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Beautiful Creatures

Arms of the ocean

By AphoticPublished about a year ago 15 min read
Beautiful Creatures
Photo by Samantha Fortney on Unsplash

Their eyes go wide and their lights flash endlessly. They point and ogle and I’ve nowhere to hide from their irreverent gazes. I am but a display for their hungry pupils and nothing more.

Though, I suppose their unrelenting stares are favorable to the pokings and proddings I was subjected to before my current predicament. The incisions and the syphoning of my blood—yes those creatures outside the glass bleed the same as I, I’ve come to find.

Worst of all was when they cut me open and took the one weapon I had at my disposal, the one thing that I could subdue them with. What they took from me was one of the very things that make me what I am.

I sometimes wish that I were a shark instead or a sea snake—something that intimidated them profoundly. Something they were afraid to look at for too long. Something that made them uneasy to watch. Yes, how I wish I were a shark with the sharpest of teeth and the blackest of eyes.

That is my second wish of course. My first wish is to be back in the ocean where I belong—the home I was stolen from while attempting to rescue my fellow creatures of the sea whom the land-walkers had already purloined with their nets.

I want nothing more than to disappear now, but I have nowhere to go.

There at first was a large rock, bigger than I, inside this glass box. Once they realized that I would hide behind it for eternity to escape the endless leering, they took that away too.

It’s so bright in here.

I am alone inside of my empty cell, but I can see across the way—past the crowding, gaping faces—the other children of the sea that I fruitlessly tried to save from this fate. The land-walkers stop and look at them briefly until they see all of the commotion in front of my aquarium, so they call it.

Once they find me, they join the stampede and pull out their flashing lights which hurt my eyes. I try to look away but each time I do there is a hideously unbearable sound released inside of my cell, forcing me to keep my eyes open and face the onlookers.

Many of them stay, unblinking, until they are ushered out forcefully by the men who imprison me here. I see some of the same faces returning day after day to stare some more as if they had already forgotten what I looked like. One man in particular I have noticed return for an entire week.

He doesn’t seem to be looking directly at me much of the time. He is often looking down at the thing in his palm, his fingers tapping furiously against it. The others do this too, but there is something different about his face as he does it. Determination? He cranes his neck to look about my cell, but there is nothing to be seen. It is completely devoid of anything but myself so that I cannot hide from the watchers.

When the land-walkers are forced away and the lights outside of my cell blackened, I go to the glass and look across the way longingly. How I wish that I could be with my friends, comfort them. They swim to their glass as well and we communicate using what land-walkers might call telekinesis. We feel each others emotions and pain.

My friends say they are sorry for getting us into this. I tell them it is not their fault and not to fret for me. I tell them that the land-walkers do not share the same kind of love for us that we do each other. I remind them that land-walkers are even cruel to their own, so it’s no surprise that they would treat us as they do.

They are afraid, I can feel it. I tell them not to be. I tell them to be strong and keep swimming. I tell them to stay unbroken. I promise them that one day we will be free of these cells and they will have all the crabs and conchs that they can eat. I tell them we will find a home far at sea, away from the shores and ships of men. It’s not a promise I can keep, but it’s these reassurances that keep them going another day. That keep me going.

I tell them that I love them. They are like children to me.

We barely sleep while there is darkness. It’s such a welcome reprieve to be away from the prying eyes and flashing lights. We stay awake telling of all the grand things we will do once we are free. We speak it as if willing it to be true will somehow make it so.

Another day passes and I’ve lost count of how many days we have been captives of the land-walkers. The man with the craning neck is there again, craning and tapping. My friends and I continue to tell fabricated stories of our great escape and keep our courage, but it is getting ever harder by the day. My will to go on this way is dwindling and I can see it in my friends as well. Despite our best efforts, we are beginning to break.


It is several days past since I began documenting this story. I feel like a hollowed out conch shell. Even at the start of my imprisonment, I had so much fight in me, so much hope. Even as they defiled me with their painful devices and removed my most valuable organ, my hope did not falter.

It was when one of my beloved friends stopped breathing that my desire to go on dissipated. Two and a half hours he stayed down when he should have gone up for air. His brothers and sister tried to force him up, but he wouldn’t go. He had given up his fight and there was nothing they could do. I watched helplessly from my cell as his essence left him.

