She stood alone on the cliff. Pebbles fell onto the murky shoreline below. Above, the clouds hung heavy, saturated with month’s of rain. Lightning lanced in the distance. The sea slowly receded. It did not return.
For days, the water had slipped back, leaving only a subtle sucking noise in it’s place. The brooding clouds had come when the water left. At first, people had gathered on the shore, concerned about the loss of the tide. Days followed and less appeared.
They knew what was to follow. There were stories. Legends.
Her silk gown hung limply on her thin frame. It was cold. Wind had not blown through her hair for seven days. The sun had not warmed her bones for just as long. Well-worn laugh lines smoothed out with the weight of what was to come.
There had been talk of leaving the island, of building boats and sailing to the mainland. The young and rebellious had tried. She did not know how they fared. Most stayed. Children finished their chores, assisted their elders, and ran in the streets. They knew nothing of what was to come. The parents did. They cried at night, clinging to their infants. The elders comforted them in the only way they knew: with embraces, with coos, with religion.
They only knew the ocean. Their first breaths had been of ocean mist. The first sounds they heard were crashing waves or the cry of gulls. It held a bounty of food when the fields would not yield. It supplied trade when the island could not supply. It offered breathtaking vistas when life was devoid of beauty. It was a constant reminder of ebb and flow, peace and conflict, harmony and chaos. The ocean was life and it was a promise of life’s future. But it promised death as well. And she understood this.
For seven days she had meditated upon the precipice, gazing solemnly into the tumultuous sea as it receded. Broken ships and reefs were revealed in its endless march to sea. Life scattered along the sand and silt - corpses of slow wildlife littered the ever-expanding beach. Close to the cliff were dried and decaying fish, crabs, and smaller mammals. Further out, beached whales, fat with blubber, lilted on their sides, stench rising up the cliffside. Little water remained, the remaining sliver blending into the darkened horizon. The sucking, squelching sound was distant, but even without wind to carry it, she heard.
The story was old. Some thought it was older than the island itself. The Time of Leaving would come in a time of great disfavor. The stars would be blocked and the villages starved. The Man of the Sea would withdraw His sustenance and crush the unfaithful in a swell towering to the heavens. Each time, the cities of straw huts and loving families were crushed. Each time, the island cleansed of life. And each time, they returned like the tide, drawn by the bounty of the Man of the Sea. They could not live without Him, and He could not exist without them.
The time was at hand. The tide had suckled the shores dry. She heard the distant rush of outward water silence. A mournful sigh echoed across the shoreline, then, it came.
She watched the tide come in, one last time.
Read part two here.