by Marlane Quade Cook

This story was edited by Lis Hulin Wheeler

She curled into the still ripples, half-submerging herself in the calm eddies. Her hands drifted together so the palms almost touched, fingertips overlapping, before she lifted them to her ear. She could hear the surf between her hands. She breathed to the rhythm for a short time, eyes closing in a trance-like state of repose. The waves began to pulse around her, ebbing and flowing, though her curled body remained grounded like a rock in the surf. She brought her folded hands to her lips and blew through the space between her palms. The breath was barely more than a whisper, but as it met the air it swelled and spread; it blossomed into a gale.

She remained in the iridescent ripples, drifting into a reverie of turgid purity that quickly burst into transcendence. She became the waves, became the ripples, not idealized or imagined with shimmers and rainbows, but laced with the slime of seaweed and the grit of the ocean floor.

The wildness overtook her, a wildness of tides and the pull of the ravening moon, the eerie recklessness of ebb and flow, wax and wane, storms on the waters. She reveled in the rawness of it and gave herself over to it. The depths called to her, teeming with life and destruction. Every particle in the waters seemed to be alive, and every wave and turning of the moon seemed to deal death. And yet, impassioned with this newfound watery elemental depth, she gloried in it and wallowed in the life-and-death of the tides. 

The tempest rose and surged. Like a lover’s passion it was part of her: it swelled and ebbed and overcame her. It bore her on its waves until she lost control and dissolved into uncontrolled, chaotic winds.

Too late she felt the crack, the break, the wreckage. Too late she felt the panic, the fear, the life lost. The sorrow, the regret of her oneness with ocean and storm and elemental destruction. She tried to pull herself free with a wild cry of mourning and sorrow, but she was trapped in the tempest and had to ride it out until the fierce waves were spent and her regretful spirit came sobbing back to her smaller, finite body, curled safely in the tiny inlet, caressed by mildly lapping waves and gentle breezes.

Tears coursed from her tightly closed eyes, her heart ached, and she wound tightly into herself to prevent the feeling of loss–and responsibility.

Then she started at the sensation of human touch, and her ocean-troubled eyes opened wide.

A nearly inert body drifted in the eddies of the inlet, wafting toward her, then away, as the teasing waves washed over her body. 

She saw the faces of those lost in the storm–her storm–and her heart twisted in an agony of remorse. Their half-open eyes looked feebly to her, and his fingers were all that had the strength to reach out in supplication. She rose in a sucking of water, a dripping and tangible sea-spirit, a woman’s body emerging from ripples and waves. In a fluid movement she reached out and grasped the outstretched hand, drew one lost soul fiercely to her, defying her own act of destruction. She pulled them nearer and their arms twined gratefully around her. Her strong form embraced them, gathering this single soul she could rescue from the wreckage of her abandon. She pulled them to the shore in her powerful, but gentling embrace, their arms clutching her, murmuring thanks, prayers, and blessings all at once in the delirium of near-death. 

She entwined them and warmed them with her body, pressing her lips against them and breathing into their lungs, restoring a fraction of the life the storm had taken.

Her tears bathed their face; her lips returned life to them.

When the mortal woke, it was to find themself in her arms. She still wept, and poured her sorrow and joy into them. They drank it in, and drank her in, and accepted all she poured out, even accepted death if it came from her.

And finally, she was gone. The human didn’t see her go: whether into the waves or back to a shore abode, they couldn’t be sure. But they recalled her lips, and her touch, and her warmth against them, and they were sure she had been real and not the dream of one half-drowned. They wandered away, full of visions and nightmares and half-rememberings. They never saw the form that sank back into the waves and became one with the waves and water again, watching them from afar and weeping, only to return to her wildness and forgetfulness once more.

© Copyright Marlan Quade Cook

Marlane Quade Cook is a former classical ballet teacher and visual artist; currently an emerging disabled writer. She has written on her own disability: progressive Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS), but her preferred genres are speculative fiction, fantasy, and poetry. She has been previously published in Strange Horizons, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Weirdbook, and Prohealth. Her short story, “The Gatekeeper,” was featured in Tangent Online’s Recommended Reading of 2019.

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