They removed his body from the top of the cell, too high up for an escape. They had a metallic device reach down and pull him up—an unnatural metal claw. Seeing his body lifted limply from the water evoked a sadness within me that I cannot explain with words. That, I believe, is what finally broke me.


The three that remain across from me grieve silently, but I can feel their immense pain intermingling with my own. I have swum up to the surface of my cell to try the lid, but it is far out of reach. Now, I lay on the floor of my cell at a loss for words to comfort my friends. The broken cannot fix the broken. We all sulk together, creating a fog of sorrow as we dread the inevitable influx of curious faces pressed against the glass walls come the morning.

It is while we are sulking that something stirs from directly above me. It is a faint sound at first, but becomes louder with each passing minute. I swim up to the surface and poke my head out of the water to get a better ear. My friends across the way swim up to the glass, curious.

I am straining to allocate the metallic sounds when the ceiling above me begins to move! The lid to my cell peels back, letting in a flood of moonlight. Five silhouettes appear in the opening and I dart backward beneath the surface, cowering into the furthest corner of my cell to get away from them.

I will not go back to the labs! I can’t bear it in my broken state. I cannot leave my friends when they need me most! I will fight the men until they stick me with their sleep-needles. I will not go easily. I will give them the hardest fight I have given yet. I will give them hell.

I am working out the ways in which I will inflict damage upon them when one of the shadows drops into the aquarium. I am ready. I will fight to the death.

The shadow comes closer and I am bracing myself for the fight of my life when it stops two feet from where I cower. One arm floats upward, hand splayed out and empty while the other slowly reaches toward me, palm up.

I don’t follow.

I curl further in on myself to appear as though I am not a threat, but the moment he grasps me, I will attack. I am ready. Then he does nothing. I don’t know what to do here, so I just stare back at him. If I have learned one thing from land-walkers, it’s that they love to stare.

We stand like this for a while, at an impasse. The silhouettes above are still hovering over the opening, their shadows casting down into the aquarium. After some time, the man slowly steps back to my surprise and points one finger up toward the water’s surface. I am overcome with confusion and fear and find myself following where he is pointing. I feel as if I’m being tricked somehow.

My friends have grown silent, but I can feel their worry. It emanates from them like waves from a gargantuan ship, fast and ferocious.

The man begins to slowly swim upward and I reluctantly follow, sticking to the corner so that I am as far away from him as can be. He surfaces and I do the same. Up here, I notice that his face is obscured by some kind of mask. He slowly removes it and reveals a shockingly familiar face. “I’m not going to hurt you.” Says the land-walker with the craning neck and the busy thumbs. The land-walker that shows up every day without fail to flash his lights and ogle. How can I possibly trust him?

He must see that I am frightened and suspicious, because he hastily adds; “Listen, I know you recognize me. I need you to trust me.” He pleads. “I was never here to gawk at you, I’ve been looking for a way to get you out. It took longer than I hoped, but I found it. We don’t have much time.” He says as he extends a hand out to me. I pause, unsure if I should trust him or not. This could be another trap.

“Look,” he prattles. “I know you can understand me, I saw the test results. I know what they did to you and I am so sorry. I want to make it right. I’m here to take you home, but you have to trust me!” He pleads, his voice growing more urgent with each word.

One of the other men calls out from above, anxiety lacing his voice; “Rick, we gotta hurry!” Rick looks up at the man then back to me.

“We have to go now.” He urges and I reluctantly take his outstretched hand. Then he yells up to the other men. “Send down the claw!” I shudder and he must understand my fear because he places his other hand over mine and says, “I know you’re frightened, but we’re here to help you. It’s gonna be okay.” His voice is quivering yet reassuring and I can sense the emotion emanating from him. Anger. Sorrow. Hope.

Then there is that awful, familiar mechanical sound and the claw is coming down to lift me from the water. I let Rick help me onto it and he climbs up next to me and shouts up to his fellows. “Anchor up!” Then the claw is withdrawing from the water towards the sky.

Suddenly I am stricken with panic as I look across the way to see my friends pressed against their cell, sick with worry. As terrified as I am, I reach out to Rick and grab into his shoulder. He must notice the look of sheer horror on my face because he says, “what’s wrong?” I point frantically to the other cell where my friends watch the commotion. To my utmost relief, he understands what I’m trying to tell him.

