's 2017 Horror Write-off:

I'd rather be

Submitted by Byona

Several months had passed since that fateful day, and I was clearly stuck. Not physically, but mentally. Every night was that night, every sunrise was that sunrise. Every person in the world, ever, was that person. I could not stand it you see; I could barely stand the sight of people walking in the streets, living their lives, probably untouched by tragedy. I often found myself staring at someone I didn't know, just because they were sitting in my line of sight, and wonder whether they'd ever experienced loss, or whether they had the privilege of leading a carefree existence. Or other times, I'd wonder whether they'd ever killed. By mistake, not necessarily by malice; or whether they would end up taking a life in the future.

I'd sometimes hear people arguing. The sound of human yelling penetrated my ears like a drill. Why? Why would you argue? Do you know you could be gone in 5 minutes? Your loved ones could be gone in 5 minutes? Why waste your time with hate? But then, I couldn't bear the sight of happy people either. Successful people, those who still have the privilege of taking everything for granted. Those who had never suffered.

Every morning, upon waking up, I wished to be gone. To never have to see anyone again. Or even simply, to go back to sleep. In the ever-shifting darkness of sleep, I found safety. And I spent my waking moments waiting to get back to the realm of dreams.

With no ties to any other human being, I only had one comfort: nature.

The ocean, specifically.

Oh, if only I could live there!

I told myself.

I dreamt of a world of darkness, where I could thrive unseen, out of anyone's sight. In the cold, impenetrable -to any human being!- embrace of the abyss, deeper than anyone, deeper than anything. In complete and utter peace.

The vast, endless abyssal plains. I still remember the day when I first learned about them. I was a child then- unaware of what the world had in store for me. Cheerful, and full of wonder- a simpler, beautiful time. But my love for nature had not fizzled out one bit. Nature has no faults, no malice. It is just nature. Humans, they make mistakes sometimes, humans take lives by mistake or by malice, and humans hate each other. Nature, nature doesn't hate. It has no feelings, it doesn't make mistakes. It's nature.

Deep down in the abyssal plains lurked wonders I could not even imagine- fields of worms blooming like flowers; patient, immovable predators, waiting silently on the sandy bottom for the arrival of a prey, that they could then snatch effortlessly from the void; creatures older than any land dwelling animals. Buried underneath shroud upon shroud of different watery worlds, populated by countless gigantic ghosts, sinister demons, and wonderful small angels.

That was the life.

I often took walks on the pier, breathing in the salty breeze, feeling that sense of freedom I could never feel in a world dominated by my fellow human beings. I considered, one warm night, whether I should just tie a pair of bricks to my feet and end it all, on the kelpy, soft bottom of the bay. I considered the bewilderment of whichever naive swimmer would have found my body then. But immediately I fought back the thought- they would remove me from there. Put me in a cold, aseptic metal drawer. Then put me in a box, underground.

Conceptually speaking, as detached from the freedom of the ocean as it gets.

That was the night it happened. I went to sleep with a heavy heart, wishing with all my might for my existence to just be erased, not even leaving an empty space in society. Without going through the ordeal of organizing my own death, of leaving unfinished business. May water close upon the hole I leave in the world, I wished- that no one may ever suspect or remember that there used to be something there.

And as I fell asleep, I felt myself sink. Almost like falling. That's a pretty ordinary occurrence, but as it turns out, my body was actually jerked downwards- but I did not wake up.

It was at that point that I became aware I wasn't falling in a horizontal position as one may expect, but rather, vertically oriented. And I wasn't falling as much as I was being pulled down. I felt the grip of something that was coiled up around my ankle with immense strength, yet I couldn't look down without my face being inundated in a powerful cold stream of what I felt were bubbles. But had I managed to look down, I would have seen nothing, as it was pitch black around me, and very, very cold.

Water. I was surrounded in water. As I finally came to this conclusion, I felt an unbearable pressure on my chest, on my eyes, and more than anything, on my ear. Surely, the pain alone could have killed me had the compressive force not done it before.

After what could have been hours or minutes, I, or we if we count whatever was dragging me down, came to an abrupt halt. Or rather, a change in speed so sudden and so extreme that it felt like one anyway. I was not being dragged down anymore: while I still felt that familiar pressure on my ankle, I was allowed to float freely now at this reduced speed, and with eyes now inexplicably adapted to the darkness, I could catch glimpses of my surroundings. We truly were in a dark, watery void.

And we were not alone, either.

Things swam past me. I felt the water move as they went on their way, in large, slow waves, suggesting a massive size.

Sometimes I caught sight of enormous, diaphanous creatures, with skin almost papery in consistence. Other times, I saw swarms of indecipherable, arrow-like creatures sprint around and past me, which my mind interpreted as large squids. And when the darkness returned, I saw a great deal of small, luminous patterns shining in the dark. As I could see more and more, I became acutely aware of just how much life I was surrounded in.

I felt the thing tugging at my ankle again as we took up speed once more, faster than before, so fast that I felt like I would burn.

Then, all of a sudden, my ankle was free. And I was not floating anymore. I was on a surface. A cool, soft surface.


