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The Deep

By christopher.harn

She floated in from the deep in the middle of the night. She washed in, between the cold, rocky cliffs, with bits of driftwood and crooked wire. Seagulls cackled over her still, leaden shoulders, and her body slipped back and forth with the whims of the briny waves. Her numb hands rested on benign seaweed that gently slipped between her fingers. Beyond the seaweed lay broken seashells and glass; a mosaic of dulled teeth that littered the tiny beach. On either side loomed miles of black basalt walls that defied the frigid, hungry ocean. Clouds hung in the sky, left untouched by the sharp winds that darted between the tangled legions of foamy waves.


She lay there for a while. It could have been minutes, or hours, or even days. Her body danced with the currents in an unconscious duet that seemed bound to the shores of that tiny beach; always moving, but never going anywhere. The in and out of the tides set the rhythm to their comatose choreography. Day and night melded together into an eternal dusk, blurring the ethereal Milky Way and brilliant sun into a single trail of endless light.


If anyone had seen her, they would’ve assumed she was a corpse.


But then her water-logged fingers began to move on their own, without the help of the currents. Her pupils dilated in her caramel eyes, and she brushed away the sand that caked her eyelids. Expression poured into her gaunt cheeks. Slowly, her legs found the rocky earth below them, and pushed her away from the water’s perpetual turbulence. She dragged herself to the shore, out of the shallows, and breathed deeply as the coast slowly came into focus.


Whatever her clothes had been, they’d been reduced to rags. The color had been bled out of them, and they had become loose and full of holes. Her shirt flapped aimlessly in the wind. Her soggy shoes squished with every cautious step away from the sea, as she ascended the cliffs to the forest above them.


She sat under a tree on the shoreline, her mind a haze of half-ideas and empty thoughts. The rocks felt foreign. The trees were like nothing she could remember. The briny smell of the ocean was ineffably different. Everything seemed alien. Her mind felt hollow, and she seemed unable to find the words to say anything. A single memory- her only memory- danced at her mind’s periphery, but she pushed it aside as she tried to come to terms with the world around her. She had no idea if she was on an island or a peninsula. Maybe neither.


She heard voices coming from the rocks and the wind. She didn’t understand a word of their sharp, crackly language, and yet their message seemed clear: “You are dead. Unequivocally dead. Regardless of whether this is some sort of afterlife or stray neurons in a dying fit, you are dead. Somewhere in the world, you lie rotting.” More voices joined in the inanimate chorus, until the world had devolved into an endless ensemble of mouths. Everything spoke in unison.


It was only when she realized that her throat felt like sandpaper that it dawned on her; she hadn’t had food or water in days. Her eyes slowly turned to the woods, through the tall ferns and unending patches of thick, thorny brambles. Maybe there was a stream in there, somewhere. She lifted herself up, back onto her feet. The branches watched on indifferently as she stumbled beneath their perforated canopy. As the distance between her and the ocean grew, the sharp, salty smell of the brine faded away. In its place she smelled pollen, and pine, and dead leaves. The voices of the rocks, and sea breeze, and waves were replaced by those of quivering leaves and chattering birds.


The stream sounded like music as she approached it, and she quickened her pace as the lapping currents grew louder and louder. When she arrived at its bank and touched the cool, clear water, the voices seemed to fade. When she cupped her hands and poured the water between her leathery, dry lips, they dwindled even more. When she felt sick from drinking so much, the voices evaporated altogether. Regardless of whether they were right or wrong, their message wasn’t lost on her.


Sprawled out on the soft clay of the stream bank, she turned back to that singular memory from before the beach cliffs.


Everything had been black. There was no smell, no sound. She couldn’t feel her own limbs. Lost in a senseless limbo, there was nothing. She simply was. Maybe the voices were right. Maybe she was dead.


The murmuring ripples of the stream sang lullabies as she dwelled on her only memory, and before long she was asleep.


She had no idea how long she’d been asleep for, but the sun was in the middle of the sky when she awoke. She spent most of the day gathering raspberries, whose vines formed huge, tangled mats of prickers. By the end of the day, her hands were covered in scratches and her stomach was full.


She meandered back to the cliffs and the ocean, her state of mind much clearer than before. From the cliffs, she could see everything she’d missed in her ascent from the waves. There were water-logged boxes, and bits of plastic, and metal containers that littered the small beach. The sun was starting to set, and there wasn’t much time to pilfer through the debris. Everything was a formless husk of whatever it had once been, and there was nothing she could find of any use. She’d given up hope of finding anything, when her gaze turned to a red box swaying with the waves. A plastic first aid box.


She waited until she was back at the top of the cliffs before she opened her prize. The insides of the box were dry, and she found band-aids, antiseptic, matches, and...a gun? No...wait...a flare gun. The sun had set, and the sky glowed orange. By the time it was dark, she’d lit a small fire. She ran her fingers along the smooth metallic surface of the gun’s chamber, debating whether she should wait before she fired it. There were three flares in total. Nightmare scenarios played out in her head, where boats floated by in the distance and she was out of flares.


Fuck it.


She fired a flare above the cliffs, and marveled at the violent red dot hovering in the sky. She remembered a similar dot flickering above her when she’d been in the dark nothingness. She’d looked up and seen the fiery beacon, though it was looking through an old window. There were silhouettes as well, of strange shapes and sizes. Some of them moved, forming the echoes of trails in their wake. She could see her limbs then, illuminated in neon red. She'd suddenly felt very cold; the ocean was pulling her down. She’d pushed up, resisting the shadow of the ocean below, pushing away from the cold, empty nothingness.


She couldn’t remember if she’d made it to the surface. She could hear the muffled whispers of the inanimate, their voices slowly growing in strength again. She looked back up at the flare as its chemical radiance began to dim. She still had no idea if she was alive or not, or if any of this was real.


Flashlights. A small army of flashlights pierced through the thick foliage of the forest, quickly advancing towards her. She heard voices, real voices, and she could see the growing silhouettes of people. They’d see her in less than a minute.


Not knowing whether to expect the living or the dead, she waited in silence.

The Deep

Created: Jun 13, 2013

Tags: ocean, fiction, story

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