The Guardians

This is one of the few pure horror stories I’ve written and I have a funny story about the story. I wrote it last year. A month or so later my family and I went to our usual annual visit to the in-laws in Constanta. As we arrived at the beach one day my husband went for a dip into the sea. He likes swimming underwater and when his head disappeared from the surface I suddenly thought “Oh, god, that’s just like Mark from “The Guardians”! What if he never resurfaces?!” Yeah. I got scared by my own fictional story. Oh, and the image above is from the Black Sea, the beach where “The Guardians” takes place. Pretty, right?

Mark waded deeper into the surprisingly cool water and chuckled at the goose bumps on his legs and arms. His eyes opened wide when he saw something scuttling in the sand. Some things.

“Hey, Chris! There’s crabs down here!” He bent over and looked at the creature scampering away from his right foot, burying itself into the sand as it went. The other one didn’t waste time to run. It dived into the sand right away. “Come see! Hermit crabs!”

Chris looked up from her book and yawned.

“No, thanks!” she yelled back. “Too cold for me.”

Mark snorted and went on slowly, his eyes fixed on the sandy bottom that was perfectly visible through the water. He’d expected much less from the Black Sea and now he wondered how he could have been so wrong.

Something tickled the sole of his left foot and he lifted it to see what was there. A couple of tiny hermit crabs were scrambling over each other in the sand. Or perhaps they were mating. Mark didn’t know much about hermit crabs. He didn’t know anything about them, actually, besides the name.

He took another step forward through the crystal clear water. Their local guide, Diana, had explained it’s usually clear in late June, before the algae began blooming and the jellyfish and crabs began dying. In droves, she said. By August, the Black Sea stank. Chris had then kissed Mark and told him how smart of him it was to book the holiday in Romania in late June instead of August, which was when they usually went on holiday, like most of the people they knew.

The water smelled fresh and there were gulls all around Mark diving for the crabs. He went deeper, the water now reaching to the middle of his thighs yet surprisingly shallow for this distance from the shore. He felt another tickle under his foot and lifted it to check what he’d stepped on. There didn’t seem to be anything in the sand this time, or if there was, it had burrowed down while Mark was lifting his foot. Those sea creatures were fast.

Mark saw a thin black string disappear into the sand. It was probably a piece of algae. He stomped his feet to warm them and advanced further into the sea, glancing back for a second to check how far he was from the beach. About 150 feet, it looked like. There had to be deeper water ahead. Mark took a breath, held it and dived into the water.

Chris lit a cigarette and turned the page. “A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters”. She was re-reading it for the third time and had just started “The Shipwreck.” Chris glanced at the calm sea, trying to spot Mark’s dark head on the surface and when she didn’t, she straightened up and took off her sunglasses. Chris didn’t see better without them but she took them off nevertheless. It was a reflex that Mark sometimes teased her about.

There was no sign of Mark. A few kids were splashing in the shallows, a noisy group of young men were passing each other a beach ball a little deeper in the water, and still further a couple was standing with arms around each other’s waist, looking at the horizon. Chris made a face at the romantic display. She looked around, searching for a life guard, just in case. No guard. She was surrounded by people on straw mats and beach towels, with skin glistening from the sunblocks and oils, soaking in the sun like they’d never heard about skin cancer.

Chris stood up from their own king-sized towel, her own skin glistening from the 50+ factor sunblock she’d rubbed in generously before she hid under the beach umbrella, and took a few tentative steps towards the water. She tried to keep an eye on the bag that contained their phones and Mark’s wallet, while searching for him in the water. Diana had warned them to be careful with their valuables on the beach.

Since it was impossible to look in two different directions at once, Chris ignored the bag and focused on the water. She squinted at the blue-green moving mass in front of her, sunglasses in one hand, the other shielding her eyes from the scorch of the sun. No Mark. The hand holding the glasses trembled. Chris took a deep breath, glanced back at the bag of valuables and walked forward, wincing as she stepped on the foot-wide strip of broken seashells that marked the line between the water and the dry sand. Walking over them hurt. She hopped awkwardly over the shell belt and stepped on the wet sand. A wavelet kissed her toes and retreated. Chris scanned the water again. It was full of dark-haired people and that made it harder to spot Mark.

