The Greatest Gift
The waves crashed against the sandy shore, the only thing that was alive in the sleeping world. Everything was eerily quiet and still. Stars twinkled above, slowly fading away as a ribbon of sunlight appeared on the horizon. The soft imprints of rose colored clouds were etched on the sky that was slowly becoming brighter. The dark sea regained a light hue of turquoise, and she knew it was time.
Dawn took a deep breath and carefully placed her snorkeling mask over her head, securing the yellow mask in place. Her sharp Xweetok teeth bit down into the plastic of the snorkel tube and she took a tentative step forwards. She shivered slightly as her toes met with the cold water; the ocean was becoming colder each day as the days grew longer. The faint warmth of the summer sea was fading as the bitter frost of winter clung to the only thing it could in Mystery Island, the water. She took another small step, flinching as the waves lapped against her ankles. Closing her eyes for a moment, Dawn summoned her strength and walked forward, ignoring the sharp pain of the chilly ocean waves as they slammed into her waist, her chest, and then covered her completely.
Completely surrounded by the salty water, Dawn opened her eyes. Summoning a deep breath of air through the tube, Dawn pushed herself forward with her hind legs, kicking and waving her arms as she carefully swam through the cool, crisp water.
Above her, the world was sleeping. But here... Here, the world was alive...
Silvery bubbles swarmed and rose around her as the Island Xweetok swam. The kelp that lined the sandy seafloor twisted and twirled rhythmically, as if dancing in the water. The bright seashells seemed to glow in contrast to the delicate white sand. Coral spread along the depths, entwining with the glossy rocks and creating a beautiful mismatched rainbow, looking like an old patchwork quilt.
Dawn sighed happily, a trail of bubbles rising to the surface like smoke. There was nothing she loved more than this. Nothing.
Pushing her arms forward, the Xweetok swam on, a small smile dancing on her face. The ocean was beautiful and serene around her. She could see everything in the crystal clear waters. She found herself swimming onwards, not really caring where she was headed, just getting lost in the beauty of the sea.
A thin beam of sunlight peaked through the waves and cascaded into her eyes. Dawn flinched and turned away from the bright ray of light. Somehow, the blinding sunbeam brought her back to reality.
She stopped, and hung motionless in the water. She gazed around the rainbow world of coral one last time before shaking her head. As always, she had become hypnotized by the beauty of the reef. She could lose herself in this wonderful world another day. Right now, she had a mission.
Fiercely kicking her legs, Dawn turned away from the color and headed towards a part of the ocean that wasn’t even half as bright. Blankly gazing ahead, Dawn swam onwards. She felt herself slip into the shadows rather than seeing it. Here, the water was colder, less comforting. Suppressing a shiver, Dawn gazed down at the murky sand that disappeared over a ledge and descended into darkness. Rising to the surface and taking one last shaky breath of air, Dawn dived downwards, descending into the shadowy chasm.
Shivering slightly, Dawn veered to the left and headed towards a rocky side of the underwater cliff. This place gave her the creeps. The cold, shadowy water that stretched into the pitch black depths was a perfect contrast to the bright, colorful reefs she loved so much. This place scared her, frightened her... She hated not knowing what lay beneath.
And yet... It was the only way.
Dawn reached the cliff. Its rocky walls stretched up above her, and she could see jagged edges piercing a sliver of light above, giving the form of fangs. The other side ran below, melting into shadows, and perhaps becoming a shadow itself. Closing her eyes in an attempt to gather her courage and calm herself, Dawn pushed forwards and ran a single paw along the wall of the cliff. Her fingers slipped through a small crack, a hollow hidden by shadows but visible by touch. Dawn opened her eyes slowly and reached into the narrow fissure. Her hand brushed against something small and rough in texture before clamping down. She pulled her fist from the gap and gazed at the object in her paw with half-closed eyes.
A small smile of triumph appeared across her pale face. Dawn slowly fished a knife from her pocket. She slid the blade through a small fissure in the rock-like object in her hand. Once the knife was wedged in, she raised the handle and the blade followed suite. The rock—or rather, the oyster—slowly opened with a dull crack.
Dawn’s eyes narrowed as she gazed inside the oyster’s mouth. A giddy laugh almost escaped her lips as her ghost of a smile grew into a full-fledged grin. Inside, the treasure gleamed at her.
It was small and round, perfectly spherical. She could tell just by looking at it that its surface would be as smooth and soft as silk. The brilliant white seemed to gleam even in the murk of the chasm. It resembled a full moon, hanging in a dark night sky. The pearl lay before her, a treasure hiding in the darkness.
It was the perfect gift. Her sister would be thrilled.
Dawn carefully placed the pearl in a small, hardy pouch that was attached to the belt around her waist. Now that she had her treasure, there was no need to stay in this place any longer.
