I’m lost in worries, work and bills seem the sum of life. So I walk down to the beach, needing the solace of the sea.
The sea is calm tonight, the moon full. A breeze brushes my cheeks, the ocean scent carries. It is pleasant here, away from the city strains.
A few hundred metres along, I notice a procession of a dozen robed people, close to the shoreline. They are walking slowly, silently, heads covered in hoods. Though not alarmed, I wonder what they are doing.
I stride to catch up. A woman at the rear turns her head and nods a greeting.
‘What are you up to?’ I whisper.
‘Walking. Join us if you like.’
‘Thanks. Who are—?’
‘Shush now,’ she says.
I follow the procession out of curiosity, feeling underdressed in jeans and a denim jacket. No one pays me much heed.
Ahead in the sand there’s a life-size stone statue, a female form. In the moonlight the figure glows with a waxy white light. A shiver passes across my shoulders; I’ve never seen this statue before, though I know the beach well.
The people light candles and place them on the sand, until the beach is blanketed in tiny flames. A rhythmic chanting begins, but I can’t make out what is being said.
A postman appears from nowhere. He takes out a small wooden box from his bag and offers it to me. ‘Here,’ he says.
‘For me. Really?’
The postman hands boxes to the others too. Inside each box is an egg nestled on tissue paper. I frown.
Stopping their chanting, each person takes out their egg and drops it in turn at the foot of the statue. I follow suit. From the cracked shells, the egg whites and yolks soak into the beach. Tiny bubbles fizz from the sand, turning from white to silver to yellow to crimson. How strange.
The people remove their hoods and stare out to sea. I don’t recognize any of their faces.
The ritual appears to be over. I walk back with them in silence, heading towards the city.
‘Is it over?’ I ask one man.
‘Almost. We’ve still got to decorate the dawn.’
‘I don’t understand.’
The people are still holding their small wooden boxes. I do too; it feels like a charm.
We reach the city outskirts. Dawn is breaking, its tentacles of light creeping through the streets. A few pedestrians appear in suits or uniforms, going to work.
The robed people start to disband. Before leaving, each places their wooden box on the pavement in a line.
I put mine down too. Everyone else from the procession has vanished.
A suited pedestrian almost trips over one box. ‘Damn,’ he says. ‘You lot shouldn’t keep doing this box thing. It makes it all harder.’
‘Makes what harder?’
‘Don’t open them until I’m gone. Please.’ He scuttles off.
Curiosity pressing at me, I take the lid off one box – a puff of crimson smoke emerges. Brilliant yellow smoke escapes from a second. Then, from each box in turn, a colour: turquoise, aquamarine, maroon, copper, plum, lilac, azure, indigo, teal, gold, cerise. I watch in wonder as the coloured wisps drift off onto ordinary currents of wind.
The azure puff floats into the face of a man in overalls; I see his tired eyes come alive with the promise of a forgotten dream. The plum one creeps into the open window of a flat; from within comes a voice murmuring about love.
As I watch the colours slip into the morning air, a pedestrian swerves around me and mutters for me to get out of the way.
I can’t – I won’t. I watch the last puffs vanish.
Katy Wimhurst’s first collection of short stories, Snapshots of the Apocalypse, is published by Fly on the Wall Press. Her fiction has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies including The Guardian, Writers’ Forum, Cafe Irreal, Magic Oxygen Literary Prize, and ShooterLit. Her visual poems have appeared in magazines like Ric Journal, 3AM, Steel Incisors, The Babel Tower, Dreampop Press, and Streetcake Magazine. She is housebound with the illness M.E.