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the call of the running tide

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I should have known.

 

 

I didn't burn this journal, obviously. Maybe I should have. But I couldn't, in the end. I meant to. Then I started reading it instead, all the way from the beginning, and it was like – it was like Gus was alive again, for a while. I could remember writing each entry, the rest of the pages blank. The future unwritten. As if maybe, if I just picked the right place to stop reading, I could change what happened.

But I didn't stop; and then I got to yesterday. Are you, Gus? Are you there in the black water?

I should know better than to ask questions I don't want the answers to.

 

 

It was the day, today. It was time to go to the sea.

It always takes me a while to work up to it. The walk itself isn't long. It's just that first step – knowing where it'll take me, knowing where it ends. The sea, again.

Isaak seems to understand. He sticks by me when it's time, every year. Probably just because I'm acting strange, but I like to think he knows what day it is – that he remembers, too.

I went at midday, like always. I need the security of it. I can hardly even stand to imagine what the north beach would look like at night, in the moonlight – all that white sand glinting, cool, like ice. I'd never be able to bear it. I went and I stood there on the hot sand, wriggling my feet in it, watching the grains spill across my toes. I didn't look at the water.

I have to work up to that.

Isaak was pressing himself against my legs, whining a little. I murmured comforting nonsense to him until he eased up, and then I made myself take a step forward.

One at a time, just like that, until the next one I took would have splashed. I don't go in the water; I can't.

But I get as close to it as I can, and then I put my hand in.

The way I go about it, you'd think the sea were boiling. I can't just reach out and touch it. I have to sit there and take deep breaths, let Isaak lean his whole warm weight against my back, before I can so much as wet a fingertip. And today it was hard, so I closed my eyes.

That made it easier. Maybe the sound of the water was a little louder, that way. But the sun on my face felt warmer, too. I could hear myself breathing, feel Isaak shift his weight. And then I told myself to stop thinking and do it, and I lowered my hand into the water. I reached out.

Something in the water reached back.

I couldn't breathe, couldn't think, couldn't move. I was frozen solid, on that hot beach with the midday sun beating down. Because it was unmistakable. It was a hand – fingertips against my own, cold and wet, wrinkled with it, flesh-soft and waterlogged.

I think I made a sound. I'm not sure. I remember Isaak whimpering, shaking. He didn't want to be there, but he wanted to move away from me even less, and so he stayed pressed up against my shoulder.

I think that's the only reason I'm still here.

And then I opened my eyes, and for a moment – just a moment, wavering, through that ice-bright gleaming water – I saw.

It was Gus.

 

 

I don't know why I'm so sure. A split second, that's all, and then it was gone. Just my hand trailing in the water, the sunlight rippling on the waves. Isaak shook himself like throwing off a bad dream, huffed against the back of my neck and then barked, and then was off like a shot after one of those huge Jamaican butterflies. Like nothing happened.

But it did. It was there. It was Gus.

He's found me.

God. Nine years he's been looking. It's a long way from Gruhuken. Nine years, and now he's found me. And I know what he wants.

There's Isaak, for now. Isaak and my work. But it's been nine years. How long do huskies live?

I never step into the water, and now I know why.

Someday I will. Not yet – not while there's still Isaak to look after, not when I still have work to do. But Gus has found me, and I know what he wants, and someday he's going to get it.

Oh, Gus. I know. I know it should have been me. You know it, too, don't you?

That's why you're here.

And someday, sooner or later, you're going to take my hand. And I'm going to walk into the sea, and I'm not going to come out.