One day, Boy was out finding food, which Max found pleasant. She said her other guest wasn’t able to help, so it was nice to have people who could help her sustain the shelter.
Max had some kind of suit with a mask on it, something I had never seen before. Now that Boy was gone, she put it on. It was a skin-tight rubber suit with a mask and a large metal tank hooked up to the back.
“What is the suit for?” I asked.
She gave me a sideways look. “This is my scuba gear, for swimming.”
“You go swimming in the tar sea?”
“Yes, I like it, a lot. You see this?” She showed me a device on her wrist. “It measures how far I dive underwater to see how far I can get.”
“Can you see?”
“Of course not, it really is an abyss under there, that’s what I like about it.”
“What’s an abyss?” I asked.
“It’s something deep, dark and difficult to escape. Once you look at an abyss, it’s hard to look away.”
I thought about that for a moment. “Is an abyss good?”
It was Max’s turn to think. “There are some things that are not good or bad. There are also some things that are good in certain circumstances, but bad in others. Like Boy.”
There was a pause and she stole a look at me as she tinkered with the mechanisms of her suit. I didn’t really know what to say about that, so I kept quiet and gave her a chance to explain.
“That is,” she continued, “Boy is not necessarily good for everyone. Have you ever encountered someone out there who didn’t like Boy?”
“My abyss is the tar. Your abyss is Boy. Even if I’m down far, farther than I’ve ever gone, and I don’t know up from down, and I’m scared, I know I’m in an abyss. Even if I reach the bottom, I know there’s only one way in and out of an abyss.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Do you want to hear a secret?” she asked.
“The man I saved before you two got here is from the abyss.”
She nodded. “I found him in one of my dives. It is so dark down there, the only thing I can see is the faint glow of my depth watch. You have to understand, even if I were looking for someone in there, I could never find them. Nothing good can live in the tar. But I found him by pure happenstance. I swam into him. Can you even imagine how unlikely that is! He was just silently floating in the water where nobody could find him, and I bumped into him. When I started tugging on him, I realized he was chained at the feet.”
She shuddered before continuing, nervously resting her crossed arms across her stomach. “He was chained to the bottom of the tar, however deep that is. The farthest I’ve ventured is one hundred and fifty meters, and that’s where I found him.”
Her eyes darted around the room, and she started talking faster. “When I touched his neck, I could feel his pulse. He was alive! I didn’t have any tools to cut the chain with, obviously. But it didn’t matter, when I inspected the lock at his feet, I realized it wasn’t actually locked. All I had to do was undo the binding with the press of a button. Once I released him, I just grabbed his leg and did my normal ascension as we floated to the top.”
Talking to Max was fun, but it could be frustrating. It was hard to tell exactly what she meant when she talked, and when she rambled, I couldn’t understand many of her words. It was like reading a book with pages missing. If there was a part I didn’t understand, I had to fill in the blanks.
I looked at the door that the abyss man slept behind. The shelter always felt cramped, but it seemed smaller than ever. Max was also looking at the door.
“You said nothing good could live in the abyss, right?” I asked.
“Then why did you bring him back here?”
“I brought Boy back here as well,” she said. “I was lonely until I went into the abyss. This place might not seem spacious now, but I like it better now than when it was empty.”
With that, she took off to her tar. Boy came back a few hours later, and Max a few hours after that. We ate dinner together silently. Boy finished last, like always.
I slipped in and out of sleep as the night went on. The more I thought about the abyss man, the lighter my eyes became. After the third time I woke up. I sat up on my bed in my dark room. The cool air felt still, heavy and hard to breathe. I wanted to pet Boy for comfort, but when I reached out for him, my fingers only touched air.
“Boy?” I whispered.
“Your creature is restless.” A soft voice echoed inside the walls around me. “If you fear the night, I can keep you company while you sleep.”
My chest tightened despite its soothing voice. “Who are you?”
“I believe you referred to me as the abyss man, but you can really call me anything. I’ve had no need for names in my life, but I admit the concept intrigues me.”
I had only just been given a name, so it felt wrong for me to give someone else one so soon, but something about the voice gave me the confidence to follow its directions.
“I can’t think of one,” I said. “I wish I could. I just, I can’t think of any name that would be right.”
A laugh rolled through the walls. “What about Boy, you gave him a name, correct?”
“I see, when you met Boy, he was already Boy.”
“I shall name myself, then, if that is acceptable.” I could almost feel its thoughts moving around the room, it felt like smearing an oily paint on a black canvas with my naked hands. “How about this: Melusine?”
“What does it mean?” I asked
“You cannot understand something until you speak it first.” Melusine replied.
I formed the words in my mouth, but nothing came out. It was like all the air in my body was forced out the second I tried to say his name. I was left clutching at my chest and wheezing. It was not good.
Melusine’s laughter softly hummed in my ears again. “Thank you for giving me my name Claire, it is a special name, I think. I’ll always treasure it.”
“I didn’t give you a name,” I said. “You gave it to yourself, and why couldn’t I say it?”
“A name doesn’t exist until someone refers to a person by that name. And believe me, you said it loud and clear. You made it real, thank you.”
After that, it was gone from my head, and the room fell still. I decided to give up on sleep and walked out to the main room. On one side of the room was Melusine’s door, I avoided looking at it. On the far side of the room was Max’s door and laying in front of that door was Boy.
“Boy?” I whispered.
His head turned slowly before lazily fixing his orange gaze on me. He told me to go to bed and turned his head back toward Max’s door.
“I can’t sleep right now,” I said. “Don’t you need to sleep too?”
Boy didn’t move, didn’t speak. Neither did I. We both stayed silently for a while not moving or speaking until Boy suddenly turned to me, fur bristling. He ran at me with drool dripping from his bared fangs, stopping just inches from my face. I yelped as I fell backwards into my own door.
“Boy?” I couldn’t stop myself from shivering.
Boy’s eyes softened. He licked me on my palm, then returned to Max’s door, his claws lightly tip-tapping the floor like little pins. He slowly walked in a small circle before deciding it was comfortable enough to lay back down. I returned to my room, but I didn’t sleep. When Boy came back to the room a few hours later, he was completely silent. I pretended to be asleep as he crawled onto the bed and made himself comfortable at my feet.
Cole Noone is a college senior currently studying creative writing at Western Washington University. He is a writer of poetry and fiction, and general lover of all things bizzare. Cole recommends the Monument Crisis Center in Concord, California.