It was always there.
A silent switch so still and static, vestigial as your camouflage, but there.
Weighing you down like mercury, causing drag and taking space but there.
Inside your brain, your heart, your gills, an implicit goal, a pure command, a yearning.
One small fish, basking under the smiling moon. The chill it brings gets worse each night. You are no stranger to cold, but on the wind, you hear a call.
It was always there.
It never changed. Stagnant as always. Still pulling you back, against the currents you’ve followed all your life. The only difference is that your body now listens to it. And whatever you are has been left behind in the silt.
It’s a drive. You’ve known hunger and fear, but this is stronger. This isn’t surviving the day, it is Eternity. Eternity has no desire for food. Well enough, your fat reserves would hold. Eternity has no room for fear, but your fins would carry you from snatching beaks or gnashing teeth. But Eternity has no need for you. Now, neither does your body. Now, you will be the executor of its will.
The ocean salt you’ve cherished is now acid on your gills, and your jaw is far too sore for feeding. The sea has been your home for many winters, but now the brine feels like a corrosive film on your dulling scales. A quick scan to your school spells out the same restless frenzy building inside. The vast ocean is not your freedom, it is your death.
Eternity starts elsewhere.
Eternity started when you were roe. Follow it back to your home, back to when things were simple.
You need to go. You have to listen. But in a desert like this, you don’t know where back is. So let Eternity guide you.
Your fins contort and muscles roil under Eternity’s command. You remember your path. It’s not like you could have forgotten what always was. The will of Eternity possesses your body, and it follows the implicit path of forever. There is no room for food, fear, or doubt, as your iron body propels itself through the current of destiny. Any salmon who sees you knows. They know that you feel the same craving. But where you differ from the lost masses is that you alone have the solution.
So they follow. Like they were always going to.
When freshwater finally runs along your gills, everything behind them is practically unrecognizable. Iridescent scales now shine like copper, all fat burned down to keep your muscles supplied. The school behind you mirrors your changes, but their jaws have contorted into an alien shape. Razor teeth jutting out; tools of violence instead of sustenance. Looking at them reminds you of fear. Eternity has no room for fear, so you ignore it, ignore the agony of your own mouth. You don’t dare gaze down to check if this is a shared deformation.
By the time you reach the river, specks of snow drift down, swallowed by the waves. The chill bites deep without your thick scales, but you will manage. You will be Eternal.
Others in your school hesitated. They now rest on the riverbed, devoured by crabs and crawlers. The school is no stranger to the doubtful. The only recourse for the faithless is seek Ascendance, or face death. Feed Eternity or entropy.
You continue, leading the school further upstream. Their muscles, exhausted from the pilgrimage, are too strained to keep up against the rushing current that you easily cut through. Without them, the choir of Eternity will ring silent. You allow the setting sun to shine brilliantly against your crimson scales, reminding them of you. Perfect, a paragon, a specimen.
Yet a salmon, just like them. The fish glare at your perfection, enraged, awed, envious. Their vain drive to catch up to you, to be like you, to overcome you. Having burned through all of their spare energy, desperate bodies settle pitiless ultimatums. There is still fuel. Organs can be digested. Scales can grow thin. Muscles can listen to Eternity instead of reason.
Gaunt bodies shoot like rockets against the rushing river, joining into Eternity’s chorus. This pilgrimage is a one-way journey. Eternity is an ideal with no room for indecision. Hesitation is death. Success is rebirth. Every shallow dawn casts fewer and fewer of your charge in its glorious rays. Every fish has been given the same choice. Give up, or give in.
The powerful currents push you back, stronger than your aching body can handle. Your fins falter for just an instant, but that moment is enough for Eternity to launch itself past you. It flings itself upstream, and with its absence, the hunger and fear return. What was a quiet ache becomes paralyzing agony, as your deprived muscles work overtime to keep you advancing. They can’t keep up. You lag behind, and without you as their constant, the school is reminded of doubt. You look back for the first time in weeks, only to see a half dead congregation, letting the rapids overtake them. Oh how you long to be fearless again.
You need Eternity. Your school needs it. Receiving its gift was not a choice, but proving you deserved it is. So you chase. There is only the chase. You fight against your hunger, your fear. Against the rushing river, against even gravity, as you launch yourself over waterfalls and rocky barriers, exposing crimson scales to the watching eyes and pointed teeth of predators. You don’t meet their hungry gaze; you don’t watch where you will land. The only thing to see is your destiny, ethereal and swift, luring you further and further inland. You don’t bother to watch the school decimated by feeding or fatigue because you can’t afford to hesitate. Eternity will not give you another chance.
You’re so close now. The moon that started this journey smiles on your dull scales again. The snow rests a moment on the water’s surface before drowning. Your numbers are a fraction of what they were, but only one matters.
You stare up at it. Masterfully dodging the eddies and rapids, moving in tune with the river itself. Not fighting it, but navigating its current. It knows every wave and ripple, knows all of its tricks. It knows the optimal path, the only path.
There is no hesitation in Eternity. It is confident. It knows the river like an old friend.
Your hazy eyes only focus on its intangible beauty. It is perfect. It is a paragon, inviting you to join its proud waltz. You don’t hesitate. Studying its movements like a scholar, you key into its rhythm. Your red scales drop to the silt, revealing iridescent illusions in their place. Behind them, your starved and flayed flesh peels back to uncover strained tendons riddled with parasites. As the glory of Eternity encompasses you, the burrowed worms lose their grip on your soft flesh. Even your bones dissolve into the water, and freed from your form, you at last join it in an endless dance.
You see it all. All the migrations you’ve made, all the schools you’ve led.
You see rough hands casting nets into a wide stream, and how you directed the weak and faithless to be your sacrifice to them.
You see a season where the river froze solid, and how you burned long enough for the ice to melt, and for a new path to be revealed.
You see a solid wall of rock, and a single file route that launched you like a hurricane over the impassable obstacle.
You see a crumbling ruin with poison so potent that only algae can thrive, and how you navigated around the forest of debris and death.
You see it all. The eternal pilgrimage.
You see your own school, having made it to their promised destination. There, away from the dangers of the sea and hidden from prying eyes, the ritual can begin. The survivors, weak and festering with fecundity, begin their own dance. They give all they have left to Eternity. Their final moments are spent admiring their sublime clutches of eggs, safe in this nursery where they themselves began.
They will hatch.
They will trek.
They will die.
Eternity will not begin nor end with them.
They will be a single step in the eternal dance.
And you will guide them to their Ascendance.
Like you always have.
About the Author
Saffron Sinclair is the pen name of a first-year Creative Writing student at Selkirk College. They have always admired horror authors, both revered and obscure, and aspire to make their name known in this genre once their studies conclude. They specialize in unsettling poetry, but are no stranger to fiction.