5060 words, short story
The emergency call came in before the seagulls had even started crying. It found Quinn lying sleepless on the leaky air mattress she’d set up in the back of the shop, balancing an untouched glass of hours-old scotch on her stomach. She fumbled for her phone and raised an eyebrow at the severity rating the user had entered on the online form: it sounded like there had already been some property destruction.
She took solace in her matching pants and suit jacket, clean and well creased, draped over the back of her chair. So what if her head ached and her eyes burned. So what if the world was shit and life was pain: at least she’d meet the day looking sharp. She laced up her high-tops and smoothed down the new growth on her undercut, then walked down the line of shelves as she looped her necktie, checking on each of the five-gallon jars: tapping her fingers on the happier ones, sprinkling salt or mineral solution on those in need. The jar closest to the door jittered and clinked at her approach. “No time to hang out, Digby,” she told it. But when it kept sloshing insistently, she sighed and lowered in the little waterproof keyboard.
YU NIISE DDO IUS KNIDKNIDENSE, the water inside typed. UNDARSTENDD DEP OCEANOIOSE YOOU DO IS GOOOD TOO NOW CEMBBOE ARBA BA BAM ABORMASDRO ADROABER
As tantalizingly meaningful as a cat’s meow, and roughly as meaningless, Quinn thought. She shook off the little keyboard and returned it to her jacket pocket, grabbed her helmet and goggles and the briefcase of her trade. Only when she’d already swung her leg over her moped and kick-started the engine did she bother to look at the address on the request, and what she saw narrowed her eyes and quickened her pulse in dread and disbelief.
It was her own home address—her ex-home. She looked closer at the contact: first name YOU, last name JERK.
She started to call Jasmine but her thumb hesitated. Instead she pocketed her phone, straightened her tie, and let the rattling 50cc engine carry her down the empty streets of the waterfront under the first glow of dawn. She turned inland and climbed up into the progressively narrower streets, choked with parked cars and bittersweet memories, until she arrived at the curb where Jasmine stood, bristling with anger and visibly sleep deprived.
“Why not just call me if you wanted to talk?” Quinn asked.
“You know why. You know why you’re here.”
“I almost called Bill Russet,” Jasmine hissed, “but I wanted you to admit it to my face. Right here. Right now.”
“Your competitor.” Jasmine stamped her foot and angrily clarified: “Your business competitor!”
Quinn shook her head ruefully. “Didn’t know I had one of those either.” It figured someone else would set up shop eventually, with aquids becoming more common now as pets and beasts of burden, but it still caught her off guard.
“Spit it out, Quinn. Did you do this?”
Quinn took her goggles off to let Jasmine see her eyes.
Jasmine’s body language softened. “Well if you didn’t, who—? You know what, never mind. You’re here. You want the job?”
In answer, Quinn grabbed her briefcase and started up the achingly familiar steps, but Jasmine stopped her. “No, it’s next door now. Jumped the fence and seeped under Percy’s window right before you got here.” She added: “We’ve been trying to catch it since 3:00 a.m.”
The neighbor’s front door was open. An unfamiliar scruffy guy in sweatpants and a disposable rain poncho regarded her nervously from the front porch, then followed her inside.
“I don’t think we’ve met,” Quinn said. “You live here?”
The guy hesitated. “No, I’m, uh . . . ” He cleared his throat and Jasmine sidled up to him. Shit. He was the new boyfriend.
Quinn sighed and averted her eyes. She followed the squishy spots in the carpet down the hall to a room where her ex-neighbor stood, feet planted, brandishing a mop.
“In here! I got the thing cornered!” He glanced over his shoulder. “Nice seeing you again, Quinn. Looking dapper as ever.”
“Careful, Percy. Don’t spook it.”
He obeyed her gestures to step back into the hall and she knelt carefully, silencing her breath as she surveyed the room and read the signs: fresh stains in the wallpaper; blisters in the particleboard shelving unit; a splash of anxious droplets across the window. This was one agitated aquid, but where was it hiding?
Most importantly, what was its soft spot?
“It’s not yours, right?” she whispered over her shoulder. “Not your pet or anything.”
“Aquids creep me right the hell out,” Percy declared, too loudly. “I’ll never own one of those slimy little alien water monster things. Not me! No thank you!”
Quinn tried to shush him, but it was too late. The aquid’s frightened glittering caught her eye only a split second before it jumped out from under the desk, bounded off the window, shook the light fixture—
“Shit!” Quinn shouted. “Someone flip the breakers! Quick!”