For the briefest fraction of a second I felt the pressure again. Excruciating jolts of pain shot throughout my entire body.

So this must have been what it feels like to give your last breath, my mind proposed.

I closed my eyes as tightly as possible, knowing full well it wouldn't have stopped them from popping. And yet, my eyes opened again, and the pain was... gone. I tried closing them again but I couldn't feel my eyelids anymore. Instead I felt their large mass recede into my head and out again, the skin of my eye sockets briefly surrounding them only to give way again.

Making sure not to gasp -I was still underwater!- I tried to reach for my face but my limbs felt oddly... light. Unrestrained. I brushed my legs on the sand, free of pressure, free of pain. I couldn't feel two distinct appendages anymore. What I tried to move in a way I would have moved my own two legs actually responded as numerous... things that felt like flaps. Soft, but very acutely sensitive. I felt almost overwhelmed by how much they perceived. Too much to even stop in awe or in horror. My arms seemed a little heavier. I could tell my fingers were not fully separated anymore, and then I could tell the joints were gone. Yet I found myself able to move them with great agility, and they were certainly still able. I touched my own chest. My hand met a soft membranous surface, which felt like several flat sheets of cold jelly to the touch. Suddenly overtaken by fear and surprise, I did my best to try and grab them to tear them away, when I realized I could not. They were resistant first and foremost, and then I figured I was tugging at my own skin. I saw little specks of blue light dance around the edges of my flaps, briefly giving them definition and allowing me to see their contours. My body was vaguely conical, gone were all its human features. No more hips and waist, no more chest.

I thrashed my own lower appendages against the abyssal floor and saw the specks light up at their base, drawing the shape of several tentacles-like things. I couldn't see my own face but I could feel a large, soft mass extending from the back of my head.

I talk about this in length but it couldn't have taken more than 5 minutes for me to figure out all of these things. Every minute was punctuated by fear and surprise and then curiosity. Finally, I opened my mouth and took my first breath of water. I knew I wouldn't drown. I felt the current flow through new openings in the back of my neck. My new gills. It was refreshing and pleasant, just like a breath of clean air after a lifetime of suffocating smog.

Just then I became frightened again. Whatever I was, was not human anymore. And I was probably in a place several miles deeper than anything and anyone I'd ever known. I thought of my life, the emptiness I would have left in those who had known me. But then, just like the fresh water flowing through my gills, new thoughts and new knowledge flowed into my new brain. I felt smarter than I'd ever been. I didn't know if I was actually smarter, in a human sense, but I felt, for the first time in my life, like I knew all I needed to know. And I felt the empty hole I had left behind when my existence had been transferred into the abyss, fill up again. As it turns out, just like you can't poke a hole in the water, you cannot poke a hole in reality. Instinctively I knew my life as a human being had never happened. Even my memories felt like they were someone else's.

Should I be scared now? I asked myself. I should have been. And yet, I could not bring myself to feel anything but exhilaration. This was a new life. I could do what I want. Far away from everything and everyone who had hurt me. Not hurt anymore.

Eventually I lost track of time. There were changes in the environment, like variations in the currents, or in the temperature, that allowed me to guess the passing of days, but I did not know how long a day was in terms of hours. I did not care. Across the ocean floor I glided, resting on the shores of eerie brine lakes, sometimes even swiftly diving in for that extra thrill. I flew over large chasms whose imposing walls extended deep down into pure darkness. When I descended down there, the increasing pressure only a slight annoyance for my boneless body, I could feel the heat from the hydrothermal vents, blooming with worms like bouquets of tulips.

I used my new appendages to snatch my prey from their hideouts (large isopods when I got lucky) and I found simple pleasure in sinking my fangs into their carapace. The joy of a good catch. Sometimes I enjoyed enveloping my victims completely, suffocating them in the folds of my skin. When I did that, I could see the bioluminescent specks of light around their contour, and I could understand what they were. I learned a lot about my abyssal companions that way. I later learned to use those specks as lures, mimicking floating particles of food. The best thing was when I followed all the other creatures all the way to a large whale carcass, a real feast for me and all my brothers. Then I could not only eat the scavengers, but I could be a scavenger myself. Sometimes I could smell the carcass before anyone else, and then it was other animals' turn to follow my lead. I got a wonderful sense of pride from this. I thought back on my human self, who would have found this disgusting... I think. Naive. I was finally in a world where nothing went to waste. No poverty and no privilege. Up there in the gloomy world of humans, I had been a victim. I had experienced loss. But down here, I was an apex predator. And I had nothing to lose. Unafraid and unrestrained. Part of that greater design that is a natural food web, finally having a place for myself.

It was fantastic.

And yet, that was a simpler time, for now there is fear in me once more.

You see!

One day I was swimming along a chain of rocky hills probably a few hundred meters in height. I feel like I had grown, for I got the sense my tentacles terminated much deeper below me than they used to. And it did not take me long to swim hundreds of meters higher into the water column. Also it seemed like some of my bioluminescent specks had taken on a more red hue, whereas most of them had been blue. I think. It was hard to say really. But I digress. I swam over the top of the hills and onto the plain on the other side.

