She paused, suspended in the depths of the sea. The clear water swirled around and faded into a light then dark blue that churned into the impending darkness below and beyond. There was nothingness around her, and nothingness below her, and even still nothingness above. Broken seashells scattered across the desolate ocean floor, buried in tiny granules of sand and rock.
Her indigo-blue hair tumbled around her round cheeks like a bed of seaweed. The wisps waved in the current. Her solid black pupils wiggled in the white of her eyes as she scanned the surrounding nothingness. The depths of her stomach growled. She brought her hands to her chest and pressed her pale lips together.
Her tail, thick and muscled, flicked below her as she twirled in a small circle. Bubbles from the disturbed water danced around her fins before they abandoned her to travel toward the surface. She watched them, head craning, eyes squinting as she noticed the light rays disturbed by a vast shape.
She clenched her fist, the webbing between her fingertips folding in little bulges around her knuckles. In one swift motion, she surged upwards. Her hair slicked against her back. Her pale skin shimmered the closer she got to the surface.
She slowed as she came closer to the ocean’s end and the beginning of the great above. The vast shape came into focus. Barnacles lined the rough undersurface of the boat. Pockets of air hung to the underside of the wood as the vessel bobbed through the waves. With another flick of her tail, she rose and broke free from the ocean’s grasp. The wind broke against her exposed head, her ears tickled with the breeze. She blinked the water droplets from her eyes.
The vessel in front of her slanted heavily to the left. Broken planks of wood and bits of barrels littered the ocean behind it. The sails hung defeated in long, frayed strips. The putrid smell of gunpowder lingered in the air. The crackling sound of dying embers came from the burnt cabin at the back of the ship. Its glass windows were shattered; the wood charred black. Her nose scrunched.
“Nothingness,” she whispered. Her voice had a raspy edge. She swallowed as her stomach growled once more.
“Help.” A quiet plea came from behind. She turned. A barrel floating just five meters away, and a man. His torso draped over the wood like a wet rag. His legs hung limp in the ocean. She ducked into the water, the swells traveling just under her button nose. The man raised his head and stared forward, blinking slowly. He cleared his throat and opened his mouth. “Is—is someone there? Help!”
“Not nothingness,” she whispered and edged forward. She tilted her head to the side, eyes wide, approaching the man.
“Help,” she echoed. The man grunted and turned toward her. He blinked; his mouth parted open. His hair, a light blond, was slicked back with water. His nose and cheeks held a shiny red burn, his eyes a deep green.
“By the gods, I’m hallucinating,” the man finally spoke. He held onto the barrel, adjusting his grip. “How’d you get here? What…are you?”
She inched forward and placed a slender hand upon the barrel. Her fingernails, long and sharp, tapped against the wood as she answered, “Help.”
She frowned, pointed a slender finger at herself, and repeated, “Help!”
“Is…that your name?” He swallowed and then licked his chapped lips. “Can you…can you take me to port or—or land, Help?”
Help nodded and settled her hands on either side of the barrel. Her tail came up under the man and the barrel, as she floated on her back and began to propel them away from the wreckage. The man gasped as the tail rose briefly out of the water behind him. His knuckles whitened as he held on. Ridges of white spluttered around her, forming a small wake as the two figures cut through the ocean swells.
“What are you?” Help asked.
“I’m a—” the water came and clogged his mouth. He coughed and sputtered. “Human—bein’!”
She scrunched her nose. “Bean?” she whispered. Her eyes danced briefly down and to the left, and silently she mouthed the word once more. Her eyes shot up to his, and she nodded. “Hello, Bean.”
Bean slid a palm over his chin and eyed her. “Sure…Bean…”
Her tail slid up above the water and brushed against Bean’s side. He yelped; his hand shot around his torso. His eyes squeezed shut and he clenched his teeth. Help hesitated.
“Bean hurts?” Help let go of the barrel. In seconds, she had swirled to the other side. The deep red liquid puffed out like a cloud in the ocean swells. She frowned and lifted her hand, her long slender fingernails poking at the tattered shirt around his torso. She pulled at the fabric and the cotton ripped. Help gasped.