“Mark?” she said, more to herself than anyone else and again turned her head back to check if the bag was still on the towel. No Mark but the bag seemed untouched. Chris looked around, searching for a familiar face, a guard, anyone she could ask for help. Her heart was beating faster and she was breathing faster too. Just a minute ago Mark had stood 50 feet from her, watching the sea life and calling her to join him. She squinted against the sun again, searching the water, trying to pick his dark-haired head from all the rest in the sea. The seconds passed.

“Help,” Chris said, tearing her eyes away from the water and turning to the beach. The air was coming out of her lungs in short, shallow breaths. “Help!”

No one seemed to hear her, not with all the shouting and screams of joy from the kids.

Chris turned back and stepped into the sea, eyes fixed on the placid surface ahead of her, the spot where she’d last seen Mark. The water felt even colder than when she’d ventured in up to her ankles to test it. That had been just half an hour earlier, when they’d arrived at the beach.

Chris made a couple of more steps into the water, straining her eyes to pick out a dark-haired head somewhere, anywhere in the distance. She spotted a head bobbing up and down as the man swam with regular, slow strokes, and her heart leapt to her throat, choking her, before she registered the baldness of that head. Chris turned around, eyes wide. The levee in her mind that was keeping her under control broke.

“Help!” she shouted, trembling all over. “Help me! HELP! HELP!”

The noisy group of boys playing in the water went quiet. On the beach, heads rose from the mats and turned to the short, stocky, red-haired woman in the turquoise bikini standing knee-deep in the water, her head turning this way and that, straining to go beyond 180 degrees and failing. Her eyes were wild, her face pale and drawn.

“What is the problem?”

One of the noisy boys had approached her and was now looking at her, water dripping from his short black hair, drops glistening on his tanned skin. There was genuine concern in his eyes.

“My…” Chris gulped. “My boyfriend went in for a swim and I can’t find him!”

Her hands curled up into fists and she took a deep breath.

“Is there a guard? I can’t see one. There must be guards, right? Where are—“

The boy raised his hands, palms up.

“Calm down,” he said and turned to his friends who’d stopped playing and were all looking at the exchange. “Salvamar aţi vazut?” he shouted to them and without waiting for a response, turned to the beach. He repeated the question even more loudly. The words made no sense to Chris beyond the fact that they made a question. Heads turned, searching, some focusing on her, the stocky red-haired woman in the turquoise bikini, who had for some reason decided to take up her boyfriend of five years on his offer to go somewhere completely different for their holiday this year.

“Where he go, your friend?” the boy asked, after a chorus of unintelligible but somehow still depressing responses from his friends and several fingers pointing to the deeper sea. Two of the boys exchanged a few words and one dived in and started swimming, fast.

“I…,” Chris looked around and raised a trembling hand to the horizon. “He was there, a couple hundred feet away from here, I think, and then… And then he disappeared.”

“You calm down,” the boy said, putting a cool, wet hand on her shoulder. Chris recoiled. “Sorry. You go back to the beach. We’ll look.”

He motioned to his friends and a couple more dived into the water and swam forward. Chris couldn’t move.

“You go back to the beach,” the boy repeated, walking backwards. “They’ll look. Sorry, no guard. I will go, too. You go back.”

“Thank… Thank you,” Chris said through throat that was too tight. “Do you think—“

The boy turned around and threw himself into the water. She could see him clearly in the water for a few seconds but he swam fast and soon disappeared. Chris shivered but kept staring at the surface of the sea. There he was. His head and those of his friends emerged from the lazy wavelets a hundred feet away. Then they dived back in.

Chris turned stiffly and walked out of the water. She stumbled on the seashell belt and fell to her knees. Pieces of long dead clams, mussels, and hermit crabs bit into her flesh and Chris groaned. A hand grabbed her right arm and tried to pull her up.

“You alright?” a woman’s voice said, all concern and open vowels. Chris looked up and saw a young woman’s face staring at her.

“Yes,” she said and got up. She swayed a bit but the woman steadied her and led her to her towel, with the bag lying in a corner and “A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters” next to the dent made by her buttocks, open and face down. Chris sagged to the towel and the woman let go.

“I will call the police,” the woman said, bending over Chris, her dark eyes never leaving Chris’s. She pointed to what was probably her own towel. “Two boys drown here last week. They never found the bodies. Maybe they ran off, eh? You don’t worry, okay?”

“What?” Chris mumbled. “Drowned?”

