The Sea and the Old Man
“Hello. You’ve come back,” said the sea to the old man in the worn woolen peacoat.
“I said I would, didn’t I?” the old man said, his voice gruff and weighted with decades of care.
“I…wondered.” The sea sent a small wave ashore that lapped a bare inch from the man’s black shoes. It lingered a moment, then receded. It was a gesture of conciliation and care.
“You needn’t have. I always come back.”
A seagull cried in the distance. It sounded like a sob.
“Oh, don’t you carry on, now,” the old man said and stepped closer to the line between water and beach. He bent down slowly, winced at an ache in his back, and picked a blue-white shell from the sand. He turned it over, peered at it, blew off a bit of sand, then slipped it in his pocket. “I’d never stay away. Not when you give such beautiful gifts.”
“You’re welcome,” said the sea, its voice cheerful like a summer sunrise over clear water.
They stood like that, and old man and the vast ocean, for a while. The sun crept toward the horizon, then dipped below it. It cast long orange-red reflections toward shore like reaching arms.
The old man broke the silence. “I’m not leaving this time, you know.”
The sea sighed. More seagulls cried out and lifted skywards from farther down the beach. “Yes. I am very glad.”
“As am I”, he said, and a smile cracked his weathered face. “I’ve lived a good life here among the drylanders. I’ve learned much about them and their ways.”
“I’ve spread your words widely,” said the sea.” They know. All of them. All the cities of the deeps. They miss you. They thank you.” The sea was silent for a moment. “I miss you. I thank you.”
“Well then. It is time,” he said, and removed the coat and high-necked sweater. He was thin, his wrinkled skin a mottled grey-green. He reached to his neck and tugged away flaps of skin revealing sets of closed gills. “Mother Sea, tell them I am coming home. It has been too long. We will walk in sunlight again. The drylanders will not stop us”
The sea suddenly roared in glee and anticipation. A wave swept over the rocks, and broke with a resounding crash. When it receded, there was no trace of the old man at all.
When I sat down to write this story last night I thought, “I’d like to write something sweet and warm, like a Neal Gaiman short story. Instead, I wrote something sweet and warm that became something weird and slightly unsettling, like many of the things I write.
I don’t know why I’m like this, but I am. This is me. This is what I write. Maybe one day I’ll write a touching story about two old friends meeting after a long absence that doesn’t turn into “Innsmouth: The Later Years”, but not today.
(Photo Credit: lotharbaxmann on Pixabay)