A #microfiction for anyone who ever feels like they’re sinking…
They called her Pearl, because you could always find her curled up at the bottom of the ocean.
When she was young, she had been a sleepy child and would often drift to the floor of the shallow oceans (that all the mer-pups stuck to) and curl up in a soft bed of kelp.
They had joked that these blankets were her shell. In her adolescence, the elders taught her (as they taught all with the talent for depths) how to forage the fruits of the sea and scavenge the wrecks of the over-water. And she began to experiment with making clothes out of those warm fronds of kelp, so she could carry her shell with her everywhere.
Whether she wore them or not, she always carried a little bit of the depths around in her head. You could see it in the inky depths of her eyes when she would look off into the distance and her friends would know she was not with them, but briefly somewhere far below. Somewhere swathed in comforting darkness.
But her friends in her scavenging pack had patience for these flights of fancy, when she would plan her next adventure in the deep-down. For when she returned, she would bring with her such wondrous stories and souvenirs and it was almost as if they had been there with her.
But there was another darkness that she carried with her. This darkness was a kind of predator that swam through her mind, its rows of teeth made up of all the fractures of her worries. For, as she had grown, she had found the tight pressures of life beneath the waves had crushed her somewhat more tightly than they seemed to for others.
She heard the laughter of the foragers above her with their angler fish smiles, and it dug into her ears in ways it did not for her friends. Her eyes were often wide as she twitched at the approach of social rivals, as her brain screamed “predator”. Her keen eyes, which she could not turn off, saw even her own soft spots and attacked them ruthlessly. “You’re just a silly little pearl with your trinkets and your stories,” it would say to her, “what good are you?”
Later, her friends would tell her that these sharp edges within her were the same things that made her excel in the deep-below - her wide vigilant eyes, her curious, caring and questioning nature. If only she could direct them outwards instead of inwards.
But befriending the predator that lives inside you is not so easily done. It is a process that is accomplished inch by careful, angry inch and sometimes results in being bitten.
And whenever she felt that creature begin to prowl the waters of her brain, she would sink like stone to the bottom of the deepest trenches. There the water would close around her like a shell (or perhaps a vice would be more accurate). It had taken her years of diving to build up that kind of resistance to the pressure and none could safely follow her.
So down there she would hide, alone and safe from either being bothered or feeling like a bother on any other creature.
Eventually, she sank so deep for so long, that she began to lose any feeling that she was connected to the bright worlds of the upper waters at all. She resolved to stay down there and make her home in the deepest dark of the ocean’s crevices.
Some of you will be pleased to know that there is a “but” coming.
You see, she *would* have stayed down in the deep-below for the rest of her life, *but* for two things…
…the first “but” is simply this: that some of the other mer-folk missed her.
They were not so well equipped as she to explore the deeps. They had not grown accustomed to the pressures. They had not built up their bodies to withstand the cold, as she had.
But they were determined. And they loved her. And those with light in their hearts and blind stubbornness in their heads have often been able to achieve the impossible.
So they practiced and they trained and they learned to cover for each others’ weaknesses. And gradually they dived ever deeper.
…the second “but” is that the heavy darkness that swaddled the trenches was not *empty*.
Over time, as Pearl became more accustomed to the different shades and textures of pitch that were the ocean’s bottom, she began to perceive the shifts and rolls of the water. Miniscule shifts in pressure and current that spoke of something *massive* snaking through the space around her.
And, because she was ever curious, eventually her questioning nature overcame her sadness, and she swam towards the movement.
What she felt there was massive and rough and smooth. It twisted as she touched it and pressed a giant sucker against her arm. It began to curl round her, but she was not afraid - something in the hind of her brain knew this for affection.
Then she heard the voice. It was everything and everywhere, shaking the ocean around her and rippling down her skin.
“I WAS WONDERING WHEN YOU’D SAY HELLO.”
“Uh, hello…” She mumbled.
“HELLO.” The tentacle squeezed her gently. “IT IS NICE TO FINALLY MEET YOU, PEARL.”
“You know me?” She said.
“ALL IN THE DEPTHS KNOW YOU.” A single giant eye opened and glowed in front of her and seemed to float there, connected to nothing. “AND TO KNOW THE DEPTHS IS TO KNOW ME.”
“What are you?”
“I AM THE DEEP-BELOW. I AM WHEN WATER BECOMES INK. I AM THE DARKNESS THAT LOVES YOU.”
Pearl did not know what to say. She had never before felt so seen. Or so safe.
“AND I AM NOT THE ONLY ONE. WE SHOULD GO RESCUE THE OTHERS.”
“Rescue?” Pearl felt the presence that held her begin to flex and rise upwards.
“THEY DO NOT KNOW ME LIKE YOU DO.” Something in the voice suggested a smile.
Up above, at the point where pitch darkness became simply “murky”, Pearl’s friends were floundering.
They had done very well considering, but a few weeks of practice could not match a lifetime. But they had still dived deeper together than any of them could alone.
As they all rose up, carried upon the Deep-Below’s huge tentacles, Pearl fussed over them and tended to their various injuries and needs.
“Pearl!” They all exclaimed, dizzy from the pressure. “We came to find you, but we found a monster! *And* you!”
“It’s not a monster.” Pearl smiled softly. “It is me.”
And Pearl stroked the nearest tentacle fondly.
“If you say so.” Her friends said, deliriously.
“I do.” She said. “I do.”
Pearl did not live happily ever after. At least, not exclusively. The beast that was happiness was something that she would spend most of her life trying to tame.
But she did live surrounded, both above and below, by love.
And that is not nothing.