"I thought I'd have to die to get you to visit again," your mother says.
Her tone is merry, but her eyes are stiff, like stone. You accept her reprimands with stoic grace. She is right to be angry. You have avoided her for many years. The Convent said that it was the right thing to do: that it was, when it came down to it, the only thing to do. But you are no longer with the Convent. And blood calls to blood, eager for a reckoning.
"Well? Out with it. Why are you here, Child of God?"
"I am no longer—"
She cackles. Spittle flies off her scarlet lips, which twitch and curl like plump red worms, rubbed raw from years of biting. There is a rosary around her neck. The sight of her wrinkled, claw-like fingers, woven between the gleaming black beads, makes you feel strangely weary.
"You are no child of mine, either. You gave that up. Or don't you recall?"
In response to your unamused expression, she sighs: a guttural, all-too-familiar sound.
"Alright. I've had my fun. Come, sit. You're making me nervous. Do you want an old woman to have a heart attack on your watch? I didn't think so. Besides, if I'm going to die, I want a priest at my bedside, not a wicked sister like you. No offense, chickadee."
You take a seat. It has always been easiest to do what she asked of you. Your mother's will is impenetrable, as fixed as Sisyphus's punishment or the laws of gravity. Nietzsche would be delighted with her—a living, breathing, bitching Übermensch.
She offers you a cup of tea. You accept, grateful in spite of yourself. One sip of amber liquid warms your belly and gives you the strength to face her head-on. Your mother was never beautiful, but she has a presence; one that cannot be denied. Her eyes are big and gold, like coins. Her hair, braided and streaked with white, coils around her shoulders like a deadly serpent.
When you do not speak, she speaks for you, her voice unusually kind.
"So. It has started."
Your mother does not ask questions, only states facts that she should not know. You did not inherit her gift of foresight. Your gifts are those of dusk and heartbreak, lunacy and infernal magicks. Because of this, you had an unhappy childhood: haunted by nightmares, inexplicable occurrences, and the loss of your father, who left for the coastal habitat of his ancestors before you were born and never returned. The washer-women whispered that he succumbed to the lure of the Deep, but they said that about every father who abandoned his family, because it sounded better—more exotic—than the mundane alternative.
"Yes," you admit, too exhausted to play at reluctance. "I—"
"Wait. Don't tell me."
She waves her hand through the air, squinting at a dark splotch on the horizon. Trails of shimmering color—a whisper of violet, a shred of maroon—follow her trembling fingers, but you are relatively certain this is a trick of the fading light. You have already stayed longer than you meant to. The sweet-brittle taste of salt lingers on your tongue, and you suspect that it is not the aftermath of your mother's tea which plagues you, but something worse, something deeper and more primal.
"A year ago."
She smiles at you.
"Your twenty-seventh birthday, to be exact."
Her eyes are black. They flash white, a strike of lightning in an empty field. Deep within her pupils, twin lanterns glow and wink like dying embers. When you shift in your chair, they follow you, like portraits in a haunted mansion.
"Was I right?"
Shock falls swiftly on your shoulders: the blade of the guillotine upon the chopping block.
"How did you know that?" You ask her, forgetting who she is. What she is.
(What you are.)
Again: that mocking grimace. Again: that all-too-familiar hurt. "He was twenty-seven, too. You wretched child."
Before you take your leave, you ask if there is anything she can do, anything that you have not tried.
"I thought I would find solace with the Sisters," you confess. "But the dreams—"
You break off. Embarrassment floods your face like holy fire. How can you tell her the shameful truth? How, every morning, you wake up drenched in desire. How, for a year, you have rubbed your thighs together, aching deep within your abdomen, while the pale ichor of dawn bled through the stained-glass window of your bedroom at the Convent. The silhouette of Jonah in the belly of the Whale, painted onto your chest in delicate strokes of rose-pink, blushing yellow, primordial white. The memory of scales brushing against your skin, like they were meant to be there.
You clasp your hands in your lap. Once, you carried a rosary of your own, but that life is lost to you now.
"Blood will have blood," your mother says. There is no love in her voice, but neither is there happiness. "Remember that, my sweet. Blood will have blood."
Her words follow you home, into the black depths of slumber.
The legends refer to it as the Calling. At first, it was difficult to decipher his alien speech—in your head, your father's words taste like copper pennies; like licking the hollowed-out insides of an oyster shell; siphoning orange juice out of street-gutters—but you understand enough now to know that your life on the Surface is fleeting. You remind yourself that there is still time to turn back. But is that true? The crucifix on your wall no longer feels like a viable escape plan. The last time you knelt beneath its watchful eye, your head filled with the sound of crashing waves, and when you stood up, your hands reeked of motor oil. If God did reach out, you failed to hear Him.
You wonder what it will feel like. To drown. To drift.
You wonder if it will tear you apart.
Samantha Bolf's “Deep” is 999 words and 3 pages long. Samantha graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in May of 2018, with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Philosophy, and honors in Creative Writing. Her work has been published in Flumes, LUMINA, In Parentheses, Monoceros, The Raw Art Review, The Gateway Review, and Vastarien.