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My eyes snapped open. I had no recollection of the few days before. They dragged back shut again as the sun glared down on my face and stung me. I rolled over moaning. My head was banging with equal intensity of a mass parade, let alone a mere single drum. I could feel every pulse run through my body like an electric charge; or perhaps it was more like tiny shards of glass, wearing me away from inside-out.
When I finally opened my eyes a second time it was slightly easier as the sun wasn’t so blinding side-on. The tide was at my toes -- nipping at me like a child’s game of dare. I sat up and saw a pair of shoes. Mine, I thought as I slipped them on.
There were two stretches of beige either side of me that could have been identical if it hadn’t been for the mysterious dot that was formed along to my left. My curiosity must have got the better of me as I got up and walked towards it.
The wind was bitter and flung my hair back furiously. It howled as if it were a wounded animal escaping from the extensive hunt. The walk blurred and before long, the speck became a line and the line became a form that was a little more familiar.
I ran towards the figure to realise that it was female and was heavily embedded in sea-weed. Meaning totally submerged.
She was pale blue and -- oh, God - she wasn’t breathing. I knelt down at her side and shook her arm with some small kind of desperate hope that I might be wrong.
But she was cold. Stone cold.
I shook my head and turned away, over whelmed by remorse. I could only just turn my eyes back after I’d totally, 100% convinced myself that there was nothing I could have possibly done to change that.
Her hair was as ivory as her skin might have been once before, but had been twisted with so many weeds and sand so you had to look hard. Really hard. Her face looked like it wouldn’t have changed much since, but her eyes were closed so I couldn’t really judge it very well.
So, I gave up and my eyes strayed to her neck -- or rather, what was on her neck. More seaweed, but different this time. If seaweed was priced, it would be worth a thousands of thousands. It was just green shades of stringy weed gathered together around her neck, but it was the way they were strung that made them look expensive. It reflected the girl, she looked expensive too. Somehow, this wasn’t the thing that really had me vexed; it was the peculiar shaped pebble, strung loosely upon it. It seemed so beautiful, yet plain. So priceless, yet ordinary. It was far too special.
It was cool grey - no -- silver even, but with only a dull, and barely noticeable shine. My hand unconsciously reached forward, half asleep. Only then, after devoting so totally to it, was I ripped away as the searing pain shot through my hand. Burned, I withdrew it quickly.
I paused a single, thoughtful moment before picking up a cord of seaweed and wrapping it around my fingers and palm. Simple protection -- I just hoped it would work.
The multi-tonal thread around her feeble neck looked dry and weak - it was on the verge of snapping anyway. That’s only what I told myself afterwards. That way I felt I could somehow live with myself easier. That way I could bear looking in the mirror day after day and not see a monster where my face should be. That was my way in trying to believe something that wasn’t true. Because it wasn’t true.
I was still expecting some kind of fight from it, but it gave way immediately like crop to a scythe, leaving me to fall back into air. It was then that the woman seemed to wake from her mortal sleep to sit up abruptly and grasp wildly at the place where my neck was a second ago.
But then, mysteriously, she blew away. It was as if, in one single moment, she had transformed from a perfectly solid - with the exception of being slightly dead - human being, into the mere mound of sand that spread around me. It was like seething butter beside my heavy body, my lead-filled limbs. Breath, I thought. But I just couldn’t help not.
The stone also seethed in my hand in a fight against the moist seaweed. It took me a while to notice the distinct burning smell trailing in the space above my hand. A shout erupted from my mouth before I had a chance to stop it and I sent the rock flying furiously across the beach. It was too dry.
My hand was frazzled; a perfect stone-shaped buzz on my palm left me wary. I didn’t bother to check at first -- my instincts wouldn’t, couldn’t lie to me. Normally I would have reacted quite badly to a stone than tried to burn a hole through my hand, but I just wasn’t feeling it today.
I, sensibly, forced my attention into seeing what I could do about the wound. It felt so raw and painful. I checked my palm, expecting a sight, but for some odd reason, there was no scar -- not even a mark. Strange, I commented before correcting myself properly after: Unnatural. That was better.
