The cruise liner Seraphina had sunk more than a year ago. Its bow stuck out of the slimy sand at the bottom of the ocean like the jagged edge of a can forcibly pried open. Her contents had spilled out like blood, settling into a swath of sand and rock next to her. The bacteria had come. The worms had come. Now the eels were enjoying their day in the artificial reef.
They came by the hundreds to hide and sleep in its shadows, but Seraphina provided them with so much more. The eels hadn’t realized what living in the near black depths had done to their minds. They never had things to focus on, or to cherish, as it all simply floated until it was buried. Now, here was something slow in its burying and colorful and lively in its construction. The eel minds had something to focus on, new things to see beyond their simple lives of swimming.
One eel in particular took advantage of these opportunities. They had not names, there was nowhere on their slimy slithery bodies to pin a name tag, but they had features. This one had a small white spot on the tip of her nose, so we will call her Whitespot. She started that morning, though the darkness down there made all times the same, sleeping inside an overturned ukulele.
Whitespot dreampt of music, all the music the instrument had ever produced. Its beautiful strummed tones were unlike anything she could comprehend. The humans who had died aboard the sinking ship had left all their memories behind to get eaten up by the plankton, but the eels had just the right sort of minds that could see them. The shredded pieces of their lives flooded into the eels’ black consciousness, filling it and changing it. Now the memories were everything to them.
Whitespot was the only one to figure out how to get into the ukulele. The others thought it had no holes, but she tunneled in from under and now slept there: a sleep filled with music that restored her more than any sleep before. It was like it gave her back the age she’d lost simply by growing and maturing.
She always made sure to tunnel further away before emerging, so none of the others would find her music. That was how it worked, they’d learned. The coils of your body needed to be right up next to the object the memories clung to, otherwise you would feel nothing. You would just be back to your ordinary fish nonsense.
Once she was out of the sand she patrolled the wreckage, shopping for new memories to enjoy. There was an outfit, shorts and a flower-covered red shirt, brought back to life by the wriggling eels moving in and out of its sleeves. Whitespot took a turn through the clothes. The memories washed through her once in the middle, where the heart had been, and she saw herself standing out on a deck under the sun, breathing air.
After that she moved on to one of the restaurants, deep in the wreckage. That place was always teeming because they’d never tasted any actual food like those memories. Whitespot put on a wineglass like a helmet and swam around with it, enjoying the fruity bouquet across her human tongue. It at least felt human. She tossed it aside and rummaged around under a cast iron skillet. She tasted sunny hot eggs, their grease flowing down her fork, over her thumb, and dripping into her lap. She didn’t even care about the stain; this was her vacation! Nothing could go wrong here.
After slithering around the edge of a sundae dish, slathered in dripping chocolate and strawberry memories, she wanted a bit of a palette cleanser. A nice piece of dry toast would do it, so she went in search of the rusty box that was the toaster. It moved on occasion, thanks to so many eels squeezing inside it. She eventually found it under a tablecloth, next to an eel wrapped around a carving fork. She moved in and out of one of the slots.
Strange. The memory was… less than before. Crumbs and crust rather than toast. She went in again and came out with even less. A theory formed. Perhaps food memories were perishable, just like the substance that created them. The galley and restaurant would dry up and die, and it would be soon. There would be nothing but bacterial mounds and old fishy instincts left. Yet, there were more eels here than ever, even as the tastes faded with each tongue stroke.
Whitespot would not hold onto a dying thing, she would let it go. To pull memories back from inevitable death would be like torturing them, tying them into knots so they couldn’t slip into the burrows of their final sleep. She would not be a part of the hungry mob.
One of the cabins took her mind off it. There was an empty spot in a pillow case for her to rest in, with just enough sand to be extra comfortable. She’d already slept, but the pillow case had memories of human sleep. They were much warmer, like the outer boundaries of the black volcanic smokers, but without the risk of poisoning.
Yet, she remembered a fitful sleep this time. Whitespot struggled free of the pillow case, shedding it like a phantom attempting to strangle her. Something was wrong with every memory. Why weren’t the others noticing? She swam in and out of the Seraphina, through engine room, game room, crew quarters, captain’s quarters… and it was the same everywhere.
All of it was perishable. All of it eroding, or perhaps being digested by their minds. She realized her ukulele would grow quieter and quieter with each passing day, and then she understood why the others swarmed the memories instead of panicking. They could not accept it. As long as there was a scrap of memory left, there was a mountain of it.
Even now she felt the urge to burrow back into the instrument and suckle its sounds. She stopped over it and circled nervously. Once more. If she heard it even once more, she would not be able to leave. It needed to be ripped away from her. The only thing that would allow her to go was the imagination the memories had helped her grow. She saw the horrors that awaited the eels once the last memories were dry: a great empty space, an entire ocean, full of nothing but instincts. She wouldn’t let this treasure go. She needed to keep the intellect.
There was one hope, for among the hundreds of eels, there were a few others as smart as her. There was Stripetail, Smallhead, Sandfin, Greeneye, and Longsleeper. They all had the same ideas, read the same warnings from the fading memories.
Whitespot found them at the tip of Seraphina’s flagpole. They had tied their bodies together with a piece of twine from the ship, a feat that took many hours given their slime coats and general lack of hands. She got closer, asked what they were doing.
The answer was simple: a bouquet. The eels would stay together, just like she stayed with her ukulele, and share their rations of memories as they journeyed out into the blackness in search of more fallen humanity. The twine was of their civilization, and would make an excellent conduit through which to share their favorites.
Whitespot squeezed into the bundle, having shown up just before departure. She had memories of the sweet music, so she passed them around. She was happy to let them go. They stung her a little now; they were too sweet to have forever.
The eel Bouquet swam away from the Seraphina with its ration of memories. They understood they could never be more than rations anyway.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by swetankarmy during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!