The first thing I remembered was the waves.
They were chilling cold as they started to wrap around my feet and my legs. Then the ice water rushed up around me in a race to conquer the shore.
In its madness, the saltiness ran up my nose and into my mouth to choke me awake from the cold bed of sand. I pushed myself away from it to violently cough and clear my chest.
I then realized I was naked and trembling. The abrasive sand stuck to my skin, and felt it scrape against me as I forced myself up on all fours. My knees burned and my muscles ached from some unknown tumult. Regardless, I wanted to crawl out of the icy surf.
So, I made myself move hand over hand until I was out of reach from the waves. They chased after me, pushing me along with chilly hands until I sat shivering on a powdery dune.
It was then that I examined the black sea. The glittering waves undulated hypnotically against the night sky. I saw a message in its crests and valleys; in how calmly it moved. It said to me, “here… I brought you here… go forth”. Perhaps it was nothing more than my imagination, but it didn’t really matter. I knew I could not sit shivering on the beach.
The thought of ‘where’ became a problem as I looked left and right to see the shoreline extend onward into oblivion. All of it looked as foreign as a strange dream. I tried to recall anything before now, and I realized that not only was this place a mystery, but so was I. I knew nothing of myself. I didn’t know why I was brought upon this shore or what I am supposed to do. I didn’t know who, if anyone, I was supposed to find me or if I was meant to be here at all.
Lost in the stress of it, I found myself waiting for the dawn with my eyes resting on the sea. I stared at it suspiciously, as if it had all the answers. I imagined it taunting me; winking mischievously with the help of waning moonlight. I grew angry with its smugness. I felt like throwing rocks at the rising tide that threatened my toes, but I was too cold to peel my arms away from my body.
The wind had begun to grow fierce and I allowed its painful chill to take away my confusion. What can I do about this coldness, I asked myself? I got up with the urge to find a way out of the breeze. But the moment I faced it, I wanted to turn away again. It had hit my body hard and pushed me a step back towards my seat on the sand, which still had a shadow of warmth. I took another step back as I considered bowing to its fierceness.
My skin was tight and prickling. My muscles were painfully tense. Why face it? Everything in my body was telling me no. Everything was telling me to wait for the sun. I didn’t know where it was, but I knew it had to come up some time. But, looking back at the beach, I intuitively knew its desolation held nothing for me. The sea would not give up its secrets. The dawn only promised hot exposure on my pale skin.
It was the dark that beckoned me to find shelter in its arms. I only needed to face the cold. So, I held myself tighter, my skin pinched and bulging against the grip of my hands. My knees shuffled close together as I took one step after another over the sands.
As I crested the last rise of the dunes, I saw a black world beyond. The abrasive beach had turned to short scrubby grass that rolled in little hills. Nests of trees sprang up where the land dipped. Each one of them a patch of threatening midnight.
The wind began to diminish as I walked into these hills. It began to push me away from the beach and along the grass that crunched loudly beneath my feet. I winced at the prickling sensation, but grew used to it. The sound of the surf grew more distant and I wanted to feel like this was progress of some kind.
However, this new land was not as dead as the beach appeared to be. There was a rustle from time to time. More faint crunches and snaps of vegetation happened to my left and right. Each sound attracted my attention and made me pause in my pursuit. Each one conjured up fear of what might be following me, or even stalking me.
The nakedness of my body made me shiver. There was nothing between me and this strange world. There was nothing to shield me from tooth or claw; anything could spill my blood with the simplest attack. Why was I so helpless, I asked myself? Why was I brought here like this? I might as well have been an infant crawling on all fours.
I looked up from my feet as I continued to wonder, and finally saw the twinkling of a flame in the distance. The light lifted my heart and gave me a purpose. I no longer cared for this cautious pace.
I began to jog towards it. My hands finally broke from their tight grip so they could swing with the pace. I stubbed my toes on rocks. I kicked a fallen branch that was sure to bruise, but nothing was going to stop me from reaching that light. My sprint had made it even more difficult to hear the sounds around me. Fearing that some unknown animal was on my heels only pushed me faster.
When the light came within a few yards, I found it to be an unattended camp fire. It stood crackling, warm, and bright. Its waving flames encouraged me to come closer and feel comforted. I looked around again before stepping up into the dancing light. Seeing no one, I settled on a patch of the same prickly grass, wove my body around itself in a demure pose, and waited for the owner to return.
I was shocked when the first sign was a blanket being draped over my shoulders. I jumped at the sensation and turned to find the face of an older woman watching me kindly as she stepped away and took a seat not far from me.
“So the sea has brought another,” She said matter-of-factly as she sat tending to a mortar and pistol.
“What is this place? Why was I brought here?”
“The sea brought you, but you chose to come, my dear. The sea is only a vessel,” she explained.
“But I don’t remember anything? How do you know that’s right?” I continued to ask with urgency.
“All those who wash up on the beach have chosen to come here. Each come with no memory so they can begin. If you knew all the reasons. If you had them in the forefront of your mind, you would be walled by them. This is why you come naked, emptied, and new,” she ran through the words as if they were deep ruts in a well-trodden road. I realized that she had given this speech to each one she has found. I wondered if this was her job, to greet each one who comes off the beach.
“Well, for each one of you it’s different. It’s certainly a path, but as for what that path is, only you can know. I’m not going to give you ideas, my dear. You will need to form them on your own,” she then took a kettle that had been sitting near the fire and poured the contents of the mortar into it.
“What is that?”
“Something to drink,” she answered simply as she swirled the pot to circulate whatever herbs or roots she added.
“Oh,” I replied as I pulled the blanket closer.
“I’m glad you came off the beach, my dear. Not all who come have the courage to explore. Some stay on the beach waiting for a ship to rescue them. They feel safe in the open, barren sands…but eventually they burn with the sun, wither in the heat, or die trying to swim back across the waves,” her tone lowered as she said it.
“You don’t go to them? You don’t come to them with a blanket?” I asked.
“I’m not here for those who have the will to step forward. I greet the bold and give them what they need to take the next step,” she then poured a cup of the steaming tea and got up with a bent hobble to hand it to me. I took the hot cup gratefully, switching it from hand to hand as it tried to burn my skin.
“It’s hot,” I admitted as I kept adjusting my grip.
“It’s nothing compared to the rest of your journey. Drink up. You’ll feel better,” she suggested. So I did.
(to be continued)