Prompt: A woman with thalassophobia is trapped in the ocean with a large aquatic animal.
The exact shape of the vehicle, or the specific nature of their foe, she never saw. All Veronica knew was that she’d been captured, along with hundreds if not thousands of other people, by strange machines, and forced into a small box. At the moment her box was suspended upside down in a row of others, hanging out of the open bay of some flying vehicle.
The pod in front of her surely had a viewing window like hers, but it was turned away from her. She couldn’t see the undoubtedly terrified individual inside. She’d already decided to call them pods, because they had that sinister feel. They weren’t just prison cells; there was another part to this plan somewhere. She was going to be tortured, or mimicked, or brainwashed, and it was going to happen inside her cramped pod.
Her wrists and ankles were not bound, but she barely had room to bang on the glass. She’d already pounded her palms raw hours earlier, when those strange snaking chains snatched her right out of her backyard. She tried to look down and see what they flew over, but there wasn’t enough room.
She couldn’t shake the feeling there was water below. It was something about the thin clouds their prison flew through. They had an almost… salty… quality to them.
“Not the ocean,” she whispered over and over again. “Not the ocean.” Then she screamed it. No noise escaped her pod. “Not the ocean!” Of all things, she only feared spiders more. She never even needed a negative experience with it, just a few trips to the beach. Her imagination was powerful, and it could penetrate the foam to see what lurked just under the waves that fools surfed on.
Sharks. Moray eels. Barracudas. Octopus and squid that could pierce steel air tanks with their beaks. The sea was not a place for humans, thouroughly evidenced by their lack of gills and fins. Veronica was very invested in this argument every time she had to make it, to the point of sudden, sputtering, embarrassing tears.
Friends lost even. She couldn’t bear to watch them leave for the beach on vacation. She’d hugged her roommate, almost as tightly as one of the octopus she feared, and begged her not to go for three days in Miami. Somebody else had to pry her off, and they never spoke again. Someone else came to get her stuff. It was just more evidence of the ocean’s cruelty that it managed to trick so many people.
Whiiiirrrrr… Veronica stopped screaming to listen. Something spun, unwound. Was it… Her pod dropped out of the vehicle bay and tumbled through the air. As it spun, draining her of her color, she saw the world below go by. It was the ocean. It didn’t matter which one; they were all the same, all bottomless and starving.
She screamed again, until something caught in her throat and she could only cough. Through her tears she saw three other pods falling towards the water below. Only a few of them had been dropped off. The moment she hit the water was the moment her hoarse shrieking turned to whimpers and bomb-like tears.
“Sinking…” she moaned as she raked her nails across her cheeks. The pod knew everything about her somehow. She had been dropped in exactly the right place; if she’d gone any deeper before hitting the sandy bottom, she would’ve suffered a fatal heart attack. As it stood, she was panicked on the edge of life, her breath blazing, her fear chewing on her heart like a rabid dog.
Two words appeared on her viewing window, revealing it as some sort of electronic screen. The words were white and easy to read against the deep blue of every direction. Thalassophobia Arachnophobia The pod knew her worst fears. It displayed them, confirming its goals. Whoever they were, they were torturing her with terror.
Her pod had landed on its side, so she had a view of a rocky outcropping, some kelp, and a few bloated lolling sponges that looked like decaying corpses floated in a river for two months that were both July. Something sharp and black emerged from around a waving brown-green frond. No. It couldn’t be. There were no spiders underwater; they simply didn’t exist there.
“No!” she cried out once more. “I’m begging you! Whoever you are! Let me go! Not spiders!” Her fears disappeared from the window-screen and were replaced by a single sentence. Begging does no good, only surviving. The words disappeared, and the two tiny lights in the pod went out as well. “No!” The claw inched forward.
A second claw ripped through the kelp. A third appeared. A fourth. So many legs, so many claws at each end. Veronica’s heart once again approached the point of no recovery. Eight limbs in total, attached to a thin spindly body and a face so alien it might’ve been an open wound.
A memory caught up to her from high school biology. Yes, there were sea spiders. They were old. They were rarely bothered with, but this giant clearly had something on its mind. It stalked closer and closer to her pod. She saw a strange assemblage that she had to assume was its mouthparts. She also had to assume they would pierce the window and suck out her innards.
She stamped her feet violently, accidentally hitting a panel in the bottom of the pod that she hadn’t known about. Two small jets activated, pushing her pod through the sand and away from the trundling spider. It was relentless though, and continued forward through the cloud of raised sediment. She hit the panels again and went further.
There was a clear problem. The second pulse was weaker. She was only granted so much fuel. What did they expect her to do with it? Jet ten feet before dying? She spun around, looking for some kind of solution out on the seabed.
Another pod. Inside was another terrified face: someone who hadn’t found their jets yet. She couldn’t look at them. The sight of their fear would be too much. They were just a pod, and this was a race. Veronica slammed on her panels one more time, throwing her body against the glass to angle up. Hers collided with the other one, and ramped off it.
While she spiraled in the water she looked back to see the spider scale the inert pod, rear back, and stab through its window. Bubbles and blood rose in equal measure. Her mind snapped in the moment she realized she was a murderer. What was that old joke? You don’t have to outrun a bear; you just have to outrun everyone else.
Moments later, a chain like the one that had first taken her pierced the surface of the sea and grabbed the top of her pod. She was raised out of the water and allowed to breathe. The screen lit up again, and there came some encouragement from her captors.
Excellent work. You’ve lived through your fear, and sacrificed your own to survive. You are worthy of speaking to us, who come from a far star, a place of no fear. Welcome.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by EmptyNutellaQQ 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!