She had been banished from our home. When my sister left, our home went into a kind of hushed awe. She had been so destructive for so long. With her gone, there was really nothing left but a great sigh and a wandering of spirit. Without her, there was no crisis. Without her, there was no tension. None of us knew what to do with that.
I had two good friends back then, two who really understood me. But they were dating, and all their time was for each other. They had no use for me.
With these two changes, coupled with a lack of love and a loss of direction, I was adrift my sophomore year.
It was Valentine’s Day and I was alone. My parents had left for the night, patching together time to spend with one another, and my little brother was at a friend’s house. The house hung around me like a cloud of oppression, reminding me how alone I was and that there was no reprieve for me. With little else to do, I grabbed a coat and left. There was within me a yearning to see my girl, a yearning to be near her. I headed to the right when I hit the road, into the backwards country, where darkness waited.
Walking felt good, and as the wind hit me, peeling back my hair, I realized I had been looking forward to this trip. As if I had known it was coming, I had been eager to be out on this trek. I had been waiting all month to see my Leviathan.
Past the Best Western and into the cut of land that would bring me into darkness. The corpse of Old Route 66 took me into its wound and froze me to the bone. The day had been mild, but night had fallen with darkness in its mind. The moon had gone behind clouds, leaving the night without its lover on this most important of nights, and the sky and the winter wind were relentless. I pulled up my collar and moved on.
As I neared her, anticipation pounded in my chest. I needed to see her, to touch her. I suddenly thought of her blue lips and how much I longed to kiss them. I walked into the darkness, and it was not long before I saw the island of light, warning me there and no farther. I would not obey. I had not before; I would not now.
As I made my way into the throat of the darkness, I cast my mind to the last time I had seen her. It had been over a year ago, on the anniversary of our first meeting, and I wondered if she would be cross with me.
When I saw the cage of the bridge, I decided if she wasn’t mad at me, I would be angry at myself. I stepped out onto the bridge that thrummed under my feet. When I reached the center, I stopped. I heard her in the water, waiting, her tail swishing back and forth.
“Are you there, my love?” the only words I could muster.
She stopped her tail, and she wept out one sob. “My ears are tormenting me again.”
A splash suddenly disturbed the waters. I rushed to the downstream side and looked out over the brink. I saw her serpentine form snaking away, and I stood, waiting for her to turn back. My heart deflated, and I wanted to cry. But I still held out hope for a night with the one who waited for me.
When I thought the night ruined, a wind kicked up and the trees trembled. All at once, the clouds blew away and the moon shone down on me, bright. My shadow was cast suddenly upon the water. It trembled. It rippled in all directions, as if something had dropped into it. Soon, she came back, slowly, languidly making her way up stream, where I waited for her.
She took her human form and bobbed in the water, her head rising up, her face shining bright. I could see her mouth drawn in a tight line, and I could feel her anger.
“I am sorry,” I said.
“You left me for so long. How I dreamt of you and ached for you,” she said. She shook her head and sobbed.
“Come to me on this night, and let me hold you. Let me feel your body with mine. Come to me and I will—” What would I do? What could I do? “I will…” I had already said hold. I had promised her my embrace. What more could I offer? “I will kiss you.”
She slipped under the water and I heard her dripping behind me. When I turned, she grabbed the sides of my face with her webbed hands, and her mouth was upon me. I had never kissed a creature capable of such passion. I had never felt a mouth like this one.
Her lips were cold. Her tongue felt slick. It was longer than a human girl’s, and it filled my mouth in a pleasant way. The strangeness of the kiss held me at bay for a long moment, but soon my arms wrapped around her cold body, and I pulled her to me. Her wet body clung to me, and I felt as if I would die from desire.
We kissed long and hard while the moon and the sky embraced, and all was as it should be on Valentine’s Day. All was right and perfect, for I had my girl. I had the one who ached for me. I had my Leviathan.
“I wish I could take you away from here, even if just for one day, if just for one evening,” I said.
“What would you do with me, my dear? If you had me for a night, what pleasures would you find for me? Would you take me to your home? I have shown you mine.”
The thought of her in my house, in my room, horrified me, and I closed her mouth with a kiss. When she pulled away, I shook my head. “That is a place for no one. I would not take you there.” I thought for a long moment before it came to me. “If I could take you with me, I would take you to see a movie.” Yes, how great it would be to take her to see a motion picture. The awe in her eyes would be inspiring, the way she would jump at the scary parts and laugh at the funny. She would cling to me tight and she would be happy. I would be happy. “Yes, it would be a movie. You would love a movie.”
“What is a movie?”
