He dreams of water, vast bodies without boundaries, icebergs outcropping from the blue infinity. The is dream filled with fear, not of an end, but of this all-consuming immensity. His body bobs up and down, stranded, without recourse. He imagines creatures surrounding him, not just predators, but scavengers, too—the sheer size and foreign nature of other organisms: blue whales and giant squid, the gelatinous form and wiry sinuous stingers of jellyfish. Floating there, he’s vulnerable, not only to shark’s teeth, but the odd eye of an eel, the cold shower of an orca’s spout, the tide’s malevolent motion, calmer here than near shore, but ever-present, pulling him under. Even the dolphins take on menacing aspects here, their slick polyurethane skin brushing beneath his rough, salt-slaked soles. No boats, no rescue, yet his legs don’t freeze as they kick to circulate blood. He expected the heat to fade, his core temperature to dissipate, but he maintains his stroke, calm against desperation, a silent steady tread.

At the end of the first day, he’s settled into the setting and taken to traveling. The ocean becomes sky, his body in flight. Arms spread, on his back facing up, he’s as weightless as the wisp of smoke called cloud that covers the moon. “Cloud,” he says. And the word sounds foreign, yet it glides from his tongue, and lacking a solid object to reflect from, sails unbridled into the ether. How far does it travel until it dissolves? “Stars,” he says, and pictures the sound waves caressing the buoyant air, washing over it, disappearing into another kind of ocean, and the stars themselves appear at his command. Having lost all other identifying marks to the dream itself, he identifies himself as a man who can call the stars into being, and they, in turn, reflect so fervently from the glistening surface of the ocean above, he has to roll, wide-eyed, into the saline sting, to reaffirm he remains at sea.

If he sleeps, drifting to further levels of unconsciousness, he’s unaware. Morning comes, and alert, he meets the sunrise. He’s never been scared of the empty space above, even though it’s more vast and confusing than anything in existence. He welcomes its change from navy to azure with a satisfied smile. The riptide must have carried him to warmer waters, since icebergs no longer slide along the horizon, but without them, he feels alone, as if all the teeming life below him has vanished down to the smallest crustacean, bacteria, protozoa. Only simple combinations of molecules remain: hydrogen and oxygen coupling, an erotic elemental threesome, thick traces of chloride and sodium that lift him, buoy him, send him along like a schooner crossing a channel, cutting across crests and troughs. He used to notice an acrid smell before it became familiar. Now his nose no longer functions as an olfactory organ. His ears, submerged, hear solely the swish and suction of torrents, and his eyes and skin are all he is, a thin membrane that separates one surging fluid from another.

How did he get here? His wonder forgoes the logic of a dream. He questions if he’s still asleep. Did he fall from a plane? Slip from a sinking ship? He longs for an origin story, an explanation. The most mundane of yearnings: a reason; unsure both where he’s headed and where he comes from. Without signposts for contrast or mirror to reflect, he’s concerned he’ll forget what he is. He’s fortunate to remember the names of things, though not of himself. “Gull,” he says, as overhead a bird appears, and this reassures him in the absence of icebergs that he’s not alone. To be alone—in complete solitude, without any sign of life outside the blood pulsing through his veins—would be unbearable, perhaps the worst state he can imagine, and here in the realm of imagination, his solitude becomes amplified, breeds on his nerve, multiplies in an exponential meiosis, and he deliberates in hindsight, if that was an actual gull or if he made it up, made it into a guardian angel, reminding him to hold on a bit longer, signifying that land isn’t far.

Heading into shore, he grows aware of the waves within his veins—his heart, an anchored ship amidst these swelling fluids, static harbor channeling liquid through itself, sustaining its position at the core. He’s tossed to and fro, but the beach remains fixed, a glimpse of salvation.  Dare he long for it? His arms have lost the memory of coordination, of how to swim against the current, and he’s subject to its will, its mercy or punishment. He thrashes, instead, from the torso, as a human might mimic a porpoise, only to stop when his head sinks below the waterline. In turn, his heart rate accelerates to match the incessant exterior beat. As a child—if, in fact, it’s his childhood he’s remembering—he wouldn’t venture this far out. His weakness, set against the undertow’s intensity, had developed to phobic levels. Anything above the knee sent him rushing toward his mother. But as an adult, he’d tested himself against its lethal grip, pushing as far as he could, treading with the last of his strength, straining ashore and collapsing in a heap, his adversary teasing the tips of his toes as he lay exhausted on the sand, defeated, triumphant.

When he wakes, he wakes to reprieve. Sand sticks to his chest, his senses restored. As with any waking, it takes time to return to himself. He doesn’t recognize the beach, but there’s a vague familiarity. In the distance, dunes; beyond that, trees. He stands on shaking legs, a chill wind lifting beads of water off his body. He’s not wearing clothes, but it doesn’t matter. The landscape’s untrammeled, but the tide’s in, so there could have been others earlier, the surf erasing their footprints. He listens, sniffs. The air’s clean, no evidence of civilization. He should panic maybe, the most natural inclination, but after days or weeks at sea, he refuses to yield to the impulse and heads toward the brush. There, perhaps, he’ll gain insight, climb a tree, shelter for the night, watch the sky turn to celestial hues, purple and orange and pink. He hears something in the distance, a call, and understands: if he can survive the sunset with all its beauty and subterfuge, he can survive whatever this world has to render, whatever else might pull him astray.