I know three things right now:
My name is Safety.
I am twenty years old.
There is something in the water.
Chapel Bay is still today. The town and the water - at my back, the streets are quiet, save for the muted chatter of tourists walking to and from their cars and buses; at my front, the water is as calm and still as if time has stopped. No whitecaps. No waves to speak of. No movement; no sign of things lurking above or below. Just the sparse twinkling of the low sun, scattering pale orange photons across the bay.
A bell rings in the distance. Two P.M. Kids will be leaving school, soon, spilling out of the not-crumbling but not-quite-state of the art building at the center of town and down through the streets to homes and haunts. The sun lingers just above the horizon, casting the back half of the town in purple shadow and silhouetting the tiny flecks of distant fishing boats - and the rare sailboat drifting a little too close to the town. Squads of gulls are already forming farther up the beach, near the haphazard maze of piers where the boats will stop and unload their organic cargo - fisherman and fish alike - by the next time the bell rings.
One of them skips off of the wooden planks and onto the beach, but the rest of them know better than to leave the pier.
I don't blink.
All of this is normal. Nothing about this is unusual. A couple behind me stops to take a picture of the gulls. They laugh about how domesticated the birds must be, to gather in the same spot, every day, like clockwork. A child - not a local - asks their father where the big metal buildings came from. His father laughs and says he'll tell them when they're older. (He doesn't know, but the child accepts his answer anyways.) They go running off down the coast (on rough, gravely sand; nothing like the soft white sand of the beaches down the coast), or so I think. I can't won't look away from the water.
The water is black.
The water is that normal shade of ocean-blue-green, but with the sun this low, the water is black and opaque. It shifts and stutters like a mirror that hasn't quite figured out what it wants to reflect. It defies anyone watching to try and see what's inside - come on, just try. There's no way for me to know what's below the surface. There's no way for me to know that there is a Below - the water could be an inch deep. Could be miles. Maybe there's nothing in there at all.
I know that there's something in there.
I haven't seen it yet. I haven't heard it, or felt or smelled or tasted it. I don't have to.
I know it's there.
And until it shows its face, I'm going to watch it right back.
My phone goes off. It catches me off guard - I start at the sound, and it takes me a couple moments of blearily blinking at the sand before I realize where the tinny cluster of synthesized noises is coming from. It takes a few more moments on top of that before I remember which pocket the noises are ringing out of, and by the time I've managed to fish it out, my ringtone has managed to get through two verses and is ready for a chorus.
(I turn the alarm off before the rest of the beach has to listen to my obnoxious, bubblegum pop mess of a ringtone devolves into protracted death metal growls.)
2:10 PM. And then, right below the clock, a reminder: food with c.
I hesitate for a moment - my eyes dart to the waves, dotting white all along the surface - and then I slip my phone back into my pocket and turn back towards town. The water can wait.
Town. Chapel Bay barely qualifies as a town, to be honest - hamlet feels like a better word, maybe, or village; capital-T Towns are places where things happen, places that people settle in, or grow up in before they leave out to explore the world, never to return (except for holidays, deaths, births, and weddings).
That's not Chapel Bay - Chapel Bay is about two thousand people crammed into barely a square mile of apartments and little Colonials at the part of the coast where people stop making fun of your accent so much; it's not so little that it's a pastoral, untainted patch of land where it feels like you could step back in time, but it's still the kind of place that people tend not to leave. Ever. Just about everyone in town can trace their lineage back to when the town was founded - or at least, when they think it was founded; the histories get a little fuzzy the farther you go back. It's centuries old, at least; it might've even been here since before this was it's own country. It's the kind of place where everybody knows everybody, where every brick and plank of wood is brimming with history and stories; where you're born, grow up, grow old, and die.
I fucking hate it here.
"I saw you out there," Corina says, mumbling around a mouth full of hamburger, "on my way over. You see anything cool today?"
She rolls her eyes and lets them land, briefly, on a gaggle of high-schoolers walking outside the window. Four or five of them. They're local kids (I can tell), and they're laughing - sharing that look that says someone's older brother is going to buy us beer and then we're going to get sooooo drunk. (Godspeed.) I'm pretty sure it's Tuesday.
