The next morning Corrie tried to take her habitual run in the forest, but it seemed there was no forest. The beach ended abruptly, and beyond it was simply white. Corrie turned. The ocean, too, seemed to end closer than where the horizon normally lied. To her right and left, as well, the beach didn't extend indefinitely anymore. The sky was white and silent. The little strip of beach seemed to hang in space, held by an unseen gravity of its own.
If it had not been such a terrifying thought, seeing that the beach now had visible corners, it might've been beautiful. With so much white present, Corrie began to notice it as a whole. There seemed to be a pattern to it, a sort of unified motion. As though it was alive, breathing, maybe. And closing in, she realized. She could see the sand being eaten away slowly at its edges.
Corrie walked back to the house, at the center of surviving beach. Her legs were shaking. She was almost at the porch when Rian opened the door. It was a slow, creaking motion. Rian slumped onto the porch, breathing as though he'd just run somewhere.
"Rian, the white thing would like to speak to you," Corrie said. Rian looked past Corrie, into the white.
"Good morning," he said indistinctly.
"That's not funny. I thought you said you'd fix it."
"I wouldn't dare to be so presumptuous."
"What are you going to do about it?"
Rian sighed, a sigh that resounded hollowly in his chest. "Nothing," he said. "There's nothing I can do."
Corrie's heart caught in her throat. "But it's coming closer! What will happen when there's no beach left?"
"Then I plan to stand on any remaining bit of sand, until the last grain disappears, or my toes will balance no longer," he replied.
"But what about me?" Corrie asked.
"Who?" Rian asked, grinning.
"Oh, the little nagging one. How stupid of me to forget."
Corrie's blood was racing. "You've got to take me back," she said.
"Out of the question."
"Why? So I can die here too……."
"You're so convinced you'll die?"
Corrie couldn't believe she was hearing this. Rian couldn't be serious, he must be joking, he's always sarcastic, he'll do something. He can fix the whiteness, Corrie knew it, or else he'd send her back. Corrie opened her mouth to tell Rian this, but something entirely different came out.
"But you love me," Corrie's voice spoke.
This caught both Corrie and Rian completely off guard. Rian momentarily looked like she had hit him with a rock.
"What?" he asked, whispering.
Corrie couldn't answer. After making the previous statement against her will, her voice had flown off. She could only match his gape.
Suddenly Rian laughed. It sounded somewhat forced, though. "You know why I can't take you back, Corrie?"
Corrie shook her head.
"It's because I simply can't. If I were to use up that much energy, the white you're so worried about would swallow us both up, halfway to your hospital. Two days ago, maybe I could've. It's not even an option now." Rian said, still laughing. "We're both here for the duration."
"You're lying. It can't just swallow up the whole beach. There has to be some way—" Corrie began. She stopped, though, because she realized that Rian had stopped listening. He was staring at the white, lost somewhere inside its indistinct motion. His face seemed drawn in deep lines, at once furious and mournful. Corrie stared at him as he stared beyond her. His hand twitched, and there was a ripple through his sunken-in chest. His stare broke, he let out the smallest of coughs, from somewhere swallowed deep in his lungs, and he grasped onto the railing for support.
Something twinged in Corrie's heart. Maybe it was the white closing in, the fear and wonder that they were the last two people in existence, but Corrie took a step forward and caught Rian in a hug, burying her head into his stomach. Rian seemed to seize up for a moment, then relaxed to fit her arms.
"Oh God……." Corrie said, pulling her head away, suddenly able to feel the hollow space inside of Rian's chest.
Rian put a hand on her shoulder. "Oh God indeed." he said. His voice had a bitter ring to it. He pulled away. "I need to go lie down again."
Rian, still supporting himself on the railing, began making his slow way back inside the beach house. Corrie stared at his back open-mouthed. Through his shirt she could see something she'd never seen before—his waist was hardly more than fifteen inches around. Every rib stuck out and the laborious breathing of his lungs could be seen in frightening detail through them. Corrie followed behind him, unable to take her eyes off the sight before her. He looked like a dying man. Rian made his way across the room and toward his bed.
"What's wrong with you?" Corrie demanded.
Rian didn't listen. He laid down on the bed slowly, every bone straining on the way down, and finally fell back on his pillows and closed his eyes. He began breathing deeply.
"Rian! What's happening to you?" Corrie repeated.
Rian didn't open his eyes, but he smiled a little. His eyes fluttered beneath closed lids, making Corrie think he must somehow be already asleep. "Do you love me, Corrie?" he asked.
Corrie ran over to his bedside. "Why don't you just tell me? What is it?" she asked. But Rian seemed to be somewhere else again.
"I took it…….I gave it and I had to take it back…….what a sense of irony he has……." Rian mumbled, his hands trembling. Then he fell silent. Corrie's whole body froze. He was so pale, so dead-looking. But no, she could see his chest still hauling itself up—he was still breathing, thank God. Corrie straightened herself up, but was unsure what to do now. She didn't want to go out of the house, to watch the white as it crumbled the beach into oblivion. For that matter, she didn't want to be anywhere alone. So instead she sat herself down beside the bed and leaned against one of the headposts.
She pulled up her hands. They were whole, unmarked, like they were before she'd met Rian. But she was sure that they had been gouged through not two days ago—the memory was too vivid, it couldn't have been a dream.
Rian took a little gasping breath behind her. It sickened Corrie to hear it, it wasn't a normal breath, it was the breath of a man who's body hardly had the strength to keep working much longer.
What would she do if Rian died? The mere thought stopped her heart. She couldn't imagine waiting all alone for the white to consume her. Any company, even that of someone she hated, would be infinitely comforting.
Corrie knocked her head against the wood of the bedpost. It echoed back hollowly.
Lord, get me out of this, Corrie prayed. I don't want to die here. I want to go back home. I want to see my family again. Please, God, get me out. Any way possible. I'll do anything. I'll give all my savings to the church. I'll never say another mean thing to anyone. I'll listen to my parents. I'll go to Sunday services and confessions and Bible studies and mission projects and anything else You want. Just please, oh my God please, let me go home…….
Corrie waited for a moment, half hoping that a voice or an angel or anything would appear to save her. Nothing came. Corrie banged her head against the bedpost again.
This was the end. She knew it now, listening to Rian gasp for air as he slept. She would disappear into the white, and become nothing.
Oh my God help me……….