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Seashells crack under the boots of strange men, shards stabbing the moistened sand. Salty air, a breeze, the familiar scent of damp seaweed; all the comforts of a home at sea. She watches from a jetty, the large rock digging deep into her chest as her breath mimics the rhythm of the crashing waves.
She thinks, This used to be a safe place.
She feels the sun against her back, the mist off the water tickling her nose. She wants to plunge down deep – what the men on the sand would call a tactical retreat. Instead, she stays, afraid of what she’ll see, but unable to look away.
The men wear tan uniforms and carry weapons. Their muscled bodies seem bright and clean against the darkening sky, the air thick with smog from their cannon fire and factories and machines. The clouds swirl and turn a sickly purple – the smoke of an evil spell, a manufactured chemical cloud. She inhales in anticipation, gagging on the air that was once fresh and smelled of fresh bananas and coconuts. She watches the nameless men cast their nets out into the shallows, aware that she is close to getting caught.
She remembers a time when she would have left, would have started swimming until her scales ached, would have kept diving deeper until the sunlight-speckled shore was a distant memory, a far-off land she could visit later in her dreams. Now, the nightmare takes hold. She wonders briefly if having legs would make her more inclined to run.
But she stays.
And there is nothing she can do.
Holly Hagman is a teacher and writer from a small town in New Jersey. She graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University with her BA in creative writing and her MAT in secondary education. She also earned her MFA in creative nonfiction from Fairfield University. She has been a nonfiction editor for magazines such as Brevity and Variant Literature. Her work can be viewed in The Citron Review, Complete Sentence, Porcupine Literary, and elsewhere.
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