I didn’t tell Boy or Max about Melusine. I didn’t want to make Boy angry again, he had been sour since we had arrived the week before. I hated to see Boy angry like he was, and I after what happened the previous night, it seemed like he was on edge.
I thought about telling Max, but as the days went on her curiosity of Melusine turned into an obsession. Days she didn’t spend in the tar she locked herself in Melusine’s room. The walls were too thin to make out any murmurs that escaped their private conversations.
I noticed a few days later that Max was tired, or maybe not tired, this looked more serious than tired. Her eyes sagged with heavy bags, and I thought I could see strands of grey smolder in her orange hair. Over the next few days, Boy and I began taking on more and more of the responsibilities that Max used to handle. Boy seemed pleased with the unfolding events, he was always ready to take on new responsibility, and he didn’t mind if Max’s long conversations shut her up in Melusine’s room.
After a few more days it felt like we were the ones sheltering Max. She became frail and sickly, her skin paling more every day. We only really saw Max during meals, and conversation always felt perfunctory and wooden. I liked it better when Max talked to me like she used too. I always felt like I learned from our conversations. For instance, I learned what the word ‘perfunctory’ meant from her. Though, I think she made that one up.
“Max,” I asked during dinner. “Are you feeling sick?”
The corner of her mouth tugged, “What do you mean? I feel fine, Claire.”
Boy offered nothing to the conversation but swiveled his head to me as I began speaking again. “It’s just that, well, you said that Melusine was sick, and you’ve been spending so much time with him, I--”
Max and Boy sent pointed glares at me. “You know about Melusine?” Max asked hesitantly.
I knew very little, I wanted to hear about Melusine from her. “Yes.”
“You can’t make me stop.”
“Diving,” she said, trying for confidence. “I know it doesn’t seem sane, and I know what it sounds like, and Melusine doesn’t want me to go either, this is my decision.”
Boy asked me what was going on. When I didn’t say, he started pacing.
“I want to talk to Melusine,” I said. “Right now.”
Max looked uncertain but nodded. She produced a key and brought it to the door. A sharp click unlocked the door, but she let the key stay in its notch and walked away from the door.
“Go ahead, Claire.”
I realized how nervous I was when I nearly stumbled trying to get up from my chair. I took a deep breath, then made my way to the door. It opened easily, and Boy cautiously followed me into the room.
The room looked identical to Boy’s and mine, but it smelled like damp mold. Melusine lay tightly wrapped under its covers, its chest pushed up and down by its ragged breathing. It’s head and face were bound in suffocating bandages that were stained in dry blood and puss. I felt something wet rise in my throat, but I swallowed my fear and stepped closer to the bed.
I could see the faint outline of a smile through the filth of its bandages as it spoke. “Claire, I’m glad to have finally made your acquaintance in person. And I see you brought your creature.” Boy’s fur bristled.
“What is it that you’ve been saying to Max. I want to hear all of it.”
“Ah, Max. Yes, well it is only natural that she would ask about my home. She wanted to know what else is in the tar. Surely, there is something besides me, she said. She was right. But I told her it was a fool’s errand.”
“What do you mean?”
“At the bottom of the ocean lies paradise. She asked me if it was possible to reach, and I said it was.”
“You’re a liar,” I said.
“The truth is all I’ll ever have, and all I’ll ever need.”
“Do you know why the seas all turned black?”
“I’ve never seen them any other color,” Melusine laughed. “The world has existed longer than you, Claire. The seas are black because the monsters skulking its depths should not be looked upon for any reason. Their appearance can turn skin to paper and will inflict upon the mind a catastrophe that dwarfs this planet’s so-called apocalypse. But still, beneath it all, there is unmistakably a paradise.”
“Will she find it?”
“I suppose it is possible, but no.”
I swallowed another wave of nausea. “Where did you come from?”
I couldn’t stand the smell anymore, I left Melusine’s room and slammed the door behind me. I looked around the shelter for Max, but she was nowhere to be found. Her diving gear was also gone.
I waited for her. I waited nearly two days, but the stench from Melusine’s room spread slowly through the entire shelter. His moaning turned to wailing, and I could hardly stand the sound any more than the smell. She didn’t return, and I couldn’t stay.
We left and started walking. I decided to leave my old mask behind in favor of one of Max’s. It was a little big, but it was good. We went to the place Max liked to dive, but there was no sign of her. And there I was with Boy, alone again.
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.