—and flopped down right onto the power strip underneath the desk. A single brilliant spark burned a heartrending image into her retinas. Someone screamed. Quinn waved the smoke and ozone out of her face and rushed to scoop what was left of the creature quickly into a jar. It slopped greasily down the side like a glob of egg whites and settled in the bottom, barely moving.
“Is it dead?” Jasmine asked. She pulled her new boyfriend down from the chair he’d jumped up onto.
Quinn squirted some saline into the jar and stirred it gently. She checked the readings on her pH meter and breathed a sigh of relief: it would probably recover.
Percy clicked his tongue. “Shoulda left those stinkers on the beach they washed up on, you ask me. Shoulda figured out what weird trench they crawled from and pitched ’em right back in. I don’t care how good of pets they make. Bound to turn evil sooner or later.”
“What happened?” Quinn asked Jasmine. “Where did it come from?”
“No clue. We just woke up and the sheets were damp and that—that slime was flopping all over the place!”
Quinn gave her a look. “You wouldn’t talk about Digby like that.”
“That’s different.” Jasmine shifted uneasily. “Digby isn’t an unholy terror.” She motioned to her boyfriend. “It slapped him right in the face.”
Quinn cleared her throat, squished the smile out of her lips, and packed the jar into her padded briefcase. “Never seen a feral aquid act this aggressive. Must’ve been a plumber’s helper that escaped into the main.” She hesitated to add: “Probably after a lot of mistreatment.”
“Mistreatment?!” the neighbor yelled. “Thing’s a monster! Who even knows what the aquids want from us! Who knows why the damn things crawled up onto land in the first place!”
“So I guess you don’t want to keep it?”
Percy threw up his hands. “Keep it?! I’d flush it myself if I thought it wouldn’t burble up somewhere else! I thought you was here to kill it. Thought you’re an exterminator.”
Quinn handed him a business card. TROUBLED WATER, it read; AQUID CARE AND REHABILITATION. She gave one last look to each of them in turn and then smoothed down her jacket and headed back out to the curb, muttering, “Have a better one,” under her breath as she slid past.
“Hey wait,” Jasmine’s new boyfriend called out. “What do we owe you?”
“No charge,” Quinn grumbled, already putting her helmet on.
Jasmine caught up and planted her hands on the handlebars, looking mortified with regret. “You understand why I thought it was you, right? You haven’t exactly been taking this breakup gracefully.”
Quinn glanced at the love of her life and frowned.
“I mean, it’s been a whole month,” Jasmine pressed. “When’s the last time you ate? Slept? I hope you’re not still living in that dank little closet in the back of your shop.”
Jasmine gripped her own head exasperatedly. “You are killing me, Quinn! Say something! I never know what you’re thinking or feeling. You barely laugh. You don’t even cry. In three years I’ve never seen you cry once! Do you even realize that?”
Quinn pursed her lips. It was true. She hadn’t shed a tear since fifth grade, and she wasn’t about to start now.
“What do you want?” Jasmine asked, earnestly.
Quinn stared up at her. As if the question needed to be asked. As if Jasmine didn’t know Quinn wanted her back. If all attempts at language thus far had failed her, it was doubly pointless now, so without another word she kick-started the engine and watched her ex-girlfriend (balling her fists and visibly stifling a frustrated scream) shrink in the mirrors.
At the next intersection Quinn narrowly swerved around a big white van pulling out of an alley, the words BILL RUSSET stenciled on the side. She shook off the adrenaline and fought to keep her mind on the road, the case stowed between her knees, the wounded feral aquid inside.
What am I going to call you? she wondered. How about Dorky? Sparky? Regretty?
The sun was up and the harbor gulls were screaming by the time Quinn pressed back into her shop. The new aquid went under a red lamp to see if it could bounce back from its encounter with alternating current. Meanwhile, Digby was rocking its jar back and forth again, so she hauled it over to the desk and gave it back the waterproof micro-keyboard.
“What’s up with you, Digby? You’re normally so chill. Something going on?”
NOAW UNDARSTEND NAOW, it typed again. OSCEEN SOUNT DDEPE MUOOZIQ QWIN LEOEV QQWIN INDKNSES PSASTSESS AWKQID DOIS FOLLLLLO IN TOO IN THHE ATDEEP EBCMOE A BAD BAMDASOR
What did the aquids want? Why had they come onto land? Percy had asked these things rhetorically, but they were good questions. Quinn had been asking them so long they’d merged into the white noise of her life. The years she’d spent trying to communicate with Digby had given it a flair for typing almost unheard-of among aquids, but the year since they’d made any real progress left her to wonder whether she’d really taught it to convey meaning, or merely to assemble letters into words for fun.
