By Sal Braden
**Content Warning: the following is NSFW and contains a
graphic depiction of drowning.**
It is mid-afternoon.
You feel the sand beneath your body shifting as you lie
back. The tide flows over your skin, pushing you forward and tugging you back
in a rhythmic sway. Forward and back. Forward and back.
Your hair floats on the surface of the water. Surf washes
over your arms and legs. Despite the coolness of the ocean, you feel warm. The
sun lingers over your face, arms, chest.
You can’t imagine a time when you felt more secure, more
comfortable than this moment. You are absolutely at peace, absolutely calm.
You might be more concerned, because encircling your wrists
are metal cuffs. The cool steel is at odds with the soft, pliable water and the
constant shifting of the sand beneath you. However, you are not afraid of the
steel. You know you can get out. After all, they are only anchored to sand. It
will be the work of a moment to free yourself, and in the meantime, the waves
and the sunlight have you cradled in their spell.
The waves continue to rush over your bare skin as the tide
flows in. Push and pull. Push and pull.
You can feel your body becoming warm, then hot. You arch in
supreme delight, gasping, calling as the water pleasures your every sense. You
thrust your head back and cry out: “Ah! Ah! Ah!” Then, you wince, choke,
and lose even the simplest word as the physical sensation overwhelms you and
you become one with the pulsation of the water, streaming over you and past
you, filling your blood vessels and your nerve endings with the keenest
enjoyment. Your eyes bulge, your mouth forms an irrepressible “O,” and your
entire body spasms, over and over and over and over and over.
And then it passes.
You begin to shiver uncontrollably. You lie back, spent.
For a while you just lay there in wordless peace. It is as if the ocean has
taken every last shred of resistance from you and has left you motionless,
unable and unwilling to change your state.
It is as you lie here in this bottomless stillness that you
realize the water has crept much higher. Now, it rushes past your jaw, while
the rest of your body is propelled by the surf underwater. You take a breath,
then another, and decide it might be time to free yourself. So you tug on the
cuffs which are anchored in sand. They don’t move.
You pull harder, but still they do not budge.
You think to yourself, There must be bedrock below the
sand. You strain and pull, muscles bulging, eyes popping, but still the
cuffs remain firmly locked in the sand.
You feel yourself break out in sweat. Odd, how being coated
in sweat feels different from being covered in ocean water.
You realize you may be about to die.
You pull harder, resisting the oncoming fate you can feel
now tugging at the strands of your life. The cuffs remain locked in the ground,
and your wrists begin to ache. You thrash and struggle to no avail - you are
pinned, and the water rises higher, ever higher.
You take another breath and find it interrupted by cold
surf. It chokes you and you gag in shock, coughing. From that moment on, each
next breath is a fight with the surf as it washes over your face, your nose,
your mouth, your eyes. The saltwater stings and you find you must first expel
the water that has gotten into your throat before you can draw the next breath.
And still the ocean rises.
You prop yourself up, trying desperately to keep your mouth
above the waves. Maybe the tide won’t rise any further. Maybe you can make it
if you just keep your head up for a few hours. Then, the tide will fall and you
can call for help. It will be hard, but you can do it.
Then the next wave crashes over you and you swallow more
water than air, and your fragile hope evaporates. Still you cannot face the
reality of your increasingly dire situation, so you struggle harder. You thrash
and pull at your bindings, but they do not give. The water slides out and
leaves you with an inch to spare - a respite. You gulp as much air as you can
before the next inevitable wave comes crashing in - larger than the last,
stronger, faster. It covers your head completely.
You can see the sunlight twinkling off the surface just
above your forehead. If you stretch far enough, you can just make it. You keep
trying, keep pushing upward. Sweat breaks out again across your forehead - a
sweat even the ocean can’t whisk away.
Your mouth opens and you grunt. “Ugh! Ugh! UGH!”
You expel bubbles, but the surface comes no closer.
You wait, and sure enough, the inevitable pull of
the surf grabs you and carries you backward, and you wait for the water to
break over your head.
But it does not. The tide has risen to its zenith, and it
is just out of your reach.
You struggle again, one final push, but you are not closer
to the sky. The pain in your chest magnifies. The ache in your wrists subsides
as you lose feeling in your extremities. Every limb becomes numb and the beat
of your heart grows thunderous, pounding knife-like in your chest and
Your body begins to shut down in a desperate attempt to
preserve critical functions, but with each system failure you grow weaker and
weaker. You flap about weakly, gesturing uselessly with your legs. Your vision
dims, the sound in your ears grows dull and muffled. Your lungs cry out for air
and the will to resist taking a breath diminishes with each pounding of your
You try to remember where you were before you were ensnared
by the ocean. Was that Tilly who showed you the TikTok video of your cousin
doing the macarena, or was it Rip? What color are Rip’s eyes? They always
reminded you of seaglass, didn’t they? Seaglass, sea class, seee cass……..
How much cash is in your wallet? Hopefully enough to buy
that ice cream cone tomorrow…………
You are unconscious now. With one final, last-ditch attempt
at survival, your lungs convulse and you gasp, but there is no air.
Water pours down your throat and into your lungs, filling
them with its icy embrace.
You choke once, twice.
Then bubbles stream as you deflate, your last breath
floating to the surface just inches from your nose. The bubbles pop on the
surface, temporary evidence of your last gasp.
Your corpse shifts with the water’s current, back and
forth, back and forth. You stare sightlessly upward, gazing without
comprehension at the beautiful, shattered sunlight.
*Editor's Note: Sal Braden has not provided a bio...