The cold shock ran up my feet and paralyzed my spine. My mouth was jarred open from the surprise and my my lungs instinctively tried to suck in air, but only received a mouthful of salty water. My throat burned and I felt the weight of the water move down my throat to my chest like a frigid stone going down my neck.
For several moments I was frozen underwater. I felt the motion of the waves and they both comforted and terrified me. I was being moved by something exponentially larger and more powerful than me; something so chaotic and vast that I could do nothing to possibly affect it. That thought brought a momentary cloud of rage into the back of my skull, rage so red and so black that every particle of my body tensed in anger, but it passed as I realized my need for air.
My limbs jumped back to life and began thrashing. I had not swam in water since I was a little child. I began to transport through time to when I was a little boy. My mother’s hands were beneath my back as I floated in the shallows of the waters. She was teaching me to swim.
“Relax your muscles,” she said. Her strong arms held me close to her breast and I felt safe despite my entire body resting atop the violent depths. I looked up into her tan face and she smiled down on me. The waters were calm on that day in my boyhood, and I remember the feeling of the waves rising and falling, gently lifting and dropping me. My mother slowly lowered her hands from my back so I was freely floating on the surface, but I still felt her fingertips keeping contact with my skin.
Not long after that, my mother would be taken by the waters herself. The strong arms which had once supported me in the water were now swallowed by it. My mother was dragged into the chaos.
I hoped to remember the correct movements of swimming, but my muscles seemed to rebel against me. They just thrashed wildly with no calculated rhythm or order.
I was not sure which way the surface of the water was, but I seemed to only be sinking deeper. My limbs were taking me further into the heart of the chaos. The water got colder the further I sank from the top, and I felt the weight of it pressing into every ounce of my body.
My ears exploded within my head and sharp pain ran from my ears into the center of my neck. Everything inside my skull felt like it was about to burst out of my forehead. My throat made a desperate gurgling sound which was curbed by the lack of air, ng nngguh.
As I descended, I imagined the hands of the dead reaching up to grab my ankles. I kept expecting to land on the bed of decayed limbs and twisted bones, but never did. I only sank deeper into the fluid abyss as my body raged against it, unwilling to give up.
The pressure weighed on my chest, like I was a doll and a massive man was pressing my torso between his palms. My arms and legs continued to beat against the indifferent water, barely affecting it. The salt water I swallowed filled my lungs. They impulsively tried to cough it out, but in doing so, sucked in more. It burned my throat like cold fire and I felt the acidic flame streak down my chest.
The air I so badly needed seemed further and further from me as the light from the surface dimmed.
At once my body relaxed and a sudden calm came over me.
I felt the fingertips of my mother on my back. They did not lift me; they simply touched me and I was comforted. My lips parted and I suddenly stopped caring if more water came in, or if air did, or if anything did ever again. My fear of the dark and chaotic deep suddenly vanished as I was engulfed by it. Had I conquered my fear by becoming it? Or at least, by allowing myself to give in to it?
Growing up, the other boys would stand in the shallows, with the water at their waist, and punch the waves as they rolled in. I would watch and notice different things about all of them. Some would beat the sea as if their lives depended on it. Others turned and put the breaks of the waves on their shoulders and rode the waves in to the shore.
But there was a third option. There were those boys—the ones I admired the most—who waded into the shallows and when a tower of water yawned leagues above them, they simply went limp. They let their bodies be thrown and tumbled hither and yon by the chaotic force. They always ended up with scrapes from the stones on the bottom, or rashes from the sand, but they enjoyed the feeling of letting the dark liquid throw them around like a leaf on a breeze. These boys were the most honest. You could not defeat the sea, no matter what levels of anger you achieved.
When I fought the other man for my woman, I knew I would win. Because the rage inside of me was much, much larger than the rage in him. His passion for my woman was lacking and I was able to defeat him despite his physical grandeur.
With the ocean however, no amount of rage or passion could affect that mass of water. You’re useless against it whether you are a boy splashing in the shallow surf or a man channeling the fury of a jilted lover.
Nor could you tame the chaotic void. You may be able to ride the smaller waves, but what about when the storms—“the fury of the gods”—rolled in? What good could your skill and precision do against those black towers? No, the sea cannot be tamed or conquered.
The only option is to surrender to the chaos; to go limp in her cold and dark grip.
