White Whale Review: An Online Literary Magazine Untitled Document
WHITE WHALE REVIEW
Nat Buchbinder
Nat Buchbinder received a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a concentration in creative writing, from SUNY New Paltz in December 2014. Her science fiction novel, Pando, advanced to the semi-finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition, and her work has been published in The Stonesthrow Review, Honesty for Breakfast, Urbanette Magazine, and Thought Catalog.

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Orphea

Nat Buchbinder

 

I crossed the dark ocean, once. Without breath there was no reason not to. I started just after dusk, while the pink light slipped beneath the sea. It took me two months before I emerged again on land. They were a quiet two months. The only thing I brought with me was a heavy medieval sword that I stole from a museum. That was all I wore, the sword, its scabbard-strap between my breasts.

Too many of us don’t make good use of the opportunities that come with being turned. It was not so hard to cross the ocean, and it seemed the simplest route to my destination. In preparation I only needed the blood of one little virgin. Aside from that, the fish sustained me well enough. And there is no light to hide from, down there, no silver bullets or hawthorn crosses to fear.

Sometimes the sand beneath my feet would be too soft too walk on without sinking, so I swam. Other times I had to fight my way through forests of

towering seaweed, thick and slimy. I was never bothered by the sharks; I think they understood that we were the same.

At that time I had been dead for nearly a year. I don’t care to try and romanticize it or make myself sound superior to the living. I was twenty-six, walking home, drunk, and a stranger attacked me. He bit my arm like Cleopatra’s asp and left me on the street to be burned up with the rising sun. I would have, too, if it weren’t for Renata finding me when she did.

Under the ocean, I was able to take advantage of my good nighttime vision, otherwise the whole experience would have been quite dull. Swarms of bright fish brushed past me, as well as solitary bottom-dwellers, glowing with their living lanterns, all teeth. I saw great jellyfish, like chandeliers illuminating the permanent night. And whale families, heard for miles out, calling to each other. None of them seemed to mind me.

The loveliest sight was the sunken ship. I walked right up to the figurehead, a mermaid, her head peering towards the surface. The ship had sunk into


the mud, so the end of her tail hung a few feet from the bottom. But she did not look like a criminal at the gallows. She looked like an angel, reclaimed by the ocean. I drifted up and touched her cheek, brushing away the green algae. She seemed to smile at that. I wondered what treasures the ship had, in gold or skulls, but I did not want to dawdle.

I knew I was getting closer to land when the pressure changed, lightened. I was going up the slope of the continent of Europe. I noticed the sun tossing glittering gold onto the surface of the water, and that’s when I started to gather seashells. I had to stay hidden in the depths until nightfall. Then I walked up the beach, laid in the sand and looked at the stars. Things like that never stop being pretty no matter how many times you see them.

But I didn’t want to waste precious nighttime hours. I got back on my feet and started walking. I assumed I was in Spain or Portugal, and that was confirmed by the first sign I came across, informing me in Spanish that the beach was closed after dark. I was in the right place, and I needed to find food as well as shelter from the morning, so I walked into the nearest town. Quaint little hotels and shops,

perfect for tourist photographs. One had its lights on, so I hid my seashells and now-rusted sword behind a bush and walked into the lobby. It was all green and blue, velvety furniture and pastel walls, seashells on the wallpaper.

I started shaking in the center of the room and let out a shriek. An old man rushed in to find me, trembling, screaming, dusted with sand, desperate to cover myself. He ran towards me but stopped short a few inches from touching me.

“What’s wrong?” He spoke in Spanish.

I did, too, as I fell into his arms. “There was a man, he came at me. Oh. Oh God, please, sir, help me.”

“Of course, of course.” He wriggled himself from my grasp, brushing the sand from his shirt, and left. I sat curled on the floor, and he came back with a blanket, which he wrapped around me, then patted my back. “I’ll call the police.”

“No.” I looked up at him. “Please, don’t. Sir.”

“But this man must be caught.”


“Sir, I’ll take care of it in the morning. I’m too tired now to spend the night talking to police. It’s too much.” I rubbed the edges of my eyes as if there were tears.

