Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Razor Sharp Teeth and Fireworks, Katy Comber

The Tide
By Katy Comber

Steam rose off rooftops, pitch black and hot, in waves as a brief shower poured over the beach town of Gordon. By mid-afternoon, the rain had lifted a heavy curtain of humidity but the sun remained radiant and burning. A family, laughing and rolling a wagon packed high with chairs and buckets, passed by a row of pastel houses perched on stilts, quiet, beautiful, observing. As the family walked up to the nearly deserted shore, local televisions and radios were tuned into an emergency alert. MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCES ALONG GORDON SHORE LINES.

Shea strolled up to a band of chairs and umbrellas set out beyond the high dunes still shaking her head in annoyance. Those two men hollering down at her, “Hey! Hey! Where you goin’?” from their screened in porch reminded her of the same jerks she had to pass on her way into work. Even on vacation. Shea shook her head again and a long blonde curl loosened from its high bun and tumbled over Shea’s wide hazel eyes. The tall grass swayed behind her as a sweet breeze swept through an otherwise sweltering day.

Where is everyone? Shea’s loved ones seemed to be among an otherwise sparse population along the beach that afternoon. They lounged in deep conversation with one another or with characters acting various scenarios under their noses on sand dusted pages. The children giggled and splashed in the waves with their dad. Daughter’s face beamed as the water kicked up and licked her sun-kissed face. Her brother had silent focus, a stoic hunter of waves, as he leaned in on his new board. Husband watched like a lion over his pride.

Shea settled deep into a chair beyond the reach of the umbrellas’ shade and began to read. Once in awhile, Shea would look up to track the children. At one point, her husband had switched off with a teenage cousin and lay snoring quietly on the beach towel next to her. His body slick with sweat and ocean water, reminded Shea of the time they were the honeymooners. Such a sight then would invite an urge to touch and graze and kiss. Now, the snoring was sweet but grating and her book was more enticing.

Shea looked up. The children had gone with the tide and now played left of the chairs rather than straight ahead. Every time, Shea looked up from another page, the children would be further left, their features becoming less distinguishable as they moved with the water and the waves pushed and pulled their bodies away. Shea’s daughter’s form, lithe and reedy, held hands with the round and tall form of the son who grew and kept growing. The form of the watchful cousin bobbed up and down with them, his dark head tilting occasionally with a laugh as the children’s forms ducked and sprayed each other with handfuls of ocean water.

At the end of the chapter, Shea glanced down at her dozing husband and then ungracefully wiggled out of the low beach chair. The conversation around her briefly halted as family members watched Shea stretch her body up and rise. Shea’s hand acted as a visor against the glaring sun; the children were still playing and content, their forms smaller and darker than before.

As Shea lumbered in the direction of the children their bodies grew larger in perspective but remained dark and shadowed. The beat of Shea’s heart thrummed in her throat as she realized, these are not my children.

“Mommy!” one squealed. The shadow threw up her hands and ran to embrace her mother. As Daughter smiled, her black teeth glinted in the sun. This was her little girl’s voice. This was her love, but-- The shadow girl approached, dark teeth gnashing, and wrapped itself around Shea. The sinew of the girl’s arms rippled like smoke against Shea’s waist. The touch, cold and damp.

“Hey Mom! Watch this!” The shadow boy reached down into the water and pulled out a small black shark. His lips widened as he dangled the squirming fish to his open grin and swallowed the thing in one chilling gulp.

The shadow cousin’s 6 foot body, dipped, swelled, and liquified into a gigantic looming wave. It hung, towering above them-- a tsunami with glinting eyes and razor sharp smile. Then it lowered into a gentle lapping wave and tickled the shadow children. “Ta-Da!” the shadow cousin cried.

A vision of two men yelling down from a screened in porch ran through Shea’s mind. It was a warning. They were trying to warn me. As Shea lifted her hands to muffle the scream that would never come, she noticed her fingers had become shadow versions of themselves. Shadow limbs and shadow eyes. The ocean water swept over her shadow feet, pulled her in, and Shea forgot any worries as she joined the crowd in the salty water. She picked up Shadow Daughter, ruffled Shadow Son’s hair, and laughed at Shadow Cousin’s acrobatic tricks in the darkest of tides. Giddiness consumed Shea. Thoughts of a shadow were non-existent. Her only responsibility seemed to be nothing but darkness and filling a space so light could not.

The family looked down the beach for a moment at the happy scene of Shea and the children playing so contently and resumed their conversations of fireworks, dinner at six, and other things while, ever so slowly, the tide crept toward them.


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