The ground was gritty, cold. She opened her eyes to white, and the temperature of the surface below her was the only clue that she had actually landed somewhere solid at all. The pain in her body was a universal stiffness, sweet and feverish with no single point of origin or determinable cause.
As she drew her body upright the pain became more pointed, focused on certain areas of her skin through her clothes, and rubbing her palms together she saw white fall away in sharp fragments with the slight indifference of wind chimes on a still day. The stuff was stuck all over her, and as she brushed it off the best she could her lack of shoes brought the memories back. Saif, well, more accurately a man with a scar down his chest had pushed her into what appeared to be a tiny manhole that would never fit a normal-sized human. And there was something else, something less confusing. Just before she’d been pushed, she remembered, she felt a distinct sensation that the man with the scars was growing larger every moment and encompassing her entire body with his expanding hands, preventing her escape.
She let out a startled gasp, nearly choking on her own breath. The room had filled with some sort of vapor, or gas. Taking a few deep, shaky breaths, she made sure she was still breathing unobstructed, and willed herself to close her eyes for a moment. The fear was creeping in. She had no idea where she was, if she was alive, or hurt, or if she’d been in an accident and was losing consciousness, or if she’d lost her mind completely and was losing her grasp on reality, and as the thoughts sped up and began rolling farther and farther away and out of her hands, she reminded herself to imagine erecting walls to keep these thoughts away from the only thing she knew right now: her breath. In, hold, out. In, hold, out. She’d done this before, maybe even a few times in- how long had it been? Half a day? 24 hours? More than a day? She’d done this before, and she hadn’t panicked then, so she willed herself to move on with the growing fear in tow.
She began the process of standing upright, the cold seeping through her wool socks, frigid but not wet. As she did, she heard the telltale wind chime noise as she watched more of the tiny white pieces fall from her hair. Following their trajectory onto the ground beneath her, she realized they were falling in places farther away from the umbrella of her own hair. It looked like…she looked up, and her eyebrows caught a sprinkling of them. They were falling from the sky. Catching a few more in her palm she brought them close enough to examine. It wasn’t tiny hailstones, as she had assumed, but they were sharper and more varied. One balanced on the tip of her index finger, and she brought it as close as she could to her eye. Squinting at it, she recognized the symmetry and, looking even closer, the little goosebumps that typical of the exoskeletons of mollusks. Shells. These were miniature shells. Examining the remaining ones in her hand, she saw they were all different, but she was certain that’s what they were.
She looked up, calmer now. Focusing her attention for a minute had helped center her after her moment of instability, in which she was at risk of letting the fear win. She couldn’t let the fear win. Still everything seemed white, the constant gentle rain of shells blurring most of her sight. The things she was sure of in the moment were the ground and the shells, so with the confidence that she was able to handle at least one more discovery, she walked slowly into the blanched world. This place, whatever it was, was the opposite of the tunnel, she mused. Instead of sheer darkness she was immersed in light, so much so that it was inhibiting her sight just as the lack of light would do. With this realization her confidence swelled. She was comfortable in places that removed at least one primary sense, so she focused her attention on the others. The now-searing cold was the most readily available source of information, and after she let the sensation subside she noticed something else, a white noise, a rushing sound. Waves. It was unmistakable. The exhale of water, followed by the hiss of the inhale as the sea took back its breath and whatever lay exposed in its wake waited raw and cackling with foam for the next moment to submerge it, it was absolutely an ocean. And it was somewhere, somewhere in front of her, and if she could only find it…
It was coming from somewhere in front of her.
She moved, quicker and quicker towards the sound. Mostly blind but for the falling particulate sea matter and the view of her own body, spackled in white like the time she and Saif had spent hours rolling white paint over the graffiti on the walls of a room in an abandoned warehouse in order to turn the room into a zen garden, filled with sand, and rocks, and bells that hung from the ceiling, she walked, and the rushing got closer. She was close enough to smell it, the unmistakable smell of the sea, something rotten and astringent all the while being gentle and not at all self-conscious of its pungency, and in a gesture of relief her body relaxed, slumped from its braced position, and thanked the sea for being so honest and for not hiding from her when her entire world was not at all as it used to be and everything was confusing. There, she could see it now. Giant gray swells rose and fell in slow motion, and the surf hissed and traveled until it touched her shoeless feet, the dampness finally sending the chills she’d been repressing up her legs, then turned back again to recycle itself into another monster, bigger, more powerful, and rising up with the pointed focus of the tip of a warrior’s arrow. She was close now, standing before the beast, salt on her tongue.
Scanning the horizon for any sign of life, or location, or anything that would place her or that she could sink her heels into, she squatted down on her heels to draw her body closer to itself for warmth. Her feet were completely wet now, almost to the ankles, and the ground was wearing on the soles of her feet. The shells that littered the area around her did not help ease the weariness from standing on this cold, hard surface, which, she realized now, placing her fingertips down and pressing them into the ground, felt just like dry ice. Letting the frigid water pour over her feet for a few more cycles, she knew that for her safety she’d need to get dry soon. Not knowing how to get out of here or where she may end up next, she decided to traverse the coastline. There had to be something somewhere nearby. She stood, and chose a direction. Right. At home, this would be North, and with nothing in sight but the vast, gray sea she began placing her feet, growing number by the moment, one in front of the other.