BEACH BODY

Jenny had her choice of parking spots that time of the morning. Literally the crack of dawn. Darren was capable enough to give the girls their breakfast. She had no expectation of coming home to a clean and tidy house, but it allowed Jenny to spend the early morning walking along the beachfront in order to maintain her figure and, more importantly, her sanity. Time to take in a podcast or arrange her thoughts about plans for their house and the increasingly blurry future.

Most would think her mad for traversing a beach off the North Sea at this time of day. The frigidity, let alone the hour, was enough to keep most tucked safely in bed. Part of the routine was watching the sunrise. Letting this everyday occurrence purify her mind, wash away the troubles of the day before. It worked better than any drug she had ever taken, prescribed or otherwise.

Only once the sun had risen would the trek from one end of the beachfront to the other and back be embarked upon. As with most mornings, regardless of the season, there was a stiff wind battering the shore. Jenny double and triple layered in breathable and maneuverable activewear to guard against the chill without ending up boiling from the exercise.

The water sat at low tide. The soft sand squishy from the beating it had taken overnight. Every one hundred feet were long wooden groynes employed to protect the sand from eroding. Each had to be navigated safely. They were generally lower at the top end of the beach, no more than knee height, growing taller as they moved towards the sea. The morning cold was to be braved and endured. Jenny had little choice but to come out so early, knowing time would wither and disappear in a flash if the effort wasn’t made.

The rigors bearing down on her and her family. Tethers shortening day by day as they each struggled with the daily trudge of home-schooling and working back-to-back-to-back in order to earn and ensure the children were never left unsupervised.

Stopping the days bleeding into one another until you were too weak to make it back upstream. That’s what the walks were about.

Gulls roamed the sky, keeping an eye out for any scraps. No signs of seals or dolphins this morning. Jenny had seen a small crowd in days past gathered round what looked like a dead seal pup. Too weak to fight against the current. 

The roar of the waves belied the fact they fizzled upon the sand quickly returning to whence they came. The detritus of the sea unexciting in the main. Seaweed, sticks and the odd dead crab were the most exotic finds. Today, an old brick resembling a sponge. Jenny gave it a soft kick to figure out whether it was the former or the latter.

A clear, cold day with the bright winter sun glaring into the sea causing Jenny to turn away slightly from the shoreline. Found herself scanning along the sea defense wall, where something caught her eye.

A dark green backpack abandoned by the steps to the pavement. She looked up and down the beach in case she’d missed someone, even looking out towards the sea in case it belonged to an early morning surfer.

No sign of anybody in her vicinity along the beach. No other early risers close by.

Stepping onto the next groyne to get an elevated view, there was still nobody nearby. She leapt to the other side of the groyne and saw him. A man slumped over beside a pool of vomit.

She rushed the small distance between them coming upon the body with intent. It quickly bled away as she took in the pallor of the man. Forever terrible at guessing people’s ages and only more difficult to tell how old he could be beneath his death mask. No blood on his person. She was glued to the spot, staring at the body. She knew action was required, yet stood stunned. The computations whirring at light speed, but actual thought not forthcoming.

Suddenly, as if consciousness was placed back in her body, she moved quickly in search of a pulse. Caution thrown out as an acute sense of urgency took over. This focus was snapped almost as quickly as it had been birthed as she found no pulse and started questioning whether she was checking in the right place or not. Maybe it’s too faint to detect.

She pulled out her phone and called the emergency services.

The operator spoke with Jenny until the ambulance and police cars arrived, discussing the lives of her daughters and life in general. Jenny answered automatically, feeling her brain drifting away as she stole glances at, what she now knew to be, a corpse.

The police arrived first, lights flashing, no siren. One officer took Jenny away from the scene, back the way she had come, where she couldn’t see the body. The second officer approached the body before taking a roll of police tape from his pocket and securing it to the groyne and the bottom of the stairs to the beach front cordoning off the area.

The ambulance arrived as quietly with the paramedics confirming the deceased nature of the man before departing to take on more lively emergencies.

The police officer who took Jenny away from the scene asked her questions and sought a statement. Another officer arrived and stood to the side until they had finished. She introduced herself and had an altogether warmer manner than the young male officer who questioned her.

“Hi, I’m PC Barrett, one of the public liaison officers. I’m here to speak with you informally about this incident.”

