She could hardly stay awake watching the clouds morph in front of the blue sky. At first they formed a dragon, then a crown, then arms reaching out to embrace.
A gentle breeze pushed them along and drifted in the window. It was pleasantly cool on her face as she wondered what her day might bring.
The white walls and rhythmical beeping were almost hypnotic as her eyelids grew heavier and heavier. She breathed deeply, in time with the comforting pulse of the hand tightly holding hers, and drifted off to sleep.
* * *
Cold. Chilling cold. Ice-like on her skin. Her hair streamed back from the force of wind rushing past. What her senses were picking up was surely impossible. She tried to open her eyes but could only squint as tears welled up. Shades of grey interspersed with silver and gold all she could make out as wind continued to buffet her face. Her hands grasped jagged edges of what felt like thick overlapping metal. Bubbling explosions burned the air as they hit her eardrums. The unmistakable aroma of chargrilled food pierced her nostrils.
The air rushing around her eased. Just enough that she could open her eyes. Thick, grey, rain-filled clouds dominated the view and the silvery gold she was holding onto was a living creature moving over and under and through them. Sensing her curiosity, their movement slowed, easing to a complete stop, save for a gentle rising and falling like a boat on a tide.
Precisely the moment she opened her mouth to speak, the massive creature leaned its huge neck effortlessly down. Taking this cue she stepped carefully down onto a rocky ridge. Outlines of a ring of craggy peaks were faintly visible rising from far below all the way up and disappearing into the clouds.
Softly wrapping her fingers around a ridge on the creature’s side she listened, feeling the rise and fall match the slow and steady pace of their breathing. Steadying her grip she leaned over the edge and saw the steep cliffside descended way down, to a glowing swathe of crimsons, oranges, and yellows, surging and lurching at the bottom.
A wing curled in rapidly, knocking the wind out of her lungs as it closed tightly around her middle. Another heavy impact seconds later hurled them both over the edge and down, spinning wildly as they fell. The spinning slowed until she found herself facing up to see a large shadowy form beat its wings and rise up through the clouds.
Looking back down, tracing along a giant wing and up the tucked in neck she found the creature’s face. Its eyes returned her gaze with a sense of calm.
“You… you saved me,” all she had the breath to say.
The creature pulled its wing in even more tightly as they continued to fall. Down, and down, and down.
* * *
Impact into the fiery depths never came. Instead she heard a familiar sound. A consistent sound. Something that had been a part of her life for as long as she could remember. She opened her eyes expecting bright white walls to accompany the beeping, but there was nothing. No walls, no window, no light. Pitch black. Pushing up with her hands she tried to stand to get her bearings. Her breathing quickened as she realised something was holding her shoulders down. Clutching instinctively to her chest she felt a restraint, and running her hand along it found a clasp at her waist. She breathed a sigh of relief. It was a seatbelt.
Blinding lights beamed forward from a short distance ahead, reaching into a cavernous space in front of her. What she saw in the light took the breath she had left in her lungs away. Vivid coral of every colour she had ever seen and some colours she hadn’t, schools of fish thousands strong darting about and in between rocks, plants of kinds she had never seen grown to sizes she did not think possible, and, in the middle of it all, a gigantic rust-covered ship rising majestically from the depths.
Bubbles floated slowly up in front of her. Cocking her head to watch them, shadow slowly crept over the glass and she couldn’t help but let her eyes follow. The shadow gave way to an enormous shape above. There were no words to adequately describe its awesomeness. The size of everything made her feel a bit like she had been shrunk down and put in a fish tank. The shape circled around purposefully, up, over, and back behind where she couldn’t see from her seat, its agility and grace belying its immense size. Seeing even its gargantuan frame dwarfed by the emptiness around she guessed the open water stretched miles in every direction.
The calm consistent beeping stopped. A harsh wailing took its place as a red light began flashing on a nearby panel. Alarms and flashing red lights almost always signified trouble, so even in this unfamiliar place, she knew something was wrong.
Her pulse started racing. She wondered how to go about stopping the alarm as a gigantic eye crept up next to the glass. It looked at her, forward in the direction of the lights, then the pod shook ever so slightly. The wailing continued and she still didn’t know what to do. The eye again looked at her, then forward, before a slow creaking echoed as the pod shook again, this time more vigorously. She couldn’t help but think the owner of the eye was telling her something. Properly looking around the inside of the pod for the first time it all looked very foreign. Panels full of buttons and switches and screens, labels with words that seemed like they were written in foreign languages. Nothing to indicate anything useful. Her eyes came to rest on two joysticks reaching up from armrests attached to the sides of her seat.
What have I got to lose? She shrugged to herself and placed a hand on each one.
Focussing her mind, breathing slowly and deeply, she pushed her hands forward. The result: the pod trundled slowly forward. It was hard to tell as she could only see one of them, but she could have sworn the eye winked before moving away.
