We were ten and eleven when my younger brother fell in love with his only friend, a boy named Marcus. They became obsessed with Lemuria, the mythical lost continent of the Pacific, and I listened to them on Saturday afternoons, creating their own version of this paradise. My brother swoony, mapping its cities, its volcanoes and jungles, sketching its people and beaches and marble sculptures.
That autumn, my brother drew a picture for Marcus, one he’d revised for weeks: two boys holding hands, one human, one made of sand. I couldn’t tell which was meant to be Marcus and which was my brother, but their grips were equally tender, equally fierce. The sand boy’s fingertips crinkled backward, sloughing away, pressing crimped divots into the flesh of the other boy, salting his skin with grit.
I tried to convince him to keep it, tried to protect him. Marcus may not feel the same, I told him. I’m your older sister. Trust me.
But my brother, softened and unspooling and hopeful, said, he’ll like it.
I watched from the hall as he gave the picture to Marcus, the two of them in our kitchen.
Ew, he said. He stared at my brother like he was a spider, some creature that had no right to be near him.
The paper fluttered to the ground.
I could feel my brother’s silence, the deep vacuum of his need, like I did when he sat alone or when someone asked him how he was and for several breaths he couldn’t decide how to answer.
I pounced from behind the door frame. Pick it up.
Marcus didn’t move.
My brother’s eyes ponded with tears.
I shoved Marcus. Pick it up.
I pushed him again, hard. He flopped to the ground, the page crushed under him.
You’re both crazy, shouted Marcus. He screamed over his shoulder as he leapt up, ran from the house. You freaks.
My brother was not allowed to play with Marcus anymore. I was grounded.
The drawing was left on the floor of the kitchen, the Lemurian boys holding one another for dear life, crumpled at the middle. I returned for it later, intending to rip it apart and maybe throw it in Marcus’s face at school. But it was something my brother created, something cherished by him, and as I moved to shred the two boys, I stopped. They were so fragile, these hopes of my brother’s, these dreams of mythical places, and I couldn’t bear to destroy even this sheet of paper.
He cried in his room that night. I snuck out after hiding the drawing in my bookcase and sat with him and still he sketched the Lemurians, the land he imagined so perfectly. I tried to make him feel better by asking questions: What do they build out of? What games do they play? What do Lemurians look like?
He answered with rooftops slanted like waves, with children throwing balls of kelp, with people sculpting others out of sand.
I asked him, why Lemuria?
He told me the story of his lost continent, the world he imagined. As he did so, he drew the boys again, hand in hand. One made of flesh, one made of beach.
It is custom for the people of Lemuria to sculpt the ones they love. For the humans to create mates from beach detritus—shells, sand, sea glass. To craft hair from kelp and find wave-polished stones for eyes just the right shade of abyss black or deepened blue or storm grey.
The process takes weeks, even months, for the Lemurians build their lovers without tools, without molds. They take great care so they do not have to start again.
When at last the seashell people come to life, they shudder like beings emerging from water, like they do not understand the skin they are in. They smell of wet earth and sea breeze and great stale depths. They scan the sky, the earth, their creators. When they unfold their fish scale tipped fingers and stretch their hands, it is the Lemurians they reach for.
They ask, who are we?
The Lemurians say, ours.
My school years were punctured by absence, by suspensions, by the battles of my brother fought by me. He stood to the side, helpless, his sand dune face perpetually shifting, collapsing.
I was suspended for punching a boy who called my brother a fag in sixth grade, in seventh grade, in eighth grade. I waited until the last second to intervene, poised beside my wide-eyed sibling. Each time, I hoped he would fight for himself.
Only boys hit each other, my father told me every time I was punished.
But he wasn’t going to do it, I explained. He needs me.
My brother drew me as a Lemurian, a warrior queen. He slipped the page under my door. My hands were made of sea glass, tinted red.
The seashell people are everything the Lemurians want. They are demure or witty or stoic or meek, whatever characteristics their creators desired. They move like ribbons of silt trapped in currents and their voices are sounds magnified in conch shells, swelled and echoing. When they walk they make a soft grating sound and sometimes small chunks of hardened sand sift to the ground in their wake.