Jenny recounted her tale once more. She wanted to keep the lingering shock and stress of the situation hidden. She didn’t know or understand why. Just an urge to return to the normalcy of mere hours ago. The getting ready in the dark and worrying how today’s bout of home-schooling would go.

“Do you wish to see a counsellor following today’s events?” Asked the female officer.

The question made Jenny’s head spin. Her thoughts screamed for the relief. Every ounce of being yelling yes. “No, it’s okay,” she answered with the other side of her conscience not wanting to make a fuss over a mundane discovery. She pondered the millions of people who suffered worse than this and didn’t think she was worth the bother.

A black van emblazoned crisply with “Private Ambulance” arrived to take away the body. Those who had arrived to partake in their own exercise looked on, thankful it wasn’t them making the grisly discovery.

Jenny sat in a frantic mist, thoughts buzzing, images flaring. The only thing that broke the haze was the middle-aged man whose black Labrador had chosen an inopportune spot to take a shit meaning he had to get it bagged up. Just like the man she had found had been. Whisked away in a black bag never to be seen again. Their eyes met briefly. The only gaze with any sympathy.

***

PC Barrett drove her home with another officer following behind in her car. She never messaged Darren to tell him what had happened and he blistered out the front door as the police car pulled into the driveway. Their daughters stood looking from the front door, worried and unsure what to do. The sight of them enough to cause Jenny’s tears to finally flow.

This didn’t help in settling the non-situation causing more distress and concern on Darren’s face. PC Barrett exited the vehicle, leading Darren away from the car to explain the situation. Jenny sat quietly trying to maintain composure for the sake of her daughters.

Darren glanced at the car several times. Jenny felt his urgency to bum rush the car and comfort her in whatever way he could. Jenny got out of the car and fell into the deep embrace of her husband, wishing she to be enveloped in his warmth and transported elsewhere.

“It’s okay. It’s okay,” he said, attempting to soothe. She believed him. She could imagine and remember their everyday lives as they had become. Despite what happened to get here, she cherished this moment.

***

In its way, life went back to normal; dealing with an endless juggle of work, school, entertainment and chores.

For a couple of days, Jenny immersed herself into everything with renewed vigor. She attempted to keep up-to-date with school and work tasks, keep floors tidy of toys and neatly swept, the dishwasher and washing machine in constant rotation and provide activities for the girls to stave off the inevitable boredom and cabin fever that had set in after endless weeks at home.

Her enthusiasm took hold of the house with the girls happy for new things to do, Darren delighted at the home-schooling getting taken care of before they swapped roles meaning he could be the fun parent. Trips to the park, a quick cycle or on especially yucky days, breaking out the sweets and crisps and putting on a film. If he was feeling frisky even a superhero movie for which he would have completely forgotten just how much swearing it actually contained.

Those were the halcyon days post-beach body. The anxiety of that day reared its head without warning during a home-schooling session with her eldest daughter. Going through her online reading book they came upon a photo of a marsh and for Jenny the shapes merged to form the body she’d found on the beach. She had a momentary panic, taking a long, slow blink and a deep breath before looking again and seeing reeds and wildlife depicted.

This initial flash was shrugged off. As the day progressed, Jenny could feel the fear and torment molding across her everyday thoughts like a jelly. Soft enough to work through, yet leaving behind more mess than anticipated.

In the evening, she and Darren finally had time to spend together and relax in front of the TV. Without hesitation they turned on the crime drama everybody and their dog had been posting about. They weren’t ten minutes in when the scene cut to a beach with the camera slowly panning in on a body. Darren fumbled with the remote, its small body slipping in his hands as they attempted to act quicker than his brain would let them. The camera zooming in, closing in on a dead man among the sand. The image blinked away too late. Jenny’s mind could not be rescued from it.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t think there would be anything like that in it,” uttered Darren as he knelt in front of her.

“It’s okay. You couldn’t have known and I wanted to watch it. I wanted to take my mind off things. Look, I’m sure I’ll feel fine in time, Dar.”

She lay awake most of the night. Her eyes adjusted to the dark of the bedroom and all she could envision was the body in the bumpy texture of the ceiling. She tried reading to induce tiredness, but the words spun meaninglessly. She would read a few passages and have to start again, having processed nothing. This was aborted in favor of doom scrolling on her phone. This adrenalized rather than soothed. She needed to fill her head with anything in order to stop visualizing corpses on the ceiling.

