Feature Short Story
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               The Seashell
                                       By Michael Lizarraga

In 1929, two twin children were drowned by their parents in Bar Harbor, Maine,
attached to weights and sent to the ocean floor.  Years later, a seashell was
discovered at the bottom of this harbor, in the same area where the children's
bodies were found...


                                                    ***

The frantic, fall rain pelted the roof like bullets, streamed the window glass with
multiple tears, the kind of 2 a.m. storms that make even adults curl up and
suck their thumbs.

Wearing his Dukes of Hazzard pajamas, the sleeping eight-year-old laid
nestled in the heavy covers as if goldilocks in poppa bear's bed, the pillow a
marshmallow that sucked him in.  The half black, half white cocoa-skinned child
had puffy hair that looked and felt like a large brown cotton ball - where his
peers couldn't resist hiding and losing things.

The outside thunder was the hammer of a Norse god, waking young Eric.  He
sat up with a shriek, mouth agape, eyes opened to a lightning flash illuminating
the entire guest room.  Eric saw everything: the corner desk occupying his
homework papers; his suitcase of clothes for the weekend; two-by-three-foot
acrylic paintings that covered the walls in a hopscotch arrangement.  Paintings
of sea life and religious figures.  A hammer head shark, or Jesus standing on
water facing a boat of fishermen.

He inhaled deeply as he faced the door.  Told himself before bed he would
keep watch; not fall sleep.  Too late now.

Eric immediately draped over the edge of the bed.  Lifted a dangling piece of
sheet, peered underneath the bed with his Spider-Man flashlight.  Another
flash of lightning assured him that nothing was under there, and he pulled
himself back up.

He wanted to be sure.

Like when he was four years old, afraid of sharks under there, ready to snatch
him once he stepped onto the floor.  Traumatized by movies like Attack of the
Devil Ray or Jaws 2.

"If you stay on dry land or on a boat, how can the sharks ever get you?" is
what his grandma would tell him whenever climbing into her bed, terrified of his
under-bed shark.

Now eight, Eric understood what she meant.  He tried his hardest to be a good
boy, staying out of deep waters the best he could.  But the shark he now had
would still get him, and he had to be certain it wasn't under the bed.

He heard the flip-flapping of sandals down the hall, approaching the room.  
Eric quickly submerged under the thick blankets.  His hazel eyes widened as
they peered over the covers, fixated on the door.  Eyes bulged more as the
shadows of two feet stood at the base of the door, silhouetted against the hall
light glow.  Stood there, solemnly. Eric quivered, his palms, pits and upper lip
moistened with sweat.  Heart in his throat.

The feet turned, walked away.

Eric's body deflated like a balloon, the heavy blankets sinking.   Blankets
smelling of flower perfume - jasmine, lily and magnolia.  Eric glared at a four-by-
six gold-framed photograph on the night stand beside him, its image paling
from outside moonlight.  It featured a man cradling a woman, head placed
behind hers, both with ample smiles.  The man had wavy black hair, fair skin
and furrowed brows.  Had that natural "tough guy" appeal.  

The woman was a long-haired, light-skinned Latina. Blond.  Dark green eyes.  
Wore a shirt that said Lake View Hills Foursquare Church, 1983 Women's
Retreat.  Eric reached over, laid the picture face down.  No bad thoughts if he
couldn't see her.

Across the room, a flash of lightening revealed the large bright object on the
dresser, and Eric's face changed from gloom to glee.  He tussled out of bed,
cantered to the dresser.  Grabbed the football-size object with both hands, as
heavy as a small radio.

It was a seashell, shaped like a star or asteroid, a shell commonly known as
Murex Ramosus.  Eric climbed back into bed with the seashell and, head on
the pillow, laid it beside him, staring at it from the flickers of lightning.  Fixated
as if it was the latest Return of the Jedi X-Wing Fighter.  A most cherished
seashell during these weekends in the guest room, especially at night.

