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A Perfect Conch

When waves go rogue

By Kate Kastelberg Published about a month ago 4 min read

The sun shone technicolor and ebullient over a paradisiac landscape below. Cerulean waves lapped against white sands and littered on the shores lay the gleaming jeweled frames of thousands of seashells, all perfect and none of them broken, abraded or eroded by their vast journeys sailing the seas.

Darya stood high on a balcony, perched above it all, a gentle breeze grazing the colorful silks across her skin in slow circular movements. Laughter rang out from inside—past sliding glass door behind her. Looking back she smiles at her family inside, gathered around a wicker table, playing cards. Surrounding them: the pastel walls and beach kitsch decorations of their three-story rented beach house. It had a yearly tradition as long as she could remember: each year they would leave their land-locked state Kentucky for a rented beach house in Virginia a week-long vacation.

As tempted as she was to join the revelry inside, the shells below called to her. Gathering up her basket, she climbed the three flights of stairs down to the walkway that led to the beach. She breathed in the salt air, picked up the first perfect pink conch and placed it in her basket. Then there were augers, olive shells, baby ears, all pearlescent and perfect. Soon her basket was full. As she continued on her walk, the shells became larger, more elaborate. With no room left in her basket, she gathered them in the folds of her silks, eyes down. Suddenly, the noisy calls of the gulls grew louder, only to fill the air with breathless silence. Timorously, Darya looked up. Straight up, towering above her is the approaching crest of giant wave—so close that it ellipses the sun, a blue behemoth. It must be over 100 feet tall. There is no time to scream. The perfect shells fall from her silks. The basket is taken by the pull of the sand beneath her feet. Her lungs collapse in the weight of all that blue.

Darya sat straight up in bed. She shivered from the cold sweat peopling her brow and limbs. Her chest heaved as it fought for breath. That damn nightmare again. The red letters of her digital alarm clock read 5:59 am, turned to 6:00 am and blared, in all her disorientation, like the dry staccato honks of a coughing goose.

Later, at work, sitting at her desk in the construction trailer, she traced the grooves of a conch she found last year while she fielded one frustrating phone call after another:

“Hi, this is Darya from Andor Construction. I’m calling to follow up on the 10’ x 2” lumber that was ordered. According to the shipment details, it should have been delivered by now…”

No one seemed to be able to find the lumber, or it was on back order because of supply issues, or maybe it was never ordered to begin with? By mid-afternoon, her temples throbbed in frustration. Rubbing the taut skin of her forehead, her reverie was broken tones of her friend Tom’s voice wafting outside. Soon he was throwing the flimsy door wide and clogged towards her desk in his heavy boots.

“We still on for tonight, doll?” He asked in his slow, syrupy Southern drawl.

“Yes. Especially after this day,” Darya groaned.

“Alrighty then. See you at six. You be good till then.” He winked and rapped the plywood top of her desk.

Tom and Darya had found a sort of oasis in one another at Andor Construction —with Darya being the only second generation immigrant and Tom the only gay man, they both felt the weight of all diversity representation on their shoulders amidst a sea of Southern white cis men. Tonight, they eschewed all shop talk though. Darya had cooked a delicious dinner of salmon and rice. Feeling loose and silly after two glasses of wine, they sat on the couch to watch the movie, “Waterworld” with Kevin Costner.

“I swear this is the only movie Costner is in where he doesn’t have some kinda loose Wild West dust all over him,” Tom guffawed. They laughed too hard.

“Seriously though, the world will probably be like this not too long from now.”

“What do you mean?” Darya asked, recovering her breath.

“Oh you know, just covered in water from the seas rising up.”

Darya gulped. “Oh yeah, that.”

Tom went on to talk about his former life, a life in the navy, where he learned to dive and sail.

“Do you think you teach me?” Darya implored.

“Well sure, hon!” He patted her knee.

When the credits rolled and they were cleaning up from dinner, they made tentative plans for the summer: snorkeling, diving and then sailing with some of his buddies down in the Keys.

Later that night, after Tom left, Darya fell into an exhausted sleep. She was on the beach again, collecting shells when the wave came above her. Again, the shells fell clattering to the sands below. This time she was pulled under, along the sea floor, as if a strong rope was pulling her. As if in slow motion, the electric lights of purple moon jellies lit her way. Looking up from the sea floor, she could see the underside of the hulls of giant ships far above. The bellowing of whales calling to their kin rang out all around her. With fear slowly draining out, wonder slowly seeped in like squid ink. Though still being pulled, she slowly looked down at her hands. She smiled. Nested nimbly in her grasped fingers was one perfect conch.

PsychologicalHorrorAdventure

About the Creator

Kate Kastelberg

-cottage-core meets adventure

-revels in nature, mystery and the fantastical

-avoids baleful gaze of various eldritch terrors

-your Village Witch before it was cool

-under command of cats and owls

-let’s take a Time Machine back to the 90s

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Comments (1)

  • Hannah Mooreabout a month ago

    That's a dream with a message, for sure!

Kate Kastelberg Written by Kate Kastelberg

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