it was the surprise it was intended to be.
|2117 word entry for November's "Paranormal Romance Short Story Contest"
The moonlit night and salty air captured Maria’s complete attention. “What a perfectly romantic night for a walk.”
She kicked off her sandals to play with the rippling incoming march of whispering waves. The sensual stroking against her feet made them tingle. A whisper of a seagull’s cry broached the wind. “I hear you, another nature lover.”
It was the first night in a long line of them when she’d finally felt free. The loss of Mark left a permanent depressed longing etched on her face. She knew he wouldn’t want her to grieve forever but it was so hard to let him go. “Life isn’t fair.”
The perfect moment of peace had come and gone. It was time to go back. She felt the heavy weight of loss make her shoulders droop, her eyes no longer sought the endless vista with it’s open possibilities. “My life is over just as it had begun.”
Maria looked back to where her tracks washed away where sand met the eternal ocean. “Erased.” The never ending supply of tears spilled out once again. Her fingers touched the wetness, trembling, wondering if she would ever find true happiness again.
The accident that took her beloved Mark from her was so senseless. Onlookers said he swerved to avoid hitting a child. It was just like him to offer up his own life that another might live. The child’s mother forgot to close the gate while carrying in groceries from her car. She’d seen her three year old daughter run out in the street chasing after the neighbors cat.
The cat still had at least one of its nine lives active. She was safe. Her daughter was allowed to keep hers by the miracle of Mark’s fast reflexes. The neighbor’s fence stopped the car. One of its posts speared through the windshield. Mark was plucked away from their destiny together the next moment in a double edged tragedy. “Engaged to be married and he even took care of me.”
The surprise of the double indemnity life insurance policy Mark took out a week before set up Maria with no need to ever work again. The beachside bungalow he’d purchased was to be a wedding surprise.
In shock at the news of what happened followed by the gifts Mark so thoughtfully provided with his untimely death, made her want to be as close to him as possible. In spite of the admonitions of her family and friends, she closed herself off with the memories of togetherness.
The scent of Mark faded slowly from the bed he had slept in while making everything just right for their honeymoon. The memories slowly were becoming blurred. Tonight had been the first time she hadn’t felt him walking beside her, back and forth along the white sandy beach. “I miss you so much. Even more, now that I know you won’t always be with me.”
Thoughts of walking into the waves and joining him, wherever he was, made her turn towards the ocean. It would be so easy. What was keeping her back?
It called to her. The feeling of floating, being surrounded and comforted into one of Mother Earth’s hugs brought a wistful smile clinging to her lips. There was the seagull’s lonely cry, urging her on. “I’m ready.” It seemed the perfect answer. Maria began to wade deeper into the eternal wash of gentle waves.
It was Mark’s voice in her head. “Yes, Mark. We can be together.” The sound of her words carried her on, struggling against a sudden back currant bouying her up. She leaned over, soaring, floating, swimming soft and easy strokes. Moonlight glistened where drops fell from her arms like the teardrops she’d left behind on the shore.
“No. I won’t let you. It is not your time, yet.”
Maria felt the salty taste of a wave thrust into her mouth, making her cough and gag. She went under, arms flailing. Why was it so hard to give up? The instinct to survive surprised her with its strength. Refusing to admit failure, when she broke the surface, Maria surrendered, opened her mouth to breathe in her last breath before sinking into eternity.
“I knew you’d do this. It is why I stayed to protect you. Go ahead, let go so I can take over. Let go, babe. That’s it. Close your eyes and feel me take you away.”
“Am I dead?” The blackness faded into the gray before early morning’s light. “Where are you, Mark?”
“Right here, babe. That was a close one. I slipped away from you only for a moment and look what you did. Scared me to death if I wasn’t already a goner. Now, what do we do? I’m attached to you and don’t know how to set either of us free.”
“I can’t see you, Mark. Last I remember I was drowning. This doesn’t feel right. I want to see you.” Maria rubbed her eyes with the back of her hands. The beach felt strangely familiar. Why was that? Had her body been washed ashore?
“Hi, babe. We got a problem.”
“Mark. Oh, Mark. You are real. It happened. I’m dead.”
“No. Feel. You are very much alive.”
The kiss was fleeting, soft, trembling on her lips with a passion brought to more life than she’d felt ever before. Her arms wrapped around him, stealing what comfort and strength was there. “Never let me go.”
The tender kisses grew more ardent. “Yes, make love to me. Make me yours. You are mine, all mine. Forever more.”
The ocean waves were nothing like this. They coupled, floated, rose and fell together into a rising passion that knew no bounds. Hovering on the edge the fiery climax burned so bright they forged themselves into one blissful shooting star skyrocketing, exploding, leaving every earthly care behind.
“That’s all you have to say, darling mine? Oh, Mark. I’m so glad I’m dead. This is everything I wished for.” A sudden brash sandpaper burn along her lower back and thighs seemed to prove otherwise. The ache she felt was no longer for her lover, although it was quite earthy. Much too earthy. Death wasn’t supposed to be a pain like this was it?
