The air is scented with saline. Ambiance of the waves slosh all around us. The gulls screech overhead, as the sun reflects over the azure ocean's rippling seascape. Nothing could be far from serene. I'm Joel Alistair. My beloved childhood friend, and now girlfriend Joyce Atsuko and I have taken one of her father's boats out near the western region of the Pacific Ocean. After years of finally saving up from my job as a musical instrument technician, I was able to visit her abroad from her home country of Japan, near the Hokkaido prefecture. Her father is a fisherman that helps deliver his large catches over to his fishery near the Tokachi Field Station. His love for the ocean was easily handed down to his daughter. As a token of my appreciation for her and her family, I gave him an acoustic guitar with the calligraphy of Ocean & Wonderment. He knew this would be a perfect opportunity for me to take Joyce out to enjoy the freshwater scenery, so he let us have it for the next couple days.
Seeing her bask in the serenity of the vast open waters, it's hard to take my eyes off of her. Her shimmering jet black hair, her rosy cheeks, her light freckles, and her bright blue eyes to match the ocean. Her sunhat matches with her stunning summer sundress braided in white, green and blue fish from the Epipelagic to the Bathypelagic zones. Pleasantly surprised by some flying fish jumping from the waters of our slow moving boat, I take this moment to take out my acoustic guitar, and play her a melody just for her. As she hears the free-form strumming of my chords, she turns to me, and lets out the warmest smile to eclipse the beating sun, and skips down from the right starboard, near the bow where I lay. She gently wraps her arms around my left arm, and leans on my shoulder, where she earnestly stares at my fingers pick at the strings, letting out a comfy tune. She lets out a tender giggle, as she then poses a question out of the blue.
“Do you remember when we were kids, and we had such a massive obsession over pirates, we would talk all the time about how we'd find buried treasure one day?”
I softly smirk, followed with a chuckle of my own.
“Like how we'd find Ballistire, and plunder the watery depths of knowledge?”
“Hehehe! God, we were so nerdy back then.”
“Implying we still aren't?”
We both share playful laughs, as she unwraps herself from my arm, and lays across my lap, plucking at the strings as I continue to play for her. She looks up at me with a gentle gaze.
“It's funny when you think about where we are.”
I stop to adjust the tuners to my strings to match a correct pitch, stopping to reply.
“That we're out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean?”
She chuckles, and pokes at my cheek.
“C'mon dummy, you know. Out in the one spot where the Under Treasure is supposedly buried?”
The thought never once crossed my mind this whole trip. I start to remember it like it was yesterday. Joyce didn't just love the ocean. She was absolutely fascinated by it. To the point where she wanted to one day find that elusive Under Treasure residing in Ballistire in the books we used to read about as kids. Whether her dad read it to her, or my mom did for a bedtime story, we always wondered if it was merely a myth, or if it lived up to the legends every scurvy pirate once raved upon for generations. In fact, it was said that the real secret underneath the Mariana Trench was exactly that. An ancient library of treasured books that can grant whatever the mind or heart desired, no matter how simple or complex the subject matter can be.
After reminiscing on what seemed like an hour, I speak up while improvising my strums.
“Tall tales that tell even taller truths. Even as teenagers, we still wonder if our childhood stories aren't just in our imagination.”
She giggles, and brushes my short, frizzled hair. “Yeees, but that makes our imagination all the wilder.”
Her eyes beg for my undivided attention. She raises herself upward to kiss me tenderly. Though it would seem to be cut short by what sounds like a passerby of dolphins.
They immediately catch Joyce's notice. To the right starboard, two come up for air, as she joyously leans on the side to gently rub against their rubbery heads.
What comes out of her mouth soon after, is a soft, yet concerning tone.
“What are those? Are those scars? Poor things. Wait......Joel, come look at this!”
I place my guitar near the mast to see what Joyce had witnessed.
The dolphins appear to have had some noticeable scars scrawled across their heads. While visibly deep, they're also...emitting some kind of strange, shimmering blue luminescence.
“You definitely don't see that everyday.” “Dolphins don't usually show light like this, unless....it's deeper underwater.”
Both of us turn to stare into each other's faces. Perplexed doesn't even come close to our thoughts on the matter.
Two months have passed. Joyce was admitted to the Sapporo Higashi Tokushukai Hospital for some strange breathing issue. At first I thought it was some allergic reaction to the sushi she had near one of the local cart areas around her hometown. Even then, she was always open to me about being able to eat fish, regardless of her affinity to the ocean life. That the circle of life will always eat one another no matter what you choose to consume. Despite the doctor's endless, tiring hours of in-depth analysis, he had tried to pinpoint it to a few different reasons. The first was an obvious lead to cystic fibrosis. However, she never had any inheritance of it in her family history, never mind she was the top of her class in the swimming team, so it was impossible for her to have any mucus build up over the years, especially at such a young age of 20. The second one was IPF. But because she has had healthy lung functions for most of her life, it wouldn't add up to why there were scans that she didn't have oxygen going to her brain.
The last one was an odd, rare disease that seems to have appeared within the short span of time we admitted her to the hospital. Lung agenesis. But how? How could she have garnered a severe lack of lung tissue, let alone the rest of it start to disappear in such a sparse amount of time? Despite their efforts, he had stated to us this dreadful conclusion. They aren't sure what the root cause is. It's likely to be a new type of virus that no one is able to determine. Joyce's treatments have minimal effect, even with the amount of oxygen being put into her at all times. As time goes by, her appearance is beginning to worsen. Her skin starts to feel coarse. She's developing weird sores all around most of her midsection, down to her lower abdomen. Her feet have been slowly bleeding, and pustulating to the point where the nurses have to come and change the sheets almost every single day. The pain she's been enduring has been hellishly excruciating.
There are nights she wants to scream, yet it struggles to come out as a dry, scratching wail. Even the other outpatients can't find an easy night of sleep. Yet I persevere, and hope they continue to find a solution for her. The only thing I can muster is the six string I bring with me to ease her wounded state. To try my hardest, and smile through it. For her sake. To hold her hand in between playing her songs. To let her caress mine near her thinning face. She especially was such a fan of VNV Nation. So I played her favorite song, Nova. It was to help her not only smile, but for her to sleep as well as she could. The chorus always helps to brighten her up, aptly that she is the light that consistently shines on me. I only pray she does not walk towards another. A steady stream of tears leak from her bloodshot blue eyes. I struggle to hold back my own water-welling, and lean in to delicately kiss her forehead. The nurses tell me that she needs her rest, so I wish her a good night, and head out of her room. The pours of rain trickling from my eyes couldn't be more apparent from walking away.
During the next day, I notice a squad of cop cars surrounding the hospital's main entrance. Ignoring the authorities, I rush in to see the commotion from the staff. A girl from Room 123 has jumped out of her window.