I was in the ocean and in the ocean there was a ghost. The ghost looked like a fish, or it was inside a fish, but I knew it was a ghost because I had that feeling.
It was like when you’re in a graveyard standing on the grass and you know there is a body underneath you and you can feel the body and feel the grass growing from the nutrients of the body breaking down in the earth. Like there are ghosts in the grass. I knew it was a ghost because of that feeling, and because I felt a hand grab my arm mid-breaststroke, though there was no one else around me. This invisible hand held me there in the water, floating, not swimming downwards anymore. Then I knew it was a ghost because it spoke to me.
The ghost said what are you doing here and I said I was hoping if I went deep enough into the ocean that the pressure of the water would shrink me down to the size of a pea and then I would sink a little further and shrink a little more and then I would be nothing.
The ghost said that sounds good, shrinking. But there’s something maybe you could help me with first, if you don’t mind. It has been so long since I ate fruit, said the ghost. Here there is only seaweed and it is slippery and grainy with sand. Every day I crave the taste of pomegranate. If you could bring me just one – I am only a lost soul in the ocean after all.
I said all right, I would bring the fruit, but then I thought about the graveyard grass with ghosts in it and I worried. I said what if I bring a pomegranate that has another ghost in it? Will you be able to eat it or would that be disgusting, like cannibalism? What would happen to the other ghost if you ate the fruit it was living in? The ghost said it would eat the fruit and then the two ghosts would be together inside the fish body, two souls pressed against each other, coiled up and flowing in and out of each other. The ghost said a fruit with another ghost inside would be the best thing.
Swimming up, the water was warmer and warmer the closer I got to the sun. If I was a ghost maybe I could have kept swimming straight up into space.
On the beach the sun was bright, brighter refracted through the drops of seawater in my eyelashes, and I shut my eyes and rubbed them with the back of my hand and they stung from the salt. All around was open space and the brightness of the sun and other bright things too – rainbow umbrellas and different-coloured folding chairs and skin slick with sunscreen. My body felt sticky as the water on me dried and left behind a layer of salt that pulled my skin taut. I moved my arms and felt them crackle. The tar of the road burned me when I crossed it to the supermarket.
In the supermarket the light was yellow. In the produce section I took a pomegranate from a display. There was sand from the beach between my fingers and it scratched against the waxy skin of the pomegranate. I weighed the pomegranate carefully on the checkout scale and then carried the fruit back to the ocean with me. Hot sand and sun again and then moving down into colder and deeper water like flying to the sun in reverse. I swam with one arm and with the other I held the pomegranate. It took a long time to reach the spot where I had met the ghost, but finally I felt the hand on my arm again and I looked up and saw the fish there next to me. I’m back, I said.
I stuck my nails into the fruit’s skin and pulled it apart. Dark juice slithered into the water around my hands. Inside the seeds were all nestled together like snake eggs, glowing in the shafts of sunlight that reached down to us. I pressed some of the seeds with my thumb and they came loose and floated upwards. I took one and held it out to the ghost. The ghost in its fish body swam closer and I felt its mouth brush against my fingertips as it took the piece of fruit.
The ghost said, listen. I will do something for you as a thank you for bringing me this fruit. I can’t make you into nothing, it said, but I can make you into something else. I said that’s okay, I just want to stay in the ocean. The ghost said how about this. I can make you into kelp. That way you can be in the water until you drift up onto a shore somewhere. Then you will decompose slowly and grow into some kind of coastal scrub with little flowers and feel the sea spray against your leaves and petals every day and the moonlight every night.
I was relieved by this and said yes please, make me into kelp and a scrub in the moonlight. The ghost said have some of the fruit, that will change you. So I peeled another seed off the pomegranate and ate it. The seed popped and snapped as I bit into it and the thin layer of salt water coating the flesh melted into sour sweet juice.
It was like taking a drink of something cold, the way you can feel the coolness seeping through you, except it started at my feet, and the seeping was faster, like a rushing. I watched as plant matter consumed my legs and travelled up my stomach and my chest, and every inch of me that turned to kelp was pressed against the water. I felt the slick green-brown-gold flatness of myself and I was happy. The ghost thanked me again for the pomegranate and I thanked the ghost for making my body into kelp. Then I felt a current lift me up, and I thought about the moon and the calmness of sea spray dancing under it, and I wrapped myself around the current and began to drift.
Kelp Body was first published in GDS#39, Pigeonholed, published in 2018 alongside this artwork by Bren Luke.
Hold this pulpy, genre-packed edition in your hands: buy it here.