Nineveh Fades Extract – Part Three

Beach

As she worked in the trench, she could not escape the whiff of starfish souls, of the green plants that clung to the shore when the tide went out. She dug further and further, dredged the grit with her fingernails until it got stuffed up inside and began to ache. She used her thumb for a pivot against the crumbling ground. Before long the tide came up over her heels as she knelt, then the back of her thighs.

With her channel filling, she returned to the head of the whale, put her hands either side of its nostrils and began to push. She did so gently at first. She hoped it would not be alarmed by the sudden contact. So close to an embrace, a kiss from (dare she say) a pretty girl, a sea-maiden, she even turned her cheek onto its and embraced it, as if in love. At last, she began to feel her feet digging into the sand: the whale was moving away, breaking free, and she could push off, no longer pretending that this was some tender touch — it was an escape, a release, a launch.

As the water held its body, the whale began to slide like it was free of the sand, as free as a block of ice on the table after a finger-kick. Lori watched it go out and then in again, at the mercy of the thrust of the waves beneath it. She no longer had to put any effort in, it was as if it were lofted high, an idol with a hundred thousand men underneath, a mighty black stone being rolled across the landscape in an act of permanence so beloved of tribal man. The whale jolted into life, but seemed desperate not to re-enter the sea. Lori fell back. The thing began to work its way towards her as best it could, bashing its flippers, using its back muscles to pull its body up and then flop forward, again and again, until a strange wave flowed along it.

Lori backed away from the whale on her hands. No longer helpless, it now seemed out to get her, with red in its eyes sparking where before it was dead. She watched as the mouth flopped open with the effort of it all, and the long pink tongue snaked towards her, seeking her out, the tip of a missile.  She closed her eyes. A sudden roar from the creature grew to an avalanche.

She dropped onto her back and looked for heaven, at last seeing the real reason for all the sound — not the whale at all, but the caws of a flock of giant birds that flew overhead, with wings that spanned from one side of the beach to the other, blurred circles on the front, propellers going faster than bullets until they chased one another to a smudge, the elongated outlines of a whole host of B29s, like prehistoric reptiles soaring over the land that reminded her of the CDA adverts where families strolled along the streets until suddenly this great shadow came over them, the shape of the plane; a newsreel meant to reassure, saying the B29s had to fly so that nothing else did, for it was unwise to leave a space above the city that the enemy might enter.

Soon there were more wings in the sky than patches of blue, and as they swooped over they left behind this kind of cloud of mist, drawn into lines by the motion, so that it looked as if a child had done a painting through the clouds, the way she had seen Micky create a wet sheet of coloured paper from his pots and brushes when young, so soaked in colour that it near fell apart in her hands as she walked around the house to show it off, before it dried and cracked.

Lori glanced back at her feet. The whale was still again, back where it had begun on the beach. She realised it had not been beached by some trick of nature at all; it had wanted to be there. Maybe it had just given up. In the noise and confusion overhead, she felt she understood why.

The planes continued to scream past. Lori imagined raking her hands through the sky after them. She looked back to the sides of the cliffs where she had begun her journey. It was in this direction that the planes were headed, lifting their guilty bodies up to make the cut between land and space, struggling to ascend with the weight of the bombs that lived inside, looking so much like the body of the whale, primed to fall.

She saw a flash from beyond the cliffs. Then one more, and another. She turned away and saw her shadow burned into the sand in caramel. She had seen the way this flash brought a cloak of fire over houses filled with dummies many times on television, seen it turn trees into pointless candles in just a heartbeat. Next came the shock, more powerful than any tide. The whale was lifted up with ease, slung into the air, leaving behind the small inlet she had built with its own track of water flowing around it despondently.

As the whale lifted off she saw something come out of its mouth, the shape of a person, a silhouette in the sky, a rag-doll flopping in free-fall as both soared through the air a hundred metres high until they became just a speck and then landed, together, with a splash somewhere distant out at sea. She saw herself, followed by the cliffs, all that earth and soil and occasional tufts of grass that tracked the sun, moving, blurred out, specks of dust hitting her skin and causing welts like when her father had hit her over and over with his belt as a child. She caught on fire, pulled one way and the other at the same time, snapped in half. She began to scream but the air ran away from her before she could even commune with it. And then she knew she was dreaming; and then she woke up. But the shelter was all around her, still.

PREVIOUS EXTRACT: Nineveh Fades Extract – Part Two

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more by JAKE CARTER-THOMAS

Read the full novel: Nineveh Fades, or, The Bomb Shelter – Jake Carter-Thomas

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