Bewildering Stories

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Chapter 4, “The Lake”
part III, installment 1

by Tala Bar

Gaia began in issue 88.
Chapter 4, part II concluded in issue 102.


Dar continued to sink, the pressure on her chest growing to a frightening measure; it inhibited her breathing, her head threatened to explode with the pounding of blood in it. Her surroundings were gradually growing quieter, but the water remained murky, full of fine gravel tossed by the waves above. In her blurred consciousness, Dar barely noticed when a bright light suddenly hit her eyes, piercing her mind, clarifying it for one moment so that she knew where she was.

Filled with sudden alarm, she started working her arms and pushing with her legs, trying to swim up to the surface. But her body was much weaker than her mind, the struggle for physical action too much for it. She was soon ready to give up the struggle, seeing no possibility for her to survive the situation.

The thought of her lost family passed again through her mind, then she thought of Nim, and even Nunez. They must have gone, too; no one could survive that horrible tempest. Perhaps it would be better for her to let go as well... For a moment, she closed her eyes, when a colored beam penetrated her lids.

Dar opened her eyes. The water had cleared, and was filled with colorful dots of lights playing around her. Green, red, yellow, interchanged before her eyes, and Dar thought it must be the result of blood flooding her brain. ‘I am going to die now, for sure’, she thought.

Not yet, something answered inside her brain, and for a moment she thought it was her mind answering her thought. Then she saw a strange, lit-up globule approaching her. Immediately, a large, transparent bubble slipped over her head, tightening up around her neck. You can breathe freely now, the voice said in her head. Unthinking, she breathed deeply. Sweet air filled her lungs, her oxygenated blood flowing through her body and limbs. The pounding in her head slowed down, power returned to her heart, which started beating strong and fast, gradually reducing its frantic urge. She knew now she was not going to die so soon.

Strangely, the colored dots of light had not gone away. They seemed now quite real in the water, and she noticed they were actually attached to those transparent globules all round her. They looked like a ghostly phenomenon, giving her the impression of having arrived at some kind of fairyland. Not believing in fairies, Dar tried to make sense of what she was observing. The globules had arm-like tentacles with which they swam around, and she thought they might be some distant relatives of the squids.

‘I wonder’, her thought diverted, ‘if the air in this bubble, which is not very large, would soon become foul.’

No, she heard a rippling answer to her thought. It gets its air directly from the water, and as long as the water is clear, the air in the bubble will stay fresh.

Dar looked around. This time there was no chance it was her own thought, but she could not tell where the sound was coming from. ‘I’ve never heard of this kind of invention’, Dar thought. ‘Bard would’ve loved it, it would enable him to stay in the water as long as he wished.’ Remembering her loss, her heart pinched and a momentary darkness fell around her. ‘But, no’, she answered herself, ‘the water on Earth is far too polluted to take out oxygen from it. I don’t think there’s any oxygen left there at all.’

It’s not a human invention, the voice inside her head told her pleasantly. Now, you should come with us.

“Us? Who are ‘us’?” she wondered. “I don’t know who or what you are.” She was talking out loud, not practiced in projecting her thought, and it sounded strange inside the bubble. “I know you’ve saved my life, and I should thank you for that. But how do I find you?” She sounded petulant to herself, but the situation seemed impossible. She could not believe in having been saved by some mythological beings...

We are not mythological, but as substantial as you yourself are. You can see us all around you, those colored globules in the water. Now, you’d better follow them as they move along. Though the voice was bodiless, it sounded quite definite and decisive. Dar thought she had nothing to lose by following it to wherever it was taking her.

The movement of the dotted ghosts in the water was eerie and beautiful. The creatures looked like something between squid and jellyfish, but they were evidently intelligent, and she was unable to tell what they really were. Immersed in that fairy atmosphere, it was still more difficult to believe than anything else she had been going through in the last weeks. ‘I wonder if I am still on Earth. Perhaps it’s some kind of science fiction tale, and these creatures are actually aliens.’ Though not a fantasy fan, she could still be taken once in a while with a good science fiction book, able to suspend disbelief in some kind of futuristic possibilities. The clear water, the breathable membrane, the strange creatures, all pointed to phenomena which had not belonged to the world as she had known it...

Dar continued to follow obediently the colorful ghosts, which kept floating in the water before her, in a direction she was unable to define. On their way, some of them were playing games on the dark background of their surroundings. They floated up and down in front of her, crossing each other’s path, pushing each other and seeming to be throwing each other in the air — sorry, the water. It looked like a lively ball game, except that these creatures themselves served as the ball; and sometimes they even went through each other, like proper ghosts!

