A Harmless Diversion
By Paige Duke
Something was different today. Bryn knew the moment she stepped into the lake. The waters felt expectant somehow; they shivered around her, where before they had exuded an almost narcotic calm. They had been waiting for her.
She waded in up to her knees, immune now to the way the water soaked and darkened the pure white lace of her dress. The first day she’d been so afraid Vanesh would be angry with her, but he was only pleased that she’d found the lake.
He hadn’t even mentioned the dress. She thought again how odd it was that they hadn’t quarreled about her long absences from the resort or the damage to her gowns. His precious white gowns. It had frightened her a little that first day in the diplomat’s mansion, to step into the closet full of identical white frilly things. She shouldn’t have been surprised, though. Every public photo of Vanesh Nagiri sported a young blonde, never the same face, but always the same gown. It was a status symbol, one that she had craved and envied.
And now she had it. The gown and the man. But for how much longer? That was the question always on her mind. Is that why Vanesh had brought her to Fios I—to give her a final chance to charm him? They were arguing almost constantly back at home, but she was running out of ways to appease him. Bryn swam forward and submerged her face, feeling the kiss of cool water, and the ends of her pale hair lifting lazily. Am I replaceable? She forced herself to ask, though it stung. Every time. If she didn’t regain his interest, would Vanesh dispose of her as he had done with his other courtesans? After all, she was just a type once she donned the white dress.
Bryn held perfectly still, eyes closed, limbs suspended. She breathed steadily—still so unused to the sensation of Fios I’s aerate water—and listened intently. The strange, alien melody pulsed against her ears and she let it roll over her until . . . yes, there it was. Words, snatches of lyric amidst the melody. They tantalized her, promising to confide something essential and secret. But always at the last moment, they disintegrated into meaningless bubbling nonsense.
She opened her eyes and searched for clues, as she had done each time before. From shore, the lake looked positively small. She could walk around it in a half-hour’s time. But below the water’s surface, it seemed infinite. For hours upon hours, she had plumbed its crystalline depths and hunted the source of its secret song. But to her amazement, she never seemed to cover the same terrain twice. Always a new vista opened up to her, dazzling scarlet corral, massive rock outcroppings covered in electric orange algae, spindly underwater trees with delicate fronds for limbs. But never an answer to the mysterious melody that permeated it all.
Something had changed, though. The music was louder and clearer than ever before. She felt that she was in the lake’s very heartbeat, she was so overcome with the sound and sense of the rhythm. Suddenly she knew that it wanted her to Come Come Come. But where?
Opening her eyes, she saw the familiar violet corrals waving lazily, the same dappled light filtering in from above. “Where are you?” She pleaded. No answer but the steady beat of the music. But then, movement to her right. Bryn froze and raked the lakebed with her eyes, searching for the source. Beneath a ledge of jagged rock, a stream of bubbles rose from the sand.
As she stared, another appeared beside the first and then another and another until streams of bubbles rose like strings of pearls to the surface. Her heart was racing. This was it. The thing she had come for day after day. The sound, the song, the voice that had beckoned her.
Her approach felt effortless, as if the music itself was drawing her nearer, inside the curtain of bubbles. They streamed all around her, frenzied, until she thought she’d burst with the expectation of it. Bryn turned and kicked her way toward the bottom. As she neared the source, she could see a thin film, like a clouded bubble or some pale shroud stretched dome-like across the floor. It pulsed and writhed with white rippling light. Why had she not seen it before? Why was it only now revealed to her?
But her questions were subsumed beneath the music, for it was here, she knew, that she would discover what the voice, the voices—it wasn’t solo, she realized, but harmony—were trying to tell her. She had reached the bottom; the roiling filmy whiteness was just inches from her. Bryn reached out a trembling hand and her fingers met and then breached the surface. Her wrist continued through the veil effortlessly. The haze began to clear, the picture beyond resolving into a flurry of white. Slim fingers and whole hands grasped her elbow and pulled her closer, closer, until her shoulder, then her neck, and finally her face broke the surface. But wait. No. This was wrong. A terrible shrieking filled her ears, it was not music at all, but a horrifying layered screaming. She tried to pull away, but the hands bound her like shackles. She was lost, tumbling and twirling, and all around her was the thrashing of a hundred white gowns and the varied hues of golden hair.
