Once, there were many more things than there are now. The church that stood on the edge of the hill above the water, white like bleached fabric from a distance. My old school down the road, where I should have graduated before it faded like shadows instead of concrete brick. The people, shops with long hours of muted wandering in and out with minimal purchases that built up into the crescendo of hell in tourist season. The people who lived here are gone. I don’t know where it went – where anything went. I go to the empty space where the church was on Sundays, or whenever I think Sunday might be. I never used to go there. Before the world changed we used our spare time to swim in the ocean, or walk down to the store and buy $2 icypoles that turned our mouths purple. Last time someone went out into the sea they came back blind.
I’m lying on my back on the veranda counting ants in the black sky. I’m listening to my father call out that breakfast is ready. It’s not true, there’s no food, there hasn’t been food for years. Or however long it’s been. There is a thud, thud, thud pelting down the stairs that shouldn’t be there. I pick at the splintering wood of the veranda. I’m lying down I’m standing up I’m walking. The road pretty much melts under my feet. It’s too hot to breathe, let alone move.
"Stop complaining," they say.
“I heard you.”
Everything is just white fuzz and noise until I reach the shore. Out on the water is the pontoon. A silver angry square and a spill of black and mossy green. On the pontoon is a nest. It stares back at me like a question mark over green and yellow water. My head hurts, my back hurts, but nests have eggs. I hold my breath, just for a moment, and wade in. Cool water. It stings my legs and starts to warm as I move in further. The motion kicks up rank grime from the bottom of the water, black decaying rubbish and thick slime. Sticky trails of sunlight run up and down my back and crawl into my head. I rub my eyes and blink but it does nothing, so I wade deeper.
The water always starts out cold and fluid. It moves around you in gentle lapping waves. Then the first shadow buts against your leg and you think it’s a solid thing. Your foot snaps sideways and you fall, splashing into gradually heating water. You can stay there, boiling slowly in the stinking pot, or you can get up and keep moving. I stand up. Black and red clouds are forming over the white fuzz, I try to blink them away but they settle into crawling shapes. I poke them and they burrow deeper. My eyes hurt. The water changes, thickening around me into custardy soup. I drag myself through it, trailing my hands through lumps on sticky liquid. The world changes.
"What are you doing?"
“Looking for food.”
"I'm hungry. I haven't eaten."
“I don’t have food.”
There’s a tug, and then I’m down again, under the surface this time. My feet are tugged out from under me and pulling away, dragging me out to sea. I thrash upwards, trying to get a footing on the seafloor. It’s like I’m a kid again, holding my breath and kneeling at the bottom of the pool. My feet make contact with the ground through shifting sand and debris. I grit my teeth to push off, breaking the surface. Gasping. The water is thick and hot like tar and I’m covered in it.
"What?" I choke around black liquid.
"Why don't you have food?"
I go down harder. My skin scraps against the sea floor. The world is reduced to a distant stinging sensation all over my body and a pair of burning lungs.
I push down with flat palms, trying to force my way up to the waist but my palms only sink down and stick further as I try to drag myself forward. There dead and dying words in my mouth I can’t spit out. I shut my eyes against the sound of gnawing teeth against skin and the dull ache of my shoulder, the pounding heat gathering in my head. My skin is stinging all over, I can feel it turning pink and softening as the tar starts to boil.
“Why aren’t you thirsty?”
“Why don’t you drink?”
“Why don’t you try?”
I imagine trees and rivers and rolling down hills like I’m fifteen again laughing with my friends, full of energy and life. I swear the gods are everywhere out here. I’d ask them why they’re doing this but the skin of my mouth has melted together in a bubbling gash. I claw at it but it will not open. I don’t know if I’m going down or up, if I’m clawing to the surface or the bottom, what is the air and what is the water I’m moving somewhere but I can’t see and I can’t speak I’m gnawing off my own tongue and chocking on my own blood and they’re all laughing and telling me to clean it up and
My hands brush solid metal. I clutch it through the stinging heat and drag myself up the ladder and onto the pontoon. I lie there, my face pressed into the damp wooden planks and try to breathe through my nose. I think about the cold air of the mountain. We’d go there when we were kids, but that was before the pain, the fog, and the endless tired drag of my body from one second to the next. I think of light through leaves and cold, wet forest air and the smell of fern and moss. When I can, I breathe deep. I used to hug all the trees and it made my mother laugh. I couldn’t explain, they felt so strong and solid, and when I wrapped my arms around them I felt safe. It’s too hot here for that, the air is burning up with the sun and the pontoon is shifting down, slurping into a sticky blackness that shimmers rainbows back to the shore. What do you want? What could I give you?
Maybe you felt the lines of my skin soften and gently tear apart. I want to tell you that I love you. I’m gone soon, I’m here. Don’t trust me. I will carve myself into the air like it’s solid stone.
But of course, when I got there, the nest was gone.