An old audio disk crackled on the phonograph, filling the dimly lit room with the static sounds of retro pop music. Evangeline Todd wearily poured herself another glass of ginger ale and ran her fingers through her short, fair hair, wiping the sweat away. It was humid nights like this that kept Eve's pregnant friend Lucille Holloway awake and miserable. Lucy sat propped up at the coffee table, her thick black hair pulled up in a bun and a cool cloth in her hand to dab her forehead. She rotated from resting her head on the back of the sofa with her eyes closed, to leaning towards the open window, trying to take advantage of the subtle breeze.
Eve dealt herself another hand of cards, and tried not to think of how much she would rather be in her own bed at the moment. By the time this baby was born, no one would be able to say that Eve hadn't been a sensitive and caring friend. Then maybe she could get out of babysitting duty as the kid got older.
"When did you say Jet was supposed to be home?" she asked, stifling a yawn. Lucy's husband of two years was working and training as a surgeon at the town's hospital. The hours were long and unpredictable, but according to Lucy the pay was getting better the more Jet established his reputation.
Lucy shrugged and leaned her head against the window sill. "He wasn't sure."
She rested her arms across her stomach and brought the washcloth to her face. She wasn't sure if she could handle being pregnant for the rest of the summer. She was so uncomfortable, and the littlest things got on her nerves. She was even debating telling Eve to go home, like Lucy knew she wanted to do.
The snap of playing cards hitting the table made her flinch, and she stared more fixedly out the window.
Lucy could hear the water lazily caressing the rocky shore of the beach, even though she couldn't see it in the dark. The gulls had quieted down around 8:30 when the sun was setting. Along with the water and the chirp of crickets, Lucy could hear the wet slap of someone walking along the boardwalk. She didn't think it was an ideal night for a stroll, but the weather was certainly cooler now than during the day.
The silhouette of a woman in a wavy knee length dress came into view, her hair fluttering out behind her. Lucy sighed, wishing she could be out there instead of sitting around incubating her son or daughter for another two months. The woman held her arms out slightly and swayed, almost like she was dancing. When was the last time she and Jet had gone dancing? Perhaps the last time she didn't look like a beached wale.
The woman outside stumbled, probably over a loose board. Somebody really ought to fix those, Lucy thought crossly. The girl's hands flew out to steady herself, and she hunched over. But instead of regaining her balance and righting herself, she continued to lean over in slow motion until she fell into a crumpled heap.
Lucy sat up straighter, her self-pity momentarily forgotten. Something was wrong. She reached over and lifted the needle from the record, abruptly silencing the music. Stretching her arms and legs out, she began rocking back and forth, hoping the momentum would get her off the couch. Eve glanced up from her game of cards and watched her friend with an amused smirk.
"A little help?" Lucy grunted and glared at her friend. Eve stood up grudgingly and took hold of Lucy's wrists. Lucy yelped as Eve gave a yank, throwing her whole weight into it, which almost sent them both to the floor. Once she was steady, Lucy adjusted her shirt and sweatpants and headed for the front door, not bothering with her shoes.
"Where are you going?" Eve asked. She had been expecting Lucy to waddle off to the bathroom again. What did she need that was outside? Eve caught the door as it was swinging shut and stood on the porch. The night air was warm and salty on her face. She could just make out Lucy's dark frame passing a street lamp, moving as quickly as she could toward the beach.
"Lu?" Her friend's figure grew fainter the farther she got from the house. "Lucy!" But Lucy kept moving. Eve groaned and, seeing no other option, hurried to catch up.
Lucy's eyes scanned the boardwalk determinedly. The woman was out here somewhere. She had seen her collapse! The slimy muck on the path caused her bare feet to slide a bit, but it was enough to make her more cautious. She slowed down and stopped to catch her breath. Lucy could hear Eve coming up behind her, barely winded. She could feel the mental temper tantrum beginning, silently cursing her own ineptitude. However, the spark of resentment was quick to fade as she remembered what it was she was searching for.
