Deep to Deep by Joann Yu

“You see, I tried to stay awake, but it is simply too hard for me. I cannot hold on to myself to stay here. Not even a moment,” I explain slowly to the shadow in front of the haloing light, trying to disguise my melancholy.

“The dream I had last night felt real to me.” I try to look at the shadow’s face but it is a blur buried in a hazy glow of radiance.

“So, what is it?” they said, also tempered.

I want to grasp the familiarity firmly, like a sole explorer on the Himalayan mountains who finally encounters a flicker of fire. I do not know how to open my mouth and tell them my watery dream last night submerged under the Arctic Ocean. Even though dreams are an element that only exists in words and mind, they create meanings; if I utter the words of water, the deep cobalt blue would pour into the yellow-orange shining warmth, which makes the ardour become impure. Besides, I do not want to stain the water.

A dream of my deepest fear. I was selected to be in an underwater exploration crew going to the Arctic Ocean. However, I do not know how to swim.

It began with my terrible relationship with a coach. I was a prick in his eyes, so he registered me to the underwater exploration crew knowing my panic in the deep blue. Yes, assigned jobs were mandatory. So I obeyed and reported to the department aware that there would be almost no possibility of returning. But what would you do? There were already limited options for living in this world of bland lives under bleak sunsets in cemented rules, where, to die means to escape life-long-exploitation. Most of our crew members, surprisingly, did not know how to swim either and there were only two days for us to get familiar with the equipment.

“Suicide squad, for sure,” one of them commented on our way to the mission.

“I heard that there was an unknown creature discovered deep in the Arctic Ocean so we are…”

“Lures, like the twisting worm on a fish hook.”

“What a costly lure, haha.”

I listened to their conversation quietly, then, was distracted by the circular windows on the submarine walls. Diving deeper, the shades of the outside world grew darker too; anxiety and fear ran more rampant. It enlarged and stretched in a way that could gulp me at once, yet it just left me there, projecting upon me the omnipotent phthalo blue. The light, lime-colored, emitted by the submarine was bouncing off the ocean rocks and floor so every shadow cast by it was also moving along as thousands of African giant snails crawled on each other, squirming. My fear was climbing and creeping into my bones. Suddenly, the glass of the window broke and black water rushed in to engulf me and the snails devoured me with their sticky acidic slime as if to turn me into a part of their twitching meat.

“So what was the dream?” the shadow sees me hesitating in silence.

Their words break my thoughts. I cannot utter a word of the dream. So I said: “I can not remember.”

“How do you know it was real then?” they ask, but I can not see the emotion on their blank face and can only feel a bit of temperature as always.

“The feel, you know. There are times that you wake up from a dream and cannot remember any content of it, but only the emotions,” I say, recalling one of my recent dreams.

She was my college professor, an extremely intelligent and knowledgeable one. Indeed, it was quite shocking to be so sure of whom I was dreaming. The colors carried my affection toward her into the dream.

I walked into a classroom full of students on the first day. Everyone seemed thrilled like they had five cups of triple shots circulating their energies by banging on the wooden tables, jumping off the chairs, and yelling at each other. Though it all seemed so youthful, the excitement could not penetrate my solitude so I sat at the center of the classroom in silence, staring at everyone’s faces among the flying paper airplanes soaring back and forth in the air.

A flashing thought urged me to straighten myself and sit still, and at the moment I fixed my head to the front, the door opened. It was her. What an awkward moment to dream about your professor, but I was amazed by being able to see her again after a long separation. The noise was reduced for an instant when she walked in, but quickly resumed its chaotic norm. She walked to the podium in her signature forceful steps while talking to students in the front row.

From the middle of the classroom, I could only feel the tranquil undertone brought by her. She was preparing. The students kept on reveling. This was not like her ordinary classroom. While I was thinking, she raised her head up from preparation and an obvious surprise and relief burst from her face like spilled wine. The student beside me tossed a paper ball across the classroom but I didn’t care. Both nervousness and a yarning familiarity which I had been wanting grew while she was walking towards me.

Awed! Her face was covered by a mask full of purple muscles with a greenish glow on the edge and the connections of every strip of muscle. They twitched like living invertebrates, yet, I knew it was her.

The light brightened; she darkened.

She becomes a shadow.

The class is still enjoying their own joy;

She stands in front of my desk;

The students are name-calling;

She bends down;

The students toss out dirty jokes aloud;

She starts talking.

“There may be other hints for you to know what you dreamed, right?” Seeing me trapped in my own thoughts, the shadow follows up the conversation to break the silence.

“I don’t know…” Their words are sometimes confusing, but for the cordial atmosphere brought by her, I am willing to hear her talking all day. One can bear darkness until the discovery of light.

“Like the little things, a vivid detail that was branded into your brain that you would constantly recall for no reason.”


