Not Your Finspiration
“Inspirational”... it’s the word that is most associated with my name here at Monster High. Every time I walk down a hallway, I am told about how much I inspire others. I don’t even have to be doing anything. Apparently, just rolling down a hallway and going to classes inspires people.
I get so frustrated with people looking at me with sad looks and telling me that if they were a wheelchair user and had to cope with what I did, they would “just die”. There’s nothing like being told that your life isn’t worth living. So, I take my frustrations out on the track, doing tricks in my chair to keep my mind off of the deluge of sympathy that I get just for being alive.
The only problem is that the more tricks I do on the track, the more people tell me that I am inspirational. I don’t understand why they always think that I only live to inspire them.
I admit, Monster High is a lot better than what I experienced at the Mer Academy. They were disgusted with my disability rather than just viewing me as an inspiration. I was constantly excluded from activities at school because so much of mermaid culture revolves around swimming, and, although i could swim, I was much slower than others because I had to rely on my arms because of my spinal disability. I couldn’t really use my tail since I don’t have sensation from the waist down.
A lot of mer culture revolves around dancing in complicated patterns that needed a tail to articulate, and none of my teachers seemed to want to change the dance patterns to allow me to participate. I was expected to mostly float around away from the dancers and cheer them on.
So, at least here at Monster High, I get to participate in things. I just wish that they made more activities accessible.
I’m an aquatic monster, so it is probably no surprise that I need time in the water. I normally avoid the pools when there are others around so I can have time to float in my own way, which is getting more difficult since we are getting a lot more aquatic monsters here at Monster High with the addition of new monsters from the Great Scarrier Reef. It’s great to see some new aquatic folks, but it puts a lot of strain on pool time.
I was able to get Headmistress Bloodgood to put in a chair lift to allow me to get from my chair to the water, but students seem to react oddly to it when they see it, so I generally keep it in a storage room until I need to swim. I’ve taken to having a lot of midnight swims since I can generally assume that the pool will be free that late at night.
Tonight, while wheeling down the hallway, I didn’t expect to see anyone but Gil Webber was coming out of the pool. He’s normally an early morning swim guy but I guess he was putting in some extra swim hours for the school’s swim team.
“Hey Finnigan! What are you doing up so late?”
“Just getting in some pool time.”
“Oh, I never see you around the pool. We should swim together sometime.”
I really didn’t think he would have a good time swimming with me. He’s a competitive swimmer and probably wouldn’t want to have to wait for me. “Sure, maybe sometime.”
“Hey, I don’t know if anyone has told you but because of the extra aquatic monsters here at Monster High, Lagoona is trying to petition for the school to create an underwater classroom so that we can do a few aquatic specialty classes. We’re still trying to figure out which classes we should ask the school to offer, but I figure there has to be something that we can all learn together and how great would it be to have a classroom where we can all be in our natural element!! No more having to struggle around on land if we can swim, am I right?”
“That sounds pretty exciting!! Ya, keep me in the know about it.”
“Plus, wouldn’t it be great for you to be able to get out of your chair and swim around a bit? You probably zoom around even faster with your tail than you do with your wheelchair.”
I paused. Did he just assume that I use my chair because I am a mermaid and can’t use my tail on land? “Hey Gil, about that...”
“I really hope that you will consider joining the swim team. I know that you have a lot of other things going on with your wheelchair tricks, but this could give you a chance to find a new space for speed, am I right?”
“Sure” I said. I honestly didn’t know how else to respond. He kept talking over all of my attempts to explain that I am not a wheelchair user just because i have a fin. I am a wheelchair user because I am disabled and whether I am in the water or on land, I am still disabled.
I pasted on my I’m perfectly fine with this face and wheeled toward the pool.
“Oh, hey, do you want company because I could probably do with another few laps if you want someone there with you?” Gil hollered toward me.
“No thanks. I feel like a solitary swim if that’s okay?” I said over my shoulder, still wheeling toward the pool.
I pulled the portable lift out of the storage closet beside the pool and wheeled it closer. I grabbed the controls and moved the seat of the lift under me. I was about a foot up from my wheelchair when I heard Lagoona.
“Hey Finnegan, do you have time for a quick swim with an aquatic ghoul? I ran into Gil in the hallway and he mentioned that you were about to go for a dip.”
“Oh”, I said, hitting the switch to move myself back to my chair, “No, I’m okay. I was just getting out of the pool and about to head up.” I really didn’t want her to see me in the pool. Gil was already weird enough about me swimming and I didn’t want to have to take all of the time to explain to Lagoona that I was just as disabled in the water as out.
“But- Gil said he just ran into you... and... aren’t you dry?” Lagoona sounded confused.
“Oh. Is this because you feel uncomfortable using your lift in front of me when you get into the pool... because you shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable. I will leave if you want me to, but I also want you to know that I would never judge you or think badly of you for using a lift or any other accommodations you need.”
Lagoona had a huge smile on her face even though I could tell that she was awkwardly navigating around the question of my disability. I couldn’t help but find it endearing, especially because I knew that she was really trying to be helpful. It was nice of her to offer me my own space, but - hey, she deserved the pool too and if anyone would be kind about my swimming it would be her. She would be nothing like the mer folk back home and their judgement... well, at least I hoped not.
“No no, you have as much right to the pool as I do Lagoona... and it might be nice to have company for a swim for once. There’s just... well, there’s something I might need to tell you first.” I hit the button and started the lift toward the pool again.
“You don’t need to tell me anything you don’t want to Finnegan. If you want to tell me anything, I’m all ears - and fins -, but if its something personal, you don’t need to share.”
The lift lowered me into the pool deep enough that I could hop off of it. I pushed out with my arms, which, I admit, are huge because I rely on my arm muscles A LOT to get around, and started swimming, letting my tail trail out behind me.
“Well,” I said, expecting her to stare at my tail... which she didn’t, “As you can probably see, my tail is disabled inside or outside of the water.”
“Oh, I know.” Lagoona said, still looking at my face rather than at my wail. She dove into the pool and surfaced beside me, “Was I not supposed to know?” She asked.
“Oh...” I was a bit taken aback, “I just thought that everyone assumed that I used my wheelchair because of being a mermaid rather than because I am disabled...”
“Really? Oh, I remember when you first introduced yourself, you described yourself as a disabled mermaid rather than as a mermaid, so I gathered that disability was an important part of your identity. I also know that you have done a few campaigns for rights for monsters with disabilities and even though I know that disability rights are something that everyone should be involved in, it - well, it just seemed more personal for you.”
“Oh..” I was taken aback again... this was getting repetitive of me.
Lagoona’s face broke out into a huge smile... and then faded a bit “You aren’t insulted that I know that you are disabled are you? I just thought it was an important part of your identity.”
“No no, I’m not insulted at all. I’m just a bit... well, shocked. Not everyone listens about disability and a lot of people will just sort of... uh... erase it whenever it is talked about. But, yes, it is a really important part of my identity and part of my struggle for monster equality. I’m really glad that you have noticed.”
I started swimming lanes in the pool, and Lagoona moved to keep up beside me. She didn’t pass me like a lot of the merfolk from home would have, but instead kept beside me, carrying on our conversation.
“Monsters seriously erase disability? I mean, obviously it’s true if you have noticed it, but, wow, it just seems like part of monster experience... and, well, we work so hard in monster society to accommodate all of our different bodies and it is just - frustrating, i guess is the word - ya, frustrating that people don’t think about disability too.”
“Totally. And ya, it happens a lot. It’s like monsters don’t want to think about disability because then they have to look at all of the things that aren’t being done for disabled monsters. I mean, Monster High is great, but it took me coming here for them to put in accessible ramps, create that lift over there for folks to get in the pool, add in door openers (which they still only have for the classes I go to rather than having them on all the doors) and Monster High is a lot better than most places.”
“You are totally right! Even places like the mall don’t have door openers or ramps... what, don’t they want to sell things to everyone. I mean, isn’t that what sales is all about?”
The two of us broke out in laughter and stopped swimming to float for a bit “You are totally right! They are missing out on my hard earned money because they didn’t think of including me. Well, I guess that’s more money for somewhere else then!!”
“You don’t have to answer this, but how were things at home? Did they have more accessible spaces in your village?”
I laughed again “Oh, absolutely not. I mean, I didn’t need ramps because I could just swim through entrances, and I didn’t need transfer bars to get off of my chair because, well, of course I didn’t use one underwater... but I was pretty socially excluded. I feel embarrassed saying this, but I didn’t have a lot of friends at home and even my parents weren’t really supportive of me. They constantly told me I had to keep up and wouldn’t slow down for me. You probably noticed I am a much slower swimmer than a lot of merfolk because I only use my arms to swim and not my tail.”
“I’m okay swimming at any pace. It’s just nice to spend some time in the water talking to a friend” Lagoona beamed at me, “I know mermaids tend to use their fin a lot when swimming and don’t tend to use their arms at all... how did you learn how to swim the way you do?”
“Ya, you’re right. Mermaids don’t really think about using their arms at all when swimming, so I actually learned how to swim from normies” I burst out laughing “How great is that? I had to learn to swim from land folks!”
Lagoona laughed along with me “I can’t even imagine!! I wish there had been sea monster folk like me around. We always use our arms and our legs.” She twiddled her webbed fingers and then pushed her webbed toes out of the water to give them a waggle too.
“You have no idea how often I wish I had webbed fingers! Imagine how fast I could go. As you know, I have a need for speed!” I suddenly surged ahead, swimming as fast as my arms could take me. She laughed and followed. She pretended to get tired and floated to the bottom of the pool. I let myself drop beneath the surface.
