There is no feeling more exhilarating than that of gazing upon the ocean. What would be the need for a better place? For the first eruption of the shore that merely grazes your ears is enough to turn your head in excitement and anticipation. The anticipation is one that cannot be tamed and you simply must enquire more. You know the ocean is there; the salty mist, like a ghostly apparition, entrances you to encroach upon its haven like a ghost enticing you to delve deeper into the underworld. Soon, the wafts of the sea delicately breathe the mystery into your face to tempt you in even nearer to their be-witchery. Then, when you do happen upon those cerulean waves that pirouette along the shore, you will recognise them as if delicate angels fancied themselves elegant ballerinas. This is their haven and these are the ghosts that dwell there. However, it is only when you do gaze upon the eternity of the paradox: the delicate beast; the savage paramour; only then it is understandable why the ocean is unmatched in all aspects.
The sea tonight is in a contrary mood, indeed. Anchored into a bottomless slumber, the tide rocks and rolls, seeming to encounter a nightmare. At times the shore is lullabied by the calming waves and others agitated and angered. The heavens often follow along with a dense fog spread over the sky, patched with light rain, partially concealing the translucent moon. In between the turbulence of the twilight I journey with a child of the church. We have met for the first time and I am escorting them to the south oceanâs shore from our group, hidden deep in the forest. I have travelled on foot with the child in my arms for a short while and are approaching the cliff which will lead us down to where the tides meet the crumbled earth. As I traverse the dense branches of the outer area of the woods, I cannot help but gleefully fall back into the ceremony the day before. The shrieking of children while they play in the sun, the mothers and fathers scrawling wild melodies on their allocated flutes and tambourines and the chiefs performing the ceremony. I have learnt to savour the fire on my skin for when it is cold elsewhere, and especially on a night like tonight. Although the tune in my memories plays on, there is a frost all around me, particularly emanating from the newest stranger I am shepherding. They lie comfortable and wearied in my arms. I am granting a noble deed to the traveller, ordered by the chiefs in their divine wisdom. I am the first of my family to bestow such a virtuous honour. That is why although I did not know them from our faith, I am eager to assist the young journeyer in their course to the ocean.
I sweep away a branch to reveal the cliff at the edge of the forest. There is no mistaking the edge of the forest, for immediately upon discovery, the winds descend. Like vicious pixies guarding their glade, they bite and piece your face, creating much turmoil for travellers. I cast my squinting eyes to the sky, noticeably more vivid than the dim canopy of the woods. Elated at the scene of the visible moon from behind the clouds, I cry out, uninhibited, for the first time on the trek.
âIt is good weather, friend!â
My exclamation rings through the cool breeze and seems to sweep the valley below the cliff. Down below, the moon illuminates the ethereal indigo blanket unfolding endlessly past the horizon. I do not know whether I am swayed by the vertigo or the vastness of my surroundings, but it excites me no end. I find I must venture towards the ocean; I cannot escape its siren-like seduction. To my right lies the path from the cliff top to the shore that I must take. I study its wild trellis and envision how I may tackle the frail shrubbery. I am suddenly smothered and overcome by my frenzy. Without giving voice to thoughts of reason or of the comfort of the child, towards the path I run. The weathered leaves are unforgiving to my feet, as are the brittle branches of the curled trees on my cheeks. Yet, I laugh. Gravity and responsibility are granted freedom from my mortal body for a while so I may embrace the hardened earth and the splendour of the storm-bearing twilight rapidly enveloping my skin. My ruby blood appears the only colour escaping the shroud of the gloom and it sparkles and gleams and shines to show my way through the trees. Maybe my passenger feels as free as their entrusted wayfarer; the goodness that accompanies such joy is to be wished upon another.
All too soon, the lucent rays of the moon filter through the thinning walls of branches around me. The leaves under my worn feet become mulch-like from the spray of the ocean. There is no more need for my laughs; my responsibilities must take place first. I halt my sprint at the base of the cliff, and as I regulate my footing, I glance at the ocean before me. I gasp and hold the stranger tighter. They are silent. Watching.
I glimpse fleetingly at the path back – such a mistake I have made. I am consumed by the cliff top looming hungrily over my humble stature. Its ravenous mouth appearing to be caving inwards to devour me. Acclaiming my demise are the figures in the overgrown path that seemed so exhilarating only moments before. The deceased shrubs metamorphose before my gander into a mob of scrawny witches and contorted skeletons, pursuing me with their gnarled, splintering fingers. I gasp pitifully as their cackles resonate in the darkness. I am momentarily transfixed by the macabre scene, unable to turn away. If it had not been for the strangerâs unheard coaxes, beckoning me towards the shore, I may have abandoned my pledge. I must persevere for them; for my duty.
As if shuddering awake from a nightmare, I abruptly turn towards the sea. With its watchful vigil, no malevolent spirit is to capture me tonight. I apprehensively draw a light breath and force myself across the sand. Although the sand glimmers like angelic pearls coated in the moonâs kisses, it bruises my feet as the leaves once had. I venture on, my soul unscathed by the perilous loam and land. I lay my feet uneasily at each step, wincing a little. I close my eyes, concentrating on my task and the stranger in my arms. I grow pained and fatigued. I consider how I will complete my plight and embark on the journey home – it seems such a grand undertaking.
As I spill all my trepidations, drowning each corner of my mind, I am startled by the cool wash over my toes. I breathe in deeply, the intoxicating sea foam aroma embracing every alcove of my lungs. The wind swirls around me, inspecting my passenger and I. When I remain silent at the expanse of nature, I can hear its whispers and fortunes. I am told that I neednât worry, and I am instantly assuaged. I open my eyes to greet the ocean. It welcomes me in return. I am reminded of the child in my arms and my assignment. My guidance to the ocean is completed. I mean to alert them, however, I am unable to avert my gaze from the vast swell of midnight blue.
âHere we are, my friend,â I speak into them through the ocean. The icy spray from the waves cleans and soothes my weary feet. I stand for a while before the mighty sea, but no reply from the stranger reaches me. I repeat my statement, urging them to go forth, but to my frustration, my legs only become more and more soaked. The stranger will not give an answer, nor will they move themselves from their stagnant state. I wonder if they are in a state of confusion – in which case, I would not be a successful guide if I could not fulfil my duty in the ritual.
âCome,â I assert, âlet us go together.â
With the stranger in my arms, I pace towards the water. As the waves wash over my shins, the chill reminds me of the wind atop the cliff and how cruel on the skin it can be. As I step further, my feet part the silky sand to aid in my venture as if channelling a being from a book I can barely call upon now, so long ago. I concentrate on my mission so as not to pay any mind to the sea drenching my cloak, the current pulling it behind my body and binding me to the shore. The force of my knees wading through the water flicks droplets of salt on the chest of my cloak, staining the usual autumn-brown a brown alike to a dawn storm. The swelling current, in the midst of preparing for a downpour, stops me from proceeding further out to sea. Under what I imagine being the final cover of moonlight for the evening, I am far from the shore.
âYour journey has ended,â I firmly let my passenger know that there will be no more travelling on this night. They do not reply, only continuing bobbing against the tide in the nook of my taxed arms.
âGood bye,â I finally exclaim. I release the child from my grasp into the water. They lifelessly sink down into the sand below. The ritual is complete; the body of the chosen sacrifice has now been disposed of.
I linger in the water for a final moment, basking in the moonlight. All too soon it vanishes and I know I must, too. I return through the sea, the current urging me towards land. I welcome it as I will so soon welcome the gratitude and accolade of the church chiefs for my first sacrificial burial.
Thunder sounds in the distance.
Hopefully I will not be later than expected.