“It is often said that dreams are symbolic and meaningful, do you believe it?” Here we go again, another tough question. The shadow is a real thinker.

“I don’t know.”

“You know,” she speaks in a way that I can almost see the smile on her face. Her syllables mask the emotions but I do not need to see her face to feel her sharpness piercing through the diction.

How can I not know what I was feeling and not understand where it came from?

Felt the water around my bones, my body was the only interval between the freezing Arctica ocean and my inner terror. The pressure was the mountain of iron casting on my body. I could only move slowly to act against the weight of water but also to bear the crushing pain like it was going to shatter my body. There was a faint light coming down from the sun and my teammates were diving further deeper. Some of them almost disappeared into the void abyss to complete the exploration. I wanted to follow them but my glasses were drifting away by the streams and suddenly I remembered that they did not offer us goggles. Bizarre, did they have to express their intention of sending us to die so obviously?

In the murky water, I watched my sight blur, almost blind, and wanted to turn around to catch my glasses, but all of a sudden, the faint light disappeared, shrill, then the next second I was drowned in acute pain.

“If you draw links carefully, you might find the messages sent by your mind,” the shadow keeps lecturing, “such as connecting words you heard to experiences, experiences to emotions, and any kind of creative bonds you can make. It is a land of infinite possibility, after all.”

Is the shadow standing or sitting? Am I sure that they are in front of me? I could not answer their questions, instead, I grew curious about this shadow. The amiability almost gave me the idea that I have known her for so long that she knows me like I know myself, or more profoundly than my limited brain can perceive. But what do I know?

She stands in front of me, talking. I cannot hear a word, partially because of the cacophonous environment but more because of her face. The face is covered by muscles and the colors are grotesque, a sickening combination of magenta and juniper green which yielded an indiscernible purple. There are slips of gaps between the muscles over the nose area for me to speculate that she was peeking over through these gaps. I feel I can see her blinking eyes in the blackness behind the mask. She keeps on talking while I feed myself off of her intimate calmness.

“It’s okay, no need to panic. You may take your time.” the shadow adds.

And all of a sudden, the words she said became clear! She was talking about me! She was greeting me and instructing me!

I always had a fear of the unknown, of openness, and intimacy. It was my phobia, my problem.

I was watching myself dying in the infinite dark blue. When my glasses fell off, I was trying to turn and catch, but as I was turning, an enormous mouth full of thorn-like teeth bit the upper half of my body, and with a leap disappeared in the inclusive unknown, leaving red liquid drifting, leaking, emitting out of the rest of my body. In slow motion, I watched its teeth pierce through my waist and crush my vertebra in a robust crunch; I saw half of myself vanish in the bloody mouth.

And she says, “How does it feel?”

She does not even ask me why am I here and what class is this like she knows it all and she asks how I feel.


“You know, to face your limitations.”

I sense her smile behind the mask, even though the purple muscles on her face do not move.

“Like I was stripped naked. People were watching me with magnifying glasses.”

“And that’s okay, you should know. Because the watchers are also ba**.”

“What did you say? My bad.”

She stands and gazes at me with starry eyes as if waiting for me to give out the punch line for a joke. So I try to shift the topic, “I did not know this is who you are.”

“Oh, this is how I have been. It was not always the malicious ones that needed to hide behind the mask but we, people who are constantly in danger, so there is a need for shielding. You may peek through. There is nothing but just a naked me.”


“Yes, like the moment you spotted your weakness. Despite my monstrous appearance, I am kind, amiable, thoughtful, intelligent, humane, and all the sorts of qualities you can feel. What you see is what I am.” I try to look through the mask but with the lights in the classroom intensifying its glow, her face is about to be buried in the brightness.

“Are you disappointed in me for wasting my time and talent?”

“You know I have said that it is okay for you to take the time because exploring is hard. And it is complicated to define if something is wasted or not because it is already hard to know if something has gone to use and what is the ‘use’.”

“So I wandered around, like a loser,” I mutter.

She does not say a thing. Instead, the emitting ray, shining and warm as it always is, makes me want to fall asleep.

“Am I the prick in your eyes?”


“Then why send me to feed the undersea monsters? You knew me so well that it is impossible for you to obliviate my phobias.” I exhale, almost wanting to cry.

“Because you need it. There is a prick, not in my eyes but in your heart.”

“A pricked heart?” I am bewildered and want to ask more, but the light flickers like an ending light bulb in the classroom. She disappears as she is satisfied that the answers are all out now.

Joann Yu is a painter, puppeteer, licensed art educator, and a person who finds consolation in words. Her kaleidoscopic interests, and the intersectional experience of nationality and class, brought her infinite inspiration in creating strange narratives that readers sometimes describe as a sense of uneasiness or surprise.