Blue Gate

Photo by Brenda Gottsabend

No matter what they called us—couriers, bards, merchants—we were either spies or traitors, in the end. We all went through the Blue Gate for the first time with our idealism intact. Back then, the Gate shone like a beacon made of periwinkle, azure and cerulean, plus shades we couldn’t name.

An exclusive group with varied talents, we crossed between the Dry Lands and Atlantis, swapping legs for tails at the Blue Gate. The transformation wasn’t painless, bones transmuting into thickened muscles, fish skin, scales. Gills split open on our necks and that first full breath of water always, always felt like drowning.

Then we swam between the worlds, with an escort of merfolk in formation like a net. Perhaps they never trusted us, their goodwill a masquerade. But Atlantis values stories, fairytales and myths. That’s all they ever wanted from the Dry Lands, tales to ponder and preserve, to tell by globelight, write in books, kept safe in soaring libraries. In return, they gave us tech—hydroponics, mining, engineering—enough advanced science to end famine, homelessness, pollution.

Of course, that isn’t what we did.

Jerry-rigged portals and black markets opened overnight, underground bazars that dealt in mermaid jewels and scales. And flesh. More exclusive venues offered wealthy buyers smuggled secrets: Atlantian research in pharmaceuticals, biotech and molecular weapons.

A lot of couriers made deals, becoming traffickers and spies. But the Atlantians weren’t fools. By the end, the merfolk escorts simply left their charges in the wide kelp forests, in the hunting grounds of sharks.

Some of us, a few, worked as double-agents for Atlantis, delivering names and dates. Locations of the markets. Coordinates of illegal portals. After the gates were sealed, after the epidemic and the riots, the profiteers lost all their fortunes. But those of us who chose Atlantis in the war were labeled traitors, hunted down by vigilantes.

I am the last surviving bard—a solitary memory, mine, the slip of water through my lungs, the bite of salt on gills. I’ve grown my hair out, died it black, but a hunter only has to lift the strands to find the gill scars on my neck. It won’t be long.

I don’t regret my choices. Down deep, the ocean tasted smoky-sweet like chocolate with chipotles. The coral in Atlantis bore the scent of gingerbread. Shadows broke and twirled inside each curvature of light. The crash of waves became a heartbeat. Home.

Now, mobs attack the Blue Gate round the clock. They batter it with steel, claw off the paint. The stones don’t crack. I wonder if Atlantis watches. I wonder if they’ll see me when I walk down there at sunset, my hair pulled back, my scars exposed. Will anyone with scales mourn me? Will they smell my blood against the Gate? They owe me nothing, really, but I hope they let a drop pass through. A drop of scarlet in the Blue. I hope I am a story in Atlantis, both cherished and preserved.

Crossing

Photo by Brenda Gottsabend

Only the rabbits noticed when the bridge appeared one day like an afterthought to sunrise. It laid itself across a nothing-much stretch of dried grass and brambles, fox dens, and snakes. Even then, the bridge looked like it wanted to mean something, a spindly groove against the sky, lengthened by shadows, and hardly worth the weight of shoes.

Even so, when the mayor finally drove out two days later, to speechify a warning, there were already a few pairs of Oxfords lined up neatly at the edge.

By the time the mayor’s granddaughter turned seventeen, the pile of shoes was as high as her waist, a sprawling mishmash that no one but the weather dared to sweep away. Weeds took root in the soles of boots and brogues. Green shoots sprouted through the openings of peep-toes and sling-backs. Modern running shoes were closer to the top, along with brown leather loafers and high stroppy heels.

But most of the shoes were old and cracked and dusty. Hardly anyone tried to cross anymore. No one had any use for a bridge that came apart halfway past the middle, dissolving into a misty version of itself, pixellated atoms spread across a screen of sky. Some made it farther than others, but everyone walked barefoot back to town, not bothering to reclaim cast-off canvass and leather, reminders of incompletion.

By the time the girl was seventeen, no one had tried in years.

She brought an apple and a pen, because they seemed necessary and right. Her red flip-flops rocked a little, back and forth, on the top of the pile. Beneath her feet, the gray boards felt smooth and warmer than they should have.

She wasn’t unhappy, by current definitions, but she wasn’t sure what happy was and she was tired of floating in middles.

Two deep breaths. A rabbit darted from the shadows and disappeared beneath the arching grasses. Below her, the girl could see a faded hightop. Purple. She had never seen a purple shoe. The moon still hung in the sea-blue sky and she smelled lemongrass and cocoa along a twist of breeze.

Her shadow seemed a year away, down below, along the tangled brambles. Twenty yards to her left, the bridge shifted into mist, like steam from a pot.

She took a step forward. Another. It seemed her shadow stayed behind, unmoving, where she left it. The wood beneath her feet was half-way gone, and then it was gone entirely and she had leapt without realizing it, and there was nothing to hold her up. She kept walking, rabbits in a wild scurry beneath her, pursued by the flick of a fox’s wild tail, the bridge a fading memory and everything after just waiting, waiting to begin wherever she stopped.

Far behind her, two red flip-flops slid from the mountain of shoes and then vanished. Only the rabbits noticed.