“We’ll get them too, don’t worry.” He assures and soon we are in the open air, far above the lid to my cell and Rick is holding onto me so that I don’t fall as the claw moves us through the air. Soon we are lowering back down and I look below to see a tank full of water and I look at Rick, horrified.

“It’s okay!” He says. “This is only temporary until we get you to the ocean.” Then I realize that the new cell is fixed to what the land-walkers call a rig. Its engine gurgles in anticipation of movement. Once the claw reaches the water, I swim off of it and pop my head over the surface as Rick rides the claw back out of the water. As he does, a loud blaring sound starts, accompanied by red flashing lights and the men suddenly grow panicked.

“We gotta go, now!” One of them yells. Rick looks back at me and I am pleading with my eyes and frantically pointing back to the hatch we just emerged from. He hesitates for a moment as if deep in thought. It feels like eternity.

“Hang on!” He yells back at the man. “S5!” He yells and I am thoroughly confused what he means by that until I look past the cell we just emerged from. As far as I can see there are lids like the one to my cell, all with a letter and a number painted on them in florescent yellow. I look for S5 and my eyes land just past the open lid which has S4 written on it.

The alarms are blaring and men are yelling in the distance. I watch the five rescuers break open the lid to S5 and Rick disappears inside. The yelling men are getting closer and the rescuers are pacing around as Rick remains unseen inside.

Several horrible, suspenseful minutes pass and one of the men runs over to the semi and hurries inside of it, slamming the door behind him. Moments later, Rick emerges on the claw with four other shapes and my heart is pounding as the men’s cries grow closer and the claw inches forward way too slowly.

Finally, the claw is lowering into the water where I wait anxiously. The moment it hits the surface, I swim up to it and wrap my arms around its precious cargo. I kiss each one of them on the head and I feel their love and gratitude.

The claw lifts from the water and the shouting men come into view. Some of them are operating machines and others are running on foot. There are waving lights flashing about and Rick jumps from the claw before it even makes it to the ground. He stumbles to the truck where all the other men wait for him. Another I hadn’t seen before leaps from the vehicle that the claw is attached to and follows Rick’s lead. Before their door is even shut, the rig is barreling forward. Some of the yelling men have to leap out of its way as it pushes toward them, picking up speed.

There is a gate blocking our path now, but the truck blows right through it and I watch behind us as men amble forward, attempting to catch up to us. None of them do.


When we reach the ocean, the shore is desolate to my relief. Light is beginning to peak over the horizon, meaning that the sun will soon begin its ascent into the sky.

I embrace my shelled friends who I have endured the worst with and would give my life for. They echo my sentiments.

There is another claw machine waiting by the shore just within the reaches of the tide. The driver takes us right to it, the many wheels of the rig digging into the sand beneath its immense weight.

As we are lifted from our temporary cell and placed into the ocean’s waters, my thoughts go back to the hundreds of lids with their bright yellow paint. I wonder how many others are trapped within, losing hope by the day.

As I meet the ocean, I am overcome with the sensation of the salty waves calling me home. I long to go, but I have something I must first attend to. My shelled friends wait for me as I beckon for Rick to meet me in the water.

He immediately understands that I am trying to communicate and wades to me. “You’re free now. Swim away from here and stay away from the shores. It’s not safe for you where humans go.” And I want to tell him that there isn’t anywhere in the world left that humans don’t go, but I can’t speak. Instead, I just gesture to myself and the four turtles waiting to return to sea. Then I point in the general direction from which we came.

“I’ll go back for them all.” He promises, knowing just what I mean. “I won’t rest until my fellow men see their cruelty for what it is. Even if I have to die trying.” I would thank him, but my captors removed my larynx, so I am mute now. Instead, I wrap my arms around him and squeeze before sinking back into the waves and letting them carry me away with my beloved friends in tow.

And we swim away from the shores, but we can never be far from the places where humans go, for they go all places. I can only hope that if our paths ever cross with another one, that they are a Rick. And I hope that he can save all the beautiful creatures. And that I never have to hear “mommy, mommy, look! A mermaid!” Ever, ever again.

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Comments (2)

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  • Madoka Moriabout a year ago

    Really great turns of phrase in here - lovely imagery. Nice work!

  • Bex Jordanabout a year ago

    "I remind them that land-walkers are even cruel to their own, so it’s no surprise that they would treat us as they do." So sadly true. This is a wonderful story and beautifully written ☺️

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