Footprints in the Sand: A Short Story
Carol hugged the collar of her coat close to her chin; desperate to bury her cold ears in the warmth of the soft furry hood. Wisps of ebony hair dampened from the sea air clung to her face. Her pale dry lips were caked in salt, begging her tongue to lick them. Her hands dry and scaled, coloured red with the harsh biting wind dug deep into the worn pockets of her old blue coat. Carol wriggled her toes in her boots, wishing she'd worn an extra pair of socks.
Carol loved to walk along the beach ever since she was a little girl. Picking brightly coloured shells and unusual shaped stones. Treasures from the ocean floor. The glorious sound of the white surf crashing on the shore. The golden sands stretching in front of her, like the yellow brick road in the Wizard of Oz. Carol would pretend she was Dorothy. Clicking her heels to go home. These days Carol mostly liked the solitude. The wind had perfected the art of numbing her thoughts and the ocean washed over her like a calming wave drowning all the madness out. She walked unburdened; a sense of freedom in her soul. Carol loved the blue of the horizon. The odd peeping sleek head of a curious seal. The lone call of a seagull. Carol's thoughts drifted to the billions of grains of sand under her feet. Wondering where all those grains came from or what they once might have been. A fabulous Castle from long ago with majestic stone walls and corner towers reaching to the clouds or a magnificent tomb an elaborate shrine to a loved one. She stood, surrounded by solace, a single moment forever hers. Thoughts of bills, the mortgage, the fact her husband Stephen and herself were more like strangers than husband and wife. The job she hated and a boss she could easily kill without a trace of remorse. A single silver blade thrust deep into his cruel black heart. She'd claim self defense on the grounds he was steeling her sanity. Surely her sanity was worth more than a fat ignorant sod, who stank of cigars and stale beer. He was a bastard. He made her life hell.
The wind tried to bite Carols face, her cheeks stung and she thought about going home. It seemed like a long time since she'd been home. She must be gone a while. These regular walks were becoming more and more of a habit recently. Lately her walks on the lonely beach had been disturbed by an intruder. Carol couldn't remember exactly when the intrusion had started. She just happened to notice footprints in the sand that seemed to follow alongside her. Funny! It should bother her, but it didn't. The footprints seemed familiar, in a strange sort of way. Carol stopped and stared out to sea. The dark blueness of the ocean beckoned to her, she looked back to the defined footprints beside her. She gazed along the stretch of white sandy beach, only her prints were visible. Glancing to her side the second set of prints seemed to mock her, almost with defiance. Clearly outlined in the sand despite the wind. Carol looked back out to sea. Standing there for a long time, not sure what she was looking for; if indeed there was anything she had ever really looked for in her whole entire life.
In the distance Carol heard a faint shout, quickly snapped and swallowed by the rising wind. Carol gazed back down the beach, shielding her eyes with a cold red hand she peeked through her frozen fingers. A dark figure loomed in the distance. A stride Carol recognized, quickly ate the space between them. Snatched words became clearer and her name echoed in her ears. Shoulders hunched forward and his head down braced against the cold air. Carol wondered why Stephen was here. He hated the sand. Said he couldn't stand the way it got every where. He never walked with her despite numerous invitations.
''I must be late,'' Carol mused, not really caring. Tea time perhaps, she thought, or some other mundane chore. Bracing herself for his harsh words, she waited.
''Carol.'' Her name bounced along the sands. ''Carol.'' She didn't answer. Pulling her coat tighter she continuing to stare out to sea. Stephen called her name again and again, hurtling up the beach. His long grey coat flapped around his body, wrapping itself about his thighs. Stephen always had strong muscular legs. A sudden memory of playing tennis on the green stole into her thoughts. They were young and laughing in the summer sunshine. Carol was never any good at tennis. Stephen always let her win. The loser, Stephen, always paid for lunch. Hot-dogs with the full works and cold cans of cola. The winner, Carol, always kissed him tenderly and whispered in his ear that she loved him. The memory faded, lapsed deep down where all the other forgotten memories had faded. Lost forever, shadows of a former life.
Then he was beside her, his eyes searching the horizon, calling her name. His large hands cupped against chapped split lips weathered by salty air. Carol gazed up into Stephen's face. A handsome face. His greying temples whiter than she remembered, his eyes hollow and his pale cheeks stained by hundreds of tears. He stood right where the footprints were. They fitted perfectly. Stephen's footprints.
Stephen called one last time. A heart wrenching guttural scream rode on the wind and her name disappeared out to sea. He turned, his thinning shoulders slumped; he walked slowly away a defeated man. Carol felt a sudden tear threaten to slide from the corner of her eye, but she knew it wouldn't fall, it never did. Turning she walked down the beach. In the distance she heard a lone seagull call.
Carol often came here and walked the sands. Mostly for a little solitude. She liked the way the ocean washed over her. A calming wave drowning all the madness out.
A little dark reading
- The Legend of Loftus Hall: An Irish Ghost Story
Perhaps it is because an ancestor of mine had the maiden name of Redmond that I was told this story many times as a young child. There are many versions I'm sure, however this version is one that has been told...
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© 2011 Gabriel Wilson