Its rock-rough, spiny exterior was blended white and brown, with thin beige
streaks, pinkish blotches and striations all around.  It had multiple pointy
edges, rows of short, long thick/thin finger-arms jutting in different directions.  
One end of the shell resembled a spiraled drill or an Indian pagoda, swirling
into a pinnacle.  Its oval, lemon-shaped mouth was the size of a large
pomegranate, or a small bowl, ten centimeters in diameter.  Resembled a
clown with no eyes tilting his head, mouth wide open, laughing.  Both the
shell's rocky exterior and smooth interior reminded Eric of something his
grandma once said.

"The ocean is filled with God's mean, ugly and nasty creations, showing us His
wild, dangerous side.  But it's also filled with His kind and peaceful things,
demonstrating His softer, gentler persona.  Meek and mild creatures, such as
dolphins and seagulls.  Good things that make bad things go away."

He placed the seashell's wide, oval mouth to his ear as though holding a
phone, the smooth surface cool along his soft cheek.  He heard underwater
currents and movement of sea life.  “Sounds of the ocean deep” his grandma
would tell him of seashells' inner noises.  Of course, Eric hadn't yet discovered
that seashells' “ocean sounds” is actually noise of the surrounding
environment resonating within the shell's cavity, and would allow his
imagination of underwater ocean roam free.

Eric burrowed his entire fist into the seashell’s mouth, reaching as far down the
porcelain-smooth passage as possible, its cave-like throat curving toward its
spiraled-swirl area and  eventually unseen.  Like reaching into a toilet's curved
drain.  As usual, the curious kid felt nothing, yet remained intrigued and joyful
about his own private little ocean in his hands.

An irony, since the sea was a monster's lair to Eric, filled with octopuses, killer
whales, tidal waves, contaminations and most terrifying of all - sharks.  But with
the seashell, all he felt was the ocean's warm cascade and cool suds tingling
his toes, taking  him away from monsters in and out of water.

Away from this house.  From her.

                                                        * * *

The rain later stopped, and as the boy slept, small creatures crawled from the
seashell's oval mouth, noiseless as a mime.  Barnacles, several of them,
encased in squared shells the size of grapes.  Their tiny, wiry legs carried
them across the pillow, dropping off the bed, onto the floor.  They scuttled
toward the door, like large army ants piggy-backing small rocks.

                                       * * * *

Eric was awakened later that morning with a gush of water tossed onto his
face.  "Woosh!"  He gasped, opening his groggy eyes.  The entire bed
mattress was then tilted to the side, sending the boy flailing to the floor.  Eric
gazed up like a spanked puppy, finding the woman before him, a bucket by her
sandaled feet.

She was somewhat voluptuous, yet firm, a twenty-nine-year-old Latina having
long blond wavy hair and light brown, flawless skin.  She had dark green
sparking eyes, eyes that seemed to swallow whatever they gazed upon -
brilliant and deep and haunting. She wore white jean shorts cuffed at her
knees and a gray T-shirt that featured a photoed face of the man from the
night stand picture.

"Didn't think I'd find these, did you?" she barked, waving two comic books
before Eric.

In one swipe, she tore the comics in half.

She shook another set of papers at him. "You had more than enough time to
finish your homework!"  She tossed the unfinished math sheets at Eric. " And
the answers aren't even right!"

She jerked him up by his skinny arm, ushered him out of the room, into the hall
bathroom.  She placed her hand on the back of Eric's little neck and shoved
his small frame to the yellow bathtub.

"Does that tub look clean to you?!" She again grasped the back of Eric's neck,
shoving his face toward the tub's base so that his forehead touched the
porcelain.  "That look clean to you?  Answer me!"

Eric cried, irritating the woman.

"Stop crying and answer me! Does that look clean to you?!"

He smelled her flower perfume - jasmine, lily and magnolia.

"N-n-n...," responded Eric.

The woman released him, said in mockery, "N-n-no...you stuttering fool." She
snarled,  "Clean that tub again!" and walked toward the hall.

