Contest #83 shortlist ⭐️

28 comments

Mar 05, 2021

Sad Fantasy Fiction

There was hardly a breath of wind on the beach, and the trees stood still and silent, knowing, as trees do, that something was coming. They’d guarded this shore long enough to know, and the older trees, the ones with centuries of sentry duty, hushed the young ones, the saplings, who wanted to whip their young limbs around, and dance under the stars. The ocean hushed them all in its own, inimitable way - the relentless melancholy of it was reassuring, heaving sigh after sigh as it fell upon the shore and dragged itself back to the depths again. There was no birdsong. No birds. 

The creature - the woman? - appeared from the gently breaking waves, and the trees shuddered to see her, susurrating softly, whispering to each other to bear witness, to watch the figure on the beach as she journeyed towards them. She thrust her hand out of the surf and clawed it into the slick garlands of seaweed that fringed the sandy expanse of the moon-drenched beach. She grasped each slippery rope like a lifeline, pulling herself out of the water as it lapped and bubbled around her, leaving the heartbeat of the ocean behind though she yearned for it, and it, her. She creaked as she moved, like rusted metal, hoisting herself up the beach with her long, grasping fingers. She remembered her sisters and her mother and her mother’s mother, and how they’d all made this journey too, and how she was the last of them to crawl up from the depths to this shore, the last to grasp this seaweed, the last to plunge her hands into cool, wet sand, the last to drag herself, creaking and grinding, to the powdery sand beyond. She finally came to a stop where the sand was bone dry, pink and gleaming in the glittery, moonlit night. She shone too, wet and dripping still from a life beneath the waves. 

The trees looked on with interest. They knew, of course, what would happen, but it was a rare event, and one worth witnessing. The very oldest tree on the shoreline recognised her face from a dream or another life.  She never looked back at the trees, so the tree never found out if she recognised him too.

She looked out at the water; tried to count the ripples. She saw colours in the flashes of silver topped ocean than the human eye could never have seen. Her eyes, attuned to darkness and deepest blues, were overwhelmed with the vibrancy of her last moments. The moon was brighter than she’d ever seen it. It was so beautiful that it hurt to look at it. She heard her name whispered softly by the tide. She heard it in the breeze too, in the trees. Her hair dried for the first time. She touched it with her aching, swollen fingers, and tried to remember the feel of it wet. It seemed like so long ago she was in the water. She remembered swimming so deep she thought she might black out, and she remembered sun drenched afternoons below the surface, where the water came alive with warmth and flashing, golden colour. 

Her sister left her for this place decades ago, or centuries, or days? She doesn’t know what time means on dry land because underwater it’s endless, blue or deeper blue. Time underwater is the turn of the tide, the heartbeats, the space between storms, time is what turns calves into whales. She remembers a sister who began to creak and rattle and take strange, gasping breaths, and her sister knew it was time, but didn’t know how to tell her - this one, this last one. Her sister had been left too, by the sister before her, and the one before her, there were many - and their mother. All had peeled away, dropped from their family tree like overripe fruit. She’d resented them, hated them for leaving her out there, alone with the current. Then she’d missed them, as she swam alone through the emptiest parts of the ocean. Had they felt this pain? Every moment feeling like the eternity between waves, before the surf crashes, like there’s something on the tip of her tongue that she can’t remember, or taste, or spit out. She feels her limbs aching with the pressure of the ocean. Where once she felt weightless in the blue, now every heartbeat is an effort, every gasp is a gasp closer to the end. She’s lived a long time, and never felt the pain she feels today, climbing up this beach.

When she was young (how young?) (younger) her mother grew old in front of her. All at once vines wrapped round her pale body and tugged at her skin until it was thin and papery. Dark blue veins spidered her limbs and her lips grew thin and cold. She was gone the next day, a ghost on this same beach, her long life scattered across the sand like footprints, ready to be washed away by the next high tide. She felt age bloom inside her, growing over her bones like moss.

She longs for the ocean. It reaches for her, again and again, bubbling up to kiss the seaweed before tipping backwards into itself. Her body feels brittle. She feels a breeze rattle through her. She wishes she was fluid again, a blur of movement beneath the waves. 

She unearths her hands from the sandy graves they’d dug for themselves, and she lies back, listening to the heartbeat, sinking into the sand, finally dragging her eyes away from the ocean. She looks up at the stars, which she knows by heart, like her sisters did, like her mother did. They twinkle in their familiar way, beckoning her, hushing her, telling her to forget about the sea, forget about the waves and the tide and the heartbeat, heartbeat, heartbeat. She’s never seen stars from shore. They should be dimmer, but they burn with an incandescent glow.

The sentinel trees are the only witnesses as she takes a final, shuddering gasp, still staring up at the velvet sky, and sinks, nothing but sea foam, into the sand.

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28 comments

Ivy Hatherall
08:05 Mar 11, 2021

This is just beautiful and deserves more attention. It flows like a song; each paragraph a verse, an ode to wholeness.