She opened the lid and let the water crawl up her arm, around her shoulders, and back down her other side. It was in a good mood; it dampened the fabric of her shirt but then sucked every trace of itself back in. It glommed onto the keyboard in her palm and went right back to typing—and Quinn leaned her head on her fist and watched its absurdist mutterings scroll by on the tiny display. There was some word it seemed determined to spell: MABASOSSDER, A BASAMADROOM. She helped it back into its jar, tapped the glass, and whispered: “Anybody ever tell you you’re a real goober?”
Digby had been her first rescue, three years ago in the alley behind the dry cleaners. The place had kept a dozen-odd aquids back then, trained to break up troublesome stains without damaging the fabric, but a close call with caustic detergent had driven Digby into a frenzy, and the proprietor had thrown it out on the street just as Quinn and Jasmine happened by on their postcoital morning walk. They’d found Digby cowering in a drainpipe and spent an hour trying different things to coax it out: whistling, humming, dancing, silence, grains of salt, dribbles of water, flashes of light. Finally, Quinn had played some Enya on her phone, and that had done it. It turned out Digby fucking loved Enya.
Digby still felt like the kid they’d raised together—to Quinn, at least—and in the process of nursing it to health, she’d gained an accidental reputation as the area’s foremost aquid handler. It paid the bills okay. It would’ve paid much better, but she kept her business the way she liked it: unadvertised, tucked away in the armpit of a freight pier where nobody looking for a new pet would ever find it. She’d grown too close to the aquids, knew their soft spots too well, to dream of selling them now. There was Salty (who liked its salinity unusually high), Stormo (weirdly bluish), Grungy (who had a taste for Nirvana), Mopey (very passive and viscous), and going on thirty or forty others now: all somebody’s water damage liability at one time, all perfectly chill now that they had a home, company, and a bit of attention every day.
Digby stirred and jittered and then went still, seemingly waiting for her to respond to its incomprehensible missives. In passing, she thought: do you feel, talking to me, the way I felt with Jasmine? Like there’s a glass wall between us that no words can ever cross, so why even try? She put its favorite music on and watched the blob of animate surface tension swirl peacefully around the confines of its jar. Sail away, sail away, sail away.
The ringing phone jolted her face off the desk. She answered, “Troubled Water, Quinn speaking.”
A gravelly voice said “Hey. So, uh. I heard you don’t kill aquids when you catch them. Like, uh. Ever.”
She winced and straightened up in her chair and said, “They’re fairly intelligent. Some are on par with a dog or a small child. No one knows for sure, but they can even use simple written language—”
“No they can’t.”
A long pause passed. Quinn said, “Yeah, they can.”
“Actually you’re wrong.”
“Dude, listen. They do have a very different kind of intelligence from us. We don’t know how polymerized water-based life works on a molecular level, how they store memory or information, let alone how to measure—”
“You’re crazy.” He hung up.
She tried to lean her face back down on her desk and go to sleep again, but the residual shakes kept her up. She went to brew some coffee, but the phone rang again.
“Troubled Water, Qu—”
“Why do you dress like a man?” asked the same voice as before.
“I said, uh. You’re a girl, right? So why do you dress like a man. Like a businessman. Like a G-man. It’s weird.”
Quinn yearned to tell him some truth. She wanted to sit this troll down and say: my dude, what’s the big fucking deal? I look and feel swank as hell, and what’s more, the world is crap and living is pain, but maybe someday it won’t be—I mean I can only get through the days anymore by choosing to believe, in spite of it all, in spite of all the dickwads like you, that something really wonderful is going to happen. And when it does, I’m damn well going to be dressed for the occasion. I’m going to meet it in style.
But as she was thinking all these things, she had a hunch.
“Because I take pride in my work,” she said. “Unlike Bill Russet.”
A long silence passed.
“Fuck you,” the caller growled, and hung up.
Just as she was pouring the grounds, the phone rang a third time. She groaned and picked up without looking at the screen.
All she heard was breathing on the other end. Then “Quinn?”
Shit. It was Jasmine.
“I don’t think I ever actually apologized,” she said. “Is this an okay time?”
