It was grey and windy the day she found the foot. The sky was thick with layers of whipped-dark clouds blowing in from the east across the sea, and she took hurried steps along the path through the beachgrass and towards the shore. Ahead, the waves tossed bitterly as if caged, seething with white froth. She’d wanted to feel the storm on her own skin, but it was so cold. Turning, she could see the glow of the front window and almost headed back, but decided to press on, drawing her coat more tightly under her chin and ducking her head.

She thought later that she might have missed it entirely if she hadn’t been huddled in that way, peering downward through watering eyes and bending against the winds. She had just come through the cut in the dunes and was walking on the high part of the shore where the sand was deep and crumbly when it caught her eye. An oddly-shaped object poking up from a tangle of seaweed and yellow foam. Something pinkish. Maybe a shell.

She stepped closer to see, and had to pull her hair aside as it lashed against her face in a whistling gust. Carefully, she used the tip of her boot to nudge the seaweed aside. Foam scattered and blew, and she saw what it was. A toe. A single toe, dusted with clinging wet sand, pointing straight upward.

She stepped back in a rush and for a time stood perfectly still, her eyes on the thing in the sand. Her heart beat in her chest and her ears filled with the sound of rushing waters, inside and out.

The cry of a circling gull startled her, and she blinked. She looked up and down the shoreline and saw nothing but empty beach, twisted piles of driftwood, coiled layers of seaweed. A scalloped line drew the boundary between wet sand and dry.

The waves surged nearby, eager.

She walked back towards the grassy dunes until she found a suitable piece of wood, then returned to the toe. As she bent down, she noticed a tiny pebble clinging to the toenail, which she gently brushed away. She began to dig.

It didn’t take long to uncover the whole foot. A man’s foot, of course, she’d known that right away. It was buried with the ankle facing straight down into the sand, the foot bent upwards and the toes pointed. When she’d dug a big enough hole, she regarded what was exposed—the surprising pinkish tint of the skin, the neatly trimmed toenails—and took a deep breath before reaching in and pulling it free. It was cool to the touch but not cold, damp but not clammy. She had a moment of fear when the end of the ankle came into view, but this too was unexpected: a smooth expanse of skin, only that. No blood, no evidence of how the foot came to be detached from its owner.

She bundled the foot into the folds of her coat and took it home with her.

The next morning the skies were flat, the color of metal. The sea was calm, issuing forth its rhythmic breathings with none of the violence of the day before. She stood at the window for half the day, exhaling onto the glass and watching it fog, then clear, before finally pulling on her coat and stepping out into the salty air. She hesitated at the beachgrass path, but of course there was no real question where she was going, and she pressed on through the dunes. Her steps became faster until she was almost running to the spot in the deep sand, her boot-prints collapsing behind her.

Today, there was an index finger pointing up through the sand. Its nail was clean and trimmed. A tiny shred of seaweed curled around the knuckle.

For the rest of the week she ate very little and sat at the scuffed wooden table in the kitchen each night, drinking steaming cups of tea and looking out at the moonlight sliding over the waves. Each day, she waited until midmorning to get dressed and hurry to the shoreline. Each day, she dug in the sand and brought something home with her.

An upper arm. A leg. The crook of an elbow. A bent knee. A torso, so heavy she thought she wouldn’t be able to lift it.

The last day was stormy again, cold with winter fury. She stood shivering on the beach while the sea grumbled and moaned nearby and at first she saw nothing, then realized what she’d mistaken for seaweed was hair. Wet and dark and thick with salt and foam and sand.

That afternoon she ran a hot bath and washed the head as she’d done the others. The eyes were closed, but she was careful. She used a damp towel to clean sand from the corners of the eyes, dabbing as gently as she could.

It was close to midnight when she left her spot at the kitchen table and climbed into her bed. The room was warm from the fire and the surf was a comforting rumble outside. She felt enormously tired and content. She was happy to wait. She was sure it wouldn’t be long.

The lamp had gone out when she awoke, it was hard to know how much time had passed. Her blankets felt cold and wet, and she pushed them down with a small cry of disgust. Everything smelled of salt. From the doorway, a dark and silent shape was outlined.

Hello? she said, sitting upright. Her ears suddenly filled with the rush of ocean, and she shook her head. Hello? Come here where I can see you.

