They float on the dead sea, like bits and pieces of vibrant confetti sprinkled on the fading sea. The dull gray waters froth like a rabid beast, staring up at the light scarlet sky, straining to stay alive, weak waves swirling and releasing, constantly amending, yet remaining unchanged. Trying to heal new wounds, but sighing in fair dismay.
Bobbing not far away are they; a miscellany of the thrown-away, the long forgotten, the leftovers of they:
A gathering of buoys, waiting to be saved.
A lifeboat drifting not far away.
A broken constellation of abandoned toys—
All the wafting remnants of the ancient ruins; specks of rectangular-shaped paper straying aimlessly on the waning sea, with numbers and faces to show a history. Shattered boxes with chips and wires, a cracked screen, fractured keys, nothing but a worthless disease.
Undersea, billowing sheets of color sway in the current, like jellyfish from the myths before, with dangerous stings, long and flowing like ribbons, wrapping around beating hearts and squeezing, until bruises bloom and skin tears, venom find its way into bones, like a silent executioner hiding in the shadows of night, tricked by the light into thinking it’s not there. The “jellyfish” disappears with the waves
Up on the light scarlet sky, the sun wavers, struggling to penetrate the veil of red smoke, struggling to light up the fading sea—Struggling, fighting, losing. A frail seabird flies over the wavering sun: a Northern Gannet, probably the last, it seems. The gannet’s white feathers are coated with dust and grime, the oil and toxins in the sea and air. It’s head, once a rich golden, now seems gray. It’s wings, half white half black, are quivering; an ancient machine not up to date, the gears and tires squealing, toiling and pushing to stay alive.
The bird swoops down and plunges into the expiring ocean. A blizzard of bubbles wrap around the gannet, tangling it in an newfound thrill, until the water distills, leaving the starving bird alone in the dead sea. It paddles around, trying to find food, ignoring it’s failing body, pushing through an ocean full of the leftovers of they, an ocean where bodies are dying, stomachs starving, brains misfunctioning,
The seabird pushes through, deeper and deeper, farther and farther, straining its eyes and nose to look and smell for prey in the inky gray. But… Nothing. Just bits and pieces of colorful confetti.
Until: A billowing sheet of white.
It’s heart lurches in surprise. A jellyfish? It thinks, Oh how lucky am I! The gannet uses the last of its strength to paddle forward, clamping its’ beak on the jellyfish tight, desperate not to lose the fight, clinging on to its precious food, its savior, its treasure, the only driftwood in a rushing river, the lifeboat on a stormy sea.
With its jellyfish, the gannet breaks out of the inky darkness, into a world where the leftovers of they fill the sea, where the sky is a light scarlet, the sun barely seen. The seabird takes flight, spreading its’ wings in delight, and with sharp blue eyes it picks out a landing; a deflated, abandoned lifeboat not far away. The gannet sets the jellyfish down; a limp, sheer gray sheet, with bits of algae clinging to on, like criminals committing a crime, helping to disguise an imposter. The gannet breathes in the mouth-watering scent, and gobbles it up, savoring the first taste of food in a lifetime of starvation. The seabird, now greedy for more, plunges back into the sea, blinded by hands of gluttony, every one of the floating garbage on the dead sea seems to turn into precious food; a tiny heart beating, tiny mouths screaming: Eat me! Eat me! I’m a fleshy fish! I’m a plump squid! I’m a succulent, big jellyfish! The gannet grins, huge and great, filled with hunger, thinking, this will all be mine, I will be stronger, I can finally fly, away from this red sky—I can survive one other day, or perhaps one other week…
And the seabird
on the dead sea.
* * *
A few weeks later…
The sun is hidden by a veil of red smoke. The sky is still, no birds with golden heads and black and white wings, just still. Just…
The even weaker waves swirl and release, so pathetic in attempt, trying to amend the new wounds, but sighing in fair dismay. At night, the air is still, but for the sickly waves that beat against the jagged rocks with crushing force, the sound like drums of death in the dead of night, pounding against a miscellany of the thrown-away, pieces of the leftovers of they, remnants of another better time, bobbing up and down to the rhythm of music, a dark, deep, beat. Ahead, a looming figure approaches, menacing and gray against the red smoke, with shadowy silhouettes clashing and swaying on top. The figure draws close, revealing the garbage that makes it up: algae bearing Styrofoam, plastic bags, bottles to bottle caps, straws and wrappers—all the leftovers of they. A plastic island, it is, inhabiting human bodies and their often parties, blasting music and throwing beer bottles into the ocean.