During that time, the water had been darkening more and more, turning almost black. Dar thought they must be sinking deeper toward the bottom of the lake and worried that she would not be able to withstand the pressure. Again, as if actually hearing her thoughts, the rippling voice came from nowhere to soothe her anxiety.

The air inside the bubble is compressed as well; it will keep your body pressure at the level needed, and no harm will come to you.

She finally made up her mind to let go of all her worrying thoughts. There was nothing she could do, and if she were going to die, she would probably have died earlier. She must surrender to the kindness of these creatures who had saved her life, trust them not to harm her now. Dar was not used to rely on other people’s directions, but in these circumstances she saw no other choice.

* * *

A great black thing finally loomed at a short distance in the dusky water, and Dar noticed they were advancing toward it. She assumed it was some kind of rock and was proved right when they reached it after a while. The rock was embedded in the bottom of the lake, protruding sharply from a relatively flat ground. Seaweed, kelp, and other plants Dar did not know the names of grew profusely around the rock, swaying with an unseen ripple of the water, which seemed calm almost to solidity.

As the ghostly, colored forms dancing in front of Dar reached these plants, they mingled and vanished among them. One by one, the lights seemed to extinguish, until at last only three basic ones — again, a red, a yellow and a green — were left, guiding her right up to the underwater plants. The rippling voice sounded again inside her head, saying, There you are! then they all disappeared.

Everything was so quiet that Dar could hear, or thought she heard, her own breathing inside the bubble on her head. She waited for something to happen, not knowing what to do. Eternity passed.

A new voice then spoke in her head. You are welcome to our home, Dar. The voice was very clear, not rippling like the one she had heard before, and she thought it had spoken aloud. ‘But it couldn’t have’, she thought, not her own language here, at the bottom of some lake she had never heard of before.

“Where and who are you?” She asked, confused.

Come, take a look, was the answer.

“But I can’t see you,” she protested, feeling ridiculous, speaking to unseen creatures.

You’ve already seen us as ghosts, which we are not, the voice answered, and Dar thought she heard a giggle. You just have to put your mind to what we are.

‘As if believing is seeing’, Dar thought, paraphrasing on the familiar saying. She made an effort, trying to open her mind to absorb something completely unfamiliar. The conscious effort was directed at her deep subconscious, she knew, transgressing the rationality that had acted as her guide all her life. Her sight cleared gradually, until she finally saw.

They were not vague or ghostly as they had appeared before; she could see definite forms now, looking like some kind of cephalopods. Their bodies were a light, transparent green on the dark background of dense vegetation, and their continually twisting arms were also various shades of green. She was able to count five arms for each creature, rather than the expected eight of the squid or octopus; they were almost indistinguishable from the swaying leaves.

Their eyes, however, gleamed bright red, their sharp gaze piercing her brain; it felt as if they were extracting the knowledge about her from the innermost corners of her mind. After a few minutes the process stopped, and she felt the eyes drawing her toward their own shelter inside the “bush.” For a moment, she was afraid of getting entangled by the vegetation.

Don’t be afraid, the voices said, the plants won’t harm you.

Cautiously, she approached the clump of vegetation up to a touching distance; as she drew near, the stems parted in front of her, making a path for her to go through.

Come, come, the voices sang to her, and they sounded sweet and ringing, enchanting, bewitching her. She saw them much clearer as they swam around her among the leaves; the whole watery world was swaying, fluttering, waving, never stopping its motion; it caressed her very lightly, barely touching but gently pushing her forward, on and on, until she was facing the great rock itself. There was nowhere to go from there, she saw nothing but the black, smooth face which started from the bottom of the lake, rising until she could not see its end, where the water mingled with the air on its surface.

Where could she go from there? The whole area was filled both with the dark green plants, and with an endless number of the bright green cephalic creatures, with their penetrating red eyes boring right into her body. There was hardly any room left for water around her, and she began feeling cramped almost to suffocating. She felt a little afraid of them.

Fear of death had never been a part of Dar’s mental makeup. After the upheaval, when she had realized she had lost everything that ever meant anything to her — Bard, her sons, her work as a healer, all her friends — death seemed more as a remote friend than an enemy, on its way to release her because she was unable to release herself.

Since she had found Nim, though, she had acquired a new motivation to stay alive, to be able to help the girl. Having found herself in these strange circumstances at the bottom of the lake, separated again from human company, the uncertainty of her situation was too unsettling to know what she wanted and expected. But, having gone through that strange trip, suffocating to death in a way beyond her control, was unacceptable.

To be continued...

Copyright © 2004 by Tala Bar

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