“But seriously,” I said, “I think I have such a love for going fast because I was always called slow by the other mermaids. They would say ‘Finnegan Wake... I’ve never seen wake behind this guy’ or ‘Finnegan Wake... maybe it should be Finnegan Wake Up’. I spent the first few years of my life getting pulled around by others until I finally saw some Normies swimming and figured out that I could use the same technique, so I was happy to move, but I really needed to motor! I wanted to make up for all that lost time.”
“Well, at least we can thank the Normies for helping out! I can’t believe none of the merfolk thought to teach you to swim the Normie way.”
“They really don’t think of arms as something to swim with. And they are so tail-centric. They say that they are really made by their tails and that it’s what sets them apart from other monsters. Mermaids are encouraged to tuck their arms close to their bodies when they are swimming for any distance other than a few meters. It’s all about the tail. Have you seen mermaid dances?”
“No, what are they like”
“The focus is always on tail action. The arms are sort of held up above a mermaid’s head like this” I held my arms above my head in a circular shape and immediately started sinking further, so I started paddling again, “and then everything is about the subtle movements of the tail, the waggling of fins, the undulation of the lower body. It’s a tail or nothing game.”
“That must have been tough given how much mermaid culture is focussed on dance.”
“Pretty much, ya”
“We totally need to come up with some creepy cool arm dances!” She shouted excitedly, “I mean... if you are into that?”
“Sure, but I sink whenever I stop using my arms to swim, so maybe I will have to have some creepy cool wheelchair dances.”
“Hmmm.... maybe we can work in a way to keep your arms moving in dance while also making sure that they are moving enough to keep you buoyant? That way you could do some dancing underwater and some wheelchair dancing for the non-aquatic folks?” Lagoona put her feet together and started moving her arms in a complicated swirl that let them dance through the water while also keeping her buoyant.
“Oh, good idea!! And that dance you are doing is fintastic.”
She bowed in the water “Thank you, Thank you! Hm, it’s getting late and we both have class tomorrow. Maybe we could have a midnight swim again tomorrow night? Oh, and would you be okay if Gil came long?”
I paused a moment, “Uh... Gil doesn’t really know... that I’m disabled.”
Lagoona paused in shock “What?! Seriously? He’s one of the people you were talking about who ignores disability.”
Uh oh, I really swam in it this time, “I don’t think he means to. He just thought that I would be able to swim and -“
“And that you are only in a wheelchair because you have a tail.”
My voice dropped to a whisper “Sort of...”
“Ugh!” Lagoona’s normally cheery face flushed dark for a moment and then she restored her smile, “Well, that manster is in need of some education. I’ll talk to him about this.”
“No, no. I should have said something to him before -“
“You shouldn’t have to. It must be exhausting having to constantly educate everyone about disability, especially folks who should know better. If it’s okay with you, I’ll give him a bit of a talk beforehand.” She paused, “Oh, is that okay. I will totally give you your space to educate him if you want, but I just figure that you have to do that so-“
I chuckled, “Yes, it’s okay.”
The sparklers and flares weren’t up on my track. I normally saved them for performances, but I had all of the loops, rings, and jumps set up. I liked to adapt the Skulltimate Roller Maze track so I could keep in the jumps over water as part of my routine. I get a kick out of the idea of people watching a mermaid do jumps OVER the water instead of jumping out of it.
I pushed my chair hard, hearing the tires hum into a roar. I could feel the burn of their rubber through the gloves on my hand. I jammed my hand down hard onto the tire and let my chair start spinning, skidding up into a jump from the ramp. I leaned into the spin, feeling the centrifugal force pushing on me as my chair spun through the air.
This was #wheelunlife.
I just loved the sensation of flying, that sense of gravity finally letting go and letting me swim through the air.
My chair touched down while rolling and I could feel the shock through my body, reverberating through every muscle and bone. I let the momentum carry me up onto the rails and flipped one of my tires up on a rail while I rode through with the other. At the end of the rail, I didn’t let my tire drop but instead dropped my right hand to the pavement and spun my chair in the air, holding my weight and the weight of my chair in one hand. I looked up to see my tires spinning against the sky, adjusted my goggles with my left hand, and brought my chair rightside up, letting it spin a couple of times before stopping it.
My shirt was soaked with sweat and there was a little bit of blood from my elbows from a couple of falls earlier in the day. Falls were sort of a necessary part of Wheel Freestyle. I started to wipe away blood and sweat.
As the roar of adrenaline started to die down, I could hear cheers from a few of the students who had stopped by the track to watch.
Frankie came running up, her hand falling off part way to the track. She held up her other hand in a ‘wait a second’ gesture and went back for her wayward hand, which had started wandering a little bit on its own.
“Whew, thanks for waiting. My hand seemed to have other intentions and I had to wrangle it back in and sew it back on.” Her eyes widened hugely “That... was... amazing!! Every time I see you do stunts I have to pick my jaw up off the ground... not literally though - that part at least seems to stay on.”
“Thank you” I said, smiling hugely as I wiped the last bit of blood off of my arm. I’m so thankful that no matter how many scrapes I get, my tattoos still stay visible under the scars.
“Are you just out having fun today or preparing for a competition?”
“This time I’m prepping for a show that I am doing later this month.”
“That is Voltageous!!! What is the show called? When is it happening?”
I chuckled “It’s called Wheelchair Unbound. It is sort of my little joke because people constantly call me and other people who use wheelchairs ‘wheelchair bound’ and I hate it.”
Frankie frowned, “Seriously, I wouldn’t think of you being bound to your wheelchair.”
“Exactly, it frees me. It lets me move. It doesn’t bind me. It’s not like a cage or something. Anyway, The show is to help low income families afford wheelchairs. Picture this - it is going to have sparklers along the track and I’m going to have glow lights underwater so that when I jump across the water, light will reflect all over me in wavy patterns. I’m going to actually light a few of those rings there on fire. I’ve got some chemical that will turn the fires sort of a blue-green colour -“
“Oooooh I love it! It’s sort of sea themed... but with dazzle.”
“Exactly!! I’m so ridiculously excited about it!”
“Can people from Monster High go to the show? I know I would love to see it and I’m sure some of the ghouls would be interested.”
“That’s the best part. I asked Headmistress Bloodgood and she is going to let us do the show here on the Skulltimate Roller Maze track!!” I chuckled, “I had to sign A LOT of liability wavers - like A LOT A LOT of them - but I think we have everything settled! Honestly, I think the hardest part of this show was the signing! It hurt my hand a lot more than the rubber of my tires will!”
Frankie broke out laughing. “That is Voltageous - I mean, not the signing part... that is boring - but the show being here is great! That way you will know the track really well and I can come to the show without having to ask for a ride there! Oh, hey, speaking of fundraising, have you heard about Lagoona’s plan to have an underwater classroom?”
I was worried about where this was going “Yes, I’ve heard she was thinking of having an underwater classroom. It’s a really interesting idea.”
“I thought so too. Anyway, she talked to Headmistress Bloodgood today and the headmistress said that an underwater classroom isn’t in the budget. She liked the idea but was worried about getting funding for it. I know it’s not the same sort of thing that you normally raise money for, but maybe we could brainstorm about how to raise some funds for the classroom?”
“Ah, if I wasn’t already doing my freestyle wheelchair show here at Monster High, I would offer to do another one, but I’m afraid everyone who wants to see it will already be seeing it for the fundraiser I have planned for wheelchairs.”
“You are right! Okay, let me know if you have any ideas for another fundraising possibility. I will keep thinking through some ideas too.”
“I will definitely think through some ideas.” I looked down at my watch, “But I should get going. I am hoping to get a nap in before heading to the pool tonight. Lagoona is going to teach me a few underwater dance moves and I want to be well-rested. I’m not really much of a dancer.”
“Oh hey, that’s an idea! What do you think about the idea of doing fundraising by inviting people to see an underwater dance show? Lagoona is a great dancer and we have Kala Mar’ri who has done professional undersea dancing and maybe you can try out some of your new dance moves?”
“Whoa, I am way too new to dancing to promise anything. I don’t know if I will be any good at it, but you are right that Lagoona and Kala would be great for something like this. I will ask Lagoona tonight and see what she thinks. I like the idea a lot though.”
“And who knows, you may turn out to be an amazing dancer.”
“Uh, yeah” I hesitated, “Maybe”. I didn’t want to have to tell Frankie about all of the harassment I experienced when I wanted to participate in the mermaid dances back home... and the sour taste it left for me at the thought of dancing. I did really want to dance. I hate when people tell me that I can’t do something and love to prove them wrong, but I felt pretty nervous about dancing and definitely the idea of performing a dance didn’t appeal to me.
“Great seeing you Finnegan and thanks for letting me watch your practice.” She turned back to me and started whispering “oh, hey, I don’t know if you noticed, but you had another fan watching you practice too.” She gestured over her shoulder.
I looked where she gestured, but my other ‘fan’ appeared to have just disappeared. All I saw was a flash of green.
Frankie must have noticed the confused look on my face because she then looked into the direction she was looking and hung her head when she noticed that no one was there. “I swear there was someone there. I don’t know what happened to them.”
I shrugged, “Oh. Weird. They must have left.”
“Oh check it out” Frankie said, pointing to a painting across the wall near where the ‘fan’ was.
