In her first Gulf shore night’s dream, her womb held an ocean.
Dani had not expected to sleep soundly in the tent Sea Shepherd provided volunteers. Now, roaming the shore hours after waking, she could not dry herself of the dream. Dani hadn’t slept so much as she had drowned in feelings of fullness, fertility and primeval calm.
Picking her way through the spike grass and marsh ferns, Dani couldn’t concentrate on her search for oil-stricken wildlife. Her attention roamed through the patches of foliage, looking for some black-sheathed and broken bird, or a telltale eddy of crude snaking like a supernatural worm through the fisheries. But soon her thoughts drifted back to the dream, and Dani would find her hand had strayed down to rubbing tingling lines through the denim clutching her inner thigh.
The dream had been edgeless and inescapable. It still was. It only took a moment of listening to the moan of the midges flocking the Gulf coast marsh, and Dani could hear the deep voice of the ocean she had held in her body the night before. A few breaths more, and the smell from the dream-a musk brewed sweet and sexual, dusted with sharp notes of brine-filled her head and leave her flesh tingling.
More amazing than the scent itself, Dani thought she smelled it now, wafting from a banyan grove on the edge of the marsh.
Amanda’s voice brought Dani back to the present. “Danielle?” The Shore Relief Director called from across a quilt of sharp grass and lapping inlets. “You’re getting outside your zone, honey.”
“I am?” Dani had hardly noticed. Embarrassment’s burn made her conscious of how much she’d already been flushed. “Sorry about that.”
“I really need you to concentrate.” Amanda pleaded, her slim form wading forward with practiced grace. The Relief Director had been here since the spill. “We do this by zones for a reason, to make sure everything gets covered every day.”
“Yeah.” Dani hung her head. “This is my first volunteer effort. For a cleanup like this, that is.”
Dani didn’t add that she had spent thousands in loan money and two pencil-biting years in Tulane grad school preparing for environmental action like this.
Amanda smiled through a look of worry. She gave Dani a pat on the shoulder.
“You’ll get your sea legs in no time.”
“There are worse volunteers, I suppose.”
“Look at it as more opportunity for me to improve you.” Amanda’s wired smile revived briefly. She glanced over Dani’s shoulder at the banyan groves.
For a moment, they shared the silence of private thoughts and swelter. Humidity like this, Dani thought, you could float in. It brought the dream back. Her fingers trickled down her belly’s flanks.
In the dream, that belly had housed a tremendous water in her womb. Dani had dreamt of herself floating a dimly lit expanse, permeated by the water, gestating the water. Her nerves had flickered like schools of minnows, running over the delicious strain of her interior. And inside her, tickling and pressing those nerves, had been shoals of aquatic life.
Dani had laid back in that penumbral ocean and felt the swim of generations frothing in her sex and womb: Clusters of roe, pale flurries of squid, brine shrimp in clusters that licked like the tongue of a cat. They had rolled and swell. Dani had held and nourished them. Together, they grew.
Dani had grown vital and tender, until she had arched with an overwhelming urge: The bright and rushing feeling that all that life was about to come out.
“Hey.” Amanda swatted Dani’s side. “Don’t make me doubt you here. Did you hear what I was saying?”
Dani stuck her hands into her cutoff’s pockets. “About the opportunity for improvement?”
“No.” Amanda pointed at the banyans. “About that being the edge of your zone. I know you want to do your part and more-your application was impassioned. But it’s rough country. I don’t want you getting hurt or lost.”
“Got it.” Dani nodded, busy nostrils still smelling the ambergris musk. “Forbidden fruit.”
She wondered at her choice of words. She wondered at whether the smell really was wafting from the drowsy tangle of the banyans.
“Don’t stray.” Amanda tapped Dani’s shoulder. “I’ll get you a partner as soon as I can. We have people trickling in. Things’ll be a lot better next week when the Girl Scout troupe shows up.”
