Chelsea’s Gift (Edit 3: 3 of 3)

[Chelsea’s Gift (Edit 3: 2 of 3)]

“Who are you, child?” A voice, deep and forceful, rumbled below. Its echo rattled Chelsea’s teeth and shot pain throughout her skull. Frozen, her arms became anchors dropping to her sides.

“What are you doing out here?” The shadow rose in a vortex, water fleeing before it reached light. When the shadow took form, Chelsea found herself before an immense whitetip—a shark known to Chelsea as a particularly nasty breed who makes little matter of eating shipwrecked survivors or women tossed from the sky. A rough fin stung the soles of her feet, slapping against them to prop her up.

“I…was…I was looking…” She stumbled through quivering lips.

“Your words are as choppy as these waters!” The whitetip guffawed, impressed by its own cleverness. “Speak.” It demanded.

“Dolphins.” She dribbled. At once Chelsea felt all her accomplishments, dreams, and expectations fade to the bottom of the ocean floor.

“A-ha! Dolphins? Why would you swim so far out here to see…oohh.” The whitetip nodded in silent settlement.

“I know your story after all. The girl who came from the sky and left with a wave—and here she is before me! Oh, what fortune indeed.” A slow grin unveiled mashed flesh between hundreds of large daggers.

“Tell me, girl of waves, what is that in your hands?” Its steel nose nudged Chelsea’s conch shell and cracked it, a ravine that slaughtered its complex details.

“It’s…dolphins gave it to me. It brings me happiness.” Chelsea held little command over her words, focused instead on thwarting her own reflection in the whitetip’s large, cloudy eyes.

“Well, what a gift! And how exactly does it bring happiness?”

“I listen…”

“I enjoy happiness. May I have a listen?” Her entranced arm stretched outward, barely able to hold the shell any longer. The whitetip studied its sound with black eyes staring into the sky.

“Well I only seem to hear the ocean. Which is to say, the ocean is the only thing I ever hear. So perhaps this shell does bring happiness, for a shark should surely find happiness when wet.”

Helpless in mind and speech, Chelsea responded as she did to all others. “It’s the one thing I never hear in the shell.”

Again the shark smirked. “And yet it is far out in the ocean that you find yourself today.”

Settled dread mixed with years of conviction stirred deep within her. Everybody would know the power within her shell, this shark and all others—they’d recognize her importance. Like a flood her childhood story forced its way into the shark: dolphins and Marine Biology, beaches and despair. The shark bobbed along, stinging her feet with each thoughtless slap, digesting each word in silence. When she finished, it laughed heartily.

“Such foolishness!” It chided. “An enchanted conch shell? And for how long have you obsessed over this?” His barbed words stung as the dolphin’s soothed.

“It seems to me, child, that this shell’s enchantment is yet to be dredged. It seems to me you pursued your own desires before anything this shell offered.”

“Do you know where you are, child?” Its fin cut Chelsea’s feet as it slipped away and swam in circles around her.

“It seems to me you’ve guided yourself back here, child. Why even bother listening to the shell at all? Wouldn’t that just fill you with pain? Knowing how incredibly wrong you are?”

He tossed her a snarled grin and dove deep below before she could reply. Alone, Chelsea began realizing how true the shark’s words were. Her fascination did turn into an obsession. She did bring herself back here.

“The shark is right.” Chelsea thought, “I gave up everything for a childish memory I couldn’t even remember correctly.”

Sadness became her face and heart, longing for a different outcome. She stared at her cracked conch shell no longer moved by its intricate grooves or decorative shape. “What has this brought me? What do I have left?” Without a dolphin to vilify, Chelsea bowed her neck and whispered a curse into the shell.

Water shattered, exposing the whitetip. “Here, a gift—like your dolphin’s.” It nudged its steel snout towards her.

“I don’t see anything.” She said, confused.

“Precisely!” The shark rolled, its grizzled laughter filling the highest blue to bottommost black.

“Nothing!” It bellowed, “And this nothing is just as precious as your shell!”