Pushing upwards with her arms, Dawn slowly rose from the dark chasm. She could see the surface sparkling above her, the bright outline of the waves greeting her to join a completely different world.
With a final kick, Dawn broke through the surface. Taking a deep breath of air, she rolled over to lie on her back and withdrew the snorkeling tube from her mouth. She readjusted her mask so that it lay on her forehead instead of covering her eyes. Breathing heavily, she lay there, on top of the water, in an attempt to restore some of her energy for the swim back home. The waves gently caressed her tired body and Dawn’s eyes twinkled with happiness as she saw the banner of sunlight on the horizon grow bigger with each passing second.
She had made it just in time.
They say nothing is more beautiful than an ocean sunset.
They were wrong.
There was one thing that existed in the world that is lovelier than a globe of orange fire sinking into a prism of water.
Watching the sun rise from one.
Instead of seeing the sky melt away into darkness and starlight, you see the heavens shift from shadows to light. The indigo sky seems to glow for a moment before fading away into soft violet. Clouds, no longer invisible, turn bright and luminous. And the sun is larger than ever before as its golden rays sweep across the ocean to awaken the sleeping world.
Dawn sighed happily as she watched the sunrise. Could this day start out any more perfect? The beauty of the reef and the sunrise mingled together and formed a bubble of happiness inside her. The color and life were imprinted in her mind, making her joyful just by thinking about it. And she had found the pearl. Lead only by rumors, she had ventured into the shadowy abyss... and had come out triumphant. Finally, she had found the perfect gift for her sister. And tonight... Tonight was Christmas Eve.
As usual, Dawn found her mind begin to wander as her eyes absorbed the dazzling vision of the sunrise. Tomorrow would be Christmas, her favorite time of the year. But... it would also be the last time she’d see her sister.
Her sister Lucille was her best friend, her role model. The best sibling she could ever dream of. And she’d be leaving...
Lucille would be moving from the sandy shores of Mystery Island to the rocky cliffs of Shenkuu. Her sister had found a job there as a merchant. Although Dawn felt an overwhelming tinge of sadness at the thought of seeing her sister go, she knew how much it meant to Lucille. Her sister adored the ocean, perhaps more than she did, and knowing Lucille was following her dream made Dawn happy, more than it made her woeful.
That was why she went in search of a pearl. She wanted to give her sister something amazing for Christmas. Something so lovely her sister would be more than thrilled to have one. When she had heard rumors of beautiful pearls that hid in the shady fissure, she had not hesitated to venture here. Although it took many tries, she had finally found an oyster that could possibly contain a pearl nestled inside its shell. She had waited until the last minute to get it, wanting the pearl itself to be as beautiful as possible. She had bought a chain of silver weeks ago, and was planning to attach the pearl and make a necklace. It would be the greatest gift possible. A memento of the relationship between herself and Lucille.
Dawn smiled and reached down to the pouch attached around her waist. She wanted to see the pearl once more, wanted to marvel at its incredible beauty and feel a sense of pride as she realized once more what a perfect gift she had chosen. But when her fingers brushed against the rough texture of her belt, Dawn felt her heart leap to her throat as she realized the small bag was not there.
Glancing down, eyes large and frightful, Dawn discovered that her previous thoughts were true. The bag wasn’t there. And neither was the pearl. Her eyes shifted from the belt to the murky water below her. She was still floating directly above the chasm. Trying to fight back tears, Dawn shoved the snorkel into her mouth and snapped the mask back into place over her eyes. There was only one possible place the pouch containing her perfect present could be, and that was falling into the darkness of the crevice.
Taking a hasty but deep breath, Dawn closed her eyes and dove underwater. There was no time to enjoy the thrill of swimming under the ocean now, she just kicked and moved her arms as quickly and as powerfully as possible. Perhaps, if she moved fast enough, she’d still be able to reach the pouch in time.
But in her heart, Dawn knew that she’d never be able to reach it.
However, she was still going to try. She descended into the darkness of the fissure, limbs thrashing wildly around her. Her eyes were wide and alert, searching for any sign of the small, brown bag in this realm of shadows. But all she saw was black. Ignoring the fear of being surrounded by darkness, Dawn pressed on deeper. She was completely surrounded by shadows now, unable to see even the imprint of her bright yellow mask encircled around her eyes. But still she swam on, not wanting to give up the hope of finding the bag once more. Soon, her legs and arms began to ache and her lungs seemed ready to explode in their need for more air. It was then that Dawn realized she had lost, that she’d never be able to give Lucille the gift she fought so hard to obtain.
Turning around and rising upwards, Dawn swam, converting all her energy into massive strokes. Her body screamed for oxygen, and she didn’t think she’d be able to make it. Dawn felt herself begin slip away, but she focused her mind to stay steady. She couldn’t back out now. The soft glimmer of sunlight dancing on the waves told her she was nearing the surface, and with a final kick, Dawn broke through the world of water into the world of earth and sky.
