Monster by Demi-Louise Blackburn

The gloom is not lifted but is cut into like a knife.

Even the light is cold, an artic arch moving through the water—a blue searchlight. It is not the soft glow of bioluminescence or the blister of an eruption. The light divides, and the submarine follows, drifting like some bloated carcass settling down into the sand. Fluorescent eyes scan the ocean floor, and they make cardboard cut-outs of the barren coral reef, gazing curiously at jagged rocks. The engine groans and sinks—balancing on nothing.

She is startled by the light.

It finds its way into her cavernous home, casts silhouettes across the stone and wakes her from sleep. Jet eyes open wide, peering out, webbed hands gripping the rock face. A rivulet of ice trails down translucent skin and she freezes over with it. These vessels are not unknown to her, but nor are they familiar. It does not move, and nor does she—a stalemate.

She wonders what they hope to find. There are no kingdoms to be unearthed, no great empires to look upon, not so much as a gathering of friendly faces left. There are only cathedrals of bones, picked away by the hagfish, scavengers her only companions and competitors. The longing creeps in and tightens around her, gills fluttering in a mock sigh.

When was the last time she had a reason to speak?

Time was a luxury left unaccounted for by her kind. Years had shifted with the tide, and she could hardly recall a time when the light had been pleasant. There is only a memory of her larvae days, basking in the shallow water with brothers and sisters of all shades, an explosion of life across polluted reefs. They could have formed such a grand colony had they not been ushered deeper.

How isolating their evolution had been.

Still, she feels that need for camaraderie in the most neglected parts of herself. There is nothing else she wants more than to share this forgotten stretch of the world with another. She would split the ocean in two only to have an uneasy alliance, and wonders if a human could be trusted to withhold that contract even if a millennium has proved otherwise before.

Her body slips over the stone folds of her home, swimming into the open, the fear forgotten. She sways into the path of light and feels it burn, lets the current guide her gelatinous body, hardly able to stand the brilliance of being seen. Vibrations thunder across her lateral line and excitement bursts through her like an electric field.

Are they speaking to her?

Somehow, she knows it to be true. With aching eyes, she propels forward and clutches onto the glass of the small submarine as though cupping the face of an old friend. Her mouth unhinges into a rusted grin, serrated teeth peeking out, tongue lolling and writhing in amateur motions—the whisper of a greeting.

Eyes as blue as the ocean itself stare back at her, mouth agape, and the vessel begins to rise. Sticky hands hold onto the glass, but the speed in which it ascends throws her off. It is a game, she thinks, some odd ritual for her to mimic. She rises with it, follows as though chasing minnows, and the world grows heavier.

Speaking in her native tongue, she questions the vessel’s game but hears no reply she can discern, only a muffled wail. The delight begins to sober and ebb away. She cannot remember the last time she expelled such energy in a chase, happy enough to pick over scraps in the wastelands and doze under the sediment, adrenaline a luxury not wasted.

In a final attempt, her fingers reach out and tickle the underside of the submersible, hooking onto a metal railing—and the lights cut out. Is this another game? Hide and seek? Its ascent slows and comes to a stop, and she smells victory like blood on the water. The vessel hangs above primeval rifts and fissures unseen, a broken and vacant realm that the sun refuses to see.

The ocean dweller casts her light, esca bobbing from the rod in her forehead like a blossom of cerulean spider silk, and drags herself across the vessel. Again, her eyes meet with another’s, and she croons in a forgotten language, not expecting much of a reply.

But some words carry weight beyond mere barriers of language.

Her history wore scars from it, and yet she’d forgotten the bitter taste of old feuds lacing her jaw. Not an ounce of strength left, the siren releases her hold and lets a rift form between this world and theirs, wanting nothing more than to breach those panes of glass and add another landmark to the ocean floor—one more husk to a vast collection.

Engines stuttering into life, she lets the vessel return home, and though she drifts back to the ocean floor, she cannot say she does the same. There are no conversations to be had with an isopods robotic click, no loving embrace from a skeletal jellyfish, no warm grins from wolffish or vipers mulling across the darkest corner of the universe, all hunting for their next meal.

The cave feels ten degrees colder as she slithers and settles against ancient walls, and when she dreams, it is of the flickering memory of sunlight.

Demi-Louise Blackburn is an author from West Yorkshire, England, who has both studied and enjoyed creative writing for many years. Her work is heavily focused around bittersweet and satirical themes, highlighting the complexities of mental health, and exploring her love for horror. She adores experimenting, crossing genre boundaries, and toying with language to make even the most mundane experiences meaningful—or terrifying. As of this date, she is currently working on her debut novel and expanding her portfolio with an array of flash fiction and short stories. She also has an upcoming publication in the second volume of Kandisha Press’ women in horror anthology and hopes to take part in many more collections moving forward. If you would like to see more of her work, alongside announcements for upcoming projects, you can find her at her website, Twitter, or Facebook.