The seashell people are tall and strong and can walk for miles without tiring, but, like humans, they are imperfect. The Lemurians must keep them away from water, holding them inside when it rains, avoiding the grass on dewy mornings, never straying past the tide line on the beach, for the water would erode their creations on contact.
The seashell people grow restless, shifty, especially during storms.
What does it feel like, they ask their creators, tracing the tendrils of raindrops down windows, following each slither and writhe.
Water? It feels like nothing.
But we want to know, they say. We want to feel it, too.
It feels like pain, the Lemurians lie. It feels like extinction, rippling over your skin.
They are for protection, the untruths. The Lemurians believe this in their cores, though they cannot be sure if it is for the protection of the seashell people alone or for themselves as well, for the pulsing beating emptiness always at the core of them, dormant and waiting.
My brother emerged from middle school as a soccer star. He found a girlfriend, several more girlfriends. Sometimes they came over and would tease my brother about his handwriting or the way he spoke with a barely-real lisp and I always wondered if they knew, if they had some inkling they were trying to name. I jumped in without being asked, defended him, but it was always my brother who laughed it off, who said, it’s just a joke. He projected a charm that bordered on arrogance.
He hid the Lemurians in a portfolio under his bed.
I wondered if I was the only one who saw his eyes on his friend Vince during soccer warm-ups, tracing the power of his legs, his boxy jaw, his chest with sprigs of hair.
The Lemurians enjoy years of plenty. They walk the grand boulevards of their cities. They sit atop the hills surrounding the ocean, noticing how the seashell people lean forward, how they watch the waves all crowned with foam.
Sometimes the Lemurians awaken to find the seashell people in doorways, staring into the night. They explain that they are watching dew collect in the mouths of leaves and flowers, or eyeing the condensation that frosts the walls.
The Lemurians lock their homes at night, for fear their creations will slip away, that they will wake up and find only puddles of watery sand, only shells and kelp strands and two handpicked stones in a clump.
High school passed this way: my brother excelling on the soccer field, spending evenings drawing and weekends with Vince, no longer needing a defender, leaving me fighting just to fight, leaving me with my atrophying aggression. Like the Lemurian queen, I became a warrior with no continent to protect.
So the summer before my senior year was all want. The boys clumsy and quick—cocks removed from rainbows of boxers, legs shaking with effort, our foreplay in backseats, maneuvering for space like circling armies.
Vince was always at our house, close enough to touch. He was sharp, athletic; he flirted with the energy of a late bloomer, a boy discovering what it was to be young and beautiful. But my brother knew this and collapsed the space around them, especially when I was in the room—always talking, always moving between us. That summer was my brother’s want, too—hanging in the air like decaying fruit, like apples rotting on the tree.
When he was away from Vince, my brother crafted alternate worlds where cliffs became crooks of knees and elbows, features became caves and alpine vistas. Every drawing, every painting of Lemuria was a rendering of him, a map of his emotions, his palm tree voice. There was yearning in every canvas my brother touched, yearning only I could see; every paintbrush or pen or marker he held bled with it, seemed to leach pent up sadness from him. Like blood, there was always more.
The seashell people became lovelier. The scoops of their shoulders, the coronas of their heads. The jutting of their spiny cheekbones, the rippling hardness of their eyes.
The cataclysms start gradually, with tremors and rockslides, and the Lemurians barely notice. They walk with the seashell people, they shop in the markets, they hike into the hills lush with vegetation.
It is not until the storms begin, bringing with them floods and mudslides, that the Lemurians worry. The seashell people beg to be let outside, even as the volcanoes erupt, even as the sky becomes a dilated pupil, focused and black.
The seashell people ask their creators for explanations, but the Lemurians have none, except that the world is ending.
We must escape, say the seashell people, walking past their creators. We must leave.
We do not know how.
But the seashell people are already snaking off their lovers’ arms, throwing open the doors. They are already marching through the smoke, through the thunder.
