My entry in the April Writers Weekly 24-hour writing contest. Results to be announced in June. A few modifications in this posting are thanks to some very respected writing friends.
Instructions - write no more than 925 words to this prompt:
“Azure,” she says, and then “porch.”
The beach gradually comes into focus. Terns sprint between tide pools on comically thin legs, startling small crabs back into their glistening sandy burrows. The color of the sky and the front of her weathered house are the first images with which she can associate words. Others follow as her head clears.
“Low tide,” she whispers.
She sits in knee-deep water that will be over her head in a few hours. She faces the shore. Summer heat bakes the sweat and salty air onto her forehead. Water laps gently at her legs. Sand oozes between her tingling toes, circulation impaired by the ties that bind her to a partially submerged chair. Minnows dart beneath the water’s surface, alternately visible in cloudy shadows, hidden by reflected sun.
It is afternoon in the tropics. Lightning flashes in the distance. Roiling hot and cold rivulets of air slap the surface of the ocean and disrupt its gentle rhythm. Gulls and wind chimes are the only sounds for miles. Beach grass sways in the breeze. A crisp envelope on her lap bends beneath her fingers. He has found her.
She slowly withdraws a lifetime of obsessive artifacts from the carefully prepared package. A short hand-written note speaks to the depth of madness that has led to her predicament. She has only wanted to be left alone.
Her trembling fingers sort through a stack of photographs, many of them recently captured and from unimaginable vantage points. It is when she views a photo of herself painting an ocean scene from the front porch that she recognizes the offspring of serenity and jeopardy as terror. Her stomach clenches.
She looks up and around. She is being watched.
Screams will not be heard. Her home’s greatest feature is its isolation. An attempt to stand is immediately thwarted. She is chained to the chair at her waist. Too great a struggle could result in tipping, drowning in the shallows.
“I have been diagnosed. My time is short,” says the note. “Write the words I long to hear. Your love will save you. I promise.”
The pictures swirl through her tears. A marker has been carefully placed in the breast pocket of her dress. The situation demands that she comply or die.
She prints “I love you” in large block letters across the back of the envelope, displays it and drops the marker in the water as if holding it pains her.
He appears suddenly, rising from behind a stabilizing outcropping of plants on a frontal dune. His face is familiar, an older version of the stalker she’s been fleeing since college. He is the reason she has moved to this isolated location and in fact the reason for several moves before this, along with a change of identity a decade ago.
“My legs hurt,” she says as he releases her from the chair.
“I’ll carry you,” he replies with a hollow persistence that stiffens his smile and causes an unseeing darkness to come over his glazed eyes.
The envelope and pictures fall from her lap onto the water, scattering like the minnows, rising and falling with the shore-bound waves, sinking as they become saturated, like forgotten memories in need of deep recall.
As he carries her toward the house, he mutters unintelligible words as if reading from a script, long practiced and playing out in a monologue. In his mind she is Christine to his Phantom, Esmeralda to his Quasimodo.
Inside the house he seems nervous, seeking control, especially when she begins to speak. She knows she must alter the script, introduce unexpected plot twists for which he is unprepared, unrehearsed.
“Would you like something to eat or drink?” she asks.
“A drink. Please,” he replies.
“May I?” she motions to the kitchen.
“Yes, of course,” he says as she heads into the next room. “You’ll come back…” he tests.
“I promise,” she says emphatically, and is true to her word.
She establishes trust over the next several hours. She is the perfect companion in his lifelong fantasy. He never sees it coming.
* * * * *
The next morning she stretches a canvas and squeezes out her paints. The front porch is once again a place of serenity. She paints a sunrise during rising tide.
A figure in a partially submerged chair nods to wakefulness. The drugs were strong, but the ties are stronger. Less forgiving.
She establishes her horizon line, her perspective. She will finish the painting only when the annoying, pleading head completely disappears below the playful azure waves.