1057 words (4 minute read)


Aksih lay in the boat, being put to sleep by the ocean’s gentle swaying as his brother and father quietly fished over the edge. The air was filled with the scent of their fresh catches, though there had been less than usual, and the sky was just beginning to darken. Aksih was glad he had been able to come along this time. He’d learned so much, and not just about fishing. He’d spent time with his family. “I’ve got another!” Nuneh said, tensing. Aksih sat up and watched as his brother reeled in a decently-sized fish and dropped it into the net. “Well done,” said Papa. He had caught very few fish today, and seemed more content to simply be around his sons. He looked about the horizon. They were far from land. “We should be heading back soon. We have more than enough to last a couple weeks.” “Shouldn’t we let Aksih try?” Nuneh asked. “I mean, he’s only been watching this whole time, and I’m sure he’ll get the hang of it after seeing us do it so many times.” Aksih looked to his father, who seemed hesitant. He raised an eyebrow as if to say that it was up to Aksih. “I don’t see why not, as long as we don’t take too long.” He handed Aksih a rod and traded seats with him. Aksih peered over the edge into the darkening waters. He followed his father’s directions, letting the hook sink deep down until it was no longer visible. “Now if you feel a tug, start reeling. Keep a steady grip on it. You don’t want to drop the rod into the ocean.” His father watched closely, though Aksih could hear the tiredness in his voice. They sat drifting for another hour, the sun slowly setting until it was dark. Papa had grown more anxious as the day progressed, but Nuneh had insisted that they not leave until Aksih had caught something. They’d been out much later than this, and Mother was never too worried. It would be fine, he said. Aksih was pulled out of his daydreaming by a sudden movement under the water. There was a sharp tug on his rod, followed by a staggering wave that rocked the boat. Papa shouted and held onto their supplies while Nuneh put a steadying hand on Aksih’s shoulder. Once the wave subsided, Nuneh turned to their father. “Okay, maybe we should head back,” he said nervously. “Do you have any idea what that could have been?” “No. Probably just something migrating early from the East. Are you alright, Aksih? You look shaken.” Aksih blinked. “Yeah, I’m fine.” “Do you want to keep fishing?” Nuneh asked. “I’d rather have caught nothing than whatever that was.” “Fair enough.” “And besides, we can still fish while we’re rowing. There’s plenty of water between here and home.” Papa started rowing, Aksih sitting in the same spot with his hook being dragged along somewhere deep below them. It was strange, how suddenly the fish seemed to have gone away. Just a few hours ago, they’d been catching one at least every half-hour. Now their pace had slowed to a crawl. Aksih saw something shimmer in the water. A fish? He leaned forward a little, trying to get a better look. It was a little blue light, dancing with the waves. But then it was blotted out by the shadow of something huge that moved beneath the surface. The boat rocked again, tipping in Aksih’s direction. At the same time, something tugged on his rod with great force and he slipped over the side into the frigid waters. The last thing he heard before plunging into the oppressive silence of the ocean was his father’s yells. Aksih flailed his arms, breath leaving his lungs from the water’s icy shock. All light disappeared aside from the little dancing blue one. Except it wasn’t little. It was far away. And getting closer. Aksih tried to swim to the surface, but something weighed him down. He looked down at himself. He didn’t have anything heavy on him. He swam and swam, but the surface stayed away. His lungs were starting to hurt. He turned and looked at the light as it grew in size. He could now make out its shape—something long and bulbous, akin to something between a squid and a jellyfish. It came closer at an alarming speed, its light seemingly growing fainter and dimmer the closer it got. Aksih tried to back away, but again he remained anchored in place. His heart pounded. Something wrapped around his leg. He looked down. It was a long tentacle, and its touch stung like frostbite. Aksih froze, shaking with wide eyes as two, then three more curled their way around his other leg and one of his arms. The sea’s darkness became permeated by a strong blue glow that radiated from the sky itself, rays piercing the surface like harpoons. In an instant, all became visible. Bodies—thousands of them—drifted slowly from the ocean floor, fixed in poses of anguish yet seeming oddly elegant with their fluttering clothes. They were frozen in place, stuck in an equilibrium between the bright sky above and the pitch dark below. And then Aksih looked down. It was the most haunting thing Aksih had ever seen, and likely would ever see. He was transfixed by terror at the sight, which was so unlike all that he’d known in his entire life that it inserted seeds of dread into his brain that would grow into festering, rotten colonies of weeds and thorns that would encroach on his every thought and memory. But it ended in a flash of darkness as he was pulled back into the night, soaking wet in his father’s arms and gasping for air. He gazed at the night sky, the stars staring back. What was real? He coughed up water, and his hearing returned to the sound of his own name. “Aksih!” they both screamed frantically. Papa removed his coat and wrapped Aksih in it. “It’s all right. We’ve got you. Nuneh, row!” His voice broke. Aksih had never seen him so distraught. They rowed back home on the calm seas, Aksih shuddering uncontrollably. It was only after they reached shore and saw Mother he realized he’d been sobbing the entire time.