A deserted beach at midday is a lonely place. The wind whips through the grassy dunes and the cold waves grasp at the sand. Not a person in sight. No phone signal.
I walk here every day. It clears my mind, reduces stress, pushes the pure air into my lungs. I need to get out of the house, escape the noise and the pressures of family life. I don’t mind that this beach is six miles away and not connected by road. Pressing my bare feet into the shifting sand, I like to imagine that I’m the first ever human being. Or the last.
Right now, more than anything in the world, I wish there was someone with me. Someone who could reassure me that what I’m seeing here is real and not my brain playing a trick.
Here’s what I’m seeing. But is it seeing me?
A huge oval, glistening white under the bright clouds. Sand blows across its veined surface, is clumped upon stiff black spikes which fringe the edges. A pool of speckled blue is floating in the centre. Inside it, an inky black dot, shrunken in the noonday light. It looks up, up, up at the sky above.
I stare, my mouth open.
Cautiously, I move closer. There are no bumps beneath my feet that suggest anything else is buried, anything that’s part of a body. The sand is smooth, until a dip where this thing is. I bend over and peer at it, trying to process this image, understand what I’m seeing.
It looks at me.
The intensity of its gaze is like a physical force.
I crouch, kneel in the sand, press my hands into my own eye sockets. This has to be a dream. A nightmare. But I can feel the sharp breeze on my skin, smell the decaying seaweed, taste salt and grit on my tongue. The details are too real. Steeling myself, I take my hands away from my face.
The bloodshot oval is staring at me. It draws me in. My head sinks closer to it. I’m not frightened. I don’t know what this thing is doing here, but now I feel pity for it.
‘Can you hear me?’ I say. It continues to stare. There’s no mouth to respond. ‘If you can hear me, can you blink?’
With a rasping sound, a reddened eyelid moves down and slowly up. A blink.
‘Are you in pain? Blink if you are.’
Once more, the gritty rasp of an eyelid moving.
‘I’m sorry you’re suffering,’ I say. ‘Is there anything, er, more to you? Do you have a body? Once for yes, twice for no.’
Transfixed, I watch it blink twice.
It’s just an eye. A giant, suffering eye. Some kind of sentient sea monster from the depths, stranded by the tide? An alien from outer space, crashed into the beach? A genetic experiment gone wrong and left to die out here? Whatever this creature is, it needs help.
‘I’ll be back,’ I say, getting to my feet. I take a photo with my phone. Then I start to walk away. When I turn around, it’s still there, gazing up at the sky again.
Two hours later, I’m home. The instant I step through the door, my mum rushes up to me.
‘Thank God you’re back! I was trying to get hold of you. Dad’s in hospital again. I need you to look after Grandma.’
‘But – oh,’ I say, as the news sinks in.
She’s gone in a minute and I go to check on my grandma. She’s asleep in front of the TV. I get my phone out to look at the photo I took of the eye. Except it’s not there.
I scroll through the gallery, twice, three times, but the picture has vanished.
Dad’s home that evening, with different pills to try. It’s too late for me to go out and see if the eye is still there.
Next day, I retrace my steps, worrying all the way that it’ll be gone, or dead.
The weather is warmer than yesterday. When I’m near the beach, I see the waves sparkling. Removing my shoes and socks, I move on to the dry sand. I’m relieved to find the eye again. It’s staring upwards, baking under the sun.
‘Hello?’ I call. It swivels in my direction. ‘Sorry I haven’t brought help yet. I will, I promise.’
The blue pool of the iris seems to be spreading. Mesmerised, I lean closer and closer until I’m falling, falling, falling into the blue…
I’m awake. Confused, I lie there, wondering what happened. I can still feel the wind but it’s somehow painful, stinging. The blowing sand is all around me. The sun is beating down, red through my closed eyelids.
Correction. Eyelid. I open it with an excruciating grittiness as grains of sand rub against my eye.
I stare up at the horribly bright sky. I’m roasting, I’m on fire, I’m in hell.
Sand trickles across me and I resist the urge to blink. It’s too dry, too painful.
Where’s my phone? Where’s my mouth? Where’s my brain? And where’s my own body? Walking the six miles back home, a stranger breathing pure air into my lungs, a stranger who’ll use my bed, care for my grandma, cram food down my throat and conveniently forget about that giant eye staring at the sky.
All I can do is wait for someone else to come along, someone who wants to help me. I might have to wait for days, months, years, with nothing but my thoughts and the waves and the torturous sand and sun.
A deserted beach at midday is a lonely place.