There’s a girl in there, they say.
She lives on the floor of the deep blue lake, where the edges of the water turn black and boil. Where, like the albino salamanders and snakes, she breathes in air through her slippery skin and sees the shaded world through hollow sockets. Her solitary guides to the outside world are the taste of blood on the water, the texture of the weeds against her scaly palms.
So they say. Never loudly. Never sober. They talk only in hushed tones outside the earshot of children who have not yet learned to fear the world’s true dangers. There are some stories they tell the little ones, terrifying fables meant to make them behave. But they know better than to trouble them with the tales that are true. There’s time enough for that to come.
She collects the bones of fish and forgotten men, they murmur. The desperate and the unlucky — fishermen who sometimes toil late into the night, who sometimes fall. The fortune-seekers who brave the perilous waters of the abyss for biological treasure… Foolhardy scientists and divers who think they know what lies in the heart of the chasm, lurking in the shadows. Not one has emerged unscathed—and those who surface again rant and rave and refuse to repeat what they saw there, down where the water meets the earth.
Some repeat the tale they have heard so many times before. They say the girl fell from the sky on a moonless night, rocketing down with such force that she tore a rift in the very flesh of the world. Unable to escape the molten walls of her prison, she filled the pit with scalding tears and made the crater her home.
But others are sure that she was born there—formed of grit and muck polished perfect by the heat and heaviness of the lake surrounding her. Like a diamond. A pearl. A fossil. A relic of a primordial and ancient world, both savage and sublime.
Some nights, the fishermen see her rise, pale and white and hairless and terrible in her beauty. She rides the ripples of the water to the other shore, playing the sweetest melodies any mortal has ever heard. And if you venture close enough, they say, you’ll see the instrument she wields—a harp of tangled vegetable and shattered bone, what might have once been a femur or rib gleaming, wet beneath the stars.
They say, sometimes, she sings. And this tale is true. Because when she opens her mournful lips to wail, the wind carries the sound through the valley, rattling walls and shattering windows and mirrors. The people of the valley bolt their doors and huddle by the fire, refusing to listen, refusing to hear.
But there’s always one or two young men who heed the call. And in the morning, the fishermen find their broken bodies resting on the sandy shore… Boys reduced to bloody meat and skin, skeletons so deftly and artfully removed that at first it’s hard to tell exactly what’s amiss. No obvious wounds mark the point where the crater maiden ripped them open. As if their bones simply dissolved within them as they lay, sleeping, beneath the watching sky.
Every once in a long while, the fishermen find them still alive, writhing like earth-bound fish, gasping for air. It’s hard to deliver swift mercy, they whisper, shaking over shot after shot of whisky. When there’s no neck to snap. No point of purchase to grasp. No obvious way to tell where the weak hearts swim inside the boys’ shapeless chests.
Luckily, the dying never lasts long.
After she sings, the girl goes quiet for a time. The people of the valley fall into restless slumber until they can almost forget. Until they’re almost able to push the piercing cries from their ears, the closed caskets from their eyes.
Some have tried to leave the valley to seek their fortunes. To escape the whispers. To find a new livelihood. To raise their infant boys up to manhood, knowing no siren song will ever touch their fragile ears. And to forget. To truly forget.
But these wandering ones never linger long on the outside — for the walls of the canyon are steep and slick, and the world outside is cold.
She writes poetry in her head because there’s no place to write it down.
If she had a scrap of paper, there wouldn’t be a surface she could write on—and the gloves that work well enough for mechanical manipulations are too thick and clumsy to hold a pen.
At first she wrote triumphant epics to keep her spirits high, ballads and even songs with themes of risk and rescue and salvation. Now she’s resigned herself to weary haiku.
above the bird’s wing
and above the whirling world
quietly she waits