It was only when I turned my hand over and saw what had really happened did a shiver cascade down my spine. There, on the back of my hand, was a charcoal black shape I knew only too well. I scanned the sand for the stone - totally missing the fact that there was no seaweed in sight - when there really should be heaps still lying around -- until I had it firmly resting in my left this time. The stone, funnily enough, was now completely cool and not so dissimilar to ice. Rather annoying when you have a half-cooked hand.
Then another thought occurred to me. The girl had been alive -- she must have been. The stone had been warm, burning. Then I’d pulled it off her and it had gone cold. The thought trickled down my back like the icy truth I knew I had to face some time: I had killed her. I had sinned.
A wave of despair washed over me, or was that just the heat? I didn’t know - it was so hard to tell - but I suddenly felt heavy, like a ton of lead had just been placed around my shoulders. It held me down in the fiery sand.
The stamp on my hand was now torturing me incredulously, wisely siding with the stone. The two shapes were identically the same. Criminal branded.
I wanted to close my eyes. I wanted to fall asleep and never wake up. But every time I tried, I was shaken awake again by the flashing image of the sleeping girl. Only sleeping.
Just sleeping? Could she have really been? She was so cold I swore she was dead, but how could I explain the abrupt awakening, the flying away in sand?
I’d made up my mind. I’d been warned to keep away from Witch-craft as it was a sin. So I hadn’t sinned at all; I was abolishing another sin so it was Ok. I was fine. I was safe.
Only one person could belong to that voice. Finally!
“Emmy!” He appeared from the edge of the cove behind a cluster of rocks. “Oh, Emmy. Emmy. Thank God you’re Ok!”
I only flinched slightly at the sound of him saying â€˜God’ but apart from that, my face betrayed nothing beyond the usual. Nothing had happened. I slipped the stone into my pocket unconsciously.
“What happened? How are we here?”
“You don’t remember?”
This must have been difficult for him as his face twisted into discomfort. Now I had to know.
I tried to sound encouraging, giving him something relatively close to a question to answer. He just turned his head way as if someone -- or something - was slowly gashing out his heart. I suddenly felt quite bad. I hung my head ever-so slightly in subtle regret.
“Well,” He started. It sounded slightly promising. “Race you to the sea!” Grrr.
I sighed as he set off and I tried to run after him. I was visibly wobbly on my feet and wasn’t so sure about going at the speed I was when my limbs were so stiff. But he slowed for me, obviously to make the victory much, much closer and much more pleasurable to him. He would give me his â€˜Nice try. Ha! Sooooooo close that time. Maybe one day…’ His laugh was so aggravating when it was in that tone. I gave up and let my instinct take over to avoid the inevitable disappointment heading my way. Just like every time.
Hang on a minute, this wasn’t right. I’d only known Mark for 5 days. How did I know so much about how he would react? No, forget about it. For now, I would. I turned my concentration to not running head-first into the sea. I tried to slow myself. I failed.
I ran head-long into the murky blue and green and braced myself for the cold water rush, and the contrasting scold from Mark. But that changed -- it all changed. The water rose, instead of hitting me, inches before my feet touched it, and grouped together to create some kind of frozen tidal-wave.
The effect was immense. I still felt the cool sand beneath my feet where the water had just left it. I still felt the bitter, unchanging wind. I still felt Mark, though tenser now. He had a much better talent of stopping his feet while they were still listening.
The world slowed. My mind wandered. It wandered until I was completely alone; no Mark, no sea, no wind. Just the sky.
It held me together in it’s blue. It was a cushion, soft and inviting. It was surprisingly warm.
Shouldn’t it really be cold up here?
I didn’t stop and wonder for long. Did it matter? For now, it was enough. Well, not for that long. I was bound to wind up back on the ground sooner or later. It seems, it came sooner.
“Emmy?” Mark said. It was an anchor. But despite the strength of his words, his voice was weak - I’d never heard that before. “What have you done?”
The severity of the situation came crashing down on my already beaten body. Like hail-stones. Is it possible to sink lower than the ground itself? I don’t know, but it sure felt like that to me.