Corina swallows, and fixes me with that lighten the fuck up look. "Jeez, Safe, will you just chill? I'm just pulling your leg."
I refuse to lighten the fuck up. Or chill. "It's not funny, Corina."
She sighs, and leans back against the booth. "No, you're right. Sorry." She lowers her voice so it's barely audible over the sound of the diner. "You know I believe you, right?"
Ugh. "Yeah, I know." She's right - out of the five or six people I'd really call my friends, Corina's the only one who really trusts that there's Something in the bay. Everyone else tends to react with awkward, noncommittal half-laughter at best - oh boy, there's Safety being all crazy again - or outright mocking at worst. (Jackasses.) "Sorry. I'm trying not to be a bitch about it."
She shakes her head. Don't worry about it. "Seriously, though, did you...?"
I make a point of stirring my coffee and staring out the window. "Right," she sighs. "Just, you know. Take it easy, okay?"
"I'm not crazy."
"I didn't say you were."
I don't really have a response to that. I start to say something, but before I can get a fully-fledged thought in place, it disappears, and I let the conversation just sit on the table, buried underneath the sound of silverware and other muffled conversations.
The Diner has a name, probably, but the sign outside is so faded and torn up that no one's really sure what it is anymore. It's the sort of establishment that puts its menus (sparse, simple, to the point) on printer paper and that is so thoroughly soaked with decades of spilled coffee that I don't actually have to order anything to get my daily caffeine fix. (Well, I do, but most people don't need six or seven cups of coffee to get through the day.) Chapel Bay might not have a lot in the way of all that high-class chain restaurants - your McDonald's's and Taco Bells and Olive Gardens - but between The Diner, Harris's Pub on F Street, and the more "upscale" (whatever the hell that means) restaurant at the other end of town, we're pretty set when it comes to food.
Pretty much everyone just goes to The Diner, though.
I drag my fingernail across the plastic table covering. It catches in the ridges on the surface. "What about you?" I ask. "How's your day been?"
She shrugs. Brushes a hand through her hair (long, black, newly-straightened) and sweeps it over her shoulder. "Same old, same old. Woke up like three hours ago. Yelled at some bigots online." She makes a face - "Some dumbass deadnamed on my way over."
I screw up my face in the best approximation of hers I can muster. "Seriously? Still?"
"I know, right?" She takes a sip of her drink - just water for her, thanks - "You think that everyone would know by now. Or - ah, I don't know, maybe he did know and he was just being garbage. Whatever."
She shrugs. "Whatever. Like I said, I've only really been awake long enough to eat and have a drink before I came down here."
I take a sip of my coffee. It tastes like shit. "You still coming out tonight?"
"Of course. I can handle a couple of shots beforehand. Are you?"
"Yeah, def." I haven't missed a night out in months.
Her phone vibrates across the table, rattling against unused silverware. "That's my cue," she mutters. "Sorry to run so soon. I thought he was going to give me a little more time." She looks at me, eyebrows raised, mouth thin. "Eric wants to take me down to the docks and find a job on the boats."
It takes all of my willpower to convert a full-blown guffaw into a snort. "That's not very ladylike."
She stands up and smiles at me, sickly sweet. "I don't think you're really one to talk about gender stereotypes, Ma-"
She giggles, and makes a point of flicking me on the back of my head on her way out (a little harder than is necessary, probably). "Later, Safe. You've got the bill."
As the bell over the door heralds Corina's exit, I turn towards the counter, the little paper slip held aloft. "Hey, Judy - "
The elderly, heavyset woman sitting on a stool at the end of the counter grunts back a response without looking up from her newspaper in a voice marred by cigarettes and a lifetime of too-hot coffee. "On the house. Tell your mom I said hi."
I nod back (not that she can see it). Always nice to hear that. Being a jobless do-nothing is a lot easier when half the people in town are willing to just give me shit. I settle back into the booth and nurse the remainder of my coffee, eyes squarely focused on a point outside the window. I'm not in a rush to get anywhere.
Besides, I can see the water from here just fine.