by Alanna Smith
“I can hear the ocean down there, Pop!”
The boy’s father stood two feet from the edge of the pit—no closer, just in case the ground were to give way even further. The pit was damn near twenty feet across, and at least twice that deep, if not more. He couldn’t see the bottom from where he stood.
“Can you hear the ocean? It sounds like the shell Aunt Margaret brought me last summer.”
The father shook his head. The wind rustled the barley and the sparrows twittered overhead. In their pasture, the cattle lowed, irritated by the hot, heavy air. But there was no roar of waves. It had been fifteen years since he had last heard the ocean. Fifteen years since he and Linda had honeymooned in Atlantic City. He remembered the sound well. The constant white noise drumming against their ears as they ate saltwater taffy on the boardwalk.
Why his son would hear the ocean here, a thousand miles from the sea, was beyond him. “Keep away from the edge, boy, you hear me? And go finish your chores.”
His son nodded reluctantly and ran off.
After dinner, he called Councilman Pete. “Funny,” Pete said, “that’s the fourth sinkhole today. Coulda been those awful storms in June, eating away at the limestone.”
“Coulda been,” the boy’s father agreed.
That night, it rained, and with the rain came dreams. Dreams of pearl-eyed fish swimming through underwater cities. Of drowned mouths open in razor-sharp screams. Of unseen creatures wriggling beneath slime and mud. He awoke clawing at the air, gasping for breath. Linda snored softly beside him, undisturbed.
When he went to rouse his son for morning chores, he stepped in a puddle in the hallway. He checked the ceiling, but it was dry. They had just tarred the roof the previous fall. He bent and dipped a cautious finger in the water. It tasted of salt.
In the next room, his son’s bed was empty, his pillow damp.
The father raced toward the pit, bare feet slipping on clean grass. But when he arrived, his son stood near the edge, not too close.
“Can you hear the ocean, father?” his son asked, not turning around. His voice came from two places at once.
And while he wanted to press his hands against his ears to block out the rhythmic sound, it came. From far below it rose, from the very depths of the earth, a sound like the crashing of waves, or the echo of a heartbeat.
About the Author:
Alanna Smith an M.F.A. candidate at Emerson College, and layout editor of Page Turner Magazine. After receiving her B.A. in creative writing from Providence College, she moved to Nepal, where she spent nine months teaching English on a Fulbright grant. She’s been hooked on travel ever since, and uses her adventures to inspire her writing. She currently lives in Boston with two harps, seven sets of D&D dice, and an entire display case of Han Solo memorabilia.
Follow her on Instagram @alanna.travels