On an Empty Shore
Estelle showed me a history book not so long ago. Normally I didn’t bother looking at them but this one was interesting. It was about boats and the history of Cape Town. This place used to be called the Tavern of the Seas and over hundreds of years people used to stop here to pick up supplies.
I didn’t tell her that all I remembered was occasionally helping Korean or Filipino sailors find less than legal narcotics while they were on shore leave. They sometimes helped me out with cash which I could use to buy more heroin.
It blew my mind when I saw pictures of Woodstock that used to be a beach. The area today was just a wasteland of old industrial buildings and no one went there much because of the gangs. Guess some things didn’t change much, with or without zombies. All that land got reclaimed. I had no idea that most of the Foreshore used to be under water. Amazing stuff.
I never went down to the sea when I was a warmblood yet for some reason I was drawn there after my change. Some evenings I’d walk through Green Point to the promenade. There was a slipway that the fishermen sometimes used to launch their boats in the old days. The doors at the bottom were never locked, and the cove was sheltered and a perfect place to poke around in rock pools.
The sea had all sorts of moods. When it was winter, it got really exciting because then the surf would be big and sometimes the breakers would explode against the concrete in a huge wash of foam. I got soaked plenty like that. I didn’t feel the cold but there was something very cool and scary about not knowing whether the next wave would drench me.
The Atlantic was like a hungry beast, big and powerful. I liked playing with the danger that it could devour me, suck me off the rocks. One night the only reason it didn’t was because I got wedged in a crevice. Had to wait between rushes of water before I got to a safer distance from the worst of it. The rocks were like black teeth sticking out of the tidal pools. Death to both warmbloods and vampires if you got mashed on them. Many times zombies washed up there and got stuck and I chopped them into bits just for the hell of it.
At low tide I sat and the rock fish nibbled at my toes or I poked at the sea anemones. It felt weird but kinda nice the way they contracted over my fingers. It made me think of times when I’d been a little kid full of sand, only it was hot and ma made me wear a hat. I could almost taste the ice cream.
But there was one night I walked a lot farther along the rocks to where the sand started. I didn’t know what had drawn me out until I saw the long black shape lying on the sand. It was a whale―a very small whale but still a whale. The first I’d ever seen. Once I’d heard on the radio that they beached themselves and I suppose this was a similar situation.
When I looked I saw it wasn’t just one but seven of them and they lay there on the sand, their skins drying out. I could almost feel their sadness and their pain. They were dying and there was no one to help them.
I didn’t want to leave them there. My eyes felt very tight and so did my chest, though I didn’t need to breathe. Moving them wasn’t an option. They were too big except for one that was only slightly longer than I was tall.
I tried, okay? I really tried. I managed to shift the little one closer to the water. It helped also that the tide was coming in and I loved the way its black skin glistened the moment it got wet.
It was slippery in my arms and started to struggle when the waves broke over it. I don’t know for how long we fought each other and the waves. Eventually I was waist deep in the breakers that kept washing over my head. It’s okay, it’s not like I could drown but it was difficult keeping my footing.
We got out quite far and it was almost impossible for me to hold onto it.
“Go back to the sea,” I told him.
For a while he just flopped about in the water. I had to hold him so his blowhole pointed above the surface otherwise he just sank. Then he started swimming. Wow! I whooped and clapped then a wave knocked me over.
The little whale swam a short way along the shore.
Then I swore. He turned himself back at the beach and another big wave came and he just swam with it to beach himself on the sand again. I screamed at him, tried to tug him back out to the water. I tried another five times and it was close to dawn and I was as cold as the sea when I realised there was nothing I could do. The little whale was as tired as I was.
I couldn’t tell if it was the sea that was so salt in my mouth or if I tasted my tears. I hadn’t cried in a very long time but I got out of the water and stood there for a long while and stared at the terrible scene. Three of the whales had already died. Two were close to death. If I’d a gun I could have shot them so they wouldn’t suffer. Instead I did what I could. I went back to where I’d left my things and got my blade. I finished the whales so that they wouldn’t hurt anymore. Dark hot blood gushed onto the sand and bathed my hands and feet in great, iron-rich fountains.
I couldn’t bring myself to drink it.
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