The water was warmer there, in a very strange way. Into the darkness I felt my flaps wrap around something hard and sharp. Many hard and sharp things. Their texture informed me that they were not rocks, but something else. Not teeth, as their shapes were too varied. But not something unknown, either. I felt my way around this... graveyard of sharp hard things. Inorganic matter. For the first time in a long time, I felt a hint of fear in my inner pumps. Regardless, I went on. Curiosity was still my main drive in life, after all this time.

I eventually came across some larger obstacles, about as large as me. I was still naive then, as I now know in retrospect. I was feeling a creature, I had concluded. With a hard convex inorganic carapace, heavily hunch backed, somewhat flattened over its head and tail end and at the highest point of its hunch. Shaped kind of like an isopod, but less segmented. I even felt the shape of its large eyes and mouthparts. It was immobile. Dead, perhaps, I told myself. But not edible. Its legs were sunken into the sand. I kept on gliding, stopping to investigate every obstacle. There were many such isopods. Some were leaning to the side, and I could investigate their belly, verify that they had a few large stout curled up legs. I also met other strangely shaped objects, and even one that felt like a much larger version of those isopods, but all were equally immobile and made no effort to respond to my touch.

I came across a smooth wall, and I climbed all the way to the top, letting myself fall onto the other side. I landed elegantly like falling snow, onto a surface that was not sand. A rough, flat, somewhat particulate surface. Anxiety was making my pumps beat and I felt water flow fast through my gills when I heard a roaring sound. It wasn't so loud, but it was loud compared to the usual silence of the depths.

I saw eyes approach in the dark. Two large, luminous eyes, a lot brighter than my own little bioluminescent specks. Larger than any eye I had ever seen in person. They were approaching fast, and yet I was transfixed. The creature ran at neck breaking speed along the flat substrate, until, unable to move or to process what I was seeing, utterly dazed by the brightness of those eyes, I felt its large mass hit me, and I was sucked underneath it. But the creature did not eat me. Rather, it ran past me. Thankfully for my lack of bones, I was unscathed. I saw it get smaller and smaller as it kept on running. On its back end, two more luminous spots that I concluded were fake eyes, much like those sported by several animals down in the deep sea.

A couple more of those things were approaching, so I jet propelled myself away from that place. But as I landed, another one  hit me from the opposite direction. This one did not continue running however. As it was about to hit me, it attempted to turn around and run away, but it still ended up clumsily slamming itself into me with its large flank. I could not see well, but I knew it had stopped, so I swam away once more, my eyes retracted deep into my head to shield myself from those awful bright things. I eventually hit a slope and tumbled downwards, until my body landed on one more flat surface.

I felt my own skin tighten and cringe as it was hit by an unnaturally warm sensation, my hypersensitive photoreceptors detecting light... all over the place, inundating my skin, almost searing its surface. I dreaded opening my eyes so I lay there for a long while, just curled up in fear.

I heard things all around me. Making some loud muffled noises that were unlike anything I had heard down there. Approaching me.

I unfolded my own body, unhinging my mouth into a gaping hole, making sure to protrude all of my fangs forward, trying with all my might to intimidate the entities around me. Then, letting out a pressurized stream of water, I launched myself at them, throwing them out of my way, and I ran, ran as fast as I could, eyes closed, until I collided against a very smooth surface.

My body fell back onto the ground and I finally opened my eyes. The water above me was... blue. Bright blue. I saw... large spears that jutted out into the water column. Like hydrothermal vents but smooth. Geometric. Almost checkered. As reflective as mirrors.

As I got up, I finally saw my own reflection, for the very first time since I had abandoned all semblances of humanity. A labyrinth of folds and tentacles, opalescent under the bright lights, in a roughly conical shape, was my body. My head rested on top, with two large dark eyes in the midst of a smooth formless face, fangs protruding out of not only my mouth but also the surrounding tissue, and...

I stopped observing myself to observe the creatures that had surrounded me. Several more of those isopods, some emitting painfully loud howling cries. Oh my god.

Those were not isopods.

They were not even animals.

Out of one of them stepped a fellow. Sharply dressed, middle aged, hair combed, pointy nose and a cheerful smile. Several other... people followed, stepping out of their... of their...

"Good morning, may I help you?"

Another one joined him, a pale blonde lady, wearing high heels.

"Would you like to join our foreigner integration program?"

Their voices like screeching chalk to me, they got closer and closer.

"Are you a man or a woman?"

"Would you like to buy insurance?"

"The weather is lovely today, isn't it?"

Filled with fright and despair, I bared my fangs at them and climbed the building next to me, leaving them behind. I looked down at the bustling human city, with cars, trucks, buses, and offices and people and businessmen and rich men and poor men and life and death. Revulsion and hate filled me to my very core as I swam away as far as my tired flaps could take me until I was surrounded in my cool, comforting darkness again.

And from that day on, I knew I was not safe. I could run as fast as I could, isolate myself if necessary. But they were still out there, my fears were still out there, and there was no escape. And no matter how far or how deep I'd go, they would be with me forever.