“You don’t worry, the boys will find your man.” The woman patted Chris on the shoulder and walked away. Chris watched her sit down, pick up the phone lying on the towel and dial a number, all the while talking to her friend, a slim, dark man who first turned his head toward the water and then to Chris. He smiled at her. Chris stared at him, unblinking. What would she do if Mark had drowned? How would she…

“Hey!” she heard someone yell. “Hey!”

Chris turned to the water and her mouth fell open. The boy who had first spoken to her and one of his friends were bringing Mark out, supporting him by the arms. Mark’s eyes were fixed on hers. His skin was very pale, it had a grayish tinge, and it made the dark hair, eyebrows, and his carefully trimmed beard stand out as if he was preparing to play Mephistopheles in a play. The faint smile on his bluish lips did nothing to dispel the image, which gave Chris a shiver.

Ignoring it, she jumped up and staggered, almost sinking back down to the ground on legs that were suddenly too weak to bear her weight. An incoherent noise escaped from her throat as she rushed to meet them, stepping on the broken shells without feeling anything when they poked the flesh of her soles.

“Mark! Mark, where were you!” she sobbed, throwing herself on his chest, pressing his cool body to hers. The boys holding Mark’s arms beamed. A few people around cheered.

“Hey, Chris,” Mark said. His voice was raspy. He cleared his throat. “I got caught in a current. These guys pulled me out.”

“Current?” Chris said and brushed her eyes. “What current?”

“I don’t know,” Mark said. “Thank you. Thank you,” he said to the boys and shook their hands, slipping one arm around Chris’s shoulders and squeezing her.

“No problem,” that first boy said and patted him on the back. “Next time, be careful.”

“I will,” Mark nodded, still smiling. Rivulets of water were running down his temples and cheeks, soaking into his beard. Chris clung to him and he squeezed her harder. He kissed the top of her head.

“I want to go home,” she said when the boys walked off with a final group wave. “I don’t want to see this beach again.”

Mark led her to their towel, sat down and pulled her next to him. He hugged her and kissed her lips. She shivered.

“It’s okay, Chris. I’m okay. No big deal.”

“You were underwater for ages!” Chris snapped, loud enough to make heads turn again. She tossed her sweaty hair back, took the book from the towel and rammed it into the bag with their valuables. Everything was there, nobody had robbed them. “I freaked out! Do you understand?”

Mark reached out to touch her but she batted his hand away and picked up her neatly folded beach dress, a body-hugging bright purple linen affair that she’d designed specially for the holiday and that Mark had called “bold”, staring pointedly at her bright red hair. She had ignored the remark as she always did with his opinions of her work.

“Do not try to calm me down, Mark,” Chris said and pulled the dress on. “You have no idea what went through my head while you were obviously enjoying yourself underwater. I thought you were dead!”

“I know,” he said, wrapping a hand around her ankle. “I know and I’m sorry. I didn’t enjoy myself. I was actually pretty scared for a moment there.”

“What happened?” Chris said, looking down at him with her hands on her hips.

“I don’t really know. I dived in, swam a little underwater and then some current picked me and swirled me around. I tried to swim back up but I couldn’t figure out which way up was. I freaked out, too. Good thing those boys found me. I was running out of air.”

“I want to go home,” Chris said and pulled her leg free from Mark’s hand. She hated all things cold and his hand, like his lips, still hadn’t returned to normal temperature.

“Okay,” he said and got up. “Okay, let’s go home.”

 

They’d rented an apartment in a three-story house in the village. A whole floor, actually – a spacious room with a kitchenette, a bedroom and a balcony, plus a large bathroom that made them pick this apartment over another two Diana had found for them.

It was a small village, this Vama Veche, but surprisingly crowded. Chris had expected a quiet place but it was bustling with tourists. Diana told them Vama Veche was the southernmost point of a coastline that did not contain a lot of beaches, hence the crowds. What was worse was that Romanians were noisy, Chris and Mark had discovered. They didn’t speak, they shouted, which was why Chris preferred to stay indoors when they weren’t at the beach.

It was only their second day and she’d already had enough of the noise and the crowds. Still, she’d take these any day over a drowning scare, she told Mark as they navigated the crowds on the main street. His hand, wrapped around hers, was slowly getting warmer.

Their apartment was on the second floor of the bright-red house, a fifteen-minute walk from the beach. Chris turned the key in the lock and went in first. The air-conditioner was on, so the room was nice and cool. Drenched in sweat from the short walk in the burning sun, Chris went straight into the bathroom, took the dress and the bikini off, and stepped into the shower.

