It was seven AM. We stood on the beach, fiddling with diving gear. Sally Umbra was one of the four—she twirled and fell on the ground, smiling at the sun. The Proctor, a gruff man of tall stature, addressed us. Wordless, but pointing at the water. I braced myself in running stance, digging my right heel into the sand below me. He whistled and the four of us ran. The water rushed against the latex of my suit as I cleaved through it like a knife, eyes open and searching, not enough chances at this to waste time. I aimed myself downward, and as the pressure threatened to pop me I said a prayer to keep me alive until I consumed enough to become whole. All with eyes closed. I opened them again to the first, a Gloam, shining fish of struggle, with slits down the length of its body, oscillating like gills. I opened my mouth whole to allow the salty liquid of the ocean to sift through my body as a gold pan. The Gloam entered inside me. I felt myself grow stronger.§
My name? Kalyna. I came to the coast of Alaska to consume Gloams. Why was I in this bed? I did not feel weak. I asked them to tell my mother to visit until I got better. I must have gotten cold. I told them to tell Sally it was almost summertime, the time when we could migrate south for our vacation. She already knew though. She had seen the Alaskan sun on the horizon during the dives. I thought it couldn't be long until I had the strength to get up. Yet I couldn't move my arms at all. At the same time, they glowed with a deep radiance, one of passion and sacrifice. If you asked me then why I did this, I probably couldn't tell you. I thought it didn't matter.
I had been discharged. Movement and energy returned to my limbs so I left. I drove to the cabin with Sally and we ordered a delivery of steamed fish. The steam from the bag on our table flavored the wind with fresh salmon.
"You don't have to push yourself," she told me, as she prepared our plates. "If you die, we can't travel southward," she told me as we ate. How can something so enriching make us weak?
I walked outside the hut for a cigarette and stared at the dusk. The hand holding the stick was shining. Because of the Gloams.
Now that I thought of it, I had never heard of Sally catching a single Gloam. I was always alone when I reached the midnight zone, where they reside and thrive. I extinguished the butt on the frozen ground and returned to the woman I love.
The Proctor called to me on the shore. The sweat became ice swiftly—I was sweating ice. He said to me, "Good work on your recovery, but there are many more to be caught." I sighed, watching Sally Umbra, twirling like a little girl, or a faerie, this many miles away from the world. She stretched her arms wide and embraced the horizon as she tossed herself into sand below, where the sun lit her compassionate Mediterranean features. I shook my head. This was rare in Alaska, I understood, but we were in that stretch of season. Both of us knew. (But I was happy to see her happy.)
The whistle was blown. I dove into the water which was devoid of personality, except for blackness, except for the Gloams. I thought about their name as I swam—Gloams?—it was possible someone brought one to the surface before, to look at it and study it instead of eat it. I had read the entry in a dictionary before:
I wondered if it was possible that they were not as bright as it seemed, that they were only bright by comparison with the water. Then why enter? Why not return home, why not travel south where everything is a gloam? I used to think it was because of human potential. That was what I believed, when I signed up for all this.
I returned to the zone to face one, a giant Gloam. It had five mouths and ten thousand jeweled scales. The gills on its entire surface area oscillated and the giant mouths breathed. I was in a whirlpool. I was armed with nothing but my body, and I opened my mouth, and I was prepared. I was going to let it come to me. The Gloam approached. I could not swim toward it or away. I was frozen and scared. I was in the midnight alone with the Gloam. I could not breathe, and it mattered that my mouth was open after all. Black water poured into my lungs. Was this the abyssal conclusion of my education? I closed my eyes and when I did I felt an arm tugging me out of the depths. It was Sally, had to be, as no one else would both care and be able to save me.
I coughed black onto the pale sand.
Sally Umbra was pushing on my chest.
"Sally," I called to her, "the Gloams are not that bright, but your surname is so dark..."
"It isn't," she disagreed, "I just have the ability to dive great distances."
"That's wonderful, but let's go home after this," I said, passing out on the sand as the others rushed toward me with a stretcher. Sally's deep compassion, from shadow to light, was going to make us better.
Rory Fleming is a writer and student from Chapel Hill, NC. He has been previously published in The Fiddleback, Metazen and Gone Lawn 9.