by Lily MacHugh
It took many careful, searching steps over the rocky seabed to get past the sand bar into deeper waters. She let her fingers drag behind her as she went, feeling the slow drop in temperature as the floor fell away. The buoys marking safety’s perimeter were far behind her, barnacle crusted and ignored. The pandemic had left the park deserted, no one sat in the peeling white lifeguard chairs dotting the beach.
She wasn’t worried. The Long Island Sound was rife with occasional algal blooms and little else of note. She was a strong swimmer, her thigh muscles heavy after the past two months spent treading water and roaming the nearby trails aimlessly. Working remotely had left her feeling perpetually trapped, even with the cloud tufted sky hung unending above her she felt the unease working tendrils through her. She took a gasping gulp of air and expelled it quickly, letting herself sink achingly slow to the bottom, eyes screwed tightly shut.
The quiet was a welcome reprieve, the only sounds the distant ticking of the constantly moving sand and the unsteady pound of her pulse beating in her ears. She let her mouth hang open, enjoying the gentle brush of bubbles slipping past her lips, wobbling against the tip of her round nose as they ventured upwards. There was an unopened pair of cheap goggles in the backseat of her car and she longed for them now, to look out across the sea bed and see what grew past the shoreline. The sharp bite of the salt at the corners of her eyes kept them closed tight.
A flounder wiggled suddenly beneath her thigh, the slick skin rippling then sliding unnervingly away. The yelp of surprise choked her, letting water in past her barricade of bubbles. She kicked off the floor, pushing breathlessly up, up, her lungs aching and water gagging her. She sputtered as she broke the surface, tears melding seamlessly with the salt water slicking down her cheeks. She coughed wetly, hugging her stomach as she heaved, her legs still kicking slowly to hold her up. The panic took a long time to release her. She hung for a long moment with eyes closed, the adrenaline making her limp limbed and tired when something subtle brushed her outstretched fingers as they dangled near the surface. She opened her eyes, thinking it must be a wayward clump of seaweed.
She squinted, the noonday sun bleaching everything a painful white. It wasn’t clear at first what she was looking at, like a strange, rippling reflection of her own sunburnt face, shots of pink and red splayed across the shifting surface of the water. She dipped her pruned hands in, cupping the shimmering light and lifting it up close to her face. Globules in prismatic shades of sun-kissed rose slid between her fingers, stretching long and thin till they reunited with the lapping waves in a pool much wider than she had first realized.
That’s when the burning started.
About the Author:
Lily MacHugh is a grad student in the WLP program at Emerson college focusing on creative writing. She went to the School of Visual Arts for her undergraduate degree, majoring in Cartooning. She enjoys all things spooky and weaves these unsettling elements into her writing.
Her work can be found at https://www.lilymachugh.com/