“Your ink is red,” he says, sawing into her forearm with a violin bow.
“It’s blood,” she replies, as cool as the rope tying her.
He washes a tentacle over her wounded arm. “It’s true.” His body circles around her. “You’re the one they say can help. But why would you help me?” He leans in further to whisper. “With your inky arms and inky eyes and inky mouth.”
“Not for you.” She raises her chin. “For the flesh of the seas.”
He tosses the bow and gets closer so she can feel his breath. He embraces her head with two tentacles and suckers, lightly sipping her face. “They call you the wavemaker.” He caresses her hair with another tentacle, leaving it darker, damp, smeared. “Make waves for me.”
“I can’t make waves without water.”
On the edge of breaching flint and chalk, he holds her tight. Monochrome of moonlight and shadow.
“See what you’ve done to my Ocshe.” His tone is as of tides thrashing into cliffs. “It’s lifeless.”
She wilts for air. “I will do all I can, but I need space.”
“Jump or run; I’ll have you.” Another squeeze before he releases her into a heap.
Hair and translucent nightdress flagging in curls of wind. Standing, she looks at the water—its stillness.
Kneeling, she inhales mist. Algae and salt dart through the skin of the water, pumping foam and brine bubbles. She murmurs as her body slivers around like a snake shedding skin. The fatness of the sea overspills.
“It’s working.” He moves towards the sea.
She bites into the ground and scrapes her cheek on gravel.
He turns to her. “You’re doing it.”
Her body flaps. Spine breaks out into battered scales. “Water,” she mouths.
He shuffles her off the rocks, and she drops like a newborn calf.
He slides after her.
Dragged undersea and oil. She is no longer. She is more. Every scale and flake absorbs the ills of the ocean.
I’m carried by the gloopy undercurrent, free from his many arms. Protected by the murk. Heavy exhaustion and not a crevasse to pause.
Many bones and fleshy rags scattered on the seabed. Where are the vultures to clean those strings of meat that pull themselves up from carcasses?
After some time, a distanced darkening. I get closer—burrows within dead reefy mounds. I wriggle into a hole—rough walls and ash floor. I lay my body down.
Feelers, the tentacles, are looking for me. Scanning the thickness of Ocshe and blinking for refractions. I’m the discovered medicine. The drop of penicillin. Poppyseed. I shake off scales, and my eyes reverberate until the entrance of this cave shrinks.
I wake to low noise. The type you get underwater—from a bomb in the distance or before skazies were reported extinct. The outlines of legs are forming under my tail, so I must rise back to land. I focus on opening the entrance. Careful, for he might be waiting.
I dart out of my cave, dart along dead coral, elevating my swim.
He’s here, of course, at the top of the mound, camouflaged. Tries to snatch me, but I’m malleable, swift. Again. Again. Slippery, I shed against his attempting clasps. “You’ve not finished,” he says. Bobbling, a fattened king of a land that no longer accommodates him.
My form is shifting fast with adrenaline. Gills turning back to lungs. The cloudy water turns black until my face awakes with cold rushing winds—I am floating on the water’s surface, pushed back to land. It’s him again.
“Please,” he says, “finish the job, and I will set you free.”
Alia Halstead is studying an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London, and has fiction published in The Mechanics Institute Review and Lighthouse Weekly. Alia writes and edits for vegan magazine, V-Land UK, and co-hosts a radio show, Curious Talks, on RadioReverb 97.2FM.