From the author: A sailor finds himself lost - marooned in between worlds. Not anchored to land or sea, life nor death. His captor is a beautiful and terrible monster. This story was written to a prompt, where the first sentence and final sentence had to be exactly the same. It's influenced by the sea, whose ebb and flow leads everything back to one place.
“These broken bays are mine.”
Her words echo in the wind that skirts along the waves, drawing their message on the cold sand.
The beach is long and curved, turned in to face the slate sea. When she sings, great storms rise and the waters churn and crash and turn the rocks white with foam.
He does not stray far from the water although he thinks there is something in the sky beyond the bluffs. The grasses whip and dance endlessly. She lets him breathe air, but only here on the boundary.
He tries to remember the world he knew before. His thoughts pool, half hidden and glimmering silent. Sometimes he finds memories as he wanders through the kelp forests.
The sensation of sun burning skin. The rise and fall of a ship cutting through waves.
One memory rises above. It comes when he moves between the shore and her depths. The sound of splintered wood breaking and plunging. A frantic gulping gag. The feeling of fire in his lungs. The taste of blood mixed with salt water.
She sings to him in a language of the sea.
She is magnificent and great. Along the sunken shores she takes him, her tentacles pulling and heaving, moving them through her domain. She is amber and gold, blood-red and rough hued. She guides him from the deepest edges of her domain to the caves where she rests.
All creatures here revere her. Small scuttling lobsters and crabs tend to her lair. They swarm in the darkness, moving around and upon her. They move across her skin, picking under scales and grooming her. She allows them reach into her mouth and pluck flesh from between her white fangs.
“This world is mine,” she says and then whispers close. “Ours.”
She leaves something akin to taste in the water. His cold fingers tremble. There is a lingering within his jaw. A flavor in weightlessness.
“You remind me of a world above,” she says to him.
“Do you miss it?” he asks.
Far beyond he watches her hunters. They are ever present, sleek finned with row upon row of jagged teeth. They swim in endless circles, their eyes following him. She pays them little heed.
“Someone. Sometimes,” she says and then turns to him, eyes blazing. “You will come to love this place.”
She slips away and her hunters follow.
He sleeps within rocky caves, carved spaces where he is lulled by the endless tide. It brings forth vivid dreams.
Walking along cliffs lining the brilliant sea. Not alone, but chasing a raven-haired woman, kicking water and laughing. Woods of birch and maple cloaked in mist. A story told in whispers passed between boughs.
These remnants shift and shake like heavy stones. When he wakes he is left with scents and tastes he cannot name. With every night he feels figments of another life. These remnants fade at the edge of his thoughts, as dark and smooth as driftwood.
She hunts at dusk and at dawn. In the days she slumbers.
She allows him to wander, to explore her realm.
He is growing familiar with the feeling of the ocean. The shifting movements of the mass around him are not too unlike the winds above. Deep by the sunken wrecks of ships he feels the constant push, a trade wind. Closer to the shore there are eddies and vortices.
Some days the sun breaks through the mists and he finds himself dancing by the shore, laughing at the freedom her gift has brought him. He allows himself to tumble and crash in the waves, to be pulled back by the currents, lungs filling and emptying, shifting back and forth.
He marvels at his presence in two worlds. Of leaden sky and encompassing sea. Of now and before.
He sits on the shore and faces the water. She is ever present in the crashing of the waves. She sends creatures to him, their jaws red with bounties of flesh and claw. He gnaws and bites at the offering. Her creatures laugh at his efforts, struggling with gristle and pulling bone from his mouth.
She promises him fins and sharp teeth.
He tells her these are not gifts.
“You shall be beautiful,” she says.
The waters warm and rise. Whales come although they give her bays great distance. He hears their song, of mothers calling and children answering.
It stirs something within him. He leaves the kelp forest and returns to the shore. Her creatures hiss and thrash as he passes by.
His head pounds as he crosses the beach. The sound of waves rushes away. His lungs burn. In the distance he sees a lighthouse, a pillar rising above the water. Light flickers and he remembers the sound of a crackling fire. The sensation of fingers entwined.
He reaches further. Away and through the mist he sees little homesteads, weathered wood standing against the wind. He tumbles down a bluff, retching and heaving. Every ounce of air feels squeezed and his face is slick with tears and sand.
The sky is growing dark and lights come on in the homes but he crawls back, dragging himself back to the water and cursing the waves.
Her fury is great. She leaves him deep, guarded by fang toothed sentinels.
He watches her above, her colors flaring and shifting. The seas begin to heave, rolling and twisting. Their surface spills white and broken.
A ship is drawn in, moving to the bay, hurtling away from the open seas. She moves closer to the surface. Her tentacles whip out, pulling at the wood.
Her song is a shriek, a wail of destruction.
“What comes here is mine,’ she roars in a spiral of colors.
He imagines the sounds above. The screams and shouts. The plunging and flailing. The desperate gagging.
The ship is shattered and broken. Beams and bones spill through the water. Her guardians leave, compelled by blood. He swims after them. There is carnage and death. He sees people suspended. Men, women, children. She lashes out at all, tearing and pulling, painting the water dark.
