Elastic Phantasm


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Kate and I were the only couple on the beach. The rains were over but the sky was still gray and people were afraid to come out. Even the seagulls stayed high and landed in the beach grass out of sight.

I asked Kate to take off her shawl and she walked with it trailing behind her in the wind. We had walked for over a mile when we came upon what looked like writing in the sand. The letters were too long to read and I tried to pull Kate along as if I didn’t notice them. Kate stopped and clapped her hands together. I kept walking but she pulled on my arm.

I felt the sand sinking down all around us. If we took one more step toward the ocean, we’d be pulled beneath the gritty surface of earth.

I was back in a dream I had had the night before: I was on a beach, the sand was silver and the waves that crashed on the shore were a grown man’s height. I was staring at a jellyfish that had been dumped on the sand beside me. I had the urge to stomp on it, the way we used to torture beached stingrays, fish, and sea urchins when I was a kid. I watched the jellyfish grow luminous at its core, a kaleidoscope of colors burst like fireworks trapped in an old jar. This was the jellyfish’s brain, I knew then, and these creatures were smarter than I was. Smarter than Kate and everyone else. The jellyfish shivered like it was cold and I could swear that it inched closer. I was afraid of what it might want from me.

I had thought the dream was over, but now Kate was there, too, and it was real and there would be no waking up safe and sweating and snuggling against Kate.

Fuck. I hate dreams, but dreams seem to like me a lot.

Then I heard Kate reading aloud the words dug into the sand: “It’s happening.”

Kate looked at me and laughed. She was never afraid of anything and I knew it would be bad for her in the end. I had to protect her from my dream, from the jellyfish and everything else.

The earth stabilized for a moment and I thought I might be able to carry on as if the dream wasn’t absorbing us. Then Kate said, “What’s happening, do you think?”

“What?” I asked.

She laughed again and pointed to the letters. I forgot myself and looked where she pointed and read the jagged message. “Ah. Fuck,” I said.

Kate was saying something, or her mouth was moving. Was it the wind ripping the sound from her throat or was I already fading into the underworld? I was there beside her. I was somewhere else. The sky was black and the clouds were gone and I dragged a stick along the sand. I was cold and I was sweating. I wrote as I drowned and then I was lost at sea.

And then I felt Kate’s flesh on my flesh. We were moving. She had hooked her arm around me and she was talking again.

It was a gray day at the beach. We didn’t walk but we took steps and after a while we left the prophecy behind us. The seagulls flew a little lower and I felt comforted in spite of myself.

I tried to scheme quietly in my mind in case the fucking jellyfish were listening. In a war like this the only thing we had was subterfuge and surprise.

This week’s one word prompt is ‘swears’. A short story collaboration between Anyone’s Ghost and Listen to the Babe.

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