The man’s blue eyes focused on my face, how cold they were. I suppose it was to be expected. He wasn’t Santa Claus after all, no, he was more like the grim reaper. For a moment, I considered begging for mercy, but it was futile. Death was inevitable.
Oh, how I wished I could turn back time, back to when I first heard I was going to die. Maybe then I might have been more careful. A scene sprang up in my mind, and I suddenly saw my fourteen-year-old self. I was in a tent, sitting opposite an old woman. She had a long thin nose, a wrinkly face, and grey, wiry hair. She reminded me of a witch.
I leaned closer to her. She was holding my hand, staring at my palm.
“Well,” I said. “What’s my future?” So far she’d told me nothing. I tapped my foot on the grass. “Well,” I repeated. For a clairvoyant, she wasn’t that good. My two besties, Kim and Leanne had come out of their sessions blabbing about all the wonderful things that awaited them, careers, husbands, babies, and travel. And what had I learned, nothing? Again I tapped my foot. “Well.”
She smiled and said, “I can see you are at loggerheads with your girlfriends. Perhaps you should consider branching out a bit more. Then she raved on about finding more compatible friendships. I faded out. To think I’d paid $15 for this. Finally, it came to an end. I pulled back my hand, staring at her. “But you didn’t tell me anything interesting.”
She shrugged, “I told you all I saw.”
“What, no way, I want something more. Please, what about career, marriage, babies. What…?”
She leaned towards me, biting her lip, as though in indecision, then said, “I see danger for you. Something about the beach.” She clasped my lower arm. “If you want to live, stay away from the beach.”
My jaw dropped open. Was she kidding?
Just then a bald, chunky man covered with tats pushed open the tent flaps. He glared first at me, then at the clairvoyant. “Times up,” he said.
“But?” My forehead creased. “We’re not finished.”
“I said times up.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “Get out.”
I turned back towards the clairvoyant. She nodded her head and mouthed, go.
Geez, did I have a choice? On wobbly legs, I walked towards the gorilla, ducked under his arm, and stepped outside. “Hold on,” I said, turning around again, but the flaps had already closed behind me. My shoulders slumped. My God! I was going to die on a beach. At least that’s how I understood it. I would have liked her to explain further. If you want to live, stay off the beach. What exactly did she mean? If only that stupid bald man hadn’t shown up when he did.
I decided to go find my friends Kim and Leanne. The thought of going back into the tent alone and demanding answers, with him there, gave me the heebie-jeebies, but if there were three of us! I turned towards the beach and began walking across the green grass, slinking my way between the crowds of people.
The town where I live, Springwood, held its annual Fair next to the beach every single year, at the start of summer. As usual, there were a heap of stalls, hot dog stands, fairy floss machines, fair-ground rides, and of course, the infamous fortune tellers tent. Kids like me hung about all day in big groups. We’d meet at the beach in the morning, then go back and forth from the beach to the Fair until it was time to go home in the afternoon. Fun times for all, except they didn’t seem that fun today.
I reached the ramp leading down towards the beach and scanned the area for Kim and Leanne. They told me they’d meet me near the red and yellow beach flags after I finished with the clairvoyant. I couldn’t see them. I should have known, Kim and Leanne had been laughing and whispering a lot to one another of late. I gritted my teeth. They were probably here somewhere hiding or watching me from afar to see what I might do, continue looking, or go home.
The bitches, Well, they’d be sorry. I placed one foot on yellow sand then stopped. Something bad was going to happen to me on the beach, the clairvoyant had said as much. I took a backward step. If I wanted to live, I needed to stay away. I went home instead.
Although the next few days were humid, I did not leave my house. Neither Kim, nor Leanne phoned to see what had become of me. Other friends did though, “come to the beach,” they said. “Come on, it’s the summer holidays. What are you sitting at home for.” I continuously refused their invitations.
At night when I turned out my bedroom light, I kept thinking about the clairvoyants warning to stay off the beach. Why? What was going to happen? I tossed and turned, churning different death scenarios over in my mind. The most unrealistic — The Sand Sucker.