“Are you alright? We got a little carried away. Come on. Wash yourself off in the ocean. You’re quite naked, you know. I’ll find the outfit you were wearing while you clean up a bit. We’ll sort things out after.”
It was so nice watching Mark hover over her that Maria barely noticed the shouts of alarm coming from strangers down the beach. The early morning blush of sunrise made it look like she was trying to drown herself again. “No way, do I want to live that over again for eternity. Hurry up, Mark. Bring me my clothes.”
Her skimpy bikini bra and panties floated within reach. “Thank you. Be right out. I’m all sticky and sandy.”
“You talking to me? Lady. you had us worried, my wife and me. Thought for a minute you were, never mind. Do you need us to call someone?” The bald headed stranger looked away while Maria put herself back together.
His dowdy wife came up to task and stutter, “You shouldn’t swim alone, poor thing. You are old enough to know better,” she chastised. “Come on, Ralph, You’ve seen enough. Stop your wandering eyes.”
It made Maria laugh at the way the couple reacted to her. “Boo. I’m a ghost.” She stuck out her tongue at them, paddled water with both hands up to spray them with ocean mist.
“She’s crazy. High on something.” The middle aged man sucked in his pot belly, grabbed his wife’s arm and the two back pedaled, spitting out the salty brew drenching their faces.
“Well, they didn’t disappear like ghosts, but did the best they could. We’d better get back to the beach bungalow before the authorities arrive.” Mark appeared by Maria’s side as she stepped out of the ocean to dry sand.
“They could see me. How does that work? I thought people could only see ghosts on special occasions. I felt quite naked in that man’s eyes. It was spooky. You have a lot to teach me, my friend.”
The two walked side by side, silent for a moment as each gathered the fact that they were together again. Hands soon joined, fingers idly playing between each other. “Why the bungalow, Mark? You have so much to tell me. I feel like an infant, reborn.”
“Not sore? That love bite on your neck?” Mark laughed, pausing to turn Maria around, carefully caressing a bruise or two earned from the lively night before.
“I see my nails scratched a love pattern down your back, dear heart. Don’t tell me, you don’t feel a well earned gift or two.”
“Oh, oh. Here comes the calvary.” Mark pointed down the beach where two life savers drove the flashing lights of a state beach buggy flinging sand behind its wheels. “Time to disappear.” And he was gone.
Maria turned, startled as the buggy spun to a stop beside her. “You the broad trying to drown herself?” One burly swim suited figure muscled his way out of the driver’s seat.
“You can see me, too? I don’t believe this is happening. Mark? Where are you?”
“Who’s this Mark? Two of you drowning yourselves in a lovers pack? Where is he, we need to take you both in and sort this thing out. We’ve got witnesses, up yonder at the station.”
Maria no longer felt saying “Boo” would suffice to handle the situation. “I need a little help, here, Mark. Do something, please.”
There he was, next to her, as suddenly as she asked her wish to be granted. “Boo,” he said, sticking out his tongue, wiggling his hands behind his ears, and prancing around the two guards.
One took a right house swing at Mark, found himself hitting air. He swung around, knocking himself off his feet. “Where did he go?”
“I’m right here. Leave the lady alone.” Mark leaned over offering to help the fellow up.
The second guard took a step back, tripped over the first, and started to crawl towards the dune buggy as fast as he could. “Shoo, go away.” Maria felt her laughter beginning to turn a little hysterical. This disappearing and appearing act had its uses but needed some controlling.
“Why couldn’t I disappear?” She clung onto Mark’s arm to make sure he was there. “I know it is a little early in training, but you’d think we ghosts would have a knack to do that naturally.”
“You are definitely not a ghost, Maria. Don’t you get it, yet? I saved you from the ocean. Love keeps us together. It is going to cause problems we’ll both have to sort out.”
“But. But, how can you appear and feel so human? Those others saw you clear as day. Heard you talk. You do have some explaining to do, mister.”
“Just not here. Back to the bungalow. I don’t think those two lifeguard dudes will report us until they fabricate some kind of story, but we’d still best hurry. I feed off your earthly energy, your karma. You feed off my love in return. We are a revolving cycle of impossibility. I don’t know how long it will last but I’m loving it while it does. How about you?”
They’d increased the pace while talking and found themselves at their front door. Inside, both felt easier and turned into a welcome embrace. “You aren’t going anywhere without me. Now, that I’ve got you I’m going to keep you under lock and key, ghost or not.”
The knocking on the bungalow door an hour or so later went unnoticed. Honeymoon’s should not be disturbed.
It was the best of all worlds. Maria had all anyone needed to live well without having to work. The years brought less and less ghost tales haunting the bungalow where she lived. Whenever family and friends wanted to visit, she said the bungalow was too private a place and she’d visit during trips together at shared destinations near and far. It would be a nice vacation but never for long.
The memories of Mark were too vivid, she said. She felt too close to him. She would hear the lonely call of a solitary seagull where the two had walked often in the moonlight. Maria loved the feel of their footsteps as they sparkled in the waves along the ocean shore.
When she talked about Mark, it sounded like they were still together. Maria sounded so happy no-one suggested therapy. Let her be a little bit daft.