Water Wears Rock

Submitted by Joshua Insole to Contest #4 in response to: Write a story based on the song title: "Beside The Sea"... view prompt

1

The seagulls are circling overhead, crying. The ocean’s waves are lapping up against the sand, whispering. In the distance stand the resolute shadows of mountains, shimmering.

A man is motionless before the darkened sand where the seawater has licked the shore, holding his hands behind his back. The man carries with him an air of well-earned wisdom, but if he were to walk, we’d see that his movements are slow and pained.

He stands there, looking out across the vast body of water. The man is old, but the sea is older. The undulating waters existed before him and would continue their motions long after he was gone.

A wrinkle forms upon the man’s brow. He looks to be either deep in thought or trying to remember something long forgotten.

The world wavers and shimmers and—

 

2

The boy stood at the edge of the water, gazing across the ocean. He was desperately trying not to look behind him. He knew he mustn’t – for the sake of his life, in fact – but he had the almost-irresistible temptation to sneak a peek. One glance wouldn’t hurt, would it? Just one second? Half a second, even?

But no. He must not. And so, he focused his attention to the water. Hush. The waves came in. Hush. The waves went back out. Hush. Hush. Hush. The child’s eyes were fixed upon the horizon; where the sea and the sky kissed.

The boy sensed movement at the periphery of his vision, and concentrated harder on that line between the heavens and the earth. Tears began to form at the corner of his eyes. He could tell it was getting closer, inching towards him insidiously. But he would not look. He was safe as long as he did not look.

The child had the overwhelming impression that the blasted thing was grinning. He didn’t know how he knew; he just knew.

Breath on the back of his neck. Hot and wet. The boy gritted his teeth and stared and stared and stared at the skyline, his eyes itching and burning. If it doesn’t go away now I’ll go insane, thought the child. If it doesn’t go away, I’ll have to look. I’ll just have to.

There was a snorting puff of damp air against his skin. The child felt his stomach roll and the hairs all over his body stand on end.

Go away, go away, go away. Oh, please, go away!

There was a crunch of sand, and then: pad-pad-pad-pad. It was leaving. The boy felt relief, but the emotional reprieve was soon mixed with anxiety – had it left, or was it just tricking him? Did it want him to think it had left, in order for him to turn around and—

No. No use thinking about that. Remember what Grandpa said, he thought. Remember Grandpa.

And so, he did.

 

3

The old man is listening intently. A seagull screeches above him, and the waves – hush, dear child, hush – shush the bird. On the horizon, the mountains rise and fall the way they always had, and always will.

He knows how it will begin – with a shadow at the edge of his vision. It will creep up on him… only not really. The old man knows it will be there, and the old man has the sneaking suspicion that it knows that he knows it is there. This last thought is perhaps the most terrifying; the idea that it is toying with him, that this is all a charade. A game that the two of them have been playing for over three quarters of a century. A game that they would continue to play until… until…

The beach and sea begin to fade and—

 

4

The teenager stood at the edge of the sea, frowning at the waves. The wrinkle in his brow deepened with every passing minute. He held a fire in his chest, and he wanted to spit it out at the world.

Remember what Grandpa said, said one side of his mind.

He didn’t know what it’s like! argued another thought.

That’s not true, said the calmer section.

I can do what I like!

The teenager stood there, a war in his head, until he saw the familiar smudge of blackness appear at the edge of his vision. He stood there, trembling, fighting with himself. He stood there, hating the thing. Hating it. Hating it with all of his being.

He felt the thing approach. Now is the time, he thought. It’s now or never. He felt its rancid breath against his skin, which was now lightly peppered with adolescent acne. Remember what Grandpa said.

The teenager felt the fires burning within. They scorched the base of his throat and burned his insides.

But he could not. He felt ashamed. He felt angry. But he could not. And not only because of his grandfather’s words; the teenager was afraid. He kept the conflagration contained, vowing to tend the flames forever.

He stood at the water’s edge, shaking, listening to the waves hushing and shushing, until the thing pad-pad-pad-pad padded away.

 

5

The old man’s thoughts are drifting, as they have a tendency to do nowadays, and he almost doesn’t notice the blackness in the corner of his eye. When he finally sees it, he nearly turns to look at it – nearly. He snaps his eyes to the mountains. He knows every peak and every valley along the range, and he guesses that the mountains know every crease and wrinkle on his very face.