My body was presently limp as it sunk deeper into the void, letting the currents swirl it back and forth like an infant being rocked by his mother. As much as the sea had terrified me my entire life, it presently comforted me with its gentle sway.
As I fell further from the sun, darkness came over me. It was both physical darkness from being far from the light, but also a physiological light as my vision clouded and my mind was calmed. My life was running through my mind at an incredible speed. It ran forward from my earliest memory—just my mother and father smiling down on me as I lay on the ground—to the present moment. Then it ran backward and as I ran through the entirety of my existence, I realized how very small I was.
I saw that my life was a grain of salt in this eternal ocean.
Nothing I did would affect the world. The past few hours alone had revealed just how little of the world I really knew. I longed to see all of it. I wanted to take my woman by the hand and lead her all across the world.
I wanted to feel her head in my chest again as we cried beneath the moon.
I felt so utterly small as the water swallowed me, and at once my mind seemed to break free from the restraint of thought and reason. I suddenly relinquished my desire for anything—good or bad things—and I was immersed in the mere fact that I exist.
I saw a light so bright it violently stabbed my eyes. I squeezed them closed, but the light persisted. A moment later they had adjusted and I was floating above the world. I was in the blackness of the night sky and saw the sun in the distance. It drifted toward the moon and the two merged into one eternal light that burned brighter than the lights of the ship without sails.
The stars drifted toward the New Sun and joined in the chorus of its brilliance. It was not simply white light, but the brilliance of every color displayed vibrantly at once. My mind couldn’t comprehend the amount of colors I was beholding.
Then from deep within my fractured ears, I began to hear the singing. At first it was one voice, quiet and small. It was like a child’s voice singing a simple melody which rose and fell like the motion of the water on a calm day.
This voice was soon joined by more, until a full choir sounded inside my head. The sound was both inside and outside of my head. I was submerged into the sound just like my body was in the water.
My eyes continued to watch as one by one, more stars were absorbed by the sun and it grew not just in brightness, but in colorful brilliance.
The sound of the choir grew until the chant was overwhelming. It was nearly intoxicating like my tribe’s hardwater. If I still had eardrums, the voices would have burst them again. At first the voices were simply singing a melody, but now meaning emerged from the syllables.
They were singing in a language I had never heard before; it did not sound like a human language—it was unlike anything I had heard before—yet I understood the meaning. My mind did not understand it, but something deeper within my being did.
The song’s rhythm continued to match the motion of the water and I understood it all at once.
I know your name,
I have seen you.
The voice called me by a name I had never heard before; a name which fit me more precisely than any hollow human word conceived in syllables and glottal stops.
Your fear is fitting;
only a fool does not fear this chaotic abyss.
I am the Ancient One,
the Mother of worlds
and the Father of suns.
I am the movement and the stillness.
I am the terror and the calm.
I am the bottom of the dark void
and the source of eternal light.
I am the wheel which will not be broken,
you are a spoke within my turning.
You matter because I know you.
The tune rang on, not in words, but in feelings and intangible thought. I understood that the creature of the depths was speaking to me, imbuing truth into my brain in a way language never could.
Follow the ancient paths,
Find rest for your soul in the land of your fathers.
I will meet you in the blackness of the water
and the expanse of the prairie.
You will not make your bed in the depths,
you will be lifted by the arms of your mother
and hold your woman once more.
The stars continued to slowly be sucked into the New Sun and the brilliance became overwhelming. I closed my eyes but the light persisted. My limbs felt heavy as they were pulled in every direction at once; gravity crushed my body while simultaneously pulling it apart. I felt the fabric of my skin begin to drift apart. It was the opposite of what was happening to the stars and the sun: while the little points of light were being sucked into the larger body of light, particles of my body drifted away from me and into the darkness.
I felt incredibly small but important.
If something as small as me mattered, then everything mattered. In that sense, I felt connected to the entirety of the cosmos. I no longer feared the depths or the prairie.
I was at one with creation.
I had encountered the Creator.
And the Creator knew my name.
The light grew and grew until my body began to violently seize and my limbs flailed, slapping the wooden deck of the ship.
I coughed and spewed water from my mouth, which cascaded back down on me as I lay on my back. One of Captain William’s men knelt beside me, hammering at my chest.
Through blurry eyes I saw my father staring down at me, crying.