Harry stood on the sand and looked down the wide, curved beach of Cloudy Bay. Everything was clean and golden and crisp, the sky almost violet with the winter light, and he wished that he wasn't afraid. They were leaving him again, his brothers, Miles already half in his wet suit and Joe standing tall, eyes lost to the water.
Water that was always there. Always everywhere. The sound and the smell and the cold waves making Harry different. And it wasn't just because he was the youngest. He knew the way he felt about the ocean would never leave him now. It would be there always, right inside him.
That was just how it was.
"What should I find?" he asked.
Joe shook his dry wet suit out hard. "Um . . . A cuttlefish bone, a nice bit of driftwood . . ."
"A shark egg," Miles said.
And there was silence.
Harry waited for Miles to say he was joking, waited for him to say something, but he didn't. He just kept waxing his board.
So Harry stood up and ran.
He followed the marks of high tide left behind on the sand and his eyes skimmed the pebbles, the shiny jelly sacks, the broken shells. Cuttlefish were easy but shark eggs were impossible. They looked just like seaweed. He kept thinking he'd found one only to realize it was just a bit of kelp or a grimy pebble. There was hardly any point in trying. But he did try. He always found everything on the list. Always.
There was a cormorant gliding low, its soft white stomach almost touching the water, and Harry watched it as it moved. He watched it slow down and land on a rock on the shore. He walked close, walked right up to the rock, but the bird didn't move. It just stayed still. And he'd never seen one alone. Not like this, on the land. They were always in groups, cormorants. Huddled together in groups on the cliffs and rocks, long necks reaching up to the sun. Sometimes they stayed like that all day. Together. Waiting and watching. Resting.
The bird called softly, and Harry was so close that he felt the sound vibrate inside him. He wanted to reach out and touch it, to stroke the silky shimmering feathers down the cormorant's back. But he stayed still, kept his arms by his sides. He thought that maybe the cormorant was sick. That maybe it couldn't find the others. And he didn't know how they made it, how they survived. Flying over all that ocean, flying and flying in the wind and in the rain. Diving into the cold water.
They washed up in the surf sometimes, the lost ones.
The bird called again. It bobbed its head up and down and spread its wings, then it was gone.
Harry left the beach and ventured into the dunes. Might find a good bit of driftwood in there or something interesting at least. He ran up and down the small humps and valleys, the loose sand getting firmer under his feet, and he kept on going. He could hardly see the beach anymore. It was farther than he had ever been. He slowed down, started walking. He looked ahead. There was some kind of clearing, small trees all around. Shrubs. It was a good sheltered place; the wind wouldn't get in this far even if it was really blowing. You could camp here. You could stay here and it would be all right.
Behind a shrub, a pile of shells. A giant pileold and brittle and white from the sun. Oyster and mussel, pipi and clam, the armor of a giant crab. Harry picked up an abalone shell, the edges loose and dusty in his hands. And every cell in his body stopped. Felt it. This place. Felt the people who had been here before, breathing and standing alive where he stood. People who were long dead now. Long gone. And Harry understood, right down in his guts, that time ran on forever and that one day he would die.
The skin on his hands tingled and pricked.
He dropped the shell and ran.
He had to wait for ages but finally Joe came in. Miles stayed out. He was way out deep and it didn't even look like there were any waves out there. He was just sitting in the water. Just sitting there and Harry was starving, couldn't stop thinking about those sandwiches. The cheese and chutney ones.
Excerpted from Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett. Copyright © 2014 by Favel Parrett. Excerpted by permission of Washington Square Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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