On a dank, rainy morning, cold waves rolled over the filthy sands of closed beaches around an obsolete port city. Despite a history of booming tourism that once made happy memories for locals and visitors alike, years of excess and neglect had left them plastic-rich, odd-smelling wastelands. Some of the older folks liked to say nothing was wrong and would still swim and fish as if the good old days had never ended, but pervasive litter and depleted fish populations were a reality most residents had reluctantly accepted.
Unwilling to passively watch, a pair of eighteen-year-olds scoured the shoreline of a tiny beach known for its overabundance of horseshoe crabs. They gathered litter in matching garbage bags, both wet from the rain and clearly rushing to finish the job.
One, a tall blond with streaks of many colors in her hair, stared out to sea as the tide crept closer. “Hazel,” she called over the wind. “We can’t stay out here any longer!”
Her friend, a less eye-catching, short, scrawny young woman pushed a strand of wavy black hair out of her face and gave the beach a quick once-over. Water bottles, old shoes, pieces and the former contents of a shredded trash bag and several dead horseshoe crabs stuck in a lost fishing net were clearly visible. “Is it too much?” She looked quizzically at the blond, who shook her head.
“No. Look!” She pointed to a shape in the water, faraway. It was large, a dark reddish brown in color, and had an odd quality to how it moved in the water. It folded and bobbed, like a sheet of cloth or plastic and around it, the waves took an emerald hue.
Seeing the enigma in question, Hazel winced. “But the algae bloom wasn’t supposed to hit shore for another few days…” she whined. She hoisted the garbage bag over her shoulder, turning to a staircase that led up the dunes. “Fine, let’s go, Maddy.”
On a packed bus riding roughly past the deserted beaches, Rhea slouched against the side of her best friend’s seat. Visibly muscular, conditioned by years of competitive sports and the most aggressive swim races she’d ever seen, Tristan was far better-suited to stabilize himself on a metal post for twenty minutes as the ancient vehicle bounced along the ill-maintained road. But no. He could get to the last open seat faster. So it was his.
“Explain to me again why you can’t use your own,” she hissed, swaying into his side as they went over a bump.
Without hesitation, he pushed her butt away. An elderly woman glared across the aisle- and it wasn’t a mystery why. Rhea was rich in curves and poor in muscles, which meant it could be misinterpreted sometimes when Tristan shoved her around. Though they’d both acted that way since they were very young, it had begun to draw attention about the time puberty came in and changed everything. But only Rhea noticed the funny looks and whispers.
“It’s not my fault! A guy at the track meet stepped on it!”
“And how did that happen?” There was a definite venom in her voice. Rhea already knew how almost anything of Tristan’s got broken- he left it on the floor, or on the ground, or in a messy place and someone always stepped on it. DVDs, his prized laser pointer, bags of chips, even his favorite pair of goggles- not that he ever used them. He just liked the color.
“I just have to borrow it!”
The bickering went on for what seemed like eternity while the bus bounced and jolted and more and more people moved in to line the aisle. It was the one and only time all day the bus was full, and they were set to spend all of it arguing over a frost stone when there was a screech. The bus stopped so suddenly, Rhea lost her grip on the post and fell into her friend’s lap.
The heat of the sun was like that of a laser, shone through the magnifying glass of a sadistic god. It was sweltering, humid, and worst of all, crowded. Children cried, parents moaned, and no amount of AC or water could cool the hellish tarmac of Red Marina, a small coastal city with no swimmable beaches and a distinct lack of local culture.
“Oh my god, you work here?” Hazel felt a fat, stubby finger poke the “STAFF” logo on her t-shirt.
A group of high school students rushed from behind her into the next available tube. It was family-sized, standard for the Whitewater Rapids attraction at the one and only Marina Splash Ocean Water Park. It wasn’t the cleanest, most professional or best-rated water park in the world, or even the county, but a small number of its rides (not including the Whitewater Rapids) were connected directly to the ocean. Ergo, Marina Splash Ocean Water Park was a huge tourist attraction, and as such, it was the kind of place that would employ teenagers to funnel sweaty visitors onto the rides.
Hazel smiled, like any dead-inside summer employee would. Despite the approaching HAB (harmful algal bloom), business seemed to be booming. “Been awhile! Try to keep it balanced- uh, somebody move over here please. Good!” A girl from her English class scooted from one side of the tube to the other. It didn’t bother her that she knew them. They were okay, if a little annoying at times.
“Lookin’ good in that uniform!” That was what bothered her. It bothered her that of all the people she knew that she could possibly have to put up with, she was dealing with Noah. “I didn’t get your number on the last day of school; can I-”
Splash. “Keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times. No standing in the river raft. Do not get out of the raft until you are instructed to do so by the attendant at the end. Thank you!”
Noah whined as the group floated downstream and quickly out of sight. There was high-pitched laughter and a loud “Ooooh!” Hazel didn’t hate him, but having spent the entire month of May rejecting him over and over and over she was beyond done. Shepherding the next group into their seats, she silently daydreamed of an alligator slipping in from the sewers and biting his butt off.
Lost in fantasy, she paid no attention to the feeling of a string wrapping around her ankle in the shallow water- there were always clumps of somebody’s hair. Similarly, she ignored when the water felt colder than usual- probably fresh from the hose. Until the end of her shift, she robotically directed groups into properly-balanced seats. It wasn’t a moment before she stepped out of the water for the last time in her shift when she finally realized what had caught on her ankle.
A black cord, embedded in a clump of long hair, had been dragging next to her sandal on the bottom of the pool. At the end of it was a worn, dull, bronze pendant in the shape of… a spider web? Some kind of abstract star? Five red veins, maybe some kind of resin, curved from around a small bead in the center to individual corners of the strange ornament. It was cold when handled, which led her to conclude it had been in the coldest water on the ride- inexplicably found near the mouth of the tube return, at the bottom. That meant it must have only recently fallen from a returned tube.
She turned to her replacement, a short, chubby girl with long, brown hair. No matter how small the community seemed there was never a shortage of new faces- many of the park employees went to a Christian school Hazel had never even visited.
She told her to keep an eye out for someone who lost a necklace, that she would be leaving it with the guy who works the bottom of the ride and that he was really friendly. There was no response. She dutifully began the trek to the bottom of the ride, where she dropped off the pendant with Iggy, a good-natured college student whose job is was to guide people off of the ride and move each heavy tube to the mouth of the return conveyor belt. Then, all issues taken care of for the day, it was time to go home.