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The Sea Girl’s Survival

by Valerie Brook


Young Abigail Oats has never been popular at school, and to make matters worse, she keeps hearing a freaky watery shhh sound behind her when nobody is around, just like the lapping sounds of real, wet, ocean waves. It’s, you know—disconcerting.
Especially when you live in the dry desert.
And it seems like two realities are happening at once.
Wasn’t it enough her whole life has been upturned in a recent tragedy?
When Abigail “follows” the watery shhh sound and wakes up floating on a ragged orange life raft in a drowning blue sea, it will take the determination of a strong soul to make the right choices to survive.


Copyright © 2018 by Valerie Brook. All rights reserved.

First Published in Pulphouse Fiction Magazine: Issue 1 © 2018

Published by Kickit Press/

Cover and Layout Copyright © 2018 by Kickit Press

Cover Art Copyright: S. Bachstroem/

This is a work of fiction. Name, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual events or locals or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction, in whole or in part in any form.



THE FIRST TIME THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD Abigale Oats heard the phantom whisper, the strange sloshing, wave-lapping shhh sound—she was biting her lip and trying not to cry at noon recess at Walter Luther Middle School.

Under the heat of New Mexico’s desert-orange basketball sun, not a drop of liquid water anywhere for a mile except for the dirty, snake-winding Rio Grande; that shhh sound forced Abby to glance left and right.

Maybe the other kids had snuck up behind her again.

Like they had in the bathroom.

But only a sea of crispy brown grass surrounded Abby, and the lonely pockmarked baseball field like a crater on a desolate moon, and an Earless lizard that did pushups in the powdery dirt whenever Abby looked at it.

You, too, can exercise.

Walter Luther didn’t even have a stupid baseball team.

Only the beheaded, skeletal tumbleweeds ran the diamond, with their berserkers gait and regardless of rules at all.

The air smelled of the yellow chamiso field beyond the broken chain-link fence; the wild bush that locals said was stinky as feet and caused seasonal allergies, and the tourists thought was the epitome of an exotic desert fragrance.

The air right now was definitely nasty like a bloated fish rotting in an athlete’s shoe. Abby might be brand new to the Southwest, but she had a local person’s nose.

The dead fingers of the breathless September breeze, which was too hot and tired to push anything of substance, brushed only the finest hairs on Abby’s neck under her short, curly mop of sweaty hair.

If hair can sweat.

The other seventh-graders played on the concrete schoolyard—where the basketball hoops stood tall, just like rust-colored dinosaur bones with netted, slack-hung jaws—the kids all laughing and shouting, their voices pushing the distance toward Abby through a shimmery sky curtain of heat waves.

But no one looked at her on the forbidden metallic bleachers. No one waved. No one said: Hey friend, what are you doing sitting out there all alone; are you okay?

Abby hunched on the fry-pan hot aluminum—which hadn’t seemed too hot until she plunked down on the metal, and then after the burn of surprise, the pain felt alright.

As if her physical pain and emotional pain were natural born enemies, and would have a boxing fistfight inside her body, and the physical pain would win in a knockout.

Be the champion of her torment.

And then her stupid emotional tears would suck back in defeat, and she’d have on her normal face again; the one that could talk and smile without her big lip quivering.

Mr. Rodrigues in fifth-period math always called on her; because the Hispanics chewed gum, and the Indians passed paper notes. And that one Asian boy stuttered.

But Abby just learned math.

The bottom side of her fleshy thighs were probably getting a horizontal bacon imprint, or turning into pinched-up skin corduroy, because she’d been stupid enough to wear shorts. Not that shorts were stupid, but it was because she’d forgotten to shave her legs.

Looking ever so hairy and unpopular; and like an Anglo person from Alaska, too.

Because Anglo was unpopular. (And Alaska was total outer space.)

Actually, she basically had two skin colors: College-paper white or boiled-lobster red. Plus freckles and shocked out ginger hair. Which she could have done well, if she’d been reinvented as a fat clown, and liked spoiled children. And was a creepy man.

Abby pinched her eyes closed.

There was no way the shhh sound could be real. No cell phone speakers to trick her. Nobody whispering behind her.

And it wasn’t her own heartbeat. Couldn’t be. It just didn’t have the rhythm of a heart.

It sounded like a real, wet, blue sea.

* * *

The second time Abby heard the watery shhh sound, it was dark in the guest bedroom where she was wrapped up deep in itchy wool blankets on the rickety metal bed.

So dark black, that the darkness became a moody creature that exhaled its smoky pinon breath over her face when the red glow flickered out down the hall in the kiva fireplace—where step-grandfather Mesta cooked posole and beans—and then she couldn’t tell if her eyes were really open or closed tight.

She might be swallowed by dark, be inside the digestive stomach juices of dark.

Churning around and around.

But when her eyes got dry; that’s when she knew they were open to the air.

And staring at nothing but blackened memory; the squat room that had only an empty wooden dresser, the mug of Bic pens, the beeswax candle, and her messy traveler’s suitcase stuffed inside the small, barren closet which was filled with everything she could carry.

The class-action lawyers and the social workers had the rest of her family’s stuff in storage somewhere back in Alaska. Because the case had gone bigwig; had gone hush-tones and important.

And Mesta kept the legal correspondences hidden, maybe in a clever, manila folder. Slid in a furniture crevasse somewhere. Abby had tried to look around his house—but just with her eyes, not with her fingers.

She was a teleported stranger here.

At the dinner table awkward Mesta always mumbled, let’s not talk of it now.

If not now, then when?

Mesta’s adobe stank of cinnamon mouthwash. The smell had built up in Abby’s nose—and even when she closed the bathroom door across from her bedroom, the mouthwash still ghosted through the air to haunt her.

Mesta had a gingivitis bone infection thing.

He was like super old. And when he spit in the sink, it wasn’t always the sink.

A kindly man for sure, his eyes were soft and brown, especially when he said he didn’t know where Abby’s grandmother had gone, except she’d gone tropical when he stayed desert.

Left him on an adventure a year ago, but they didn’t divorce, because they loved each other and she still sent him monthly checks.

So those lawyers were on it, making business-suit lawyerly calls. Until they located biological Grandma, Abby was stuck with non-biological Mesta—which got really confusing overall because he didn’t even—because all the rest of Abby’s biological family was—


Because of stupid deluxe new minivans that can seat the whole family except her, because she had the flu, for the hockey game; and mountain cliffs, and faulty class-action brakes.

And four funerals.

Practically overnight, Abby was put on a crowded commercial flight, stuffed into a seat like a cow, and sent to temporarily stay here in the stupid cinnamon-mouthwash barn where Mesta booted her out in the morning to graze, and the school booted her home in the afternoon back to her stall.

Where she stared at the plastered walls in her room. And followed the cracks with her eyes.

And Mesta hardly spoke much English though he spoke it just fine.

She couldn’t even have a TV out here. No cell phone. And she hated to read.

And the blue watery shhh sound came back in the pitch dark.

Whispered up through the lumpy chicken feather pillow, through the cotton mattress, the mud brick floor. Up through the solid dark earth a thousand miles beneath her, until all that hard earth sloshed into real salty water.

Rocked her gently in her bed, and she opened her eyes, and the sun flared in a coppery-white flash. Her lips tasted of brine.

And on her cheeks, she felt a sticky, sea-salt hairspray.

The dream was of a turquoise ocean, and a big orange floating raft. And how Abby lay there on the boat bottom, her legs rolling back and forth, in and out of consciousness; her face slowly turning lobster red.

* * *

Why go to school?


Copyright © 2018 by Valerie Brook. All rights reserved.

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