“Bean very hurts.” She clicked her tongue and gently poked the open slice on Bean’s side. He hissed and flinched away.
“Yeah—don’t touch it! I’ll be fine—” Bean stopped as Help roughly shook her head, her hair slapping against her neck. Quickly, she dove below the surface. Bean startled. “Hey—wait!”
She paused fifteen meters below him, her inky eyes searching the great nothingness around her. One hundred and fifty meters below, a bull shark swam in a lazy circle. Help narrowed her eyes and clenched her fist against her side. The shark cut through the water and rose meter by meter in slow movements, its head bobbing from left to right.
Help tilted her head up and surged back toward the great above. Bean’s eyes widened, hands scrambling to keep hold of the barrel as Help broke the surface beside him. Water droplets speckled his face and dripped off his nose.
“Enemy!” she cried, “Bean brought enemy! Keep it inside—Keep it inside!”
She scooped at the bloodied water and pushed it toward his wound, her hands thrashing about in desperation. Bean kicked and swam back.
“Wait—wait! Stop! What enemy? Where?” Bean exclaimed.
Help paused and looked up. Her lips pulled down and her eyebrows creased together.
“Enemy!” she emphasized as she smacked the surface of the ocean with her hand. Bean swallowed and craned his neck to look behind him.
“I-I don’t see them!” He cried.
Help hissed, she reached forward and grabbed Bean’s mop of hair, grunting as she shoved his head under the water. Bean screamed; the sound encased in the pearl-white bubbles erupting from his mouth. Help pointed at the shark. Bean held onto her hands and blinked. The shark had risen, now only fifty meters below them.
Help released her hold on Bean’s head and the two broke through the surface again. Bean hacked and coughed, his hands scrambling over the rough wood of the barrel.
“What—” Bean’s shoulders shook as he continued to cough. “What do we do?”
Help smoothed her thick blue locks out of her eyes.
“Help protect her Bean.” She spoke with an air of determination. “Bean, stay.”
“Stay!” Help commanded and then dove into the water. She swam down with her arms at her side. Her tail flicked behind her as she descended into the sea.
The shark continued its lazy climb upward. Its mouth hung open; the jagged teeth crammed along its pink gums.
Help brought her tail below her. She spread out her fins, the long coils like spikes waving in the current. She held out her arms and spread her palms, her nails like daggers, glinting in the rays of sunlight. She cast a shadow below her, and for a moment, the shark seemed to veer away. Then, it darted forward. Its head swung back and forth as the white protective eyelid slid over the shark’s eyes. Its mouth hung open as the creature slit through the water.
Help hissed and brought up her tail. She swiped at the shark and missed by a fraction of a millimeter. The shark veered away and slammed its tail into Help’s torso. She grunted, bubbles of air escaping her throat as she tumbled head over tail. Her slender arms wrapped around her thin stomach, and she grit her teeth together.
The shark surged up. Help looked toward the surface. The barrel, Bean, the cloud of sprouting blood—and the shark seeking its prey. Help clenched her fist. She kicked her tail. Her hair slicked back as she rushed forward. The shark pried open its jaw. Bean’s legs dangled a meter away. Help rammed into the shark’s head. They tumbled through the water as Help wrapped her tail around the creature. The water churned and turned a bubbling white. Help dug her long-pointed nails deep into the sandpapered skin of the shark. She raked her fingers down its back. The white bubbles burst with spouts of color as the shark thrashed in her grasp. She held on tight as it wriggled and jerked.
She smacked her fist against its head once, twice, three times, before finally releasing the creature. It darted away, diving deep into the black nothingness below, leaving a trail of wispy red as it went. Help grinned and rose to the surface.
“Winner,” she giggled.
Bean’s mouth had drawn into a thin line, his legs brought up close to his torso. She reached forward, grabbed the barrel, and continued to pull.
They swam in silence for some time. Bean slowly relaxed and rested his head against the soaked wood of the barrel. Help propelled them farther and farther away from the wreck and the bloodied water.
“So, Help,” Bean spoke up, his voice hoarse. He hesitated and his eyes searched the sky above them. “You’re…”
“Alone,” Help whispered.