“I . . . ” Quinn trailed off. She leaned back against the wall and sank down to a sit.
“I’m really sorry. I was up all night trying to catch that thing and my brain was truly fried. I know you’d never set a feral aquid loose in our—my house. It’s just . . . the neighbors said their doorbell camera caught some creep in pleated dress slacks sneaking around the side with a bucket right around the time it happened, and I just assumed.”
Quinn said nothing, but the words stung in her ears. As if she’d be caught dead in pleated pants. Flat front or bust.
“I’m sorry I blamed you,” Jasmine continued. “That wasn’t cool and now I feel like I blew our first chance to actually talk since you moved out, and I just . . . ” The line sighed. Jasmine’s voice lowered to a nearly inaudible creak: “I miss you, okay? I’m allowed to miss you.”
Quinn buried her face in her hand. I miss you too, she thought. In fact, all I do anymore is sit around trying to think of something I could say that could ever get you to give me one more chance to fix whatever it was I broke. I can’t begin to imagine how to move on with my life. Christ, Jasmine, I’m so lost without you I don’t know what to do.
“Yeah,” Quinn murmured.
“What do you feel?” Jasmine asked quietly.
She was cut off by a shout through the door: “For the love of all that is holy, open up! They’re attacking! Help us! Oh God, help us!”
“Sorry gotta go,” Quinn said.
“Wait!” Jasmine’s voice yelped.
Quinn hung up and pushed the door open and Betty, the forewoman from the warehouse next door, barreled through. Her coveralls were sopping with brine. She grabbed Quinn by the lapels and pulled her close and growled, “What. In God’s name. Have you DONE?”
The cavernous space was in chaos. Amber siren lights spun across the walls while workers ran for cover and yelped in fear at every unsteady motion atop the rows of towering shelves.
“Shut off the alarms!” Quinn yelled. “You’ll only spook them worse.”
Betty shot her a look to kill the devil and said, “You would know.”
“Whatever this is, it’s not my fault!”
“So they just came out of nowhere, did they?!” the forewoman yelled. “Not the aquid pound right next door? You expect me to believe this is a coincidence?”
Quinn smoothed down her suit jacket and put on the calmest face she could. “All the aquids in my care are present and accounted for. I’m happy to help contain, but I am telling you these aren’t mine.”
The forewoman started to say something, but at that moment a basketball-sized glob bounded into view atop the nearest shelf and slammed itself into a precarious stack of yellow tubs of lard. Betty’s eyes went wide with fear as the shelf teetered. Quinn squinted incredulously: the aquid kept focusing on the stack’s weakest point in a way that could only be deliberate. It wasn’t just spooked. It was trying to wreck everything.
“Hey Betty,” Quinn said, then shouted. “Betty! Is there a megaphone in the house?”
It took Quinn half an hour to find the rampaging aquids’ soft spots, and the soft spots were strange. They were all on the heavy side, but still a bit too small to be tickled. The first one scoffed at every genre of music except for epic thrash metal. The second one was indifferent to music but seemed determined to relentlessly throw itself at any blinking light in its line of sight, so Quinn was able to lure it into a circle of grease, which it was afraid to leave. The third one attacked anything that stood on two legs, and Quinn had had no choice but to throw a desiccant packet at it in self-defense, which she felt horrible about; it was the aquid equivalent of pepper spray. The fourth and final one eventually tuckered itself out.
“This isn’t right,” Quinn said, wiping sweat and brine from her brow and lifting the last taped-up utility bucket up the stairs to her shop. “These aren’t feral at all. Somebody had to train them to tear it up like this.”
Betty was still giving her the hairy eyeball.
Quinn’s phone buzzed in her pocket for the umpteenth time. This nonsense was costing her business. She groaned and set the buckets down and turned to Betty: “You want me to prove they’re not mine? Look!” She swung open the door to the shop.
Four five-gallon glass jars were lined up on the bare concrete floor—all overturned and empty. The sound of screeching tires rang out over the pier and Quinn turned briefly to see a white van shoot away on puffs of burning rubber.
Betty plucked a business card from the bowl on the desk. “For our lawyers,” she said, and stepped around Quinn on her way back out into the salty air. For her part, Quinn couldn’t move or speak. She held the first empty jar in front of her and her knuckles turned white from gripping it next to the big handwritten label that said DIGBY.