Again proud of its cleverness, the shark continued in amusement for its own satisfaction, “My gift is just as enchanting as the dolphin’s child—more so, maybe! Though perhaps not as intricately detailed. Mine comes without delay—the nothing I gave you presents your past, present, and future at once, drifting before you now!”

“There’s nothing to misinterpret. Nothing to bend and break for your own selfish gain. It provides nothing to hold on to when unsure of yourself—nothing to listen to, to prove wrong. To make wrong. And most wonderfully, it provides nothing to save you from me.”

Chelsea gasped and released the conch shell as her arms and legs struggled to swim. When she finally found her stroke, the whitetip appeared coasting beside her.

“How foolish! How splendid!” It roared, “You’ve certainly been guided, child—to your own bitter end.” It watched the color leave her face and smiled as she struggled so far away from everything. Once bored, the whitetip opened its monstrous mouth and devoured her before disappearing below crimson waves, happy and full from its fortunate find.

Above, gulls cawed and laughed.

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Chelsea’s Gift (Edit 3: 2 of 3)

[Chelsea’s Gift (Edit 3: 1 of 3]

Close to her always, Chelsea’s fantastic shell conjured unbelievable memories of talking dolphins and open sea. Each year she recalled feeling more and more excited, shedding fear from her memory, focused instead on the moment the dolphin presented her most treasured gift. Her parents teased about her belief but as she grew, they spoke less and less of her obsession. Chelsea was left to her own interpretations.

She routinely nestled an ear into the shell, captivated by its symphony of sounds that brought life to thoughts she found trouble considering. Without instructions or a user’s manual, the shell’s wisdom was difficult to comprehend. In her heart she knew returning to the dolphins was essential to her happiness but each time her ear met the shell’s soft, velvety lip it mentioned nothing of sea.

In school, Chelsea found solace from thoughts through Science class. Though she took keen interest in astrology and weaving stories from stars, persistence beckoned her to a life of aquatic understanding. Through fierce dedication and hard work, young Chelsea grew up and graduated head of her class with a Masters in Marine Biology. In all her studies, Chelsea never learned of mysterious waves or talking dolphins. In fact, she’d learned that scientists seemed unanimous that language among marine mammals remained untranslatable, but such truths only proved that she was aware of answers where others only found mystery. The summer of her graduation she revisited the beach of her youth, shell in hand, hoping that her expensive knowledge would bring results so eagerly sought.

In water she mimicked her youth. She tossed herself into crisp waves and regained herself in hopes of witnessing a bent horizon that would sweep her far off. Instead, she stared ankle-deep at the cusp—lazy at the edge of the world—as gulls cawed and laughed overhead. Swimmers came and went as Chelsea changed positions from surf to sea, glancing towards the beach to decipher where mom had sunbathed that day. As the sun rescinded its golden rays, Chelsea came to understand that no wave would carry her back that day and so resigned to cooling sand.

With ear pressed to shell, she stared at twinkling stars dotting the night sky and wondered what she was doing wrong. The universe held secret meaning for her—she’d been told so. The dolphin said she’d come back, it said she had to—she recalled her figments so vividly. She’d reach them again, of that she was sure, but her incredible fortune brought impatience that kept thoughts submerged even when miles from sea. On the beach she sobbed into her hands as boys cast lines by lantern light.

Chelsea’s shell teased her, waded in her thoughts, beckoning her to steal another listen. Sometimes even Chelsea found her story as hard-to-believe as those she trusted enough to try convincing of her immaculate shell’s power. Just like her father, they too heard waves within the shell–barbed words that dragged against Chelsea’s heart with each utterance.

“It’s the one thing I never hear in the shell.” She’d mumble in response.

Jealousy stirred within her and eventually those who spoke of hearing the gentle shhhhh that escaped her were tossed overboard. Friends became nothing more than reminders of what she wanted—knew awaited her. Nothing would stop her from seizing a vast understanding known only to dolphins from her youth. She had been gifted, and she’d become enlightened once drenched in her own unique sublimity.

