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It is Tuesday. You turn over in the dark, skin prickling, brain wet and soggy, breath not leaving the space just before your face. Sleep is a good way to melt a few hours onto the floor until you have to get up and go to work. Life is a damp mask, and you are suffocating slowly. Your thoughts aren't running yet, haven’t moved all of today. Maybe you won’t turn on at all, and it’ll be another day where you think to yourself, where did all the time go?

Greasy thoughts. Slow hands. Waxen, slow, soundless. And there is no reason to not be like this — not to burn your life away. It’s time to melt your life like candlewax onto the floor. Time to melt time.

Close your eyes and think of nothing. Do not dream.

The undersea wind today is gentle, the water thick and surface calm.

You peer over the banister of the ship, blisters beneath your fingers aching raw. A crewmember watches in case their darling captain dives overboard in sea-lust again. Yesterday was a flying sturgeon catch, its arachnid legs weeping blackening pus that stained your remaining hand into tar — it would not be unnatural, nor the first time, for a latent poison to call its prey home. But you do not feel that siren-song today. Today you watch the waves — because the waves, visible in the ship’s green ghostlights, are blanketed utterly in five-petaled blue-purple flowers each the size of a penny. Cold and sweet, a numbing miasma cloaking your ship up to the scout’s nest straddling the frozen iron steam column.

Call your scout over, confirm. Your coat hangs heavy and warm over your shoulders, but the rest of you is as chill as the mist. Sound the brass bell, you tell the one-eyed crow-faced crewmember who approaches. Mark your point on the chart. You have entered the Hyacinth Sea.

It is Tuesday, but not the same Tuesday as you last remember. Maybe it has been one Tuesday between last and now, or maybe five. Time has drawn a vacation from your life as of late. It is evening. Recount: you returned from work, as you always do. You ate, as you usually do. You have done nothing at all, as you are fault to do. You had promised yourself you would do otherwise. You are lying in bed. Your mind clutters the room like decaying tissue paper, and time slips like oil in the rain over windowglass.

On the tape, in electrical white on black block Sharpie: ZEN GARDENS. The tape wheel unwinds in your hands, unspooling, unraveling. The motes of dust in the air blacken on their journey from one cubic meter to the next. The sun stares blankly at the wall, its heat empty, its presence a lightbulb. The bedsheets crease your skin, and eons tick by as the sun meanders across the wall in a blindingly slow laser line.

Your fingers fumble over the edges on the tape, absently respooling. And out of no thought at all, thoughts more static than words or pictures, just as you did — now you remember — just over a month ago, you pull yourself up and shuffle to the TV.

You blink the languid blink of a tiger.

Walk the deck, stretch your legs from the cramping metal of your cabin. You are running the sapphire route from Port Appalarian to the great city of Mew. Your hands are busy with braiding, and your ears half-deafened by the clatter of steel rigging, the haul of ropes. The calls and whistles of your crew are heard over the vocal-range ship groans. Good folk you’ve hired, picked up across the way from shipping honey and trading sphinxbone — forget that one in particular. Rub your eyes. Bad memories.

It is a Tuesday. Half a year later. You have lost your job, gained a new one, lost that too. Now you are living on checks that still come in before they will stop, and you do not know when that will be. The discomfort is worms under your skin, but the worms would eat you alive in fear if you checked to see the end-date of your static comfort.

Out of habit, nothing more, one coming alive in circumstances unpresent until twenty years into living, you plug in the VCR. Then, eyes a little more open than before, stare blankly into space, trying to remember how to insert a cassette. Then, sit back and watch, because your hands apart from your mind’s control have pressed ‘play,’ and you suggest to yourself that maybe you forgot to take the tape out when you last used the TV. Chew on a piece of beef jerky your other hand finds from under the couch, cracked and stale but seasoned delicately, still pretending at internal moisture if you wet it with your tongue first. You have, now, are no longer poor, but you remember this in childhood reflex. Today is a day of habits, it seems.

And so, in memory from being a teenager: sit unemployed, loveless, dreamless, aimless in front of the old round-faced TV pulled from the closet with its mothballed grey graffiti of wires beneath, and watch from where you left off.