A “save our world” sign from before, bobs near the mayhem of noise, forgotten forevermore. The humans sway blindly on their feet, plastic sunglasses on their faces, moving their bodies to the sync of music, laughing and chatting with voices of a delusion.
A girl, Cara, with knobby knees and a jutting collarbone, skin clinging to bones, sits at the edge, on a plastic chair, where the weak waves softly lap at the shore. She stars out at the infinite sea, the endless sky, deep in the thralls of a delusion. Cara wears her sunglasses like she should, humming softly to the wind, alone, in this moment, on the dead sea, sitting on an island of the leftovers of her kind. Behind her, the music thumps loudly, sleek bodies sweating and swaying, drinking and laughing, living life in their own little delusion,
oblivious to their dying ocean, or maybe not; one, two, three—bodies dances with an item of the thrown-away; an algae covered bottle, an billowing sheet of white, a broken buoy—raising them in the air and shouting jumbled up words, laughing and throwing it back into the dying sea, as if nothing is wrong, as if the world isn’t already gone, as if they have nothing to do with the red smoke in the air and the garbage like confetti in the fading sea, as if they can pretend nothing is happening because at least they have a heart breathing, lungs working, a stomach not starving…
The partygoers dance and chat, wrapped up in a delusion. The girl, Cara, sits alone at the edge, with her own thoughts.
The remnants of another time float on the gray sea. Somewhere, the last Northern Gannet realizes it’s mistake, and another heart stops, another object floats on the sea, another life snatched away by the leftovers of they.
The night continues on.
The reflection of the morning sun flickers and rolls on the gray surface of the sickly ocean, sifting with the weak waves. The sun reluctantly peeks out of the horizon, a wavering circle of light rising up to meet the day, taking laborious steps one by one, to reach the light scarlet sky and maybe beyond, to light up an expiring world and hope for it to respond.
The world is quiet this morning, no thumping music, or swaying bodies, just stillness, until: Thud,
Something bumps into the island of the thrown-away, rippling the sickly waters, disturbing the new ring of garbage—bits of colorful confetti, strewn across the dying sea. The bodies on the island lay still, snoring softly, sleeping soundly, collapsed onto the ground, exhausted, from last night’s party, their glasses still on their faces, half empty beer bottle still clutched in their hands.
Cara is asleep in her chair, her mouth slightly apart, a drop of drool on the corner of her mouth. The faint bumping sound, now an insistent thawk, rocks the island, causing the girl’s plastic chair to tip, and she falls off and onto the floor with a thump, her plastic glasses falling off from her face and bounces on the plastic ground, once, twice, for the third time,
before bouncing into the dying ocean with a plop. The thudding stops.
The fall cuts through the fabric of a lifelong delusion, and Cara blinks, jumps up, her mouth wide, shaped in surprise, her heart beating fast, her brain whirring quickly at last, she thinks: Why was I on the floor? Why did my chair tip over? And then: Wait. What is this monstrous place? She tries rubbing her eyes, trying in vain to rub away the blur of sleep, the horrible scene before her; of plastic and trash everywhere, of the gray and sickly sea, more like a soup of waste, she thinks, and Oh! The sky! The red, horrid sky! The repugnant air clogs her nostrils, and oh she hopes to reenter that world of delusions, which brings her to realize, to take away her hands from her eyes, that her sunglasses are missing, and she searches on hands and knobby knees, frantically turning her head around, searching for sunglasses that are not there. Panic seizes her throat, and her breaths turn into pants, she thinks: I am going to get in trouble, I can’t lose it, they won’t allow it, they won’t allow it! Her breaths fog the air around her, and suddenly it seems impossibly cold. She shivers in her clothes, blinded by the grayness around her, convincing herself that this is all a dream. Cara starts to calm down, breathing in and out, waiting for the moment to reveal itself, to open up the fog curtains and scream that this is all a dream. Because then everything would be alright. Alright.
Slowly, as if it is unwilling to part, the fog disperses, and the scene around her stays the same, but the Thud,
thud, resumes, slicing through the atmosphere like a blade.