She returns, sweeping in and stirring sand and silt all around. She pushes him into the caves where her scuttling creatures crawl and move across his body. Her tentacles grab him, clutching tight, tearing his skin.
Her mouth is wide, fangs flashing, blood streaming endlessly from within her.
“There shall be no more sky for you. Your place is here with me.”
She leaves him with her servants and slips away.
He waits in the darkness, unable to escape the taste of blood all around.
The wind whips the surface and sets waves dancing. He swims at the top, half-breathing, half-drinking. He makes his way through the waters slowly, reaching the lighthouse.
He thinks of swimming to it. Of clambering up the rocks and knocking on the door. But the waves are too great here. The currents pull and smash against the rocks.
He swims around out past the boundary and into the great bay. The water here is deeper, the currents strong and treacherous. She has warned him not to come here. The air is tight again, so he sinks under the sea. It is murky here. He feels impossibly small.
Something flickers and he turns, floating, arms reaching out into nothing. Again, something moves and he spins, his skin crawling.
The shark bursts forth and slips by him, quickly and is gone. He begins to swim back, moving to the surface. He’s disoriented and needs to find the lighthouse.
The shark draws in again and he swerves, moving as it snaps its mouth close. He watches as another draws in and realizes he is being circled.
Something shudders and he looks down. A great heaving mass rises from below, long inky tendrils sweeping out. They clutch at the sharks, ripping and rending. Blood fills the water and the wild beasts flee. She shrieks, a horrific cry that cracks his skull. He screams out, a few bubbles from the bottom of his lungs spilling forth.
She takes him close, hissing and clutching him near.
It is night and the seas are calm. He walks among the kelp forests, feeling his way through. It is dark and he knows he is being followed, but this is the closest he can come to being alone.
He tries to remember. Tries to draw thoughts of days above, beneath sunny skies. Is it a memory? Is it some past life? Do the people in his mind remember him? He’s not even sure how long he has been here.
He makes his way out of the forest, to the place where the cliffs tumble deep into darkness and the currents race by. It is cold here but the waters keep his followers at bay. He clambers along the edges like a crab, clutching at rocks and pulling himself downwards. Down here, it’s not too dissimilar to the beach. The weight of this world leans into him.
He finds what he has come for. The splintered ribs of a sunken ship. In the almost darkness he sifts through the sands, reaching and grabbing through wreckage. Deep within the caves there are bones. They mix within sands of grey and black. When he pulls the white fragments stir, animated and dancing in slow symmetry.
He takes what he came for and he returns.
He has removed the remains of his clothing, the fabric long since faded. He carries a cloth shirt in his hand and walks naked along the sunken caves. It conceals the rusted metal.
Her creatures shift and spin around him but they leave him be. He has returned, as she bid. With concave eyes they watch him. They see his skin, sallow and raw. They chatter in excitement.
He moves to her cave, to the great place where she rests. She is coiled against the wall, away from the weak light. Her tentacles curled beneath her, red and amber and white.
She does not slumber. He hears her song, quiet and calm and he is filled with a warmth of shallow water and dancing light.
He moves closer, a feeling of shaking in his chest. Does his heart still beat? He’s not even sure anymore. The harpoon blade is heavy, its end dull but still sharp enough to tear. She is massive, her presence swallows him.
She turns to face him, her indigo eyes solid and bright. She smiles, revealing those fine white teeth. She beckons and he comes closer, touching the scales that mark the boundary between torso and tentacles. The small scales are hard and glimmer in the little light.
She continues to sing and the sound sets within him a fire. He imagines something burning within. Driftwood and straw, fabric and cloth. When all is gone only smoke can remain.
She reaches out her long arm and runs it along his neck.
“Ours is a world unending,” she says.
He feels the blade in his hand, rubs his finger along the dull edge.
Her hair spills around him, a golden crown.
He lowers his hand and drops the harpoon blade. It falls slowly, sinking in the silt. He places his hand along her side, runs his fingers to hers. They twine within his, her black claws tenderly touching his arms. He rests his head against her side and closes his eyes, willing her song to continue.
“All things return to the sea,” she whispers.
He feels his body twist and pull, skin stretches and bones crack and pop. He falls away, his back arching. He is drawn out, his jaw crunching and swelling. The cave shudders as his eyes stretch, curving outwards. With every movement he casts aside thoughts of sky and sand and words.
“You are a killing thing,” she says.
He cannot speak in return. He nods and shakes, twists and turns, flicking his strong tail and flexing his jaw. Skin grey and tight, sleek and sensing. Gills pulse and open. He draws in the world and tastes a million essences mixed in the pull. Far away he can feel movement. Prey.
She smiles and runs her hand along his back, tracing her claws along his fin.
His mind leaps free, imagining the feeling of cutting through water, of blood in the water, of the song of the dying. She begins to sing and he knows the meaning. Her words echo and guide him as he travels to the boundaries.
“These broken bays are mine.”
This story originally appeared in Liquid Imagination Magazine.