Somewhere far away, the undersea roof thunders, quakes, and crumbles: the great boom of some city-sized stalactite shearing off from the sky and into the deep water. The sea remakes itself! comes up the call from the crew, and an iron bell jangles in the watchpost. You make a note to watch out for resultant waves, though you know from your months away that the wake won’t happen for some time yet.

Tuesday again. Half a year and one again, and you have pulled this out from the closet. It is pristine, exactly as it was last time. You are in a relationship, have gone through two more jobs, found stable government employment that turned sour but you kept anyway, arrived recently to a reminder that you are one of the few people at work who knew how to fix their nephew’s GameBoy that you have a movie, vintage, from your past that you have not finished.

Ah, that’s why the film wasn’t working. A push, trying not to electrocute yourself on the two-pronged thing. With a series of whirs and clicks and grinding that you hope isn’t the tape, satisfied from a long day of work that isn’t exactly joyous but isn’t restless-making and isn’t quite drudgery, the tape is alive, paused on the round-faced TV. The day of habits, the last Tuesday you brought this out, is a barest whisper in the outfields of your memory — you are into sports, or your spouse is, and your thoughts are clouded these days more often than not by statistics of American soccer rather than by must and mould.

Somehow, this is a discomfort still. Perhaps you are prejudiced against sports. Perhaps you just need a little more time to make life comfortable in your own skin. Perhaps, in fact, your skin is changing and your underneath has yet to catch up.

All is well in the world. You just need a little time to work into yourself. Your spouse won’t be home for another few hours, and you are curious: you can scarcely recall what you had been watching, all that time ago. Perhaps it will bring back memories, like a diary written in cipher from 8th grade, fingers finding to one’s dismay a booger wiped on the page and then thrown back by the amount of memories burst back into the present from the touch.

And so: drop back onto the bed in an action altogether too fast for how you feel, lungs mucked from the dust breathed in near the back of the TV. You have some time to kill, and today is not a day for too much thinking.

Press play.

The flowers are still. They stretch out for miles in all directions.

An odd freeze-frame takes you out. You slap the controller, then haul yourself back up and blow on the tape.You recognize that only a few minutes have passed, but it feels so much longer.

Press play and try to lose yourself again.

You will have soup today, rich and creamy from undersea-catch, whatever finds you today. Spices ground and harvested behind mirrors, to make them all the sweeter, but for now, you are here. A current of what you hope to be messenger bats flutters over you: land must be near.

Does this coast not have lights? Or maybe that’s the tidal wave coming in early. The sea there, you know, has no spines to slow the ocean's mad fingers.

Again, a space of quiet hits you. A brief worry: is the technology broken now, dilapidated and degraded by time? And then the film finishes its stutter, starts again — but you are not drawn in immediately, this time; for once, you find yourself paying attention like you have never before.

The film is grainy, but the cinematography is impeccable — even you can see that. It’s a sleepy, numbing, softening thing about zen gardening. Sand patterned into shapes and how rocks are to be used and what stories can be told through their placement. No dialogue or voiceover, just showing. Not even gestures, nor people. No cuts or transitions, no movement at all. The film is just a single still that changes over time with the wind and day, subtle shifts that all hold meaning. Not even the sun moves from its position in the sky, but the scene seems oddly alive, somehow, and oddly alluring on the screen, vibrant.

You cannot fall asleep. You also cannot daydream. You feel as though you could watch for hours, feeling the grain from the film wash over your skin. There are no thoughts here, watching, but it’s as fascinating as a newborn house fire. One you don’t want to put out.

With your shift in attention, the film's garden has changed, is snowing. The black rocks are frosted in bitter white, the gravel raked in sepia tones and caked in grey. The whorls and sweeps are visible through the powder-flakes, shock through the distortions of time and bend of the glass screen, and echo in your chest the tugging sensation of alien longing, wistful homesickness for somewhere you have never been and cannot fathom. The placement of rocks, the individual grains colliding against the bases of the larger roundings eroding slowly with every raking, communicate through a subtle shift in perspective, the light shifting between the trees. Your heart paces in your chest like a dog, and for a moment you find it hard to breathe. You think you see a leviathan amidst the quiet and the dust, slowly changing: here comes rain, gentle like fuzz, and up comes hissing haze from the rocks, fine and sweet like rice grain from the mill.

Now, at last, because you have kept this habit recently: blink.