One sleepless night turned into another and soon the endlessly busy days became a trudge. Things forgotten about or left to deteriorate. Both daughters’ rooms resembled something from hoarding programs. Their own bedroom like a fabric scrapyard with mountains of clothes not put away and dumped unceremoniously.

“Six plus two is..?”

“Nine?” Jenny’s youngest, Sophie replied.

“No. Remember I showed you how to use your number line if you aren’t sure. Look, here’s six and you need to count two more,” said Jenny, pointing at the number line.

“Seven?”

“No, Sophie! Come on, we’ve been over this hundreds of times now!” Jenny snapped.

“Sophie, go and have a break in the living room, sweetie,” Darren said as he entered the kitchen. Sophie didn’t hesitate to go off in search of something infinitely more fun to do.

“Jen, you okay?”

“Yeah, I just need a decent night’s kip is all. I’ve been up late too much.”

“Alright. I know it can be frustrating, but can you not take it out on them, please?”

“Yeah, babe. Just easy to get frustrated doing this day on day and nothing ever seems to stick with them.”

“It’ll be fine. They just want to chill out and play here. They’re still getting used to the new arrangement. You sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah, Darren. I’m fine.”

***

In order to keep occupied lest she see any more visions of the corpse, Jenny kept scrolling each and every night. Burrowing down wormholes in each topic she saw some interest. Every obituary, book review, lifestyle article read. Links bookmarked away and comments and replies made. She lost herself online. Hid from this thing she had lived through,

Jenny’s self-awareness dissipated as her cleanliness and the house’s declined. Her lack of sleep started to bear down on everyone. Darren bit his tongue against arguments. He asked and asked if she was okay. Waiting, hoping, urging for the dam to break. Any talk of counselling quickly cut off. Jenny didn’t believe she was worth the fuss.

“I think of other people’s shit and it all seems bigger than mine. I don’t want to make an issue knowing people have seen and dealt with way worse than me. It would feel like a waste. I just need time to heal.”

She didn’t want the discovery of a stranger’s body to define her. Even as it continued to strip away meaning from her life.

***

 Darren tried to help in his own, misguided way. A constant struggle not to get exasperated himself. She wasn’t willing to speak about what had happened and he couldn’t force understanding upon himself. He didn’t want to be overbearing about her mental health, but knew she needed help. The question was how to broach the subject. Her pallor, gait and demeanor were not those of the woman he had fallen in love with. He would always love her no matter what. Despite the years between them nothing could coax her feelings into words.

He picked up the slack with the home-schooling and trying to ensure everybody was as happy as they could be. There were washing mishaps; clothes ruined or now a different shade than they started and a near burning down the kitchen incident. He was trying. Striving to keep things together left him exhausted. He was close to sleep before his head hit the pillow each night.

He lay comatose on the bed, sleeping as deeply as ever. His breathing the only thing denoting life. Jenny saw him by tablet light. It was no longer the man she knew. The beach body, stiff and dead, lay next to her. She screamed. With her screams, the figure sat up and said: 

“Come swim with us.”

The body moved towards her and she screamed again and again, louder and louder, three or four times. The body touched her shoulder with Darren’s face materializing, his hands and expression trying to soothe and console. The fear dissipated, replaced with shame as her daughters stood on the edges of the bedroom door staring at their broken mother.

***

While Darren was fully concerned, this was the low ebb he had been hoping for to shake Jenny from her selfless, time heals all wounds phase. She was happy, even eager, to seek help for the sake of never putting her daughters through a night like that again.

The problem couldn’t easily be dealt with and had grown ever more difficult as the days bled into one another with no end. She had tried to rip the pain away without hurting others. All she had done was attach it to them and they couldn’t shake it off either.

Now she was alright saying she wasn’t alright. Talking about it was a wrench, but a weight lifted. Being prescribed antidepressants and sleeping tablets felt weird. The stigma gave off a stench. Taking the prescription attached non-existent silent judgement to the pharmacist, that was merely a figment. She would’ve been shocked to find out how many people were on similar drugs. 

With the sleeping tablets and the slumber they brought, came more dreams

They took her back to that morning before she found the body. These moments would seem a gift. Her final moments prior to innocence lost. As per reality, she would look around for the owner of the dark green bag and hop up and over the groyne spotting the body. She landed, not on the soft sand of the beach, but into piles of cadavers littering the beachfront all the way to the next groyne. Countless corpses in varying conditions of rot and decay. Flies, maggots, effluvia of all kinds chasing the fetid and putrefying warmth.

“Come swim with us.”

