Every bump of the road felt like a spike shooting through Aveny’s body. When they reached the sound, Brand wrapped Aveny in an old blanket and hauled her to the sea.
The sun had emerged, fresh and renewed after the long tempest. Patches of brilliant orange broke through the last remaining clouds. Brand removed his shoes and waded out into the surf, where he submerged the bundle. After a moment, he rinsed the blanket, straightened and wrung it out to dry. Then he paused, his eyes tracing the surface of the water like an artist’s brush on a canvas.
Beneath the billowing surface, Aveny almost wept with relief. She relaxed into the sea, her aching muscles soothed and her mind calmed. She leaned back and allowed the soft current to draw her out, slowly maneuvering her body as it did. She stretched luxuriously, releasing the aches and pains of her long ordeal.
As she floated, Aveny became acutely aware of her own awareness. Even with her eyes closed, she could feel the tiny aquatic disturbances of fish swimming around her. She could sense the changing terrain, each rise and fall in the earth, and every material – both man-made and organic – beneath her. She felt the shifting of the water’s surface overhead and the currents of each bay and inlet that surrounded her.
Her awareness sharpened and shifted, expanding and focusing. She’d never realized how dull her senses had been, until now. It was as if a curtain had lifted, as if the world had turned from black and white to technicolor.
She rolled into a slow dive and propelled herself gently downward, where she sensed the waving seaweed before she saw it. As she sailed along the ocean floor, she divined every stone, creature and abandoned hunk of metal hidden beneath, navigating them all effortlessly.
Aveny arced gracefully upward and rose to the surface, alive with the glittering sunlight. She broke through the water and inhaled deeply, every scent accosting her nose as it never had before. She could smell the seagulls’ breakfast, hear each crab scuttling beneath the rocks, see the trees’ hidden color and taste oxygen in the air.
Invigorated, she turned and dove back into the sea, spiraling as she went. She approached a school of fish, who parted for her, as if they sensed her presence as innately as she now sensed theirs. Then she picked up speed, careening through the spray with wild abandon, a jettison of popping bubbles in her wake.
When she finally tired, she made her way back to the shallows where Brand had left her. She peeked her head out of the water and spotted the blanket, which Brand was drying over a nearby log. Her husband leaned against the fallen trunk, scrolling idly on his phone and glancing up every few seconds to survey the water.
Aveny dipped beneath the surface and prepared to shift. Slowly, she rolled and stretched, until … nothing.
She tried again.
She waddled out of the sea, fetched the seal skin from the shore, and dragged it back into the surf. Brand watched her with a look of concern.
Aveny rolled and swerved, dipped and dived.
She jerked violently back and forth – but still, she remained wholly and utterly marine.
Panic hammered at Aveny’s heart as she struggled to shift. Nothing occurred. She didn’t even feel a slight adjustment in her being; not even a minimal slip that might indicate release.
As a sense of dread came over her, she realized with a horrific dawning, that no release would ever come.
There’s nothing to take off, she thought.
Something had gone terribly, horribly wrong.