The painting was amazing. It featured a wheelchair whose tires had erupted in blue and green flames with a lightning bolt trailing it. It was either someone trying to comment on how fast my chair was... or someone threatening to set it on fire. I really REALLY hoped it was someone talking about my wicked chair jumps and speed.
“Offensive?” Frankie asked.
“No, I don’t think they mean that they want to set my chair on fire. I think they just noticed the fire on my tats and the fire pattern on the wheels of my chair and are trying to comment on how hot my chair is! And I can’t lie, I gotta agree with them.” I said, spinning my chair a few times and then making flame gestures with my hands.
“Then that is amazing. It’s really great artwork too!”
I really hoped that they weren’t painting this as a threat against my chair...
I could already hear splashing from the pool as I approached. It sounded like a lot of noise for just Lagoona and Gil. Maybe their swim practice went late?
I rolled into the change rooms a bit slowly and got changed into swim gear before wheeling out into the pool deck. Gil and Lagoona were fanging out in the pool Kala Mer’ri, who I didn’t really know very well. Kala was spinning in a beautiful dance at the centre of the pool, letting her tentacles spread out and then draw in, her body almost liquid in its movements. Lagoona twirled around with her, arching her hands to push her through the water. I noticed that she wasn’t using her legs and wondered if she was prepping some ideas to teach me. Gil seemed to be mostly content to swim laps, but would occasionally drop down beside Lagoona to twirl her around.
“Hi” I said, in what I thought was a quiet voice, but everyone froze.
Lagoona jumped out of the pool and came over to me, “Hey Finnegan, I hope it is okay that I invited Kala and Gil to join us. Frankie mentioned the idea that the two of you had about doing an underwater dance show to raise funds for the underwater classroom and I thought that since Kala is such an amazing dancer, maybe she could join us and we could try out a few things. Sorry I didn’t ask you beforehand but I couldn’t find you this afternoon. Is it okay if she joins us?”
“Of course. The more the mariner.” I smiled at her. I really hope that Kala turned out to be as understanding as Lagoona was.
“Oh, hey Finnegan” Gil called up from the pool, “I’m really sorry for misinterpreting your use of your chair. As soon as Lagoona mentioned it to me, I realized what a jerk I had been. I should have known that disability was an important part of your identity, especially with all of the work that you do advocating for people with disabilities.”
“Thank you Gil. I really appreciate it. I just feel like disability is an important part of who I am and I really want it to be something that is noticed rather than ignored. Visibility of disability is something that I have been working really hard for.”
“I totally get it and I am so sorry about neglecting that part of your message.”
“It’ll just take me a few seconds to get in the pool.”
Lagoona had already opened the storage closet where my lift was housed and had started wheeling it toward me.
“Thank you,” I called, wheeling up to the edge of the pool. As I strapped myself in and started the lift, I noticed that Kala was looking at me with a look that is all too familiar for me. She looked at me with pity, her eyes downcast as she glanced at me.
Honestly, pity is almost as horrible for me as staring. I get stared at and it always makes me feel like I am in the middle of a circus performance, but when I get looked at with pity, I can almost see the thoughts going through their minds as they think of my life as an embodiment of tragedy, as a life not worth living.
Lagoona didn’t seem to notice Kala’s expression as she jumped back into the pool, doing a few flashy turns in the water but I could feel the young kraken’s sorrowful eyes following me.
“Can I help?” Kala called.
I’m always a little wary of folks who offer to help me before they even introduce themselves.
“No thanks. I’m good here. The lift help put me into the water and then I can just hop off and start swimming.” I smiled, “I’m Finnegan by the way. I know I’ve seen you a few times in passing, but we haven’t really had a chance to meet yet. You’re pretty new here, right?”
She smiled back “Yes, that’s right. I’m from the Great Scarrier Reef.” She paused, remembering that she hadn’t actually given her name yet, “I’m Kala, by the way.”
I hopped off of the lift and into the water, feeling the salt water sting all of my scrapes and cuts from a day of freestyle wheeling. “Youch” I hollered from the sting.
Kala was there in a second, looking along my fin, “Oh are you okay? Is there anything I can do? Do you want me to carry you out of the pool?”
Her tentacles were already reaching out to pull me out of the pool when I said “Oh no, it’s just - I got some scrapes when I was out wheeling today. I’m fine.”
“Oh” she said, looking deflated, her tentacles drifting down.
I couldn’t keep the frown off of my face. I really didn’t like it when people assumed that everything that happened to me was because of my disability. Bad day? Must be because of disability. Lose your balance? Must be because of disability. Say “ouch”? Must be because of disability.
I know she meant to help, but the problem was that everyone just looks at disabled folks like we need help. They can’t seem to think of us as anything other than people who need help.
Lagoona seemed to pick up on my frown. She looked like she was searching for something to say to me, then looked back at Kala. She couldn’t think of a polite way to bring up the awkward assumptions that just happened, so she did what I probably would have done - distracted us. “Oh hey mates, how about we do a quick lane swim to get our muscles loosened and then maybe we can look for a few ways to dance underwater with our arms” she said, jiving her arms through the water and giving herself a little wiggle.
“Sure, that sounds finatastic” Kala said, taking the exit from this awkward situation by flexing her tentacles and shooting forward through the water.
I tried to keep up, but eventually started falling behind Kala. Lagoona and Gil swam toward me, swimming slowly beside me.
“Oh, hey Gil,” I said, “I just realized, you are a fresh water manster. Does the salt water bother you at all? Does it sting or anything?”
“A little bit. I get dehydrated if I am in the salt water too long, so I make sure that I get a few dips in the fresh water pool and I also bring a lot of water with me when I am about to swim. If I am swimming a lot in the salt water pool, I tend to wear my hydration helmet a bit more often.”
“Oh, I’ve seen you wearing it before. I was wondering what it was for. So, it’s like, accommodation technology?”
Gil’s face lit up “Yes. I hadn’t really thought of it before, but it totally is. It’s my way of adapting. I don’t need to use it all the time because I can breathe some air, but sometimes I just need to fill my gills with some fresh water and get oxygen the way my body is made to enjoy it most.”
Kala was already on her second lap, and Lagoona seemed to notice that she wasn’t slowing down. “Hey Kala, do you want to join us for a bit?”
“Huh” She paused in her swim, “Oh ya, sorry. I am just used to swimming fast and I-“
“That’s okay” I cut her off before she accidentally made comments about me being a slow swimmer. I knew that would make things awkward for everyone.
“But, ya, I’ll scoot over to you”
Kala was a really fast swimmer and caught up with us quickly. I couldn’t believe how fast she was with her tentacles. It made sense, squids were pretty quick, and Kala had very similar tentacles to a squid.
“Wow, you are really fast” I mentioned.
“Uh, thank you” Kala had that awkward sympathetic expression on her face again, “You - Well, you - Wow, you’ve got really strong arms, don’t you?”
I chuckled “Thank you! I use them a lot. You’d be surprised how much wheeling around all day builds up the upper body!”
“Seriously man” Gil chimed in “How do you even get through doors with an upper body that huge.”
“Oh,” I chuckled, “I make them build extra wide doors and tell them its for wheelchair accessibility” I winked.
Lagoona, Gil, and I laughed. Kala looked even more awkward.
We calmed down when we noticed that Kala wasn’t joining in the laughter.
“Hey”, Lagoona said, “I’ve been working on a few possible moves for you to dance in the pool. Can we try a couple of things out?”
Lagoona held her legs together, looping one foot over the other and then began to swim with her arms, but instead of just pushing the water in one direction, she fluttered her hands through it, making some small corrections with her other hand to keep her from going in circles. Her hands looped up above her head, making a circular shape above her head before she pulled them down to her sides, pushing the water down and letting her surge toward the surface. She arched her hands, changing the direction of her swim, and then, with a thrust, pushed herself into a series of flips through the water, spinning head over heals without ever using her legs.
It seemed so easy when she did it. It took a lot more practice for me. My tail seemed to keep getting in the way. Every time I went one way, it went the other, causing drag when I was swimming, pulling me off the course that I had hoped to go in.
The arm flutters worked. They were able to keep me afloat, and they looked great, but whenever I tried to do anything that involved turns or spins, it seemed that my tail disagreed with my plans.
I could feel myself getting more and more frustrated. “Okay, I’m done with this, I think. I think we’ve all learned that I’m not really made for underwater dancing.”
“You’re doing great” Lagoona and Gil chimed at once.
“Keep at it” Gil added.
Kala stayed quiet. She had tried to get in on some of the hands swimming, letting her own hands flutter through the water, but her body was already too trained in a certain type of movement and her style of dance involved a lot of tentacle movement.
“I can try again another day, I guess” I said. I really didn’t want to let Gil and Lagoona down. “I just think my tail is purposely sabotaging things tonight and I’m getting pretty tired.” I yawned.
“Do we want to have another swim tomorrow?” Lagoona asked.
“Sure, that sounds great. Gil are you in? Kala?”
“I’m in” said Gil.
“I’m not sure I can make it” added Kala, “I’m not sure I can say up this late on a school night.”
“No worried mate” Lagoona said.
As I got into my lift and started getting raised out of the pool, I noticed another painting. This one was high up on the wall, and I wouldn’t notice it if it weren’t for the lift pulling me up at just the right angle. It was definitely made for me too because it showed a wheelchair again and this one was portrayed underwater with blue wavy lines across it. It showed a merman - which was probably me since there weren’t any other merfolk wheelchair users at Monster High - swimming out of the chair.
Again, I wasn’t sure how to take this. Was someone mocking me? Or were they trying to send me a message? And if they were, what message were they trying to send?