“No straying.” Dani was wondering at a lot of things besides. Why the dream was so arousing was top of the list. Bearing children had never been a turn on. Why bearing sea life would be different, Dani didn’t know. Biological clock, maybe. Her head wasn’t the only thing swimming. Hormones had her hot and liquid inside.
“No straying. Right.” Amanda gave Dani a once-over. “If you start to feel at all dehydrated, find someone with water. Otherwise, I’ll see you back at base camp for dinner.”
“Sure thing. Thanks for your faith in me.” Dani said to Amanda’s back. She got an absent thumbs-up in reply.
Dani’s focus turned back to the banyan grove. The light under the trees was as dim and lush as seawater. She tugged another waft of the breeze coming from there. The sensual oil of that aroma put fresh pink trickles through her body.
By the time dinner came, Dani had been feasting on that smell all afternoon. It only led to more appetite. She spent the meal sitting restless and alone, shifting to keep the damp from making her cutoffs cling.
* * *
A minute into the call to her dad and Dani was rubbing her brow. Tension had clotted there. It stuck like crude oil.
“No, Dad, really, I’m doing fine.” Dani said, leaning back on her REI inflatable pillow and balancing her lucky stuffed Orca, Queequeg, on her bare feet. “Better than expected.”
“I knew you’d find it difficult.” He said. The clot in her brow throbbed. Dani rubbed harder. It didn’t help that since returning from nearby the banyans, the only smell had been the stink of the spilled crude. Oil’s dark reek smothered everything.
“I’m overcoming a lot of those difficulties.”
“Just don’t judge yourself too harshly. This may not be what you want to do.” Dad phrased it as if the question had already been decided.
“I’m sure it is. This is just the kind of thing I went to school for.”
“There are plenty of other lines of work, too.” He kept on. Dani closed her eyes. Queequeg was teetering on her soles. “Plenty of opportunities here at home. A number of nice gentlemen for you to meet.”
“I don’t have time to date.” Dani sounded out the tired script. But now the mere mention of a date made her heat and clench inside. Her hormones buzzed up to the fever pitch. “I’ve gone over this with you. Even at home, I have to network and write papers and look for grants, not to mention any internships I take on.”
“I know. I know.” He sounded as weary of it as Dani did.
“So, really, much as I’d like it, and much as I like some guys, I can’t.” Dani noted, bringing a few suitors to mind. Jeff, the dreadlocked graphic artist who did pro bono for Greenpeace. And Todd, the blue-eyed activist. But both were so busy, and so was she. She felt bad imposing on them and felt doubly bad they wouldn’t be anywhere near her priority. “I just can’t find the time.”
Or the passion, she thought. Dani’s passion was for restoring the wildlife of the Gulf Coast she’d grown up loving. The BP oil rig spill only fired that passion. That oil had choked everything else out, crushing Dani’s choices down to an urgent focus.
“You’re beautiful and you’re bright and you’re infinitely talented,” Dad was having none of it. “There are a lot of young men here-a few I’ve met at other firms just recently-who are far more suitable.”
“Suitable?” Dani shut her eyes tighter at this. The tingles spread. She focused on the dream of the ocean.
“Suitable, yes. Your age or younger. Very handsome. Very ambitious.”
“And very tied to the oil industry.”
“Many of them, yes.” Dad’s voice submerged below the Gulf shore tide. “Danielle, I’ll get off my soapbox, but you need to set your biases aside.”
“My biases? Do you mean my career?”
“I mean your prejudice against businessmen. Whether you like it or not, much of New Orleans’ industry runs on either oil production or shipping.”
Dani tuned out. The dark clump of tension was only spreading, sticking to the inside of her face. Her only refuge was the thought of the dream, the whisper of the ocean. She let herself sink into it. The arousal rose up, warm and saturating.
“Okay,” Dani felt she could give in. “Set something up.”
“You had someone you mentioned a couple weeks back-Christian, was it? I’ll have dinner with Christian.”