“Come swim with us”

“Come swim with us,” whispered hundreds of voices in the air. The phrase repeated over and over as Jenny attempted to find footing amidst the unceasing landscape of decomposition. In this nightmare, Jenny retained an unnatural calm and noticed the distinct outfits of the bodies. Everything about them real, but she retained enough lucidity to maintain it was a dream. Felt like she was learning to cope with what had happened as her brain wrought new vile ways to torture her.

It would be around this time of realization the wave would hit. A wave altogether unnatural for a Scottish sea would boom and collapse across the beach, dragging the deathly detritus, and Jenny with it, to the deep.

Jenny would wake covered in cold sweat and a brief, blind panic, seeking her bearings. The disorientation wore off soon after, but the panic would settle across her chest. 

The sleeping pills helped her feel rested and the anti-depressants brought a new lease of life. The dreams lay like a film of dust over her until she took her pills and it was cleaned away. She wasn’t doing cartwheels and painting rainbows. She was able to make her daughters smile again, love Darren again, even in the bedroom a few times, and yet it all felt artificial. Something rang hollow about it.

She encountered visions of the corpse in everyday images still. At times, subconsciously, and at others she could pick it out of the clouds or a random pattern like a child forcing themself to see faces in objects. Didn’t shock her as it once had. Now sat as a low monotone to her days, humming along her cortex. She could function without feeling better.

The dream birthed new images into her waking life as the field of the dead became the new paragon of terror. She would spot it and fall headlong, just like the dream. The images and smells of tattered limbs and pulsating, mangled skin would cause her to wretch at inopportune moments.

She knew silence wouldn’t help and sought advice from Darren, “These dreams are tugging at me. Weighing me down. I feel better for the sleep, but torn up by the dream. Every night these ungodly images. Always the same.”

“Dreams can’t hurt you, babe. It’s maybe just a side effect from the drugs. Keep trying or phone the doctor again. You’ve been so much better these past few weeks.”

She believed him. A vow was made to ride out the side effects in the wake of getting a quality of life back. The dreams, though, pulled her away from doing positive things for herself. Avoiding contacting friends and family and catching up, trying to have a laugh. She felt enclosed within the bubble of her family and the dream.

A few nights after their conversation the dream added something new. The wave crashed down and sucked Jenny off her feet. This time she did not wake. She opened her eyes to the sting of salt water and corpses upending her through the tide. She flailed upwards, desperately seeking the surface. She grabbed at nothingness in search of help and vomited in her mouth, swallowing it back as the bodies tumbled and collided.

In the real world, Darren heard and saw Jenny thrashing, the movement having woken him. She fought for breath. Impulsively, he grabbed a child’s bucket from the bathroom and filled it with water. He doused his wife with the freezing bucket of water. She belted awake, sucking in a huge peal of air, continuing to struggle and fight. Her flailing unceasing. 

Darren grabbed and pulled her towards him to comfort and assure. He felt vastly out of his depth. He remembered his comment from the other night and wanted to cry himself as his wife wept, soaking him through. Jenny cried and felt stupid for it at the same time. As real as the dream felt, she couldn’t surmise if she had ever been in any real jeopardy. It was impossible not to let fear manifest itself across her mind.

She thought the best thing was to face her lingering fears head on. To return to the beachfront and walk along it like before. Watch the dawn rise over the frigid sea and head down to the sand thereafter. Stand at the edge of the surf searching for everything and nothing. Leap from each groyne unafraid of any grisly discoveries.

That’s how she found herself sitting in her car, watching the sunrise bleach out the dark of the night before. Rising upon the hopes of rediscovery Jenny was holding onto. Not just for herself, but her family too.

Jenny wore the same outfit as she had that day. She noticed as she readied herself to get out of the car. She’d thought nothing of it when getting dressed, simply putting on her exercise gear. She tucked whatever worries back down. She had vowed only positivity this morning. A new beginning.

A giant grey cloud barged in front of the sun and ushered in a heavy rain shower. Undeterred, Jenny ploughed on, striving to throw fear and misery into the sea like a stone. She was at a loss to explain her feelings. She knew nothing about the dead man. He should’ve existed like a dead person on the news. In one ear and out the other in a matter of seconds.

The walk was clearing her head. Creating separation between her and the trauma for the first time. She could finally remember what it was like to feel like herself.

She came to the groyne upon which her fate had twisted. Hauled her from a comfortable life and showed her the gritty pain existing beneath the surface. 

