Once upon a time there lived a girl named Mariah. She was sixteen years old, had a mass of curly auburn hair that surrounded her like a lion’s mane, and enough hurt bottled up inside her to fill an ocean. She fought battles with her tears and smited entire empires with her temper. Those around her regarded her simultaneously as an object of curiosity and a fountain of inspirational wisdom.
A year passed. Mariah began to investigate the origin of her powers—that is, she started taking the hurt inside her and held it up to the candlelight, drawing phylogenetic trees of plankton and seagrass. She tried to empty one of the seas with a bucket, working day after tireless day, but the sea level never dropped. She wondered if she could ask some of the locals for help, but when they saw what Mariah was doing, they were aghast. To drain the ocean, they said, would be to rob Mariah of everything that made her unique and interesting. Plus, all their crops would die. They pulled Mariah away from her bucket and locked her in a high tower.
The tower sat on a rocky bluff overlooking the ocean, the constant hiss of the waves forming a rhythm by which Mariah would live out her days. Materially, the tower was plush and Mariah wanted for nothing, but she clawed at her ears trying to get the sounds of waves out of her head. When her keeper asked her why her cheeks were bloody, Mariah said that the sound of the ocean tormented her and could she have some earplugs, please? And although Mariah did not know why, the guard laughed and said no.
Mariah spent three years in the tower.
One day, as she read a book the keepers sent up for her, she stumbled upon a passage describing a sorceress who could melt glaciers and summon hurricanes with a single spell. Mariah instantly knew that this woman would help her. Mariah had to escape.
The reader may ask why Mariah did not try to escape any time before learning of this sorceress. The answer is quite simple: she had no reason to. They would not let her empty the ocean, and she if she were to even attempt it, should have needed a method of doing so swiftly. The sorceress could provide the method.
Mariah put her hand on the doorknob and twisted. To her surprise, it was unlocked. She ran down the tower’s stairs and across rolling hills and through thick forests. She did not stop once. It felt nice, she thought, to feel the blood pounding through her legs.
Finally, when she reached a place where there was not sounds of the sea and no wind blew, Mariah halted. She knew that this would be the place where she would meet the sorceress. It was silent; although the stars prickled brightly overhead, no crickets sand their songs and no creature rustled in the underbrush. Mariah could only hear her own uneven breaths and the thumping of her heart.
The sorceress glided up to Mariah; Mariah felt as if she were being appraised critically. “You want me to empty the sea,” the sorceress said.
“What is your price?” Mariah asked.
“Only that you do not tell me why you wish it to be done.”
Mariah did not understand the sorceress’s response, for it hardly seemed like payment, but she nodded anyway.
The sorceress gripped Mariah’s arm, and suddenly they both hovered over the center of the ocean.
“Once I do the spell,” the sorceress said, “it is final. There is no going back.” She stared into Mariah’s eyes. “Are you certain you want this?”
“Yes,” Mariah said.
The sorceress chanted a series of words older than time itself. Mariah felt the magic swarm around her like a cloud of grasshoppers; she shut her eyes. All at once. The crashing of the waves, the rush of the wind, and the hum of the spell stopped. She opened her eyes and looked down.
The ocean was gone. As a cool calmness began to fill her, Mariah turned to the sorceress to thank her. But when Mariah moved her lips, no sound came out. She brought her fingers to her lips, touching them curiously. The sorceress smiled sadly then turned and vanished, never attempting to say a word. Mariah sat down on a rock which once rested on the ocean floor, which now resembled a vast sandy desert. First, Mariah tried to hum. Nothing. Then, she tried to yell. Still nothing. Finally, she craned her ears, but she heard no sounds, natural or otherwise; the world, or rather her ears, had gone completely silent.
Without the ocean, Mariah felt nothing. She could not speculate upon her past, and when she tried to think on what she’d like to do now, she came up blank. There was nothing left for her but a passionless silence.
Mariah knelt, her knees on the unliving earth, and into the void she let out a great, never-ending scream that no one would ever hear.