Ripping the snorkel from her mouth, Dawn took shaky breaths, trying to ease her screaming lungs. She let her limbs float lazily on the water, giving them their well-earned rest. She didn’t know it at the moment, but she was crying. She just mistook the tears running down her cheeks for saltwater. She had lost Lucille’s gift. Now, her sister would never know how much she meant to her. Dawn lay there for who knows how long, contemplating her loss.
Finally, when a searing beam of yellow hit her eyes, she realized it was time to head back. Dawn turned and swam back to the shore.
* * * * *
It was morning. Christmas morning. Sunlight shone into Dawn’s eyes, trying to wake her from slumber. She rolled away from the window and buried her head in her blankets, trying to block out the brightness. She didn’t want to wake up. Even if it was Christmas...
“Dawnie, time to walk up,” A soft, melodic voice drifted from her doorway. Dawn recognized it instantly as Lucille’s. It was a voice that had woken her up so many times, when the sun had failed to revive her. And this would be the last time she’d ever hear it.
Slowly forcing herself to wake up, Dawn rolled out of bed, rubbing her eyes. As much as she didn’t want to wake up and face the fact that she had truly lost her sister’s gift, she knew she had to. It would be the last time she’d see Lucille for a long time, and perfect present or not, she would be there to see her go.
“I’m coming,” Dawn called. She slipped her feet into slippers and wrapped a housecoat around her body. Taking small, shuffling steps, Dawn walked out of her room and descended down the stairs.
Her sister smiled at her from the living room. The yellow Ogrin was looking bright and perky despite haven woken up so early. She stood in front of the Christmas tree, her grinning face reflected in every shining ornament that hung from the branches. Mountains of presents tumbled from underneath.
“Good morning,” Lucille called. “I would’ve thought you’d wake up a lot earlier. It’s not like you to sleep in.”
Dawn mumbled a good morning and sank into an armchair. Usually, she was an early riser, up before the sun itself. And on Christmas, she got up even earlier. But after a long night filled with disappointment and sorrow, she hadn’t slept very well. And the fact that she didn’t want to wake up made her sleep longer than usual.
Lucille swept her arm toward the colossal pile of perfectly wrapped boxes. “So? Which one should we open first?”
Dawn sighed and got up, walking over to the tree and picking up a small box before handing it to Lucille. It was her gift. Although it was far from being as extraordinary as she wished, it would be best to get it over with.
Lucille smiled, mumbled a thank you and carefully tore away the wrapping paper to open the box. Her eyes shone and a small gasp of delight spread across her face as she held up her gift. She turned Dawn, smiling happily. “Thank you, it’s beautiful.”
Dawn simply nodded. Sure, it may be pretty. But it as not as amazing as she had hoped...
Her sister held up a gorgeous silver chain that sparkled orange, gold and scarlet as the sun streaked into the room. Attached at the bottom was a small shell, a sand dollar to be exact. Dawn had come across it yesterday while walking along the beach. It was better than nothing, so she had picked it up and attached it to the silver necklace later in the day.
Dawn couldn’t help but feel tears rise to her eyes as she wondered how beautiful it would look if the pearl was there instead of the seashell. Lucille saw her glistening eyes and frowned. “Dawn, what’s wrong?”
Not bothering to wipe away the tears that now slid down her cheek, Dawn opened her mouth and told her sister everything. How she had found the pristine pearl, only to lose it in the end. How she felt so disappointed, knowing she’d never be able to replace such a perfect gift. She told her everything... Everything...
“I-I only wanted to make this really special,” Dawn sobbed in conclusion. She stared at the ground, slightly ashamed of herself.
Her sister smiled kindly and went over to hug her. Dawn crawled onto her lap, like she did when she was only a little kid. Lucille stroked her head and said, “It is special, Dawnie. How many times do I have to tell you? Every gift is special.”
Dawn sniffed. Lucille continued. “I wouldn’t care if you gave me a rock instead of a diamond. All that I want for Christmas is to know you love me. The greatest gift is to give. The greatest gift you can get is one from the heart.”
Dawn stared at the floor and said nothing. How many times had she heard this speech? It was so hackneyed, plastered on holiday cards and written again and again in stories. It was so overused... So cliché... And yet...
It was true.
Dawn smiled through her mask of tears. Every year, Lucille would tell her the same thing. Every year, she would roll her eyes, believing it was too worn-out to be true. Only now did she realize what it truly meant.
“Merry Christmas, Lucille.”
“Merry Christmas, Dawn.”
Author’s Note: Sorry for writing another terribly clichéd Christmas story. Hope you enjoyed it! Feel free to send me any comments or criticism. Happy holidays!