As the Shore Washes Out

Art by Farah Sayed

Writing by Sarah Potts

The last time Eliana had spoken with her brother had been the night he’d thrown the key out into the ocean. It was for her own good, Ezra had said, not meeting her eye as he’d hurled it into the receding tide. Stopping her from reading that horrid book would do both of them good. The powers had been interesting at first. Exciting, even. Eliana had delighted in helping the produce in their garden grow to unnatural sizes, in playing whimsical and ethereal little tunes on their piano with her hands outstretched not touching the keys, in shielding their home against the fierce storms that ravaged the coast. Ezra had delighted too, at first, seeing the marvels she could conjure with the book, the joy that the book had brought to his sister’s life. 

But the more time passed, the more the book began to unsettle him. The fruits and vegetables, at first perfectly ripened, had grown nauseatingly sweet. He would hear the piano playing at odd hours of the morning, but when he would go down to check, Eliana would be fast asleep, her hands held aloft as though with strings, her fingers tapping out the tune from afar. The storms, once an uncommon but manageable occurrence, had gotten worse. Furious dark gray clouds would swirl in the sky above, the fierce winds and torrential rains unleashing a relentless assault against their small home. Eliana would stand out amidst it all, eyes closed and arms outstretched, and Ezra was no longer certain if she was protecting them against the storm, or, in some strange way, making it worse. His unease had grown to a point where he couldn’t ignore it any longer.

He’d tried to tear out its pages, burn it in their fireplace, slash at it with the sharpest knife in their kitchen. It had worked, for a short while. The book would shred, shrivel, fall to pieces. But never for long. It always turned back up, in the same place on the shelf in their small library, in the same condition as the day she’d first found it. She would retrieve it, pretend as though it hadn’t disappeared in the first place, and carry on.

The book and the key were as one, for without the key, the book remained bolted shut by the thin, intricate lock on its worn leather cover. And without the book, the key had no purpose. Without the key, she wouldn’t be able to read the book anymore. Without the book, maybe things would return to the way they’d been before.  

When he’d thrown the key out, she had run headfirst into the water after it, diving beneath the crashing waves, eyes stinging under the barrage of salt water and hands scrabbling through the wet sand and twisted, slimy weeds, searching for the familiar piece of warped dark metal. But it had been of no use. The key had been washed out to sea. By the time she’d returned to shore, Ezra had already gone back inside and shut himself in his room. That night, she’d left home, taking the book with her. She hadn’t seen her brother since.

The next few years passed for Eliana so much as a long, deep dream, moving from place to place across the countryside, events blurring together into one feverish series of adventures and battles and relationships and rests, filled with faces that crept away from her mind whenever she would close her eyes. With each day that passed, the book felt heavier and heavier upon her back. With each day that passed, she longed to return home.

And so she did. Pocket full of coin earned during her travels and heart weighing heavy in her chest, she tread the overgrown path back to their town, up to the front door. The salt-encrusted hinges creaked painfully as she pulled the door open and stepped inside. She circled throughout the still, quiet rooms looking, but the moment she had crossed the threshold, she knew she wouldn’t find him there. Her search drew to an end at the kitchen in the back of the house, where she found the only sign that something had changed since she left. 

On the kitchen table were three things. One was a note. Though the room and table were dry as a bone, the parchment was weathered and blurred to the point of illegibility. Large drops of water had mingled with the ink, washing out words  to where all that was left was a few scattered words and phrases. had to go. understand. sorry for. another. See you soon. And at the bottom, Ezra.

Beside the note was a bowl of oranges. At least, she thought they were oranges. They were rotted nearly all the way through, a swarm of ants winding in and out of the desiccated peels, drawn to the sickly, horrible sweetness that coated the bottom and sides of the bowl. In all her time with the book, Eliana had never grown oranges.

Behind them both was a rusted, barnacle-encrusted key.

“You were right.” The words lingered on her lips as she gazed out of the frosted window upon the empty beach beyond the glass.