Past Zuma This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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When I stepped into Sadie's car, I took care to watch the hem of my skirt. It was emblazoned with a delicate flower print in sky hues, hardly a thing that I would care to possess under normal circumstances. With Sadie, circumstances were rarely normal.

She greeted me with a casual “Hey.” It was the kind of hello that she only gave when she wore the cavalier Ray Bans she'd bought on sale. They encouraged a deep groove between her eyebrows to accent a gangster-debonair haughtiness. I wanted to remind her I wasn't impressed by the glasses or the attitude, but I supposed it was none of my business, really.

“Which beach are we going to?” I wanted to know. I left things up to her too often, which may have accounted for the fact that our excursions usually ended at some seedy café or park. In each place we would discuss her eternal discontent. Sadly, I was glaringly unfamiliar with my local coastal geography, despite the years I'd spent chained to its shores.

“It's pretty far, up past Zuma. It's going to take a while to get there,” she replied. A little of the indifference seemed to have melted away.

“You mean Malibu?” I asked, smirking.

She raised one of her furrowed eyebrows at me. “It's called Wolf Creek.”

I only just circumvented the impulse to ridicule the obvious target that the beach's name presented. “Okay,” I said instead. The car rolled past buildings that I would never remember the shape of, in continual beiges and browns. I didn't talk for most of the trip, but listened half-intently to her talk of her parents' tyranny, and stared out the window at the stormy textured sky. We drove for a little under an hour.

The parking lot was flat and well cared for, which gave the place an unused quietness. It felt secluded, like nobody cleaned it because it didn't need cleaning. Sadie smirked at me.

“How do you know about this place?” I asked. My shoes grated on the sandy cement.

“My dad used to take me here sometimes. We'd bring back driftwood,” she said, kicking at a bleached lump of it that had been discarded by the bridge that took us over a trickling stream of brine. As she spoke, the wind kicked up and upset her hair into spidery tendrils of singed blonde. It contrasted against the pale radiance of the gray sky. A storm was gathering.

That was why she'd suggested the beach. Both of us freely identified as sunless youths, and as such, would almost never visit a beach the way most of our Los Angeles peers did. We chose remote locations and overcast conditions where we could ponder futures and memorize patterns to replicate with pens later. We would take one another seriously.

There was more coastal brush over the bridge, and then a dune. The sand was an uneven white in the muted light of the cloudy sky, and the bite of seawater tinged the air. As the ocean swelled into sight, Sadie laughed melodically. The sound seemed flat and distant amongst the clamor of the agitated tide, but I turned my head to investigate. She had slid down the dune and now gracelessly sat in a pile of sand with her palms upturned.

“Some friend you are,” she choked out as I laughed at her. She got up and dusted herself off, and I wondered whether I should wait for her. The ocean lull enticed me, so I didn't.

Rocks larger than our fists dotted the spongy sand that the waves touched. I picked one up with two hands and lobbed it over my shoulder. It plunked into the saltwater with a hefty splatter just a few feet away. Sadie collected smaller stones, ones that would sail half the length of a football field into the ocean, until we lost sight of them. She had a killer arm; she'd played on a boys' Little League team as a kid, her dad had once mentioned.

“Good shot.”

“Hmm?” She looked at me sidelong. “Oh, thanks.” She squinted somberly at the sea. It was 5 o'clock.

We threw a few more stones into the ocean. I pocketed a rounded quartz for my mother. Sadie turned east, toward the mountains. “I've never been over there,” she conceded, indicating a barren sprawl of wet sand and trickling puddles. Several hundred birds congregated there. I grinned. She started off.

The trek was more difficult than I'd anticipated. Brambles curled around my boots, which sunk into the sand when I didn't pay attention. We had to scramble up knee-high ledges, her in black jeans, me in a printed dress. Our knees were damp with dew. Sadie walked ahead of me with a thin rod of flotsam that she carried like a rifle. A few minutes passed in relative quiet.

