Man on a Beach by Cathy Vella

MAN ON A BEACH

by

Cathy Vella

typewriter love

 His eyes have been open for a while before he registers the scene before him. He observes the world on its side. His senses are attacked as he tries to understand his surroundings. Ahead is the sea, calm and still, and around him is pristine, white sand as far as the eye can see. Above him, the infinite blue sky is void of life. He lifts his head slightly and looks around – sea, sand, and trees behind. He is on a beach, a beautiful beach.

He inspects himself. No broken bones, he feels perfectly fine. He feels great actually, as if he has just had the most refreshing, long sleep. He brushes the warm sand from his left cheek as he sits up.

He notes that there is no other person in sight. He also notices he is wearing an extremely smart three-piece suit, including waistcoat and tie, certainly not good attire for the beach.  He stands and stretches.

“Hello!”  He turns and looks around him.  “Hello, anybody there?”

There is a flutter as a bird flies out from the trees; he feels reassured by life’s presence.

“Shit.”

He looks at the sea. For a second he thinks he can see someone swimming in the water, but the glint of the sun is playing tricks on his eyes.

“Fuck.”

He looks back at the trees.

“Hello! Hello!  Anybody there?” he yells.

The silence is palpable; his voice sounds out of place and it feels like every living thing is holding its breath.

He walks back from the beach towards the trees, pausing to slip off his footwear.  He sinks his toes into the warm sand, stretches upwards and lets out a long satisfying groan.

“I can think of worse places to be.” The silence unsettles him; the sound of his voice is comforting.  He tries to remember places he has been and he can’t. He also tries to remember his name. There is only one thing he is sure of – he needs to piss. Badly.

He undoes his jacket, unzips his pants and looks ahead at the trees as he empties his bladder. He considers writing HELP in the sand but he’s nearly finished by the time the thought registers. He fastens up, and slips his jacket off. Something solid bounces in his jacket pocket; he feels inside.

A phone.

One bar battery, no Wi-Fi.

He flicks it open and scrolls through the previous calls; he recognises no names. He looks at the messages. There is only one, from a Sarah.

‘WHERE ARE YOU?’

He taps reply and stares at the blank screen. He doesn’t know who he is, where he is, or how he had got here.  He types,

‘I don’t know – where was I?’

and clicks send. The message disappears with a whoosh. He calls 999; the line buzzes for a while then cuts off.  He calls Sarah. It eventually rings and goes to messages.

Hi, I can’t take your call right now, leave a message and if I can be bothered, I’ll get back to you.

‘Hi, it’s me. You sent me a message. I don’t know where I am, I’m not sure what’s happened. I’m on a beach. Somewhere. I don’t know…can you track this call?  I…I’m not sure you’re even gonna get this…’

He cuts off.  He looks at the phone, and taps onto pictures. Scrolling through the unfamiliar faces, he doesn’t even pause at his own. He turns the camera on, and flips the icon to take a selfie. He looks at his face and feels at his jawline. It is his face, but he looks like a stranger.

It’s hot. He strips to his boxers and pops the phone down the front. The skin around his ribs is mottled with bruises, old and fresh. As he takes off his pants he sees a strap and holder on his calf. He rummages inside and pulls out a small gun. Instinctively he pops open the cartridge – one bullet used. Tossing the gun onto the jacket, he slips his shoes back on and heads inland.

“Hello…hello?…” His voice bounces around the trees and foliage.  He stops and listens out for the distant sounds of civilisation. Maybe there is a resort nearby. He hears nothing. He walks further, but stays parallel to the beach, scanning all around him for any tiny signs of life; footsteps, debris, a walked path, animals, birds…anything.

He walks.

And walks.

The terrain is tough and exhaustion sets in quickly. An ache in his head and a throbbing chest brings him to a halt. Fire burns in his throat, reminding him that he needs water.  He rubs his hands over his ribs, and a pain shoots from chest to groin as he probes. He needs to get back out in the open. He turns and walks back towards the light of the clearing.

Out under the blue sky again, he hears the lapping of the ocean waves.  He is relieved to be back on the beach.  He walks back along the sand until his pile of clothes appear on the horizon. He will have to find water soon. He will have to start thinking long term.

He phone buzzes in his pants and he grabs it, flicks it open. 1 unread text.  It is from Sarah.

‘Did you do it?’

What? What did he do?

He replies.

‘Do what?’

The text comes back within a minute.

‘Everything is going to be ok.’

He tries phoning the number, but it cuts off. He tries other numbers, none work. He clicks ‘emergency call’, but it just rings out.

He shuts the phone and looks out to the sea.

‘I need to cool down.’

He strips and wades in. The water feels wonderful. It soothes his aching body, and the salt heals.  He floats, looking up at the endless blue.  Everything is going to be ok. He has no reason not to believe this.  He turns and looks back at the beach.

No.  It can’t be.  He blinks and looks again. There is a man lying on the beach. A man in a suit.  He waves and frantically starts to swim back to shore, but the drift pulls him back.  He shouts, and waves again.  The man stands, he looks like he is waving, but he turns and walks towards the trees.

“Hello!”

black tree

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