When they’d arrived here the day before, after a couple days of sightseeing in Bucharest, Mark had joined her in the shower for some fun time. This time he stayed away. She heard him cough in the living room before she turned the tap. He’d probably caught a cold in that freezing water. As if the noise, the crowds, and the cold water weren’t enough. Chris was ready to leave, right now, after she dried and got dressed. She’d had enough adventurous tourism for a decade. She gave herself 10 minutes under the shower but the determination remained. She wanted to leave.

“Mark?”

Chris was rubbing her wet hair with a towel when she stepped into the living room. It was empty, the air conditioner was switched off and the window was wide open. The noise-filled, hot, damp air hit her in the face.

“Mark!”

No response.

Chris took the towel off her head and laid it on the back of an armchair. She peeked through the open door to the bedroom. There he was, lying on his back in the bed, still in his beach clothes.

“Mark?” Chris didn’t expect a response this time – Mark seemed sound asleep. She walked up to the bed to check on him. He was pale and he was very still. Something thin and black wriggled between his lips. Chris gasped. She blinked. The black thing had disappeared. The heat was making her see things. She reached out and touched his face. Mark was warm. She moved her hand to his neck, feeling for an artery to check his pulse. Mark shuddered and opened his eyes.

“Hey,” he said with a smile, blinking.

“I thought you weren’t breathing,” Chris rasped through a throat suddenly too tight. She’d half expected the black thing—a hair? A string of algae?—to come out of his mouth. When it didn’t she was almost as shocked as she would have been if it had.

“Of course I’m breathing,” Mark said. He took a pointedly deep breath and let it out. “See? I’m totally okay, babes, stop freaking out.”

“I can’t.” She sat on the edge of the bed. “Let’s go home.”

“What, now?”

“Yes, now.”

Mark propped himself up on an elbow. His smile faded.

“Chris, we just got here. Let’s give it a few more days. I promise I won’t go in the water alone.”

The sob that was building in Chris’s chest came out as a nervous chuckle. Mark stroked her face, tossing the wet hair back.

“It’s not funny at all,” she said.

“I know. But it was just a stupid accident. It won’t happen again.”

He was using his reassuring voice, the voice she heard him use on the phone with some clients. Once Chris has joked about it. She’d said he treats his clients like children. Mark had said that people didn’t come to him for financial advice only. They needed to know that the advice was good. They needed to know they can trust Mark.

His advice was usually was and Mark and Chris could afford a much better place than this eastern European dump but he had insisted. “I want to indulge my adventurous nature,” he’d said and Chris had giggled. And it wasn’t really a dump. It just needed a few lifeguards on the beach. Two boys drowned… No bodies found… Chris shook her head to clear it from the unwelcome thought.

“I don’t know,” she said, looking him straight in the eyes, searching for a sign that he was lying, that he planned to dive into the depths of the Black Sea the first chance he got. There was no reason he would – Mark wasn’t much of a swimmer as this morning’s events had proven. Yet she worried. Her stomach was clenched like a fist.

Mark sat up.

“Tell you what,” he said, grinning. “We’ll go to the beach tonight. For a walk. A walk on the beach by moonlight, how does that sound? Face your fears under the stars. And you’ll see I’ll survive because I won’t let go of your hand. Sound good?”

Chris opened her mouth. She closed it. Two boys had drowned in the sea. But she and mark weren’t going into the water, were they? Maybe she owed him this one chance to change her mind about the place.

“Yes?” Mark said, eyebrows raised in expectation.

“I was going to say this is ridiculous.” Chris said.

“But you didn’t.”

Chris laughed.

“No, I didn’t.”

“Because,” Mark said pulling her closer to him, “it’s not ridiculous. It’s the best damn idea I’ve had since we got here. So, do we have a date?” He nibbled her ear. “We could have dinner at that place with the huge wooden fish over the entrance and then go for a walk under the stars.”

“You said moon,” Chris murmured. She slipped a hand under his T-shirt. His body was warm now, the coldness from the sea gone. Warm and eager.

“Same thing,” Mark and got really busy.

 

The beach was empty at 11 though Chris had told Mark it would probably be full of skinny dipping, noisy teens. Or not, after the accident with the two boys. A breeze blew from the sea and Chris turned her face to the water to take as much of it as she could. The air was hot and heavy, and every puff of wind felt like balm on a festering wound. They stopped ten feet from the seashell belt. Mark looked up.

