by: Brian Kindall
She was a girl carved from the purest milk-white stone and she rested on the floor of the sea at a depth just far enough down that the wavy light filtered all around her, illuminating her watery world from above.
Of course, she couldn’t remember her birth. And she had no recollection of how she had come to be at the bottom of the sea. Because it was all she had ever known, the stone girl assumed it was how it had always been, and for centuries she accepted that simple idea as the explanation for her own existence.
The girl’s amusements – the ways in which she passed her time – were few, but pleasurable. Sometimes a pair of sleek dolphins cruised by in the near distance. They danced a twirling ballet for the girl as they passed. At other times a purple octopus slithered over her bare feet, its tentacles tickling her toes.
But the little yellow minnows had become the stone girl’s dearest friends. They were so curious and nervous and shimmery. They often swam just beyond the end of her nose, and for an instant their shining eyes would peer inquisitively into her own.
It was in those rare moments, when the light from above was aligned with the position of the fish floating before her, that the girl was granted her only glimpse of her own appearance. At those times a minnow’s eye became a tiny, bulging mirror. The girl would look into that mirror, and into the distorted reflection of her own pale face. She noted the taciturn smile faintly etched on her lips. She studied her own innocent eyes gazing back at herself from the green-blue sea.
The girl often wondered what the look in her eyes might mean. It was impossible to know if it was a look of great sadness or great joy, of thoughtfulness or simply a blank stare. The subtle style in which she had been created over a thousand years before, along with the tiny size of the minnow’s eye, made it hard for her to discern the exact emotions displayed on her face.
Perhaps, she told herself, it’s all the feelings mixed up together.
Before she could decide for sure, the fish with mirrors for eyes would dart away. Those yellow minnows always made the girl laugh, albeit in her own silent way.
But when her bright yellow friends were busy elsewhere, doing whatever it was that fish had to do, the girl was left with no other occupation but to gaze at her own thin arm.
That arm, with its delicate hand opening like a white starfish beyond her wrist, was all the girl had ever known of her body. In the motionless, statuesque pose that she held, her arm was all she could see. It stretched before her out of the edge of her vision. And because she was standing at a slight angle leaning back, her arm was held so that she seemed always to be reaching toward the glittering ceiling of the sea.
The girl loved her arm. Over time she had come to fondly appreciate her hand as well, although she didn’t understand either one of them. They were like mysterious parts of a dream she just couldn’t quite remember. But it gave the girl a good feeling to look at her arm and hand, the feeling that there was some kind of magic and hope hidden away inside her secretive soul of stone.
Time passed beneath the sea, as time does everywhere – silently, slowly – each moment slipping into the edge of the next moment to follow like a shadow passing through a door. The girl felt neither overly happy, nor sad; neither desirous, nor dreadful. Except for her girlish appearance, she seemed to have very few of the qualities associated with regular girls made of flesh and blood. There in that deep water, quiet as a barnacle, she lived an elemental life.
But then came the night when everything changed.
There were two lights the girl could sometimes see up there above the waves. One light was yellow and brilliant, like her friends the fish. The other was a softer, quieter light that she watched beyond her hand. It was a blurry, blue-white orb that was slowly gliding overhead. This light was subdued and eerie. This lesser light only came after the brighter light had gone. Sometimes it didn’t come at all, and then the world beneath the waves was immersed for a time in profound darkness.
But the girl had always appreciated those dark times. Since her eyes were always open, that darkness was as close to sleep as she could ever know, and so those were the times when she dreamed. At still other times, that quiet light was only barely a presence, just a trembling smile-shaped smudge glowing above her in the slopping waves. But tonight that luminous disc was as large and radiant as she had ever seen it before.
How lovely it was!
How oddly peaceful in the way its light streamed down through the water in broad, quivering beams.
And yet, for the first time, that peaceful light stirred something in the girl that wasn’t very peaceful after all. It felt like it was pulling at her. She almost believed she could feel herself beginning to lift off the sand, floating ever so slightly above the place where she had been fixed for so long. It was thrilling to imagine. The girl allowed the light’s magic to flow into her wondering mind. She imagined that she was letting it pour down inside of her.
And that’s when it happened.
All at once, amidst her reverie.
Something passed between the girl and the light.
But a shadow far too enormous to be cast by any common fish, or even a whale. And what’s more, whatever was creating that shadow was not completely under water. Part of it – indeed, most of its bulk – seemed to be swimming above the waves in that alien realm where, until now, the girl had only ever seen the two lights passing before.
The shadow groaned above her. Its darkness swept over the floor of the sea, enveloping the girl and devouring the light. It hissed as it passed with the sound of water being sliced and torn by something jagged and sharp.
Then, just as quickly as it had appeared, the shadow moved on. The hiss was replaced with the usual monotonous roar of the underwater sea. For a moment there was a scar in the freshly cleaved waves, marking where the shadow had traveled. Then, in no time, the wound in the waves healed, and everything was just as it had been before – almost.
Almost, that is, because the girl had never before known fear. At first she wasn’t even sure what it was she felt clutching and shuddering inside of her. But she had felt something, something far more powerful than she had ever experienced in all of her time beneath the sea.
