By Riss Ryker.
As my husband and I walked along the shore, a stiff breeze kicked up mist from the waves as they crashed onto the white sand. Jack’s curly, black hair was tossed and windblown, giving him a delightfully boyish look I loved. We walked past sand-stranded sea stars and the slimy leaves of sea-tangle that housed tiny crabs, loving the briny smell of it. Jack and I, married for thirty years, walked along the shore every morning as if the sea mist was our cup of coffee. The day wasn’t right without taking this walk. We still held hands, his quiet strength comforting and familiar. I wondered what my own sand-colored hair must look like, all tangled and wild in the breeze, but Jack’s look of love told me to never mind. We had one child, he and I, but for a fleeting moment. Sweet and gentle as a fawn, Emily lived just five short years before cancer took her from us, leaving memories in the shape of a marble headstone and a barren womb.
We finally came to the mounds of slate gray boulders that bordered our property, roundish giants that ran into the sea like barnacle covered sea monsters writhing as the ocean swells moved over them. We started up the stone steps that led to the seaside cottage we stayed in year round to have our coffee and watch the sea. A rumble of thunder overhead let us know a storm was on the way. At the top of the stairs I peered back at the ocean, watching the rain swollen clouds tumble in with the tide. That’s when I saw it. Something was stuck on the boulders just past the shoreline on the outcrop.
“Jack, what is that out there?” I pointed, “There, by the rocks.”
He looked in the direction I pointed and ran in to get the binoculars he used to watch whales. He adjusted the sights and peered out, gasping.
“My God, Ruthie!” he cried out, “It’s a person, a child, I think, on a raft!”
Eyes wide with horror, I grabbed his arm. “Jack, we have to go down there! By the time anyone comes it’ll be too late! The storm will take the raft further out to sea!”
Running inside, we threw on a pair of jeans and our fishing boots. The rocks were slippery and barnacle covered, and one slip would slice our legs wide open. Grabbing the foam ring buoy, we ran down the stairs just as it started raining softly, the prelude to the storm that was coming our way.
We carefully made our way over the rocks as the waves sprayed salty mist in our faces, until Jack told me to stay put as he crawled the last few yards to the small raft. I watched him drag the raft closer so he could put the buoy around the child’s small body for safety, pulling her slowly towards him until he had her in his arms. My whole body was shaking, unable to believe or even hope she was still alive. A million questions rolled over in my mind as I wondered how in the world she came to be on the raft in the middle of the ocean.
“Careful, Jack!” I yelled over the wind, “Don’t fall and drop her!’
He almost fell twice, but caught himself in time, until finally, he made it to me and together we got her to the safety of the sand. Rolling her over on her back, Jack pressed an ear to the unconscious child’s chest, listening for a heartbeat.
“She’s breathing,” he said to me, smiling as the rain tamed his hair, “Let’s get her up to the house.”
Cradling her in his arms, he tenderly carried the little angel up the steps and placed her on the couch near the fireplace.
“You work your magic, Ruthie, I’m going to throw a few logs on the fire and make some hot chocolate,” he told me.
“No, just boil water, my love,” I instructed, “I’m going to give her some echinacea tea.”
I turned to the child and was startled to see her oddly colored eyes wide open and staring without fear. I say oddly colored because I’d never seen eyes such a strange mixture of colors. Around the pupil was a turquoise blue, which softly blended into a sea-green rimmed in black and shaded in the longest lashes I’d ever seen. They regarded with me love, as if she knew and trusted me. Unable to break her gaze, I felt drawn into them, as if she were searching my very soul. Tears filled my eyes and she lifted a tiny hand to place it over mine.
“I love you,” she said in a voice like the laughter of angels, “I can see your heart.”
“What is your name, child?” I choked, tears like rivers pouring down my cheeks, “Why were you out there like that?”
Jack, hearing us talking, came in and stopped in his tracks at her gaze. Holding out her hand to him, he knelt, taking the small hand in his and I knew he was feeling what I did; overwhelming love.
The young girl smiled at him, too, saying, “You’re like her,” she said, “I love you, too.”
I watched as Jack’s eyes grew teary like mine and knew he felt the strange power she had over us.
“I don’t have a name,” she told us, “Maybe you could give me one? I really like the name Emily.”
My mouth dropped open in shock. She couldn’t have known. There was no way she could have known. I looked at Jack and saw the same bewildered look on his face.
