Thirty years ago, a man named Michael Sanderson disappeared. The police investigating his case believed he was last seen leaving a local supermarket with a bouquet of roses in hand. During questioning, the cashier who had been working that night described him as charming and jovial, claiming that when she had asked him who the roses were for, he’d given a wink and a mischievous smile, declaring, “For you, if you’d like.” This behavior was not abnormal for Michael. Those who knew him well would have described him as a harmless flirt, though at the time of his disappearance, he had been married to his high school sweetheart for more than twenty years.
What most didn’t know was that Michael’s flirting was never truly harmless. The police, in particular, had been lied to. I was the last person to see him alive. At the time, I was still going by my maiden name of Marina Lockhart. When Michael and I first met, I was eighteen, a recent high school graduate with no long-term plans for the future. I spent my nights at home with my parents and my days at my father’s barbershop, where I had been given a throw-away job greeting customers and cleaning up messes. When Michael walked into the shop that day, his eyes roved over me as he stepped up to the counter. I didn’t know he was married, and I never saw a ring. Later, he would make up an excuse, claiming he worked in construction and feared his ring would be damaged or tarnished. Regardless, I had no reason to decline when he asked me to join him on a beach trip the following weekend – just as friends, he assured me.
It was my first serious relationship. None of the boys I’d been with before had anywhere near the age or experience that Michael did. He was just as everyone described him – charming, witty, dare I say debonair. By the time he revealed that he was married, assuring me that it was an unhappy union, I was already hooked. In my mind, there was no reason not to believe him. He said he’d been planning to leave her for years, promised me that when the time was right, we would run away together and elope. He told me he loved me early on in the relationship and, despite my gut instinct, I quickly found myself swept up in his affections. He was the only thing I talked about, Sunday brunches with my friends spent gushing about the gifts that he gave me or the things he said.
Around the time of his disappearance, however, I began to question the nature of our relationship. Though he continued to insist that it was only a matter of time before he left his wife, I had seen them together enough times that jealousy had started to take root inside of me. I began to grow depressed. My parents noticed a marked difference in my mood. Apart from meetings with Michael, I rarely left my room and barely ate any of my mother’s cooking. I had stopped seeking steady employment, convinced that I would have a stable source of income as soon as he married me, and as time went on I spent less time in my father’s shop and more time alone, fantasizing about the future.
Things changed when I found out that I was pregnant. It wasn’t planned, of course. I came from a good, Christian household. The idea that I might have a child out of wedlock would nearly kill my poor mother. Despite this, however, the positive results of the pregnancy test filled me with renewed energy and determination. This was what I had been waiting for, after all – the push needed to convince Michael that it was finally time for him to leave his wife and be with only me. I wanted to tell him right away, but I was certain the occasion had to be special, romantic. The night he disappeared, I had set up a moonlit picnic on that same beach where he had taken me on our first date. I got there about an hour before sunset to start preparing.
When he finally arrived, salmon pink roses in hand, it became clear that he believed we were there for different reasons. I led him to my mother’s hand-me-down checkered blanket, all frayed edges and dull yellow squares, and by the time I’d set myself beside him he was on me. I couldn’t help but giggle as his lips caressed my neck, my body flushing instinctively as one of his hands rode up my thigh. Fearing I would forget my purpose if things went any further, I placed my own hand against his chest, putting distance and an obstacle between us.
“Before we go any further, darling, I have something important I need to tell you,” I insisted, but my words seemed to fall on deaf ears. Despite the arm stuck between us, his hand continued to push the fabric of my dress further up my thigh as he placed urgent kisses along my jawline. Still, I persisted.
“Michael, I’m serious. I need you to look at me.”
Perhaps it was the tonal shift that finally grabbed his attention. Hesitantly, he leaned back, brow furrowed as he studied my face. His gaze, like always, was somehow revealing. When he looked at me, really looked at me, it felt like I was standing, stark-naked, in the middle of a crowd. He was the only one who could see me yet when he did, it was at my most vulnerable.
“I know that this is sudden,” I began, chest tightening as my purpose fully struck me for the first time, “but, well, it’s important. You see, I’m… pregnant.”
I couldn’t look at him. A stiff silence wedged itself between us as I tried desperately to focus on the waves kissing the shore, individual grains of sand suddenly seeming very interesting indeed. When I did look up at him, he was frozen, brows raised, mouth slightly agape. He looked almost catatonic, like I had stunned him, and I could feel frustration and fear bubbling up inside of me. As I began to open my mouth to release it, he let out a short, punctuated sigh.
“There must have been some mistake,” he declared, his voice dripping with honey and condescension. “You can’t be pregnant.”
This, of course, is not the reaction you want when you’re eighteen years old and pregnant with a married man’s baby. I was so certain that he would be overjoyed to hear the news. His wife had yet to give him a child, and here I was, offering myself and all that would entail. In my young mind, his hesitation and denial made no sense.
“I assure you, Michael, I am very much pregnant. I’ve made an appointment to see a doctor next week.”
At this, he flinched, lip curling upward in obvious disapproval.