She roared down the street at full throttle. Her tie whipped furiously over her shoulder and the wind burned her naked eyes, but her eyes stayed dry. Car horns blared and the engine rattled and burned oil between her ankles as she sped down the beachfront and finally half-crashed to a stop in a strip mall parking lot. She stood there a moment, staring viciously at the storefront, the white van parked there, the words on the corrugated plastic sign stapled to the old façade above it: BILL RUSSET, LICENSED ABYSSAL CREATURE EXTERMINATOR.
A car screeched to a halt behind her. She turned, and there was Jasmine, jumping out the driver’s side, looking pissed.
“Answer your fucking phone!” she yelled.
“What?” Quinn asked.
“I hear somebody screaming bloody murder in the background and then you hang up on me and stop answering? What’s wrong with you?”
Quinn winced. “But . . . how did you know to come here?”
“You never cut me off on that phone locator app! What are you doing here? What happened? What the hell kind of trouble have you gotten yourself into?”
“I can’t involve you,” Quinn said ruggedly. “You dumped me. My problems aren’t yours to worry about anymore.”
“That’s not what I—”
Quinn steeled herself and turned away. She threw the taped-up glass doors open and stepped through slowly, like a new town sheriff entering a saloon. Inside there were stacked crates of paper towels; whole boxes of oversized silica gel desiccant packets. Bill Russet stood in the middle of it all, arms folded in defiance. He wore pleated khakis, a bushy blonde moustache, and the smuggest look Quinn could remember ever seeing.
“You can’t prove anything,” he said.
“Wait, you’re him,” Jasmine yelled. “You were in the bushes behind our house last night!”
Quinn’s whole body stiffened. She felt her eyes burn even hotter. “Let me get this straight,” she told him. “You crank call me. You torture aquids to turn them evil. You sabotage my neighbor’s warehouse and frame me for it. You break into my shop. And you snuck a feral into Jasmine’s bedroom while she slept? Why?”
“It’s called entrepreneurship,” he said. “You think you got some kind of monopoly on aquid wrangling, is that it? Think you got the market cornered in this town? Sorry to burst your little bubble, but it’s a free country and I’ll be damned—” he looked the two of them up and down meaningfully—“if I let people like you hold me back from my hard-earned success. Now be good girls and skedaddle.”
Quinn whistled through her teeth and turned an eye to Jasmine.
“And if we don’t?” Jasmine said, rolling up her sleeves.
Bill Russet yanked a utility bucket off the shelf behind him and threw it down hard enough to pop the lid off.
The attack aquid slammed into Quinn’s chest, knocking the breath out of her and replacing it with the taste of adrenaline and salt water. She opened her eyes to see it smash Jasmine back against the wall and cling to her like a raindrop to an ant. It was the fattest water she’d ever seen, easily four gallons and change. Her eyes darted to the piles of towels and bulk packages of silica and other torture devices—but no, that might kill it. Then she knew. She scrambled to her feet and braced herself against the wall, arms spread wide. She was ready when the aquid lunged again: she caught it, stuck her fingers into its sides, and wiggled as if her life depended on it.
The water stopped. Its weight deadened. Its grip became less a strangle than a hug.
“What are you doing to my attack dog?!” Bill Russet shouted.
“The really big ones are always ticklish,” Quinn said. “Which you’d know, if you were a real pro!”
He let out a crazed whoop and brandished a taser to advance on his own pet—but before he could get close, Jasmine roundhouse kicked him in the head, knocking him out cold.
Quinn tickled the water back into its utility bucket and caught her breath. She met her ex-girlfriend’s eyes gravely.
“What?” Jasmine asked.
“He got Digby.”
Without a word, Jasmine found the plug for the wall speakers and the room filled with Enya’s Only Time. Then the two of them fearfully held hands and crept deeper into the room—and in a jar in the back, they saw a flash of swirling silver light.
Quinn’s heart sank and her hand clamped over her mouth when she found Digby, in a jar next to a pile of ripped-open silica wrappers. It was a third its original size and discolored, greenish, sicklier than it had been when they’d found it in that drainpipe a lifetime ago. Desiccant-poisoned. Its motions were jerky but it kept up its slow dancing to the breathy vocals even as Quinn reached into the jar and let it touch her palm.
“I’m here,” she whispered. “I’m here.” She gripped Jasmine’s hand until her fingers ached. She felt so helpless here, without her briefcase, no salt or mineral solution or pH meter, nothing that might help. All she could do for Digby was hold it.
“We’re here,” Jasmine corrected.
Digby was rocking back and forth differently now—the way it did when it wanted the little keyboard. Quinn found it in her suit pocket and set it in the jar. She had to help Digby reach the keys.
