“Don’t ever forget how much I love you,” Dad says.
I dig my toes into the warm Mediterranean sand. The water is a perfect blue, speckled with the white foam of cresting waves. When I tilt my head back, I can feel the warmth of the sun, a gentle sea breeze lifting strands of my short, brown hair and blowing them into my face.
But none of this is real.
“It is real!” I shout.
Dad turns around, a look of surprise on his face. “What was that, Ella?” he asks.
“Nothing,” I mumble.
“Are you ready to come in, you two?” My mother stands at the top of the beach, near the road, her cupped hands amplifying her voice.
“Not just yet,” Dad says, winking at me. He takes off at a run, kicking sand on me as I jump up, chasing after him. I can hear my mother laughing behind us. The sandy beach gives way to pebbles and bigger rock formations, and soon neither of us is running as we pick our paths through wave-worn rocks. Mom and the road and the beach are far behind us. It’s just me and Dad and the sea.
“No!” I say, just as my bare feet slip on the wet rock. I crash down, pain shooting up my scraped shin. Dad turns back and helps me up.
“Are you okay, Ella?” he asks.
“Yeah,” I say.
“We shouldn’t run,” Dad says. “We should take the time to appreciate this area. You know where we are, right?”
I hadn’t recognized it before, but now that Dad says it, I do know where I am. From the cliff above us extends a giant arm of rock, arcing over the sea and then reaching back down into the water. The rock formation has created a perfect arch—large enough to fit a house under—through which the sea flows. Waves crash against the sides of the rock, sending up salty sea foam.
“It’s the Azure Window,” I breathe, staring at this natural wonder.
It’s not. Not really.
“Eyes are the window to the soul, Ella, don’t forget that,” Dad says. He’s not looking at me; he’s watching a girl swimming out in the ocean, so far away from us that I cannot recognize who she is.
“I… I thought the Azure Window was destroyed,” I say slowly. “In the Secessionary War. The bombs broke the arch, the rock crumbled into the sea.”
As I say the words, the natural bridge of rock cracks with an earsplitting snap. First pebbles, then boulders fall from the arch. The water churns with the destruction. Giant clouds of dirt and debris mar my vision of the crumbling rock formation. When the dust finally clears, there is nothing there but a pile of rocks and swirling, dirty water.
I turn to my father.
As I watch, the skin of his face cracks, like the rock did, exposing red blood. His flesh falls away from his skull like pebbles crashing to the sea. A waterfall of cascading blood and gore falls from his head, down his neck. His shoulder chips away, and, with a giant crash, the flesh from his chest falls from his body, an avalanche splattering into the sea at our feet, now stained red. I can see, for just a moment, his beating heart in his rib cage, and then that, too, withers and dies, the useless, blackened lump tapping against his ribs before plopping out of his body. He’s nothing but bones, and then the gentle warm Mediterranean wind blows against him, and his bones break, clattering down into the pile of muck and flesh swirling in the salty sea.
“This isn’t real,” I say.
Because it isn’t.
Tomorrow, my interview with Beth Revis!
**Leave a comment at the end to win a copy of The Body Electric eBook and a copy of the Skinless or Interlopers eBook. Winner announced 12/1/14.**