The old man senses the thing snaking, creeping, edging towards him. The feeling is familiar, yet wholly alien and utterly terrifying. Every time the old man thinks it will be better, and every time the old man is humbled by the utter blackness of true fear. Some things, the old man realises, are not numbed by age.

The old man tries to remember what it felt like the first time. Was it worse, for not knowing what was to come? Or was it better, for not having the anxiety of forethought?

The sky above him starts to vibrate, and—

 

6

The man stood at the edge of the ocean, eyes tracing the familiar rise and fall of the distant peaks. He was trying to relax himself. It got easier every time, but that didn’t mean it was easy. No, not at all.

He was ready for it, as he had been for many years. He was well-practiced, now. He stood tall; arms folded neatly in front of him.

When the spectre that looked like a hole torn in the very fabric of the universe finally appeared, the man almost smiled. “Hi there, old friend. How’ve you been?” he said, mostly to himself. He had discovered that his words sometimes had the power to burst the dread that grew like a bubble around him. The man wasn’t sure if the thing understood words as a form of communication, anyway.

The creature slinked towards him, the way it usually did – as if it were approaching undetected. The man had the idea that the thing had grown disheartened in its failed attempts, but then the hot breath hit his bare skin and the man felt the cold ripple of pure horror spread across his entire body.

He swallowed hard, a lump in his throat, a pressure on his bladder, no air his lungs. He tried to not let on that the thing had yet again succeeded. How? he would think later. How does it still affect me so? After all these years? After all this time? How? How?

The man – who was only just past his prime – felt his thoughts returning to his old mantra: Go away, go away, go away. Oh, please, go away! Go away, go away, go away!

Tears swelled in his eyes and then rolled down his cheeks – hot and ashamed, cold and petrified. He was at the edge of a belief, much in the way that he was at the edge of an ocean. It would take him many decades to discard the belief; a belief that the blazes in his belly had long been extinguished.

After a while, the man heard the noise that signalled the end: pad-pad-pad-pad.

 

7

The old man can feel its breath against the back of his neck – the same way he felt it all of those years ago. He is equally as repulsed by it now, and his skin – although now with more wrinkles – starts to crawl with the sensation.

Only this time is different – now the old man has the better half of a century behind him. The old man is old; he knows this better than anybody, if there was anybody else still around to know such things. The desire, the urge, the itch is still there. The old man that is wants the same thing that the boy that had been wanted. The old man that is has reignited the burning fires that had arisen in the teenager that was. Perhaps the bonfires had never gone out – not completely.

And finally, the old man that is feels sympathy for the man that he had been, not that long ago.

He takes a deep breath, feeling a delirious rising sensation, as if an oppressive, lifelong weight is finally being lifted from his frail chest. And the old man starts to count, out loud.

“Ten,” he says, his voice thinner and shakier than he remembers – it has been many years since he has spoken aloud. The old man feels a hiccup in the slimy, grinning snorts against his nape.

“Nine… eight… seven… six…” the old man counts down through the numbers, slowly. Had he been younger he surely would have rushed through the counting, but the old man is taking his time, savouring each passing second.

The hot, dripping air is back against his skin, closer than ever, expelled by smiling lips.

“Five… four… three…” the old man has squared up, forcing his chest out and his shoulders upright. He feels more invigorated than he has since he was a teenager.

The thing is grinning, the old man knows. It is daring him, mocking him. Go on, old man, it is saying without speaking. If not now, then when?

“Two…” the old man hears everything and sees everything, his focus on the world is now cold and steely. The seagulls, the sea, the faraway highlands. The old man notes these things – these reliable friends.

“One.”

The seagulls are circling overhead, crying. The ocean’s waves are lapping up against the sand, whispering. In the distance stand the resolute shadows of mountains, shimmering.


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6 likes 2 comments

19:53 Sep 06, 2019

I loved the way you quietly built the tension, giving just enough information to keep me hooked, allowing my imagination to do the rest. Good story - I enjoyed it!

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13:02 Sep 09, 2019

Thanks, Terry! It's very much appreciated.

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