Author: Sara Jordan-Heintz

I found myself gasping for air, awakening on the loveseat in the sitting room of my rented beach house, my heart thumping in my chest, with the same sensation drumming a discordant beat in my ears.

I could hear the waves thrashing against the shore, the moonlight casting eerie shadows on the walls and ceiling of the bungalow. I don’t know if I could exactly describe it as singing; perhaps more of a humming, murmuring sound, the kind a woman makes while she’s stirring a pot on the stove, lost in reverie without a clue as to what the actual words are to the song.

Wrapping a robe around my sweaty, shaky frame, I quietly opened the back screen door and headed down to the beach. Sand flooded the openings of my sandals, coating my feet in soft, shiny light brown grit. I lost my footing in the blasted flip flops, my kneecap colliding with a behemoth conch shell, half buried in a sand dune. A thin stream of blood oozed from the raw wound — nothing a little warm salt breeze wouldn’t cleanse.

My aunt Greta used to say if you picked up one of those shells and held it to your ear, you could hear the whirling sounds of the ocean, in some kind of audiological illusion. Humpf. The scientific explanation is that surrounding environmental noises resonate within the cavity of the shell.

I picked up the large former dwelling of some nameless sea creature, brushing sand off the body as best I could, as not to rub any of it into the windswept locks of my long, auburn hair. A cool wind danced through the humid night air, colliding with that same sense of dread I’d felt coursing through my organs and veins upon rousing from my slumber. As I angled it towards my right hear, two tinny-sounding words reverberated through the shell’s cavity: “help me.” Scurrying back to the beach house, I dropped the shell along the walkway. Pausing, I picked it up again, and with all my strength, hurled it into the Atlantic.

Trudging back to my residence, I entered the same way I’d come, locked the door, turned the knob on a tabletop lamp, and caught my breath. Walking to the kitchen for a glass of ice water, I chugged the beverage, holding the cold glass to my damp nightgown.

That sound again. Low, guttural mutterings. I pivoted to return to my makeshift sleeping quarters in the sitting room, its ceiling fan swirling air throughout the suffocating room, when I saw the conch shell, resting on the coffee table. As though suspended in time, I inched closer to the table, ready to reach for the shell with a tremulous hand. Slowly. Slowly. Two steps to go.

I put the shell up to my ear as I had done at the beach. What I heard next made me run for the tiny, airless bedroom, throw all my personal effects into my luggage, grab the keys to my rental car, shift into drive and tear down the bumpy, deserted lane, headed for the other side of the island and the barge that will return me to the mainland. I don’t think I even shut the front door, much less locked it, behind me.

I know without unzipping the duffel bag situated next to me on the passenger seat, I’ll find that damn shell nestled peaceably in between tank tops, magazines, and suntan lotion.