The Conch Shell

The Conch Shell

by

Nowell Berg

 

Fade In

Once upon a time, in a land far far away from ice and snow, a man lived in a hut next to the ocean. Like every day, when the sun reaches zenith, he grabs a walking stick and heads to the beach. While strolling along, if something caught his eye, he’d stoop to retrieve a sea shell or piece of coral.

On this day, he enjoys the warm ocean water wrapping itself around his feet. Sometimes a wave would run higher splashing water up to his knees or above. When this happens, he jams the walking stick into the sand bracing for the waves tug. A force that inevitably wants to drag him toward the ocean depths. He thought that one day he might just give in to the oceans urge to take the plunge.

When he reaches the middle of the white crescent beach, he stops to plant his feet in the warm wet sand and pray to his god. This helps to center him and ground his lonely soul to mother earth. Returning from this daily practice calms his spirit and replenishes him for the next day.

 

Days later, after finishing his prayer, he turns to leave the beach when he spots a large conch shell rolling out of the surf. He hurries to pick it up before the receding waves pull it back into the roiling surf.

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Just in time, he grabs it up and quickly retreats out of the water. Finally standing on dry sand, he turns it over, examining its surface. Round stunted spikes streaked with amber sprout from the hard shell. He gazes at its symmetry, beauty and the hot red pink of its inner smoothness. He’d seen that image and felt the heat before, but not for a long time.

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Raising the shell to his ear, he expected to hear the roar of the ocean. Instead he hears something else. It sounds almost like, well it couldn’t be, a voice. Pulling it away from his ear, he peers into the shells opening. He puts it back to his ear. Again he hears what sounds like a whisper. He strains harder to hear it. After several moments, he distinctly hears the words, “release me”. He jumps dropping the shell to the sand. After a moment or two, he picks it up putting it next to his ear. Sure enough, he hears the voice, “release me”.

Not sure what to do, he throws it back into the surf. A wave pulls the shell back into the water out of sight.

The next day the man returns to the beach for his usual walk and prayer. A thought about the conch shell flashes across his mind. As he reaches the beach, he notices the ocean waves much higher, intense and more frequent than the day before. A ferocious storm must be crashing across the ocean way out beyond the horizon to create these waves, he thinks.

He doesn’t venture as far into the water as he normally would. Still the water tugs on his legs more insistent and with greater strength. While looking off across the beach into the distance, he does not see the conch shell roll out of the surf onto the sand near his feet.

Finally, he looks down water and sand swirl around the shell. He picks it up but hesitates before placing it to his ear. The voice returns, “release me”. He smiles. A warm feeling touches his soul. He holds the shell for a few minutes before gently tossing it back into the surf.

On the third day, the shell returns to his side. As he picks it up, he is unaware of a large approaching wave. Suddenly it crashes into him knocking him over and off his feet. He manages to hold onto the shell, but the walking stick gone.

Like a bobbing coconut, the wave twirls him around and around tugging him out toward open water. His heart races panic filling his chest. While he’s a very good swimmer, he is no match for the force of Mother Ocean.

The receding wave pulls him feet first into deeper water as another wave builds towards its natural fate. With all his power he forces his feet down into the receding water stabbing them into the sand and standing up in one motion. Once on his feet, he back pedals away from the next rushing wave avoiding its watery grip.

Finally on dryer ground, the man looks at the conch shell. He lifts it to his ear. Sure enough the voice, with a plaintive tone, urges “release me”.

The man figures this brush with death means he should keep the shell. He returns to his hut setting it in a place of honour.

During the night, he hears the shells voice growing louder more urgent, “release me”, “release me”.

Trying to sleep, he tosses and turns on his bed. Dark dreams invade him all night. The only image from his dream is the shells red opening morphing into a pair of red vulva lips.

At first light, he looks at the shell. He’s shaken, its colour faded and the voice barely audible.

A pain touches his heart and he knows instantly what to do. He grabs it up running out the door straight to the ocean where he throws it back into the water.

He proceeds to kneel in the wet sand muttering a prayer of forgiveness. On this day, he doesn’t return to the ocean at the suns zenith. He stews and frets in his hut.

For three more days he stays in his hut wary of the oceans retribution. Finally he returns to the beach on his normal routine. Nothing untoward happens. He sighs, planting his feet and saying his prayer.

The next day on his journey across the beach, the sun blazes hot in a cloudless blue sky. The ocean throws up wave after wave each crashing onto the beach.

This time he decides to kneel at the water’s edge believing that his prayer might placate the ocean god.

Suddenly, out of nowhere a large wave crashes onto the shore taking the man by surprise. The waters force pulls him, arms and legs flapping, out into deeper water. He’s sure this time his life is lost and he’ll not make it back to land.

The wave pushes him toward the sandy bottom meters below. He swims hard toward the surface. Finally breaking into the air, he spits out salty water, gulping gasping to fill his lungs. He orients his direction toward the shore and swims hard, the hardest he’s ever done.

As he nears a depth where he can stand and run to higher ground, another wave plows into him knocking him off his feet and pulling him back into deeper water. His energy fading, resigned to his fate, the man feels something hard strike his chest. Looking down he sees the conch shell right in front of him. He grabs for it, fumbling at first then holding it tight to his heart.

Another wave engulfs the man sending him head over heels. He completely loses all sense of direction. The only thing going through his mind, hold onto the shell. He passes out.

The man awakes sprawled on his back across the sand. The waves of low tide tickle his feet. He rests for a moment wondering if he’s dead, but feeling very alive. He pushes himself up on his right elbow looking left down the beach, his beach, the hut off in the distance to the south.

A gentle wave washes into him. Something brushes against his leg. He turns to the right seeing a woman lying next to him. He stares at her in amazement trying to figure out where she came from.

He looks along her lithe body, finally resting his eyes on her amber coloured hair tossed into spikes. He smiles at the disheveled look. He pushes himself into a sitting position.

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When she moans and begins to move, his heart quickens. He’s not sure what to do. He sits still waiting for her to fully recover. She opens her eyes eventually turning her head to look at him. He gasps. Her eyes ocean blue/green filled with energy, joy and sunshine. She smiles at him. He smiles back.

Finally regaining his strength, he stands up wiping sand from his body. He offers her his hand. She takes it. He pulls her to her feet. Letting go of her hand, she falls back into the sand. He chuckles, but reaches for her again. This time he keeps holding her up until she stops swaying.

They continue to hold hands. He motions toward the hut at the far end of the beach. He steps toward the hut, but stops when she doesn’t move. She looks puzzled glancing around. He tells her it’s ok. She can stay in the hut until someone comes to get her.

She smiles taking a tentative step toward him, but falters. He grabs her before she can fall back to the sand.

The man reaches around her shoulders keeping her up-right. He takes a small step. She tentatively follows getting stronger with every step. All the while she looks out at the ocean.

The man puts his arm around her waist to steady her as they walk along the beach sun setting behind them.

The man silently thanks his god for answering prayers.

The next day and to the end of their days, the man and woman return to walking along the beach. Occasionally they will stoop to pick up a sea shell or coral tossed up on the sand by Mother Ocean, but they always kneel at the mid-point of the crescent beach to pray at the suns zenith.

Fade Out

© Nowell Berg, 2013