I guess I won’t escape the water on this spring evening. As rain pounds on me with the rhythm of an icy waterfall, the pain of the cold is warming me more than my nightgown ever could. The warmth of my breath fights through the bitter darkness of the evening only to be beaten back by the unrelenting frigidity of the wind at my face. Perhaps the warmness of the gulf would radiate just enough to find some comfort in this depressing storm.
The waves quickly roll in, one after another, bashing my stomach and chest. I turn my head to avoid the violent aggression of the water as it pummels me and attempts to intrude my body through my nose and mouth. The gulf’s hospitality sure is lacking tonight, a drastic change from the filled beaches of the morning past; children building sand castles, couples floating and drinking and cuddling in the water, snowbirds out to roost under umbrella tents and the shadow of books. No, tonight is so much different, so much bleaker. The kindness of the gulf seems to have set with the sun.
It seemed too small of a beach community for so many people to litter this little slice of heaven during the day. The beach house, light tan with soft pastel and white colored accents with a large sun bathing balcony, only rents four beds and yet this beautiful beach had several dozens of visitors on its little stretch of land. They could have spread out to the shores on either sides of this lot but they did not. They did not because they knew what I knew, that this section of beach was perfect. The sun stretched over us and was offered no invitation for quarter by monstrous condos, gray clouds, or tall trees. The gulf breeze swayed against our bodies as though it were dancing to its own serenade while the sugary white sands warmed our feet and massaged our heals. The saltwater offered refreshing retreat as it frolicked on our lips like the salted rim of a frozen margarita. Gentle waves offered both play and coddling as the seabirds flying above glided almost still, resting on the wings of the wind. Even the small fish and baby crabs could be seen sashaying in the translucent emerald green water. Of course these people did not spread out past the boundaries. Who would ever abandon this glimpse of heaven bathed in sunshine?
Maybe the gulf’s rude welcoming was just a test. Now that I am deep enough to float and not stand, the waves seem to have let up a bit on its attack. As I bob up and down, four feet up and four feet down, I am thankful my stomach is empty tonight. The gulf is starting to show some compassion by lending me its warmth, something it was lacking on the shore and on my walk in. It’s becoming difficult to keep above water however as the crest always bows to the trough; and my body must follow like a knight kneeling before its king. As I rise to the peak of each wave, I glance ashore to see if they are all still standing there. They are.
Looking back, their touch was warmer than I would have expected. I am surprised they were even able to wake me since I am such a heavy sleeper. I was gently awakened by a soft grab on my ankle and the grasp was strangely lukewarm and damp. There was an old comfort to it much like how my father used to wake me for school when I was a child. It made waking up to a room full of a dozen shadows a bit less petrifying…A tiny bit less horrifying.
As I sat up and buried myself as far into the headboard of the bed as I physically could, I took survey of my surroundings. There were exactly twelve of them, these shadow people, with their onyx liquescent bodies; gray smoke dancing off and through their bodies like black liquid ice. They stood there standing motionless with various displays of body language and height. The shadow that touched me to wake me sat there at the foot of the bed, legs crossed with its hands rested gracefully. It was looking at me, or I think it was looking at me, I could not tell since there were no facial features. But I could feel them all looking at me. I could also hear them.
They all seemed to speak in unison with the same consciousness but with different, muffled sounds. It was whisper-like voices, some tones dragging behind others as they spoke like rapid and soft little echoes. It was haunting yet beautiful, spiritual. They told me that things were going to be okay and asked me to follow them out of the room. And so I did, into the hallway where several other smoky figures lined each side of the hallway, some leaning up against the dimly lit blue walls, others squatting casually, and some more like soldiers on guard, all staring at me as though I were walking the red carpet. As I passed the other bedroom I remembered my two daughters and husband fell asleep in the bunk bed room after an evening of board games and ghost stories. I asked if my daughters and husband were safe and they ensured that they were. I cannot explain why I trusted them. Maybe it was the thought of risking waking my girls to this strange and frightening spectacle. They did not need to experience whatever this was and if they did then I wanted my husband to be there to protect them.
As I entered the kitchen I noticed several other shadows, all standing throughout the space and living room, watching me as the first group guided me toward the backdoor that was facing the gulf. As I opened the door a winter-type chill smacked my body. It was abnormally cold for this time of year this far south and the rain was twice as frigid. I noticed on the sunbather’s porch, down the wooden-decked pathway and on the tall dunes there were several dozens more shadow people standing and watching me. I asked the group of shadows ahead of me who all of these people, these things, were. I asked where they were taking me and why were they all staring at me. With each question my voice began to tremble and fear started to overwhelm me like the cold did once I opened that door. They said that I would be alright and that they were the same as me. They were watching me because they wanted to welcome one of their own.
Soon I was ushered past the berm and toward the shore of the gulf. I stumbled through the thick and wet sand as they pointed me toward the violent blackness of the gulf. I understood that they wanted me to go in but I paused and asked what if I did not want to go into the deep. They stoically answered that I must trust them, “for there is no other choice.” And so I have.
I am losing my ability to keep my head above the waterline. Now the saltwater is burning my eyes and throat and panic is starting to sink in. On the horizon I begin to see a few shapes emerge from the audience of shadows and approach the water’s edge. One by one they enter the water; their smoky bodies illuminate the water with a stunning silver brightness radiating from their bodies. They are swimming toward me. I can no longer resist the urge to purge myself under the unyielding juggernaut of waves.
I sink and have released the last of my breath. I gasp in the sea. My lungs drink in the saltwater with the pressure of a water balloon at the end of a hose. I flail out to grab anything and nothing in a final attempt to pull myself toward life. Unexpectedly, I feel a familiar touch on my face, the same touch that woke me and put me toward this journey; my final dip in the gulf. He is face to faceless face with me now.
Two other silver shadows glide to each of my arms and hold my hand in a loving embrace, one hand to the shadow’s cheek, the other to its chest as a child would hold a teddy bear. I notice the shape of her glowing pigtails, the same pigtails she was wearing as she jumped up and down on the bed during her playtime with her father. I notice the other wearing a silhouette of a nightgown just like mine, one of a mother-daughter matching set I chose as a Christmas gift this past year. I gaze back forward and think to myself and to him, “I knew it was your touch that woke me, my love.” As my consciousness begins to fade, they lovingly guide me into the tender abyss, to our Elysium, making me another welcomed guest at the beach house.