It’s a pearl and it’s not a pearl. I was fooled at first, just like Miranda–it’s round, after all, and white, and it has a pearl’s milky smoothness. We found it in an oyster, albeit one that had already been cleaned. All signs, Miranda would say, point to pearl.
But it’s something else. I know it. I feel it most strongly late at night, after Miranda’s gone to bed–when the lights are all out, and the house is silent. I can see it glowing. I can see the projections it casts: faces, indistinct, on the bedroom wall. Sometimes the faces are human faces. Sometimes–most of the time–I simply think they want to be.
Come play with me, the faces whisper. Play with me. Come play.
I stare at the ghostly shadows until the rising sun divides them. Until the morning comes, and the pearl is once again just a pearl. Four days, it’s been. Four nights without sleep.
We found it at the Shuck’n Shack, where we go every year for our anniversary. It was just sitting there, on top of one of our oysters–a bed of gray snot underneath, tasting of the sea. The servers denied putting it on there, but one of them must have–we come there every year. A gift, maybe, from an anonymous donor. I tip well, and they know us here. It didn’t seem so unlikely at the time.
We took it home, and the shell we found it in. Miranda wants to get it mounted, put it on a ring–our anniversary pearl.
It was odd, looking back, how nobody said anything about it. Nobody came forth. A pearl that big–a pearl that round–it’s a kingly gift.
Even when I’m awake–when I’m at work, stretching at my desk, plugging numbers into a spreadsheet–I can hear it.
Come play with me. Come play.
Tonight it glows especially brightly. Lurid and pulsing, washing Miranda’s sleeping face in the fluorescent glow of a laboratory, or maybe a morgue.
I need to sleep. I haven’t slept since we brought it home. And there’s only one way that’s going to happen.
I get out of bed, as quietly as I can. I tiptoe over to the dresser. I take the pearl in my hand.
The light is almost blinding–how it doesn’t wake Miranda I’ll never know. I roll the pearl across my fingers, feeling the odd softness of it.
Come play with me.
I have a vision. Momentary. A schoolyard, brick walls and green grass and the laughter of children. A yellow tire swing, brown with dirt. A boy, standing in front of me, grinning. Look what I found.
Woah, I say. Cool. I feel the weight of the pearl, like the weight of ripe fruit, between my fingers.
In the throes of my vision, in the dark bedroom, my hand clenches. I crush the pearl.
It pops like a berry, and incandescent slime oozes out over the top of my fist. For a moment, I see Miranda’s face: sleeping, sleeping. Far away.
Things expand in a bright fluorescent bubble. The world rushes upward around me, the ceiling draws farther away. I’m in a rocky grey prison of some sort–the shell. I am in the oyster shell.
I try to move. I can’t.
My own face, bathed in the glow of the pearl, is bending over me. My lips open–have they always been that cracked, that ragged? Or is it only because they seem huge now?
“I’m really sorry,” I whisper to myself. Those giant lips are moving, the teeth inside like yellowed boulders.
My voice is the voice of a little girl.
“I had to get out. I’m bad. I know. I’m really sorry.”
I can feel the shell of the pearl around me. It’s soft–even inside, I can feel it give–but it’s unbreakably soft, like a thousand layers of paper pressed together. The glow of my prison fills me.
Desperately, I whisper.
Come play with me. Come play.
Across the room, a million miles away, Miranda’s eyes open.