Flash Fiction

The Atlantean

I’m not exactly sure what to make of it, to be honest.

Sprawled out in front of me lies some sort of “creature”, if I can even call it that. It has a face that might almost look human under a certain light, but just about everything else is foreign and otherworldly: the pondweed hair, the spiny protrusions on its back, the hummingbird-green scales covering most of its body. The most fascinating part of the specimen has to be the fishlike tail that lies where its legs should be, stained with saltwater and tinted a dark cerulean.

“And you said you found it like this?” I ask Luca, but he stares at the ground and fidgets with the hem of his raincoat.

In a different world, I probably would have told my younger brother some sort of excuse when he asked to explore the beach this late — something about the impending storm, something about how dangerous the ocean can be at night — just so I wouldn’t have gotten into this dreamlike mess. Unfortunately, I’m in this world, and in it, my younger brother is made up of curly hair and childlike wonder that are both impossibly hard to say no to.

“I think we should just go home.”

“No!” The word erupts from him like a firework. “We can’t just leave him here!”

I sigh. I shield my eyes from the blanket of rain with my hand to look at the body clearer, given that it isn’t some shared hallucination between the two of us. At first, I think it could be a mermaid because of the tail, but quickly dismiss that — Ariel was never described as having claws or translucent fins — so I start to wonder if it’s some sort of alien. Or sea monster. Or something ripped straight out of a Lovecraftian horror.

A white-hot streak of lightning crackles overhead, reflecting off the scales embedded in the creature’s tail and scattered in the sand beside it. In the flash of bright light, I notice that the sand around the body is soaked with ink-black blood. “We need to go home, now,” I repeat unsteadily, but Luca is already crouching beside the dead thing and attempting to prod it with a piece of waterlogged wood. “Luca!”

The creature stirs. I no longer think it’s a dead thing.

“He’s hurt,” Luca says quietly, standing back up. “We need to help him find his way home.”

You shouldn’t keep referring to it as a “him”, I want to say, but he’s too unwavering for me to even attempt to say anything logical in this situation. I don’t think there’s a guidebook I can read to figure out what to do when you stumble into a mythological creature, and if there is, I haven’t found it yet. “What, something like Atlantis?” I tease, deciding against arguing with the eight-year-old. He looks down at the matching set of gills on the creature’s neck for a moment, watching the way they ripple and breathe with the steady downpour.

“You’re not being serious about this,” Luca murmurs, his voice almost lost in the rain.

“I’m being rational,” I find myself saying, much harsher than intended. I draw in a careful breath. “You don’t really believe we’re gonna help this… this thing, do you?”

Thunder booms overhead as Luca starts to cry.

I try to say something, but… I don’t. I can’t. No voice rises from my throat. It’s as if all the words of comfort for him had vanished with the setting sun. I start to take his hand to usher him away from the shore when I hear a cough; a guttural, throaty noise that sounds like someone drowning. I look down. A pair of curious, glassy eyes that seem to hold the depths of the ocean itself gaze back up at me.

“If I recall correctly,” the creature says in perfect English, its voice ringing with something like whalesong, “I believe you said something about Atlantis.”

Luca tightens his grip on my hand.

Sabrina Powell (@sabrinapowellx on Instagram) is an undergraduate student at Washington University in St. Louis. An avid reader and one-time published author, she writes and edits for the local literary magazine and has had her work featured in several online and printed presses. In an alternate universe, she lives a modest life as an intergalactic explorer, floating peacefully among the stars.