A is for arrival, after eight hours squashed among other children you hardly know in a hot smelly car, with the radio shrieking and gravel popping under the tires and the cramps from having to hold still so long. Arrival is a goodbye to that, because you can stretch and run and breathe cold, quiet, salty wind.
B is for the beach, an expanse of sandy mud and gravel you get to by climbing down the uneven wooden stairs. The beach is dotted with driftwood logs and torn seaweed and sometimes shells, sometimes little pools swimming with minnows, sometimes when you’re lucky purple and orange starfish stuck to the legs of the long pier. The beach is where you eat your sandwich and throw bits of bread to the gulls. The beach is where you hop from log to log and watch the waves come in like trucks on the highway one after the other after the other as on and on as anything can be, sometimes with white froth on their heads if the wind is strong.
C is catching things. Catching tiny minnows in your hands. Catching the sun on your back before it hides behind low clouds. Catching spray from the waves on the sides of your legs. Catching sight of seals and whales and otters that might be real or might be mirages of your imagination.
D is for drowning. The cold sucks the energy out of you, so you are told, and the sea sucks you down into the silt.
E is for everyone else wanting to drive into town while you want to stay and play along the beach. They say you’re not allowed, but they don’t notice when you don’t get in the car with the rest. Or rather, they think you get into the car with the others who are going, when in fact, you are hiding.
F is for the friend you make on the beach when you’re alone, smelling the tang of salt, feeling the freshness of the wind, looking at the space between the sea and the sun where something fantastic hangs, listening to the crash and fall of the waves like the opening and closing of a door. The friend is a creature of fur and whiskers, glimmering yellow eyes and a twitching nose. It sings to you from the water like the sound of your name. An electric thrill drips down your back. What is it, you wonder, before it dives into the sunlit water.
G is for guilt when your family returns "worried sick." You’re not supposed to visit the beach anymore, not by yourself, not with any of them either. It is “OUT OF BOUNDS.”
H is for home, that place to which you must return soon, where everything is wrong wrong wrong. Where you are teased for your thick glasses and your interest in books and insects and the potted shrub that grows next to your bed. There is no sea at home, only sidewalks and streets, and trucks on the highway going on and on.
I am for the idea you have, the idea of sneaking out one night to go down one last time before you must go home. Just to look. Just to hear. Just to feel again the tugging threads connecting you to that enormous, unearthly world.
J is for the jolt you feel in your chest when, by the beam of your flashlight, you see the yellow eyes. There’s no speaking between you and it, only locked looks. It’s as young as you are, as interested in the land as you are in the sea.
K is for knowing what you could do. For shivering in the cold once you have taken off your pajamas and left them they’re on the stones for your friend, who in turn pulls off its fur.
L is for looping your arms inside the fur of the sea creature, for feeling its oily fishiness lie next to your skin. You watch as it dons your pajamas and glasses and smiles at you, its teeth reflecting the light from the moon. Are your eyes glimmering? You feel wonderful, like a sleek, smooth fish, like a slick-furred otter.
M is for melting into the dark waters, into the waves. You push through the cold squeeze of the ocean, wriggling and paddling and twisting with glee. Down you swim, down to the very seabed where crabs and shrimp hide. You float upon your back and slowly rise belly first to the surface, to the waves that wash on and on in that firefly darkness, in that enormous, unearthly world.
Clarion West is a nonprofit 6-week work shop for writers of speculative fiction. I attended with seventeen other students in 2015. They rented a house for us, prepared us fantastic meals, and got in some of the luminaries of the spec fic world to live in the house each week with us and workshop the stories we wrote. Every Thursday other writers came to hang out for an hour and talk to us or answer our questions on the craft and business of writing. Two of these who really stand out in my memory were Ted Chiang, who wrote the story that the movie Arrival is based on, and then we also had the chance to skype Neil Gaiman. I came away having crammed at least 6 years of study into 6 weeks.
Anyway, the write-a-thon is the main yearly fundraiser. This week sponsorships are being matched. If you’re a fan of fiction in any way shape or form, this workshop is one of the places fiction comes from…because writers don’t grow on trees.
More famous writers than I are offering to name characters after people who donate.
Or you can sponsor me.