By James Tatam
He is crawling, then running. Cedarwood creaks under his feet, and below, ocean waves crash together like wild beasts, raging in their rut. The wooden arm of the pier, outstretched into the moonlight, continues for a lifetime.
He must keep running; in front, they are getting older with every stumble.
Just minutes ago, he had been a small, fragile thing: a baby, clambering away from where land met pier, determined hands outstretched, pulling him along. His palms came up a little older, moss-matted and needled with splinters, but he kept moving. Under the hopeful luminescence of the pier’s egg-shaped lamps, he had grown: baby, toddler, child. In an unending pursuit of the silhouette ahead. Birthdays are run through and thrown behind, skin shed. The pace cannot slacken, he believes that much.
Now, as a man, he hopes to catch up.
Ahead, they are slowing. Old age is rusting their legs. He feels an icy sensation run through him. The first cold numbness sets in as cold winds whip the pier.
But the race has barely begun; there is still so much more of the pier to cover.
He grabs the wooden side to steady himself. A hairy, sullen hand, with thick, river-like veins flowing beneath the skin.
He begins anew. Breath erupts from his lungs, exploding out of his mouth in pale clouds. There is a presence behind now. He can sense it following like a shadow. The planks squeak with every footfall; their wood is old and weathered with the frantic, paranoid footsteps of so many others before him. These very boards echo with an eternity of ghosts.
Gulls squawk overhead, skeletal in the slithers of moonlight. Embers float through the air like pollen, small orange blossoms tossed into the dark. He dashes through them, cinders haloing his head.
Almost there. He almost has them.
The sinews of his legs no longer stand the strain. Again, he grabs the side; this hand liver-spotted and gaunt. His heart races against his birdcage chest. Let me out, it screams. His breath comes in slower gaps. When he resumes, he almost stumbles over. Age is setting in like rot. Like the pier, his legs creak.
Further ahead, the same is happening to the shadow he’s been chasing his entire life. They grip the side of the pier, hobble along in short hops. To let go now would be to fall.
The end of the pier is in sight: a single bench in a square of rotting wood. So soon. The moon shines upon it like a spotlight.
He falls. Maybe something breaks. He picks himself up, eroded legs dragging him forward.
In front, the shadow stops. They have reached the end. Instead of sitting on the bench, they merely stand there, head anchored towards the moon. Whoever they are, standing in a sphere of light, they have reached a milestone in the race: they’ve won. They look behind for the first time since they started.
“I love you!” he shouts. But they do not react. Turning back to the moon, they evaporate into a haze of embers and float away.
He should have run away right then, but his legs will not stop moving forward. He feels ancient. The eternity of the pier washes over him in hungry waves. Arriving at the end, he glances behind and sees another shadow hurrying toward him. Behind that figure, there is another, and another, stretching on forever.
The long march of lovers, chasing those they cannot reach. The person behind him calls out, but he cannot decipher the words. He looks toward the moon and sees the light.