She heard the boy creep behind her, and turning, saw him wield a small
plunger.  The woman snatched Eric’s thin wrist as if a trained ninja, her firm
grip causing him to release the weapon.  Looked upon Eric with those dark
green, gorgon-like eyes.  A sudden fury coursed through the woman's veins,
an intense urgency to expel the "evil child" from her home.

She seized him by his bushy hair, marched him out of the bathroom. Through
the house, into the back patio.  Through the backyard, still grasping his hair,
the wet well-manicured lawn pricking Eric's bare feet.

Eric glanced at the growling, brown tight-skinned beast a few feet away.  
Chachi, her Pit Bull, attempted his usual assault on Eric, the petite yet powerful
dog stopped only by the thick chrome around his muscular neck.  The boy
jerked to the side, gobs of Chachi's slobber-slime landing on the screaming
child.

"Shuddup, you big sissy!" roared the woman, jerking Eric by his hair, inflicting
more scalp pain.

She rushed him to the tool shed.  Opened the shed door and, with a mid-
knuckle strike to the back of Eric's head (what her mother called El Coscoron),
sent him staggering into the murky tin room.

"Your home for the weekend!" she told the boy. "And if I so much hear a
mouse fart out here, this will all seem like a pleasant memory!"

She slammed the door shut, locking it.

Inside, Eric was motionless, whimpering in the frigid pitch black.  Far worse
than the principal’s office or Little League.

From outside, he heard the woman say, "Remember what I told you last week,
my dear."  Then she eerily hissed, "Under your beeeeeeed."

He listened as the woman unfastened the barking canine, walked him to the
house.

The smell of mildewing rags filled his nostrils.  The scuttle of roaches, widows
and rodents sent a shiver up his spine as he sat hugging himself on damp,
dirty concrete.

The welts on his back from the week before hurt all the more.

                                    * * * *

Anna sat at her art board, her dark green eyes narrowed and focused, steadily
stroking a paint brush on a canvas like a surgeon wielding a scalpel.  Like the
guest room, Anna's studio showcased her acrylic paintings, either of sea life or
religious icons.  Jimmy Swaggart songs played low from a cassette.

She held a thick cordless phone to her ear while she painted, speaking to Max,
her fiancé.   "I dunno, honey," Anna said in a soft tone, frowning. "I mean, I'm
trying to be his friend.  But no matter what I do, nothing seems to work."

"Take it easy on yourself, sweetie," Max commented, people and loud
speakers blaring in the background. "It's only his fourth weekend with you.  
Soon, Eric will realize what a nice, sweet and caring stepmom he'll have."

"Hmm...thank you, hon," Anna replied, forming a reassured smile.

"Can I talk to my lil' lad?" asked Max.

Anna glanced toward the backyard. "Well, he's kinda ... busy right now." She
delicately stroked an acrylic blue along the white canvas.  "You'll be happy to
know that your son decided to help me clean my shed."

Max paused. "Serious?  His nanny can't even get 'em to floss.  A miracle.  I
might have to come to church with you more often."

"Leeeeets just start with our wedding next month and go from there. 'Kay?"
Anna retorted.

Max chuckled, then changed his tone.  "Thanks again, honey.  Excellent idea,
you and him spending the weekends together when I'm away."

"He needs a mother," Anna stated, dabbing her brush in a red paint dish. "A
Christian mother."

"He also needs a father," Max groaned. "Stinkin' business trips."

"Hey, hey," Anna interjected. "You're a terrific father who tries."

"Tries?" Max smirked, hoping for a 'succeeds' or 'achieves'.

"Tries hard?" Anna said with a coy smile.

Max laughed. Anna was direct and vague. Sweet and ironic.  Max loved that
about her.

The couple exchanged their usual virtual kisses, hanging up.  Anna again
peered toward the backyard, her angelic facade fading into the stoic stare of a
dragon-lady.  She glanced at the ceiling, listened to thunder and rain.  
"Maybe now he'll learn," she said robotically, forging a beastly grin. "Learn to
control that evil spirit in him."
Maybe now he would do his homework when she told him to.  Clean the
bathtub the way she wanted it.  To never again attack her with a plunger.