My brother had never had sex, never had boasts about weekends or parties. His teammates could smell it on him, the otherness creeping at his shoulder. I was afraid for him, afraid enough that I began spreading rumors, hoping to create a reputation from thin air: how my brother was out all night with a senior from Catholic, how my brother had never loved anyone, how he was a different person than everyone thought, how my brother was not spending his teenage years drawing unreal places he could never go.
His girlfriend dumped him when she heard the stories, confronted him over the phone in front of Vince and me, sitting in our living room. He turned on me afterward, rage hanging thick and tight about him, an ill-fitting, ugly coat. He’d never been this angry before, and never at me, cornering me on the couch.
You nosy bitch, he exploded.
Hey. Vince tried to usher him away. You were just saying you might dump her.
That’s not the goddamn point.
Don’t worry about it.
Don't protect her, my brother said, full of venom.
What do you know about protecting? I pushed him away from me, connecting with his gut. He stumbled back.
You bitch, my brother hissed. I don’t need you. No one fucking needs you.
He cradled his hands in front of him, collapsed over his waist. Trying to keep something from spilling, something in that moment I wanted to tear out, to gouge away, something I wanted to leave shattered on the ground.
The Lemurians follow the seashell people to the beach, lightning crackling above, begging them to stop, snatching at their arms, their hands.
We want to escape, the seashell people say. They are digging their toes into the sand. They are listening to the waves, one long procession, smashing.
You cannot leave us, say the Lemurians.
We are only human.
The seashell people are turning to the grey-blue sea, the air all spray and brine. Each dart of water disintegrates them a miniscule amount.
You are ours, beg the Lemurians, who fear themselves left alone, fear the unforming of who they are.
And before the Lemurians know what they are doing, they are destroying the seashell people. While the ground crumbles and the ash falls and the darkness creeps, the Lemurians smash what they have loved.
Vince left after my brother retreated to his room that night. I walked him to the door, still shaking, and he squeezed my arms, searched my face, asked if I was all right. It was genuine, no trace of mocking in his voice, no sliver of teasing in his lamplit face.
I understood why my brother loved him then, understood that all his energy concealed oceans of kindness. I understood it all and was still desperately angry, angry at my weak little brother and at myself and maybe even at Vince, maybe just a bit.
I kissed him as an answer, his hands in my hair, under my shirt; we had sex in his car, until I was only pulse and dark and whatever cataclysm destroyed Lemuria. Which was all I could think about, with him inside me: the extinctions of that continent, silent and lost forever.
The air is thick around the Lemurians, superheated and spinning. They cradle the remains of their seashell lovers like children, like tiny beings they can bear into existence.
They are trying to click the pieces back together, trying to recall how they did it the first time. Maybe they can fix it all—the apocalypses, every one, the destructions large and small—but everything is swirling, everything is hazy with ash and soot. It stains their hands and their faces, it makes rivers stand out on their skin. It blankets everything, even the shells, even the sand.
My brother knew, of course he knew. Vince told me this, took my hands and told me that my brother didn’t care.
What did he look like, I asked.
What do you mean? Vince moved to kiss me. I don’t know. He looked like himself.
But I knew—that collapsing sand face, that empty tide half-smile. I imagined him seeing Vince’s car down the street, seeing it still there and checking and checking and had he drawn the Lemurians then, their annihilations, their very ends?
I tried once to talk to my brother about it. I went to his room not long after, knocked and knocked. He shouted from his desk for me to come in, not turning around. He asked if dinner was ready; he was drawing, he said, and wouldn’t be down until later.
No, I said. I stood behind him, saw how he maneuvered to hide his work. I caught a slash of seaweed hair, billowing past his elbow, a fragment of wave and glistening smoke.
Can I see? I nodded toward his paper.
He snorted. I’m not sure you’d get it.
I always have.
I reached for the page. He blocked me, shifted his whole weight in front of my hand. No, he said, voice booming.
We stayed this way, our breath following one another’s so the room was never silent.
Why can’t you draw something real instead of this delusional shit, I asked him, heat consuming my gut, my chest, my face. Why can’t you draw things that actually exist?