The shape came towards her, an inky black movement of shadows. Salt and sweetness, thick. Brine. Iodine.

She smiled, started to speak again, and in that moment the moonlight filtering through her window fell upon him and she saw. The roar of the sea filled the room and his eyes were open, dear god, his eyes were open and she saw, she saw and she opened her mouth to scream but he was upon her, an unspeakable frigid drown of water everywhere on her body at once and her last thought before the black became all-encompassing was that he was tearing her apart, he was tearing her to pieces.

In the morning, the house lay quiet and empty, the fire burned to cold ash. Outside, the sun shone in a patch of blue, white clouds billowing from the east. Far down the shore, the whistling tune of someone walking the beach, enjoying the sun. In a spot of crumbling wet sand, something poked through the seaweed, pointing up at the placid sky.

———

(Q: What the hell? A: No reason, just felt it had been too long since I’d written anything but blog entries and product copy.)

Comments

68 Responses to “Pieces”

  1. toni in florida on May 25th, 2010 6:22 am

    Fun! Great twist at the end.

  2. Shawna on May 25th, 2010 6:54 am

    Ha! Like Donna, I also wondered where she was putting the pieces and imagined them in bags in the freezer until it became clear she was assembling them (or at least that they’d probably have to touch each other and not be frozen).

    Creepy. Well-written of course, but still very creepy.

  3. joaaanna on May 25th, 2010 7:54 am

    Wow. Wow wow wow. WOW!

    And gulp.

  4. Deb on May 25th, 2010 8:09 am

    Please sir, can I have some more?

  5. Kris H. on May 25th, 2010 8:12 am

    OMG! That was AWESOME! You should totally expand on that!

  6. Cara on May 25th, 2010 8:37 am

    Wow. Really wish I knew someone in publishing, because I’d be insisting on a finders fee and sending this to them. Holy Moley… And for me leaving some of it up to the imagination (like why the heck was she hanging on to these body parts and so content with it) made the story creepier. The woman chilled me out as much as the rest of the story! (Oh, and I had no problems with your adverb. Since I’m not your editor, I won’t try to shape your voice.)

  7. Sara on May 25th, 2010 9:17 am

    Amazing. Has a Murakami feel about it!

  8. Carley on May 25th, 2010 10:01 am

    So very creepy. And really amazing. I hope the mood for writing this kind of thing strikes you again soon!

  9. lisa-marie on May 25th, 2010 12:58 pm

    That was awesome! Thank you for sharing it!

  10. jodie on May 25th, 2010 7:55 pm

    Ok, have to admit, I haven’t read the story…bit of a wuss here, so I just read the comments. I will suck is up and read the story now…

  11. .303 Bookworm on May 25th, 2010 8:24 pm

    Up until the fifth to last para I was thinking “oh a ‘build yourself a man’ story, ok, a little illiterative at the start but what the hey, still v.enjoyable.” Then, that para and I was all “Holy shit, uhoh, I don’t know if I want to read further….”

    Good story, very good indeed. Of course you’ve probably RUINED those walks along the stormy coast that I used to love…but hey, that’s what good writing is all about.

  12. HRJ on May 25th, 2010 10:12 pm

    You very talented weirdo, you :).

    “Illiterative”, heh :).

  13. Emma on May 26th, 2010 4:54 am

    Have never left a comment before, but that is good solid writing. Keep going.

  14. Valerie on May 26th, 2010 8:52 am

    I am reading Roald Dahl’s Ghost Stories right now. In his search for great Ghost Stories, he realizes that not very many of the authors are women. I think you are a great candidate to change that statistic. Please write a book. I would buy it, as would many, many people. Then you would be home for dinner with your kids every night.

  15. Niki on May 26th, 2010 11:07 am

    DUDE!! The details were amazing, I saw everything in my mind! A book of short stories with a HORROR/SUSPENSE section would blow up!! I’m reserving 5 copies of your book right now…..in my head…but still!!

  16. agirlandaboy on May 26th, 2010 11:51 am

    And the Perfect Sentence Award goes to: “A scalloped line drew the boundary between wet sand and dry.”

    You are gifted.

  17. Maria on June 1st, 2010 4:10 pm

    I love this, Linda. Love it.

  18. Shin Ae on June 6th, 2010 8:55 pm

    Really, really good. I got chills.

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