The man nodded, tilting his head slightly to look behind me. “I believe we have a spare room, if you’d like.”

I stood up, shaking. “You’re too kind, sir.”

The man smiled. “Please, call me Augusto. And you are?”

“Orphea.”

“Orphea. That’s quite beautiful.” He went behind the front desk and took a key from the wall. “Let me show you the room.” He led me down the hall. “My wife and I own this hotel.”

I glanced around the hallway. More seashells on the crown molding. “It’s very nice.”

“This is our whole lives. If you want to know anything about us, it’s all here. Ah.” He stopped by a door and took the key from his pocket. “Here you are, Orphea.” Augusto opened the door. It was a

small room with a big, cushy bed. “You can see the ocean from here.”

I went to the window, clutching the blanket close around me. “I’m sure you can.” I opened the heavy, velvet curtains and looked out at the night. “Are you from this area?”

“I am. I’ve lived here all my life, by the sea. I couldn’t live without it close by.”

I closed the curtains and turned. “Please, sir, Augusto, you’ve been so kind. But all I want to do now is rest.”

“Of course, of course. I’ll tell you what. I’ll have a maid bring you your breakfast in the morning. And some fresh clothes, too. What time should she come?”

“Around nine, I think.”

“Perfect. No charge, of course, for any of it.”

“Thank you so much, Augusto.”

“Good night, Orphea. I hope things are better in the morning.” He shut the door and I took off the


blanket and crawled underneath the covers. I don’t feel warmth or coolness anymore, but some habits are hard to shake. It was a soft mattress, with thick down blankets. You could feel like you’re drowning in comfort.

I rolled on my side and looked out the window, feeling a stone of guilt forming against the back of my throat. It was always things like that that got me, more than the killing. The living usually don’t deserve their lives, but no one deserves to be violated and forced to go on. Imitating it made me feel sick with myself, for a moment. Then it passed and I felt calm.

I shut my eyes, but of course no sleep came to me. Instead I watched the sliver of light in the corner of the room get brighter and brighter. Then there was a knock on the door.

“Just a minute.” I grabbed a bathrobe and opened the door. The girl held a tray with sweet coffee, a roll and some jam, as well as a dress and undergarments. I took the tray from her. “Thank you so much, miss.”

“Do you want me to open the curtains? It’s a lovely day.”

“No, thank you. I’m too tired for the bright light.” I put the tray down on the bed. “Won’t you come in and join me?” I didn’t need rest, but standing had made me feel for the first time how long it had been since I’d had a real meal.

“Oh, no, I couldn’t.”

“Please, miss? I’m not too hungry—you can eat all the food, if you want. But I don’t want to be alone. A few minutes break won’t be so bad.”

The girl nodded. “Alright.”

I sat on a pillow and the girl placed herself on the edge of the bed. She reached cautiously for the roll and took it when I nodded. “Thank you, madam. Did you sleep well?”

“Not too well, I’m afraid. It was a hard night. What’s your name, miss?”

“Modesta.” The girl took another bite.

“And are you a modest woman?”


She smiled and sipped the coffee. “I try to be.”

“That’s good.” I moved closer on the bed. “Modesty is a virtue.”

“I’m not so religious.” Modesta spread some of the jam onto the roll and had another bite. “What’s your name?”

“Orphea.”

“Like the girl who drowns in Hamlet?” She finished the coffee.

“No, that’s Ophelia.” I moved a little closer.

“Oh. And you’re Orphea. I see. What does that name mean?”

“Darkness. It’s Greek.”

“Darkness?” Modesta swallowed the last of the roll, and looked at the closed curtains, licking her fingers. “Certainly fits.”

“Indeed.” I lunged at her, grabbing her mouth before she could really get out a scream, and bit into her neck. I had to avoid letting my arm rest on her chest, where a golden cross lay, emitting heat.

She tasted less modest than she let on, but I’m not one to judge. She was a small girl, and I was finished with her quickly, letting her body drop.

Modesta’s hair fanned across the carpet. I thought of the mermaid I met at the bottom of the ocean. She was bound to that ship, just like this girl. Like I had been, too, before that night when I walked home alone.

