The surfer strides onto the empty beach, board under his arm, taking in the horizon. He is alone. No one else has been brave enough to tempt the winter’s rioting behemoths. An aggressive January wind flattens what few shrubs cling to the craggy rocks. Sand, sucked of all its warmth, trickles across the tops of his feet. The wind tussles his hair, inviting him to play in this winter’s wilderness. A lone seagull screeches and retreats to its wind-battered nest. The surfer sits on the sand, watching the megalithic waves rise and crash to the beach with thunderous war cries. He remembers the fallen Hawaiian hero who came to ride the big waves at this beach; he fell in glorious battle with the ocean, now lost under the water forever.
Hunching against a frigid wind that tugs at his wetsuit, the surfer wipes the grains from his eyes. He contemplates the swell in front of him; this day set to produce the biggest waves in fifty years. Mesmerized by the ocean, he watches the waves form, gather power, and rush towards the beach. A foaming spray showers him with stiffening salt.
He scans the grey distance, spying the irregular line of jagged black rocks. Like a monster’s teeth. Then he sees the girl; about one hundred metres out, draped across a rocky outcrop, her calves cut up and bleeding. She wears only a flimsy bikini, and even at this distance, he can see the blue of her freezing skin. She won’t survive out there much longer.
The surfer runs to the water’s edge, drops his board and leaps into the water. Ignoring the freezing vice on his lungs, he paddles to the rocks. He is buffeted by waves and wind, exhausted by the short marathon. Salt stings his eyes and cold leaches into his bones. His teeth chatter uncontrollably and all he can smell is rotting seaweed. He reaches the outcrop with the girl, scrabbles to find a hand hold and drags himself onto the rock.
No more than sixteen, the girl’s blonde hair is darkened by the water. Her skin is rose white, smooth as chocolate and blemish free. Despite the wind and the thundering waves threatening to dislodge them, he can’t take his eyes off her. He crouches above her and takes in her exquisite beauty; her perfectly toned body, her china-doll like features; the cherry-red of her lips; the luscious lengths of her eyelashes; the flawless sculpting of her nose, the blue, blue of her eyes when they flicker open. He feels for a pulse; weak but present. Wrapping her arms around his neck, he lifts her from the rocks and places her upon his board. She weighs no more than a cloud. The foam crashes around them and the howl of the water drowns out all other sounds. Salt stings his eyes and his fingers are almost frozen solid. He is ever aware the next wave could send them both sprawling into the churning ocean.
The surfer is turning his board towards the shore when the wave hits, sweeping them both effortlessly into the angry, grey water. He feels a violent tug on his leash. His board smashes against the rocks as if it were only a flimsy toy. The girl’s arms cling to his neck. Holding on. Pulling him. Dragging him down. Under. The next wave propels them towards the ocean floor. A screaming pain lights his back on fire as he is pushed against the rocks. He inhales, and chokes on water. The girl is still clinging to his neck; she is smiling. She tugs and drags him down and down. Her long blonde hair turns to wriggling snakes of dirty seaweed. From the centre of her pupils, an unnatural light shines, illuminating nothing. Her flesh dissolves to reveal a maniacal skull grinning at him. Skeletal arms hold him tighter, and push him deeper.
Visibility is two feet at best in the murky water. A second skull comes darting by, and then another, and another, until he all he can see in any direction are decayed, human skulls. Clawing for the surface, the surfer kicks out at the decomposed skeletons. But they come for him, and take him deeper. Panic burbles out of his throat; he is running out of air. He can no longer tell which way the surface is.
Sensing a presence above him, the surfer looks up and sees his fallen hero holding out a hand, beckoning him up, shrouded in a halo of light. The surfer pushes off the ground, and twists away from the macabre skulls. Holding his fingertips, his hero leads him up and up, into a prism of brightening light. The surfer breaks the surface, gasping oxygen into his deprived lungs, and thrashes away from the deep water. He scans the horizon; his hero has vanished.
Wearily, he paddles his way to the shore, buffeted by more waves; unsure if he can make it, unsure if he will be dragged back. As his hands sift through the sand of the shallows, an iron-tight grip shackles his ankle. Skeletal fingers wrap around his leg. Seaweed slithers up his calf. He manages one breath before he is pulled under, before his world goes dark.
The surfer wakes to the brightest light blinding his eyes.
“Are you ok? Are you ok? I’ve called an ambulance. They’re on their way.” The surfer looks to the sound of the voice; it’s the girl, kneeling beside him, a worried look on her face. His heart accelerates in panic. But she looks different. Her hair is no longer a long, sweeping, platinum blonde, but a rather dull shoulder-length, mousy brown. Her eyes are no longer the piercing blue of glacial lakes, but the grey steel of the January skies. Her crooked nose is flecked with freckles, and there is a blemish on her cheek. Her tentative smile is lopsided, her flesh dotted with goose-bumps. But it is unmistakably her.
Pain is the next sensation to come into his awareness. The wound on his back stings with the fire of hell itself; his pounding head contains the four horsemen galloping their way to the apocalypse; his chest feels as though it’s been ripped open by a pack of starving vampires; each smaller cut and bruise throbs in time with his heartbeat. But he is unable to move, unable to make himself more comfortable. He can only lay and wait for what comes next.
The girl is still talking to him, still asking him if he is ok; the lone seagull is still screeching from its craggy nest; the muted sounds of traffic reach him from the cliff-top highway; the waves roar their threats and promises; and a cackle, he is sure he can hear a cackling in the wind.