4 November Breaking with TraditionHeart and Humanity

Last Day at the Beach

The sound of breaking waves ended the baby’s dream. Its eyes blinked and darkness lit up while it slowly transitioned from sleep to awake. Eleven months old, the baby couldn’t grasp the differences between its states of existence. Moments were everything: the wholeness of night and excitements of day, the warmth of other bodies, the feel of hunger before the satisfaction of being fed. All was pure, essential experience. When the baby’s eyes finally opened its view filled with a perfect summer sky.  An endless blue swallowed a few clouds in the distance, at the horizon brightness fell behind the ocean and the sun stained everything in warm, golden light.  

The baby turned its head and looked down a wide and empty, unmarred beach. It turned its head to the other side and saw the familiar shape of a body, sitting in the sand. It knew it was the strong one of the two, the one with the deep voice. The baby also knew this meant there was a good chance of being thrown around for a while. Therefore it chuckled. Therefore the body turned towards the baby.

“Hey, look who’s awake!”

The body rose, bent over and two hands grabbed the baby to lift it up. Fast, the ground fell off its feet and that excited the baby. Now it sat on the body’s shoulders whose large arm pointed towards the sea.

“You see Mommy, riding waves? She’s killing it out there…like you will one day! What do you think?”  

Together they stared at the blue for a while. Then the body’s face turned towards the baby.

“Mommy’s been out there for almost forty-five… you slept quite long, you know? She’ll be back any minute and I can’t wait to get wet myself.”

The face came closer, its forehead touched the baby’s.

“Not that I don’t like watching you… but Daddy’s gotta surf as well, doesn’t he? So when Mommy’s back, I’ll get in the water and you two go to the van. You’ll get some food there, cool? You are hungry, am I right? You’re always hungry, aren’t you?”

The baby got bored by the voice and grabbed the body’s ear. That had the intended effect:  the baby was taken by the two hands and thrown towards the sky. Now the body fell off the baby’s feet, everything stood still…until body and beach rushed closer again. That was repeated about a dozen times and the baby laughed loud and happily.  

“Alright, little one, I better save some arm strength. Let’s see where Mommy’s at.”

With the baby back on its shoulders, the body walked closer to the shore where the tide would begin to eat the land. When its feet were overrun by water, the body stopped and the baby looked down and watched the moving patterns of swirling flotsam and sand.

“You see? Mommy’s right there. Just follow my finger.”

The large arm pointed towards the horizon and the baby recognized the sound of the word Mommy. It expected the softer body somewhere close but couldn’t see anything but the shifting ocean’s blue and the sunlight’s sharp reflections on the ocean’s surface. The sight was fascinating, it struck the baby. For a moment, without the ability to mark it with any words or thought, the baby felt that the ocean meant everything.    

“Right there, she’s getting ready for the next one! Holy…”

The body gasped and the baby sensed immediate tension. A rush of adrenaline soured the body’s smell and the grip around the baby’s ankles tightened. The sudden pain and the intense smell made it confused and angry. It started to cry and crying was a state of its own.

The crying consumed the baby’s world. It didn’t feel how the body ran back up the beach, it didn’t feel how it was put down in the sand and it didn’t hear the body shouting and screaming what was the baby’s mother’s name. The baby got shaken. Distracted from crying, it looked right into the body’s face. It was very close.

“You sit here! Don’t move! I’ll save her, I’ll bring her back!”

The body rose to the baby’s surprise; it tried to hold on to the body, but its arms were too short, its movement too slow, too clumsy. The body stumbled a few steps away, stopped and looked back.    

“God! What do I do?”

The body disappeared from the baby’s view.  

Time passed. Where the baby had known comfort and joy was now stress, confusion and pain. As much as it needed to, the baby couldn’t cry anymore, no longer had it the strength. It didn’t understand where it was and why it was alone. It desperately felt the absence of the two bodies. Its burnt skin hurt to an extent that overlapped its hunger. The most intense signal was the baby’s thirst. It hadn’t known that kind of thirst. It tried to ease the flaming sensation by putting its fingers in its mouth; it tried to eat sand, but that hurt even more. The thirst became so intense that the baby’s perception of itself melded with the surrounding ground, hot and dry.  

The water was a relief. The baby managed to sit up when the first outlet of a wave washed around the lower parts of its body, covered its legs and gently cooled them down. Curious, the baby watched the streamlining water as it floated further upland and back towards the shore.

It splashed its hands in the shallow wet until everything was soaked up by the sand. The baby turned sideways and saw the next wave coming.

 

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Christian Stein

On March 31st, 1976, Christian Stein was born in Münster, Germany, where he spent a happy suburban childhood that turned into an averagely embarrassing youth, led into an exceptionally long life as a student and made him move to Berlin where he tries to write horror stories.

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