The ocean bottoms out in a tidal wave like it has sucked in its gut to show its vast arches of spines and under-coral reefs teeming with flopping fish gouging themselves anew on the ribbing of ships. On iron, rusting spines, scimitars spined with nails, folding claws for grabbing whales.

You grab the ship’s rail with your metal arm, sandpaper-gripped fingers locking tight, and the wood and flesh-ripping frozen metal would break before your grip would. In the shallows that were once the deep, gravity plummeting your ship to the floor, your crew riot the ship: a thick CA-CHUNK, and the ship belly splits: you cannot see it, but feel it like a train rumbling the floor of a station inches from its wheels, back in the cities that have them: the ship cracks open spiny crab’s legs, unfolded from her belly, and seeks without mind nor feeling the nearest solid surface, clings tight and scuttles downwards through gears that say front leg, middle leg, now move back leg, repeat and power themselves not on oil but through gravity. And so you careen with exposed scuttling sea-legs like crab chitin claws, ride your scuttle-ship down a column of leviathan-spine: sphinxbone edged in teeth. Your crew whoop; your harpooners, satisfied that the ship will not fall in the absence of water but ride the loops of undersea floor like a roller-coaster from the Liberty city, ready the cannon — in the dark of the wave, you cannot see, and then with tempered polarized glass eyes you do: through the seaspray from the tidal wave from that spire that fell so many hours before. In the wall of black water smooth like polished glass, the ship's green ghostlights train forward, the eyes of a predatory fish, and expose your target in all her thorny glory: you pull yourself up, letting go of the rail, succumb with your own sea-legs across the deck and climb the battle towers to join your crew, and—

Tuesday. Another freeze-frame. You don’t get up — still in bed, you breathe it in: dust, dry and thickening in the lung tissue. Stagnant. Your neck hurts from staring, your eyelids gummy from not blinking for too long. A habit from your 30’s, when your spouse was given a stack of DVDs at a giveaway and you binged the films for hours together every night until you complained a little too loudly with your hesitation and, warmly, they kissed you and told you that it is okay, let’s make bread and art together, I should have checked in to see how you were holding up. The memory softens your rib bones, heats — you left the thermostat down today, haven’t touched it since they are out at a conference in Sweden and you like it a little cooler. Like wearing jackets over spending money on heating. You don’t do enough for them. This feels like something.

The screen flickers. You look closer, squinting from your place propped up against your pillows, limbs hazy and utterly defeated under an unaccustomed weight of something not quite memory. You shake the remote, press play, squint through the blur of uncorrected vision and—

Up! Pull! and the baby leviathan is scooped from the sea. Winches scream, chains rattle and sing, your ship rocks starboard and its scuttle-legs scrape in a deafening song along the sphinxbone they clutch to, scrabbling not to fall to the spires of the sea floor bone dry below. Agonizingly, tidal wave falling, going to collapse over you—

And then a release of pressure, and you and your crew fall to the other side of the ship: Onboard! A colossal tentacled thing of vibrant impossible hued purple and silver and gold from the ocean, and just in time: sensing the shift, your ship retracts its legs into its ports and leaps into the oncoming tidal wave. Rides it high and your crew throws down shiplines to reduce momentum and you crest it, top of the wave like a mountain: look up, your crew and you as one, and cry out at the closeness of the undersea roof, the glow-worm stars visible as grubs scraping inches close to your face, you see how your steam tower collides in a great shrieking of metal on metal with the ceiling and wince—

And careen down the back of the wave, sliding so fast into the calm sea behind with a great roar that leaves echoes like thunder from a world you barely remember even in your dreams. And then all in one rush of air, the world goes quiet.

The world waits. The air is still. Your boat’s spines, its legs, click and shuffle, a sharp metal wheezing slide as they fold and collapse back into the hull. The hyacinth sea is full of flowers blooming, but here they bud. No fragrance, or very little to your sweet-numbed nose. You are at the edge. You dry-heave into the ocean, a crewmember pats your back. Your boatswain? No, they smell like blood. The ship’s surgeon. Why is she abovedeck?