“Look at this,” Sadie murmured. Her voice was coated in awe. “It's disgusting.”

She was staring into a tiny valley carved into the plants and sand. I approached cautiously. “It is disgusting. Is it sad, do you think?”

“I'm not sure. It's f--ked up. But sad?”

“I think it is,” I concluded. A pelican was discarded belly-up on the sand. We could still distinguish details in its elegant beak. Puckered, purple eye sockets were tucked into the bird's blackened feathers. Its spine was exposed in the architecture of a few white bones.

Sadie wordlessly plucked the stem of a yellow flower from under my boot and laid it soundly on the little corpse. “You're right,” she said. “It is sad. Do you think we're the only people ever to have seen this pelican?”

“People?” I repeated. “Humans? Yes.”

“Then it's sad,” Sadie confirmed, and there was nothing more to be said.

Thin droplets of rain seeped from the sky. Sadie looked up lazily. “It's getting pretty dark, isn't it?” She wrapped thin arms around herself, for want of a jacket. The rain sprayed indiscriminately across the birds, the sand, and us.

“Do you want to head home?”

“In a little while, I guess,” Sadie said. She looked older than I'd ever seen her, framed by the same yellow flowers.

“F--k.”

“What?”

“I left my camera in your car.”

“What do you need a camera for?”

“To take pictures.”

“Hmm. Do you want me to come with you to get it?”

I thought about it, and I would have loved for her to come with me. The twilight was sorrowful and dim, and the beach was terribly deserted. But I looked at Sadie, leaning against speckles of yellow, glaring at an agitated flock of birds, and I didn't feel I had the right to interrupt. “It's fine. I can go. Just give me your keys.”

It took me about 15 minutes to retrace our steps to the car. I collected my camera, and by then the sky was an ominous royal blue, a thin crescent moon issuing the only light.

I walked back to Sadie, more slowly this time. The thud of my boots on the wooden bridge was thick and heavy, and cut deeply into the hiss of the rain. Fresh water diffused and contrasted with the salty scent that I'd grown used to. In the falling light, trees, bushes, and grasses hatched together in murky blues and blacks.

I expected Sadie to be there, waiting indifferently. But when I got close enough to the flowers to pull out their gold petals, there wasn't even a bird in sight. The rooted undergrowth seemed to crawl around my feet. I felt sick.

“Sadie?” It was more of a whisper than a call. I didn't want to interrupt the sizzle of the rain. The sky was only getting darker, and my eyes weren't adjusting properly.

“Sadie?! F--k. It's not funny, Sadie. Where are you?” I was never going to be home again. I was going to be kidnapped, raped, and forgotten. “Sadie, come on!”

I regretted leaving my cell phone at home next to the bathroom sink. I regretted not telling my brother I loved him.

“Sadie!”

I really shouldn't have forgotten my cell phone. I would be found dead in a ditch somewhere in a week and all my mother would say was “I told you.”

I sprinted toward nothing in particular and, of course, tripped on a thicket of brambles. My hands flew out to break the fall and caught the edge of a rock that jutted out of the sand. A gash the length of my thumb sprawled down the inside of my forearm.

I was truly sick now, and hiccupped a wave of bile and frustration. Tears leaked from the corners of my eyes, indistinguishable from the rain.

The words “hey, hey, hey” floated toward me like a song.

“F--k you, Sadie! Where were you? I thought you'd left me for dead!”

“I was just messing with you. Would you please calm down?”

“I can't calm down. You practically abandoned me miles from any streets I know the names of.”

“Would you listen? I followed you, all right? I didn't think you'd be able to navigate this place at night, so really-”

“Can you just shut up, Sadie? I thought I was dead.”

Sadie held out her hand to help me up, but mine was bloody and grimy, so I stood without her assistance. On our way to the car, we found another dead pelican.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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Pumpkinscout said...
Sept. 13, 2011 at 12:06 pm
Eerie but really good...keep writing! :)
 
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