The Surf-Wader

Dreaming I saw a man walking along on an even, pale yellow shoreline that glistened like melting butter in the sun. Abruptly he changed his direction, and stepped out into the lapping water until his feet and ankles were beneath the surf, and he stretched out his hands towards the tide, which was coming in. Immediately the water around him bubbled and rose, until it swirled now above and now below his knees, and washed against the beach.

Far out at sea, a huge crest began to swell. It rolled and reared up against the sky, rushing towards land with a low roaring noise as it sucked the water near the shore away into itself. And now I saw that the man was not alone on the beach; that other men were writhing like worms in the wet sand and shallow water, and still more were floating out among the waves with their eyes closed, on their backs and on their bellies like dead men, and large dragonflies skimmed here and there among them; yet somehow I knew they were not dead, but that surely they could not escape the fury of the coming tide.

That wave continued to gather against the horizon, rising ever higher and rushing ever closer; and I knew it must be very great indeed, because of how huge it seemed and how long it took to reach the land. And the first man was still standing, his lower legs buried in the sand by the action of the tide, his outstretched hands warning back the wave. The wave heeded him not, but swelled and swelled until for one awesome moment, the whole world was dark with its green wall of overpowering depth and its shadow on the yellow beach and the little fleck of color that was the man with outstretched hands. A tongue of water, hissing forward ahead of the vast wave, streamed out towards shore and slapped the man in his belly, spraying upwards like spittle against his chest and chin. His head snapped backwards with the force of the blow and his back bent, but he did not stagger or move. The ocean hung in the air before him, devouring the land and putting out the sun. But a god came some way behind him and blew softly, and the god’s breath surrounded the man; and the wave could not prevail against the breath. Water roared and rushed upwards high, high into the air, arched around the man on three sides and seemed to curl far overhead, so that the top of the wall of water could not be seen. The noise was incredible.

And now I saw, or fancied I saw, for the world was very dark – that inside the wave, at the edge where the god’s breath had made walls out of the deep sea, swam something large, and it passed by the man whose hands were outstretched. I saw the gleam of an orange eye, larger than the man’s head, examining he who appeared to be repelling the creature’s amphibianation, and the tip of a sail-shaped fin dipped beyond the edge of the sea as its long body undulated past. The man cried out with an almighty voice, a voice which could not possibly have issued solely from that frail figure, and at his shout the great wave fled, and hid itself in the sea. It went back, and sank into its basin, taking with it the monster and draining the sand from the beach. As if the earth had tilted, the man now stood alone on a black rock that had before been buried, warm and shining wet in the bright sunlight, atop a shallow cliff above the ocean. The god had vanished, and the man still carried the last breath of him; but of the people who had been wriggling in the surf or floating in the waves there was no trace.

Then from behind the man there rushed a herd of pigs, and three swineherds running behind them shouting; but the man lowered his hands and allowed the pigs to pass. They ran right over the cliff as if they were lemmings, dashing themselves against the rocks below, and the edge of the ocean was stained with blood. Not far out at sea, the tail of the great monster flicked up above the waves and spread itself like a fan; the man nodded, and turned away, and a little swell rose up and lifted the bodies of pigs off the rocks, and they drifted beneath the waves. The swineherds shouted at the man, but he did not answer, for a pearl had formed at his lips; and it dropped into his hand. He coughed salt, and gave the swineherds the pearl; and then I woke.


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