The Messenger

A short story for national storytelling week

Reading Time: 5 minutes

He stood, motionless, dazed, a pool of water gathering about his feet and disappearing into the sand as if he were traceless, invisible. As though he stood upon a golden creature, thirsty, drinking in his residue, hungry for what passed above it. Behind his back the tide rushed forwards, lapping at his leather-clad heels, frothing at the mouth, aching to consume him. Aggressively it roared and crashed and clawed its way forwards, even when in retreat, tirelessly making its presence known. Its message heard in the sounds of the waves, in the vibrations of the impacts, tirelessly ignored and misunderstood. Frequently forgotten.

He squinted. Sunlight beamed down upon his dark and salted hair, scattered like the waves, with ferocious mid-day intensity. A heat he’d never experienced before. It crackled against his unprotected skin with desire; savagery disguised as delight. He twisted his neck from side to side, feeling the damp and cool collar of his shirt as it made contact on either side. A soothing, wet familiarity held tightly at the front by a polyester constriction of chemical colour, a block against a monochrome pinstripe. His head remained exposed to the elements whilst his body was cocooned from the neck downwards in a bubble of moist safety. His black double-breasted jacket hung heavy about his wasted and hungry shoulders, laden with the weight of sea water and sadness.

He adjusted his piercing black eyes. Delicate and stinging from the crystals of salt which gathered across his lids, an unfamiliar brightness, harsh against his pupils as they constricted readily to accommodate these new surroundings. He looked forwards, learning. Rows of people lined the beach spread likes bees upon their tropical flower beds of cotton; a bitter contrast to the soft crushed stone below their bodies. Naked flesh bathed gladly in this heated world, challenging a dual between skin and star. Children dug ferociously into their shape shifting toy, loading it into buckets of bright plastic, before towering forts energetically emerged. Sun-cream, beach balls, boules, bats; cameras, phones, electronic books; joy filled moments abundant. Behind him the jet skis ripped across the waves, slicing with the skill of a sharpened blade, the crests split open in two, wounded and weakened. Teenagers bobbed in and out of sight, blocked by the rhythmic walls of the ocean as they floated languidly on inflatable instruments of all kinds. Wars broke out amongst the Styrofoam beatings of a water noodle; loved one minute and discarded lazily the next.

A plastic bag awoke him from his musings, drifting and wrapping itself around his ankle idly, hooked by his lower leg. He felt the weight of the ocean as it tried to pull it back into its depth, swallowing it whole.

He shook his head, thoughts jumbled and unsure within his mind; lost and bewildered. With uncertainty he stepped forwards. The flapping fabric of his suit pants clung to his legs in rhythm with his slow pacing forwards, sticking momentarily on new areas of skin, refreshing him. The sand was loose underfoot as he limbered heavy legs upwards, the briefcase hanging languidly by his left arm, swaying slightly as it sloshed the final amounts of liquid from its belly, a spewing of the unwelcome.

The heat was stifling now and choking. He pulled at his collar, now a noose around his neck. The cold beach-side shower was the respite he needed and he clambered within it, feeling its icy unheated joy trickle downwards towards his spine. He missed the salt, but he could breathe again. There on the concrete slab of the basin he sat against the wall, suit and all. A gentle waft of freshly caught fish and fries pulsed over him into the afternoon air with clarity and sweetness. The bin besides him swollen with success, struggling to devour the polystyrene, cartons and cans fed hastily into it. Escaped straws and bags wafted elegantly in the breeze across the tarmac sidewalks as though earthly jelly fish had emerged and marched across the sea fronts, an army against the imposing high rises before them. The smell pierced only occasionally by the sharp aroma of drifting smoke: disposable BBQs of sizzling glory and endless cigarette breaks.

People looked, stared and pointed, at the guy in the open public shower, in a suit, sprawled on the concrete floor, enjoying the secondary splashes of water from those seeking to rid themselves of salt and sand, their flip flops squelching as they danced the cold-water dance. But despite their observation they did not speak, nor pay any great attention. They assumed him drunk; the plastic 6-pack-ring at his side delivered a false condemnation, his legs sprawling awkwardly, and his head slumped caused them to arrive at their verdict. He didn’t care though. He knew little of his current whereabouts, circumstance or identity, but he knew inside he was sick. He knew he was dying.