The Sand Sucker was not born of my imagination. It came from a movie I had once seen on television. It was about this creature that lurked at the beach, deep within the sand. Every so often, it would emerge and drag some poor unsuspecting soul downwards. The captured persons always went down screaming, with blood and body parts spraying in all directions. For months after, the images gave me the creeps, then school and family life distracted me, and I forgot it. It wasn’t until I visited the clairvoyant that The Sand Sucker came back to mind again, and although I knew it was silly, my heart almost froze every time I considered going anywhere near a beach. The Sand Sucker, it was going to get me, rip apart my limbs, squirt my blood, kill me.
My parents soon started wondering why I was hanging around at home. So I told them, first about the clairvoyant and then about The Sand Sucker. “How ridiculous,” they said. The next thing I knew I was at the beach, in my dad’s arms, standing on the surf line, white-wash whirling about my feet.
“You are safe,” he said. “I will not let anything bad happen to you.” And nothing did.
The next day when my friends phoned with their usual meet at the beech invitation, I went, despite feeling a little on edge. I saw Kim and Leanne hanging around the lifesaver’s tent, but they ignored me, so I ignored them back. Although I had no idea what I had done, I figured our friendship was over. I wasn’t too fussed, I had other friends.
I’ll always remember that day because it was the start of my relationship with Will Anderson. Unlike other boys in my school year, Will wasn’t out to show off and be the big macho man. Comfortable in his skin, he didn’t need approval from his peers. He was too busy living his own life. His two main areas of interest were surfing and studying. By the time he’d hit fourteen, he had already won several surfing competitions, and everyone kept saying it was only a matter of time before he went pro. In case his surfing career turned south, though, he was working on a back-up plan. After he finished high school, he planned on completing a sports journalist degree by correspondence.
The perfect boy, respectful, talented, smart, oh, and with his bleached blond hair and muscular body, an absolute Greek God. I almost swooned on the spot when he sat next to me on the beach that day and began talking.
He seemed so genuine I told him about my visit to the clairvoyants and my fears of being sucked into the sand by The Sand Sucker. Like my dad, he said I had nothing to fear, that he’d look after me.
That night he showed up at my house with a helpful suggestion. He said I should write a list of all the ways I could die on a beach, and then come up with solutions to combat them. My list was small — getting caught in a rip and drowning, being eaten by a shark, being washed away by a giant tsunami, and that was it. The Sand Sucker didn’t count as that was pure fiction. Once I’d written my list, Will and I went through it. He suggested I take swimming lessons and become a stronger swimmer than I already was. He then said he’d educate me on how to read the surf, how to avoid rips. We discussed sharks and safe swimming times. Lastly, we talked about tsunamis and weather patterns. He told me if I was on the beach when a tsunami hit, I probably would die, but the chances of that happening were slim. He said I had two choices. One, to lock myself away and never go anywhere, the other, to live my life regardless. Not wanting to become a hermit at the age of fourteen, I decided to heed his advice.
By the time Will and I had finished high school, he had become a pro surfer. I began traveling overseas with him to different competitions. I spent countless hours in remote locations watching him surf. When Will wasn’t surfing, he was either in training, studying for his media sports degree, talking to his coach, or sleeping. And then there was me, his tag-along girlfriend.
One morning, five years later I woke up alone in a hotel room in Bali, crying and lonely. Before I could change my mind, I packed my bags and passport. When Will returned from his early morning surf, we had it out. Since leaving school, I had done nothing but follow him from one beach to another, fulfilling his dreams. Now I had zippo, no career, no future, and no friends. I told him I wanted to reclaim my life. I told him I wanted to study cooking overseas, then return home and settle down. He didn’t want me to go, but could see my point. He then insisted I go to Paris, at his expense, and study that art of cuisine there. I accepted his offer.
By the time I returned to Australia I was twenty-five. Not having much money, I moved back in with my parents, then found a job in a catering company. In the hope of bringing in extra cash, I started up a self-help/cooking blog. I named it — Life After A Break-Up.
When I wasn’t working or blogging, I was at the beach. One day while I was there, stretched out on my towel, soaking up the rays, I suddenly became aware of a dark shadow hovering over me. I sat up with a start to find Kim standing there. We began talking. I asked about Leanne, but it seemed their friendship had fallen apart over some guy they both desired. Our conversations soon turned to old times. The Springwood Fair came up.
