What does National Geographic Know Anyway.
A short story by N.P. Murray
I dreamt I was falling.
Not the usual dream of falling.
I wasn’t plummeting, thousands of feet a second, through the air that would neither hold me nor help me. In that dream you can see the ground miles below you. It is very much there and very much an impending solid. You’re waiting for it to meet you with the sound of raw meat smacking a tabletop. Or you would be if your mind wasn’t so preoccupied with the whole falling thing.
In this dream I was falling through the ocean. Quite slowly. My feet were strangely heavy and it was them that pulled me down. My arms trailed above me like the streamers on a kite. A kite underwater. As I fell, fish of all kinds would swim past me and around me, satisfying their curiosity. Fish, I knew as it was a dream, were naturally curious and couldn’t help but investigate my unexpected presence in their grand home.
Continue reading after the jump.
As a girl I would never get my face wet. Of course I would wash it, as long as the rest of my body was out of the water. I wasn’t scared of water. I would happily splash about in the local swimming pool, but on the surface. In the shallows where my feet were comfortably rooted to the rough floor. The idea of being completely submerged was terrifying. A body of water, a force of nature with no conscience or compassion, had one goal; to drown me. Strangle me without hands. With no hands, the water wouldn’t need to get around my neck, it would get inside it.
The light changed from green to blue to a deep purple as I glided down. Breathing wasn’t a problem. It wasn’t as though I’d forgotten about it. I could breathe if i wanted to, but I didn’t need to. Sometimes I did. The sensation was both thrilling and calming, like when someone embraces you by surprise. The giddy jump as arms encircle you. Is it a lover protecting you from the world or the attacker, always just behind you, out of view? Then the warmth of another person takes hold and comfort fills your veins like cotton wool. Each breath filled my lungs with freezing water, but outside me was the same so, somehow, it felt natural.
It took some time, but eventually the purple fell to black and I couldn’t see anything around me. I couldn’t see myself. I started to wonder; if the world, the ocean, had disappeared, maybe I would disappear too. All that would be left would be the falling. The feeling of being dragged further and further down. The ocean was bottomless. As far as any of us is concerned it is bottomless. What National Geographic presents as the ocean floor, in the glorious technicolour of discovery, could be anything. Anywhere. An alien world that they keep hidden away so that whenever anybody asks “so, what does the bottom of the ocean look like?” they can pull out the images and nod knowingly. Congratulate us on our sense of wonder.
In my teens I quickly got over my fear of submersion. The youth of the neighbourhood would steal away at dusk, after chores and homework and the everyday, to the lake nearby. The promise of glimpsed flesh, skin that wasn’t our own, would fill us with the bravery to jump headlong into the thick brown water. In that lake I first felt the skin of the boy. It was cold and bumpy from goosepimples. The slightest touch as we swam around each other, like an electric current coursing through the murky wetness.
When we climbed out the sun had completely disappeared, but the air was still warm. We would lay on the bank teasing each other about our now transparent underthings. I would check out of the corner of my eye to see if he was watching me back. When he wasn’t, I would stare at his thin bony body. He looked away rarely, which meant that we were soon staring at each other. Into each other’s eyes, sending secret messages, treaties against our own incomplete lives. That was somehow the greatest taboo. To see the nakedness behind those brown discs was both a thrill and a connection. Soon my eyes wandered and I saw the bundle of his shorts stir. That was the new terror that replaced the water. That whatever was hidden there would enter me and overpower me. This gazing, toying with our curiosity lasted a whole summer until that too was replaced by gossip and by my best friend’s stories of her escapades with the same boy and whatever hidden things I would never experience.
It felt like hours, drifting through this blackness. It no longer even felt like I was travelling down. Maybe I had passed clean through the centre of the earth and one day soon I would emerge, feet first, into the air on the other side. It didn’t seem to matter. I had looked, and seen everything the ocean deemed me worthy to see. It coursed by me, close enough to know. Then passed, on to the next. The dark allowed me to simply feel. My skin sang with the water coursing over it. My blood was cold, a slow tingle through my flesh. Soon it became clear that I would never surface. The ocean is bottomless after all.
N.P. Murray is a writer from London who spends thoroughly enjoys the idea of making things up for a living. For more, one may click here.