By Dani Nicole
This watery coffin cannot contain me. I will die in this collision of wind and water, but the elements cannot take away what I have gained. I have touched him; I have kissed him. And the electric feeling of his salt-bitten skin is enough to keep me calm. The vortex pushes me to the bottom of the ocean, deeper than I have ever known, and I am drowning.
It was worth it.
When my feet touch the sea floor my body collapses. My lungs scream for air and my head feels as though it may burst. I claw at my white dress, claw at the seaweed around my toes. And when I can take the fire no more, I open my mouth and breathe.
Water swims into me, fills me entirely. I am water; I am human. The water soothes the fire, like oxygen above the surface. I exhale, and I can do nothing but breathe, stare at my translucent skin and breathe again, as if I were meant to breathe salt water my entire life, and every breath of oxygen was just a cheapening of the woman I was supposed to become.
I am alive.
I have to find Marlowe, separated by the depths of the ocean. I can still feel the burn of the wind and water on my cheeks. The Vortex came just as Marlowe said it would and yet we did not die as Phaedra warned him when she gave him his curse.
Touch another soul and perish. You will manipulate the elements, but they will also manipulate you.
Yet I am more alive than I was before he kissed me, before he breached the rules of his universe to put his lips on mine, just for one infinitely blissful moment. He has awoken in me what was always meant to be stirred.
Marlowe called it suicide. The emotion that would rise from touching someone like me would destroy us. The wind and water would rage against us and as we touched the vortex would take us, and we would drown.
But love can manipulate us too. It can make us think what is risky is wrong. But as my arms slice through the water I can’t help thinking that I’ve never been more right.
“I can’t, Genevieve. I can’t be who you want me to be. What you need.” Marlowe runs his hands through his dark hair. He looks exasperated, as if he is grasping onto his last fleck of sanity.
“What makes you think I want you to be someone else?” I counter.
He laughs, just a sharp exhale of air. “Because that’s what you deserve Gen. You deserve the world and I can’t even touch you.”
“I don’t want the world without you,” I say, taking a few steps toward him.
He leans against the railing, rests his hands on it, but doesn’t move. “You don’t know how every fiber of my being responds to you when you say that, when you look at me that way, when you walk towards me. It’s like a current Gen.”
I keep walking, slowly. “Love is electric. It’s not something that can be easily contained. Or ignored.”
“You love me then?”
I stop in front of him, look into his eyes. I want to brush his hair from his face, the way he does when he’s trying to get control. “Marlowe, I am more than in love. I am incomplete.”
I step towards him, so close that I can feel the heat of his body, just like he said–electricity.
“Gen,” he whispers.
I shake my head. “I won’t. But I want you to.”
“You know the end of this.”
“I don’t care.”
“The vortex, Gen—“
I interrupt him. “Love is a vortex Marlowe. Don’t you get that?”
I plead with him, stare at him, long for him. Something changes in his eyes. Some flicker of understanding wells up and he reaches for me.
When his hand touches my arm it sends a surge up my spine. The boat rocks as the water begins to rage. “Don’t let go,” he shouts over the brewing storm.
Thunder cracks in the sky and the boat kicks up. I reach out for him and he grabs my other arm. He is holding me. Marlowe is holding me.
“We won’t have very long, Gen.”
“Whatever happens, you’re worth it.”
He looks as though I’ve already killed a part of him, and pulls me in. He wraps his arms around me and my body presses against his. I am blanketed in Marlowe. He is what I see, what I smell, and when his lips touch mine he is what I taste.
I can feel nothing but bliss.
I can remember nothing but him.
When the water and wind collide, when they spin around us, Marlowe kisses me still. My feet are ripped from the deck and Marlowe clings to me. I bury my face into his chest as he tightens his arms around me.
We crash into the water and Marlowe is pulled from my grasp.
I have swum as long as I am able. My new body makes it possible to swim for days, but I still grow weary. I sleep on the sea floor, among the plants and fish. I do not see Marlowe.
I find a sea cave. I sleep. I do not see Marlowe.
And on the fifteenth day, I hear something I could never hear before. A heartbeat that pulses in my wrists.
“Marlowe?” I whisper into the darkness.
“I am with you,” he replies. “In your heart.”
I would cry if it were possible. I would speak if I could find the words.
“You will live, Gen, but I will only live in you.”
“Love is a vortex,” I whisper.
“And I am forever drowning.”