“Cancel it. If what you’re saying is true, I’m taking you into the city tomorrow to get rid of the child, and that’s final.”
Just like that. No opportunity to protest, to reason, to try to convince him that this would be a good thing in the long run. He stood up, having not even touched the food that I had prepared for us, and turned to leave, his gait surprisingly steady for a man walking on sand.
“Michael, you can’t be serious,” I cried, scrambling to my feet. “You can’t just leave me here and think that everything is fine. We have to talk about this!”
A few steps forward, and I had latched onto his arm, my mouth moving faster than my mind, declarations of love and a desire to be together spilling forth from within me. Though he had frozen once more, he refused to look at me, staring off toward the distant street lights. When he moved, I thought that was it. He would finally listen. He would understand. He would love me just as much as I loved him. I didn’t even have time to register his fist flying toward my face before it smashed against the ridge of my brow. I remember gasping, then, like he’d knocked the wind out of me. As my body rocketed backward, heels losing purchase in the sand, I could only think that this wasn’t supposed to happen. No one had ever hit me before, and certainly not as hard as this. What could I do but allow the waves of unconsciousness to carry me out to sea?
When I slipped back into my body, I was being dragged. Wet sand grated against my cheek, stray clumps attempting to force their way into my mouth. I didn’t dare open my eyes, barely going so far as to squint in a vaguely upward direction, eyelashes fluttering. From what I could tell, Michael was taking me to the water’s edge. I could feel the salty spray against my skin, my dress catching on rocks and seashell shards. A small voice inside of me was screaming, desperately trying to pull me up from the ground, to force me to fight, to yell, to tell him to get away from me. But I was so tired. The world didn’t feel real. I simply tried to convince myself that none of it was happening.
If anything was real, it was the water, a salty brine that seemed to slowly engulf me, soaking into the cotton of my dress, ridding me of the various detritus that clung to it. I don’t know what I expected him to do. I was a passenger in my own body. Around me, the world seemed to still. I couldn’t hear any shuffling of feet or shift of weight. All I could focus on was breathing through my nose as salt worked its way into my half-open mouth.
“How long have you been there? Where did you come from?” Michael’s voice erupted from the stillness, a distant echo bouncing off the walls of my skull. Was there someone else? Someone to rescue me, to make the earth stop spinning long enough for me to put myself right again?
Struggling to open my eyes, I tensed up. A low, distinctly feminine chuckle crashed over my body with the waves. Michael’s voice was indistinct but rose in volume and pitch in a way I had never heard before.
“You can still get away from here, you know,” he implored the unknown, his voice trembling with a mixture of fury and fear. “Forget what you saw and turn around and we both get away –“
Silence again, but only for a moment. There was splashing in the distance, but it seemed to surround me. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. Beyond it, however, somewhere behind my head, there came a haunting, wordless melody. Soothing, almost, like the lullabies my mother used to sing to me when I was a child. I barely registered Michael’s pained, muffled scream being cut off as I began to drift away.
Emerging from the darkness, I found myself not quite dry but no longer submerged. There was a gentle tugging against my scalp, not altogether unpleasant, as though someone were running a hand through my hair. Muscles shifted against my own, strong arms enfolding me and steadying my body as I gasped for air, my eyes flying open. Swimming above me was a feminine face, soothing smile curling at the corners of the mouth. Her hair was stringy and wet, greenish-brown like seaweed, and as I directed my gaze lower, my mind only just managed to register the fact that she was fully nude, her flesh baring scale-like patterns and feeling cool and clammy against my own.
“You are awake,” she murmured, her fingers – blue-green and webbed – caressing my cheek. “This is good.”
Despite the peculiarity of the situation, nothing within me warned against remaining still, allowing her to hold me and to touch me.
“Where… what happened? Where is Michael?”
Not everything had come back from the night before. I had yet to process exactly what Michael had done to me, and this fact earned me a look of pity from my apparent savior. After a moment of contemplation, the same low chuckle from the night before emerged from somewhere deep within her, her features shifting to take on a more sinister expression.
“The man is where he needs to be,” she declared, voice reverberating through my skin. “You will have no more trouble from him.”
“Hush now, dear. It is taken care of. You may rest now.”
The reality of the situation caught up with me then, engulfing me, filling up my lungs. Tears welled in my eyes as my body curled closer to the woman, and, for her part, she did not seem displeased by this. Her arms coiled tighter around me, a wordless reminder that the danger was past, that I was safe and secure and did not have to fear.
“Your child will rest, too,” she assured me, gesturing to my arms folded across my stomach. I had nearly forgotten I was not alone back there.
“You saved me.” It slipped past the filters of my mind, an involuntary response. “Who are you?”
Her features softened and she gave a genuine smile, flashing a set of pointed teeth.
“You may call me Haven.”
Sam Bixler, fiction editor for this issue, is a junior majoring in Creative Writing. They live in Grantville, Pennsylvania with their mother and three cats (Toby, Levi, and Tali). When not writing or attending classes, they spend most of their time playing video games or Dungeons and Dragons.