Think just how vast the ocean is.
If you have a fear of heights, you should have a fear of open water. Deep blue and dark, though it might be, bobbing there on the surface, you’re hundreds and thousands of feet above land of any kind. The amount of odds, ends, and creatures between you and the ground aside, all that open space is enough to lurch the stomach into the throat.
So when we’re bobbing there, out on open water, surrounded by nothing but the horizon on all sides how is that the primary thought: the emptiness that’s holding us aloft to the open air. The chilling cold of the water can constrict our chest and make us forget for a moment that we’re floating, suspended in an unending space, but the thought is always there.
And what’s below us? Do we dare a glance? Maybe see the leviathan’s maw in the moments before they snap closed over us?
But instead, are we just reminded of the empty vastness that stems below us, too?
We break the surface again, as a fin – at first like a shark’s – does the same. We watch it rise, except, when we expect it to crest and dive again, maybe it keeps rising.
There’s no titanic splash. No seismic, rumbling growl from the earth as it continues to grow massive and crawl skyward. It just cleanly slices the water until it’s risen a mile over us, flaunting its size as a reminder of how small we are.
How far does it span? Does it stand as a monolith in the water? Does it span the horizon in its entirety? Or does it encircle us?
How about we see the edge, but its tail runs the curve of what we can see. We dip our head under water, to see its bottom purchase on the sea floor.
But what if we can’t?
Not because it’s too dark to see the bottom, but because the fin doesn’t have one, as though it doesn’t exist below the waves? And once that’s the case, what do we do? Do we swim away from it? Along it? Dare to get closer?
With little other options, let’s say we do: we make for the edge of the fin.
It’s as tall as the Himalayas, stretches about as far, but is no wider than the door of a house.
What’re we hoping for? Are we going to see if its sheer cliff face has handholds and footholds? To see if it’s as hard as stone, or soft like flesh? Does it have lichen and small things on its surface we can’t see from this distance, and how far away is it, anyway?
Does anything change as we get closer to the fin? Does it make noise, or change shape? Sink back into the ocean?
Maybe we do hear something, the growl we were so worried about earlier.
Does it come from the fin, behind us…? Or maybe behind it.
I’m seeing storm clouds. Storm clouds that form as we’ve almost rounded the edge of the fin. And now that we’re closer to the fin, what did we say it’s like?
Covered in creepy crawly things? Lovecraftian and great, but no; because that’s also gross.
I want to say it’s climbable, but I think I prefer the fin smooth – so no shards for handholds.
What about features we can’t see? And not those you can feel, but the ones you can feel?
What if, while we’re up next to this colossal…thing, in an endless sea, while we look at it, we suddenly have the sensation of recognition, of eye contact? Not the feeling you’re being watched, exactly, but observed and met?
And things happen fast from there.
We tread water at the edge of the fin, able to see along either sides of the ocean it’s bisected. We see lightning crackle from the storm clouds to our left and thunder rumbles in answer. Maybe, like a horn of summons, small dots – like little black beetles crawling over the edge of a table – appear on the horizon to our right.
Not beetles, ships. Galleons, and Man-o’-Wars, with three masted sails.
Maybe there’s another boom of thunder, and like a starting pistol, that starts them racing in our direction.
Do we wait for them to close in on us? Do we swim around the fin? To we brace against it, the eyeless monolith that’s seen us?
As the ships get closer, what if they change? Turn? Maybe they flip, so the hulls are on the surface of the water, and the oars sprout from the sides to look like legs, finally resembling the giants beetles we thought they were.
Fight-or-flight kicks in, and we think to dive below, to escape. But no avail, because the masts of this beetle line form a net, set to scoop us up anyway.
But now we aren’t alone anymore, under the water. A school of, what, fish? No, jellyfish! Like a living, writhing cloud of bubbled heads and ribbon’d tentacles below us, floating up faster and faster as the net of the beetles approaches. Soon, we’re enveloped, and expect to feel a thousand stings and paralytic burns, but instead, maybe it’s just a low, gentle hum – like we’re being sung to.
They grab our arms as they continue floating, rising upward. We breach the water’s surface and float out of reach of the beetle-ships just before we’re overtaken! Huzzah!
But the jellyfish carry us skyward, like a crowd of balloons.
Only they don’t let go, and the fear of heights returns. We rise higher and higher, up along the massive fin in the water, and feel it watching us as we’re lifted away.
Maybe we’re lifted above the fin, so we can see the storm clouds on the other side and the curtains of lightning beneath their layer of wool.
We’re lifted higher and higher, but what’s above us? A ceiling of glass, a mirror? Can we see it through the crowd of jellyfish that carry us? Maybe they part and we see…stars. Stars against black. Open space.
True vast emptiness.
We start kicking and thrashing against the arms that hold us. It isn’t fun anymore and we’re safe from the beetle-ships, but maybe it wasn’t worth this to have been rescued. And do we see anything in the luminous undersides of the jellyfish?
“Faces” came to mind first, and while excellently mystical and creepy, rule of thumb is to not go with the first idea.
A song? Feel like we’ve said that already.
How about memories? Yeah, memories.
But are they yours? Our own? Someone else’s from another place, even another time? Are they happy ones, regretful ones, proud ones?
We break the hypnosis and see the fin is so small now, just a long, gray plank set on its side in an endless puddle. So far away.
Or is it?
Maybe as we kick our legs, our foot touches something?
Maybe in this place, even the rules of perspective bend, and we kick the fin we thought was so far away. Maybe now, instead of the massive thing we knew it was, it’s within reach, about a foot tall, no wider than an inch.
We kick it, and it falls to its side, laying atop the water like a…well, a long, gray plank.
After that happens, the ribbons and their memories let us go, and we softly land on this long, gray plank. Endless ocean all around us, the tiny dots of the beetle skittering harmlessly along the surface.
What’s left to do but walk?
(Hey all. Thanks for going on these weird mind trips with me. I’ve talked with friends before about story writing: resolving plots issues, narrating, finding a voice, and the dreaded what-happens-next question. The best answer I’ve thought up so far has just been to define storytelling as the art of asking questions, then picking through the answers. Trying to decide which answers you like best depends, ultimately on what kind of tale you want to weave. Fantasy? Maybe the most fantastic, imaginative answers are the ones you want. Mystery? Maybe the least expected, but ultimately most realistic are the flavor you need. So on, and so forth.)
(I dunno, or maybe I’m just thought-vomiting onto my keyboard. Either way, thanks for obliging me.)