He remained motionless as the day played out, his energy waning as each minute passed, watching as the beach scenes drew to their close. The pink glow served as a warning card, and back they retreated, like a hive calling to its swarm, back to the safety of the neon buzz. Beyond the boundaries of the sand the footsteps began to fall on firmer ground, leaving behind them the evidence of their day like a scattered battleground. And with that, the ocean crept forwards, devouring as she always did. Bite by bite she edged the warzone further back, until by morning none would have known it had ever existed. Disappeared into its forgotten depths.

As the darkness fell like a thick blanket, and the heat subdued, he rose. By the pulling and guiding light of the moon as it rippled on a blackened mirror he used the last of his laboured energy. And stumbling on heavy, clumsy limbs he staggered towards her. Weighted unevenly by the briefcase he continued to carry. He didn’t understand why he ambled to her when others fearfully retreated, but he felt a deep gnawing within him, a yearning, needing to feel her cool kiss ripple up his trouser legs and along his back, stroking him calmly to sleep. And there he lay, at the very tip of her mouth, half bathed in the foam she spewed forwards while he slept, peacefully, wondering where his journey would take him when she too devoured his battle-weary body.

***

There was a commotion. Dolphins didn’t wash up here. They were watched from the hoards of tourist boats which left the nearby harbour at 5am to steal from them their moments of play, polluting it with their diesel and slick films of engine oil, but never was one seen on the beach. News spread quickly, rampant like the flames of a forestry fire. From those who gathered for a selfie and a snap, to the media, and concerned conservationists. Upon arrival, they set up a cordon, a barrier of preservation and science, but also to privacy and respect.

Shocked on-lookers shook their heads in sadness, one arm looped with another in solace, the other hand holding their morning disposable coffee; still warm. They knelt besides him, an adult male, fully grown, an unusual suspect, free from the mauling and trappings of boat propellers and nets; the usual killers. Tentatively, they sliced into his wasted body, peeling back the layers from his skin, warmed and dry from the sun, leathery and hard. His weight and size far lower than average for his adult length, his blubber thin. Reaching into his stomach they withdrew his death; his bullet, his blade.  Piece by piece, plastic by plastic, they laid bare his starvation and pain. The bags which coiled and suffocated him from the inside out, twisted and knotted throughout his body like an unexpected cancer, swarmed his intestines as though a plague. The damning indictment. The guilty verdict served upon humanity.

And there, but five meters from his listless body, lay a briefcase. Black leather bound with a simple silver catch, no code, sodden and soaking, half buried by the sand. Opening it they found a note, writing unmoved by the perpetual soaking of the sea, and on it they read:

We’re choking.

Please, help us.

______________

Those who know me who of my environmental passions, particularly plastic reduction. This story was inspired by my own reflections and experiences, and by the endless stories of plastic sea animals, particularly mammals. I therefore tried to envisage a scenario in which, in their desperation, those animals attempted to directly communicate and plead with us. ‘The Messenger’ was the dying dolphin, sent by the ocean to give us his firm message – the irony being that he was too sick to meaningfully understand and fulfil his duty, instead dying on the shores leaving only the same subtleties that the human race has thus far failed to act upon.

National Storytelling Week

Between 27th January and 3rd February, we will be sharing a short story every evening submitted by one of our readers. Tune in at 7pm each evening to enjoy the story. Click this box to find out more about National Storytelling Week.
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3 Comments

  • A sobering and brilliant indictment upon man’s inhumnaity towards nature and an urgent message, which sadly so many choose to ignore in the name of profit. As a family we do everything possbible to recycle and reduce plastic but it’s never ever enough… is it? If only plastic could be banned altogether and also materials which are not biodegradable. As consumers we have the power to be the change we want to see and time is running out. Thank you Clare for being such a powerful messenger…

  • Such an important message and beautifully written Clare – thank you for sharing. I will read this to my daughters later on today – so important that the next generation know what they are up against – Cx

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