The Incident at Soruquenty Beach

Standard

“You’re looking for a story.”

“Yes.”

“My story.”

“That’s right.  What’s your story?  Where did you come from?  How did you get inside that whale?”

Alex held her breath and watched the expressions on Ivy Gravewyrd’s face closely, searching for those involuntary twitches and shifts that might indicate some deeper emotion, beyond the guarded confusion that Gravewyrd had expressed thus far.

Here she was at last, the mystery that Alex had been trying to solve for weeks.  That the world had been buzzing about for months.  Alex had come into the hospital room alone.  Her colleague waited outside, keeping watch.

She noticed the smell.  They were miles away from the ocean now, but it smelled like salt water and seaweed in the little hospital room, even after Alex had opened a window—with the patient’s permission.

Alex licked her lip and tasted salt on it.

Seaweed.

Good for the health of the ocean.  Tasty eating.  But of all the uses Alex might have thought of for seaweed, she wouldn’t have thought it would be any good as a message in a bottle.

She looked at her watch.  She had less than ten minutes to decide if she was going to risk her job—possibly her life—taking Ivy Gravewyrd out of the hospital.

Or if she was going to hand Gravewyrd over.

***

Alex had looked it up on the day she was assigned the case.  The weird phenomenon that people experienced on Soruquenty Beach.  That’s where it started anyway.  And maybe where it had ended.

Alex hadn’t paid much attention before that.  Beaches weren’t her thing.  She only remembered someone else pitching a story on it.  But it wasn’t interesting enough in the early days.  It must have been three, maybe four months ago.

If someone stood on the beach in their bare feet and let the water wash over their feet, they would hear…a song.  Some people claimed it sounded like humming.  Others swore they heard words, but couldn’t quite make them out.  It was like trying to hear a whisper over the crashing of the ocean waves, the wailing of the seagulls, the horns and bells of the boats and ships, and the murmuring of other beach-goers.

The story was mostly vague, but there were a few details that made it seem worth pursuing—at least by someone else.  People said that if they had shoes on, even sandals or flip-flops, they couldn’t hear the voice.  They had to have the soles of their feet touching the sand as the water washed over their feet.  It was as if the water was actively conducting the voice.  And footwear interfered with that conduction, the way a thick wall could block the conduction of sound.

People reported feeling a sense of urgency in the voice that they heard only in their heads.  They translated this into words like “hurry” and “please.”

It was only people standing on the shore, feeling both the sand and the water on their feet, who perceived this voice.  Surfers didn’t perceive it.  Swimmers didn’t.  Sailors didn’t.  And seafaring passengers didn’t.

Some passengers claimed to have perceived the voice, but their claims were quickly debunked.  Attention-seekers tended to exaggerate their claims by adding details, not real details, but narrative details that would make a good story (at least in their estimation).

In the early days, a person had to stand on a particular stretch of the beach to perceive this odd voice.  But soon, it started spreading along the coastline.

And as the…phenomenon spread, so spread the stories.

It was ghosts.

The ghosts of people who’d drowned and hadn’t found their way to the afterlife, so they were hanging around and for some reason had started to communicate through the water.

Mermaids.

People started seeing—or thinking they were seeing—mermaids in the distance.  (It was actually a crowd of porpoises.)

Or it was sirens, whose songs drew sailors to shipwreck.  Because so many people were drawn by the dreaminess of the voice, drawn a few steps closer to the sea.

Most described the voice as pleasant and dreamy in those early day, but something changed one day.  The voice began to feel frantic and disturbed.

All the myths came out of the woodwork then, about the friendly creatures and the deadly creatures, anything that had to do with water.  Kappas, kelpies, selkies, the Rusalka, and the rest.  All the cryptid stories swirled around as well.  Prehistoric creatures living in the depths for eons, easily hiding from young humanity.

And there was a hoax perpetrated by a group of kids who managed to convince a gullible uncle that one of them had found a written message on the skin of his calf.

The message declared, “Soon, I am risen from the deep.”

The boy claimed that he had gone to the beach with friends to experience the voice, and had woken the next morning with a burning sensation on his leg.  When he examined himself, he spotted the writing.  (In actuality the kids had created a stencil and had sunburned the message onto their friend’s leg the previous day.)