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Rachel Loughran
10:28 Mar 11, 2021

Wow, thank you!

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Ivy Hatherall
19:16 Mar 12, 2021

CONGRATS ON THE SHORTLIST! I'm so happy for you!

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Rachel Loughran
07:55 Mar 15, 2021

Thanks Ivy!

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Prafulla Vyas
21:38 Mar 12, 2021

Hello Rachel I loved the title of your story. You have real talent for descriptive writing and personification. It creates mystery and suspense in the first paragraph. Congrats on making it into the shortlist.

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Julia Alice
20:20 Mar 12, 2021

You write beautifully, and I loved the personification of the trees. Congratulations on being shortlisted!

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Vijay Krishna
17:28 Mar 12, 2021

Neatly written and wonderful way of using the words both in poetic and fictional way.

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David G.
17:02 Mar 12, 2021

Congrats! I like the dreamlike tone of this. And I learned something new about mermaids!

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Rachel Loughran
17:05 Mar 12, 2021

Ha! Every day is a school day. Thanks for reading!

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Heather Mcquaid
17:01 Mar 12, 2021

Some lovely imagery, and well-written. Congrats on being shortlisted, more folks should see your work. :)

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Rachel Loughran
17:04 Mar 12, 2021

Thank you Heather!

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Michael Boquet
16:14 Mar 12, 2021

This is beautifully written. I loved that you chose to give us the trees' perspective. That's a very creative touch. If I'm being honest, I don't understand your story. Is the woman the ghost of a drowning victim? I got really confused by all the mentions of the woman's family too. Regardless of that though, this is a very well written story. It's obvious you wrote it thoughtfully and crafted it together carefully. Congratulations on getting shortlisted.

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Rachel Loughran
16:35 Mar 12, 2021

Hi Michael, thanks for your comment and compliments! She's a mermaid! In Hans Christian Andersen's original Little Mermaid, when mermaids die they turn into sea foam. I didn't want to use the word 'mermaid' within the story itself, I preferred to keep it fairly ambiguous (especially because traditional portrayals of mermaids are wildly different from one country to another and mine is a strange, wild, rusty thing, quite different from your Disney mermaids) but that was my inspiration. I hope if you read the story again this becomes more clear!

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Michael Boquet
16:58 Mar 12, 2021

Well I did read it again, and with the context you provided in the comment I do see what you were trying to do. Though I don't think it's very clear without being explained. Regardless, it's an enjoyable story. Very easy to picture in my head.

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Rachel Loughran
17:02 Mar 12, 2021

Thank you - I'm glad even if it's a bit obscure that it's still pleasant to read!

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Holly Fister
16:03 Mar 12, 2021

I love the ending, sinking into the sand as sea foam. Beautifully done!

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Rachel Loughran
16:37 Mar 12, 2021

Thank you! I've mentioned in another comment that my inspiration for her turning to sea foam is from Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid - I couldn't just leave her on the beach!

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Holly Fister
16:59 Mar 12, 2021

Oh okay, I thought the sea foam sounded familiar. I read his story a long time ago. Congrats on the shortlist!!

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Rachel Loughran
17:05 Mar 12, 2021

Thanks Holly!

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Frances Reine
15:08 Mar 12, 2021

Read this twice. Such a foggy world but just clear enough and it's breathtaking. Congrats, Rachel :)

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Rachel Loughran
16:39 Mar 12, 2021

Thanks Frances! I hope you read it twice because you enjoyed it, not because it was that bit too foggy!

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Frances Reine
17:43 Mar 12, 2021

Definitely because I enjoyed it, haha ;)

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Aisa M
06:44 Mar 20, 2021

This is so beautifully written.

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Rachel Loughran
12:05 Mar 20, 2021

Thank you!

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20:02 Mar 17, 2021

I love the personification you used in this story; you did such a fabulous job tying the environment into your piece by doing this. "The trees looked on with interest. They knew, of course, what would happen, but it was a rare event, and one worth witnessing. The very oldest tree on the shoreline recognised her face from a dream or another life. She never looked back at the trees, so the tree never found out if she recognised him too." I can't say why, but I absolutely loved that line and it stuck with me! Great job, Rachel and congrats ...

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Courtney C
01:53 Mar 13, 2021

Wow. Cryptic, evocative, enigmatic. This was lovely from start to finish. Congratulations on making the shortlist!! You really deserved it :) I didn't get the mermaid connection until reading the comments, but in no way does it lessen the powerful impact of your prose.

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R. K.
14:22 Mar 12, 2021

There's an air of mystery rolling through the entire piece, like noon tides. It creates an ethereal and ambiguous world that is mesmerizing to read. Look forward to reading more of your work. Edit: Wow, I read this right before the winners were announced and I had a feeling this had a great chance. And then I came back and saw. Congrats on the shortlist!

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Rachel Loughran
16:38 Mar 12, 2021

Thank you for your lovely review! I am delighted to be shortlisted - this is my first story on Reedsy so it's really lovely to hear everyone's feedback and feel welcomed straight away into the community.

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