Momentum carries me out of the water. Forwards, forwards, toppling. Something scratches my leg—a rock, or a stick—I don’t care. All I care about is moving forwards.
The sand beneath my feet feels so comforting that for one maddening moment I consider burrowing into it; gorging myself on it. But I can still hear the ocean at my back. It rumbles and roars. It reaches out with foamy white fists, clawing at the beach. It drags the sand away in layers, revealing the shapes of long dead, sideways things—crabs and fish and squid.
I feel the spray. Little more than a mist it still burns my skin like acid. I scream but make no sound. I stumble forwards. Forwards. How far must I run to get away from the sea?
I limp across the sand, past stones and overturned logs, until I reach a wall of trees raised up on a stone outcropping. The solidity of the rocks is comforting beneath my wrinkled palms; the geometry and dryness of them stark contrast to the wet, roaring horror at my back.
I clamber up the rocks and inhale the smells of the jungle. Great spiders hang down heavily between the trees, their markings like tribal war masks. I swat the spiders away. Here, amongst the cicadas and the rustling leaves, I finally rest.
But not for long. Beyond the trees the ocean still calls to me; it calls me back to that that uncanny, churning vastness beneath the waves. That terrible void.
I peek out from behind the tree. Sheets of water glisten as they glide up the sand. Back further, the ocean heaves and the waves grow higher. I watch one wave rise high above the rest and come crashing down towards me. I step back even as briny salt water spray lashes the trees.
I need to keep moving.
The jungle is filled with tiny blades. Serated branches and stings assail me at every step. The prickles and stingers and bugs cling to me like the decorative baubles on a festive tree.
I use vines to pull me up in places where the rocks are too steep. There is a cave near the top of the hill, set back from the edge. I frantically scrub off the detrius of the jungle as I descend into the darkness.
I do not want to sleep, but unconsciousness claims me. My body is broken and bleeding. The pain is too much. I dream of the thing that pursues me, the one-beneath-the-sea.
When I wake up the water has receded away from the trees. Spread out across the beach like oily, glistening entrails, are heaped piles of seaweed. There is so much of it that the sand can barely be seen beneath. There is a thick, salty tang in the air that makes it hard to breathe.
The water, it seems, cannot reach me here. But I don’t have the energy to celebrate. I barely manage to crawl away to toilet myself. I return to the cave beset with stomach cramps. My body is covered in perspiration and even the slightest hint of a breeze makes my teeth chatter.
I need to light a fire, but I have no way how. I need to eat but the only thing I can find nearby is a fallen coconut that I can’t break open. I chew on some of the stringy fur that clings to the outside of the shell and it doesn’t taste good.
I am very sick.
Sometime in the afternoon a breeze burrows down into the cave. I shuffle to the entrance and look down at the waves. They look so far away. I am so hungry.
I try—again—to break the coconut, but I can’t even lift it. My skin is grey. I have a wicked headache that pounds all my thoughts flat leaving only thin delirium.
The sky turns orange as though the sun has been punctured and is bleeding. The ocean has grown still and looks very dark. The beach has been strangled by even more seaweed. As I watch it twitches in the breeze.
I drift off somewhere between sleep and almost-death. I awaken, feverish and clawing at myself. I need water and the absurdity of that thought makes me laugh huskily. I look down at the beach and notice even more seaweed than before.
Now the seaweed is clinging to the front row of trees. It stretches between them, hanging down from the branches like heavy, unwashed hair. It jiggles and shakes as I watch it. It quivers in the wind.
But there is no wind.
The seaweed is sliding wetly between the trees. It slithers up the rocks and into the cracks between them. In one place it gathers in a lumpish, squirming mass and begins to rise up into the shape of a man.
I claw at my face. I glance about and see only the coconut. I frantically gather it into my arms, clutching it against me like a baby while I gather my breath. It takes every effort for me to raise it up higher—above my head—as high as it can go. My arms are shaking.
I close my eyes. I can hear the wet slurping of the seaweed as it comes to the entrance of the cave, but I won’t let it take me.
I drop the coconut on my head and it cracks.