He shifted, revealing bits of seashells scattered across sand.
Maybe they were real, once. Maybe now they’re just not places you can actually go.
He stared at me for one long beat, finally turning back to his desk.
Behind the debris, behind the Lemurians, was a sky melting, was a land crumbling.
In the end, Lemuria is simply gone. The humans, their seashell lovers, their houses facing the sunrise.
We dipped in and out of touch after I graduated and started at state university. He went to art school a year later. We spent flustered, frantic holiday visits drinking too much and forming a coalition against our parents. But we always left rigid, taut, like limbs needing and unable to stretch after an awkward sleep.
I took the Lemurian queen with me. My brother saw me from the hall and said, Jesus Christ, throw that shit away.
I didn’t know how to tell him: that drawing was the most complete picture of myself, the most complete I had ever felt.
My brother’s first art installation after he graduated college was called Lemuria. I RSVP’d yes on the Facebook event page, one of hundreds of invitees. The gallery’s website advertised my brother as one of the up-and-coming young talents, called his work a convergence of raw emotion and deft style.
I went alone to the gallery, a gin and tonic greasy in my stomach. It was a trendy place, all clear straight lines and brightness, full of women who moved like mermaids, graceful and thin, men with artfully disheveled hair. As soon as I arrived, I could see this version of Lemuria was different from the one I’d known in childhood; there was no love, no hope in these Lemurians, no longing in their seashell creations. They were monstrous, murky and shadowed and hemorrhaging sand.
I found him chatting with his boyfriend near the front of the gallery, a mid-sized place already bustling. The gin churned in my stomach.
Of course, I remarked. We hugged, our stiffness like a reef, a barrier.
Of course what?
His words a hook, dangling in open water.
I wondered when the lost continent would resurface.
Oh, he laughed. He took a plastic cup of white wine from his partner, whose arm grazed his elbow. I’m pretty happy with how they turned out.
They’re different, I remarked. But the alcohol could not make the words light, breezy.
Those were so stupid. Naïve as hell. Kid stuff, you know?
I searched the walls. Behind my brother hung a painting of what looked like the entire continent of Lemuria swallowed by flame.
I still have that one you gave me. The warrior.
Jesus. He laughed, a spear of a sound. I thought, well, I hoped you would’ve destroyed it.
The hubbub seemed to increase, background sound like the crashing of waves. I almost told him I kept it in my desk under a stack of bills. I almost told him I thought about them, the Lemurians, anytime it rained, anytime it stormed, anytime it felt like the world was washing away.
Well, he continued. Have a look around. I should mingle.
He was absorbed into a group of friends as soon as I replied, leaning into his boyfriend’s side and laughing. He didn’t look back.
I grabbed a cup of red wine, watched the scarlet as it prismed across my fingers in the brightness. I travelled alone through my brother’s artwork, roaming swathes of emptiness, jumbles of shells, faces disintegrating into sand. Gone were the maps of those he loved, the blank slate skies, the sharpened mountaintops. Instead I found disappearing shores, vanishing cities, fading mirages from which no one escaped.
I paused at a charcoal drawing, awash with blacks and greys. On it tangled two beings, violent and contorting, mouths chasmed open, stalked by a dark wave. Collapsing, rupturing, snarled together, a knot of sand and wreckage and rage, an extinguishing I could feel in my gut. It was all cataclysm, this Lemuria surrounding me. It was all annihilation. It was all the last moment, all looming destruction, all fracturing seashell bodies.
For more information about this piece, see this issue's legend.
Liz Breazeale holds an MFA in fiction from Bowling Green State University. She currently lives in Kansas City. Her work has been featured in the Best of the Net anthology, selected as runner-up for the Wabash Prize, and has appeared in Fence, The Sycamore Review, Passages North, Booth, Flyway, and others.
Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
Hiking through the weathered, bright orange rock formations is a unique experience, eerie and odd. All I could think for miles was how otherworldly the hoodoos looked, yet how natural. Strangely human, like people all in rows. Like people standing still, waiting for something.