Illustration for Abyss by Tamsin Bloom

She is an ugly, decaying thing when we pull her to the surface. I guess you’d call it love at first sight.

She is decomposing, rancid in the evening air. We are seven miles from our last delve and seven hundred from shore, headed for the latter. I am on the lowest balcony, checking what our net is stuck on and it is her, she is stuck in it, and I cannot break from her gaze.

When I return to deck I tell them I have cut it free, a mass of seaweed I say instead of some huge stinking something and I make it sound perfunctory instead of the delicate deliberate dance it was to weave her feelers out from the hempen lattice and squirrel her away in a room I’d never seen anyone go into. The boat’s owner nods and gets back to the winch. He is old and his sea-bleached skin told me he’d been away from shore for many reasons other than ferrying university adjuncts and so I ask him if the fantasy of an undiscovered ocean is true, if it holds stories and sights beyond ken. He says no. He says he’s never seen or heard of anything out there that doesn’t also exist in a book or documentary somewhere. He says I would know better than him, anyway.

I thank him and head below and on my way under I reconsider my allegiance to science.


The stairs are hard with my legs sore from so much time on unsteady footing, but I manage. I’ll have to find where my Advil rolled off to, I think, pointedly so I’ll remember, loudly so my brain isn’t stabbed with specks of inexplicable longing. I open a dark door to a dark room and think about sea-mad sailors from stories and cartoons and wonder if I’ll still see the face I’d seen before.

She’s there goddammit she’s there, still after all these trips sticking ill-fitting out of a half-filled spare tank in the spare room into which I’ve been smuggling microscopes, sample tubes, whatever equipment I can hide beneath my windbreaker. When I touch her the first time I am burned by acid and still I touch her again.

She is ill at ease and I long animalistically to do better by her. Yet my basal brain is overridden by my curiosity and I leverage one of her outgrowths over the edge of the tank with a pair of tongs and maneuver it across a fold-up dissection table upon which I intend to do no such thing. What I have grabbed is less like a tentacle or a fin and more like a wing, a billowing pustulating sac which when moved makes her unblocked stare impossible to avoid.

Pockmarks of decay fleck her form and I choke back emotion forced upon me by mirror neurons. She does not have a face; she has melting rubber and a sagging mantle, I try to tell myself. I realize far-belated that I’ve been gendering the bloated fleshmatterbeast and wonder why.

I meant to study her but I cannot find my nerve. Instead I press my lips to what must be her forehead if I take the oozing craters below as her eyes. My lips singe and I cannot hold the kiss for long. I hold what I can of her and place my face on hers and leave the embrace another sea-scarred sailor. 

When I exit the room there are stars on the other side of the ship’s hull but I cannot see them yet, not until I take the stairs back up to the now-empty deck, and when I take off my glasses to wipe away the seaspray, the boat rocks and the wind blows and they slip from my hands. After I finally find them in the dark and the wind and the myopia and the cold I lift them slowly to my eyes and watch as they gradually focus the night sky into coherence, each star duplicated infinitely, then by eight, then four and two until finally I have replaced the glasses on my face and the stars are only themselves.


That night I dream in reverse. I remember first the trip away from shore, making a game of seeing how far I could lean over the rail. I had grown up craving the sea I knew only from others’ accounts and now as much as I saw it I never grew satiated.

In my dream I am signing my life away in student loans and curriculum. I am a continent away and still it is not far enough and I consign myself to a life measured in proximity to doctorates just for a glimpse of what it’s like to move further away.

At last I arrive at the time before everything else and I am being dragged into my mother’s truck by my right arm and I am thinking that this must be as bad as pain feels, that my joints will dislocate and I will never use this arm again, and as the door is slammed shut and the metal shell folds in around me I make the pain worse by twisting and fighting for even one last glimpse of the girl she has caught me kissing.

In the dream, I manage to see her.

In the dream, she has a face that is distended and dripping with ink and blood as it rots in the indigo sunset.

I wake in the morning and know what I must do.


There is a point in the Earth’s atmosphere where the air is thin enough to be as heavy as helium and when a balloon floats away it stops there, stuck in place by buoyant force. I consider the implausible possibility that it works the same way with the ocean, only reversed, and that every body that had ever been lost at sea was now floating in one vast layer in a private pelagic zone made only for corpses, at final rest in a perfect eternal equilibrium.

Sounds nice, I think, as I pull a lever and the floor opens beneath me.

I could not put her up and over the railings above without being seen and so my only option as a traitor to my field is to shepherd her down to the bowels of our small ship where there waits an even smaller submarine. It remains unused, hanging on winches, as I slide what I refuse to call a monster back to her home. If she is a monster then I am a worse one, worse for my inability to show her to the crew and researchers and advocate for her life, worse for my surety that they would salivate for her dismemberment. With my blistering left arm I shove her into the sea and with my right I grab a newly filled air canister that I have no intention to use.

When I hit the water the added weight sends me sinking after her. I follow her descent, and as the pressure mounts I witness her metamorphosis. I see her become what I have felt she is, irrepressibly, since she surfaced.


She is beautiful and vast as her vascularities pump once again as she regains what our toxic air took from her, bigger and smaller now across her form, breathing unburdened and rippling with and against the currents that pull me closer to her with my stinging eyes unwilling to blink and miss seeing what I have always waited for.

I want to make her a part of me, subsume her, or maybe be subsumed, or maybe I want semantics to dissolve until there is one word that refers to this thing and myself, and to nothing else in existence.

If I’m being honest, I never planned to come back from this trip anyway.

With what air I have left I beg my muscles to push me deeper, closer, closer to her as she pivots in her descent and looks at me with a face that is and always has been human. We lock eyes and I can finally gaze back at her and my heart shrinks under growing feet of sea because in answer to my prayers she is opening her mouth. She opens it as wide as it will go. And then more. And then more. And then several times more and her face and body alike are split into a maw unending, stuffed full of mismatched teeth, some serrated, some tusks, molars and angler fangs. All representatives of the sea bear down on me now, inviting me into an embrace I cannot reject. A better ending than I could ever have hoped for.

But though pain comes, I am not permitted to enter. She will not let us become one. Instead, I hear the oxygen tank dent and burst as she snaps off my arm. It only hurts for a moment. Afterwards it is only warm.

I reach for her but she is too far away. Without the added weight I am rising back to the surface as she turns away from me and flits off into her abyss. I was never meant to live down there. I knew that from the start. But maybe I knew too that neither was I meant to die there.


I regain consciousness back on deck, rescued and resuscitated. Maybe they saw me float up, or maybe some system somewhere registered the submarine hatch’s opening. Maybe they just saw the blood. And maybe it’s the blood loss, but the faces of everyone standing over me look alien and distended in the noontime doldrum air.

They tell me I will be okay and I admit I will be. I will be old someday and I will be happy. I see my future through the delirium, how in fifty years I will sit back and smile and hug myself to fight back the cold and share glances with others who know just as well as I do what can be gained from, and lost to, the warm depths of the sea.

In the meantime I will have to comfort myself by knowing that even if I cannot be with her fully, some digested part of me will remain mixed into her cells until the oceans evaporate under the torrential light of the sun.

She has let me live. I cannot help but think that this means she loves me back.

I cannot help but think that she is saying to me that if we must both be monsters, then we both must live.

Tamsin Bloom is a writer living in Brooklyn who works in and around genre fiction. Her stories focus on questions of identity, and how that identity is shaped by what we see of ourselves reflected in others.