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The exhausted brimler plummeted through the empty underwater mesas, and the hammerhead followed.
The predator didn’t need to see the brimler to know it was there, he could sense the mounting terror in the aura of his prey as it fought against the current. All the shark needed to do was stay below, within the familiar depths, and wait patiently for the brimler to fall into his path. In the meantime he could feed upon the ghostly white grouper fishes that chanced onto his route, rising occasionally to refresh his system.
The unlikely pair danced past ridges and chasms once vivid with multi-colored moss. These rocks and canyons now sat grey and motionless in the dark silver light. There was nothing alive in these caverns anymore. The hammerhead used his powerful muscles to push his efficient form through the water, but the brimler had no such option. Somsee’s journey over the lifeless prairies was one of desperation, witnessed only by the empty eyes of vacant cave entrances.
The shark was now within striking distance of his prey’s lowest tentacles. He could attack with one swish of his powerful tail, but he hesitated, as though aware of an even more powerful adversary than the ocean current.
The brimler knew he was exhausted. He needed to feed. He needed to fully open his gills and take in the much-needed oxygen. Just one deep breath would help him clear his mind, he reasoned. If he could just get his balance and escape the current pulling him forward. He tried opening his gills but the rushing water plastered them back against his neck. He closed his eyes for a moment.
Instantly he remembered being there again, beside her, beside the hive. The walls of the vent towered over the two brimlers, reaching halfway to the top of their snug chasm. The decade’s old tear in the ocean floor had developed into a massive cone providing warmth and nutrients and life. There was food everywhere: shrimp were crawling up and down the vent tower; plankton were floating around him in abundance; varied fish seemed to be lining up, ready to be held and paralyzed by his deadly tentacles.
Liekey’s eyes were a smoldering deep orange. Her aura glowed a contented purple. “I’m glad we’ve had this time together,” she sung through the thick brine between them. The simple truth of this thought delighted him.
“You know how content I’ve been as well, just being here with you,” he sung back to her.
“I wish you didn't need to go. Your nightmare from last night is telling you to stay with me. It’s a warning.”
He remembered the dream about the shark and the light. “I’m sorry I told you about it. It was just a sleep-mare, Liekey, nothing more.” He touched her mouth and her cells softened under his caress.
“Tell me about it again. Remind me of your dream.”
He could feel her pulling the memory from his mind as they hung there beside the tower, so he told her. “I dreamed I was drowning in an air bubble so large it encased my entire body. My gills began to bleed as I prayed for water.” He stopped. “Don’t make me think about it, please."
“Stay here, Somsee. I won’t let you go.”
“You know better. This vent-tower can’t last much longer. Soon it will collapse in upon itself, and we’ll need another home. It’s up to me to find that other home, for us…to save all of us. If I don’t go, who will? I fear all my brothers are cowards.”
“I’ll wait for you,” she quietly thought to him. “Forever if necessary.”
Somsee opened his eyes and he realized he was being pulled upwards. There was food everywhere around him, also struggling to be freed. They were all rising, rising, the heat beginning to sear his flesh. He didn’t know it, but bubbles were beginning to burst inside his brain as he started vomiting. He could sense a thousand creatures screaming, begging for escape. Still, they all continued to rise towards an ever-brightening light.
He closed both eyelids but the light was relentless, scorching his retinas. Suddenly, he was free from the glare in his eyes as his world became lost in total darkness. He felt his eyelids opening and closing, but all he could envision was a complete absence of light. It was the blackest black he had ever known. He held his tentacle up to his face, but it was as if nothing existed now except the pain that burned his skin.
Suddenly he was home again. It was in the time before the currents shifted and the food disappeared. It was in the time even before Liekey. He reveled in the memory of the soft silver glow that illuminated the bottom chasm’s colorful banks. Occasionally, he would sense a thought pattern from a member of his clan living contentedly at another vent many ravines away. There were times when he picked up energy patterns left behind by brimlers long dead, echoes of those who spawned him.
The clan could sense hammerheads circling above, but no one was concerned. They all knew the sharks would stay up there, attacking their preferred victims in warmer water. Over countless ages, brimlers had developed a taste that was unpleasant to most assailants. The brimler population remained the true rulers of these ocean depths.
Somsee remembered being with his clot-brothers, safe and loved. Thirty-two of them, identical, floated above the warmth and light of a fresh ocean floor vent. They swayed together in the thick, food filled water. He opened his mouth and a soft red light glowed from inside his cheeks. He was delighted to find prey that helpless against his advances: he could see them, but they couldn’t see him. He began to feed, ravenously, happily, there with his new-born brothers over the sediment filled tear in the sea floor.
Somsee was shocked back into his body, as his back smashed against something hard and smooth.
“Hey, Emily, come see what we brought up!”
The fisherman leaned over the brimler as its gills flew open in vain. “What the heck is it? Maybe it’s a deformed squid of some kind.”
“Sweet Jesus, it stinks. How big do you think it is?”
“I’d say maybe a meter. Perhaps a little more.”
“But what is it, Jimmy? Have you ever seen anything like it?”
"We’ve pulled up a lot of new creatures this trip, because the Stream is all out of whack.”
“Should I pack it on ice?”
“Yeah. Doctor Lee might pay a good price for this thing.”
The brimler was at home in the deep now. At long last… home. He could see Liekey in the distance, floating in the soft glow of the vent. He began to glide towards her.
“Liekey! Look at me,” he thought towards her desperately. “Look at me, Liekey! I think I’m dying!” He saw her turn to face him, but her glance passed through him. “Help me! Help me,” he demanded, reaching for her.
“Hey, I think that thing moved,” said Emily. “Is it still alive?”
“Better step back a little,” answered the man. “Those tentacles might be poisonous.” He picked up a small spear and shoved the brimler, but it was dead.
“It was strange there for a minute,” whispered Emily.
“Just a moment ago, when I thought I saw it move, I could have sworn I heard someone scream for help.”
micheledutcher - Thanks for your kind words. As this story was coming up through the meatgrinder, I was surprised how many people wanted (more in Forum - by Michele Dutcher)
Unusual setting. Nice. Could be longer and more detailed, tho... then it would be even better.
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