The beast your crew harpooned is adeck. Walk over to it, joints ticking in clockwork. A thick impossible thing, and your surgeon walks up and with advice from the beastmaster. Tilts her head; takes her wide scimitar knife from her belt like a sword, and in many sawing motions spills its black pungent blood like spoilt smooth pudding or hard oil onto the deck. A crewmember vomits. Another, less seasoned, retains their shock from the stench enough to step in, movements shaky and jolting, with a nod from the beastmaster in their blue-stained leathers holding the tentacles wide, and clutches the madly snapping beak of the beast with their hand. Rips it out with sheer strength and one boot against the hard clear-white flesh for leverage, falls backwards with the force when it comes away with a wet schluck before it cuts anything, can tear apart your ship before it dies.

The surgeon waves your crew away. The beastmaster stays by her side, lovers that they are, though they try to hide it from you, and then the stench from the beast-blood reaches you. Durian sweet intermingled with ripe old feces and urea and a little pomelo-citrus, and you promptly black out standing.

Tuesday. A pale room that is not your own. The sun has moved across the wall. After hours, maybe minutes, maybe seconds, maybe accidental days of watching, you have become faintly exhausted. Stand up, and almost fall over, muscles screaming — what is this? Your thoughts are muddled, confused, and you cannot fathom, something is blocking your critical thinking of why you are so tired, bone-exhausted despite staring at the screenlight all day. What are you? Why are you so tired?

It is too much. Your eye sockets throb — from too much sun? You are inside. The room seems filled with light, burning. Every surface glowing, every varnished thing glaring. The sickly yellow walls are now brilliant, scorching like stagelights, reflecting blinding bounding through the whole room, an oven baking with photons. Remote in hand, squint, shade yourself with an arm, squeeze your eyes shut, just for a minute. Get this upcoming migraine under control.

Fade out the static in your mind. Yet somehow, the image from the film remains: a single blooming hyacinth in a sea of gravel, a sole looming black stone monolith moonlit behind it.

Lying down again, press play. Stare at the image. It is consuming your soul.

The deck is mopped. The ocean is a place beneath the worldskin, says a tyrian hyacinth-tinged book pulled from the creature’s belly, delivered to you the next morning. Your nap was restful, rejuvenating, and you are in an odd cheer. Through the thin deck, just beneath you, sounds the chopping block and butcher’s knife of the ship’s cook, a wonderful man (woman? You don’t know what gender she (he?) is today) you picked up from a mountain city while trading emeralds, not sapphires. They (he?) over-spice the food, always, over-season and make it so very pepper-hot as to roil your stomach — you think they laugh for it, sometimes, and their humour is rare enough, so you take it in good stride and sometimes exaggerate your pale tongue’s preferences for his (their?) amusement.

This is where monsters have gone, says the book. Tunneled down like worms. The ocean holds all the beasts and captivating terrible dreadful secrets that the above-skin could never dream. Your blood is salt, you know. It didn't used to be. And your skin is sharkskin leather, your eyes black glass from the market fresh and wet — something found in a city worshipful of the lichen that sings in their towers like flutes and violins. Their skeletons are the only thing keeping the sea from rising; lashed down in ropes of bone they remain.

You are no stranger to what this book says, you decide in a swell of grief, and snap it shut. Its pages emit a small sigh and flutter into the leather binding that kept the sheaves dry through the water and acid of a beast’s stomach.

You are no stranger to secrets. Your ship’s portholes are not glass but a squid’s greasy corneas sliced, glossy and cold, and would melt in the sun. The deck is laced with saltpeter, packed, and would disintegrate come heat: your ship sails the cold seas only. This, too, is why you are here: you, not just your ship, not just your crew, have become an amalgam, a shamble of treasures and keepsakes. Walking the deck, your steps sing: your spinal column is jade and diamond. Looking at where you gripped the rail earlier, there is a dent: the fingers on your left hand grow from iron and are made of interlaced carven styxbone. More than biocompatible — bio-optimal. A thick miasma of hyacinth grows from the sea, and you remember that you will need to scrape the blooms off the hull before they take root when you next go to port. All the better that the seas compete, else the hyacinths would take over the whole of the undersea.