Most of all, never cry or whine.  The way that child whined when she was ten.  
A baby, belonging to one of her mother's house tenants, and whenever alone
with it, Anna couldn't help hurting the infant for crying.  Irritated, stirred like an
aggressive bull seeing red.  Often stuffed socks into the child's mouth so she
couldn't hear the screams.  Gave it little knocks or flicks on its soft forehead.  
More disturbing was the bizarre sense of pleasure she felt in making the baby
suffer.  A stimulant she carried throughout junior high and high school.  
Feared by "weaker" kids, once beating up a boy and forcing him to walk home
without clothes.   

She examined her near finished painting: a Great White moving throughout the
murky depths, enormous jaws opening like a trap door on small fish.  With a
slight cock of her head, gazing upon the painted predator in idolized adoration,
she said in a soft voice, "Nothing in the world can harm you."
                                    
                                                  ***

Chachi scampered into the guest room, sniffing.  He paused when his nose
came upon the seashell, lying on the floor.  The dog sniffed the shell's wide
mouth, beak half inside.  Then he withdrew it, picking up an unorthodox scent.  
He gave a short bark, then snarled, facing the shell in an attack position.

Suddenly, green rope-like vines jutted from the seashell's throat with
spectacular speed.  Wet and slimy vines, shooting at the bewildered dog in
multitudes like supercharged wires.  They seized his paws with a vice-like grip,
the whimpering animal acting as a restless horse being tied, the strands
remaining attached to the shell's mouth.

More and more vines darted out, wrapped and tightened around the Pit's arms
as if a gift wrapping machine.  The weeds moved rapidly throughout Chachi's
torso in sporadic directions, like splintering cracks along ice.  The canine could
only squirm, bones pulped by the abrasive vines.  His entire face became
ensnared, silencing his high pitched yelps.

His whole body was soon wrapped, lassoed in layers of strands as if webbed-
netted by a giant spider, a clump of slimy vines in place of what used to be a
dog.  It wobbled, then toppled onto its side.

Smoke ascended from the rope-like vines, the bundled mass losing density.  
Until only vine strands remained.  Then the seashell sucked them back into its
mouth, retracting like someone sucking in spaghetti strands.
                                                                        
                                                 ***

Eric continued to rock and hug himself to keep warm.  Rain drops plunked his
head, trailed his trembling forehead and mingled with sweat and tears along
his winced cheeks.  But he dared not cry.

He sat there in the shed thinking bad thoughts about Anna, the kind of bad
thoughts people often think toward each other.  He knew it was wrong for him
to think such thoughts toward others.  His grandma always told him so.

He remembered his first weekend at Anna's two months ago.  They played Go
Fish that Friday night, and she made Eric's favorite dessert – lemon meringue
pie.  Saturday, Anna showed Eric how to paint, creating an acrylic Hulk versus
The Thing.  Then she showed him her most prized possession - her first paint
brush, given to her by an old Sunday School teacher who taught her to paint.

Afterwards, Eric showed Anna his most prized possession: a box containing his
one hundred comic books he brought over that weekend.

Anna took him to the beach his second weekend with her.  Eric, terrified of the
water, refused to go in.  Anna grabbed his hand, pulled him toward the water.
"Stop being a wimp," she snapped.  The more she pulled, he cried, his
screams irritating the woman.

Triggered the "bull" in her.  Like an enticed lion, she slapped the boy.  
Bystanders sneered.  She apologized repeatedly, kissing the boy multiple
times on his red cheek, promising never to strike him again.  Pleading with him
not to tell his father.

He didn't.

His third weekend, Eric was told to not play in the house.  While Anna was
away, Eric couldn't resist, and kicked his soccer ball across the living room.  
Accidentally knocked a painting of Watson and the Shark off the wall, breaking
the frame.  Eric later found his one hundred comic books in their box - in
ashes.  Bits of charred Spider-Man, Thor and other super heroes staring at
the teary-eyed boy.

