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The salty sea wind snatches tears from my eyes and whisks them away before they have the chance to fall. A threadbare jacket stolen from my grandmother does nothing to block the insistent gusts. The beach is silent; even the seagulls have flown inland for refuge.
I shiver on a desolate, windswept beach that seems nothing but miles and miles of dun-gray sand. A wispy blanket of fog hovers above the storm-tossed waves, obscuring the hulking cliffs that guard each end of the beach. I could be alone in this barren world with only the clouds as my friends.
Far away, a few runners force themselves into an agonizing shamble over the endless beach, stumbling along until they are but tiny pinpoints in the fog. One optimistic family attempts to build sandcastles until their blue striped beach blanket cartwheels away with their wind.
In front of me, the ocean roils and bubbles like a witch’s brew. Its frothy gray surface eddies and swirls and, far beyond the horizon, curves down to the other side of the world. The breakers crumble in on themselves with rumbling hisses and begin their slow inch toward shore. By the time the water sidles around my feet, it is nothing more than dirty yellow foam riddled with straggles of seaweed and fragmented sand dollars. Sea lice dart through the sand and sting my toes.
Thirty yards into the sea, where not evened seasoned surfers would venture on this freezing fall day, my sister Annie frolics merrily in the frigid ocean. Her bikini, cerulean with hot pink flowers, is the one splash of color in the monochromatic world of Cannon Beach. She splashes and cavorts enthusiastically, kicking up crab shells without a care in the world.
It has been half an hour, and she shows no signs of flagging. Even with my limited vision, I can see that her skin now glows a fiery red from cold. Goose bumps march up her arms, and her hair hangs in salty hanks not unlike the seaweed draped around her waist.
Much to my chagrin, instead of submitting to the cold, she ventures out ever farther into the treacherous ocean, setting my heart into a nervous pattering drumbeat. The newly-gangly eleven-year-old faces down the crashing waves that at any moment could drag her down into the sand. The water seethes and slithers around her waist.
Now and then she cackles with glee and launches herself headfirst into the waves, bodysurfing with enough confidence to make up for her complete lack of skill. More often than not, she catches the waves too late, and the four-foot breakers submerge her in a thundering avalanche. Every time her curly head sinks under the water, my heart leaps in my throat until she springs up from the curling waves.
I wiggle my toes in the damp sand in the hopes of reviving them from their numb state. My ears burn with cold, and my nose feels like an ice cube that simply happens to be attached to my face. Salt water speckles my glasses until I see the whole world as if through a kaleidoscope. I sigh gustily, forgetting that I, too, was the insane child who treated the fickle Pacific as her personal swimming pool. Those days are over now, and I am cold.
Annie’s screech yanks me erect like a puppet and sends waves of terror racing down my spine. I whimper to myself and shuffle towards the ocean, frantically searching the tides for her body, tossed and battered into shore by the waves – or worse, her tiny figure pulled out to sea by one of the notorious riptides.
There she is! There is she is! Limping toward me with a halo of relief shining about her head, favoring her left leg and with her mouth tugging down at the corners. Her freckles stand out sharply in her ghost-white face, and her shoulders hunch against the abrasive wind.
I lumber into the shallow waves, crooning with concern,
“Annie? What happened? Are you OK?” In a rare gesture, I hold out my arms to receive her, seaweed and all. Her resolve deflates like a popped balloon as she collapses into helpless sobs.
“A-a jellyfish! A jellyfish stung me!” Now the cold has caught up with her, and harsh shivers wrack her body. She shakes uncontrollably in my arms.
“Am I g-going to die?” She wails.
“No! No, don’t be silly. We’ll get you back home. Mom will know what to do.”
With Annie sagging against me for support, we begin our endless trek across the quarter-mile of sand that seems like an eternity. Our footprints waver anxiously behind us, Annie’s long and skinny like an elf’s, mine short and solid and confused. The waves seep into the wells and gradually erase the marks we have made.
Joined at the waist like Siamese twins, we trudge blindly through an icy desert. Squalls kick up the sand and hurl it at us in stinging sheets that wound our legs. I hold Annie more tightly than ever, afraid to lose her on the perilous dunes. Her head nestles against my shoulder, and her tears seep into my heart.