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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 


 

Fiction



The Sun Under Water

I couldnít quite understand what I was looking at. It was immediately familiar yet incredibly strange. The first thing I noticed resembled a tall stick or branch jutting up from the ocean floor at a tilled angle. The rest of the structure looked like a strange, unshaped mess, like a pile of old junk. When I swam closer, it became clear that it was the top of mast, still attached to the base of a small sailboat. It resembled the boat we were on but wasnít quite the same. There were no sails or rafts attached to it, I didnít see a steering wheel or any sort of engine, it just seemed to be a lonely vessel, sitting abandoned and forgotten. I couldnít quite believe it, and I immediately felt a strange sense of dťjŗ vu. My mind immediately fell backwards into the events of the previous days. Everything came flooding back to me in an instant. I felt a strange echoing pulse go through my body from its direction. There seemed to be a strange force surrounding the sunken wreck drawing me towards it. When I examined the wreck closely, it looked like it had been sitting down there undisturbed for quite some time, but also felt freshly wounded, like somehow it had been trapped in time, unable to change course or its fate. I moved closer and saw its stern half-submerged beneath the masts, covering in seaweed and barnacles. The murky darkness helped to further diminish its presence but it was merely obscured, not invisible. It seemed like it had been purposely hidden from view, but to what end wasnít clear. I waited for a moment and examined it from afar. Itís outlines seemed to emerge and I was able to make out a portion of the cabin, submerged beneath the water. It was dark and seemed a little bit unsafe and decided to keep a safe distance from it. I took a quick leap upward and moored myself, moving backward, planting my feet and propelling myself back towards the surface, excited and nervous. I had found something but was nervous about what further exploration of the sunken ship would reveal.

I descended once more, plunging quickly towards the sunken boat, not worrying about any other potential blockages. I approached the seaweed clusters and pulled them away and moved back into the gasping underwater, feeling the water pressurize and letting the currents fling me forward. I reached the boat at long last and made a circle around the mast, and looked at it from the opposite side, hoping this alternate viewpoint would reveal some hidden secrets. I extended my feet down once more and felt them hold onto the surface. This steadied my balance and I was able to look closely. It was silent down there, no signs of life or anything to distract me which let me examine things closely. The first thing I noticed was the other side seemed damaged, its planks and boards scattered around on the ocean floor, a large hole on its side where some kind of impact had occurred. I saw the steering wheel sitting on its side under the rim of the boatís edge. It had become detached somehow and looked like it had become attached to the ground, tied by barnacles and seaweed. Its flooring had begun to peel away, with the visible railings and supports underneath visibly pushing through the boards. That side of the boat seemed to be listing at an angle, sitting uncomfortably in a place where it had not wanted to end up. I swam a little closer and examined its front section, which seemed to be in surprisingly good condition, with only a few minor scratches. I looked below its stern for a name or insignia but there was nothing there. It seemed to have no name, there was no way of knowing who it might have belonged to. I took in the scene for a few minutes and held my breath until I ran out of energy. On my way back up, I felt the air bubbles lifting me quickly and when I reached the surface once more, The air felt warmer and thicker than it had earlier in the morning and when I breathed it in, it seemed to give me a renewed energy that revitalized me. I saw that the sun had reached its apex in the sky, brightening the entire ocean, filling it with reflective, intermingled stripes and dots that seemed to give it a crystal-like appearance, almost like it was glowing.