Each year she returned more learned to the beach that swept her up so long ago. She’d enter cold water, conch shell clutched in wrinkled fingers, and wait for that wave to wash her out. Each year the midday sun met water’s edge and the moon settled in. The tide rose to regular depths. With a sigh Chelsea would toss the shell onto sand, dry off, and check out of the Showboat Hotel without rest. Those long drives home were the hardest on her ego, hardest to believe in the shell’s power. Time had eroded so much memory that she questioned the story altogether, “Maybe mom bought the shell at a souvenir shop.”

Chelsea’s career as a Marine Biologist peaked the next year, another painful reminder of her childhood destiny.

“What’s the use if I never make it back.” She’d think throughout award ceremonies, never far from the sea. Her peers envied her relentless quest for more knowledge and deeper understanding, unaware that it was meant only to enhance her own standing with a talking dolphin. Otherwise, accomplishments meant nothing to her at all.

“This is the last time.” She said next summer, reluctantly booking a room at the Showboat Hotel.

She stood ankle deep in calm sea and watched the sun again carve a downward path through the sky.

“Give it up, Chels.” She resigned with tear-filled eyes, turning her back to the horizon hours sooner than previous years. For her heart’s sake, Chelsea peered once more at the sea, the reason for all in her life, just in time.

The horizon shot into the sky and blotted out the sun—a monster awakened. It rose with fury and hurdled towards the beach. Creaking and moaning, its hostile march filled Chelsea with terror; her knees locked and teeth vibrated. A bedlam of crashing eruption, hisses, and groans kicked around her skull and threw itself against her temples. Her heart sank, a deep despair stirring within, and the conch shell became warm in her hands. A ball whizzed by her face.

“Sorry!” She strained to hear a boy shout, lapping past in retrieval.

“My god,” She thought, “He doesn’t see it.”

Within seconds it towered before her; a flexed, foamy neck roaring to the sky. The last she saw before taking a deep breath and closing her eyes.

“This is it.” Chelsea whispered as the wave hammered her down into inky black depths.

Much to her relief, Chelsea found herself once again in the middle of the ocean. A guffaw escaped her amid tears.

“Finally.” She cheered, finally living a memory nearly abandoned.

Treading water with shell held tight, Chelsea searched for the fin, “A stone,” she kidded herself, “I was so naive back then.”

With neither stone nor fin in sight, Chelsea kept herself afloat with one hand and held the shell to her ear with the other.

Shhhhh.

Shhhhhhhhh.

“Waves!” It was her destiny, after all. A muffled voice, her own, trailed and dissipated. It was final. It was settled. She was meant to be out here after all.

The sun-glazed sea did well to disguise a bobbing white pearl, gone unnoticed until water dragged behind towards Chelsea.

“I’ve returned!” She yelled, so happy to find her dearest friend.

The memories, all of them, came flooding back at once. She recalled the fin that held her up and prepared for balance when the white stone vanished from surface and under her wiggling toes. So much time had passed since her last visit that she’d forgotten how big they were—the shadow beneath her enormous. Just then, the dolphin’s words came together, no longer fragmented by wishful thinking and forced fate. She had focused on some words more than others, changing others altogether, but now “much too dangerous for a child” repeated in her head, throbbed her temples, and refilled the dread in her heart.

Chelsea’s Gift (Edit 3: 1 of 3)

Cool, crystalline water tumbled around Chelsea, her father, and hundreds more in the sea. Each wave swelled excitement in the young girl, enjoying every dark tumble with sand and shells under foamy break. She’d shoot up with a splash, gasp for breath, and look for her father and the next wave.

“Come on, Chels. Let’s go back to your mom.” He beckoned, impatient as his daughter wiped water from her eyes.

“Can I stay just a little bit more? You can see me from the beach!” Chelsea pleaded

Her father looked to mom, sunbathing beneath a floppy straw hat, thoughts far from either of them.

“Your mom will kill me.” He said just above the tide’s roar.

“I won’t be more than ten minutes!” She bargained.

“Fine. Ten minutes, then you’re out. I’m timing you!”