And who would know that I was in the pool or where I put my lift to get into the pool. Everyone who knew that was here at the pool with me.
I didn’t want to say anything to any of the others because I figured it would just increase the awkwardness, but I made a mental note to talk to Lagoona about it when we were on our own again. Maybe she would have some ideas about where I could look or what was going on.
I feel a bit like I get dried out the more stressed I get. I don’t know what exactly causes it, but I think it just may be the amount that I sweat. The same thing happens if I work out a lot - a lot of stress means I need that little bit of extra pool time. And I was both stressed out about the whole underwater classroom idea and the pressure to dance as well as working out a little more than normal to prep for my Wheelchair Unbound performance, so I was pretty dried out.
I decided that I had to take a quick dip at lunch rather than just my usual late night swim. I know that the pool would probably be more full than it is at night, but I needed to get some water on my tail and in my lungs, so I started making my way to the pool.
“Helloooo fellow mer” a voice seemed to come down from the ceiling.
I looked around and then looked up and saw a face peering down at me out of the ceiling. Sirena Von Boo looked down at me. We hadn’t really interacted much even though she was a mermaid... well, half mermaid at least. Her other half was ghost which is why she had the ability to float through the ceiling.
I admit that I had been avoiding her a bit because most mermaids have tended to look down on me for being disabled, but I was curious if her being half ghost meant that she didn’t fall into the mermaid culture trap of putting so much focus on the tail.
“Hi Sirena, are you heading to the pool for a dip too?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Sirena could tend to be a bit flighty at times... and not just because she could literally float through the air, “But since I am just outside of the pool, that must be what I was doing. How about you?”
“I am. I’m a bit dried up.” My swimming experiences with Lagoona and Gil made me a little bit more willing to swim with others now, so I think I could handle swimming with Sirena even though I worried she still might judge me to be less than a regular mermaid... and who knows, maybe she has experienced the same sort of biases that I had because she is half mermaid and mermaids tend to be discriminatory to ‘fusions’. “Hey, do you want to come swimming with me.”
She had already started floating away, distracted by something else that she was pondering, “Sure” she called back and floated in a circle to come back.
I really envied her dreaminess and willingness to drift. I only really drifted when I was travelling fast enough to forget everything, but she seemed to be able to drift at a slower pace, a sort of gentle float down a stream in comparison to my waterfall.
The two of us came out to the pool room and she floated toward the diving board, gently floating to the top. Gravity has no effect on her, so I couldn’t figure out why she would be so interested in diving, but wow did she make a show of it!! She danced through the air as she hurtled toward the pool, spinning and tucking until she hit the water with a minimal splash. It must have taken extra effort to produce the splash since she had a ghostly body that could pass through any object without interruption, and it added a bit of flair to her dive.
I realized that I had been spacing out and watching her dive and had forgotten to get my lift from the storage closet, but someone was already wheeling it out for me. I looked up to see Kala pushing it toward my usual spot silently and avoiding eye contact with me.
I waved “Hey thanks, I can take it from here.” I started wheeling toward her.
She mumbled something.
“What’s that?” I asked
“I can push it for you. You shouldn’t have to push things for yourself. You have gone through enough.”
What had I gone through? I wish that I was actually confused about this. So many able-bodied people view having a disability as a tragedy that someone has gone through.
“I’m good thanks. Don’t worry, I haven’t gone through anything. I was born disabled. I’ve always done things for myself, but thank you for offering help.”
“Oh wow, you’ve always been this way? That must have been so hard. Being a baby and not being able to swim. I can’t even imagine it. Your parents must have - “ Kala caught herself. She must have realized how she sounded, “I’m so sorry”.
“No no, it happens a lot. People tend to assume that things have been really hard for me. You don’t need to apologize for making that assumption, but I just - well, if you could not make that assumption about other disabled people, that would be amazing. Some people get really upset when people view them as wheeling personifications of tragedy.” I laughed awkwardly.
“Oh, I meant, I’m sorry that you had to go through this all your life. Hasn’t it, though - your life, I mean, hasn’t it been tragic? I can’t imagine not being able to swim, especially for a mermaid. No offence meant or anything. Just, wow, it must be tough.”
I could feel myself getting angry. How could she ignore what I just said about people assuming disabled folks are personifications of tragedy?
I was about to say something when Sirena floated out of the water and beside my chair. “Oh, I admit, mermaids can be pretty judgemental - not my mom, of course, she married a ghost, but other mermaids. But, that doesn’t mean that Fin should be treated like a tragedy.”
“Ya, I really am a complete person. I don’t think of myself as a tragedy.”
“Oh of course” Kala said, “I can’t believe how brave you are. I wouldn’t be able to live being confined to a wheelchair. I need to be able to dance and swim.”
“I’m not confined to my wheelchair. My wheelchair keeps me mobile. It doesn’t trap me, it lets me move around. And I can still swim. In fact, I love swimming.”
“Speaking of which, should we take a dip in the pool” Sirena asked, floating between Kala and I. I think she really wanted to stop Kala from saying anything more offensive.
“Oh ya, good point. We are probably running out of time for a swim before classes start back up after lunch.”
I wheeled over to the lift and let it pick me up.
Kala kept looking at me with a worried expression.
“It’s okay, really. You don’t have to worry. I use the lift every day” I swung back and forth a bit, “see, it’s stable”
“Okay, just let me know if you need help.”
It was so wonderful to get into the water and have a chance to swim. I stretched my arms out and just floated for a bit, feeling the water hold me up. It took off some of the wear and tear my body was getting from the wheelchair jumps I had been doing before class this morning... and now that I was in the water, I realized how much I had been sweating because WOW did I ever stink. I looked around awkwardly at Sirena, but she didn’t say anything. She was spiralling around at the other end of the pool.
“Hey,” I called to her, “Lagoona, Gil, Kala, and I are doing a bit of a dance performance to raise money for a new underwater classroom for us aqua monsters. Would you be interested in joining us? You seem to have a natural flow that would really make for some beautiful dancing!”
“Me? Oh thank you! I don’t know. I guess I look like I am dancing. There’s not really any practice or anything that goes into what I do. I just sort of follow the flow and let myself move.”
“That sounds a lot like dancing to me.” I said.
“Oh,” Kala interrupted, “I don’t know. I am a bit worried that - well, dance is something that people really practice, if you know what I mean? It’s great to be able to float in a pretty way, but... well, dance is choreographed. It has some set patterns.” She looked over at me, “But, well, who knows, maybe we can find a place for you Sirena. We’ve been able to find a place for Finnegan, so who knows?”
Sirena stopped her spinning. “Oh, its okay. I really just like moving to my own pace. I’m not really into following a pattern, if you know what I mean?”
“Hey,” I called out, “That’s okay. You don’t have to participate, but I think a little variation can be a good thing.”
Kala seemed frustrated, “Well, I think I’ll grab a quick bite to eat before I head to class.” She lifted herself out of the pool, “Oh, Finnegan, do you need me to get anything for you? I think there are seaweed salad rolls today. I can bring them so that you don’t have to go all the way to the cafeteria.”
“I’m okay. Thanks for offering, Kala.”
After she left, Sirena turned to me, “Does Kala have a crush on you?”
“I don’t think so. I think it’s just the regular ‘disabled people need help’ idea that is getting her going.”
“She doesn’t mean to do anything wrong, she’s just stuck in that idea that I’m an invalid, so she wants to constantly help.”
“Ah.” Sirena said as she spiralled, “I know its not the same, but I get a lot of people looking down on me for being half mermaid and half ghost. They make assumptions about me because I am a fusion, like that somehow I don’t count in either the ghost or the mermaid world.”
“Well, we can be exiles from the mermaid world together! It’s nice to know that someone else gets it.”
“Mermaids can be a bit judgemental. I had to teach myself how to use my ghost ectoplasm to make a splash because they would criticize me when I would swim to the surface because I didn’t make a splash coming out of the water like everyone else.”
“I used to get judged for swimming with my arms instead of my tail”
“Well, at least we have found a place here at Monster High... well, at least the best place I’ve found so far. There’s still some judgement, but the monsters here seem willing to at least learn, you know?”
“Totally. It is sort of weird to be an aquatic monster who lives on the surface, but it is the best place that I have found for me to find some sort of belonging.”
I had a bit more space in my room on campus than other monsters. They had adapted a two person room for me to create an accessible room. Everything was a bit closer to the ground so I could easily reach the top of dressers and there were accessibility bars near the bed so I could lift myself in and out of bed. The door was widened a bit more than other dorm rooms so that I could pass my wheelchair through them. Most of the other rooms were made without accessible doorways and it always sort of irked me. The rooms were made to accommodate any type of monstrous scaritage, but for some reason the school hadn’t even considered the possibility that there might be a disabled person on campus.
I wheeled up to my desk, hoping to get a bit of homework done for my Human Studies class tomorrow when I noticed a note amongst all of my other papers. The note was in the same brilliant florescent colours that the other two paintings were and it showed an image of what appeared to be Sirena lifting me out of my chair to fly.
I flipped the note over, hoping that there would be some words of explanation or an artist’s signature somewhere on the back of the note, but there was nothing. It was as if the person who was writing me wanted to keep everything secret.
I thought about the possibility of going to the Headmistress about this, but it occurred to me that when I got into the pool earlier today the painting of me on the wall was missing. Did the Headmistress have it painted over without even telling me? Or did the artist go back and erase their tracks?
The whole thing made me a bit uncomfortable.