Rain lashed her face, hair twisted in the wind, she looked across, summoning the courage to make a tiny, but significant leap. She planted one foot at a time on the groyne. No corpses or nasty discoveries of any kind. Just the soft sand of home.

She leapt to the other side and breathed a sigh of relief. As she looked off to the horizon, lost in revery about overcoming her fears, her ankle was grabbed. She looked down to see a hand and arm emerging from the sand and pulling her down. She screamed and wrestled to get free. Over her screams, she could hear voices.

“Come swim with us, Jenny. Come and make us laugh. Come swim with us and you’ll never be sad again.”

Jenny pried her ankle free of the grip and backed away, watching the hand blindly search for another appendage to grab. Finding nothing, it disappeared below the surface. Jenny sat shaken and sobbing before snapping to and bolting back the way she had come.

She elicited plenty of looks from those brave enough to venture out in this weather. Nobody asked if she was alright or needed any help as she pelted back to her car with snot and tears streaming down her face. She would’ve probably just kept running even if they had. It was the way of the world now. Don’t ask, don’t tell for mental health.

Her sobbing ratcheted up once inside the safety of her car before it progressed to screaming and banging the steering wheel. She didn’t care about hiding how she felt any more. She was spooked. She couldn’t tell if this was grief, a mental collapse or something else. The comfort and epiphany of ten minutes ago seemed to belong to another plane of existence. She steadied herself and looked out to the sea trying to piece things together. Her head snapped at movement in the corner of her eye and from the shallows she saw the hand and arm beckoning her their way.

She whipped the car key into the ignition and barreled out of her parking spot, narrowly avoiding a collision. She pulled away to a chorus of beeps and gesticulations in the rear-view mirror. These were the least of her concerns. She could barely see the road ahead through her tears. She squeezed the steering wheel until her knuckles were white, desperately trying to keep a hold on reality.

She questioned her sanity. Questioning whether dreams could seep into reality so vividly. It was barely mid-morning and she could envision a night of no sleep. Nor did she want it. She’d fake taking her pills, if she had to.

She drove more cautiously now, attempting to impose a layer of calm in whatever manner she could. She drove, not towards her home, but to the medical practice. She hadn’t planned it. Once parked she realized it was where she needed to be. She needed help Darren and the girls couldn’t provide. She needed someone who wouldn’t get a sympathetic look in their eye and insist everything would be okay. She needed not to be judged. As much as you can love someone and want and ache to tell them everything, sometimes they don’t have the answers. Sometimes the answers are too difficult.

She didn’t know if she’d even be admitted to the practice. Just being here in the car park was the sign she needed. 

She decided to call the practice before making any attempts to get inside.

“Elliston Medical Practice. How can I help?” Answered the receptionist.

“Um, hi. I was wondering if I could speak to somebody as soon as possible. I’m having strange delusions. Hallucinations. I should’ve called sooner. It feels like they’re out to hurt me and I don’t know what to do.”

 “Okay. Are you experiencing anything right now?”

“No, but it happened maybe half an hour ago.”

“Are you having any suicidal thoughts or urges at this time?”

“No.”

“Okay. I will get a doctor to call you back when we can. I’m sure you appreciate we are short handed in the current situation. Is this number alright to contact you on?”

“Yes. How long do you think it will be until a doctor calls?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t say for sure, but I will get a doctor to contact you as soon as possible.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

“No problem. Is there anything else I can help with?”

You can call my husband and tell him where I am and why I won’t be home for a while, Jenny thought before replying.

“No. That’s all.”

“Okay. We’ll be in touch soon. Just hold tight and take care.”

She turned on the radio to a station playing hits from the last 40 years, which didn’t stretch back as far as it once did, and tilted her seat back. She didn’t want to go anywhere until she had spoken with someone. She couldn’t face Darren and didn’t want to put another fright into the girls.

She emptied her mind as the tears dried upon her cheeks. She tried playing happier memories and each time was interrupted by the hand grabbing onto her ankle. All attempts at minor tranquility interrupted by the same memory. She kept emptying her mind until she floated on nothingness.

***

Jenny emerged from the fog to find herself once more on the beach. Slate grey sky, wind turbines and boats out at sea giving a realistic representation of the beachfront. Waves hammered the sand and rocks; it seemed so real. She couldn’t remember falling asleep, but who ever does?

