By Christopher J. Ananias
Ben walks along the deserted beach. The waves shimmer like a million dimes, reflecting the sun. The breeze ruffles his blond hair. He trucks along on muscular legs, well-defined arms at his sides. He talks to himself.
“I’m doing fine,” he says aloud. He hesitates, crouches down, and writes FINE in the wet sand. The lake smells faintly of fish. The waves rolling onto the beach draw back, leaving an oblong of pink slime. The coppery smell of blood lingers in the air.
I’m fine. A voice from inside Ben’s mind mocks him. He tells himself that he did not hear anything. He takes off his white T-shirt and throws it high. The wind catches it, and it sails toward the lake. The shirt lies on the water, stretches out, darkens, and sinks. The shirt reminds him of death.
“See me run, Jane!” Ben sprints up the deserted beach. His blue Nikes cut into the soft sand.
I see you, says the voice, louder. A tic bumps under Ben’s left eye. Like a squirming maggot. He tries to ignore it.
Ben loves the sand under his feet. He spends the day aimlessly walking on the endless beach. It gets dark.
“The days are getting shorter,” says Ben.
They are getting much shorter, Ben. Now the voice is familiar.
Ben wanders under the stars. They are bright. He names constellations and loves the wondrous mystery of it all. He crouches and draws skeletons in the sand. Crude stick figures with rib cages. He stands admiring his work. Then he starts wishing for a drink of water. He’s getting bored, too.
Ben, do you want to hurt someone?
“Who are you?” Ben says to the voice. No answer. “Piss off then.” A faint fog hangs on the lake. He walks and catches his foot on a hard object. Stumbles forward. He looks back at it, not expecting anything on the smooth, endless beach.
It’s nothing… keep walking, Ben. The voice speaks from somewhere. Maybe inside his right ear? Ben pokes his finger around inside his ear. Something wiggles in there. He can’t stand it.
“Get out… Get out!” He slaps the other side of his head. Like getting water out. Blood trickles off his earlobe.
Yah ok, Buddy?
“Doing great—glad to be here.” After a while, Ben heads back to where he tripped.
Don’t go back there.
“You’re not my boss.”
Just listen, Man.
“Be quiet.” In swift strides the Nikes catch the water’s edge, splashing smack-smack-smack. His perfect body, streamlined for racing, feels the cool glorious wind. Then he chugs to a stop. Ben knows he’s fast. He always wanted to race Usain Bolt. He wanted to do a lot of things…
Ben, listen… Just listen, Man.
Now the voice sounds like his dead cousin. Ben remembers that night. Stew’s curly disheveled hair, broken front tooth. The scotch bottle flashing in the streetlight. A bloody hand on the white truck. Stew babbling, “Listen… Just… Just listen, Man.” Then not saying anything, swaying drunk, and hurt. Starting over…”Listen… Just listen.” Blood streams from Stew’s split head.
“Shut up! Shut up!”
Ben walks up to the object he tripped over. A white bone sticks up from the sand. He bends over, touching the round knob of a human leg bone.
Oh Ben, now look at what you’ve done, says the voice.
“I-I DIDN’T… DO ANYTHING!” Ben paces around the dark beach for a long time. Listening, just listening for the voice he never hears again.