As soon as my feet crunch on the pebbles, my mind floods with visions of each step shattering a layer of human bones. Bile rises in my throat. I try to replace it with heavy footsteps walking through snow, but fire burns all around me and the snow turns to a thick sheet of human ash. The sweet sticky smell of smoldering flesh fills my nostrils and settles in my lungs like heavy tar. The weight of it suffocates me. I cough my lungs back open and wipe the cold sweat from my brow. My legs give way and I collapse onto the pebbles.
The wind carries voices to me. I jerk my head up to find their course, desperately searching. I turn my face into the bitter wind and clock a group of people huddled around a fire further down the beach, laughing. I turn back the other way before they stare, my minds playing tricks on me again. I can’t help what is real imagine. I can’t tell what’s real or what’s imagined. Strangers recognise me, familiar faces don’t. There are too many gaps to make sense of it all.
I sit up and shuffle my hips from side to side like I used to when I was little, so the pebbles mould around me. This quiet stony beach used to be my sanctuary., I used to come here to settle my thoughts. How can somewhere so familiar feel so disconnected? Everything I have ever known or thought I knew, I have never seen it so what it truly is. I don’t belong here anymore.
It’s as if all my memories have been replaced with the sight of her. What I’ve witnessed cannot be unseen. I resist the impulse to claw at my eyes, to desperately get rid of the images store inside. I push my hands deep into the pebbles instead, clenching my hands around the box and to my palms are empty, balled into fists.
Time has always seemed irrelevant here, ticking clocks replaced by lapping waves. Either side me they crash into the wooden groynes, pummelling them towards destruction. The seaweed thrashes against the shore, assaulting the pebbles. The sea beyond looks black and molten, ready to swallow and consume any who dare across it. I’m overcome with the urge to walk straight in.
I think back to the conversation with Sophie. Why would she keep accusing me? Am I right suspect her of lying? She knows I keep losing time, but I can’t rely on my own memory. It’d be easy for her to lie. I keep connecting the dots and finding her in the centre of it all, but every time I confront her she melts my suspicions away and replaces them with accusation. It doesn’t add up. I can’t trust her any more. But I don’t know if I can trust myself either. Unanswered questions way down on the last parts of my sanity. Not even the ocean clears my head.
Suddenly I’m back there, alone with their woman with no name. Her screams ring in my ears, replacing replaced with a deafening silence. I look at my hands, but they don’t belong to me. My hands couldn’t do this. Her glassy eyes burn into mine, frozen in time. I step back but I can’t get away. I shake my body to detached from the grotesque visions before they take over again. The deep roar of the sea takes over my senses like white noise, bringing me back. I find myself standing close to the surf, the waves spraying my face. The dark sky looms overhead, with graphite clouds ready to burst. Seagulls echo her screams ahead overhead, sleeping and circling like vultures. The bellowing wind gains momentum and costs icy warnings across my cheeks. I can’t ask anyone if the flashbacks are real, the risks are too great. If they knew, that need to be silenced. I purge my lungs with a deep sigh, but the back Bay hairs on the back of my head stand up, sending a shiver down my spine. I’m being watched.