It did not take her long to get a feel for the controls and soon she was nimbly moving the pod side to side and up and down, dodging schools of fish and rocky outcrops. The eye drifted further away from the now moving pod and its occupant, and she saw it belonged to the enormous creature. Swimming in front of her, they began guiding her through the gigantic rusted shipwreck, before they disappeared. How could something so big disappear? By sheer luck she saw the barest corner of its tail flick up behind a part of the ship. Manoeuvering the pod carefully in that direction she saw it had swum through a sizeable hole hidden under a large rocky overhang. The rock was almost the exact same rust red as the ship. She would have had little hope of finding the passage without their guidance.
“Confidently leading into the unknown…” She trailed off as the pod’s lights pushed away the darkness.
Her eyes widened as she tried to take in what was in front of her. Everything up until now had been breathtaking, but this…
In the middle of a bowl shaped crevasse—small for the creature but large for her—she saw a supremely large ivory white clamshell. As she moved closer, it began to open.
What was inside was really something else. A pearl, at least the size of her torso, lay shifting and changing through all the colours of the visible spectrum, some she wasn’t sure she could name! She had never seen anything like it and just seeing it would have been more than enough. The creature had other ideas and once again sidled its enormous eye up beside the glass. Looking from her, to something else inside the pod, then at the pearl, she felt they were again trying to tell her something. Looking around the inside of the pod her eyes locked onto the words Hatch Release printed next to a blue button under a hinged plastic cover. Looking back at the eye she was almost certain she saw a nod.
When will I ever get the chance to do this again? She shrugged again and opened the plastic cover.
Inhaling the biggest breath she ever had, she pushed the button. Loud clicks emanated one at a time from behind her all the way around until she saw the last latch unclasp directly in front. Loose from its base the glass top floated upwards at the same moment water rushed in from all sides. She was prepared for cold, but was pleasantly surprised how refreshing it was. The water rushed over her, silencing the wailing alarm, and washing her worries away with it.
Reaching down she held her last attachment to the pod with both hands. Unclasping the seatbelt she pushed off the bottom of the pod with both feet. Her hope this would take her toward the open clam shell was briefly dashed as the momentum simply caused the bottom half of the pod to sink. She stayed right where she was. A gentle nudge from behind gave her the impetus she needed to swim toward the magnificent, luminescent, pearl.
Another gentle nudge floated her closer as she reached out with both hands. The changing colour swirls followed the movement of her hands right up until she touched either side of the pearl. The instant her hands made contact the entire sphere and all its colour flashed to a dazzling white. Her hair undulated with the current as the taste of sea salt invaded her lungs. Water around her rippled back and forth as the creature carefully moved closer. Its enormous eye focussed on hers and she was certain its enormous mouth curled into a comforting smile. As she began to smile too everything around her brightened and merged to the same dazzling white.
* * *
Certain the white would settle to the familiar walls of the hospital room and the beeping would once again return to its rhythmic hypnotic pace, she was pleased to find she could open her eyes wide. Blinking repeatedly only intensified the brightness and she found the temperature uncomfortably hot. Fearing her next breath would completely fill her lungs with seawater, she tried to turn her body to see what was around but was unable to find purchase to move in any direction. She slowly came to the realisation she was no longer underwater.
She wrestled with her reality of being unable to move as a small flashing dot appeared very closely in front of her eyes. Turning her head this way and that, up and down, side to side, the flashing dot followed. Bringing her hands to her head, she found a solid shell covering it as words began to appear.
Heat shielding raised to 80%.
UV protection initiated.
Light filter engaged.
Each line faded as colour slowly materialised. Taking up the majority of her perspective was black, interrupted only by a reddish white pulsing directly in front of her. What it was or how far away she couldn’t be sure. More words appeared.
Voice recognition activated.
How would you like to proceed, Captain?
The words were almost… talking to her? Accepting the words as invitation for conversation she tried to think of what to say, but had no idea where she was or what, if anything, she could even try to do.
The beginnings of tears started to form in the corners of her eyes as she mustered what voice she could.
“I’m s-ss-scared. Wh… where am I?” she managed, cheeks flushing red knowing there was no one around she could be talking to.
Her fear grew as it seemed no response would come. The dot reappeared. Its rhythmical flashing comfortingly consistent. She began to wonder if it would stop when more words appeared.
Location: Antares star system.
Distance to earth: 619.7 light years.
Time until Supernova: sixty seconds.
Thinking back, trying to remember if she knew what a supernova was, she saw the word “sixty” change to the digits “59” and shrink to the corner of view, the rest of the words fading. She was no expert but a vague recollection told her being near a supernova would not be good for her physical health.
Whatever had been communicating with her flashed into action again as the countdown made its way to “40”.
The past has come and gone
The future is as yet unknown
Give energy to the present
Embrace the light emitted
Reading these words a strange sense of calm came over her. Fear was still present but it was joined by a courageous smile as the numbers continued to descend. Down past “30”, then “15″, then “10″, then “5”, all the way down to “1”.
The number one seemed to take an age to change to zero. When it did a brilliant white burst unfathomably quickly out from where the red had been. It was intimidatingly beautiful. She wondered if anyone else had seen, was seeing, or would ever see something like this. The intense colours, from another completely different spectrum to any she knew, were seared in her memory as she was blown backward and sent spinning by the explosion. Her smile grew ever wider as she flew.
