With the poster firmly clasped by his side, Orson reached the beach. It was still dark, but she was not in sight. He combed the beach, trying to get a glimpse of her, and later sat down on the sand, and hoped that she would find him.
But when she did find him, he did not see her immediately. She crept up from behind, her pink dress and silver blonde hair flying away in the breeze and she stood looking at him in the most curious manner. It was a long time before he felt her presence and turned; and he was instantly scared out of his wits to find her presence so near.
He tried to greet her with an expression that he hoped came out as a smile. But he was not sure of anything anymore. He proffered the poster. “Here it is, the poster you wanted,” he told her.
Annette proceeded to open the paper package with her sharp claws. She opened it as though it contained the last morsel of food on the planet and someone would snatch it away from her.
Then she saw her. Her maternal instincts came to the fore, and Orson even saw faint tears forming at the corners of her eyes. “My dear girl, my dear girl,” she said and held the poster of her quite close to her bosom, now having broken into an emotional cry.
“My daughter—what did you do?” she yelled, and then she let out a scream that rent through the cool sea breeze of the night beach sky.
With a look of absolute revulsion and horror, she pushed the picture away from her; as far as she could take it, and flung it right on the sand on the beach. It went quite a distance, and got wedged into the sand at an obtuse angle. Orson first looked at the picture and saw that the person in the picture was now a monstrous, bizarre creature, and its lips were smeared with blood.
He looked at the pink woman.
It was a moment of utmost horror.
The woman’s chest was ripped apart, right at the breasts. They had been punctured by talons of great sharpness, and blood oozed out of them still. The blood fell all around her on the sand, where it was immediately absorbed and formed a dark patch, which was visible even in the darkness.
“She has not forgiven me,” Annette said, as she collapsed on the sand, “for leading her into the way. She ran away from me all along, and when I finally got her…”
Orson saw the figure in the poster change. The colors of the background had started to blend.
“She wanted you to bring her to me,” Annette continued. “Drown the poster. Take it to the water and dunk it. That’s the only way—”
The woman could say no more. But even as her deliverance consumed her, the sand around her began to move, until it was almost a whirlpool. Orson stepped away, scared at the sudden violent movement in the sand. And then there was a gaping hole in it where she lay. Her body was taken into the hole, and then the sand covered it up and lay as innocent as it had been before.
The poster began to wail. It was so horrendous that even the dogs on the beach stopped barking and recoiled from it in fear. But he was unfazed. He had seen enough, and now was determined to put an end to it.
Even as the wind began to rise, even as the howl began to increase, he walked on. His feet burying themselves in the sand, he plowed on, till he reached the source of the ghastly uproar.
Grabbing it with both hands, he pulled it out of the sand. It was no longer a dead, non-living entity anymore; there was life in it, and it seemed to wriggle out of his very grasp. As he struggled to hold it tighter, the spirit within it tried to break free and reach out to hold him. He entered the waves, and they lashed at his feet, threatening to knock him down, but he had determined himself to carry out this endeavor. He wanted to bring the spirit back to the place from where it had sprung.
He had heard of vengeful sirens and rusalki—female spirits that seduced men and led them to their watery graves. Those faint snatches of stories seemed like fairytales back then. There was even a slight fascination that diluted their horror. But now he could not wait for the nightmare to get over.
At the first contact he made of the poster with the water, it began to squirm. It tried to break free of his determined grasp, but he held on. He plunged it deeper and deeper, and in doing so, did not realize how far from the shoreline he had come.
He did not sense the claws that gripped his feet under the water. Even when he felt it, he thought they were the waves playing tricks with him.
+ + +
The day had dawned.
He could not feel himself now. People had begun coming up to the beach, but no one could see him. Some of them came perilously close to him, almost walked through him, and did not flinch in the least.
He walked through the waves but they did not make him wet. He had been walking tirelessly without placing his feet anywhere but he didn’t feel tired.
But he could see.
Floating over the waves, in the distance, he could see a 24” x 36” empty wooden panel that had a canvas stretched around it at some time; but now it was just a shredded rag clinging to it. Some boys playing in the waves reached out to get it, and when one of them managed to grab hold of it, he put it through his lithe body like it was a hula loop and put a performance for the others. Their laughs carried over the waves.
If only they knew the story behind the panel.
He felt no pain though.
This was his new existence, and he looked around to get used to it. It was then that he saw her.
In the distance, seated on a park bench, in the same blue dress as he had seen her first, she sat forlornly. He wanted to run up to her and throttle her, but he realized the futility of it.
She looked at him and smiled.
But no one else could see her in the broad daylight. No one could see her till she chose to show herself. Orson could only nod his head and walk away into the waves.