed their own light. Some of the coral growth or plant life reacted to them, too, shedding soft glow like flower-shaped glow sticks. Erica smiled as she imagined a mellow underwater rave party. With her own golden eyes, she wondered if she was seeing something chemical, electromagnetic, or even body heat.
Aaron and Yurri led her through a growth of towers of elkhorn coral. It almost made Erica weep to look at them—they had to be twelve feet high! Tropical fish that she couldn’t identify swam around them, and plants with translucent tubular leaves grew out of crevices in the rock beneath. What did they look like with her normal eyes? Lumps of gray? Would she even see them at all? They shifted in color from green to blue to purple as the swam past them, back to blue, to green.
“Why did you go to the surface?” Erica asked Aaron.
“I ask myself that every day,” Yurri said. Erica looked at him. He grinned. She remembered her New England relatives, where snark was an expression of love.
Aaron didn’t even notice. “I wanted to know what it felt like to breathe air. I wanted to see snow and climb a mountain.”
“We have snow under the sea,” Yurri said.
“We have ice. Snow’s more fun,” Aaron said.
“We have mountains.”
“But you can’t climb them. We swim down to them, not up.”
“That’s why you wanted to go hiking in the Blue Ridge mountains when we took that weekend away.”
Aaron smiled. “Yeah. Thank you.” She had wanted to go scuba diving. He’d had his heart so set on the mountains that she couldn’t turn him down. He’d made it up to her with scuba a month later.
Other merpeople started coming toward them. Erica stopped counting after she saw ten. They were all shapes and sizes, old and young, some part fish, others part sea turtle, squidly things, and one even looked to be crustacean. Erica would have goggled at them if she hadn’t been curious out of her mind and excited to meet Aaron’s family. She only wished some of her own relatives and friends could be here too—which felt strangely normal to think, which made it feel out of place in this underwater dream world.