I put the note in my desk drawer, away from the mess on the top of my desk and locked it.
I hoped that would keep the person who was writing to me from getting it... the weird thing is, the door to my room was locked when I got there, so whoever had been in my room and dropped off this note must have had a key.
I know I wasn’t going to be sleeping well tonight!!
I jumped when I heard a knock at my door.
Part of me wanted to swing it open and confront whoever was there, but I admit that I felt a bit nervous about it as well.
“Are you there Finnegan? It’s Gil.” I heard.
I wheeled over to the door and opened it up. “Hey Gil, you... you didn’t see anyone suspicious around here did you?”
“No.... Why?” he asked, looking awkward.
“And other students don’t have keys to student rooms, do they?”
“Not unless you have a roommate. Why do you ask”
“Oh, its just.” I grumbled a bit, “Okay, I feel weird talking about this, but someone keeps painting pictures of me, and now they dropped a picture off on a note... but it was on my desk, so they would have had to get into my room to drop it off.”
“Oh, weird! What did they say? Was it something threatening?”
“No, why would you ask?”
“Oh, it’s just that you look nervous and I don’t think that I’ve ever seen you nervous, even when you are doing backflips in your wheelchair, which would scare the hell out of me.” He looked awkward, “I mean, not because it is a wheelchair or anything about you being a person who uses a wheelchair, just, I mean, any flips like that would scare the hell out of me, but especially the extra weight of the wheelchair and its potential to, you know, squash me, would scare the hell out of me.”
I chuckled, “I know what you mean. And, ya, it’s weird for me to be freaked out by something like this. I just... I don’t know, I wish whoever it is would just be upfront with me.”
“Maybe they aren’t threatening you?” He said.
“What, like this could just be a friendly ‘hey how are you?’”
He chuckled and then switched to a sing-songy voice “Maybeee someone has a cruuuush on you!”
“This is a seriously weird way of showing it!”
“I totally get it, but maybe its just someone who is really shy?”
“I guess, but I don’t know anyone who has been really... crushy... around me.”
“Anyone been spending a lot of time around you? Anyone finding excuses to hang out?”
“Just you and Lagoona.” I turned into a mock serious voice “You two haven’t been crushing on me, have you?”
Gil burst out laughing. “Okay, no, its not us. I admit, I think you are pretty awesome, but I don’t think I have a crush on you. I may have been talking a LOT about your arm muscles, but it is just appreciation, not... you know, crushy interest.”
I laughed along with him, “Okay, but I will still keep my eye on you! Just in case! And yes, you can squeeze an arm muscle if you want” I winked at him.
Gil laughed more “Okay, honestly, I’m totally going to do it, but I want you to know it’s out of envy, not because I have a crush on you.”
He squeezed my left arm, “Damn!! You have some serious guns. I am incredibly jealous!”
I flexed and kissed each of my arm muscles “I have to thank my chair for these babies” I chuckled.
“I feel like I should thank your chair too!” He laughed, “Oh, I almost forgot, I had a reason for coming here. Lagoona said that Kala brought one of her old coaches in this afternoon to give us all a short dance lesson. She’s apparently there now. I know it’s short notice, but do you want to come for a swim?”
“Sure! To be honest, I’m a bit weirded out by my room right now and really weirded out by the letter I got.”
“I totally get it.” Gil smiled, “Can I see the letter?”
“Sure,” I said, wheeling over to my dresser. I unlocked the drawer and pulled out the letter, unfolding it. I turned it over in my hand a few times, but it was completely blank.
“That’s weird” I said, pulling the drawer further out and riffling through some of my other papers just in case the note got mixed in with something else.
“The letter is missing.”
“Did you check down the sides of the drawer?”
I pulled the drawer out completely and turned it upside down, spilling everything onto the floor. I ran my fingers down the edges of the drawer just in case the note got stuck down one of the edges. “It’s totally gone.”
“But you’ve been here the whole time, right?” Gil asked.
“Could you have put it anywhere else?” He asked.
“No, I distinctly remember putting it here in the drawer.”
“Well, maybe some time in the pool will help and clear your head a bit and then you can search again?”
“Sure” I said, noncommittally. I definitely know that I put it in the drawer and I was getting really unsettled by it going missing, but Gil was right, some time out of my room would be a good thing. I didn’t think it would make me any more clear headed or able to find the letter, but I did think that I was getting the creeps from my room and needed a bit of time away.
There was something strange in the air around the pool. It was almost a tangible tension in the air. I wasn’t sure if this was just my imagination because I was feeling so uncomfortable about the letter, but I did notice that my skin was raised in goosebumps.
Gil seemed to look a bit uncomfortable too as we approached the pool. When we came out of the changeroom Lagoona was on the far side of the pool from Kali, who was swimming along with a purplish woman whose lower body was made of octopus tentacles. Her hair was short and white, but still seemed to cast shadows over her face.
I may have been being a bit melodramatic, but something about her made me uncomfortable.
“Oh, hi Finnegan!!” Kala waved excitedly to me. “I’m so glad that you could make it. I really want to introduce you to my... friend... well, mentor... her name is Ursula.”
Ursula wrapped a tentacle around the ladder to the pool, lifting herself out of the water. Her smile was huge and she kept her eye on me the entire time.
“Hello, dear.” She said, extending a hand toward me, “Kala has told me so much about you, and I am so pleased to meet you.”
“She has?” I asked, wondering why she would have said anything about me. Maybe Sirena was right and Kala was the person who had a crush on me, “I mean, hello... Ursula, was it? Lovely to meet you. Gil mentioned that you had taught Kala to dance. Do you have any experience with mermaids?”
“Well, you could say that mermaids are my forte” she chuckled, “And yes, I should be able to get you dancing in no time.”
“Thank you, we really appreciate this.”
“Oh, honey, I am being very well paid for this.” Ursula smiled over at Kala.
“Oh, I’m sorry” Lagoona said from the pool, “We didn’t know that you charged for dance lessons. We don’t have a lot of money but-“
“Oh no, Dear, Kala has already agreed to pay.”
Lagoona turned to Kala, “Oh, we should really make sure to split the cost. We could all chip in. How much is it?”
“Don’t worry Lagoona,” Kala spoke up, “I have already worked out the details.”
“Oh yes” Ursula said, “Our little martyr has already made an arrangement. She’s taking all of this on herself.”
“That doesn’t sound right” I said, worried about the tone in Ursula’s voice.
“It’s okay. I want to do this. I think I can help, and I really want to help.” She smiled at me and then turned her smile back to Ursula, “Besides, I already negotiated the price with Ursula.”
Ursula pulled a huge purse out of the water and began to pull various strange creatures out of it and throwing them into a bowl in front of her. I wondered why she was taking a bit of a break for a snack, but I understood hypoglycaemia, even though we weren’t supposed to eat near the pool.
“Come closer” she gestured to me, and then gestured to Kala.
I wheeled over to her. I wasn’t sure why she wanted me closer to her, but I figured that perhaps she was going to help me figure out how I should be working my arms on land before I went into the water.
I looked down and noticed that she had put her hand on my tail. For most mermaids, this was an intensely private and personal touch, but because of my spinal injury, I couldn’t feel my tail. I looked over and noticed that she had a hand on Kala’s tentacles as well.
Purple smoke was coming from the bowl that Ursula had put her food into and it was billowing into the air. I was worried about setting off the smoke alarms.
Apparently Lagoona had the same idea and she was swimming toward us, ready to splash water on whatever was smoking.
I heard Ursula utter some words in a language I didn’t understand and I could hear a ripping sound. I started to feel incredible pain below my waist. Normally I didn’t feel anything below my waist, so this was terrifying. The pain felt like something was being torn, like muscle and cartilage were being cut deep. I screamed.
I heard another person scream too and dully looked over to see Kala writhing on the edge of the pool, her tentacles dangling behind her. Her eyes were full of tears.
Over our screams, I heard Ursula whisper to Kala “I hope it is worth it, Dear. Don’t forget the terms of our bargain. If he doesn’t carry out a traditional mermaid dance by the end of the week I get both of you for my little collection.
“What did you do to him?!” Kala yelled, “I asked you to make him whole again and you gave him... those”
I looked down at what she was pointing at and saw that the horrible pain I had experienced was my tail ripping in half to become legs. I screamed louder and as I writhed in pain, I noticed that the legs that had grown were twitching and moving along with the rest of me. I screamed more.
“Oh Dear,” Ursula bellowed, “He was already whole. I told you that when you came to me. But you wanted a change, so he got changed.. and plus” she smiled larger, “I’ve always been sort of a leg woman” Ursula burst out laughing and the smoke from the bowl in front of her rose and billowed around her, showing only her eyes and her huge smile.
When the smoke cleared, Ursula was gone, and I... no longer had a tail.
I looked down at my legs, testingly moving my toes and then my knees. I tried to stand up and instead knocked over my chair. This was a lot harder than in those movies where someone is magically transformed into an able-bodied person. My legs didn’t know how to move, and I suspect that they knew on some level that they weren’t wanted either.
“What... did... you... do?” Lagoona hissed.
I looked over and realized that she was asking Kala. Kala was still on the deck around the pool, dragging her body across the ground.
“I- I sacrificed everything to help him out.” She said, pointing to me.
“What do you mean?” I asked, looking across at her from my overturned chair. I was trying to pull myself out of the chair and disentangle my legs that seemed to get twisted and scraped as the chair fell.
