The Abyssal Architect

by Ori Jay

Content Note: This story refers to and describes death by drowning.

She builds monuments to grief along the silent ocean floor.

Each fallen sailor a spire. Each drowned ship a fortress. The dim landscape speckled with towers of slime and soil and stone.

She gathers her masonry from the slick white cliffs, dotted with caverns and caves. From the hollow skeletons of forgotten coral. From the earth, so far below, where the boiling sea meets the mantle of the world.

She plans. She shapes. And she mourns.

Because the bodies, sucked down into the darkness from the churning waters above ⁠— well, they simply never stop.

Sometimes, the storms raging on the surface capsize entire crews, and she spends months at a time toiling, constructing cairns in patterns that spiral, rippling outward into the water where their nameless figures fell.

Sometimes, days and weeks will go by without a single soul finding a twisting path down through the endless tides.

And sometimes, when the sea is calm and bursts of light break through, she will find one who has not quite drowned. Limbs pushing, beating, straining against the impossible weight of the water. Mouths open and sucking in the strangling salt of the sea. Gaze locked on hers, begging and pleading for rescue.

If she could save them, she would. And she has tried, oh so many times.

She used to press her lips to theirs and push the breath from her gills into their waterlogged lungs. She used to heave their sodden bodies across her shoulders and swim for the surface, thrashing her tail against the pressure of the icy depths in the hopes that she might breach the surface in time. She used to pray and plead with whatever gods might be lingering in her forgotten realm to spare just a few ⁠— hadn’t the hungry sea claimed enough, for now?

But it’s never been any use. By the time they reach her, the waves have simply taken them too far.

Their blood has gone cold. Their pulses slowed. All the air inside of them gulped up by the thirsty depths.

The only spark left is the reflection of the suffocated sun, echoing in their dying eyes.

And so, day and night, the siren sculpts an unending edifice, building monuments to grief along the silent ocean floor.

© Copyright Ori Jay

Ori Jay (he/they) is a nonbinary Latinx writer, artist, and activist from Portland, Oregon. Their visual art has appeared in exhibitions in Chicago, Denver, and Portland. He is currently working on the book The Life and Times of Trans People for Microcosm Publishing. They can be found on social media at @mxorijay.

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