"Satanic books anyway," said Anna.

The following day that same weekend, Anna expressed interest in helping Eric
with his poor math grades, implementing a new rule for the coming weekends:
homework on Friday nights.  He would also have to clean the bathtub that
same night.

"You can't tell me what to do," Eric muttered at the dinner table.

His remark stirred the woman.  Calmly, Anna got up, walked to the boy, and
took his plate of food.

"Don't care!" the boy exclaimed.

In one continuous movement, Anna dropped the plate, yanked Eric from the
chair, lifted the back of his shirt.  With a long wooden spatula, she swatted the
boy's bare back, repeatedly, creating thick red welts.

The following night, driving Eric home, she said to him in a soft voice, stroking
his hair, "If
you ever tell anyone about any of this - especially your dad - I'll be under your
bed at night, 'kay?" and gently kissed his forehead.

Her words echoed in his mind all that week.  Eric checked under his bed every
night, though he said not a word to his dad.

"As long as you stay on dry land and out of deep water, how can sharks ever
get you?" he remembered his grandma say.

But why was the shark still able to attack him?  He did his best to stay out of
deep waters.  Or was he actually a bad boy?  Maybe that was it.  Disobeying
and mouthing off.  Thinking bad thoughts.  Picking up that plunger, fighting for
justice like Captain America.  He wondered if others had this sort of monster
under their bed.  Wondered what he did to get himself in these troubled
waters.  If there was anything to get him out.

Grandma was wrong.  Sharks can still get you - even when you’re on dry land.  
All Eric could do was think about the seashell's sounds.  Submerge once again
into the ocean's Jacuzzi-warm depths, gaze blissfully at the sun's aura seeping
past lapping under currents, like flickering headlights in a rain-fogged
windshield.

Pondering grandma's words. "Good thoughts, Eric."

                                                                   ***
    
"Chachi?" Anna called, entering the guest room.

Only Eric's suitcase and the seashell occupied the floor.  She shrugged,
figuring the pooch went outside.

She picked up the football-size seashell, held it in front of her.  Examined the
rough, white/pink exterior.  The smooth interior of its oval, softball-size mouth.
Anna found the seashell a year ago while in her backyard indoor patio, left
behind by the house's previous owner.  A professor and doctor in Psychiatry
and Neurobehavioral Sciences.  Also a ghost hunter.

Seashell in hand, she left the guest room, gaited down the hallway.  She
entered the bathroom, closed the door.

Outside in the hall, from a vase sitting on a flower stand, barnacles came
crawling out and, dropping off the table, moved quickly toward the door.

Inside the bathroom, Anna set the seashell on the sink counter, its new place
of decoration.  She turned on the tub faucet and poured soap for a bubble
bath.  She noticed the plunger on the floor.  Picked it up, held it a moment.  
Remembered Eric's earlier stunt.

"Maybe now he'll learn," she said, studying the plunger's handle.  She slowly
slid her hand along the smooth wood, reminded of the broom handles she was
beat with as a child.  Beat with broom handles and burned with curling irons
and whipped with wires.  Beat by her mother, a bitter woman whose husband
left her to raise a child on her own.

Anna gazed at her acrylic painting hanging over the bathtub.  A Great White,
its powerful gray body, its threshing crescent tail, catapulting out of the ocean.  
Into the air, like a dolphin, jaws aimed for a white seagull hovering over the
water.

An homage to a Great White she saw when she was twelve, the predator
nudging its nose against the aquarium glass where Anna rested her palm, its
dark eyes meeting hers.

Vicious jaws, threshing tail and powerful body that encouraged the battered
child to fight back years later.  Repeatedly struck her mother with a steal pipe,
sent her to the hospital with a severe concussion.  Both women never mentally
the same again.

Reaching over the tub, to the painting, Anna rubbed the canvassed shark.  
Gently moved her index finger along its dark green eyes. Said in a low, easy
tone, "Nothing in the world can harm you."

