by Michael Greenhut
The rip tide had promised Stephen a watery grave, then backed out of the deal.
He'd seen red, felt his lungs exploding, and said his atheist prayer of Good
Riddance. After that, his life became a badly edited grind house film. One broken
reel later, he was on the shore. A shell sat on his chest, just over his heart. He
coughed up saltwater, sand, and part of a dead jellyfish. His mouth, throat, and
nose felt like victims of a hot pepper holocaust.
Stephen picked up the shell and held it to his ear, indulging in a little "what the
hell" he used to do as a kid, before beaches were prisons. Inside the shell he heard
a second beach, a second ocean, and a woman's voice.
"I wish you could see me, Gerald," she said. "I got them. All thirty-six of the men
and women who orchestrated this. They'll each be playing a lifelong game of
Frowning, Stephen sat up and switched the shell to his other ear. He heard the
woman laughing and playing in the water with two younger voices. Girls.
"Their prisons are beaches like this," she continued. "But not like this. I have the
house we built. I have the girls. I have you."
And I've got a lifetime supply of ultra violet, Stephen thought. Still, he was
grateful for the white collar aspect of his prison, grateful that he woke up every
morning without a sore ass or an involuntary tattoo, even if he had nobody to talk
to. He wondered what he'd do with a wife, two little girls and a summer home.
Probably work late.
"Hello?" he said into the shell, feeling like a moron. He was probably saying hello
to schizophrenia, or some other delirium that resulted from excessive mental
She didn't seem to hear him. "I'm going to build sandcastles with the girls. See
you tomorrow, Gerald. Keep the lightning away."