“No moon,” he said. “So sorry.”

Chris smiled and squeezed his hand.

“It would have been too bad a cliché if there was a moon.”

Mark looked at her. He let go of her hand and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

“What is it?” Chris asked. Mark was gazing into her eyes. Staring.

“I want to show you something,” he said.

“Okay.”

“In the water.”

“Oh,” Chris said, stopping in mid-stride. She shook his arm off. “I don’t think I want to see anything in the water. Not that I could since it’s dark. And you promised, remember?”

Mark chuckled.

“Come on, just for a second.”

“You said no water.”

Mark raised his index finger.

“One second.”

Chris sighed.

“All right. One second.”

Mark grinned, wrapped his arm around her shoulders again and walked her to where the water lapped at the sand beyond the seashell belt. Chris planted her feet in the wet sand where the waves couldn’t reach her sandals and gazed out at the mass of water in front of her. Mark stood behind her, his hands on her shoulders. There was so much water in that sea.

“I read somewhere about these tiny sea creatures,” he murmured in her ear.

“You read about sea life? I’m impressed,” Chris said. Her voice quavered, ruining the lame attempt at sarcasm. The water looked even more threatening in the dark and Mark’s hands were cold again. He had a circulation problem, Chris knew, and he had to do something about it because this coldness did not feel good at all. She gazed at the sea, which pulsed like a muscle in the darkness. It was darkness. Chris shivered but she couldn’t take her eyes off the pulsing mass.

“Shut up and listen,” Mark said and squeezed her shoulders gently. “So, there are these tiny sea creatures, sort of like shrimps but not exactly, who the locals call the guardians of the sea.”

“Fascinating. Do they guard it from humans?” Chris shifted her weight from one leg to the other, her eyes fixed on the black water. They’d asked Diana why the sea was called Black but Chris had forgotten what the guide had said. It was black alright. Every sea was probably black at night.

“They guard it from everything,” Mark said. His voice was soft and sing-song, and his hands were massaging her shoulders, draining away what remained of her anxiety. She stared at the water.

“And you are going to show them to me? Now?” She was hearing her voice from a distance.

“Oh, yes,” he said.

“Mark, this is ridiculous,” Chris said, snapping out of whatever state the sea had plunged her in. She looked down and saw she was standing knee-deep in the water. The hem of her dress was soaked. Chris tried to turn around but Mark’s hands stopped her.

“No, it’s not.”

He smiled and his lips parted. Something thin, black and long emerged from his mouth. It was an antenna, followed by another one and the head of the creature to which they belonged. Chris tried to scream but the scream stuck in her throat like a fishbone. She strained herself but the scream stayed where it was, its invisible but sharp edges scratching the soft mucus of her larynx. The creature crawled down Mark’s chin and jumped into the water before she could make sense of it. The scream dissolved giving way to a gasp.

“It’s okay, Chris, I promise,” Mark said dreamily. The hand that locked around her wrist as she tried to brush the insect away was strong. He grabbed her other hand and held them behind her back. He wasn’t letting her go anywhere before he was finished with the introduction. Still, Chris tried to pull away. Mark shook his head slowly. She tried to kick him but missed.

There was something crawling up her left leg. She shuddered even though she couldn’t see it clearly. It was just a silhouette until the moon came out from behind the clouds a moment later and the thing crawling up her leg made her heart leap to her throat.

It looked much less like a shrimp than a grasshopper or a cricket. It was about an inch long, had a plump, pinkish, translucent body and a disproportionately large, black head with a pair of pearly white eyes on it and a set of short but sharp-looking pincers. Two long, black antennae waved in the air.

“What the hell is this?” Chris cried. “Mark? What is this? Take it off me! Take it off me!”

“It’s a guardian of the sea,” he said. “And it needs our help.”

“No! No, Mark, please, let me go!” Chris yelled, shaking her leg, trying to dislodge the creature, which had slipped under her dress and was crawling slowly but surely up her leg. Chris looked like she was having a seizure.

The thing reached the edge of her panties and slipped under it. Chris shrieked and shook all over. Mark’s grip was steel. She strained her thigh muscles, tried to squash the insect with them before it got any further. She failed. A moment later the pincers, followed by the body of the creatures slipped into her body.

“Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God, please, no! Please no!” she cried, thrashing wildly against Mark. He didn’t move.

