And so I found Borne–this thing that was not food and yet drew me to it.
Entangled in the coarse brown seaweed of the pelt, near a curled claw the size of my body, I found the sea anemone. At least, that is what it looked like to me: a dark purple, faintly glowing, half-closed sea anemone, captured like any common clot of dirt.
I could smell the sea salt on it as soon as I saw it. For a moment, there was no city, no daily search for food and water, no roving gangs of killers and escaped, altered creatures of unknown origin and intent. No bodies dangling from broken street lamps or made into burned smudges over cracked pavement, the cracks now filled with huddled green-and-blue committees of things almost conscious, almost not.
For a moment, I was looking forward into the perfect past, the dead present and worse future both behind me. For a moment, the thing was a sea anemone from the hazily-remembered tidal pools of my youth. I could smell the salt and feel the wind and knew the chill of the water over my feet, and then the long, fun hunt for seashells and the gruff sound of my mother’s voice (a smoker), the lilt of my father’s voice, the honey-warmth of the sand as I squinted toward the horizon and the sharp white sails of ships, the sun above the carious yellow of one of Mord’s eyes.
Then, just as quickly, the thing in front of me was an opportunity again: for food, for trade, for survival.
It lay there humming to itself, about the size of my closed fist, the half-closed aperture on top like an eye socket without the eye. The closer I came, the more it resembled a hybrid of sea anemone and sea urchin, with the coloration of a squid: a sleek, muscle of colors straying always to sea-greens and deep blues. It didn’t really look like food, but I picked it up anyway. It had four subtle ridges spaced equidistant and vertical along its warm and pulsing skin. The texture of its skin was smooth, like water-worn stone, but both less and more fragile than stone. It smelled of sea grass and lazy summer afternoons and, faintly, of honeysuckle. Much later, I came to realize it might have smelled different, even looked different, to someone else.
I didn’t know what it was. I had never seen anything like it before.
To all sides, Mord’s body rose and fell with the gentle tremors of his breathing while the scavengers, emboldened, now advanced through his dirty, holy fur.
I hid my find in my bag and strapped my bag across my torso. I didn’t want the others, fast-approaching, to see it.
It lay there, beating against my chest like a second heart.