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.)

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Kami
12 years ago

Your writing is fierce. Blog posts, short stories, whatever. You inspire me, entertain me, and motivate me. Thank you.

Leah
Leah
12 years ago

Creepy! Great story.

Amanda
12 years ago

Fierce. Yes fierce.

Eric's Mommy
Eric's Mommy
12 years ago

That was awesome Linda!

Write a freakin book already! :)

Christine
12 years ago

Holy…..

That? Was amazing.

Erin
12 years ago

I hope you aren’t considering not writing a book. That’s a talent not many have, you know?

Michelle
12 years ago

This is deliciously creepy and odd and amazing. Also? I want more.

Victoria
12 years ago

Shudders and closes the book.

Kirsten
Kirsten
12 years ago

Holy crap! Wow…

Jeanette
12 years ago

Wow! Make that into a whole book, ok?

Melanie
12 years ago

Eerie.

Michelle
Michelle
12 years ago

Creepy! I love it!! If you don’t want to bang out a whole novel, maybe a book of short stories? I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

Erica
Erica
12 years ago

I’m with Victoria. This scaredy cat can’t read any more!

Blabbermouse
12 years ago

Damn, girl. You have talent coming out the yin AND the yang. This is a killer short story, but I seriously thought you were going to say “…and this is the first chapter of my novel, which will be published by Big Name Publisher in 2011.”

You’ll be saying that soon enough, I bet.

I’ll try and be patient.

cbrks12
cbrks12
12 years ago

Oh, I like it. Creepy and cool…

Amanda
Amanda
12 years ago

*GAPES* You.. wow. You’re so detailed in your writing, you paint such a picture. Very good. Very creepy, but very, very good.

beach
beach
12 years ago

Freaked me out….but in a good way. WOW.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
12 years ago

girl, you are cah.razee! Good crazy, but crazy.

Wow that was awesome!

tanya
tanya
12 years ago

dang. eerie. fun.

Wendy
12 years ago

Wowzers.

I’m impressed.

JennyM
JennyM
12 years ago

[shivers and heads off to make a cup of HOT COFFEE]

pam
pam
12 years ago

dude. man. i thought that was going to have a happy ending. i feel nauseous now.

(great writing, obvs.)

heather
12 years ago

really great. you should probably keep writing. :) also, have you read any kelly link? i think she’s up your alley.

MRW
MRW
12 years ago

Ooo I love a good scary story! Well done!

Veronica
12 years ago

That was messed up. I can’t wait to share it around a campfire this summer. :) Great job.

SJ
SJ
12 years ago

Wow, pretty damn awesome Sundry. I say write more!

Hadey
Hadey
12 years ago

I’m glad I read that in the daylight at work and not at home before bed. Great story. Very vivid! You are very talented, and I’m with everyone else… I would love to read a collection of short stories or horror (or other) novel from you.

Redbecca
Redbecca
12 years ago

Totally creepy. Totally awesome!

Judy
Judy
12 years ago

Well, God! That was really scary! Write a book, PLEASE!

Sarah
12 years ago

Creepy! Good potential for YA, methinks (which is by no means meant to downplay it at all). I dunno, maybe it reminded me of R.L. Stein books I used to LOVE?

Sarah
12 years ago

R.L. STINE, whoops.

Anne
12 years ago

*shiver-shiver-shiver*

Oooooohcreepyomgack.

(Love it.)

(Like woah love it.)

(Totally.)

Aubrey
Aubrey
12 years ago

Wow, I totally felt like I was reading one of Stephen King’s short stories!

I’ll be buying your book, whenever you decide to write one.

Diane
12 years ago

Write the book! Mesmerizing.

gigi
12 years ago

O.M.G! Perfection! Stephen King and Dean Koontz better be looking over their shoulders.

Sunny
Sunny
12 years ago

Hope you have the rest of the chapter done, please send more asap. Fan-f&cking-tastic.

babelbabe
12 years ago

it’s like The Dybbuk — but not, and it reminds me of some short story by AS Byatt somewhere, too, about a man turning to stone. But utterly original and definitely YOUR voice. Nicely done! More, please.

gillian
gillian
12 years ago

ieeeeeee!!! it’s like sort of zombies and sort of scary things in the water and omg, don’t want to find any body parts on a beach….

April G.
April G.
12 years ago

Eeeee! Creepy! Well done, Linda. It’s very Margaret Atwood-ish.

Cristi
Cristi
12 years ago

OMGah! That is an amazing short story. Definitely worth trying to get published … just. SO. GOOD!

Debbie
Debbie
12 years ago

HOLY SHIT!

**cowers in corner in fetal position, sobbing in terror**

That was frakkin’ creepy! Brr! Very well done.

I guess I’m gonna go put the coffee pot on…both to make sure I don’t fall asleep tonight (can’tsleepseazombiewilleatme) and to get the smell of seaweed out of my nose.

Mo
Mo
12 years ago

My carotid artery is pounding out of the side of my neck!! Did not know where this was going…it’s nighttime, just before bed….gah!!! Great short story!!

C.
C.
12 years ago

Not bad. Good twist ending. Could stand to lose a few adverbs up at the top — your writing’s strong enough that you don’t need to flavor every verb. A good cook doesn’t need to sprinkle Mrs. Dash over everything before anyone gets to take a bite.

Niki P
Niki P
12 years ago

Bad dreams for this cat tonight. Thanks for that.

Emily
Emily
12 years ago

wow, you really are a very talented writer. if you’re not ready to write a book, maybe try to get a short story published in a magazine?

Stephanie
Stephanie
12 years ago

Holy shit. I’m not going to be able to sleep now. That was creepy/awesome!

Leslie
Leslie
12 years ago

And here I’ve always thought it was “A good man is hard to *find*” when it is obviously “A *good* man is hard to find.” Lesson learned.

Donna
Donna
12 years ago

I wish I’d been like Hadey, and not read this just as I was going to bed, and Leslie, you have it all wrong, the saying is that a HARD man is good to find. LOL
I thought this was gonna be you running and finding a body as you ran, so I was kind of blindsided on that.
The rest? Brilliant, and kinda funny, I give it a 9 only because you didn’t say what she was doing with the parts she brought home other than washing them. Did she put them in the fridge? The garage? Under the bed? In the tub? I know…..everybody’s a critic, lol. Seriously, this was really good.

Lisa
Lisa
12 years ago

(Going out on a limb here. I sincerely mean no disrespect and I say this with all the love one stranger can bestow onto another.)

You are a writer and I think you are afraid to do what it takes to get published. You are pursuing a career path (fitness) because you already know you can do that. You have transformed your body and you can achieve anything you put your mind to. Put your mind to this, your writing. It’s amazing. It always has been. You are a writer. You are a writer. Do it.

Sara
12 years ago

I would totally read that book! Really engrossing..and gross, but in an awesome way!