As it turned out, that gullible uncle was the mayor of a coastal town that had recently begun experiencing the ocean voice.  He immediately closed the beach and addressed the townspeople with warnings through various media channels.  When he called a town hall meeting where he asked his nephew to come so that the boy could display his calf for all to witness, the boy broke down and came clean.

A story was concocted about the mayor not wanting to scare the public about a potential sewage spill, and therefore making up the story about the message on his nephew’s leg.  The spill was a false alarm, the story assured.  The beach was opened the very next day.

This hoax was part of the reason that most people didn’t believe the first messages—real messages—that came riding in on the waves, seared into fronds of seaweed.  Three repeating messages.

Find me and free me.

Sleep brings relief and only sleep.

Let me out.

No one took credit for the hoax, if it was a hoax.  And these seaweed messages began to come more frequently, along the entire coastline where people could hear the voice.  And the messages became more and more urgent.

Let me out.

Shatter it.

Find me.  Free me.

I’ll be quiet.  I promise.

I’ll be quiet.  Soon.

I need air.

Let me out.

This way.  Come this way.

People studied the seaweed to try and figure out how the messages were written and how they didn’t get ruined as the seaweed got tossed around in the water.

And then one day, a young woman who’d come to hear the voice, was so overwhelmed by the anxiety that washed over her as the ocean washed over her feet, that she fell to her knees, just as a bunch of seaweed was deposited beside her.

She glanced over at the seaweed, and in the split second that the water receded, and the seaweed was half-submerged, she saw the words form right before her eyes.

Keep going.

Almost there.

I need air.

After she reported this, others looked for the phenomenon.  It wasn’t too long before it was caught on video by several people.

If it was a hoax, it was a sophisticated one.

And if the seaweed wasn’t enough, then came the whale.

***

It had happened before, but it had been a few decades past.

A whale had beached on the shore of Soruquenty.

It was still—she was still alive.

And people had gathered to try and help her, to drag her back into the water before it was too late.

She was big.  Too big to survive out of the water for long.  She would overheat.  Gravity would crush her massive bones.

There was no time to bring in experts to check her, make sure she wasn’t injured or sick, though she seemed young and healthy.  And once she was back in the water, she swam away.  Quick and deep she went.  And people on the shore just murmured to themselves, hoping that she didn’t suffer any permanent damage from her short time out of the water.

Most were too distracted by their individual and collective concern for the whale to think much about how it was that she got back into the water.

Or how and why she beached herself in the first place.

Alex was there when it happened.

By chance and by design.  As soon as she had realized that the story about the voice from the ocean was looking less and less like a hoax and more and more like something real, she had started looking into it on her own, visiting various beaches, even though beaches weren’t her thing, letting the water wash over her bare feet as she dug her toes into the sand, hearing the voice for herself, clearer than her own voice.

Keep going.

Almost there.

I need air.

It was rhythmic like a heartbeat.  A slow heartbeat.  She felt some kind of vibration, not in her body.  This wasn’t the way that sound made bones and skin vibrate.  This felt like a thrumming of strings in her own mind.

Alex waited many days, for seaweed to wash up, so she could see for herself, a message forming on the fronds.  She had no luck the first day.  So she returned the next day.  And the next.

That’s how her colleague found her out, the colleague who had been covering the story from the beginning, when it was a blip far, far off Alex’s radar screen.

It was a few days before the beached whale incident.  He accused her of trying to steal his story now that it was becoming bigger.  Alex conceded and offered a partnership.  She had sources he didn’t have, and he knew it.  Sources who dealt with strange and inexplicable phenomena.

So he agreed.  And Alex returned to Soruquenty Beach.

***

It was later in the morning.  More people were coming out.  And Alex was standing in the water, searching for seaweeds, so she heard it.

Keep going.

Almost there.

You’re there! 

Slow down now.

Slow.

Slow.

Slow!

Alex scrambled back as the wave broke on the shore.

When the wave receded, she saw it, just as the other people around her began to cry out and run toward it, and wave to others.

Alex had never seen a beached whale.  Beaches weren’t her thing.  The last time she had seen a whale was in a natural history museum, fake life-size models that hung suspended from the ceiling.

Help.

Alex’s mind was vibrating.  It wasn’t painful.  It was—

Help.

I’m sorry.

Help.

You came too close.  I’m sorry.

Alex clutched her chest.

I need air.

Help.

I will.  But I need air.

Please.