Eve grabbed Lucy's elbow and turned her around. "Are you crazy! What are you doing?"
"Shush!" Lucy flapped a hand at her friend, and snatched her arm out of Eve's grasp. She could just barely hear something, or rather someone humming softly. Lucy walked slowly along the path, listening. Eve followed closely. She could hear something now too. She steeled herself to jump in front of her pregnant friend, should the need arise.
Wispy clouds rolled in front of the moon, and left the two staring blindly into the night.
"Who's there?" Eve asked tentatively. The ocean and the crickets were the only ones to answer her. They were facing away from the breeze now. It dried the layers of sweat on the girls'necks. It whistled across the nearby cliff faces and plastered a thin layer of salt to their exposed skin. They waited for what felt like hours, frozen with anticipation. "There's no one out here," Eve said eventually with a sigh of relief.
Lucy frowned, getting ready to swear up and down that she knew what she had seen, when a cold and clammy hand grabbed her wrist from behind. She shrieked and jumped back, slipping again on the wet debris that coated the boardwalk. Eve grabbed Lucy's shoulders, barely stopping them both from tumbling to the ground.
The thin clouds moved on, bathing the beach in silver light once again, including the spectral face of the woman huddled in front of them, looking as equally startled as Eve and Lucy.
She was obviously quite pale, but appeared ghostly under the moon. Her bright orange hair was half done up, while the other half spilled across her shoulder in a tangled mess. The black dress hung limply on her frame, except when the breeze stirred it. She shivered violently, even though the air was unbearably hot and thick. Her dark eyes were bright and feverish as she smiled dazedly at the two women.
"I'm sorry," she said in a dreamy voice. "I seem to be lost." Her voice slurred as she swayed and clenched the damp material of her dress in her fists. "Could you point me to my cabin?"
Salt water dripped copiously from her dress and her hair, and pooled around her bare feet, the skin of which had turned a dangerous shade of purple. Eve frowned when she noticed that the woman's fingernails were bloody and torn.
"Your c-cabin?" Lucy stuttered. Her heart was still racing from earlier.
"Never mind," the girl smiled softly and swayed again. "I can hear the music." She tried to turn around, but slipped just as Lucy had. Eve lurched forward and caught the young woman, lowering her to the sand. The back of her dress was soaked, Eve noted; she must have been freezing. Eve sat back on her heels and her hands came away red. She jumped to her feet and wiped her palms furiously on her jeans. More blood dripped into the sand as the girl tried to sit up again, her face growing whiter by the second. Eve could see something fleshy and bloody beneath the girl's hair.
Lucy looked like she was about to be sick.
"I'll go, um… find someone." Eve's voice was breathless and her knees were shaking.
Lucy stood helplessly on the beach and watched Eve run away from scene, back into town. The world was beginning to spin out of focus. She attempted to lower herself to her knees just in case she fainted. Lucy hit the sand gracelessly next to the woman who was starting to pant heavily.
"You're g-going to be okay," Lucy said, attempting to keep her voice calm and even. She reached out hesitantly to lightly stroke the girl's trembling hand. She looked up at Lucy, her eyes shining with panic.
Suddenly, the young woman snatched at Lucy's hand and held tightly to her fingers. She winced and tried to pull away, but the girl had her in a death grip. That thought made her heart stop in utter horror. This girl couldn't be about to die in her arms.
Her dark eyes pulled at Lucy like a vortex. Her lips, chapped with salt and wind, parted half-heartedly. The muscles in her face strained, like she was trying hard to make her tongue do what she wanted.
"They're dead… aren't they?" Her words were drier than sandpaper, and tears leaked from the corners of her eyes. Lucy sputtered, but before she could think of anything to say, the woman's eyes rolled back into her head. Her grip on Lucy's fingers went slack, and the woman lay still.