by Michael W. Clark

From where he stood he couldn’t see her. It wasn’t the distance or his eyes, but the mist. It was too hot for fog. It wasn’t spray. The ocean was calm. At least, it sounded so. He couldn’t see it either. It wasn’t even like a mist but a distortion, as if his head were in a jar. But if that were true he wouldn’t be able to breathe. He wasn’t breathing well, though. It was the mist, the distortion. He could hear her singing so she was there. She was always there singing and washing. What she was washing, he didn’t know.

His father told him not to notice her.

“How do you do that?” was a reasonable question.

His father gave an unreasonable answer. “Just don’t.”

His father said that about hunger and thirst, too. “Just don’t feel it.” If it wasn’t an unreasonable answer, it was an undoable one, for him at least. The island had little food and water. Everything came from the mainland. Even the wind seemed to come from there. Maybe the mist did, too.

“Why shouldn’t I notice her?” was another reasonable question.

“It is dangerous.” His father only said that about one other thing, swimming in the ocean alone.

He did do it, but only when the ocean was very calm. The ocean was unforgiving of mistakes. Maybe it was the mistakes that were dangerous. The ocean was just the ocean.

Whatever she was, it couldn’t be clarified if he wasn’t supposed to notice her, as if she wasn’t there. She was there. He heard her singing. It was muffled as if she were in the distances, singing. Maybe on the mainland, but no. If she were, he wouldn’t have to not notice. The cliff was dangerous because it was here. It had to be noticed. He was young but understood what to do with present danger. Danger had to be noticed.

She seemed closer now. Closer than usual. Less distance, maybe no distance. If it weren’t for the mist, the distortion, he would notice, clearly. He would disobey his father and notice her. He had gone to swim in the ocean, disobeying yet again. He was in the water. The water was calm, mirror-like. He swam easily. He had been swimming before the mist came. With the mist came the cold. He was very cold but something held him. Held him tightly. He wasn’t sinking but he wasn’t swimming. How could that be?

He had to notice her. Disobey and notice. He was pulled upward into the song. It was a beautiful song. He wanted to sleep but he had to notice her. She was suddenly clearly there. The mist was gone. He coughed water out of his mouth and nose. There was no distortion now. Her face was right above him. Her smile was sharp. Her hair was, too. It looked of eels, toothed eels. He wanted to cry out to his father. To apologize for disobeying, but he couldn’t. Her long, pale fingers were around his throat. The cold came from those fingers and so did his silence. The distortion came back as she pushed him downward. The ocean remained itself but he had made too many mistakes. “Sorry, Father.” He whispered into the growing dark. The cold overwhelmed the distant song. There was no distortion in the black. The dark cold was solid and final.

Michael W. Clark is a former research biologist, a college professor turned writer. He has thirty-nine short stories published. January through March of 2019, his sci-fi adventure Novella, The Last Dung Beetle appeared in Serial Magazine.