How ominous it felt!
After that, the girl tried to go on with her life as she always had in the past. She watched the yellow minnows, and her arm and her hand. She watched the overhead lights as each switched places with the other in the mysterious world above the waves. But it was no use. The passing shadow still haunted her. She could always see it there in her lingering memory, even when she didn’t want to. Try as she might, the girl couldn’t go back to life as it had been before that horrible shadow had cast its chill over her peaceful world.
Because she was of a generally placid disposition, the girl of milk-white stone had never wanted anything in her life. She had always been content with the simple gifts provided by the sea. But out of her newly discovered feelings of fear had been awakened some newly discovered feelings of desire.
At first, she didn’t even know what was happening to her. Then, gradually, she understood. She wanted something – something more than what she had. The girl felt quite certain that she did. Because she had never wanted anything before, she was unsure of how to go about this business of wanting something now. She wasn’t even sure what it was she wanted. There must be many things one could want. More things, the girl realized, than one could ever possibly imagine. Thinking about it caused her head to ache. But thinking about it was something the girl found she couldn’t keep herself from doing. With both fear and desire sneaking into her thoughts, her dreams were beginning to evolve.
It began with a dream of the dolphins. They gracefully twirled and danced before her, so close she could feel the rush of water from their flippers. But then, instead of traveling back around, they both shot upward – up and up, trailing streams of bubbles, until they pierced the ceiling of the sea and vanished above the waves.
The girl waited for the dolphins to come back.
But they didn’t.
And what’s more, the minnows began to follow. One by one they swam away, shooting through the waves and dissolving into the yellow light.
Wait! The girl shouted silently. Take me with you!
But her friends had gone with the dolphins.
Only the octopus remained. But not for long. In a mass of undulating tentacles and suckers, the prehistoric beast lifted up through the water until – fsssst! – he slipped beyond the waves.
Now the stone girl was alone in her dream.
She was alone in the frightful sea.
The girl didn’t realize when her dream had ended. She didn’t notice that the night was over and that the darkness was giving way to the light in the water all around her. The difference between what was real, and what was dream, was so blurry in her fretful mind that she didn’t understand that she was no longer in the world of her imagination.
And so, since she had no memory of ever having seen a boat, when the shadow of a skiff appeared on the surface of the sea, she assumed it was merely one more unusual piece of her troubled dream. She watched with trepidation, not knowing what to expect, but secure in her belief that this experience was still only a dream.
A large rock dropped over the side of the boat. The coiled line that was wrapped around the rock, and fastened to the boat at the other end, stretched out straight as the weight plunged through the water. The rock thumped with a puff of sand as it struck the floor of the sea. The tiny boat tossed in the waves, held in place at the end of its tether.
Then the most extraordinary thing happened. A creature, unlike any the girl had ever seen, splashed into the waves beside the boat. The light glimmered behind the creature so that at first it appeared as just a gangly silhouette. The girl watched its four oddly-shaped tentacles sprawl and wave. The creature gathered itself and, bending in half, it reached down and began pulling awkwardly into the depths.
From where she watched, at an angle leaning slightly back, the creature appeared to be swimming directly toward the girl’s outstretched hand. Of course, there was no way she could hide. There was no way she could curl her hand into a fist and hold it out of sight. In all her life, the girl had never felt so glaringly white and obvious.
The creature kicked closer.
Within the pit of her solar plexus the girl felt a struggle of emotions. In one sense, she hadn’t been so scared since the passing of the Shadow. In another way, she was simply curious to know how this surreal moment would end.
The creature kicked closer and closer, until it was floating in the water directly before her.
It hovered for a time, staring at her.
The girl glimpsed the reflection of her own face peering back at herself from the creature’s dark shining eyes.
Then the creature reached out with one of its tentacles.
That was when the girl could see that it wasn’t a tentacle after all, or even a flipper. That’s when she realized that this creature had a hand – two hands! – much like her own.
With one of its hands, the creature gently grasped the girl’s, lightly squeezing her fingers.
A small shock of electricity shot through her.
And with that the girl realized this wasn’t a dream after all.
1. What is the first unusual thing we learn about the girl in the sea?
a) that she is very pretty
b) that she is very happy
c) that she is made of white stone
2. What did the girl enjoy?
a) swimming with the fish
b) watching dolphins and fish
c) exploring her undersea world
3. One way the girl know just a little bit about her own appearance was:
a) there was a mirror in the sand from a nearby shipwreck
b) she saw herself mirrored in the eyes of the yellow minnows
c) the mermaids told her what she looked like
4. In chapter two, what made the girl feel fear?
a) a gigantic shadow passed between the girl and the light
b) a big whale that swam over her
5. In chapter 3, what feeling does the girl experience for the first time?
a) she was happy
b) she wanted something (desire)
c) she felt sorrow
6. What happened at the end of her dream?
a) she left the ocean with all the other sea creatures
b) she became human
c) she was left alone in the sea
7. What is the creature with the four oddly-shaped tentacles?
a) an octopus
b) a human diver
c) a starfish