We race for our lives beneath the Atlantic Sea, its massive waters roaring after us.
Philip and I dart hall to hall, desperately trying to separate ourselves from its wrath. But the sea is a beast that can’t be contained, its spreading waves quickly catching up with us.
The room trembles.
I whip my head around just in time for me to see the wave break apart against a dead end, the severity of its impact throwing enormous sprays of water and foam up into air.
The room shakes again, harder this time, knocking the floor out from beneath me. I cry out, but Philip snatches my wrist in a beat, forcing me upright—and forcing me to keep running.
We pick up speed as the earth falls apart around us, stone and dirt falling from the ceiling like a pummeling rain.
“I’m sorry.” The words burst out of me, “I just wanted—”
“Now’s not the time for that.”
I bite back the rest, hardening all my attention instead on the task at hand: Don’t drown. Escape.
The hall narrows. A door waits for us at the end.
Adrenaline fuels my veins. Suddenly my body is moving to its own accord as I snatch Philip up by the wrist and make a dash for the door.
With no time to waste, we push it shut, the hinges creaking in protest as if they hadn’t been used in years.
The roar of crashing waves close in, right on top of us. We manage the door shut right before the tide collides. Within just seconds, a sheet of foam forms at our feet.
“We won’t be safe for very long,” Philip says. “It won’t stop until there’s blood from one of us.”
We take the stairs, which twist into a perfect spiral toward the surface. I begin to wonder whether someone had built them here for specific purpose. After all, how many more have wandered into the Atlantic’s sacred entrance without second thoughts? How many got away scott free, and how many didn’t.
Honestly, I’d rather not think too hard about that part, because then the secrecy of this place would suddenly make much more sense: We could stumble upon the bones of the unlucky ones who’s souls now sleep with the sea.
We reach the top, and my heart clenches at what is waiting for us: Dozens of streams of light pouring through cracks in the stone.
It’s still day time. How can that be possible when we’ve been here for what—hours?
The sun can’t be out. Not right now.
“Look there.” Philip points at a small gate barred to the roof. “We’ll get you out through there.”
I make a full stop. “What?” Swinging around, I lock eyes with him. Shadows swarm his face, hiding most of his expression. His colorless, steel eyes don't turn from me, unblinking.
A glimmer, a fleck—anything.
But If hoping for something made that thing come to you, I would have seen his eyes brighten; I would have seen him shrug a casual shoulder as he said, ‘You thought I was serious again, didn’t you?’
But he’s already made up his mind. And once Philip makes up his mind, there is nothing anyone can do to change it.
Not even me.
A chill comes over me, spreading carefully across my delicate skin. Water sinking through sand.
I shake my head, slowly, my heartbeat quickening. “What about you? I can’t just—” I glance back, but the sunlight is as bright as ever.
We have several minutes.
That’s all we have.
If even that.
—”Leave you here . . . “ My voice comes out small, sounding as hopeless as I
Cool and scrutinizing, Philip is a complete opposite to my terror. His eyes crinkle a little in his efforts to smile, a look that’s kind of awkward on him, unpracticed. But only does he ever do it in those extreme situations where he needs me to relax.
For the first time in three years, not even he can comfort me.
“You have to,” he says firmly. “I’d rather let myself burn alive if it meant keeping you safe.”
My chest constricts. Tears threaten to blind me.
This can’t happen. Not to us.
“No. No. There has to be another way. Maybe we can. . . “ My eyes dart around the room. Sunlight, sunlight, sunlight. Everywhere I look, sunlight.
Another ripple shakes the room.
Philip grips my shoulders and forces me to look at him. “There is no other way.” The words rush out of him, “You have to go. Now.”
I can barely breathe as the knot in my chest tautens, squeezing the air from my lungs. My mouth is sandpaper dry; my thoughts scream for a solution.
It's hopeless thinking—In my mind I know that. It’s my heart that refuses to let go.
Every bit of my sense evaporates as I fling myself against Philip and throw my arms around him, holding him tight, refusing to ever let him go.
“Oh, Julie.” His arms wrap around mine, strong and protecting. I melt into the embrace, instantly comforted by the touch.
The world shudders around me.
But I’m safe.
I sigh, my heart now at peace. As long as I focus on Philip, I won’t feel myself drown.
He hooks an arm under my knees, using his other to support my shoulders as he picks me up. The suddenness of the movement makes me flinch, but I relax quickly, allowing myself to sink back into the embrace, a sigh escaping me. We exist there in wordless silence, waiting to fall asleep beneath the sea.
I open my eyes a little. “Yes?”
I’m suddenly lifted into air. A lock clicks.
“What are you—” I lift my head. Something bleary and gray quivers in my sight. I blink. Smell the charred scent of smoldering wood a split second before my vision clears. A dozen torrents of vapory smoke rise toward the surface.
My blood curdles.
“No, no—stop. STOP.” I thrash, but his hold on me is as unrelenting as his mind, his preternatural strength keeping me in place.
Even against my hysteria, Philip doesn’t break from his usual calm. His head dips forward, his lips coming close enough to almost brush mine. His breath is warm against me. I close my eyes, waiting for that one final kiss.
Maybe I've finally convinced him to let me die here.
His lips ghost mine.
Then he pauses, leaving me only with anticipation as his breath dews my lips.
"Live for me okay."
I don't have time or chance to react as a sudden fray of wind and colors whip past me. My vision fills with the clear blue of a daylit sky just as a monstrous crash sounds below.
I land harshly on the other side, sand biting at my skin. Ignoring my throbbing muscles, I pull myself up and scramble for the gate’s ledge, which Philip locks shut the moment I reach it.
My eyes search the shadows. A strangled sound escapes my throat once I notice it: one side of his body completely made out of stone.
Stark waters flow around him, piling up toward his knees.
I scream, lunging myself against the gate. Gripping the bars, my fingers bend in unnatural ways as I attempt to pry the gate open.
From the corner of my eye, the cool shade of evening fades into view.
I shake the bars. “You can make it out, see? There’s still time!”
The stone inches toward his neck, spreading to his other side. The flooding waters rise toward his chest.
“HURRY!” I cry out. We should have never trespassed. It was all my idea. My
Now sobbing, I weave an arm through the bars, my fingers only a millimeter short of reaching him.
“Unlock the gate for me. We’ll find a way to fix you, it’ll be okay. Please. Please, please. . . . . . . . . ”
My pleas continue until the last shard of stone finally cements him beyond recognition, forming him into the simple shape of a jagged sea-rock, like the ones you often see at shore.
Once the tide pulls him under, he sinks fast.
The water quickly recedes, taking him with it.
The wind stirs, laced with salt and a late summer chill. Cold tears drip off my chin as I look off to a black sky.
In the distance below, ocean waves crash softly against shore. Then all at once, fall silent.
Catz, the winner of WriterVana's April 2023 writing contest, is a fantasy and adventure writer.