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Time's Tide Pools

by Ellie Lieberman 3 months ago in Fantasy
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The Story Collector

Time moves like the tide pools, a constant spiral trapped in shallow rocks. As the ocean can destroy and take, it can also preserve. And in the depths of the waters, often, time can stand still.

In the cavernous wreckage of a grand ship, there is quiet. Where even the ghosts of the past cannot possibly dwell. It's where even the bravest of those from the ocean itself dare not go.

There's a superstition among the sailors of traversing the waters in snow. They say, you'll disappear completely, become as lost in the fresh air as when salt waves swallow you whole. If that is true on the surface, imagine a mermaid's fear down below.

The grandest of wrecks perhaps, and Marella had seen plenty of great wreckages in her time, was off the southeast coast of Newfoundland. The one that boasted a grand staircase that put the land-dwellers fairy tale castles to shame.

She'd heard plenty of rumors. She'd be lying if she said the ship itself held no interest. After all, years of listening to her architecture specialist of a grandfather wax poetic had settled into her heart like buried treasure. He once called it a marvel, and Marella wasn't sure if the thrill making pin pricks of her arms down to her tail was that of her own or her grandfather's. He never had the chance to see it.

Her mother would tell her it was the very water itself. There were just as many warnings. Water so cold, it could freeze from the inside out, making it painful to even think. Making it impossible to ever get warm again.

"Only a fool would go there," her mother told her.

The last thing Marella would ever consider herself was a fool. This was no dare. She was no scavenger risking life and fin for a few sand dollars and kelp. Nor was she even fulfilling her grandfather's dream. What drew her to this hopeless, cursed, barnacle-clad heap of rust, slowly transforming into part of the very ecosystem it crashed upon, were the stories flung and scattered along the sandy-floor.

Marella was a story collector. And, not the big stories, either. Everyone knew the story of the behemoth itself. They knew of the tragedy of the iceberg collision.

She was a collector of the small stories. The everyday stories. The ones so easily forgotten in the face of a catastrophe.

In and out, was what she learned. Even the fastest and most careful of swimmers needed to be wary. There was little time, and she'd take what she could to investigate later. Given the extent of offerings laid out for her to snatch, the vast field of debris, it wouldn't prove too difficult.

The challenge came from picking through the sparkles and finery of those of the highest decks. Those who were cemented into the memory of time by their names alone. Funny, she often mused, how often a name tied to riches made your menory as unsinkable as they claimed the ship itself to be.

It didn't take long for those chills to set in, for her consciousness to flicker like an angler fish's esca. In those moments of losing sense of time and place, she swore she could hear the haunting screams and cries that they say filled that fateful night. Shoving what she could in her bag, she swam as fast and far as she could manage, fear of the ghosts she failed to see before just as strong as fear she'd become just one more lost to the wreck.

Normally, in her excavations, it wasn't until all the treasures were laid out that the ghosts came to life. That she'd hear them whisper their stories among the possessions they left behind. Even after managing to warm herself, feeling the cold leave her, there was still an icy grip strangling her heart anytime she came close to her bag.

She'd always return her finds when she was done, when she was sure she memorized every inch, could draw it and write it with such clarity it could put the land-dwellers photographs to shame. It felt wrong otherwise, like stealing. Perhaps, she mused to herself, it was the thought of returning that frightened her more.

As high tide drew near, she steeled herself, calling on all the courage she had left, and wishing she could've had her grandfather there with her. She opened her bag and dumped the contents on her table, setting to work cataloguing each.

The face of a doll. Some marbles. A hair pin. A watch. And a journal. There wasn't much. Marella had hoped for more, but that journal was the find of the day. It promised truth, or at least one person's truth, rather than Marella's speculation.

It told of a pair of siblings. Still children in many ways, but verging on the beginnings of adulthood.

A father's pocket watch, the glass shattered and numbers long since faded, slipped into a son's hand on his birthday the previous month, to carry with him like a compass. He still carried his marbles in his pocket and would beg his older sister to play like she used to.

She always claimed she was too old for that nonsense now, but still kept her doll buried beneath her clothes in her suitcase. At fourteen, her hair was a far more pressing matter, especially after her mother gave her pins that she'd worn everyday since. They weren't as ornate as those worn by the ladies in first class, but when she had them in her hair, she felt like a princess.

They'd quarreled that evening, losing patience with the distance caused by neither being able to speed up time nor stop it.

"Grow up," she snapped at him.

He was thirteen.

Marella shut her eyes tight.

Marella could see the pin falling from the sister's hair in the race toward the top deck as the waters began to rise. Could see the two of them shivering in the early morning air.

"Women and children first" left their father behind. How heavy that pocket watch must have felt. How quickly the marbles were forgotten.

She could see them racing for the life boats. His hand ripped from his sisters and being held back with the rest of the crowd, reaching desperately for his mother as the life boats descended into the black waters below and away.

He'd been so proud to carry his father's pocket watch. He'd been proud to be thirteen. Now, it was a death sentence, and they all knew it.

His sister watching him disappear, as her mother wailed beside her, and wondering, as she reached for the hair pin that was no longer there, if she somehow cursed him to this fate with her earlier words.

How often did that moment play in the sister's mind? How often did she wonder how and when and why time could be so different for the two of them?

Stories take a toll on the listener. Marella felt it like a knife to her gut. The brother's fear. The mother's grief. The sister's guilt. Stories like this deserve to take a toll, too, she often reminded herself. They deserve to be remembered, even when it's hard, even when it hurts, and maybe, especially when it hurts.

Marella gathered herself. She gathered the treasures that told of a family, of lives before and during and after. Despite her fear, the chills that still lingered in her fin and tail, she returned the items, feeling the spiral of time's tide pools in her chest while surrounded by the cold, stillness of the watery-grave.

When she was a safe enough distance away, she turned back to the wreck. "How many more," she asked the vast ocean around her, "How many more stories don't we know?"

Fantasy

About the author

Ellie Lieberman

A New Jersey transplant, Ellie Lieberman lives now in sunny Southern California. She works with the fairies on her handmade business, Acorn Tops, when not writing or illustrating.

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