Without a moment’s delay Chelsea tossed herself into the next wave, rolled into a ball, and drifted with currents until her little lungs could take no more. When feet planted touched sand, her waterlogged eyes darted past a mosaic of t-shirts, torsos, lotion-lathered children, and multicolored umbrellas until she found mom tanning and dad reading. She thought it curious how even the shortest time underwater swept her so far away from her parents.

Between gulps of saltwater, Chelsea stared at the line where sea meets sky. Mom once told her about the universe and space, how it’s always expanding. Little eyes fixed on the horizon made sense of it all. If she swam all the way out, no matter how far, she’d never reach the horizon—it’d always be there, even if she traveled the world over to catch up to it. “The universe must be like that, too.” Chelsea thought in wait, preparing for the next wave’s turbulent journey.

Other swimmers splashed and played, soaked foam balls were hurled and uncaught, smashing into backs and necks. She stared at water’s edge and watched it shake, bending to reveal a force stirred deep below—a mass of water growing and toppling over itself. The hundreds around her kept calm even as the wave touched the sky and heaved forward.

Water streamed past her ankles, draining into the immense wave that slouched towards Chelsea. Forced into the flood, she clawed wet sand and tore long ephemeral lines while pulled before the towering sea. Chelsea balled herself up beneath its crest and prepared for darkness. The wave crashed, shoving her deep below: a mess of sand, shells, saltwater, and little girl.

When her head surfaced, Chelsea coughed saltwater and wheezed air, dizzily reorienting herself in now-calm tides. She wondered how she’d survived. Her legs scrambled for bottom but found nothing to stand. She swam in circles, coughing up warm water, desperately looking for her family, the beach, or anything at all. It’d all been swept away with the wave’s assault. The horizon steadied itself and remained as far from Chelsea as it ever was.

In a field of silent blue, wading in water too-deep-to-tell, Chelsea cried. So far, so very far away, she panicked.

“I’ll never see my parents again.”

Chelsea pictured them drifting along and shouting for a daughter lost to a monstrous wave. She wondered if they’d have another child to take her place, and if her imaginary brother or sister would ever be allowed in water. Amid pained thoughts Chelsea noticed two stones among sun-kissed water: one grey and one white, bobbing along a few meters away. As if it knew it were watched, the grey stone picked up speed and cut through water towards Chelsea.

Her arms and legs went stiff, her lips frozen-parted. Her eyes locked on the stone, its form unfolding as a fin mere inches from her face. A slick body rubbed against the soles of Chelsea’s feet.

“Why are you drifting out so far, child?” A calm voice inquired from below. Chelsea launched from the body in escape, but tired arms slapped against water and drowned below. She turned to see the fin dip beneath the surface. In her fright, she gulped a mouthful of cool, salty water and spit it up with words following, “Who said that?”

A dark, blurry shadow hovered just beneath her toes. It rose like the morning sun, patient and majestic. Within moments the water broke to present a large bottle-nosed dolphin.

“How did you come to be here, child?” It asked, mustering as confused a look as a grinning dolphin can.

“I…how…you can talk?”

The dolphin tossed an incredulous look and laughed, “Talk? Child, there are more pressing matters to address! To you, one whose voice you’ve never heard is strange, indeed. To me, a child tossed from the blue above is much more puzzling—is it not to you? Then enlighten me, how did you come to find yourself here?”

“Perhaps your tired limbs prevent you from speech. Please, allow me.” The dolphin dove and rested its body under Chelsea’s feet, providing balance and respite from her fight to stay afloat.

“I really don’t know! I was swimming and a big wave took me under. It was as big as the sky! I don’t know that anybody else even saw it. When I found the surface I couldn’t find the beach, or my family.” Chelsea’s teary eyes blended blues of sea and sky that trapped her in a senseless, watery orb.

“I’m lost.” She cried.

The dolphin appeared before her again though her balance remained.

“Another holds you up, child. I can neither explain nor understand what brought you here today. But if this meeting is meant between us, it is surely one of great importance.”