* * *
Solid impact. Gasping for air. It was hard to come by but she found it, before her body bounced painfully over a jagged surface. Keen to catch the remnants of the beautiful supernova she found herself again blinking repeatedly. All this helped her to see were blurs of black.
She felt a comforting touch on either side of her face and her vision began to clear. The darkness was broken up by small pockets of orange providing just enough light to see the outline of someone looking down, their hands on her cheeks encouraging her to look up. They lifted her to a sitting position and propped her up with her back against a wall. Her vision cleared enough to see the pockets of orange behind the stranger were faintly glowing embers scattered as far as she could see. The embers glowed within what looked like remnants of burned out buildings. Opening her mouth to take a breath she coughed violently. The air was filled with thick, heavy ash so her second breath was little better.
“What’s … going … on?” she asked, barely able to take enough air into her lungs to speak each word.
“We haven’t much time,” they said, offering their hand.
She took it, and was lifted to her feet. Turning around she found what she had been leaning against was less than two feet high, looked closer to rubble than a wall, and was the one thing between them and something dark. Something blacker than black. A gargantuan mass that changed from moment to moment. First it was the shape of a three headed dog. Then hands reaching up from the ground grasping for something to grab onto. Then a soundlessly screaming face.
Was that… She crept closer and it seethed back to convulsing darkness. Was that, me?
Driven by a force she would never understand she took a firm stance and drew as deep a breath as the heavy air allowed. Focussing all her energy she reached out. First with her hands. Then with her mind. Then with her heart. Reaching powerfully towards the darkness.
A yellow light emerged from her hands. It glowed brighter and brighter, converging with a blue glow from above her eyes and a blindingly bright scarlet glow from her chest. The lights interweaved, surging forward and growing more brilliant as their streams closed in on the darkness. Growing almost unbearably bright, the light began to pierce the edge of the darkness when without warning it began to rapidly dim. Her body slumped, her arms dropped to her sides, and her head fell heavily forward until her chin rested against her chest. Her strength was draining with the light. The darkness responded. Redoubling its intensity it reared up, looming over them and she felt herself struggling to hold onto the light.
Her companion again reached out a hand. A simple gesture requiring faith, and offering hope.
She reached out her hand. As their palms met and their fingers closed she felt a ferocious warmth flow through the connection. The ground cracked; their feet sinking powerfully into the concrete as strength returned to her. They both tightened their grip, their bond strengthening and amplifying the dying light, causing it to burst forth again, this time even more brilliantly.
The darkness writhed and flailed violently. Its form warped, trying to fight the light. Edging forward, the light pierced the dark, penetrating to its very centre, relentlessly pushing and stripping away the layers of shadow. Silent screaming faces snapped from side to side within its form, popping into existence one second and blinking out the next. Its movement gradually slowed. Its size diminished. Until, when it was the size of a person, it pulsed dimly, searching for coherent form.
She looked at it, intent on finding out exactly what it was. She released her companion’s hand and started walking towards it. Staring directly into its centre she wanted to know for sure what she had seen within its deepest shadow.
What was left of the darkness coalesced into the form of a human. It was her. Studying it closely she knew without a doubt it was. The likeness was so similar it was like looking in a mirror from which the only colour reflected was black. It reached out its arms, extending a warm smile with them. Uncertain, she looked back at her still vividly chromatic companion. They nodded, urging her forward.
She struggled to take one more deep breath, the air even heavier with ash now. Turning back to the shadowy representation of herself she stepped forward opening her arms wide, a sense of inevitability growing. She reached her arms around this very real part of herself and closed them tightly. Her shadow-self closed their arms too, completing the embrace.
Looking back to her companion she wondered if she was still seeking approval; if she still needed to. Their face was calm, offering a tearful but comforting smile. She looked down to see both the shadow and herself simultaneously fusing and fading.
“Let go,” a voice quietly echoed.
And she did.
* * *
Opening her eyes she saw doctors and nurses rushing around the room. Everything was in slow motion and the world was without sound. Squeezing her hand tightly one last time a tear rolled slowly down her cheek.
“I think of our story a little differently,” her words an almost imperceptible whisper, “It was you who saved me. It was you who showed courage through it all. It was you who reminded me to cherish every minute. It was you who brought light into the deepest darkness.”
She took a deep, difficult breath as she began to let their hands slip apart.
“In our little story, I will always be the sidekick and you,” she said, tears now streaming freely from her eyes, “you will always be my little hero.”
I started writing this story before one of my best friends died of cystic fibrosis (CF). It was not until she died that I realised the story was inspired by her short but beautiful life. She was one of the brightest lights ever to shine, and encouraged everyone around her to to shine with everything they had too. Our time on this earth is limited, let’s use it as best we can to lift each other up.
I would love you to support my writing so I can spend more of my time doing it, but if you have the means and wish to support those with CF, organisations all around the world offer ways to help. Find your local one and donate today. Here’s just such a link to help New Zealanders with CF: