The Last Call of the Deep

Lyndsey Croal

They say her teeth are carved from fallen stars, strong like diamonds.
They say her skin is formed of the sun, glittering silver and gold
They say her eyes are powered by the moon, jewelled beacons in the deep.
They say she has lived for thousands of years.
They say she’s the last of her kind.

The waves crest and fall as she travels endlessly in the deep. Existing through the generations, she calls out to relatives and friends. Back and forth as the currents guide, she gathers stories from continents and cultures, and they latch in her mind like the barnacles on her skin. Tides welcome each movement of her body, while seafarers quake at her voice. A low, mournful echo that can be heard by her own kind hundreds of miles away.

But lately, when she calls, there’s been no reply. Her voice drifts alone, stretching into the gulf as if swallowed by a black hole. She has become the keeper of stories, with no one to share them with.

It’s almost too dark to see when she breaches the water with a puff of air and a smooth undulation of her curves. She gazes up with a moonlit eye, searching for an island she knows was once here. Though her vision is hazy, she can see there’s little rising above the water – just a small hillock, barren and desolate.

She tries to remember the last time she travelled in these parts, but time spent in the deep passes differently, so that days and weeks and years seem almost to merge together.

Still, something isn’t as it was.

Diving a little below the surface, she swims forwards to investigate, sending out a call, listening to how the echo reverberates back to her. It tells her that a vast obstacle lies ahead, under the water. With eyes adjusting to the murk, she spins on her side and looks at the strange world now surrounding her – mountains and rows of tiny derelict trees line one part, while valleys ebb in steady waves on the other. Amidst the landscape lie buildings of mortar and stone, now uninhabited. Seaweed and shells cling to the sides of walls, while tiny fish bubble back and forth from the maw-like windows.

She calls out again, pushing her voice beyond the underwater fortress, crying. Have I lost my way?

She swims past the ruins and waits with faltering hope for a response. None comes. It’s been so long since she heard another voice in the deep. So long since she’s come across another of her kin. So long since she’s collected a story from afar.

She thinks of her last calf from many cycles ago. He was a curious one, enjoying swimming up to floating wooden islands, saying hello to seafarers who had for a time greeted them like long lost friends. But one afternoon, when he was almost grown, she’d let him go to see one of them on his own. He didn’t return. When she swam out to look for him, the only evidence of his presence was an oily residue in the water, slick and metallic to the taste. She cried then, a deep siren call, as she knew the floating island had taken him.

It wasn’t long after that incident, that she stopped meeting or hearing her kind at all – as if they had all vanished along with her son.

Struggling to make sense of her swirling thoughts, she swims on, intent on heading north, following cooling waters as the seasons change – as she has done for as long as she can remember. Maybe things will become clearer there.

The sunken island isn’t the first of its kind that she finds. Drowned worlds lie beneath the surface where once she knew there were coastlines and vast swathes of land. It disorients her, this peculiar new tiding, and she finds she can no longer tell where in her journey she is. Will she ever reach north, or will she end up circling endlessly, searching for something that may no longer exist?

She calls out again, but there’s still silence.

She loses track of how long she’s been swimming for. She stops for the occasional meal, but supplies in these waters have become harder to find. At this time of year, there ought to be a bounty of life. Her energy begins to wane.

The seas eventually start to cool, and it eases some of her tension. She feels a shift in her body as the water whirls around her. When she was young, her family would tell a story that her ancestors formed the continents – that the great creatures before once breached the surface and simply fell asleep, body half out of the water, the rest of them rooted to the ocean below. Where they lay, land gathered, forming rocks and mountains and rolling hills. They became the world that once was.

It made sense, in a way – an endless sleep, to begin a cycle anew. Is this to be her fate?

Perhaps it’s time to let go, to become like her ancestors.

She lets out a long breath and allows her body to drift to the surface. There she stretches out, until she’s lying with her underside facing the brightness of the sun. The rays feel warm on her skin. It’s peaceful here. And suddenly all she wants to do is sleep.

As she closes her eyes, every story she’s ever heard flashes through her mind, until all she can think of is the water around her and the sun on her skin, as if she’s letting the tales go into the depths beneath her. She hopes that the story of her ancestors is true – that her body will merge with the sea somehow, that she will become something more than herself.

It’s a calming drift into a long slumber, and she’s vaguely aware of the nights turning to day and the days to night, as stars and the sun and the moon flash by above.

When it is time, she uses her final breath to send out a sombre call.

Her heartbeat slows. Her body stiffens, turning to rock and stone.

They say her call was formed of melancholy and hope.

They say it was the last call of the deep.

But as time moves on and the tides come and go, something new awakens.

Far away, in distant waters, a call echoes back.

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