For King or Commoner

A crescent moon of sand, snow, and stone curved around the bay, punctuated at either end by a sharp, black, jagged outcrop of rock. On the edge of one such rock sat a church, battered by the blinding wind and icy waves, but still there, and still standing. This was where the woman was heading.

Sand slipped through her feet as she stumbled along the shoreline, her eyes fixed on the speck in the distance. If she could just reach it—then what? She doubted that she’d find anyone else there. Anyone alive, anyway. Shelter, then. Better to be curled up in a dingy corner of a rundown building than huddling against the waves in a damp cave. But more than that, the church was somewhere to go, a goal to fixate on. She had nowhere else to go.

She had known this beach all her life. Memories used to swamp her mind with just a breath of salty air. Her childhood was spent exploring rock pools and skipping over boulders and rocks in search of tiny, defenseless creatures to gawk at, capture, and release. How young and stupid they’d been. She remembered days of expeditions, long walks deep in thought, and clandestine moonlit kisses…

A shock of cold brushed against her feet, yanking her out of her daydreams. She shrieked as she scrambled backwards, out of the water that had crept up around her ankles. She’d strayed too close.

Her eyes drifted up from the tiny ripples of surf around her to the crashing waves rolling towards her. A boat, a small one meant for fishing, was pinned to the rocks, smashed by the sea. A small stain of red hull and broken sails slumped in defeat. It doesn’t pay to be careless, not these days. Who knows what would emerge from the depths if you dared enter its territory?

She shook herself out of her trance and managed to get to her feet and keep walking.

In her memories, the sea was blue, glimmering in the sun. Now, in reality, it was always a stark, unyielding gray. She hated the sea these days. It had ceased to be a source of joy and familiarity and had become something to be feared. As a child, she’d often heard her grandfather say, “The sea has no mercy, for king or commoner.”

She’d never really understood that, until the ocean had shown what laid beneath its immense, cold depths. Until something had risen and taken everything. Now, whenever she looked out at the stark gray mass that shifted and stretched on forever, all she could see was possibility. Things lay beneath the water that could destroy houses with a single tentacled swipe.

Her town used to be a fishing village. Once. Now, all there was to show that anything had ever been here were a few ruins and the human detritus that littered the beach with every tide. Driftwood and scraps of twisted metal. The odd pathetic scrap that might once have been something living, or might have been just a lump of cloth and seaweed. She never looked close enough to be sure. Nothing else was there to ever suggest anything but water, sand, stone, and one lonely, scared human.

This was here before you, the sea seemed to whisper as she turned her back to the wind and stumbled on. It will endure you, and it will be here after you.

By Zahrah Abdulrauf

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