Alex took a step toward the whale.  She noticed.  Even though it looked like heat waves were radiating from the whale’s head.  She noticed that the people who had stepped into the water were clutching their chests just as she was.  She noticed that they shook their heads, slowly, as if shaking off dizziness.

This wasn’t dizziness.  They could hear the voice, too.

They could hear the whale.

The people running on the sand, only the sand, dry or wet, but open to the air, they didn’t feel it.  They ran like normal, until they hit the water, and then they stumbled and slipped, shocked by the sudden vibration and the voice crying out.  They helped each other up.

Suddenly, the vibrating stopped.

No one really noticed the woman crawling away.  She was the only one crawling away from the whale.  Alex breathed shallow breaths and watched the woman, wondering if she should go help if no one else helped her.  The woman stopped crawling.  She turned around and sat on the sand, facing the whale.

The voice had stopped.

Or the voices.

There had been some kind of…overlap.  Not harmony exactly.  But that vibrating, like two strings playing different notes at the same time.  The whale was beached and crying out for help in a heavy and deliberate voice.  And people were helping.  They were trying.  But someone had answered the whale.

The water came in and people dragged buckets through it and splashed water onto the whale.

The water washed over the woman who still sitting on the beach.

And suddenly the vibration returned.  And this time, Alex felt some force pushing her away, not a sudden push, but a steady pressure driving her back.  The people around the whale seemed to all jump back at once.  Or maybe they were pushed away too.

Sorry.  Thank you.

Alex heard the words, but they were faint.

She saw the woman on the beach, staring at the whale.  Her arms were behind her, propping her up.  Alex glanced at the whale.  And this time, as the water receded, the whale receded with it.  The whale slipped away from the beach and into the water.

Some throbbing force, like a slow heartbeat, pulsed out of the whale as she slipped back into the ocean.  As soon as her whole body was submerged, the throbbing stopped.

Alex stumbled forward as the force driving her back stopped.

A cheer went up on the beach.  People hugged and high-fived as they watched a spout of vapor burst from the surface of the water.  The whale was swimming away from ashore.

Alex and few others ran toward the woman who now lay still on the sand.

***

The woman was among a few others who needed to be rushed to the hospital.  While Alex waited for the woman to recover, she found out that those other people were okay.  Alex wanted to be able to tell the woman that when she woke.

Alex had called a relevant source, and was not surprised to learn that people were coming for the woman.  Her source gave her a name, the woman’s name if she was who her source suspected she was.  Ivy Gravewyrd.  The name was unfamiliar to Alex.  And her source would say nothing more.

Before Alex could even beginning devising some way of stalling the people who were coming from Gravewyrd, she received a call from the nurse’s station.

Ivy Gravewyrd had recovered and had asked for Alex.

***

“Ivy Gravewyrd,” the woman said.  “But you know that already.”

Alex took a seat.  “You’re a mind-reader.”

“Not that I know of.  It’s possible.”

“Everyone who was hurt at the beach, they seem to be recovering.”

“You’re looking for a story,” Gravewyrd said.

Alex nodded.  “Yes.”

“My story.”

“That’s right.  What’s your story?  Where did you come from?  How did you get inside that whale?”

Alex held her breath and watched the expressions on Ivy Gravewyrd’s face closely, searching for those involuntary twitches and shifts that might indicate some deeper emotion, beyond the guarded confusion that she had expressed thus far.

Gravewyrd blinked slowly and cocked her head to the left.  “Inside?”

Alex met her gaze and peered at her.  “I’ve trained myself to recover details from my memories that I missed observing when I was actually living the moment.  For my profession, though it helps in other areas of life, as you might imagine.  I thought I just saw you crawling away.  But I didn’t.  I saw you crawl out of the whale’s mouth.”

Here she was at last, the mystery that Alex had been trying to solve for weeks.  That the world had been buzzing about for months.  The owner of the voice from the sea.

They were both silent for a moment.

“May I open a window?” Alex asked.  Gravewyrd nodded.

Alex noticed the smell.  They were miles away from the ocean now, but it smelled like salt water and seaweed in the little hospital room, even after Alex had opened a window.

Alex licked her lip and tasted salt on it.

She glanced around.  There was a potted plant in one corner of the room.  She walked over and picked up a handful of soil.  She then approached Gravewyrd’s bed and placed the soil on an empty section of the dinner tray.

