by Cecilia Kennedy
The pain in my back starts at my spine and radiates upward. Most of the time, I can ignore it, but sometimes, it’s too much. So I take one of the pills the doctor gave me and go to sleep, dreaming of the ocean and what it’s like to swim underwater, but even in my dreams, something pokes at my back, just beneath my spine.
Sometimes, the house and the walls rattle, late at night. The movement is only brief, like a wave that passes under the foundation and goes away. It makes sense, I guess, since I live where there’s earthquakes, and seismic activity shifts the ground, and there are cracks in my ceiling and walls. We’re all just shifting, I guess.
Outside, in the garden, I check the rose plants, which seem to be doing well, despite a sudden snowstorm, which is rare for these parts. The sun’s out, and the grass ripples in the wind. I’m watching the blades catch the light, when I feel the wave again, the one that usually passes beneath our house at night, and the grass splits slightly. Something like a fin passes through the fence, heading toward the BBQ pit, gliding just inches past my ankle. I can almost reach out and touch it—and swallow back the breath that catches in my throat—the one that tells me I’ve come too close to something I shouldn’t.
When I feel the wave start, just as I’ve drifted off to sleep, I run to the window and see that the neighbors’ house lights are on. I can see them through the window. They’ve mostly likely been awakened by the movement, the sound. Between my house and theirs, is a street, which, under the lamps, appears to undulate, and I hear a cracking sound. Asphalt and wires and concrete spew forth—and a fin sticks up, heading straight for the neighbor’s house. In their living room, they’re huddled together on the sofa, clutching a lampstand, which is protruding forward, as protection. But they never stood a chance. I watch the finned creature grow a head and a mouth and swallow the house whole. Another wave of seismic activity falls, but this time, lightning strikes the sky, and a house, identical to the one that was swallowed, drops down in a torrent of hail. Inside, the neighbors look exactly the same, though when they bend over to pick up the remote on the coffee table, over their backs, I think I see their sweaters tightening around something hard, a knot. They turn on the television set, and watch whatever’s on, amid the car alarms blaring and the lamp lights sizzling and crackling.
In the morning, I touch the walls of my house, run my hands over the skin of my arms, and wonder if I’ve always been who I’ve been. The ache in my back throbs. My dreams of the ocean persist, as I get ready for the next shift—and I swear, that when I hold a mirror over my shoulder just so, and point it over my back towards the mirror over the sink, I see the beginning of a protrusion, right where a fin should be.
About the Author
Author bio: Cecilia Kennedy (she/her) is a writer who taught English and Spanish in Ohio for 20 years before moving to Washington state with her family. Since 2017, she has published stories in international literary magazines and anthologies. Her work has appeared in Hearth & Coffin Literary Magazine, Maudlin House, Tiny Molecules, Rejection Letters, Meadowlark Review, Vast Chasm Literary Magazine, Kandisha Press, Ghost Orchid Press, and others. She currently works full time as a copywriter and does freelance work as a proofreader for Flash Fiction Magazine and as a concept editor for Running Wild Press, LLC. You can follow her on Twitter (@ckennedyhola).