I watched them form patterns on the surface, but they didnít seem to make much sense. Random configurations appeared and vanished, changing from one to another as the waves crashed into one another. I waded in place for a few more minutes trying to figure out what the next objective would be but there was nothing pointing me in a specific direction. It seemed like the decision on what to do next was up to me. I decided to go back down another time and see if there was anything else the boat would reveal. I took another look around before plunging downward, taking time to let the sun warm my saturated head and prepared for the next encounter. I dove down quickly again and reached the newly familiar spot in even faster time, nearly gliding back to the ship. Before I knew it my feet hit the bottom and I found myself directly behind the boat that time, looking at its shattered engine, broken into heavy, thick chunks. I stepped back a pace or so to get a better angle and hit an unexpectedly dense group of sharp rocks,that stabbed at my feet and nearly caused me to jump right up. I landed once again, and felt something a bit odd amongst them, a strangely smooth break in the center, a clasp of pure soft sand theyíd been surrounding. I looked down and saw that something might have been uncovered accidentally. Just beneath the sand, I saw a small green, metallic object glimmering underneath a later. At first, I didnít know what it was. I wondered immediately if it was connected to the boat in anyway, but it seemed strange. I looked down to see what it was and it looked older than the boat, like it had been waiting for me. As I looked at it, something about it seemed out of place. It could have perhaps, been placed there on purpose long in advance of my arrival and discovery. On the other hand, had I chosen not to descend again, it could have remained hidden down there forever if I hadnít disturbed, moved unnaturally from its shelter.

Sensing that there was some kind of fate involved once more, I kneeled down and dug into the sand, revealing its square shape and some odd texturing on its surface. It was covered in small round turquoise dots, overlaid with a series of oddly placed straight lines, which seemed to cover its top side completely. The reverse side was smooth and slender with no markings or indentations whatsoever. I grabbed it and tried to pull it from the sand, but it wouldnít budge. It seemed to be stuck but after digging some more it came free. Once it was finally released from its hiding place, I saw a small extension hanging from its lower portion, which seemed to be some kind of navigation or pointing tool. When I held it in my hand, it was heavier than I expected but also delicate and fragile in some way. I didnít press down on its buttons too hard or too often. Still, I examined it closely to discover exactly what it did, but its function was elusive. I tried turning it around, pushing its buttons and crossing my fingers over its ridges. I experimented holding it sideways and upside down, but nothing seemed to happen. I could feel some other odd characteristics to the object. It didnít feel like it belonged down there and seemed to be pulling away from me, perhaps sensing in me, a long-awaited opportunity to escape. Perhaps, it had just been restless after a long spell in hibernation; it was hard to tell.

When I waved it around in front of me, I saw light disperse from strange angles and it seemed to create a strange force that disrupted the water in its immediate surroundings, pushing the water away from its body to nearly float on its own. I tried moving the extension and it didnít seem to want to budge. I released it and instead of falling back to the floor as I expected, it seemed to life and began to drift around for a moment and it seemed to start to float upward on its own. I released my grip noticed something odd. It began to hum and whirl, and I felt something moving inside of it, like a small engine. It began turn hum louder and began to vibrate in fast succession until it appeared to reach full velocity. The small green case had acquired a sudden and unexpected buoyancy that made it rise slightly, seemingly soaking up the ocean, then pushing the accumulated water beneath it. I took it back and it stabilized in my hand without pulling away. I turned it over and noticed the opposite green surface was shimmering brightly, reflecting the sunís beams which had diffused through the water and seemed to coalesce within its screen. I turned it around and saw that it had refocused the light, creating a single strong beam from the disparate light that was far brighter than any of the individual beams could have provided. When it was pointed at certain angles, I discovered that I could use it for a unexpected purpose. It had created a kind of streamlined, focused beam similar to the one on her device. I quickly figured out that if I used it carefully and pointed it at the just the right angle, it could be used as an improvised navigational tool. Its light shone bright as it gathered light from the sun far above, the solar energy reached me all the way down there, helping light my path and letting me see things I couldnít otherwise.

