“Oh my God.” Charlie raced down the beach, heart pounding, a sense of dread chilling his blood to the bone. His teenage body would normally have reacted quite differently to the sudden appearance of a naked woman in his presence. But something was obviously quite wrong with the crumpled form ahead of him, washed ashore on the cold beach this December afternoon.
“Lady! Lady! Can you hear me? Are you alright?”
The light hurt her eyes. It always did, at first. Daylight is different under water; it moves quietly over the surface, teasing out curiosity and questions. A transient dance of glimmer and shadow. On the beach, however, daylight is painful in its precision … even the overcast light of a winter afternoon on the Oregon coast. A moan escaped her chilled lips as she struggled to blink her eyes. It had been so long. Could she remember the language? What were the words?
“Lady, are you alright? Can you speak? What is your name?”
His questions came so fast; it was hard for her to catch his meaning. A name, he demands a name. She rolled the word around in her mind, forming meaning from the deep recesses of her memory.
“Lorelei,” she whispered, barely audible.
“What’s that? Lorelei? Lorelei, what? What’s your last name? Oh God, you have no clothes left at all!”
Reaching her side, Charlie fell to his knees in the sand, shucking his windbreaker as he went down. He urgently but gingerly struggled to lift the woman’s limp form up enough to wrap the windbreaker around her midsection, barely covering her exposed body, but providing just enough coverage to preserve her modesty while he assessed the situation. Very gallant, for a 17-year-old. His grandpa would be proud. Her hands were like ice; he could tell she had been exposed to the cold Pacific surf and biting winter wind. How long had she been lying like this, totally exposed on the beach? How in the world had she come to be here? Charlie pursed his lips as he tucked her legs into his lap and began to rub her shoulders for warmth. He noticed that her eyes were unfocused and oddly dilated. The young woman continued to blink them as if she pulling herself back from some profound hibernation; as if she were awakening from a deep sleep of a thousand years.
As she began to adjust to her surroundings, the disoriented woman looked up and down the deserted beach. The shoreline was windswept, its color a pallet of muted earth tones. Known for being rugged and rocky, this bit of the Pacific Northwest coast was no exception. The seas were gray and choppy on this day; not many vessels made their way to and from the harbor. Oversized strands of bullwhip kelp had washed up on the beach, and beyond them, a lone ship was sailing back to the dock. The S.S. Strangelove, its call sign proclaimed, the name emblazoned in chipped paint across a rough hull gone rusty from many years of use.
“Strange,” she said to the boy, turning her attention toward her brave but somewhat unlikely young rescuer. Her voice was still husky, but gaining strength. “My name is Lorelei Strange.”
“Mmmph. Odd name, that is. Do you think you can stand?”
She nodded at the boy, dug her heels into the wet sand, and held her hands out for him to help. Charlie snapped to it, gaining his footing and grasping her hands. A quick pull and the woman was on her feet. She stumbled forward a bit, catching herself with one arm outstretched on his shoulder, the other holding his windbreaker tight to her body. Her thighs were quaking visibly. She appeared quite unsteady. Charlie frantically searched her face for signs of pain or weakness, but once again, he could not make contact with her eyes. She was staring with great intensity at her feet.
“Ms. Strange? Lorelei?” he queried, with hesitation. “You’re not going to faint on me, are you? Will you be able to walk a bit? It’s not far to my grandpa’s place, and you can get warmed up there. You can even use our landline if you need to,” Charlie shifted his weight uncomfortably. “For a local call, that is.”
At this, she looked straight up at the boy. She met him eye to eye, staring directly into his waiting face. He sucked his breath in sharply. Lorelei Strange had the most beautiful eyes that Charlie had ever seen, or would ever see for the rest of his humble life. Her eyes were like rare stones, ancient and enigmatic. The irises were the rich greenish-blue hue of the sea near the kelp beds on a clear day, yet dappled with golden sparks that flickered in the meager winter daylight. Those golden sparks would be dazzling in the full sunlight of summer. As if the color alone were not enough, the pupils were also distinct. Slightly oval in shape, not round – a feature that might be missed in casual conversation with her. Charlie would never forget the expression in her eyes, either, for it was an expression of such wonderment, of great mysteries lost and found, that its sheer profundity struck him speechless. He could not look away.
The smallest hint of a smile crossed Lorelei’s lips as she looked at the boy. She dropped her hand from his shoulder and linked her arm through his own. Tentatively, slowly, she stretched out her right foot. Then the left, followed by the right again. Her legs were still quaking, but with Charlie’s assistance, the pair slowly made their way up the beach. Every so often, Lorelei would murmur the same word softly to herself. Charlie thought her to be a very odd woman indeed. Probably off her rocker, even if she did have those knockout blue eyes.
“Feet,” Lorelei murmured again. Charlie thought he heard a soft giggle.
The above post is a beta excerpt from an ongoing novel-in-progress tentatively titled “The Curious Tale of Lorelei Strange”. To read all related posts, click on the associated category. All post titles in this series contain numeric labels so that you may read the story in consecutive order (i.e., LS1 is the first installment, LS2 the second, etc.). ©Awen Blackbird/Jamie Waggoner, all rights reserved. Featured photo credit: Issara Willenskomer via Unsplash.