Through the tears filling her eyes Chris saw more creatures emerge from the water and crawl up her legs. There were at least a dozen now in the footsteps of that first one. She started screaming again, seeing more antennae popping up from the water around her legs. Mark’s hand shot up from behind and cut off her scream.

“Don’t scream, honey. Enjoy it. It is really an honor.”

Chris bit his palm but Mark didn’t move.

“It doesn’t hurt,” he said. “Not any more.”

The guardians advanced to Chris’s chest, then to her neck. She could feel the one inside her move around. It tickled. She felt several other follow it and tried to scream, to shake them off, to seal off her vagina somehow before they reached it. All she could do was thrash against Mark’s body, wave her legs in the air to dislodge the guardians crawling up them and kick back at Mark’s legs. But Mark didn’t feel anything. Mark didn’t move.

“There’s no point in fighting, babes,” he said. Chris was panting now but Mark’s voice was smooth and calm. There were more creatures moving inside her body and the tickling sensation of their crawling made her want to eviscerate herself. She would have, if Mark had let go of her wrists, she was sure. Her body shuddered.

Chris sobbed when she felt the antennae of the first creature under her chin. Mark removed his hand from her mouth and she opened it to take a breath deep enough for another scream. In a second, the creature had slipped into her mouth and crawled down her throat, choking the scream. Another one followed before Chris finally freed one hand from Mark’s grip. He didn’t try to grab it again.

Chris clutched at her throat and doubled over, making a retching sound. A sudden weakness washed over her like a gentle wave. Mark released her other hand, took a step away and watched on. There were plump, pink guardians all over Chris’s back and three were crawling up her right shoulder to her ear. Chris made another retching sound, her mouth hanging open. One more guardian ventured in but Chris grabbed it and tore it away with a cry of disgust. It was a weak cry, much weaker than her first screams.

Two more guardians took the place of the unsuccessful one, slipping down Chris’s throat before she could catch them. Chris took a breath broken by sobs and retches and groped at her belly, seeing a chance to try and dig the creatures out of her body. But she was too weak.

“What is happening?” she muttered, swaying a little. Before Mark could answer she grabbed her crotch and started pulling at the fabric that covered it. More guardians were going in.

“You’re becoming one with the guardians,” he said. “Keep your legs open, make it easier for them.”

“What…” Chris swayed again, almost falling in the water. Her eyes dimmed, focus gone. Her mouth still hung open. Another creature slipped in. This time Chris didn’t try to take it out. She stood in the water, swaying, groping weakly at her crotch with one hand. With the other she scratched her throat and made a face. “What…” she tried again, looking around, unseeing.

Mark watched her with a smile. A few other guardians went into her ears but Chris didn’t notice because she was still busy scratching her throat, her belly and her crotch. One went into her nose. Chris made a half-hearted attempt to slap it but she missed. Color was draining from her face and after a couple of minutes she shuddered one last time and fell forward with an insignificant splash, covered with guardians of the sea.

Mark looked up. A cloud swam in front of the moon, plunging the beach back into almost complete darkness. Mark scowled and turned to the beach for the last time. The guardians had come to him while he swam underwater. They’d come and entered him before he noticed them, before he could do anything about them. Then they’d sung him to sleep and in this sleep had told him they needed his help. They needed more guardians. Mark had felt them multiply inside him and he had understood. He’d said yes, in the sleep, and had woken up the moment two strong hands reached down and pulled him to the surface.

Mark saluted the empty beach he would never see again. He turned around and kneeled in the water beside the body of his girlfriend. There wasn’t much of a body left. Chris was shrinking and guardians were now pouring out of every orifice. There seemed to be thousands, a lot more than the ones that had gone in. Mark smiled. Their mouths were busy. There were to be no traces.

“Okay, I’m ready,” he murmured and closed his eyes. Swarms of guardians poured out of his mouth, his nose, and his ears. A second later his body crumpled like the shell of a larva that’s ready to come out. And they were ready, all these thousands of translucent creatures. The water swarmed with guardians for a while. By morning the waters were calm again.

 

The landlady called the police two days later. A search and rescue operation followed without much hope. The U.S. embassy gave the local authorities some grief but there wasn’t much anyone could have done.

The sea didn’t care about any of that. The guardians had strengthened their ranks. They could keep the water clear for longer now. The sea creatures would mate. Mussels would be plentiful. There would be food.

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