“Alright.” Dani could almost hear her Dad put a checkmark next her name on his mental list
Dani didn’t care. Her fingers wandered again, under her shirt, trickling down.
“I’m so glad to hear you’re doing well.” Dad said. Dani’s breath thickened. She didn’t know whether she was feeling well or not, but she ached to explore it. Her fingertips prodded at the denim rim of her shorts.
“Me too. Goodnight, Dad.”
“Have fun, Danielle.” His tone was cloying, condescending. “I love you.”
“Love you too.” Dani killed the call and let her other hand join the hunt. Elastic cling of her panties parted. Swamp heat rose there.
It rose like an ocean wave to meet her, its liquid not clotted or dark, but clean and bright and endlessly enticing. Dani’s fingers dove.
Let Dad think what he wanted. Dani rested her head in the sound of the waves while her fingers sunk into shoals and hollows of her core. She had her own needs. It was up to her to see to them.
* * *
It may be unwise, Dani thought as she pushed aside the coarse dangle of banyan vines, to be going where she was told not to. But if so, conventional wisdom was overrated. Dani doubted the value of any wisdom that didn’t grow from within.
She stepped through the snarl of arching roots. In the shallows around her boots, creatures tossed the brown and purple waters. Spanish moss and trunk-like branches hung like ornaments in a celebration of nature’s vitality. And if that wasn’t real wisdom, Dani believed, she didn’t know what was.
The scent that led her deeper into the grove promised it was. Dani trusted in the appetite it opened in her.
“So far, not a fugitive,” Dani mused, looking behind her. Her clean-up zone was bare of all but dipping herons-no sign of a Sea Shepherd employee or, worst of all, Amanda, to catch her. Nobody to deny her a catch to discover the source of the scent.
Dani knew there would be a source. The aroma was undeniably organic. That morning, the air had been running over with it like a gland. Dani had spent the night in a dream heavier and hotter than the one before. Coming to the marsh by the banyans had been like splitting the rind of that dream was split and letting the juice leak.
Recollection bated her breath. Dani had to balance herself on a warped tree as she stepped into the next shallow. Her boot found unsteady mud. She nearly toppled.
“Easy, girl.” Dani scolded herself and sobered. The imbalance had brought to mind an image of an oil-broken bird. Thinking on the fragile creature smothered in the sludge, Dani wondered on her own condition.
Was this at all sane? Following the sexual pulse of a strange smell? Fixating on these dreams? Risking ejection from the cleanup effort for what was likely hormonal delusion?
Dani righted herself and looked around.
Ahead, more mazelike banyans clustered. Their canopy clutched at the secret traffic of creatures and the hungry swelter of summer air. At their core, the musky lure of the smell.
Behind, the cleanup zone, bare and open to the sky. Yellow reaches of grass stretched until the dull blue of the Gulf took them in. Beyond, ships marked the seascape like white scratches.
Behind was a place that made sense. Dani accepted that. She also realized she wanted no part of it.
Dani turned back to walk toward the inner cluster of the banyans, and a rush of the aroma rinsed her face like melted butter.
It seeped in. Dani seeped in reply. It spread. She wanted to spread. And the source of it was standing before her-the pores that excreted the scent tucked under a gleaming pelt of scales.
The scent was not a place. The scent was a creature. And that creature wanted Dani as much as its aroma made her want it.
The creature had the shape of a man-a man’s body that looked carved rather than grown, with lush musculature bare of any softness, but a man’s body for certain. The broad lance of flesh that stood from its groin in earthy purple left no doubt of its gender. The pearl seepage at the tip gave no doubt of its want. Dani’s eyes crawled up from that phallus, up the creature’s shimmering fish scales, to the maw that flooded the air between them with scented steam.
Its face was that of a fish. Melanocetus johnsonii, Dani’s grad school Biology education told her: An angler fish-the tusks in their cavernous jaw, the bulging blear of its eyes, the lusty shape of it.
