The horizon slowly dips; spilling the sun’s rich purples and orangish-reds over the turbulent waves; warming the morning sea. The girl stands on the edge of a cliff from which a low-hanging bridge spans eighty feet of open water to a small island of jagged rocks. A brown tendril of hair flaps against her cheeks. Her taut skin peels and shines in the mist. She bends with spread legs under the weight of her pack: an enormous military backpack which overflows with reels of fishing line, pre-baited with a variety of pastes and small fish, and three segments of fishing pole that stick up from the top at three different angles. She squeezes the pack’s straps across her chest and belly. The black plastic tunic grumbles as she wipes the sweat from her lip. “Come on Scylla,” she says, “you have to do this for father. For the village.”
A wave crashes against the exposed black mussels embedded below and sends thick sea-foam to coat the toes of her high-laced boots. She lifts a trembling left foot and tests the first plank of the bridge with their rubber outsoles. The tacky rubber grips to the slick board so she takes hold of the rope railings and steps off solid ground.
The first few feet of the descent pass quickly. Scylla’s hands squeeze the ropes tightly so that blood leaves them completely. Her teeth are clacking together. Keep it together, she thinks. You’ve made this before . . . but that was in the summertime, and without the extra weight. She reaches a third of the way across when a second wave swells to beat against the bluff behind her and, as it does, submerges the lowest point of the bridge and paralyzes her lungs. She lets herself look over the side and finds the rising tide has nearly hidden the muscles. “I’m going to die.”
She waits in that spot for what she thinks is minutes, but could be only seconds, until the sea releases the bridge and gains an opportunity to cross. She lets her body fall in sync with a few wide swings, drops her weight as low as she dare, then all at once sprints to the dip. She splashes through the pools of collected water in the warped wood then struggles to climb out of it as a third wave begins to swell.
Had her father not traded the sacrifice, had she not been under the heavy pack, had the boots been tackier, then she may have avoided the wave. But as it is, the rising water lifts her feet and she nearly dislocates both shoulders as she falls on her chest while her pack pins her down. She thinks that death by drowning might be preferable to starvation, but then she thinks that her father would have no body to bury, and that her soul might be forever lost at sea, and pushes the idea from thought. She will not end that way, and neither will her people.
She cries out: an enraged roar of defiance that would demand of even the fiercest hunter in her village to flee. “Ahhheeeeiiiiahhh!” and she’s on her feet! The water builds up again and sinks her knee-deep, but she latches with both arms to one side and pulls herself along like she were drawing in her father’s fishing boat. “Eeeiiiyaaahhh!” she cries again as another wave crashes over her. The ropes groan under the strain, threatening to snap at each pitch. Another wave! She pulls, yanks, fights, fights, fights, until—
Scylla lies with her cheek pressed against the warm island rocks. Never mind their roughness, never mind they are painted white from years of seagulls passing overhead, never mind that now; she has made it. She rolls to her side gasping and sobbing, and unlatches herself from the pack. A violent lurch from her stomach sends her own wave of ocean water crashing against the rocks and with a final deep breath, she calms herself with a hearty laugh.
“‘You’ll never make it’, huh?” she says to the brightening blue sky. “Well, here I am . . . Here we are!” She slaps the soggy pack with another laugh. “And we made it togeth—” her face slackens and her eyes open wide. She slaps the pack again. Now softer, but quicker and with both hands probing, but not daring to look just yet. “No.” She gets to her knees and hauls the pack upright and looks where the segments of pole had been just eighty feet before.
Gone. They were all . . . gone.
This was a scene sketch I wrote today for practice. I hope you enjoyed it. Stay tuned for more free reads!