“Well, it is a story told through movement and light. It is as if you are there with the tale, walking within it. You would love a movie, I think.”
“I have already seen one, my love.” She smiled and walked away. I followed her. “They perform for me at my whim. The creatures here in this place love me. They know me trapped, and they entertain me on my loneliest of nights.”
I did not know what to say to that. I wrapped an arm around her and pulled her close. “What are you talking about?” I asked.
She looked at me. Her mouth parted in a grin, and she slipped on a sassy smile.
“Do you want to see?” she purred. She ran a green finger up my chest and to my hair.
“Very much, I will see anything you want to show me. This is my place now, as well as yours. I long for more of it.”
She spun, her hair whipping wildly around her to paste against her neck and cheek. She held her arms up high to the sky, and I only then noticed how long her arms were—much longer than a human’s arm, and much bonier.
She let out a low gurgling sound, and the area went silent. I did not know, until that moment, of the din around us. With utter silence wrapping us tight, she snapped her fingers. “We shall have a dance!” she shouted. She wrapped her arms around me and pulled me to the side of the bridge where I could see the water below.
It was dark and clear, and it reflected the stars of the night’s sky as perfectly as a mirror would glint back the image of a beautiful face. Soon, other lights could be seen, faint at first, but then growing ever brighter and larger. When they broke the surface of the water and floated to our level, I realized I had no name for what I was looking at.
“What are they?” I whispered. I reached out to touch and she pulled my hand away.
“You will frighten them if you strive to touch them. Keep your hands for me, Jesse.” She slid my hand back to her hip, and the creatures drew nearer.
They had the heads of fish with wide glassy eyes and opening mouths that spoke of need. Their bodies were the image of a human with odd proportions. Some were thick with long limbs, others narrow, with very little in the way of arms and legs at all. They glowed with an eerie light, and they were dressed in fine attire, as if skillfully sewn by a master seamstress or tailor.
Their wings were of all sizes, thick and lithe. They bowed or curtsied for us before soaring out over the water. Then I heard the band warming up.
It was comprised of toads and insects, tiny tree frogs, and reeds that sprang from the ground in one great gasp. The frogs, toads, even the insects, were an impossibility in this cold. They were not supposed to be here with this winter wind screaming past us, but that did not change the fact that they were. As the band warmed up, a swarm of lightning bugs rushed over the water. They seemed to double, then triple and quadruple before my eyes, all pulling in close until they created a wide ring of light hovering and milling, clinging just above the water and forming, in their way, a large stage.
The creatures all seemed to look at her as if in question. She turned to me, her eyes alight. How I wanted to share my body with her. How I wanted to be hers in flesh, and her body my own, but this was not that kind of reality. I knew our bond was fragile, and anything might break it forever. I looked at her, and she smiled.
“Are you ready?” she asked.
I fought to steady my heart, and when it was within control, I nodded. She turned to the waters below us and smiled. “You may begin,” she said.
I had seen a beautiful woman before. I held one at that moment. I had heard a beautiful song. I had experienced beauty in almost every form, had touched, tasted, and stroked beauty before this night. So I thought I knew what true beauty was. I would have said, before this night, that I was familiar with awe, and I had a grasp on wonder.
But I did not know. I had no idea what true magnificence was until I stood there with my love as her court danced for us and sang. I had known the sounds of nature’s musicians. I, like you, thought I knew what a cricket was capable of. You do not. I thought, as you do as well, that I understood the wind through the reeds and what it was able to summon in the way of sound and music. Until you stand where I stood that night, these instruments and musicians are nothing but shadows. When they play for themselves and their kind, they are but warming up. When they play for royalty, their music becomes immense. They recreate sound and beauty.
And I got to hear it.
The sight of the creatures from the deep was like nothing I had ever seen before. With every step, with every spin, their light traced behind them until the whole world was a tapestry of swirling light gliding and flying before me. I wept openly in the face of the sheer beauty, and I turned to her as she smiled at me. She seemed more interested in watching me than the display.
I was about to speak, though now I do not remember what I would have said. She tapped my lips with her finger and shook her head. She turned my chin toward the water and whispered ever so gently, “Listen.”
Then they began to sing. These creatures did not speak a language I could recognize. They sang a song of the world they came from with tongues so foreign that to try to grasp what they were saying was to go insane. But their song was of love. Don’t ask me to tell you how I knew that. They were singing a song about true love.
She stepped behind me and rested her webbed hands upon me. She whispered in my ear ever so faintly. “They sing a song I wrote,” she said.
“What is it about?” I asked.
“You,” she said.
I kissed her as the opera she composed for me lifted around us. She held me in her wet, cold arms, and my love for her was pure.