One person was on the beach.
Linda walked quickly over the sand in her awkward work shoes. She breathed in the chilly morning air. Her thoughts were consumed by the busy day ahead: the meeting with an important client at nine o’clock and the many projects she had to work on because it was already Thursday. Her eyes were down on the sand, unfocused.
She noticed an unbroken shell.
She picked the shell up and instinctively held it to one ear.
“Hello?” said a voice in the shell.
Linda halted, turned about. She searched with confusion up and down the empty beach. The sun was just rising above a dark line of rooftops across Ocean Drive. A gull passed above her and the surf rumbled. Not a soul was nearby.
She looked for a moment at the small perfect shell, then held it again close to her ear.
“Hello?” whispered a voice.
“What? Who’s that?” asked Linda, whirling around.
Was somebody talking to her?
Perhaps she was confused. Calming herself, she carefully turned the sea shell over to examine it. Polished pure white, the small beautiful conch resembled porcelain. The unaccountable voice, she concluded, was just the muffled sound of the crashing ocean, an echo, an indistinct murmur of the air.
She raised the shell once more to her ear.
“Help me,” said a small voice. “I’m lost.”
“Who’s that talking?” asked Linda, listening with disbelief to her own startled words.
“Please help me,” said a voice in the shell.
“What do you mean? Who are you? I can hear you, but I can’t see you anywhere. Did you say you’re lost? Are you saying you don’t know where you are?” asked Linda.
“Please save me,” replied a voice in the shell.
“Who is this? This is crazy!”
“I’ve become lost. I’m lost,” said a voice in the shell.
“It’s okay. Maybe I can help you,” Linda said, her mind racing. “I can hear you, so you must be somewhere close.” She looked up and down the sand again, much more carefully. “I’m standing on the beach near the intersection of Ocean Drive and 28th Street. The old lighthouse is about a mile to the south, out at the end of Lookout Point. A big ship is on the horizon.”
“I know,” whispered a voice. “I see that.”
“I see the place where you are standing.”
“You can see me?”
“I see the wet sand under your feet. I see clouds moving past the lighthouse, casting living shadows on the golden cliffs below.”
“How do you see that? Where are you?”
“I see exactly where you stand,” said the strange voice. “I see silver sunlight on every ripple in the sand. I see the ebb and flow and surge of every wave. I see the dip and rise of every bird, the joy in unbounded air. I see the swell of Earth’s beating heart.”
Linda stood, astonished.
“I see everything,” said the voice in the shell. “But I am lost.”
“I see a lingering blush of sunrise in one vanishing cloud,” said the voice. “I see every pool and channel, the erosions of a thousand forgotten tides. I see the tug of a hidden moon, rainbows in skins of water, and unshed tears. I see beyond the horizon.”
The small voice spoke more quietly. “I see a needle of silent pelicans threading the crystal surf, the beauty of white spray rising. I see small splashes of green where blue ought to be. I see bones of driftwood, mother-of-pearl atoms, mute messages in polished stones.”
“I see everything,” whispered the voice. “I see broken flotsam, bits of time and bits of memory. I see the tiny brown crab skittering by your feet. I see the polished white shell in your fingers, a touch of wonder on your face.”
“Yes, you know exactly where I am,” Linda replied quietly.
“Will you take me with you?” asked a voice in the shell. “I don’t want to be lost.”
Linda gazed at the unbroken shell, her eyes opened wide. Until that moment she hadn’t understood its mystery.
She carefully put the small shell into her pocket. She continued slowly across the sand.