“Remember that day you visited the clairvoyant,” Kim said, “I recall you coming out of the tent straight after the reading, your eyes as large as saucepans… like you’d seen a ghost or something. Leanne and I were hiding behind a tree watching, just playing a little trick on you…. you know how girls are. Anyway, we thought we should investigate, so after you walked off. we crept up close to the tent to investigate. Inside we heard the clairvoyant and the bald man talking. The conversation went like this-
“You had no right to tell her that.” The bald man said. “She’s very young. It’s a good thing I arrived when I did to stop you.”
“But it’s true,” the clairvoyant replied. “The beach, it will be the death of her.”
“We didn’t hear anymore because the bald man suddenly spied us peeping through the tent curtain gap and told us to scram.”
My hand fluttered to my chest. I hadn’t given much thought to the clairvoyant’s warning of late. Ten years ago I had been a silly teenager, gullible, ready to believe almost anything. I had grown a lot since then. Will had taught me how to watch out for trouble. How to look after myself on the beach. “Keep your wits about you, and you’ll be safe,” he’d said. And that is what I had done. Any thoughts of dying on the beach had gone from my head. Until now that is. “Why did you not tell me this back then?” I asked Kim.
She shrugged. “You know what teenagers are like,” she replied.
“Gee, thanks,” I said. Not wanting to listen to any more of her crap, I packed up my stuff, saying I was expected at home. It was time to go anyway, my skin had that pinkish glow and from past experiences, I knew I was in for one hell of a sunburn. With a heavy tread, I made my way up the beach, and into the car park. I was about to enter the bush bike track, which led to the street I lived on when I spun suddenly around. I felt like I was being watched. On the beach earlier that morning I’d noticed a skinny, brown beaded guy staring at me. Although he was doing no more than looking, it gave me the chills. Later when he went for a swim I moved my bits and pieces closer to the life savor’s tent, thinking he wouldn’t be able to find me when he returned to his towel. Now in the car-park, I could see him again, he was walking towards me. With haste, I slipped into the narrow bike bush track and walked along at a quick pace. It wasn’t one of my smartest moves. What I should have done was go via the street. The bush track was quicker though, it cut at least fifteen minutes off my journey. Still, a deserted bush track was not the place to be when you suspected you were being followed. For a second, I considered going back, but if the man was behind me, I’d only bump into him on my way out. No, it was best to continue forwards.
Earlier this year, when I returned from Paris, my mum had informed me about a nineteen-year-old girl who had gone missing from Springwood Beech. There one second, vanished the next. No one had seen her since. At the time, the police had advised females persons living in the area not to walk alone. A twig snapped somewhere behind me, and I stopped and turned about. The conversation I’d had with Kim sprang to mind. The clairvoyant’s warning, if you want to live, stay off the beach. I always presumed the threat was the beach itself, that if I were to die, that’s where it would happen. I wondered now if the threat wasn’t the beach, but someone on it, the same someone who had followed me off it. As I stood there the man with the beard abruptly appeared on the track. Before I could make a run for it, he reached out and grabbed my arm.
The man with the cold blue eyes sat on a chair opposite me. “I am very sorry,” he said.
Sorry, I thought. You’ve just delivered my death sentence, and that’s all you have to say. You’re sorry?
It was ironic, the clairvoyant’s warning — if you want to live stay off the beach. My untimely death was not playing out how I thought it would.
I’d conjured up every different scenario I could think of, The Sand Sucker, drowning in a rip, being eaten by a shark, getting washed away in a tsunami. It was none of those. Nor was it the bearded stranger on the beach, who turned out to be Simon Green, a guy who went to the same high school as me. He had only been staring because he was trying to figure out who I was. Then later he found my wallet on the sand, which had fallen out when I moved positions. He’d looked for me to give it back, but didn’t see me until that afternoon as I left the beach. Naturally, he followed. No, Simon Green had not been the threat.
I looked into the eyes of the doctor sitting opposite me. His last sentence played again in my head, “you have melanoma. It has spread to your lymph nodes. I am very sorry.”
My father, who had come to the doctor’s office to offer moral support, gripped my shoulder. “I’ve got you,” he said softly.
My vision blurred, melanoma. No, not me. But why not me? My whole life had been about the beach, all through my childhood, and then, with Will. The clairvoyant had warned me; if you want to live, stay off the beach.
If only I’d listened.