Her heart is a dead weight, plagued by the realization that this is not a dream. She notices the strange noise, and it rips her out of the moment of hysteria, and a false, worthless hope. What is this noise? She wonders, face scrunching up in confusion and fear. She turns her head and looks around, seeing the sleeping figures everywhere, and the realization hits her deep: Why am I the only one able to hear this strange noise? Overcome by wonder, Cara walks around yonder, looking for the source of the noise, thud, thud, thud, it echoes, bringing her up to the side of the island, and there it is, a big black thing, hulking, half submerged in the water, dead, it seems. But what makes Cara shout in terror, is the rainbow eruption of garbage, the thrown-away, the long forgotten—bursting out of the creature’s mouth; an explosion of color in this dying world.
Horror. Absolute horror and disgust. It is an inky black hand grasping her heart; a cold, slick snake, ready to strike, nesting in the pit of her stomach. Tears had sprung into her eyes without her permission, threatening to burst out. She forces them back, because what good will crying do?
Cara takes a deep breath or two, steeling herself for what she’s about to see, and peers closely at the carcass: It’s a whale! A baby whale! She realizes. It’s one of the creatures she had heard stories about, exploring the deep oceans and flying through moons, their long moans filled with sorrow and longing, back to a time when the sky was blue and the water pure, when the world needed no cure, where birds soared overhead and fish swam underneath, the fantasy of a better world swift as a shadow, short as a blink, never to be linked, to the realities of life, and the dirty truth they try so desperately to hide.
Rage, hot fury, burns through her; a white hot poker scorching through her chest. Who did this!? She thinks, Who did this!? In her mind, questions spring out, so many that she can’t think straight. But deep down, she knows the truth, even if it’s too late: She did this. Along with her people. They have poisoned the sea, and turned the sky red. They have created this mess of a world, and now they dwell, in a lifetime of delusions, on an island of their own mistakes. Ignorance is bliss, knowledge is a burden no one wants to carry. The sleeping bodies around her are still, lifeless but for the snoring, oblivious to the damage they’d caused. It is then that the girl realizes: she is alone in this mess. And she knows what she has to do.
When she is ready, she whispers those scared words: “If this is life, then I do not want to live as I had. I want to make a difference.” And she jumps into the dying ocean, to her victory or to her grave, but nevertheless, the dull gray waters froth like a rabid beast, the strong waves swirling and churning, to swallow her whole with the jaws of the dying beast.
* * *
A few weeks later…
A powerful wave splashes on the plastic island, showering the sleeping bodies near the edge with water colder than ice. They wake with a start, their glasses taken by the wave, promising a certain sacrifice. A plump women was first to recover in the small group of the awake. Her eyes dart around frantically, and she starts crying: “Cara! Where’s my baby Cara?”
The father joins her, and soon they are both like mamma and papa birds crying over an empty nest, the others looking around in horror and wonder at their dying world, trapped in the shocking truth, until: Thud,
something bumps into the island of the thrown-away.
The awake jolt up in surprise. They follow the noise, like Cara did before them, to the edge of the island, and they see:
The body of a young girl.
Her eyes are closed, but her mouth is opened wide, and exploding out is a rainbow eruption of garbage, the thrown-away, the long forgotten—
They gasp in horror. The mother bursts into tears at her daughter’s body, and in her shock and misery, she jumps into the raging waters to end her pain, the waves claiming her, dragging her under, until she is nothing but a feather in the current,
she’s all gone.
* * *
In the future…
Once upon a time, a little girl called Cara, jumped into the frothing sea, in attempt to cleanse the sea of the thrown-away, the long forgotten, the leftovers of they. But one person can never save the world alone; After her body washed ashore, and the main uproar—a group of people called The Awake continued her foolish dream, flying into the water like heroes of another delusion, jumping to their death or to another time, not sure if there is another mountain to climb. Off they go armored with their will and dreams, into an forest, an stormy ocean, a wobbly future, the red sky above, into a fate unknown.
Far away, on a distant land, past the gathering of broken, sinking buoys, waiting to be saved,
A deflated lifeboat drifting not far away,
A complete constellation of abandoned toys,
A porcelain doll, called Cara, with shattered remains, it’s tiny plastic sunglass floating far far away—
All the wafting remnants of the ancient ruins, now a flame kindled from one dying ember, illuminating a sky tinted red, where a seabird—a Northern Gannet, it seems, was spotted flying high above, over the wavering sun and over the great dying seas; a flash of a white-gold ghost in the light scarlet sky.
–by Christina Ma