“Ursula is a sea witch.” Kala said with tears in her eyes, “I wanted to help you, so I made a deal with her. Don’t worry. It will all be fine. We made a deal. I lose the use of my tentacles for a week, but I get them back when you dance a traditional mermaid dance in front of the school. That was our deal. I didn’t expect her to... well, to give you legs, but we can figure something out.”
Lagoona yelled “Don’t... make... deals... with... sea... witches. It is something we all learn. Why would you do this? How could you do this?”
“But its worth it. Look at him.” Kala pointed at me.
I looked at her, knowing that she would ignore the horror in my eyes and only imagine that things were better for me. “I didn’t ask you to make me able bodied. I have never wanted to be able bodied. I am happy the way I am... was, I mean. You had no right to change my body. You had no right to make decisions for me about who I am. I didn’t want this.”
“Well, no.” She said, “I didn’t mean to give you legs. I wanted Ursula to fix you, not give you legs... but at least you are fixed.”
“I’m not fixed” I screamed back at her, “I wasn’t broken in the first place and I don’t want to be like this. You changed my body without my permission. Why would you do that?”
“I know that you wouldn’t ask for it yourself. You are too kind to do that.”
“No! I wouldn’t ask for it because I wouldn’t want it. I don’t want it! You... you violated my body.”
Kala began crying, “What do you mean? How can you treat me like this after everything I sacrificed for you?” She grabbed one of her tentacles and let it flop to the ground.
Lagoona looked at Kala “This... we need to talk more about this, but I have to ask first: what happens if Finnegan doesn’t dance like a mermaid at the end of this week?”
Kala looked downward, sighing, “Well, we are both turned into these dried up creatures that Ursula keeps in pots around her cave. But that won’t happen! We will be able to get Finnegan to dance by the end of the week for sure. Both of us are great swimmers and we can teach Finnegan.”
“I can’t- I can’t even handle this.” I said, “I don’t know what you were expecting, but it is going to take me a lot of time to figure out how these legs work. I’ve never used legs before. I don’t know how I am going to teach these legs to dance!”
“I’m sorry” Kala said, dejectedly, “You were supposed to get a working tail instead.”
“It wouldn’t matter” I said, “Don’t you realize. I haven’t used a moving tail before either. I would still need a lot of time to figure out how to use a tail.”
“Stop yelling at me!” Kala yelled, “I just wanted to make everything better.”
I shrugged, giving up. Kala wasn’t going to listen to anything I said about changing someone’s body without their permission, or that I didn’t think that being able bodied was ‘better’ than being disabled.
Gil chimed in “Haven’t you been listening, Kala? Finnegan has been telling you that this isn’t better. No matter whether Ursula’s spell turned out the way you wanted or not, you did something against his permission and he didn’t want to be able-bodied. He was happy being disabled.”
“Yeah Kala” Lagoona said in a sympathetic voice, “You need to listen to what Finnegan is saying to you. You made decisions about his body that he didn’t want. You assumed things about him rather than speaking to him. He’s been telling you for a long time that he likes his body the way it is. He doesn’t want to be able bodied.”
Kala’s tears dripped hugely down her face, “What do you mean? How could he not want to be normal?”
“Are any of us normal” Lagoona asked, “When people made assumptions about your dad, the Kraken, how did that feel?”
“It felt terrible, but that was different. People assumed my dad was bad. I didn’t think Finnegan was bad. I just wanted to help.”
“No,” Lagoona said, “You didn’t assume that he was bad-“
I finished Lagoona’s sentence “But you did assume my disability was bad.”
Kala kept looking back and forth between us. “Oh Poseidon, I really screwed up, didn’t I?”
I didn’t know how to answer, and it looked like Gil and Lagoona were in the same position.
“Now we need to find a way to fix all of this.” I said, taking calming breaths.
Gil came over and helped me upright my chair, helping me back into it.
“Is there anyone we know who has some background in magic?” I asked, “Any ideas of someone who could help us figure out a way to deal with a sea witch?”
“Casta Fierce is able to do magic” Lagoona said, pulling out her iCoffin, “Buuuut, she is on tour in Scaris until... at least a month from now.”
“Can we send her a message or something?” Gil asked.
“Sure, but she has a pretty packed schedule. I don’t know if she’ll be able to get back to us in time. I think we should make sure to have some other options available.”
“In the meantime, I should probably get into that pool just in case I need to swim for my life.” I said, incredibly nervous, “Lagoona and Gil, I’m not sure what will happen with these legs once I am in the pool. Could you... would you be okay swimming swimming nearby and holding onto me to make sure that I can swim.”
“Uh, sure” Gil said, hesitantly, but first we should probably do something about... well” He pointed toward my legs.
In all of the confusion and fear around the transformation, I didn’t realize that I was nude in front of them. I didn’t need to put swim trunks on when I had a tail, but now that I had legs, I had genitals that everyone could see. I looked down at them, studying them for a bit with shock and then realized that folks with legs always cover up their genitals. I quickly covered mine up with my hands.
“It’s okay” Gil said, “I have an extra set of swim trunks in my locker in the change room. Do you want to come and get... Oh, right, you need your hand to cover -“ He pointed at my lap and then realized what he was doing and blushed, “Uh, are you okay if I wheel you to the change room and help you get some trunks on?”
“Sure. Thank you Gil. I know this might be awkward for you, and I really appreciate it. Lagoona, could you get in touch with the Headmistress and let her know what has happened. I think Kala may need my spare wheelchair and I think that the Headmistress has one in storage somewhere.”
“Absolutely” Lagoona said. She was turned away from Gil and I, trying not to see us.
I was accustomed to having a tail, and I didn’t normally have to clothe the lower part of my body because... well, it was a tail. So, when Gil passed me shorts, I couldn’t figure out how to get them on. I couldn’t seem to reach far enough to get to the end of my legs. I tried lifting my legs with my arms since I couldn’t really figure out how to get them to lift well on their own. I kept knocking my chair over as I tried to get my legs into my clothing.
Gil seemed to want to help but kept looking away from me, which I figure was probably because he was uncomfortable with the nudity of my bottom half. He also seemed pretty hesitant to touch any part of my body to help me into the swim shorts. He kept awkwardly reaching the shorts toward me and then seeming not to know what to do with them other than putting them between his line of sight and my lower body.
“It’s okay with me if you move my legs and things” I said.
“Thanks, I just... wow, this just feels really awkward. I’m not used to touching anyone’s body like this and it just feels really intimate. I know that it isn’t. It’s just... it feels that way.”
“Okay, I understand. Take your time. I just sort of need help here.” I tried lifting up my leg again with one arm and putting the pants onto it. I managed to twist my leg in such a way that I got it into one of the pant legs, but I twisted my leg in a really painful way to do it. I pulled the shorts up to the base of my chair before I realized I needed to pull them back down to somehow get the other leg in.
“Uh, you sort of need to put both legs in with your shorts at your ankle... and then pull them up.” Gil said. He made a move toward my shorts and then moved away again, “Oh, is there... is there someone else that I can get to help out. I know this is stupid, but I just feel really awkward.”
A green face appeared through the wall of the change room and both Gil and I jumped.
“Hi.” Said the green, translucent person as he continued floating out into the change room, “I’m really sorry for startling you. I just heard what was happening and thought I could help out.”
“Where were you that you were able to hear us?” Gil asked, looking around the room.
“Oh, sorry, I was in the wall... and as I say it, I realize that it still sounds weird. I’m a ghost, so I sort of float through walls a lot”
“Even the change rooms?” Gil asked.
“Ya, that doesn’t sound so great does it.”
“Hey” I said, “Are you wearing spray paint cans on the chains across your chest?”
“Oh ya, about that... I only use ghost paint, so I’m not really vandalizing anything. It vanishes a while after I paint it.” He replied.
I stopped struggling to pull my shorts up. “Wait,... vandalizing?... Are you the person who has been spray painting images of me across school property?”
The ghost began to blush. “Uh, yes. I - I’m sorry, you just seem to have this really cool aesthetic going on with the flames on your wheels and the flame tats on your arms. I just really wanted to paint you.”
I felt incredibly awkward. I’ve never heard anyone gush about me before. I wasn’t used to the attention or the idea that someone was interested enough to paint me. “Uh... thank you, I guess?”
“I’m sorry. I’m a weirdly shy talking like this to... to a guy.”
“Who are you anyway?” Gil interrupted this awkward conversation at just the right moment.
“Oh, uh, I’ve just admitted to being a vandal and... stuff. I’m not really sure I should.... Oh, I guess you can easily describe me and people will know who I am. My name’s Porter. I normally go to Haunted High, but I am here visiting Spectra.”
Porter turned to me again “While I was visiting her, I saw you doing tricks on your wheelchair which were absolutely amazing! I couldn’t believe a solid - oh sorry, that’s what we ghosts call non-ghosts - could fly like that!! It was amazing!!”
“Oh, right!” Gil interrupted, “You are Spectra’s boyfriend! I remember Draculaura and Clawdeen talking about being trapped at Haunted High and about how you saved them there! Nice to meet you in person!”
Porter blushed again as he went to shake hands with Gil. “Yes, I helped them out.”
“But why did you keep painting me and didn’t say who you were or show yourself before now?” I asked.
“Oh” Porter seemed to blush deeper, “I just wanted you to know that you had this whole awesome aesthetic going on and I wanted to paint it.”
“Then why didn’t you say something?”
“I’m really shy”
“Wait” Gil said, “Draculaura and Clawdeen talked about how amazingly outgoing you are. You were chatty with them from the start and flirty with Spectra.... Is this because you are afraid of solids... because we really aren’t out to get ghosts even though I know that those rumours have gone around your school.”
