The man leaned back, basking in the last few rays of the sun this day had to offer. The scent in the air reminded him of the burning of tar they used to fix the roads. Normally he wouldn’t leave his scent filter off for this long, but this was one of those days he hoped to smell the salt in the air or the drying seaweed again. Maybe, just maybe, it would be there again. But there was nothing. Just the reek of decay and the greasiness of it that thickened the air and clung to his skin.
The wretched smell was getting too much, so he flipped the switch back to setting 3, lavender. He dug his right hand into the soft sand, letting every pebble graze smoothly against his skin. He wished he could still feel the same with his toes and left hand.
A boy with blonde hair and a freckled face, mostly covered by his oxy-mask, rushed up to him, kicking up the sand with every clumsy step. He wore a pair of baggy red swimming trunks, that his mother probably assured him he would grow into later. He stopped before the man, looking at the object that was rammed into the sand, which the man was leaning his back against, mesmerized by the neon purple and blue dragon that contorted itself on the waxy surface. The man was glad to see his friend Brianna’s painting skills would still be appreciated so many years later, and wished she’d been here to see it herself.
“What’s that?” the boy asked.
“It’s called a surfboard,” said the man, patting his hand proudly against it.
“What’s a surfboard?”
“A board for surfing,” the man said, grinning broadly, though his smile was blocked by the mask he wore.
“But what does it do?” the boy asked, annoyed by the non-answer he got.
“Leave the man alone,” a different voice joined in on the same frequency. A woman in a red bathing suit, sitting on a nearby bench, motioned to her son to come back.
“I don’t mind,” said the man, waving back. He turned back to the boy. “When I was a kid, we used to–,” the man began before he changed his mind. “You know what; forget it, kid,” he said. “It’s not important.”
“Tell me! C’mon, tell me what it does.”
“I can’t. You might get dumb ideas into your head, and your mom will say it’s my fault if you–,” he paused.
“If I what?”
The man groaned. He sat up, his legs beeping and creaking as he did. The sunbeams that managed to breach the thick clouds reflected dimly off their chrome surface. He tapped his hand against them, knocking the sand out from the grooves. He then aimed one of his artificial fingers at the horizon.
“You see that?”
“The Black?” the boy asked.
“Yeah. The Black. We used to call it the sea.”
“The C? What happened to A and B?”
“No, not–,” the man sighed. “Back in the day, my friends and I used to go into the sea with our boards. Ride the waves.”
“What’s a wave?” the boy asked.
“A thing the water did. It used to move, the sea. There would be these waves that–,” the man tried to explain, but the boy’s confused expression told him enough. He could spend years trying to explain it all. The sight of the water rolling onto the beach. The salt sticking to his skin. The thrill of mastering the waves. But these were things the boy would never understand, which broke the man’s heart.
“Look, kid. Forget it. Let’s just say it wasn’t always the Black. It used to be different, when you could walk up to it and touch it without…without incident. That’s all you need to know. That it wasn’t black.”
“Then what was it?”
“Blue. Blue as far as you could see.”
“Yeah. Or green. Bits of blue and green,” he chuckled, doing his best to steel his voice.
“You okay, mister?”
He sighed. “I used to come here a lot. Like, a lot. With my friends. We’d spent hours here, watching the sunset and swim till our skins pruned.”
“You can’t be out here long. My mom says we can only stay out here for one hour. Then we need to plug my mask in.”
The man laughed. “It was different back then. We could stay out as long as we wanted. It was the best. Surfing was the one thing I loved in this world.”
“Why’d you stop if it was so much fun?”
The man looked down at his legs. The itch he could never scratch, not since that day the waters lost their blue and turned on him, flared up again. That nightmarish day the Black took his legs, his fingers, his best board and his friends.
“You should head back, kid,” he grunted. “And don’t you go over that wall or touch the Black. I mean it. The sea is gone. Don’t go out there.”
“Why?” asked the boy. “What would happen?”
The man said nothing. He knocked against his right synth-leg, which whirred and beeped. He pulled his board out from the grey sand and walked off. For a moment, the man paused and looked into the distance, past the wall, where he at one time rode his board through the waves, before the Black. Before that day where he was the last to enter the waters.
The boy’s mask began to beep, flashing red. His air supply was low. He ran back to his mother, leaving behind the dark sand and the concrete wall that separated the beach from the sticky, acidic, rancid mass that was the Black. The dark ghost of the once blue horizon.
Joachim Heijndermans writes, draws and paints nearly every waking hour. Originally from the Netherlands, he’s been all over the world, boring people by spouting random trivia. His work has been published with Fictionmagazines.com, OMNI, Kraxon, Stinger, 365 Tomorrows, Shotgun Honey, Gathering Storm Magazine and Ares Magazine. In his spare time he paints, reads, travels and promises himself that he’ll finish writing that novel someday.