“I think I’ve put something together,” Alex said.  “And I wonder if you would help me confirm my…story.”

Alex picked up a cup of water.  She made a little well within the dirt and poured the water into it.

It was the interface of the saltwater, the sand, and the air.  That was where the voice could be heard.

“This is where your power works,” Alex aid.  “Where the ancient elements meet.  Water, earth, air.  Except for fire.”

Ivy Gravewyrd reached over, dipped her finger in the water, and swirled it.

Mind.

Alex couldn’t help but to gasp.  The voice in her mind was a familiar one.  She’d been hearing it for weeks.  “Mind?”

Fire.

“How is—wait, electricity.  Is that it?  The currents in our brains?  Our nerves?”  Alex widened her eyes.  “Our minds provide the fire.”

All four elements, the juncture, the crossroads where they met is where her power resided, where it could be yielded.

Alex looked at her watch.  According to her source, she had maybe ten minutes to decide if she was going to risk her job—possibly her life—taking Ivy Gravewyrd out of the hospital.

Or if she was going to hand Gravewyrd over.

Alex took a breath.  “You pushed a whale back into the ocean.  That’s a lot of power.”

Gravewyrd nodded once as she removed her finger and wiped it on her sheets.  “It is.”

“But it took a lot out of you.”

“It did.”

“You could be dangerous.”

“Given the right elements.”

“So, were the whale’s thoughts being carried on your wavelength power, or were you using the whale’s brain to amplify your thoughts, like a broadcast?”

Gravewyrd folded her hands on her lap and looked down at them.

“You didn’t react when I told you the people you hurt by accident were going to be okay,” Alex said.

Gravewyrd glanced up and cocked her head again.  “And that means I’m dangerous?”

“It means you’re tired.  And guarded.  But you asked for me.  You asked the nurse if anyone was trying to see you, right?  That’s it.  And I had told the nurse the truth.  That I’m a journalist.”

“And what does that mean?  That I asked for you?”

“It means that for better or worse, you’ve decided to take your chances with me.  You can’t or won’t fight back, not just now.  The people coming to get you now might be the people who had you before or they might not be, but they are the same kind of people, aren’t they?”

Gravewyrd dropped her gaze.

Alex sighed.  “And I’m a lot easier to push than a whale.”

Gravewyrd looked up at her again.  “We both wish we could read other’s mind right now, don’t we?”

Alex shrugged.  “We wouldn’t have to if we are willing and able to tell the truth.”

Gravewyrd narrowed her eyes.  “Okay then, first truth.  Can you really get me out of here and away from whoever is coming for me in the next ten minutes?”

“More like five minutes now.  And yes, I can.  I have…well, let me just show you.”

Alex put both hands on the privacy curtain around Ivy Gravewyrd’s hospital bed.  The colors of the curtain began to flicker, then fade, and vanish altogether until it was gone.

Ivy Gravewyrd gaped.  Her eyes were wide.  She actually gulped.  “You can turn invisible.”

Alex shook her head.  “I can turn other things—even living things—invisible.  But only things that are not much bigger than I am.”  She raised her brows.  “I couldn’t manage a whale.”

Gravewyrd got out of her bed.  “How?”

“It’s a long story.”

Wincing, Gravewyrd gently pulled a needle out of her wrist vein.  “So is mine.”

Alex released the curtain and it reappeared.

“Shall we?”

“And your colleague outside the door?”

“Is a decoy,” Alex said.

“Does he know that?”

“I’ll own up to it later.  He’ll forgive me when I give him your story.”

“Which means he doesn’t know your story.”

Ivy Gravewyrd took a step and started to tip over.  Alex caught her.  Gravewyrd straightened and nodded.  Alex opened the door a crack and asked her colleague to get the car.  After he walked off, she opened the door wider and checked the hallway.  It was fairly clear.

“The whale is okay too, by the way,” Alex said.

Gravewyrd nodded.  “Thank you for letting me know, about the others too, the people.  I’m glad they’re okay.”

“You will be too.”  Alex crossed her arms and turned toward the open door.  “You have to keep contact with both of my hands or you’ll turn visible again.  So walk behind me, palm to palm, and don’t break off until we’re alone.  Are you up for taking the stairs?”

“I should be.  I guess this makes you my next whale.”

Alex took a deep breath and thought, Likewise.

 

Copyright © 2020  Nila L. Patel

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.