She decided to meet the voices.
Most people hear the ocean when they press a seashell to their ear, but she heard the water-logged lungs of the dead as they burbled and groaned. There was always something trickling from their bloated tongues.
As a young girl, she would listen to their restless murmurs as they slipped between the bristles of her hairbrush and echoed through the silver enclosure of her compact. The application of make-up became unbearable. If the wrong choice of lipstick shade was chosen, she was obligated to speak on behalf of a murdered child drowned one hundred years prior to her own birth. Her reflection in the mirror would often cast a ghost image.
“My name is Bea,” moist lips no longer her own confessed. “And I hate the sea.”
She was raised on the ocean’s edge. Her father had acquired a small home once owned by a fisherman’s widow. The view from her bay window was of white-capped waves and massive rocks worn smooth by countless millennia of unrelenting breakers. Yet her ears were at constant diversion. Piercing that powdered coast was thousands upon thousands of black seashells whispering from darkness.
“Audra,” one particular clam hissed. “We know you hear us.”
She drew the curtains closed and ignored their casual use of her name.
“Taste my sweet drink,” dripped a sultry voice, swollen with seawater.
Her father was concerned. “A woman washed up on the shore this morning. And I don’t want you going down there to see her,” he warned.
“Because she has your color hair, and you know you’ll only see yourself in her place.”
Of course, she had to go. The unfortunate woman’s red hair was tangled with strands of seaweed, small fish, and urchins. The flesh of her distended belly was pinched closed by the tattered shreds of her blue dress. The locals had encircled her body and were engaged in quiet conversations.
The dead woman simply blinked her milky-white eyes at Audra. “The ocean needs you,” she sighed.
Audra took a step back and realized no one else could hear the voice.
“I need you, Audra,” she continued, and her lips began to bubble and foam. “Come closer,” she begged. “Come closer.”
She ran screaming from the dunes. The locals believed her hysterics were proof of madness. Every coastal town has a lady of the water, some sea hag to frighten the children at campfire tales, and she became the town’s elected witch.
She never married. And after the death of her father, she resided alone in her home, as did the widow before her.
We must all face the inevitable outcome of our own rotted skins.
The widow had thrown herself from the cliffs and was drowned in the ocean depths. She was pleased when Audra asked her why.
“Because we all return to the water, dear,” she breathed through lungs filled with mud and sand.
Audra shook her head, pulled the seashell away from her ear, and dropped it at the shore.
The ocean welcomed her.
Angel Zapata was born in NYC, but currently resides just outside of Augusta, Georgia. His flash fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Microhorror.com, ShadeWorks, AlienSkin and Anotherealm. He is husband to his lovely wife of two years and is also father of four hyperkinetic boys obsessed with all things ninja.