“No, no. I’m - well, I’m not afraid of solids. I - Okay, this is awkward. I’m shy around guys I- well, that I like.”
“Is it because you are a fan of Finnegan’s stunts?” Gil asked.
“No, I - I’m - I sort of...” He suddenly looked at me with a really sincere and vulnerable expression, floating toward me and ignoring Gil, “I - I have a crush on you and I’m really awkward around guys I like.”
“But... you’re with Spectra” Gil chimed in, confused.
“It’s easier with girls. I can be flirty with them, but with guys... well, I don’t know what to expect. The last time I hit on a guy, he tried to punch me... and, well, I worry that talking to a guy about my feelings will... will mean that he ends up hating me.”
I didn’t know what to say. I’ve never had a guy flirt with me before and I didn’t know anything about Porter. But there was something there. I found myself looking him up and down and finding him cute and there was something about his shyness that made him even more adorable.
“I - I don’t hate you. So you don’t have to worry.” I said, to alleviate some of his concerns, “And neither Gil or I would hurt someone because he is attracted to men.”
“That’s true” Gil said, “So, does this mean that you were... like pretending to be in a relationship with Spectra and you’re actually gay?”
I shot him a look. There is a time and a place for a discussion like this and Porter had already said a lot of things that made him vulnerable. I was worried this would be too much.
“Oh,” Porter said, “Sorry, I’m bisexual... I guess I should have said that at some point... or something. I’m sorry, I feel really awkward about this right now. Oh and it’s okay, Spectra already knows that I am bisexual. She is too. We are actually in an open relationship. Both of us are Polyamorous.”
“What does that mean?” Asked Gil, “Is that a bisexual thing?”
“Oh Gil,” I said, “Remember that time that you forgot that I was disabled... this is sort of the same situation. Well, not that you forgot anything, but instead that you are unintentionally offending someone.”
“I’m sorry!!” Gil said, “Ugh, I can’t believe I keep doing this. I don’t mean to offend. I’m just oblivious most of the time. That’s not an excuse or anything, just... well, I don’t think anything bad of you, I just want to figure things out. I’m sorry I keep offending people.”
“It’s okay. I’m not offended.” Porter said, but I could see that he was and that he was tired of having to explain Bisexuality and Poly relationships to another person, “No, you don’t have to be bisexual to be poly. Bisexuality just means that I am attracted to men and women... Poly is different. There are straight people who are poly and there are gay people who are poly and there are bi people who are poly... It just really means that you are non-monogamous... I feel that there are multiple types of love out there and that limiting all of that to one person isn’t fair. One person can’t be expected to be everything... for me, at least.” He looked intensely at me, “Does any of this freak you out? Are you okay? I’m really sorry to drop all of this on you especially since we really just met.”
“No, I’m not freaked out. I’m - okay, I’m a little freaked out. But I am not used to people being interested in me without knowing me first. Also, well, as you can see, I - I have legs now, so I’m still trying to process all of that.”
“I know! And I am so sorry for dropping all of this emotional stuff on you at a time when you are already upset.”
I reached over and touched his shoulder, “It’s okay. I really appreciate you talking to me. I wish you had talked to me before because you seem really interesting and I would have loved to get to know you by talking to you instead of just by your art. I know this wasn’t what you meant, but when I first saw the paintings I wasn’t sure if you were threatening me or not.”
“Oh I am so sorry!! I didn’t mean for you to think that at all. I just - well, I couldn’t find the words to express how I felt, so I painted them. Painting’s sort of the language I go to when I - well, when I can’t find another way to say it. I’m so sorry I made you feel uncomfortable.”
“It’s okay, really.”
I was becoming uncomfortably aware of my nudity, especially around someone who had a crush on me. “Uh, you mentioned when you came in that you could help me with my swim shorts? I would really appreciate it. I’m not sure how these legs really work and... shorts are just confusing. Would it be uncomfortable for you to help me put them on?”
Porter blushed again, “Of course. As long as you are comfortable with it. I came in here when I heard you and Gil talking about trying to get the shorts on and figured that you could use a bit of help.”
Gil waved awkwardly “I’m sorry, I just - I felt really awkward about putting someone else’s clothes on”
“I know, I know” I said, “It’s a lot to put on you and I’m sorry if it makes you feel awkward.”
“Since Porter is here to help, are you okay if I go and check on Lagoona and Kala?”
“Sure” Porter and I both said together.
Gil couldn’t get out of the room fast enough.
“I’m sorry again about all of this.” Porter said, looking up at me with soulful eyes, “Uh, let me help you get your shorts on. I’m just... this will be less awkward that way.”
“You don’t have to be sorry, and I really appreciate the help.” I looked into his eyes, realizing how intense they were. I would normally be put off by someone showing that degree of intense feeling without really knowing me, but there was something there. I understood now that he was trying to communicate with me for a while, just in paint instead of in words. I hate it when messages get confused. I like precision and it frustrates me when things are lost in translation.
I felt him moving my feet into my shorts. There was an odd, ticklish feeling whenever he touched the bottom of my feet and I accidentally kicked involuntarily “Ahhh sorry, I didn’t mean to do that.”
Porter smiled, my foot half way through his shoulder “Don’t worry, I’m a ghost. I can touch things when I want to, but I can also go insubstantial. You didn’t hurt me.”
I couldn’t help it, seeing him there with my weird new foot sticking through him. I had to laugh. I probably laughed a lot more than the situation needed but this whole day was just so bizarre. Fortunately, Porter started laughing too.
He was really adorable when he laughed. His face lit up (and I don’t just mean the glow that ghost students tend to have around them). There was something deeply passionate about his eyes when they were sparkling with laughter.
I leaned forward and kissed the top of his head.
“Are you sure you’re okay with this?” He asked, arching his head up toward me.
I didn’t close my eyes when he moved to kiss me. I could see the rest of the locker room through him, but I could still see his beautiful eyes. He looked intently into my eyes, searching for something and I realized I must have had the same expression.
I could feel his hand on the back of my head, his fingers touching the fin on my head and the tickles sent shivers of sensation down my back. His body was arched over my chair as he kissed me and I could feel the cold of his spray paint cans against my legs.
I blushed. “Um, this is sort of awkward. Could we get my shorts the rest of the way up before we kiss?”
“Agh I am so sorry.”
I lifted myself up with my arms as he pulled my shorts up and then I sat back down in the chair.
He was still blushing “Uh, no problem.”
I kissed him again.
“Well, since you have been involved in this on the periphery... do you want to help us out with how we will solve the dilemma with these legs?”
“Of course. I don’t know how I can help, but I would love to try to help out in any way I can. Oh... you know what? I think I know who can help! Do you know anyone who spends a lot of time digging into everyone’s personal business?”
We looked into each other’s eyes and said together “Spectra!”
“If anyone knows who could have magical powers, it would be her. She is Monster High’s school journalist after all.” Porter said, “You go talk to Lagoona and Gil and I will talk to Spectra and see if she knows any magic experts.”
He flew through the wall before I had a chance to agree.
The Headmistress stood by the poolside. She looked disappointed, but I think that was her regular expression. It’s the only one I had ever seen on her face anyway.... though that may say more about me than it does about her. I did tend to get into a fair amount of trouble.
Kala was already in my spare wheelchair and I was trying to show her a bit about how to navigate in a chair. I was still angry with her for changing my body without my permission, but I also wanted her to be able to navigate.
“I have sent word out amongst my contacts” The Headmistress said, “and I am hoping that we can get some magic users here to help us out with our predicament. The closest person is Scary Murphy, and even though most of her magic has been focussed on fearleading, she does still have some expertise with magic and may be able to work up something to reverse this process. She is consulting her grimoires and then will travel here to assist us. In the meantime, I am going to consult with some of the books in the library to see if there is anything there about reversing a curse.”
“But” Spectra’s voice came through the wall as she floated through and landed beside me, “this isn’t necessarily a curse... it is more of an ill-informed wish... or at least that’s the way that Porter described it to me. So, it occurs to me that the person we need to consult with is Gigi... She has a lot of experience with wish granting and especially with wishes gone wrong! So she may be of help to us.”
“But her powers were diminished after she left the lamp.” Lagoona chimed in, “Are you sure she will have enough power to help us?”
“There’s only one way to find out” Spectra said, slipping away through the walls.
The Headmistress cleared her throat, “If nothing else, she has thousands of years of experience with wish granting, so she may be able to at least give us some advice on where we can go to for help. It really is unfortunate that the lamp is missing because then we could get the help of Gigi’s sister Whisp. She has all of Gigi’s former powers and could be a lot of help in undoing this sea witch spell.”
Gigi and Spectra came through the door, Gigi looking excited, her scorpion-tail like hair flipping as she walked excitedly toward us. Her hot pink colour contrasted nicely with Spectra’s darker violet tones.
“Okay, Spectra told me a bit about the situation here.” Gigi said, “I may not have all of my powers, but I am going to see if the power I do have is enough to change things back to normal. Let’s start with you first Finnegan. Do you want to try wishing for your tail back?”
I admit, I felt pretty worried that something might go wrong here. I was envisioning a tail along with my legs or a tail where my head was or something horrible happening, so I thought about how to phrase this in a way that would get around all of those possibilities. “Okay, I think I am ready. Gigi, I wish to reverse the curse that was put on me to have legs instead of a tail, and I wish these legs would go away and my tail return as it was.”
I squeezed my eyes shut after the wish, biting down on my lip and waiting for a change.