You look at your reflection, wobbly and captured in the polished cornea-slice of the porthole, book tucked under your arm. The whole of your face is a darling mask. Carved and set by a devil temptress in a port near the glowing city of Liberty, named for the monument of the aboveworld it allegedly supports with its huge column: a huge spiral structure, a stalactite and stalagmite connected between each other, city climbing up the pillar in carved spirals that call themselves circles with their height, up to the ninth. You touch the eye socket, black glass behind it — glass forged in Liberty, originator of industry and mirrors. So many mirrors reflecting and combining the light of their factory fires there that when you walk the streets, even in the ports far from the city’s furnace-smog center, the radiance seared your skin muscle red, made you wistful of sun on skin. Most days, you can only remember that warmth in dreams. But today, you can almost feel it now, remembering—

A call from your lookout. A jangle of the silver bell. In your reflection, behind you: lights.

Tuesday. A long, long time since then. You remembered the film last night, pulled it out and gave it a gander, as your spouse loves to say these days from some writing project they are fascinated by. You were lying in bed this morning, dreams muddling your eyes — but now blink like a mantis, openly. Heart pounding. Stretch, and jump up, and get your clothes on. Something is calling you — not like sea-lust (where did you get that term?) but like a siren’s wail. Jump outside, shut the door, rattling and splintered cold wood reminding your hands of blackened blisters from a sturgeonfish — where did that come from? — round the corner, a post and piece of wooden fence, and there it is: a small patch of blooming hyacinths. Ground still hard from morning’s frost, you can’t feel your toes, but to your balance the soil is loose like gravel. Something is burning in your chest, and it disturbs. Kneeling down and weeping from the frozen wind in your wide eyes you are pulling, gently tugging at the sickly sweet blue flowers. Collecting them in the palm of your hand. Your mind is full of thick dark water.

Through the window, the film still plays: seeing it, it is like you are back in your room, barely a child, just having bought a VHS tape on a whim at a garage sale with money from your mom. Transfixed, lying on your bed, watching the years go by. Shimmery through the window and the flat-screen, the rocks in their pool of raked gravel erode, smoke-black on cloud-white, sand coiling up into the violet-grey sky.

In your fist, some flowers are crushed while others remain divine. A singular albino dots the center of your clenched fingers, a masterpiece of creation, right there. Utterly flawless, wild in the dyeing magenta flower-blood, becoming something it is not. You kneel, earth on your shins and dirt oiling under your fingernails, mud crusting in your hair. Your pants are rolled up to your knees; your pockets are full of leaves. You are sweaty, heart sharp, eyes pounding, skin utterly alive. The sun has yet to rise, but the sky is blue purple and pink, edging on orange-yellow like fire flickering at the tips of confetti paper.

There is something gnawing at the earth. It is like nausea. In your mind, the Zen garden has eroded into mist from centuries of rain, the black stones and larger one too like fish and whales and turtles and a ship above them all seared by rain and time into a clean black sea. Alien calm, rippled by no wind. To you, the sun has gone out, and the stars are glow-worms on dark rock looking not so far above. Your fingernails palpate the surface of the earth like a delivery doctor examining a cadaver. It bulges, pustulent with promise. Your heart is an impossible purple. Your tongue lolls. Your breath pounds.

Something is changing.

The sky rumbles. Your crew shifts uneasily, those unfortunate enough to be on waking watch after today’s excitement, but you do not look up. The city of Liberty hangs before you, and their mirrors burn.

Something is coming, and you do not need to be here for it.

Time has happened again, you find in frustration, dripped by in the exact same manner as it has since you unfurled your fingers from the cupped bout of time that sloshed as life’s clockwater from your hands when you were seventeen. You do not know what day of the week it is, and you do not remember what happens when you sleep. You had a partner once who told you that they could have full conversations, play chess with you, wrestle with you after dark, and you would not remember a thing come morning. It is a Tuesday, one stranger than you last have had in a long, long time. Your hair is flecked more grey flecked with colour than it is colour flecked with grey. You do not remember what it is that you do; you arrive home in the evenings with no time having passed between then and morning, only the sun and clocks skipping by to tell you that anything has happened at all. Your limbs are thin, your face gaunt and strange when you find your reflection. You remember your dreams, but nothing that comes between.

The ground is a pool, solid, a frozen-over lake. A mirror. You will go through it, dive to find whatever lies beneath. You kneel. You purse your fingers into spades. There is something beneath the earth.

You dig.

(and the ground gives way beneath your feet.)

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