Dani’s thoughts became brittle. She clung to them as the surreal mass of the creature crushed her awareness. She managed to notice its scales resembled a tuna. Then its rippling frame moved, reached fast as a spasm, and it took her by the neck.
Dani’s thoughts crumbled away. Gravity went with them. The creature’s masculine form bent against her as it placed her against a banyan trunk. Its other hand peeled down her work shirt. Dani sighed in relief as a serene lust frothed up in her in reply.
A pair of talons brushed her bared chest. Sports bra fabric split like seafoam. The talons’ smooth lengths kept brushing. Tingles sparked along the length of her body.
Dani didn’t wonder why. She could give a name to this-to the strange creature’s familiar need and to her own mad lust: Biology. This was biology. It needed to breed. Dani yearned to be a breeder.
Her hands rose. To caress the creature or to push it away so her thoughts could gather, Dani couldn’t tell. She knew her fingertips wanted to touch. Its fingertips were now coursing up and down her body. Reasons fell away with her clothes’ tatters.
Her hands touched.
A cry came from the edge of the grove. “No!”
Amanda’s cry. “No, no…”
Amanda bounded up. Dani’s head swooned to her. She could barely recognize the Director, clouded as Dani was in the heady desire the creature put in her. She recognized the look of tension. There was a new look to Amanda, though.
Excitement had Amanda glowing as pink as Dani was.
The creature didn’t stop peeling Dani bare. Her legs kicked, in savor of the motion rather than resistance. The Director looked on them both and shook her head.
“Don’t touch its eyes, pretty though they are.” Amanda said softly, her tone like speaking to a newborn. “I found out they’re too sensitive to be touched.”
Amanda’s familiarity with the creature shocked Dani. Shock soon faded under the pink feelings that were tightening her all over. It dissolved to a sense of solace.
“What is he?” Dani managed, before a brush of the creature’s phallus fitting to her spread core seared away all conscious thought, turning it to steamy keening.
Amanda replied as Dani was curled into the sinewy bulk of the creature. It bent her snug to the banyan. Her haunches were cradled upwards, her core splayed and seeped, her tender body positioned to be entered.
“There is no clinical Latin for them.” Amanda dragged her teeth through her teeth in sympathetic excitement. “The Haitians here, I’ve heard, call them homme plongé. Deep One.”
The creature arched up and in. Dani caved smoothly. The feeling of holding an ocean inside came real. And Dani thought with a thrill that the Deep One’s name was apt.
Dani gaped, her face nuzzling the Deep One’s bicep, as it filled her. Fullness hardly described the feeling. She overflowed. And soon, Dani understood from the musky scent and the fertile feelings it inspired, she truly would hold a sea inside: A fresh generation of life.
“I knew you’d go looking, one way or another.” Amanda’s hands slipped down her belly. “Once I smelled him, I had to.”
Amanda’s words, her presence, submerged beneath the thrusts of the beasts and the tides upon tides of pleasure rising in Dani. Sight blurred. Other sensations resolved to hot crests on the brink of breaking.
“I just wanted you to be ready when you met him.” Amanda cooed as her fingers stole into her jeans. “I wanted you to understand that after the damage people have done, we have to do all we can to restore his kind.”
Dani tried nodding. Her head snapped back and her mouth snapped open. The Deep One cradled Dani as the hot crests broke, time and again, inside her.
She would help. She needed to help. Dani needed to aid this magnificent sea life in a way the city had never taught her-a way that nature knew best.
“I’m so glad you will,” Amanda hissed as her own climax began twisting to life. “I’ll need an extra set of hands with the volunteer girls showing up next week.”
Matthew C. Funk is a professional writer in marketing for corporate America, a writing mentor and the author of several manuscripts that illuminate the beauty of human extremes. A graduate of the Professional Writing MFA at USC, his online work is featured at sites such as Powder Burn Flash; Thrillers, Killers and Chillers; Twist of Noir; Six Sentences and his Web domain.