“Honey, how did you get on the raft?” he asked her, brushing away a lock of white blonde hair from her eyes, “How in the world did you end up on a raft? Were you on a boat? Did your parents put you there?”
She looked puzzled, as if we should have known something. “I don’t know how I got there,” she told him, “I just became.”
I got chills down my spine and saw the dark hairs on Jack’s arm raise, as well. What did she mean she ‘became’?
A strong gust of wind shook our little cottage, rattling the windows. Jack and I went to the living room window, startled to see giant swells punishing the shore, flooding the sand we had just walked over. The tide was almost up to our steps, something that hadn’t happened in over ten years since hurricane Minnie. We watched with growing dread as the wind bent trees into submission and ominous, dark clouds tumbled over each other in the sky. How did we not see or hear about this storm coming?
“Ruthie, we have to nail the boards up over the windows, NOW,” he said in a panicked voice. “It’s too late to leave, we’ll never make it past over the sound. It’s probably underwater by now.”
We watched as gulls were tossed about like origami birds, tumbling about as they struggled against the wind, the ocean rising like mountains beneath them.
“My God, Jack,” I whispered in fear, “How in the world can we survive this?”
“Have faith,” the little girl who called herself Emily said, “My Father won’t let anything happen to you.”
“But you said you didn’t know who your parents were,” Jack said, “How can he help us now?”
“Jack, look at the flowers,” I said hoarsely, staring into the kitchen.
On our anniversary, Jack bought me a huge bouquet of yellow roses, my favorite. They had long since died, but I just couldn’t bring myself to toss them away. Now they sat in the vase just as fresh as if he had cut them minutes ago, bright yellow and full of life.
I heard a childish giggle and turned to the child that came from the sea.
“Did you do that?” I asked, my throat tight, “Did you make the flowers come alive again?”
She nodded happily, clapping her hands with glee, “Uh huh!”
Jack and I looked at each other in confusion. What in the world was happening here?”
Another strong gust of wind reminded us we had to board the windows or lose the glass, letting in the storm. Quickly, we ran to the breezeway and into the garage where the storm boards were kept. Grabbing two at a time, we worked together until we had the sea side of the house boarded up tight. When we made the storm boards, Jack had cut holes big enough so we could see outside, and I peeked out, gasping in dismay.
“Jack!’ I cried, “The water is halfway up the steps! If it reaches the house, what will we do?”
“Have faith,” Emily repeated, “there’s no need to be afraid.”
We sat on the couch with this small, beatific child, listening as the wind howled and raged outside, beating the house as if searching for a weak point of entry. I thought of how Jack and I put our savings and retirement money together to buy this property and wondered if we would lose it. Emily crawled up on my lap, placing both of her small hands on either side of my face.
“I’m so glad I got to meet you,” she whispered, looking deep into my eyes, “You’re everything I would have wanted in a mommy.”
I sat stunned, something stirring in my soul that was just too incredible. “Are you?” I whispered..unable to finish..
“Shhh,” she put a small finger to her rosebud lips, “you can’t say it.”
Jack stared at her with wonder and joy, and she crawled over to his lap. Stroking his whiskered cheek, her eyes met his, shining with so much love he burst out crying. Kissing his cheek tenderly, she whispered something in his ear, and he nodded, laughing joyously.
The storm raged all around us, the wind buffeting the house as if it were made of paper mache. It creaked and groaned like an old man as the rain hammered the roof. Soon, by the warmth of the fire in the hearth and in our hearts, the three of us fell asleep to the storm’s lullaby.
The sound of silence roused me from my slumber and sleepily, I called out to Jack.
“Jack, wake up, `I think the storm’s over,” I murmured, “Emily..”
“Jack!” I screamed, “Where is she?”
Jolted out of his sleep, Jack sat upright, looking around in confusion.
“The front door is open, Jack,” I said softly, “Oh, my God.”
We ran to the door, flinging it open and stopping dead in our tracks. All around us was total devastation from the violence of the storm. Stepping out, we expected to see our house in ruins on the outside, but we were wrong. While everything around us was in shambles, our house sat untouched. Not a shingle or a tile was out of place, not even the flowers I planted in the window boxes.
“Jack,” I said softly, “What did she whisper in your ear?”
With tears streaming down his face, he told me.
“She said, “See you soon, daddy.”
RISS RYKER lives in Upstate NY with her daughter, two dogs, two cats and a python. She loves writing stories for her five grandchildren, and when she isn’t writing, you can usually find her in the garden or the forest. To find her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WriterInTheRough518/