Work in Progress

A girl running on a beach. Or was it a woman? The haystacked rocks loomed offshore, Port Harcourt’s familiar coast so beloved of tourists and hated by fishermen. The water was choppy and strange, colored with an odd sheen as if the sea were made of mercury that day, and smelling of the dead things which must fill the ocean.

I dream, thought Erika, but she followed it. What else could she do?

Was the woman running from or toward? There wasn’t panic in her stride, but there was haste. The beach was empty, more empty than it should be for a day with such a dry sky. But even the sky was the gelid mercury color of the sea, and Erika knew it was a day for poison and bad things and the memory of pain.

Then the woman tripped, falling in a skidding spray of sand. A red cord stretched from the driftwood logs at the storm tide line all the way down into the oily surf — a fishing line, taut enough to hold an entire serpent at its end.

‘Ware red, Erika wanted to shout, but she had no presence here.

The woman pulled herself to her feet, shaking sand out of her hair, her flowing white dress, off her knees and elbows, lines of blood on her shins an echo of the cord behind her.

The cord she could not see.

Elspeth, Erika realized, it was Elspeth, even as the cord whipped with a life of its own, the serpent’s narrow cousin, snaring her own cousin’s ankles. Elspeth screamed soundlessly, fighting, clawing at the sand, at bits of wood, as she was hooked and drawn into the merciless silver ocean.

By the time Erika found hands to reach for her own cousin it was too late, and she grasped only the torn edge of one of her grandmother’s pillowcases, the careful lacework shredded.