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Peter Howard
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waterrose.jpg
Art by Tray Drumhann 2010

THE WATER ROSE

 

Peter Howard

 

 

Was it the water, the sun, or the thing chasing him that made his skin feel like it was about to fall off? Hard to say, but as Benny thumped his hands in and out of the cool blue water he became increasingly aware that it wasn’t the sun.

The water swelled in his nose and mouth, his eyes took in a mixture of bright sunshine and deep blue patterned water, and he was all too aware of the taste and smell of salt. The horizon was empty.

The sound of whatever was chasing him was hypnotic, and it was becoming harder to concentrate on moving his arms. Every time his head dipped below the water he could hear it, getting closer. It can swim like the devil, he thought, and for a moment found an extra kick of speed. He pulled harder.

Just as he started to accept that there was no chance of rescue, and that he would have to turn and try to defend himself, the slightest line appeared on the horizon. White rocks and sand, he could see it. He wondered where Stacks was.

Benny hit the beach. A lot of water rolled off his shoulders as he fought his way out the water. He didn’t look back. His skin still felt funny.

Stacks was already pulling himself up out of the water. At first he thought he was seeing things. A reed red tan covered their bodies, ‘like we were being boiled.’ Panic started to rise in Benny’s mind and he shouted for Stacks to hurry up.

 “Come on!” The water still rushing around his ankles, “get out of there!”

The shape in the water had chased them all the way to the beach. “Come on, Go Go GO!”

When Stacks reached Benny he stared, almost laughing, a kid who just jumped off a cliff and couldn’t believe he was still alive. But Benny wasn’t looking at him, he was staring out to sea, at the shapes that circled and bubbled just ten feet off the shore where the water remained deep.

“Where in the hell are we, Benny?”

 

The thing had eaten Jack. They had no idea how they had drifted so far away from the beach, but when they came to the surface, the thing had eaten Jack.

Something had started to play with his legs while they were trying to figure out where the beach was. At first they though he was playing when he flinched and then he was suddenly underwater.

He disappeared, a rush of bubbles and gargling screams. The water around them had started to look funny. Then they both started swimming, nowhere, anywhere, away from that blood, away from Jack.

They had washed up in a cove. High cliffs flanked either side, the water running from one edge of its mouth to the other. Still, they seemed safe enough here.

“Where the hell are we, Benny?” Stacks asked, almost seeming to read his thoughts, “Cause this ain’t Florida.”

Where in the hell were they? Good question.

“No it’s not.” He looked up the wall. “Tall,” He said not wanting to add it to his list of things to think about just yet.

“How’s your skin?” Stacks let out a sigh and began to scratch at his skin.

“Terrible, it ain’t like any sunburn I’ve ever had.” Benny didn’t say anything, he didn’t need to, they had both been in the water, and they had both felt that strange soft sensation against their skin. It reminded him of something, something from school, some word…

Along the cove wall of jagged rocks there was enough cover to produce shade for someone to lay in if he needed to. They might, his skin was already starting to peel in long sickening white flakes.

 

A tingling sensation shot though his foot and he pulled it back out the water. It was only a few inches deep here. He worked his way along, testing the depth with his foot. But as he made his way towards one side of the cove the water got deep in a hurry. By the time he had reached the end it was deep enough to swallow his leg.

From the mouth of the cove it was impossible to tell how far they would have to go. The rocks pulled back like the end of a ballerina’s foot, like they were standing on the dot of the ‘i’ in ‘pointless.’ There was no telling how many other things lived in that water.

They must have come in on some sort of dune shoot, a hump in the middle of the beach caused by who knew what tidal phenomenon. They’d been damn lucky. He remembered the sound under the water and how it had swelled inside his head. They couldn’t outswim it, and they wouldn’t get that lucky twice.

“I don’t like the look of those clouds’s much,” said Stacks behind Benny, “how much rain do you reckon it’d take to raise the tide?”

Benny looked at the dark rain about to start over the edges of the cliff.

“This is stupid,” said Stacks, “you ever heard of the sea boiling anyone alive? Or coming out of the water and finding the world’s missing?”

“The water can boil around active volcanoes; I saw it in a film once, but never on a beach as far as I know.”

“I’ve heard of underwater volcanoes before now,” said Stacks, still watching the clouds. “Hey Benny, aren’t clouds meant to move away from the beach?”

“I don't know, maybe,” said Benny.

It started to rain.

Thick, heavy droplets pelted the sand, and small divots puffed and spat out clouds of white sand. It made Benny think of machine gun fire.