As Anna set the plunger behind the toilet, she heard children, snickering.  She
looked toward the sink, at the seashell, where the noises came from.  She
heard it again, the smirking turned to laughing.  Two children, echoey and
distant, as if in a deep basement or cellar.

She grabbed the seashell, studied it, listened as the echoey laughing
continued.  Holding the shell closer, she peered into its wide mouth.  Her head
jolted back as a gush of water shot out from the seashell's mouth, splashing
her face.  Her eyes squinted, mouth gasped.  She wasn't sure whether to be
startled or annoyed.  Again, she heard the children's giggles from within the
shell.

Then, silence.

Her brows furrowed with intense curiosity, putting the shell's mouth to her right
ear, its cold porcelain-like interior against the side of her head.  It was the
sound of the ocean deep - the actual deep - far different than any seashell
Anna ever held.  Underwater currents, the movement of marine life.  She
scuba dived enough times to know the sounds.

Then she heard whispers, a little boy and girl.  The sounds shifted, from
echoey and distant to girggling "underwater talking " sounds.

But curiosity switched to pain when Anna felt a sharp, powerful clamp on her
ear and side of her head.  She wailed in agony and terror as she pulled the
seashell away and gazed into the bathroom mirror: attached to her ear and
head was a thick, slimy six-inch leech, its dark body fat and pregnant-looking.  
Its tentacles unyielding, digging further into the woman's flesh and bone the
more she tugged on the stubborn creature.  Streams of blood trickled down
her cheek and face.

Holding the seashell, she again peered into its mouth, close to her face.  
Searching for something, anything, through the curvature of this shell's throat.  
She shrieked when thick, liquidy black/green sea sludge exploded from the
shell, catching Anna's face.  An overwhelming stench of waste and chemicals
assailed her nostrils.  The entire left side of Anna's face covered in slime, a
pain like fire on an opened wound.  She dropped the seashell, screaming and
falling to her knees.  Steam and smoke ascended from both the sludge and
her melting, drooping face.  Her cheek showed bone, while flesh dangled from
her jaw like shredded meat.  An actual hole formed in the side of her face,
revealing molars.  On the other side, the hungry leech dug deeper.

Howling, she looked at the seashell on the floor, watched another
phenomenon occur.  Small, insect-like sea creatures scurried from the
seashell's mouth, by the hundreds, like popcorn bubbling from a popcorn
machine.  Assorted species - crustaceans, mites, worms, parasites - quick and
fast, campaigning toward Anna.  The crawlers went to work on the woman's
bare feet, ankles and legs, gnawing their prey.  Blood drew, and whenever she
brushed off creatures, more climbed onto her hands and bare arms, eventually
her chest and neck.  Soon her face, still occupied by the relentless leech.  By
now, the sludge had dissolved nearly half her face, leaving it sagging and
showing bones  and teeth.

Sea snakes were next out of the seashell's mouth.  Six of them, three feet long
and slender, hissing like crazed cats, slithering.  Colored either
turquoise/black, yellow/black or gray/black. Anna stood up and ran to the door,
turned the knob.  But the door wouldn't budge.

Outside, clustered at the bottom corner of the door and doorframe, the
barnacles clung to the wood like adhesives.  Inside, the frantic woman kicked
at the door.  She was stopped when two snakes, swiftly and aggressively,
struck the woman's ankle and calf with powerful fangs.  She staggered from
the door.  Collapsed into the tub, landed in the soapy water, her wounds
stinging like stabbing knives.  Her white shorts and gray T-shirt bloodstained
as crawlers continued to gnaw her.

The half-face woman, with the leech still attached to her head, stood on her
knees in the water and grasped the plastic shower curtain.  Spreading her
arms wide, she braced the curtain against the tub's two-and-a half-foot
porcelain barrier so that nothing might enter.