I turned my attention back towards the ship, realizing that this was an opportunity to explore it further. I remained at a safe distance but was able to examine it closer. I took the device and aimed it at the back of the ship, looking for any discernable clues. At first, nothing seemed to show up in the added light, but the added color made it easier to get a sense of the scale and size of the boat. It seemed a little smaller than the one we had traveled on the previous night, with a narrower scale and smaller footprint. Once lit, I noticed subtler differences, the boat seemed to be divided into two sections, one side seemed to be largely intact while the other had taken on significant damage to its structure. I saw a large gash in its side, extending past the engine and going a bit deeper than I had initially thought. I walked closer towards the wreck and examined its sides for any markings or letters, but there was nothing that gave away its mysteries. There was still no sign of who might have been on board or what had happened to cause the wreck. Despite my best efforts, it was extremely reluctant to give its secrets away, resisting my efforts to put together its scattered pieces. I took another approach, a little lower and closet and tried to scan the side of the boat, attempting to see any sign or symbol. Even a single letter would have thrilled me, but there was nothing. I thought that it had either never had a name, or any indicators had been erased by the years underwater. I had almost given up hope when I spotted something laying at an angle that shone incandescently in bright white for a brief moment. I would have missed it if I hadnít been looking at that exact point. It took a few attempts to catch the light again but I was finally able to trace its origin to a spot almost directly below the mast, at a nearly exact point, centered beneath the middle of its shadow, emerging from its hiding place, suddenly exposed under the distant sunís light.

Initially, the mysterious object resembled a natural occurrence. It looked like it might have been a sparkle of rock or mineral but as I walked closer I began to see other shards of a broken mirror that had shattered on the boat. I traced them using the bright white light and saw some that were larger and still mostly intact. I let the light saturate them for a moment and they began to reflect colors back towards me when I turned the green in certain directions. I took another step towards them to see what they might be hiding. After a few minutes, it started to get warm in my hand and I felt the controller trying to escape from my grasp. I held onto it tightly, not wanting it float away and directed it back towards the mirrors, searching several of the larger pieces for some kind of signal. I moved it around and felt its pull begin to waver when I searched the last large piece in the array. I held it in that position for a few minutes and it became steadier the longer I held it. My eyes focused intently on the inside of the mirror and at first, it was like all the others, beams of bright colored like would seep outward and collide into the ocean. The occurrence would happen for a brief time, then it would vanish immediately the moment I turned the mirror. That last time was different, when I turned the light away, the colors continues to gestate and mix, and only seemed to intensify as I moved closer for a better look.

I took a few tentative steps closer and regained some confidence and walked closer. On my approach, I shined the light back towards the shard of glass another time causing the colors to reach an even more intense level of activity. I watched the colors move faster and faster, mixing together, until they reflected the bright white light at me in perfect synchronicity with the light from the sun above. There was a strange connection forming and I could feel the device, newly energized, shaking manically in my hand, almost like it couldnít contain the energy. I desperately tried to hang on to it and was barely able to control it, and its shaking began to pull at my arm, nearly to my shoulder. I tried to keep it from being ripped away from my hand and succeeded for a few minutes but it became too much for me and it was suddenly ripped from my hand. I felt it ripped away in a sudden surge of energy, almost like an electric shock, which jolted it out of my hands. It immediately flew away from me, propelled far into the water until it landed on the other side of the boat, kicking up a cloud of mud before disappearing from view. I looked downward and the colors and mirrors suddenly seemed to have calmed, their bright light lessening as the moments passed. I kept looking at the shards of glass and then watched as they began to change. Their diffuse light seemed to have coalesced and they began to form defined shapes. I recognized some of the patterns at first, simple shapes emerged, building on each other, until more details began to form. At first I didnít completely comprehend what was happening, but when I looked closely, I realized that I was staring at someone elseís reflection.

I knew it wasnít her and it wasnít mine, but I recognized who it was after a few minutes. We had encountered each other on a previous day, and I remembered her from the swing sets. She was a kid around my age and I remembered her as her face began to coalesce in the mirror. I knew who it was when I saw her red bangs and she was still wearing the blue overalls she was during our strange hour together. I thought of how weird it was that she seemed to have just vanished, leaving an inscrutable coloring book behind. I remembered opening it and seeing those strange symbols and other notations. I wondered what they meant, and later they haunted me. The symbols she inscribed resembled and anticipated the ones Iíd see later during the thunderstorm at the arcade. They reappeared subsequently and the more I thought about it, I knew it had to be more than a coincidence. She had left the swings suddenly after I closed my eyes for a moment and I never found out her name before she left that afternoon. I always thought it was strange that we never crossed paths again. I had tried to let it rest, but there were many things I wanted to know that suddenly came back to me. I stood there, staring at the reflection, unsure what it meant. I was taken aback by her appearance; she didnít look worried or afraid. I retraced the events of that afternoon and still couldnít comprehend their meaning. I had so many questions I wanted to ask her, but nothing was forthcoming. I waited and wondered if I would get any direct response, but there wasnít anything. Her expression didnít change at all, no matter how much I tried to get some kind of life. It was like looking at the reflection memory, unchanging and undisturbed, impertinent and imperious. No amount of thinking or arm waving would change things. 

