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.

The Second Coming

I remember reading about 9/11 in class, seeing glossy pictures of explosion and death caught in a single frame of time. I thought about the date: 9/11. At 9, it pieced together in my mind with emergency. The whole day pieced together in 2 pages and 5 pictures: the what, who, when, where. A beautiful September morning turned horrible. The firefighters were brave, the terrorists weren’t. Buildings collapsed, last voice-mails were left, lives were lost, speeches were given and we went to war. When I was 9 I wondered what all those poor people thought as they watched a plane draw closer to 94th floor windows. I wondered what brought people to do something so terrible to each other. The utter destruction was etched into my mind even though I wasn’t alive for it, I knew what that date meant–it was crystal clear. Even thinking back on it, I still envision the World Trade Towers reflecting light off glossy pictures from a weathered text book.

8/29, I don’t know. I don’t know what it means, why it happened. It’s not in history books, there aren’t any pictures. I think the presentation is still being worked on–it’ll take some time, but I was there.

The water was warm, probably near 80 degrees. I was in up to my knees watching the shore to make sure I didn’t drift far from mom, had to be about 2 P.M. A swath of clouds drifted overhead just above swarms of birds making their way ashore. I could tell nobody’d ever seen anything like this; on land or in the ocean people perched their heads to the dark mass fleeing towards us and blotting out the sun for moments at a time. So much of it’s a blur—I don’t even remember getting out of the ocean or being hoisted over mom’s shoulders and rushed off the beach. Others did the same as birds slammed into the backs of heads and fell lifeless in sand. Their bodies sounded like hail when met with walls, buildings, people. It’s like they were looking behind them at the ocean, so desperate to get away that death was ok so long as it was on their terms.

Mom carried me to the street beyond the boardwalk. We couldn’t see the ocean but something stood larger than a mountain in it. It appeared dark, black against a bright blue horizon and white clouds.

The ocean rose. It grew like a tidal wave far away from the shore, out in the horizon near the beast’s form. I rubbed my arms trying to relax the hairs standing on end. My mom began weeping. Both of us froze, like hundreds of others next to us whispering to gods and ancestors for guidance.

The water rose above the beast and began filling the sky. It was hard to notice, the blue ocean becoming one with the blue sky it reflected. The water arched forward, creating a half pipe and joining the summer sky. The clouds began to fill with blue ruin turned inky black—no way to outrun it. It spread across the sky filling everything between it and the ground with a salty mist. I couldn’t see, but others said ocean life was left to die on the soft clay gasping for breath. As the beast lunged forward it grinded whales, sharks, dolphins and fish under it to a halt. Closer to the shore, the behemoth scraped the waves above, its hairless lion-like head skimming water, fangs hanging out the front of its elongated mouth. It crawled along on four mountainous paws with claws the size of city blocks. An emaciated, large dark tanned body heaved with each breath, its belly lifting and falling as it exhausted oxygen. With each of its inhales, the air for us became thinner. My nose bled. The behemoth had singed dark red featherless wings, torn in places and holed in others. What could possibly challenge this thing?

With each step it took the ground shook; mom stumbled as we rushed away with waves of screaming people. Cracks zig-zagged forward and crashed the shore, too quick for people to escape. The sky and waves bent around the beast and behind it, everything behind it replaced with utter darkness; like time didn’t exist beyond the beast. In what seemed like an eternity the beast tilted forward, putting unimaginable weight on its front paws before launching itself up on its hind legs, its head devoured by the ocean sky. It roared a piercing shriek I can’t describe. What sounds did people on the 94th floor hear just before their tragic death? Shards of Pale blue, sea foam green, mauve and rose petal red burst from the ocean, from the beast’s mouth. They shined like diamonds among the mist, wet with falling ocean water and blood as they pierced humans indiscriminately. We ran without use. There was no escape. On all sides of us people fell, beautiful pulsing colors splattered with blood pinning people to the ground. Colorful pulsing shards were everywhere, like running through a meadow of beautiful wildflowers. The beast eventually crashed the shore, the world bending oval around it, existence degrading to limitless darkness behind. Buildings and people bent around too before being sucked into nothingness. Mom held my hand tight. The reaper had come. It was time to pay our dues.

We survived by moving. Stopping only to see the decimation mom had just missed. Over her shoulder I saw it all, every instance of color ripping the life out of shirtless beachgoers and vulnerable flip-flops. I was too numb to notice I’d been grazed by one: a smattering of blood, torn flesh and a piece of shard left in my right cheek. Mom caught one in the thigh, pulsating blue pierced through the back of her leg and out the front crimson. She didn’t yell or stop, her need to keep us alive too strong to be put to sleep. Among the deadly shower of fragmented color stapling the ripped earth back together, screams and cries of thousands of people drenched the air, mowed down or holding hands of those they couldn’t leave behind instantly nailed to their grave.

A final shriek from the beast and it stopped moving forward. Perched on either shoulder, golden birds took to the sky and circled from above, dive-bombing to the street and creating a puncture in the asphalt and deep underground. When they re-emerged, they saddled the shoulders of the beast who began slowly flapping its winds, pushing gusts of wind in all directions and toppling buildings, monuments and the very ground beneath. It took to the sky, dipping into the ocean above and slapping the earth with crushing water with each downward flap. Like the golden birds, the beast dive-bombed at the surface shrinking in size and disappearing into the hole. The black ocean remained in the sky, mist continued to fall. Some rays of sun poked through the onyx water and touched the ground, a light no longer reflected from the ocean, on the beach and 20 miles inland. It was as if the world stopped existing there, like the monster took it with it. Just unraveled street and nothing—limitless space. Was this thing under us all along? Where did it come from?

I remember some classmates giggling over the pictures of 9/11. This asshole kid Joshua made a shitty joke at the expense of 3,000 lives. A tragedy, but everything pieced together. There were explanations offered. After 8/29, I never knew how important these things were. How paralyzing it is to be left without answers, with ultimate darkness around and under you. 8/29 hasn’t made textbooks yet. When it does, I wonder how it will be taught. I wonder if teachers will carefully address it, careful not to subdue the urgency, reality and horror of the day. 3 years later and I keep waiting but I know it won’t make textbooks or show up in the news more than a development about the stolen earth; some scientific theory about how it’s possible to literally take earth with you and replace it with an absence of time. I just wish something could be said already—we need answers. 212,000 people fed to a force unlike anything this world has ever seen. Just an answer to any of the thousands of questions. Maybe most importantly: when is this thing going to rise again?