The dolphin watched with sad eyes as Chelsea cried, curious to how she was able to spout water.

“I am not to know the many mysteries of our world, but you must be a special child. These waters are much too dangerous for a child to swim—you are brave, indeed. I wish to offer you a treasure of my kind, one of many we have come to find.”

Under tears and within water, Chelsea nodded. In a flash the dolphin dove deep, its shadow reduced to the size of a pin-prick beneath her propped, shaking body. An eternity of silence melted around her as she searched, longing for a horizon lost in a blue-scape of blended sea and sky. From the corner of her eye, the white stone buoyed for a few moments and dashed away—another fin, no doubt.

Bubbles surfaced a thin layer of foam torn in half by a conch shell led by the dolphin’s nose and eternal grin. She took the pearl-colored shell in her hands: a soft, velvety touch with deep grooves, an intricate mosaic like mom’s crystal bowls. She traced each crevice with her wrinkled thumbs, overtaken by its precision and fragility. A light fragrance lifted into Chelsea’s nose—it smelled like home.

“I see you can appreciate the fine work of deep-sea mollusks, child, and it is wise, too, to understand this to be no ordinary shell. The shell you carry is enchanted in a most beautiful way. Just place your ear to its innards and all will be received: past, present, and futures.” The dolphin paused, searching deep within Chelsea’s eyes.

“You’re a brave girl indeed, to find yourself in such unsafe waters. There are enemies here, child, and they are more powerful than I.” The dolphin stopped itself from saying more.

“Follow this shell, child. Listen to its song; it sings for you—your path will be made clear.” It remained smiling, “Your gift is one that all life dreams of having; a clear path—as clear as light piercing still water, to satisfaction.” As the dolphin spoke, Chelsea stared at the shell, rubbing its grooves spellbound.

“Thank you. It truly is the most beautiful shell I’ve ever seen. But how do I get home?”

“You hold the answer in your hands, child. Listen to the shell, it knows far more than I.” And so Chelsea did, and within the shell sprang a cacophony of swirling water and angry waves that filled her with terror. Still fastened to her ear, Chelsea turned to see a gigantic wave fast approaching.

“That’s the wave that brought…” Before finishing she became a waterlogged rag doll—upended sand and shells pelting her drowned, sunburned face. Again, Chelsea’s head emerged and again she coughed saltwater. Without thought, her exhausted arms scrambled to keep her afloat but fell limp at her sides. Before panic settled in, Chelsea found sandy bottom for her feet and a beach for her family—she’d returned. In her hands the large conch shell hummed, still soft to the touch and beautiful as ever.

“Mom! Dad!” She yelled, splashing nearby bathers as she galloped from sea to beach towards her parents, combing the shoreline in search of their daughter.

“I told you ten minutes.” Her father scolded. “We need to go back to the room and get ready for dinner. I’m starving!”

Reunited, she embraced her parents and displayed her gift, telling the story of scary waves and friendly, intelligent dolphins.

“That’s nice, Chels. I think you got a little waterlogged. Some of that saltwater went right into your brain! You’re just lucky that dolphin only kept you around for 15 minutes, or I’d have to swim out there, beat ‘em up, and make myself a nice sandwich out of him!”

Mom laughed. “You’ve been in the water way too long! We thought you turned into a fish and swam away!”

Chelsea demanded she be taken seriously. “You’re being silly. Seriously, you gave us a scare out there,” Her mom bent down to look Chelsea in the eye, “Never do that to us again. When we say ten minutes, we mean it.” She scorned.

“Now let us see that shell of yours!” Dad interjected. “Wow, Chels. This thing is a beaut. Pam, take a look at this!”

“So what’s this shell supposed to do again?”

Chelsea explained the dolphin’s words as best she could, and her dad placed the conch shell to his ear.

“I only hear waves. This is supposed to tell me what to do in life?” A befuddled look came over his face. “Then I suppose we have to move to the beach!”

Dad laughed, mom grinned, Chelsea sneered. It didn’t matter—she knew what the shell could do. She knew what destiny lay before her. It was all settled.