I had no idea what happened to her and I retraced the events of that day in my mind, looking for any clue. I though of how our meeting seemed to happen as an act of blind, random fate, the kind of thing that happened by chance. I remember not thinking much of her at first, just another kid. Once I read what sheíd written, I recognized that something was going on beyond what I could have imagined. I closed my eyes and could almost feel the air under me once more, rising and falling on the swing set alongside her, two kids playing together. I remembered how it had felt that day. There was something a bit odd about her, and I still wondered about the connection we made and if it was linked to our encounters over the years. I wondered if they knew each other. Going back over our brief moment together, I remembered that we tried to race each other on the swings, trying to top each other in speed and height until the set was shaking, nearly coming out of its sockets. It was a fairly typical game that kids played with each other, but her aggressive approach was odd and I never really forgot what happened. The events of that day came flooding back over and I felt a little overwhelmed. I wondered what had brought me down there, was it something I discovered myself, or was I guided there, It wasnít completely clear. Mostly, I remembered her odd laugh and the odd coloring book she left behind, the she had filled with a similar set of symbols. I wanted to ask her what they meant, but she seemed oblivious to my presence, not responding when I waved at her or tried to ask her something. I moved closer and swam towards the mirror to get a better view, but there was no change in her appearance, she seemed to sit there smiling serenely, unaware of me looking back at her. I tried to make a stronger motion, waving my arms around quickly but there was no response, only a reflection in the mirror that seemed not to change. Her image seemed to fade away slowly as the ocean water and sunlight dispersed the reflection, washing it away. I stared at it for a few more minutes until the light began to change, creating an eerie green glow that overtook her image, gradually dissolving then returning back into scrambles of colors and shapes before merging into a plain white surface. The face Iíd seen faded into memory once more. It felt like a ghostly phantom and I held onto its image for a moment before I closed my eyes and departed.

Before I realized it, I was nearly out of breath once more and needed to return to the surface quickly. pushing my feet down into the floor for the final time that day. I knelt down and propelled myself upward quickly, through the water. I watched the boatís wreckage slowly fade underneath me, becoming less visible as I pushed toward the surface, It seemed to dissolve quickly any evidence of its existence seemingly washed away by the unceasing currents of water beneath which it slept. After a few moments, I felt my head push through the surface once again and felt the warm sun. I quickly drew a deep breath of the warm air and looked around. I decided that I had seen enough for one day and wouldnít return under water. I was nervous about going down there, and didnít want to push things. It felt like a close call in some ways and that was enough for me. Diving down there had uncovered new puzzles that I didnít know the solutions to, but I also had more immediate concerns. I quickly realized my situation wasnít as clean as it had been on previous summer days. For one thing, I was surrounded by water and there was still no one around. I scanned out towards the distant islands and they were still too far for me to swim to. I turned back towards the beach. It was a long trek but one I could make in a few minutes. I decided to play it safe for a change and began my journey back. I was somewhat reluctant to backtrack, but I was nervous. I thought it might be a good idea to swim back. I noticed the afternoon was starting to grow old, the sun was slowly falling into the west and the shadows it cast were darkening the waterís surface. As I returned, I noticed the platform seemed to have moved from where it usually was. I moved closer towards the usual diving platform and noticed something odd. As I moved towards the beach, I couldnít locate the floating buoys. None of them ringed the shore. I swam closer and the diving board wasnít in its usual spot, and I scanned up and down across the shore looking for it. I thought perhaps I had grown disoriented, but as I swam closer, I couldnít seem to locate it.

There was no sign of it anywhere - it had vanished beneath the waves without a trace.  

- Michael Palisano