At some point, shock took over Chloe’s faculties. Her brain was frozen with fear and lack of oxygen. She couldn’t even release air from her nostrils because the thick sand pressed closely against her skin, filling her ears, seeping into her shoes, between her toes. Heat and panic churned in her stomach.
It didn’t take long to grow lightheaded. Her attention faded. Her ability to register thoughts ceased to function.
Sinking deeper into the doughy sand was terrifying. Chloe could feel herself drifting, as if a chain of hands were passing her along, one inch at a time. Of all the ways Chloe might have been afraid to die, this scenario had never passed through her mind. Murder, rape, and strangulation were high on the list of horrifying deaths to experience, but being buried alive was unimaginable. The panic was enough to cause a heart attack. She couldn’t even scream.
Just as Chloe was beginning to resign herself to the torture, she felt the sand release its thick pressure. Well, that’s what it felt like. Moving her limbs became easier, so she kicked hard and flapped her arms. The grainy texture of her surroundings began to change, growing cooler with each second, more wet.
Desperate to breathe, she kicked harder, propelled herself upward, and was rewarded for her efforts; the tips of her fingers broke the surface. Frantic for air, but regaining some sense of observation, Chloe realized that her hair was floating out from the side of her head, sort of like it does when she has a bath. After one final, powerful kick, the top of her head, her nose, then mouth cleared the surface as well.
She gasped and sputtered, sucking in ragged desperate breath after ragged desperate breath. Oh, sweet, sweet air. The relief was incredible, but it eventually turned to utter confusion when she opened her eyes and looked around. First of all, she was treading water. As if that weren’t bizarre enough, it was night outside, the moon full and bright in the black sky.
What the hell?
The last thing she remembered was that coyote, beckoning her to follow. What had happened? Where was she now? None of this made any sense! A part of her considered this might be a hallucination, but it felt so real. The massive moon in the sky and the salt in the air couldn’t be denied.
Every muscle in her body ached with fatigue. She just wanted to lie down and fall asleep, but she had to figure where she was and where to go next. How would she find Marilyn? What happened to her?
It felt like her brain could only produce questions instead of answers. All logic was lost the moment Marilyn’s car ran out of gas.
Chloe squinted into the distance, looking for light, any sign of shore, or a boat. Everywhere she looked was black. There was little distinction between water and land no matter which direction she faced. She would’ve cried from frustration, but the mere thought exhausted her, so she rolled onto her back and floated in the water for a few minutes. Her back, shoulders and hamstrings released, the momentary rest a welcome change from the quicksand. Chloe breathed deeply, just glad her lungs were still working, and that she hadn’t been buried alive, surrounded by that blobby mass of thick sand. The exhale and inhale echoed in her ears as she floated.
After approximately ten minutes, Chloe grew anxious and let her lower half sink into the water once more, as she prepared to assess her options. A flicker of light caught her attention, so she focused her gaze on this point in the distance. Could it be a dingy? A boat? Was it further away or closer to shore? She couldn’t tell, but she decided to start swimming. Thankfully, the water was calm and serene, so she didn’t have any strong tides or currents to deal with.
Each stroke brought her closer to the light, which was oddly pink. This excited Chloe enough to speed up, pulling her arms up and around, up and around, pointing her fingers to cut through the water. She stopped for a moment, glanced up again, and saw that the pink light was the tip of a Hotel sign. This was enough to fill Chloe with thanks and the energy she would likely need to swim long and hard.
Even though it would take at least an hour, maybe more, she started to laugh. She wondered, feeling foolish, if the coyote had done this on purpose. The thought was ridiculous, of course, but everything that had happened on Highway 49 was not logical. Everything about that road reeked of mystery.
During the swim, Chloe cleared her mind of all thoughts and focused on the task at hand. Rhythm was all that mattered right now. She ignored her sore muscles, her lack of food, her dry, parched lips, which now stung from the salty water, but she pushed it all away, eager to reach dry (normal) land. She could feel the silky fins of fish tails trail against her arms and legs. To keep her sanity, she pushed all fears of sharks from her mind, or she’d become a chattering basket case.
When her foot trailed against a prickly rock, Chloe ignored the pain and lifted her face from the water, a smile of immense accomplishment on her bleeding lips. Her arms felt like butter and, when she tried to stand up, it took a few tries, but holy crap, she did it! The shore line, which was populated with neon pink, blue, and green lights advertising hotels and gift shops, was alive with music and laughter. A homeless man wrapped in a sleeping bag threw Chloe a look of confusion when she came stumbling and gasping onto the cold, dry, sand, where she fell down and remained.
Chloe was in a daze.
“Hey. Are you okay?”
“Are you okay?”
Chloe opened her eyes and saw that the man was leaning over her. “I’m okay,” she whispered. I’m okay. I’m okay. “Where am I?”
“That a trick question?”
She blinked and mumbled again, “where am I?”
“South Beach. Miami.”
A short story by Lydia