Michael Wombat’s Picture Choice: Both
Title: The Madness of Love
It was her smell that first attracted me. Not her flawless ebony skin. Not eyes the colour of the ocean depths. Not the tantalising curve of her hip like a wave about to break. These things I noticed later. Before all of these, first was her scent; a warm dark musky intoxication that somehow smelled of a La Jolla sunset. I wanted to breathe her in, take her entirely into my lungs and hold her there while my imagination wallowed in her essence and she made my senses reel, like the finest marijuana smoke.
We met at San Diego’s Birch Aquarium, at a private afternoon gathering that I had set up for a local business. I sat in semi-darkness, nursing a lukewarm glass of mundane fizz and gazing at the two-storey high kelp tank, spread large before me. It shone turquoise and teal, sapphire and emerald, lit by natural sunlight pouring from above. Black sea bass swam between the swaying columns of kelp. A pair of leopard sharks circled the chrysochlorous forest, while surfperch, bright orange garibaldi damselfish, eels and barracudas played hide and seek among the lush tangle of kelp. The sight was hypnotic, a slow circling kaleidoscope of life and light.
I was pulled from my reverie by the most intoxicating scent, and looked up to find a beautiful woman standing by me. When I say beautiful, please do not lightly pass over that word. Savour it properly, and take it quite literally – she was breath-taking; a delight for both eyes and soul, all elegant grace and curves like the bays and coves of the sinuous San Diego coastline. Her dark hair shifted like a meadow of seagrass in a slow current. She wore a short fringed dress that rode up firm thighs as she sat.
“It’s actually algae, you know,” she said, her voice as soft as distant whale-song.
“Which... what?” I mumbled, lost the unwavering gaze of ocean-pearled eyes.
“The kelp. It’s actually an algae. Did you know that?”
“Um, no, I did not. The only thing I know about kelp is how to make a whistle from the bladder.”
“To call for Norouas, the north-west wind?”
“I’m no sailor. To give a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” She smiled, and my stomach flipped nervously. Had that sounded too pretentious?
“In other words, to make music,” she said. “So, you know Plato. You are interesting man, Robert Penny.”
“Um, hi, yes. I am. Him, I mean. Not that I’m interesting. I mean hello.” Her eyes flashed in the half-darkness. Water-light rippled across her profile. “Excuse me. I’m not very good at, you know, talking and stuff.”
“And yet you organise social events? An interesting career choice for an introvert.” I found it hard to concentrate with those deep eyes gazing into mine and her exhilarating scent fogging my mind.
“Yes,” I tried to sound like an adult, rather than a blushing teenager. “I’m Robert Penny.”
“I know,” she smiled, and reached out. She took the glass of wine from my hand and put it down beside her.
“How? Are you psychic? A mind reader?”
“Not yet.” She laughed, a liquid soft sound of sheer delight. Her fingertips brushed my lapel. “I read your name badge.” Her hand drifted down to my wrist, where they rested, the tips of her fingers to the inside of my wrist. My blood pulsed against her warm touch.
“Oh.” I looked for her own name badge, pinned to the neckline of her dress, but could not make out the tiny words in the gloom. My gaze strayed to the enticing swell of her breasts. Her skin smelled like the spray of saltwater against lichened rocks.
“My name is Polly,” she said. I quickly looked up from her cleavage, feeling like a schoolboy caught admiring his teacher’s backside. “Polly Char. I’m a marine biologist at Scripps.”
“Char? Like the fish? An appropriate name for a marine biologist. What field are you working in? I did some work in coastal geography once, a long time ago.”
“I’m researching deep ocean bio-DNA – from bathypelagic lophiiformes, mostly.” I could tell from her grin that she was testing me.
“Anglerfish?” I tried, scraping a guess from a remote corner of my brain. I decided to try riding my luck with the pretension. “Anglerfish, from the abysm in which nightmares crawl?”
Her slender fingers wound around mine and she drew me upright. I had clearly passed her test. She was much taller than me. She leaned close and I closed my eyes, drowning in the sensual smell of her. “Come with me,” she mouthed, lips brushing my ear, her whisper the susurration of a sighing sea.
She led me away from the crowd, past a ‘DO NOT ENTER’ sign, and down a barely-lit corridor to a darkened room, the only illumination a virescent light from two tanks set in one wall. Jellyfish pulsed rhythmically in one, their flowing, insistent rhythms reminding me of the cadences of sex. In the other tank, labelled ‘Sea Devil’, an angry-looking grey-brown fish hovered motionless. It had a huge head and an enormous crescent-shaped mouth filled with sharp, translucent teeth. It stared out at us with ugly eyes.
“What are we doing here?” I asked. She let go of my hand and turned to face me.
“When a ceratioid male goes looking for love,” she purred, her voice a caress, “He follows a particular pheremone exuded by the female. In fact, he cannot resist following it.”
I stood mute like an idiot, held by her fragrance and her perfect side-lit form. She unzipped her dress and let it fall. She continued to speak, clad only in French-cut underwear, her soft words like the swelling uprush of a flood tide, her naked thighs firm as wet sand sculpted by a downwelling current.
“He is driven headlong through the immense forbidding darkness by this impelling odour, and finds a mate much larger than he, who will often aid his search further by teasing reveals of her bioluminescent lure.”
She beckoned me to her, and I complied willingly. She embraced me, tightly, and I kissed her neck. Her fingers stroked my shoulders, then pushed me down onto my knees. I ran my lips across her naked belly. She tasted of salt.
“Bite me, little man,” she said. I could no more have resisted than flown in the air. I closed my teeth on the moist flesh just above her hip, gently, not breaking the skin. “Harder!” she commanded, and I bit down hard, tasting her blood.
“When the male mates with the female, he bites into her skin, wilfully eating into her soft flesh,” Polly’s voice continued from somewhere above me. Her blood flowed over my lips and washed my tongue. My mouth felt odd. It tingled and fizzed. Small particles of my tongue drifted in the tsunami of blood in my mouth, drifting down my throat as my face melded into her hip.
“He dissolves into her flesh,” she continued to speak normally as my eyesight darkened, “mouth and eyes melting away, slowly fusing into her body.” I sensed the gradually increasing transfusion of her blood into my own veins, her pulse now controlling my existence. I could no longer feel my limbs. I knew nothing but her, my lover, my life.
“Eventually he becomes nothing more than a glorified gonad, existing solely to pump sperm when needed in order to fertilise her eggs.” Everything that marked me as other than a worm was disappearing. I would soon become a brainless, senseless thing that was little more than an appendage.
“This, in a nutshell, my sweet, is what’s happening to you. You no longer have to trouble yourself with seeing, eating or thinking. Your body atrophies and withers away, though you will live on in order to provide me with semen when I’m ready to spawn. Be joyful, Robert. As Plato also said, the madness of love is the greatest of heaven's blessings.”
Polly is getting dressed now, taking care not to catch the tender new bump on her hip.
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Michael Wombat has published several books - search for him on Amazon, or go talk to him on Twitter where he is @wombat37.