BY BENJAMIN MILLER
Conor looked out the trailer window into the inky fog of night, his fingers gripping the sheets under his knees. “I wanna go out now.” His mother looked up from the couch, where a pulp thriller was spread on the table of her thighs, and he could feel her eyes roll back into her head. His father groaned, but smiled.
“Alright kiddo, we’ll go,” he said. “Your mother can drive home tomorrow.” She cast a narrow-eyed glance at her smiling husband in the way she always did when she was really stuck in one of her books and was interrupted.
Conor jumped down from the upper bunk, and playfully kicked his younger brother, who was toying with a beeping game on the couch beside their mother. “C’mon, let’s go!” the older boy cried. His brother didn’t even bother with looking up, just grunted out a no. “Come on, you aren’t any fun,” the older brother mumbled out. “Please?” Again the younger boy shook his head. So Conor left with only their father, rods in hand, but there was less of a spring in his step.
The walk to the waterline followed a long gravel path down a steep hill from the rest of the rented trailers. From the few lit windows laughter could be heard, but the lights only reached out so far. Conor hung close to the heel of his father, knuckles growing white around the cork handle of his rod. He was careful to keep an eye on the tall grass that framed the so-called sand, watching for blades that bent against the dirty salted wind, or that trembled faster than the rest, and eventually his breath grew steadier. When his father dropped the tackle box onto the mess of broken seashells and beer bottles with a loud crack, Conor shot around, and looked across the empty beach before slowly crouching down. It was empty in the daytime too, of course, but it seemed so vacant by the moonlight. He focused on threading a soggy shrimp through a thick hook coated in rust, feeling the tip press through the shell sink and into the flesh. There’s something in the power of playing with sharp things that makes one feel very human, in the predatory way of one’s ancestors, and it was as equally good as being tucked in cozy with a nightlight on. Conor stood up, brushing off the shells and rocks and debris embedded in his knees, and watched his father wade off into the water. Then he faced down the shoreline, away from the dim lights on the hill, and walked off to the sound of things crunching under his feet.
Finally, after what seemed a rather long time walking, Conor stopped just at the edge of a pile of giant shattered slabs of concrete that jutted deep into the water. A light splash whispered from behind as his distant father cast out again into the waves, and it echoed out over the expanse through the night. With the tips of his toes, the boy tested the ocean, hopping carefully in and out, getting about a fraction of an inch farther each time. Then he was a foot in, then one more. By the time his ankles were underwater, waves lapping against his shins and his shoes slowly slipping deeper into the sand, he started taking bigger steps. Conor stopped when the water was halfway to his knees, and he readied to cast into the deep.
Come now, that isn’t so far, what will you catch from there?
Conor stared into the ocean, from where he thought the sound had come. A faint glow shimmered beneath a wave cap, and drifted under again, to come up somewhere else. “Hello?”
The light broke the surface with a fin, like moonlight taken shape. Shh, it spoke into the boy’s head, it’s far too quiet out to be loud.
“But the quiet’s scary,” said the boy, softer this time. “And who are you? What’s that?”
The fin popped below and came up with another wave, with a handful of others following behind it in a row. You don’t seem so scared right now, it replied.
Conor thought on that for a moment, feeling the waves lapping at his thighs and his feet being sucked down below the sand. He thought on it, but it didn’t make much sense, so he stopped trying. He finally decided to say, “You haven’t told me who you are.”
The pale glowing fins twirled around and dove, coming out a little higher and a little farther away. But you want to know, the creature said. And if you want to know, you have to find out yourself. Telling ruins it all.
The boy looked down to the glittering waves at his waist, blue by the starlight, caught sight of the rod drifting away, and asked, “How far out should I come?”
And the voice replied, As far as you want. Just come.
“Conor!” The old, full voice of his father shouted from far across the waters, and the boy turned his head to the sound. “It’s time to head back, alright?”
When Conor looked back to the waves, up to his ribs now, the dancing fins were gone. He pulled his feet from the water and reached to take hold of the rod, wading his way back to shore. In the nighttime air, his body was cold and dripped inky water onto the broken sea shells and beer bottles that made up the sand, and he made his way back to the rented trailers with simple books and battery games.
Benjamin Miller is a student of the University of Texas at Austin, where he studies aerospace engineer and pursues rock climbing.