I waited more.
Nothing felt different.
I opened one eye...
The legs were still there.
“I’m sorry Finnegan.” Said Gigi, almost in tears, “Let’s try it again. Maybe just phrase it as one wish?”
I let out a puff of air I didn’t know I was holding in. “Okay. I wish that my tail would return instead of these legs” I breathed out in one large puff of air, holding my eyes shut again.
I could hear Gigi’s frustrated moan.
“Okay, maybe if I concentrate harder?” Gigi said.
“Maybe try to help Kala first and then come back to me?” I suggested. The tension in my body from these attempts at curse reversal was a bit too much. I needed a little breather.... maybe literally since I kept holding my breath involuntarily whenever I started wishing.
I heard Kala’s voice yell out, “I wish that my wish to Ursula was undone.”
I looked down again, hoping that there would be a tail. The legs still lay there, offending me with their presence. They seemed tensed up and the toes of my feet were curled up. I tried to relax them but didn’t really know how. I decided the best thing to do was to ignore them.
“Wait” Lagoona said, “This is sea magic. Maybe we need someone who uses sea magic to undo it?”
“But we don’t know anyone who uses sea magic” said Gil.
Spectra was gliding back and forth, pacing. “Uh... I... might know someone... but I was promised to secrecy.... She’s not really someone who does sea magic precisely... but she does do... well, swamp magic and that’s at least involving water. But I have promised secrecy since I accidentally saw her using it when I was researching a different story.”
“Honey Swamp does magic?” We all asked Spectra together.
She blushed a deeper colour of violet. “How did you-“
“Come on Spectra” Porter teased, “She’s the only student here who is connected to a swamp... and it is literally in her name.”
“Oh darn it! Why do I always do this?” Spectra would have stomped her foot, but it just floated above the ground.
Porter drifted over and put an arm around her, “It’s okay darling, you are a reporter. Your strength is in sharing secrets... but it is definitely not in keeping them.”
“Definitely not” murmured Headmistress Bloodgood.
“Since I accidentally gave away her secret, I’ll go get her” Spectra said, floating through the wall again.
“What are we going to do if I’m stuck like this?!” Kala yelled. “How am I going to dance... like this?” She said in a disgusted tone, pointing to her tentacles.
“Well,” I said, turning to Lagoona, “What if we teach her to use her arms to swim like you taught me?”
Lagoona’s face lit up with its normal cheer. “Yesssss. It’s worth a try. Maybe we can break Ursula’s spell that way too?”
“It’s worth a try” I said.
I helped Kala use the lift to get into the water. Once in the water, she sank to the bottom of the pool, flailing her arms around.
Lagoona jumped in to the water to help Kala at least stay in the shallow end of the pool. No one wanted her to sink to the bottom of the Deep End. It was a lot deeper than most pools... as in we didn’t know where it ended because it was that deep.
I used the lift next, getting myself into the water. I let myself sink down to where Kala was sitting at the bottom of the shallow end of the pool.
“Try moving your arms like this” I suggested, pushing my arms out in shallow sweeps.
Kala couldn’t seem to focus on me. She was panicking at what she saw as a loss of mobility.
“I promise you. You can swim with your arms. Look at me. Look. I can do it. I’ve been doing it my whole life. Just give it a try.”
Kala sucked in some water in a big huff and then watched me for a few moments.
“You are a dancer Kala” Lagoona said, “You’re used to being able to mimic motions. Just think of what Finnegan is doing as a dance move.”
I could see her centre herself. She arched her head up in a dance pose and put her arms up above her head. She lowered them to shoulder heaight and began to scoop water the same way I had.
I could hear her giggle as she lifted herself from the bottom of the pool, her tentacles dropping below her as she rose.
She looked down at them and smiled. I could tell that the sight of them in the water reminded her of their previous state.
She arched her arms and began to twirl and her tentacles spun out from her body in a spiral, arching through the water. She twirled in the other direction and the tentacles spun the other way, pushed out by the centrifugal force of her spin.
Lagoona and I shook jazz hands at her (clapping wasn’t really possible in the water).
Lagoona and I both then took up positions on either side of Kala as backup dancers. She spiralled and we followed her spiral around. We were like underwater spinning tops, whirling and spinning through the water.
All I can say is I was very thankful for all of my experience doing wheelchair tricks because I think anyone else trying to spin this much would have gotten extremely dizzy. It didn’t seem to be a problem for Lagoona or Kala because of their dance experience.
I have to admit, there was a certain beauty to the spinning of our dance even though my new legs seemed to get in my way far more than my tail would have.
We surfaced together to find everyone else at the edge of the pool clapping loudly and whooping at us.
I couldn’t help but smile. The mermaids had ostracized me for my inability to move and dance like they had, but my new friends here at Monster High celebrated my dance.
“Thank you Lagoona” I whispered. I’m not even sure she heard me, but I had to say something. I would thank her in person later on when all of this was over.
Honey Swamp was standing at the edge of the pool with everyone else.
“Okay y’all get ready for a bit of my mama’s bayou potion.” Honey said, pouring a thick, swampy liquid over us.
She must have been preparing it while we were dancing, and it was clear that although Honey was normally all charm, when it came to her magic, she was pragmatic, quick, and prepared.
The liquid clouded green in the water like a bloom of algae, but had bright spots of light in it. I wasn’t sure if these were the shine of bioluminescent plankton or if these were sparks of magic. Regardless, they spread through the bloom of algae like stars in the Milky Way. They sparked green and blue, bright full of liquid brilliance.
I felt a dual urge to swim away from the strange cloud coming toward Kala and I and an equally strong pull to swim into this liquid magic.
Kala and I looked at each other and swam into the bloom. I could feel little sparks across my body, little shocks of magic touching my skin and passing through it inside of me.
“Gigi” Kala called, “I wish things were back to the way they were before Ursula’s spell.”
She clearly wasn’t hedging her bets and wanted to use every source of magic available.
I copied her “Gigi, I wish things were back to the way they were before Ursula’s spell.”
Whether it was Honey’s magic, Gigi’s wish power, or maybe even the fact that we had technically danced in front of our school - well at least a portion of the people from our school - and therefore fulfilled Ursula’s requirements, something worked. Some spark of magic arose from one of the sources because I could feel my legs fusing back into a tail again, and I could feel the pain receding. My tail was going back to the way it was, the way it was supposed to be.
I started to try to swim away from the magical cloud to see if I could see my tail again, but just as I started to move, the algae bloom of green receded, dissipated I to the water and I could see through the clear water to my tail floating beneath me.
Kala began spiralling in the water, flexing each of her tentacles, feeling every inch of their movement.
I smiled down at my tail and ran my hands along its length, touching all of the individual scales.
I heard a splash behind me and realized that the shorts that Gil had lent me were now floating behind me. I was really thankful that they just drifted off of me and floated up instead of being ripped by my tail’s fusion back to normal.
I swam to the edge of the pool where my lift was set up and hit the button to raise out of the water. Kala floated over beside me.
“I am so sorry Finnegan.” She said. She noticed my disappointed look, “No no not that my spell didn’t work. I didn’t mean that. I didn’t mean sorry that you are still disabled. I know that you prefer that. I know that that is who you are. I’m sorry that I ever tried to change you at all. I’m sorry that I tried to make decisions about your body. I can’t imagine what I would do if someone meddled with my body so I am thankful that you were still willing to teach me to dance. You have been far kinder to me than I would have been to someone who tried to change me. Thank you and please accept my apology for everything I tried to do to you.”
“Thank you for your apology Kala” I said, “I really appreciate you telling me you are sorry. It means a lot to me. And I hope that we can still work on a swimming routine together.”
Kala’s face lit up with a smile “Yes! Absolutely! Can we start working on some moves tonight?”
“Well,” I looked over at Porter, “Maybe not tonight. I am hoping I will have a date tonight.”
Porter blushed a deep green and seemed to glow more than he usually did. He drifted over to me and kissed me as my lift pulled me out of the water and onto the pool deck. I felt like we were both ghosts, lifted out of the water and into the air, floating together as the lift brought me to shore. If I could have stopped my lift, I would have set it to hold us in the air together and let us float.
I opened my eyes and could see everyone looking nervously at Spectra.
She seemed to notice all of their stares. “What?” Then she paused for a minute and realized why they seemed to all be shocked “Oh, are you worried I am jealous of Porter and Finnegan?” She chuckled. “Oh, I forgot that most of you didn’t know. Porter and I are polyamorous and in an open relationship.”
“Oh” Lagoona smiled, “Hey Spectra, it looks like you can keep a secret after all!”
Spectra blushed a deeper violet, “Oh, I didn’t mean for this to be a secret. It’s just... well, no one ever asked and I didn’t think it was really.... newsworthy.”
Lagoona smiled up at her “You are absolutely right Spectra. You being poly shouldn’t be news. The exciting news is that a vandal and a stunt man have teamed up... now we are really in for some school highjinks!!”
Headmistress Bloodgood shook her head, “Yes... that is ‘exciting’ news. I can’t wait to deal with that” Her voice was dripping with sarcasm.
“Don’t worry” Porter said, “All of my vandalizing is done with ghost paint. It disappears after a few hours.
“Ya but my stunts last a lifetime.” I said, “They never fade.”
Everyone but Bloodgood laughed. The Headmistress just shook her head and walked out of the pool room.
I can’t wait to take my chair for a spin and try out some new tricks. Maybe I can get Porter to design a great new paint job for my wheel freestyle trick performance Wheelchair Unbound.