Then I had a choice. I could drag her body to the window and let the sun have her, or I could keep her until she returned to consciousness. It would not be waking up; she would never wake up again. There would be no more beating heart or breathing lungs or blinking eyes for Modesta. Even the name would have to be discarded. She had joined the dead no matter what I did next. The only question was whether she would have her eyes always open or always closed.

I had never intentionally turned anyone. It was rare that I even fed from a human. Renata was always so against such things. “We may be inhuman,” she told me that first morning, “but those that feed on humanity are the only monsters.


You can get by on cows and chickens, even the juice of vegetables.” That kind of thinking was the reason I had left Renata.

In any case, I was stuck in the room until nightfall. I only hoped that Augusto did not come knocking during the day, hoping to persuade me to call the police. That would be messy no matter what. First I pulled that cross from the girl’s neck and tossed it in the trash. Then I put on the clothes she brought me, turned on the television and flipped around the channels. Sports, talk show, news, cartoon, talk show, drama. Daytime television is awful no matter where you go. But when you can’t step foot outside during the day, you get accustomed to it.

I noticed Modesta starting to stir after an hour or so. She moaned a little, moved her limbs, and then slipped back into unconsciousness. For me, my mind turned to quicksand the first few days. The more I struggled for awareness, the deeper I sank into the muck of senselessness. But she seemed to come back to the surface quicker than most. She sat up after another few hours.

I looked down at her from the bed. “How do you feel?”

Her eyes widened, darting, like a rabbit about to bolt, but I knew her flesh felt heavy. “What’s happened?”

“You’ve transformed. Hamlet might say you’ve returned from an undiscovered country.”

“I’m a ghost?”

“No. Much better than that.” I got up and paced back and forth in front of her. “Now I need to think of a name for you, I suppose.”

“But my name is—” She stopped, staring, her eyes getting wetter.

“You don’t remember. It’s not your name anymore.” Renata had a fondness for rebirth or resurrection names. Bethany, Josune, Anastasia, Persephone. Orphea. But that wasn’t my style. “What about Soledad? Does that sound nice?”

She tried to stand, but only collapsed back to the floor. “What’s going on?”


“I like Soledad. Solitude. It’s pretty.” I sat down next to her on the floor. “Here are the rules. Don’t ever step into the sunlight. Avoid holy things, from any religion. Your heart and your neck are still vulnerable, no matter what. If your head is cut off, you’re finished. You can survive on animal blood, if you want, but you will only be immortal if you drink from humans. Their blood will give you power. Everything else will only keep your eyes open longer.” I stood up again. “I didn’t come all the way to Spain just to turn you. And I’m no tourist. I have a mission. I’m a pilgrim, if you like. Can you take me to the Cathedral of Saint James the Great?”

Soledad sat silently for a moment, staring at the floor. Then she looked up at me. “Yes.”

“Good. We’ll leave at sundown.” I sat down on the bed. “Now that I think of it, you’re going to be quite useful there.”

The girl spent a long time after that trying to cry. Not having tears seemed to only upset her more. I considered changing my plans, in order to be there for her, she seemed so sad. But I had not crossed the whole ocean for nothing.

We crept out the window at dusk, retrieved my sword and shells, and Soledad led me to the cathedral. In the moonlight, it was even more stunning than I had imagined. The great stone kings and saints and angels all looking down on the two of us. Renata always told me that if I only avoided human blood, I would not be a sinner, but when I stood under all those sacred eyes I was never so sure that she was wrong.

Both of our feet started to burn as we got closer. I scattered the seashells over the grounds as we walked. “You remember what happened to Saint James, don’t you?”

She nodded, grimacing with pain. “He was beheaded. Must we go on?”

“And you know why so many people have come here for so many centuries?”

Another nod, and a whimper.

“Why, Soledad?”

“They make the pilgrimage as penance.”

By then we were standing at the top of the steps.


“Exactly.” I handed the sword to Soledad and knelt. “Swing hard or it won’t go through all the way the first time.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright© Nat Buchbinder. White Whale Review, issue 7.1


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