MMOMZ, it typed.
A droplet splashed in the bottom of the jar, and then another. Quinn clenched it in her soggy arms and let out a loud, ugly sob. She wept with her whole body, her eyes burning with her own brine, her lungs racked with heaving breath. The tears streamed down her face and Digby limply reached out and drank them up, swelling, incorporating bits of Quinn’s water into its own.
Suddenly it shuddered. It clarified and brightened.
UNDDRSTTAND EBTTER, Digby typed. QKWIN GOOOOD AWKQIDSS SENT TO TESSED HYUMANS YU PASST THE TEST
Jasmine turned to Quinn. “Uh. Has Digby always been this . . . comprehensible?”
QKWIN ALLLAWYS SHOWW AWQUID KINDNESS, the glowing display read. YU PASS ARE TESST NOW COME HEARE THHE DDEEP MYUSIQ BEE COM A MBBOSDR AMBASD AMMBASSSADORR
Digby reached up Quinn’s arm with small but insistent force. It glommed onto her fingertips and started to tug at them, pulling her toward the other jars on the shelf.
“I think—” Quinn stammered in awe. “I think it wants—”
“Wait! What does Digby mean by ‘ambassador’? To who? To what?”
But she was already unscrewing all the lids. A growing circle of sickly, agitated aquids spilled out onto the floor and gathered themselves up, but they all went eerily calm at Quinn’s touch. They climbed up her high-tops and gathered around her ankles and tugged her onward, out the door.
“What is happening?” Jasmine yelped. “Are you walking on purpose or are they walking you?”
“Don’t be scared,” Quinn said. “I think this is it.”
“This is what?” Jasmine waited. “ . . . Hello?”
Quinn finally smiled and answered, “This is the day I was waiting for. This is the wonderful thing.” She squeezed Jasmine’s hand and led her back out toward the daylight.
They walked across the road and down onto the beach. At the edge of the shore, where water darkened the sand, they stood facing each other while the aquids around Quinn’s ankles one by one released and slinked away into the surf.
“Can we talk?” Jasmine asked. “Can we finally, finally talk? That’s all I ever wanted. That’s all that was ever missing.”
“I know,” Quinn said, shivering as Digby crept around her neck and shoulder. “I’m sorry it’s so hard for me.”
“I love you, Quinn. I never stopped loving you. Will you just . . . talk to me?”
Quinn’s voice caught in her throat. All the stress and fear and anger and vulnerability of this god-awful day had shaken loose a psychic blockage that had been gumming up her heart ever since the breakup—maybe much longer. She met Jasmine’s sublime and heartbroken gaze and knew this was finally it: the moment the glass jar broke, when she could finally be fully open and present with another person, finally connect, really and truly talk. She opened her mouth to speak—
But just then she heard something. They both turned and looked out at the ocean—at the small but growing hole parting the waves, spreading into a sort of well. A tunnel.
Talking, Quinn thought. Who needs talking?
“What is it?” Jasmine asked.
“Do you hear that music?”
Jasmine stared blankly. “What music? . . . Quinn?! Hello?”
“No, you were right,” she finally answered. “We need to take some time to ourselves.” Quinn planted a salty kiss on her cheek. Then she turned to the hole in the waves and walked.
“Wait!” Jasmine called. “What’s down there? What’s happening? Will you ever come ba—?”
The surf rushed in and sealed the entrance behind Quinn, muting Jasmine and the screaming gulls and hissing waves and the harbor noise—and in the sudden quiet, she heard the music clearly. Haunting, resounding, ethereal. Voices sang from somewhere much deeper as she followed the tunnel, scraping her high-tops on the sand and rocks, coral and submerged tide pools. She stopped at the top of a spiral of steep water-hewn steps and stared down their length as far as the ebbing blue sun could touch—and beyond reach of the light, the silhouette of a dark structure. She hesitated. She looked back.
“What do you think, Digby?” she asked the water dancing on her shoulder. She smoothed down her lapels and straightened her tie and said, “Am I presentable?”
Then she climbed down, following the music.
Elly Bangs was raised in a new-age cult, had six wisdom teeth, and once rode her bicycle alone from Seattle to the Panama Canal. Her short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Escape Pod, Fireside Quarterly, and elsewhere--and her debut post-apocalyptic novel, Unity, is coming in April 2021 from Tachyon Publications. She's a 2017 graduate of Clarion West.