She knew exactly where she was and stood looking at the groyne that changed everything once again. She stepped up, ready for what was on the other side this time. A battlefield of fetid corpses lying in varying states of bloat and decomposition. She looked down to her right and saw the body that had started her break from reality. She didn’t know how to put an end to this. Her life seemed to have stopped from the moment she first clamped eyes on him. 

After weeks of searching for an answer, something to hold onto and pull herself up and through her malaise, she thought back to the offer of counselling. She felt ashamed at her attitude then. She didn’t want the stigma of talking to someone attached to her. She felt strong enough even as her mind told her otherwise. In not wanting people to think she was crazy; she had driven herself to madness. She was intent on finding her way out now. She was intent on parsing herself of this recurring nightmare.

The hyper-reality of the scene, the thoughts coursing through her head made her question if she was dreaming. The corpses left her in no doubt. She had to say the stench had never been this strong in previous incarnations. It hit her fully now, accompanied by acid hitting the back of her throat as she fought the urge to vomit.

She stood on the groyne looking out at the mass of bodies unsure what her next move should be. As she sifted for an answer the beach of the dead came alive.

Their slow, labored movements left her rooted to the spot. She knew she could outrun, but while she had been staring ahead, she hadn’t seen the undead specimens behind her teeming across the entirety of the beach.

Her hand was grabbed from behind, eliciting a scream. A cornucopia of rotting flesh converged upon her. She left her feet and landed in a heap by the body that started everything.

She screamed until the body turned and brought a misshapen finger to its cold blue lips, silencing her. He uncurled his stiff, dead limbs and shambled towards her. Hands in various states of decay clamped around her jaw, forcing it open. The body continued its stuttering march, cradling an object in its necrotic hands. 

A blade of sunlight appeared from the sky. It didn’t vaporize the corpse. It didn’t provide fairy tale protection or savior. He scuffled forward.

Flesh slid off one of the corpses holding her reposed and sluiced against her neck. She could feel herself being pushed into the soft sand. Each meaty putrefying hook digging into the skin of her arms and the back of her neck. He stood over her, collapsing himself downward. Her mouth forced into an “O”. Immense pressure pushing against her jaw and cheekbones. Whatever he held was dropped into Jenny’s mouth causing her to choke. A rank, rotten hand closed over her open mouth.

She wrestled with the need to wretch. She was held completely still by the literal death squadron. Seeing the fruitlessness of fighting off the bodies, she fought against herself. She battled the need to splutter and cough, instead swallowing the thing stuck behind her lips. She ingested whatever had been placed there with no way to fight off hordes of cadavers.

The hand over her mouth released its grip as did the mounds of others holding her. She was offered a bottle of clear liquid and unwilling to go through the same again, took a swig. It tasted medicinal and burned going down her throat, bringing about the coughing fit she hadn’t been allowed before. She stood resigned to whatever had happened and with it a wave of contentment. Something she never thought she would feel again.

***

Jenny’s car was discovered in the medical practice car park the next morning when the receptionist arrived. She recognized it from the day before and called the police.

The police were aware of the situation and while an official enquiry could not be launched, they were aware of numerous calls from a frantic Darren. Informed of her recently altered mental state, the night shift was briefed, but nobody came across her.

As Jenny’s car was being reported to the police, a middle-aged man walking his black Labrador threw a stick further than intended clearing the next groyne on the beachfront. The dog bounded over easily and scooped the stick up into its jaws. On the return, it stopped, looking at something out of the man’s sight. The dog lingered and only looked to its owner when called. Cursing to himself, the middle-aged man hopped the groyne hastily and almost came down on the figure laying on the other side.

It lay face down in the sand and trying to ascertain any signs of life, he turned it gently. He recognized the face of the female he now carefully held against himself. Even with the deathly pallor of her face and lips, he hadn’t forgotten seeing her a few months previously, having made the same type of discovery. 

He had seen worse during his tenure in the military, but the woman’s corpse pained him. The strangest thing was looking out at the waves and seeing a hand and arm stretching out, seeming to beckon him to the water.

Scott Cumming unsuspectingly went to see Garden State wearing his Shins tee. He has been published at The Daily Drunk, Punk Noir Magazine, Versification, Mystery Tribune and Shotgun Honey. His poem, “Blood on Snow”, was voted the best of Outcast Press Poetry Things We Carry issue and nominated for a Pushcart. His collection, A Chapbook About Nothing, was released in December as part of Close to the Bone’s First Cut series. He tweets @tummidge