Aveny stood on the rock-encrusted shore, mere feet from where she’d discovered herself only a few long hours before. She knew the spot now. She’d meandered through there with her children once. They’d skipped rocks and played with the tiny capering crabs – the same minute crustaceans which had rustled around her motionless body just that morning – or had they?
She’d lost her foothold on reality.
It must have been a dream, Aveny now realized. A crazy, psychedelic dream.
But there was still salt dusting from her hair.
The skin hung limply from one hand, encapsulated in sand, leaves and mud like a deflated swamp golem. Its fur jutted up in irregular spikes, wild and unkempt. Aveny tried to gently smooth it. Her efforts were futile.
She stepped toward the sound, stone and sand grinding beneath her feet. At the water’s edge, she bent and rinsed the skin gently in the shallow water. Luminescent cerulean ripples radiated out upon impact. But it wasn’t enough to clear the debris. She reached out further, plunging the skin slightly deeper into the drink. Black clouds of detritus billowed up from the murky ground, weaving deeper into the skin’s already filthy fibers, doing more harm than good.
Aveny pulled off her shoes and socks, and rolled up her pant legs. Then she stepped out into the chilly sea. The cool water felt delicious on her parched skin. She hadn’t realized she was so warm until now. She was practically boiling.
Maybe it was an accumulation of stress. Or perhaps she was hallucinating with fever. That would make sense, she thought.
The water coursed over her ankles and wafted across the skin, leaving swirls of effervescent green bubbles behind. Aveny stepped deeper into the salty sea, swishing the skin clean as she went. She didn’t even notice liquid saturating the bottom of her pant legs.
Sensations of pleasure rippled over her body, waving back and forth across her skin like the tide dancing along the shore. She was so hot. Her scalp simmered and her face tingled with fire. She felt a sudden urge to dive face first into the sea but she resisted.
Instead, she swirled the skin around and around, its luminous fibers finally freed from their dirty prison. They glistened tantalizingly in the sun-spiked sea, pulling her deeper. The water engulfed her waist and the skin wrapped around her like a mother’s embrace, and then she was falling, falling, falling.
Aveny’s knees buckled and she collapsed into the water – stomach, chest, shoulders, face. Finally, the crown of her head sunk beneath the waves and she succumbed to the great frenzy that had been building inside her; since that morning – but, no … long before that – decades; perhaps since she gasped her first breath of air. The pressure had built, compounding on itself until this very moment when everything erupted in a great cataclysmic explosion. Or was it an implosion? Aveny didn’t know, nor did she care.
A strange tingling hummed through her, infiltrating every molecule of her being until she was nothing but living vibration; a long, drawn-out hum; a cacophony of sound erupting from a void of peaceful silence.
She was free.
It was the dream all over again. She was sailing through dark blue depths, spinning like a whirling dervish through a sublime substance that felt like living ecstasy. Long currents undulated voluminously beneath her, trailing their thin fingers alluringly along her new, sleek form.
She rolled, one with the surging sea. It propelled her out, onward – away from every fear, every worry, every obligation. She was liberty embodied – free, even from herself.
The great expanse swirled around her, flowing over her body and infiltrating her soul. She was it and it was her: pure unadulterated joy. She hoped it would never end.
When Aveny finally washed ashore, some hours later, stars pulsed in her eyes. She did not move. Unlike that morning, she knew exactly where she was and how she had come to be there. This time, she was in no hurry to leave. She lay prostrate, luxurious sensations washing over her in waves. A tingling sensation cascaded down her spine from head to foot, rippling out to her extremities in soul quenching aftershocks. The water curled up around her scalp, teasing her hair and whispering sweet nothings in her ears. Her body shifted gently with the mellow tide. She never wanted to leave.
As the sensations melted from her body, draining back into the sea, her own memories slowly arose. She remembered her children, whom she loved. She remembered this thing called time with a vague sensation that it mattered, although she couldn’t for the life of her fathom why.
And then she remembered with a start that she had willingly walked away, abandoning her world with no concept of time, where she was supposed to be, or even if the shore she had washed up on belonged to the same world she had vacated hours, days, weeks or years before.
Aveny stood shakily, almost collapsing back to the rocky ground in the process. Her limbs quaked with exhaustion and she wondered if she had the strength to make it back to her car. She pressed on, clutching the skin protectively to her chest.
She found her keys and cell phone right where she had abandoned them and her shoes and socks nearby. She located her shirt stretched between two soggy green boulders and a stranger’s abandoned bikini bottom hanging from a tree branch. Her pants, however, were long gone.
There was nothing for it. She pulled on the bikini bottom, which pinched her tender skin terribly, yanked on the wet, sandy shirt and trudged weakly back to her car.
She arrived at Brecken and Tali’s school just as the pickup attendant was about to give up and go inside. “Where were you, mom?” Brecken asked, his brow furrowed with anger and his eyes burning with accusation. “You’re late!”
“I’m sorry,” Aveny mumbled feebly. “I … uh … fell asleep.”
She turned back to look at him and found both he and Tali staring at her wide eyed. “Why are you all wet?” he asked.
“What’s that green stuff in your hair?” said Tali simultaneously.
Aveny opened her mouth to answer, but nothing came out. She just sat there, agape, like a beached fish.
“Oh my gosh, where are your pants?” Brecken interjected.
“I … I went swimming … before my nap,” she stuttered. “At the beach … for a work thing.”
Brecken eyed her suspiciously as Tali whined, “No fair! I wanted to go!”
“Get buckled. We’re late to get Luca,” Aveny said abruptly. Then a stroke of genius hit and she handed back her phone. “You can watch something on Netflix if you want, just because you were so nice about me being late.”
They knew not to look a gift horse in the mouth. Brecken quickly snatched the phone from her hand and summoned a cartoon. When Luca got in, he locked eyes on the phone like a hypnotist’s unwitting volunteer and didn’t even ask where she had been or why she’d arrived in such a state.
They drove the 15 minutes back home in relative silence. Aveny’s mind ruminated over the day like a dog worrying a bone.
She had gone into the water. She was sure of it. And something had happened there. Something wonderful. Something blissful. Something unbelievable. She felt the skin on the seat beside her and was overcome with longing to return.
She suppressed the urge and a new thought dawned: Is this what it’s like to go crazy?