Benny walked towards the rain unevenly; it hurt to move now, his skin was stretched as if too small for his body. He had always assumed the rain must have an edge, clouds were only so big after all, but he had never seen one. It looked spectacular in the way only a half-seen thing can, like a virgin’s perfume on a hot summer day. He held his hand out and caught one of the droplets. He was not surprised to find that it hurt.

Pain swelled through his hand and he almost didn’t notice. He was tired.  But there was no ignoring what the raindrop was doing to his skin. It didn’t pool like water should, instead it just sat in the center of his palm, a perfect blob. It was burrowing into his hand. He smelled bacon.

Knowing that this was probably the last time the two of them would stand this close to one another,r they ran for either side of the cove.

Benny jumped, hitting his hand against the side of a rock and scrambling under a small outlet just as the rain swept past. His hand shot fresh bolts of pain into his a body. He glanced down to find that his index figure had bent at a funny angle, broken. His head swam, and he saw large uneven white spots dance across his vision. They danced and then turned into red explosions in front of his face, as red as Jack’s blood.

“Stacks!” He didn’t want to look.

“Yeah,” said Stacks from what sounded a long way off. Benny turned, scraping his nose on the underside of the rock, and saw Stacks sitting under a similar outcrop. He gave a sad little wave and smiled. “How you doing?”

“Not bad,” Benny managed, “I banged my hand up pretty good though…feel a bit funny.”

Stacks stayed silent.

“What do you think happened to Jack?” shouted Benny against the oppressive urge to pass out.

“The world ate him,” Stacks quoted, “and I think it’s about to eat us to.”

From twenty feet away Stacks smiled, and Benny found that it made him happy, if only for a little while. Stacks had always made him happy, always too late.

The water rose at the edge of the cove, inching its way towards them. He wondered what came first, drowning? Burning? Or would he bleed to death?

Acid.

The word jumped up into his mind. That was the word he’d been trying to remember. The water, the fish, the rain, this whole place was like one big acid-hole.

“Hey Stacks—Stacks! Check it out man, we’re in one hell of an acid-hole,” he laughed, “get it?”

From across the cove Stacks chuckled.

“An Acid-hole!” Benny shouted, “god-damn assid-hole!”

The water rose, the drops of acid rain fell, little white puffs of sand came up and down. Gradually they began to fall into other little white puffs of sand. Then they fell onto other raindrops and, slowly, the raindrops fell into each other and began to pool. They were sucked down through the sand, but touching. Benny looked over at Stacks. They screamed together, it made no difference. Nothing would make a difference.

“Benny?” said Stacks eventually.

“Yeah?” he said, though what came out was a throaty kind of grunt. Benny’s throat had grown sore from shouting, adding to the growing list of complaints he had for the manager...

“You okay?”

“I feel like I’m going to pass out.” said Benny, and meant it.

“Don’t do that. Don’t…leave me here alone, okay?”

Benny grunted. “I’ll try.”

“Benny?” Benny was silent, his head was water logged with the pain by now and he heard Stacks as if from the bottom of the sea “Benny!”

“Just kidding,” said Benny eventually.

 

The water rose, the acid rain fell, as night began to loom, the water started to pile up on the sand by Benny’s face. He looked at it and imagined he could see though it like some wired microscope, into another world. A noise was hiding behind the rain and the sea breeze, he couldn’t make it out, but it was almost like the sound of a heart breaking. Long thin tentacles began to creep towards his eyes. It wasn’t even a centimeter deep.

“Stacks?”

Benny realized the distant noise was the sound of his friend was crying.

“Want to meet me half way?”

There was a pause, and then a whimper, “Yeah,” Said Stacks “let’s do it.”

The rock cover scratched at his skin as he slid out from under it, but Benny hardly noticed. The rain beat down on his skull as he crawled. Water pooled around his chest, he dragged himself forward. Stacks was crawling on all fours towards him. Benny was dimly aware of the holes in the top of his head, slightly conscious of the blood dribbling out of his ears and mouth and skin. His eyes began to mist; a pink sheet welled up across his vision. He crawled.

In the darkness of the moonlight, Benny stopped moving, and a red thing, stringy with veins and tendons, rocked his body, back and forth.

The water rose and the acid rain fell. In a growing sea between two cliffs in a far off place, the water rose.

 

Peter is originally from England but moved to the United States a year ago. He is a part- time lecturer at Eastern Kentucky University and also does freelance writing on elance.com.

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