The sea began to trickle from the edge of her eyes and slip past her pale round cheeks. It clung to the edge of her chin, and then leapt into the ocean below. She sniffed, her frilled gills along the side of her neck flaring out as she did. “Help alone and hungry. Always hungry and alone.”
“Oh…” Bean scratched the back of his neck. “Well, I’m sorry.”
Help narrowed her eyes, her features turning sharp. “Not Bean’s fault.” Bitterness dripped from her tongue. “Others’ fault. They do not like Help. They leave Help to nothingness.”
“Nothingness, eh?” Bean chuckled in the back of his throat and his eyes held a dark shine. “I know a thing or two about nothingness.”
“Bean had others?”
Bean nodded. He shifted, his arms folding in front of him, and his chin resting against his forearm. “Back home. I had a lady, and a little one on the way. They’re the reason I was on this blasted ship in the first place. Tryin’ to make a living wage to take care of them. I…I should’ve been home some three months ago, but Captain needed me. My lady didn’t understand, so…” He chuckled and shook his head. “Now even the captain’s gone. I’m…alone.”
“Others abandon Bean.” Help whispered, an edge of awe in her voice. “Bean like Help.”
“You’ve saved my life,” Bean rasped. “Twice, now you’ve…you’ve saved me. First with the shark and now…why?”
Help shrugged. “Job.”
Bean blinked. “Job?” he mimicked, eyebrows quirking together. “What do you mean job? Like, this is your job? To save sailors from sharks?”
Help slowed. The shipwreck was just a dot on the horizon behind Bean, and the beginnings of an island, a dot on the horizon behind Help. Bean blinked and pushed himself up.
“Yes—yes!” he suddenly cried. He gave a loud holler. “Yes, there’s land—Help, you did it!”
“Yes!” Help nodded with a grin. The water around them began to bubble and churn. Bean clung to the barrel as slowly, three creatures rose around them. One behind Bean and two on either side. Their hair fell like seaweed around their round faces. Their eyes black, and gills slit along their necks. Below the surface, their tails eased back and forth.
Help swam a few feet away, her nose scrunched as she glanced down at her nails. She sucked a bit of sharkskin from her cuticles.
“Uh—Help?” Bean whispered, “Help, what is this?”
Help glanced up from her nails. Her eyes darted from the creatures back to Bean.
“Job,” she emphasized, and looked back down at her nails. One of the creatures, her hair a deep shade of red and her face sharp and narrow, swam toward Help.
“Good, Help,” the redheaded creature cooed.
Help beamed, her black eyes glistening.
Bean glanced from the creature on his left to the creature on his right. He kicked his legs under the surface of the water as they swam forward. They grinned, their teeth tiny and jagged. Protective white eyelids slid over their eyes and they surged forward. The one on the right sank her teeth into his shoulder. He let out a strangled shriek, his grasp slipping from the barrel. The one on Bean’s left sunk her teeth into his neck. His scream gurgled and then cut off into nothingness.
“Help good,” Help spoke up. She wrung her hands together as the redheaded creature nodded. “Help…return?”
The other creatures stopped, a bloodied cotton shirt in one mouth and Bean’s severed hand in the other. They looked toward the red-haired creature and held their breath.
“Hmm…” the red-haired creature hummed. She held up a slender hand, her skin pale, and her nails long and curled. She waved Help away. “Not enough. Back to nothingness. Get more.”
The other two creatures snickered and then returned to devouring the man. The deep blue of the sea took a maroon shade. The red-haired creature swam around Help, a smile pinched on her face, then dove off toward the Island. Help blinked, the sea once again tumbling from her eyes. The depths of her stomach growled.
Help hissed, rearing her head back and shrieking into the great above. Then in one swift motion, she dove back into the depths of the sea, her face contorted into a deep scowl as the sea from her eyes joined the waters of the ocean.
She paused, suspended in the water. The desolate seabed far below held only broken shells in the tiny granules of sand. The sea churned and faded from black, to dark, and then light blue, until it became the clear water swirling around her. And once again, she was left with nothingness.