Darkness and silence and cold. Startled, then languorous again. Cold blackness covered me. I blinked into the black, surprised to have eyelids. I lay in the silt like it was my mattress, looked up so far I saw nothing but light. I looked away, then looked back. The light was a pinkish colour and confined mostly within a small margin far above. Enough was beginning to filter down that I started to perceive what lay round me. Small bushes of coral surrounded a greater structure, bright reds and muted blues, with fish darting in between branches. I made my way over to the nearest outgrowth, looked closely with eyes suddenly hungry for colour and detail. It seemed to be growing on a kind of plinth. I bent down, saw an edge to the plinth and along that edge a suitcase catch. In among the rosette-like growths, I thought I could make out a man’s razor, and not far from that some small scissors. Shapes too straight to find in nature. I went from clump to clump, observed a hairbrush and a shoe. One even had a book, splayed open and so petrified I could not read it.
I began to feel afraid. The main part of the reef seemed to have grown in a rough x-shape, though one axis was much fatter than the other. The reef was humpbacked in the middle. I didn’t want to peer down through the rupture at the highest point, to have my fear confirmed. I climbed up on it using the rounder growths to grip, feet sliding in the mucus, the rosettes’ ridges felt bigger underfoot. I could not see very far inside, just a few rows of seats and an encrusted trolley. The octopus in the aisle seemed startled. Where were the others?
As if responding to a call, low-lying forms beneath the sand began to stir. A man sat up and rubbed his brow. As I backed away from the ruins of the plane, I trod upon a blackened skull. The flesh was rapidly pasting itself together, like a papier mâché sculpture of a face I’d known. Two separate shapes moved through the sand and united, legs and torso. A partially preserved hand skittered across the ocean floor to find its wrist. My own flesh looked strangely pearlescent, poreless as a mannequin. I stood and watched them rising like an army with the dawn; they shook themselves out and waited. When all of us had been assembled, men and women, our agelessness was more apparent. I felt a sudden tug, as if a hook had been guided through some internal eye. This now pulled me inexorably upwards. We all went together, legs kicking, open mouths dumb. Up through unknown fathoms till the reef below looked like a spiny pebble. The air felt thin when we broke the surface and I realised that I wasn’t breathing.
The waters we bobbed up and down in were dark beneath us and the faces of my companions shone slick with blood. Bolts of flame struck the sea, and kept striking, making their brows flash red like beacons. Though we were still waist-deep, the bolts passed through us, reaching underneath. Instead of the wet, electric smell that usually precedes lightning, my nose and mouth were filled with perfume so thick it made me choke. This mingled with the bitter taste of the sea and I regretted it did not seem possible for me to be sick. The water all around us grew thicker and the light began to refract off it differently. I saw little pale bellies, fins and tentacles as the creatures rose up to the surface. Fish from deeper depths came through, lumpy and frilled and progressively more unrecognisable.
Between the thunder, I could hear singing, though it sounded impossibly distant. I don’t know how long we waited, for there was time no longer. Arms reached out to pluck us from the water, attached to beings whom I could not clearly see. We marched over the surface of the ocean, watched by all the clouded eyes below. Waited in a crowd of uncountable millions, barely processing forward. Eventually, over the shoulders of those in front I could see another disturbance in the waters, like a whirlpool. As I got closer, I saw I’d been mistaken, for though it moved, it had no edges, no visible limits beyond the boundary of the water. I could make out shapes and faces in the flames. Sulfur-bright, scenes of which I’d not even thought to be ashamed replayed themselves. My companions shook and retched, as we edged ever closer. I could not see what they were seeing. Your face recurred so often in the fire I had to wonder if you’d preceded me. I tried to hope you hadn’t, then realised it was too late for selflessness now.
You were my consolation every time I travelled, though I never told you. As the flight attendants ran through their dumbshow, as the screeching of the air along the plane increased, I thought of you. Wondered if I should tell you, if you’d care. I always concluded that you would care, so I shouldn’t. Took out my memories and touched them gently like icons, gold leaf beginning to peel at the places most caressed. Despite my fear, this this was the time that I liked most, between the time zones. Here, I could not count the days I’d wasted living for you, living in you. I held my seat arms impotently long after the plane righted itself, searching the attendants’ faces for dismay. We had got more than halfway before we began losing height. First slowly, then faster and faster when nothing could be done to stop the falling. I gave too much to the thought of you, but you would be something to hold in my mind at the last. I held onto you even as we hit the water into the darkness and silence and cold.
Leon Craig was shortlisted for the 2016 White Review Prize. She won a Young Writer’s Award from theshortstory.co.uk She has had stories published on Litro.co.uk, in Oxford's Notes, Flight Journal and Next Review. Her short immersive play Ermine/ Stoat was put on at Babel Studios Southwark. Leon has performed at Polari/ LGBTQ History Month, Swimmers, At The Inkwell, That's What She Said and the Moth. This summer she will be reading at L Fest and presenting Brainchild Festival Short Story Hour. Follow her at @leon_c_c