From outside the tub, she felt and heard sea creatures thrusting, clawing and
biting at the plastic curtain, puncturing holes with claws and fangs and
tentacles.  Sea creatures slithered and crawled around, over, under or through
the defenseless curtain.  Anna moved to the end of the tub opposite the
faucet.  She crouched in fetal position, her trembling body half in and out of
the sudsy water turned pink with blood, creatures crawling in and out of her
gaping mouth.  She watched the curtain bulge from an object perched on top
of the tub's barrier. It plopped into the water, the curtain's edge trailing off to
reveal a large black hermit crab carrying the seashell on its back.  Anna curled
away from the shell as it sat by her knees, propped on its short, long thick/thin
finger-like arms, completely under water.  Faced her with its wide mouth.

Then, like bats bolting from a cave, a flurry of underwater sea creatures
exploded from the seashell's mouth.  Miniature puffer fish, jelly fish, moray and
electric eels and blue-ring octopuses, small enough to fit through the shell's
ten centimeter opening.  Swarming, attacking, stinging their screaming prey. A
school of baby-size viperfish and barracuda torpedoed out of the seashell,
their knife-like teeth ripping and tearing the human meat before them,
chunking and working and feasting on the woman like starved piranha on a
skinned cow.  The woman's screams devolved into gurgles.  Soon she was not
much more than a mutilated half skeleton that bobbed in red, green and
yellowish soap water.

From its mouth, the seashell expelled sea water, the overfilling tub spilling onto
the bathroom floor, up to the door.  Then, like an ultra-powered vacuum, the
seashell began sucking in the water from its mouth, controlling and
manipulating any blood and fleshly remains throughout the watery floor as it
retracted back to the tub.  Every creature in the bathroom slithered or crawled
into the tub, back to the seashell, soldiers obeying their commander.

As it sucked in the water, the seashell expelled a toxic substance throughout
the tub, disintegrating the bobbing skeleton.  The painting of the Great White
was knocked off the wall by crustaceans.  Landed in the tub water,
disintegrated with the corpse, sucked into the seashell with everything else.

When it was over, the seashell rolled onto its front, on its mouth, and a set of
black crab legs sprouted.  Swiftly, the spidery limbs maneuvered the seashell
out of the tub, onto the bathroom floor and dragged it toward the door.

                                                      ***

Eric sat on the porch steps between Anna's two neighbors, a young married
couple, their
arms around the boy.  In sort of whisper, the wife told Eric, "I'm sorry."  The
husband placed his head on Eric's.  All watched the two policemen return to
their vehicle.

The couple had rushed to the backyard when they heard the boy screaming
and banging on the tool shed's walls.  Eric's dad was now on a plane, receiving
the neighbors' message at his hotel, leaving behind a grieving staff who would
have to do without their sales rep for a while.

Everyone was clueless as to the whereabouts of Anna Martinez. Max
concluded that if he found his now ex-fiance, the police would return for
something other than child abuse or missing persons reports.


Eric fished out an old gray paint brush from his jean pocket.  Anna's first brush
– her most prized possession.  Eric took it from her studio shortly before the
police arrived.  His plan was to snap it in half, right in Anna's face, if and when
he saw her again.

The lawn's sprinklers turned on.  Water drenched the concrete walkway, Eric
lifting his feet onto the porch's first step to avoid the water.  He watched the
sprinklers saturate the lilies and magnolia.

He held the paint brush before him with a blank stare.  Lips pursed, brows
arched, his grandmother's words echoed: "Good thoughts, Eric."  He
remembered the seashell's sounds.  Its underwater currents, and his face
brightened.

Eric walked to a swing chair on the porch.  He set the paint brush on it,
unharmed, where Anna could find it.  He wondered if, even kind of hoped, one
day Anna would experience the same warm ocean cascade and cool, toe-tingly
suds from a seashell's mouth.

Meanwhile, the wife picked up the large seashell  Eric held earlier, sitting on
one of the steps.  She held the seashell's mouth to her face.  Examined the
smooth white curvature of its throat.  Its rock-rough exterior, pebbly and sandy.

A seashell awaiting Eric's workaholic father.