Did you know, there’s a town off the south coast that’s completely submerged by the ocean at night? And yet it’s the most popular town for miles around during the day. You see, the tide comes in at such a rate around dusk that it covers all of the homes and the shops in the town. For centuries the town’s residents have sealed up their doors and windows and climbed at least ten flights of steps to sleep safely in their bedrooms, which are at the top of tall towers, high above their homes. Back in the old days, when the town was young, the townspeople sealed their doors with wax each night. These days, all the doors and windows are fitted with a thick, strong rubber seal that can hold its own against the ocean. They also have heavy doors around the third or fourth flight of steps that are fitted with a strong rubber seal as well, so the townspeople can sleep comfortably in their tall bedroom towers at night, without a worry in the world. It’s quite a sight to look out from the mainland at night and see the tall towers sticking straight out of the deep dark ocean, and to watch as one by one the bedroom lights are turned out, leaving the ocean black as the night. Almost like you’re watching stars dying in unison.
It wasn’t long ago that a man from the mainland fell in love with a woman from the tidal town. He was there, like everyone else, on a delightful day trip. Of course, a day trip is the only kind of trip you can take to the tiny tidal town. The tall bedroom towers only have enough room for the townspeople, so it’s quite important at the end of each day that the visitors from the mainland are escorted back to the mainland. In fact, there’s a sort of volunteer group known affectionately as the Duskers that make sure everyone’s out of the town once dusk begins to fall. In all of the centuries that the Duskers have been around, they’ve never had any trouble making sure the day’s visitors have left the town and are on their way back to the mainland. Never, until now, when this mainland man fell in love with this tidal woman. Which is what love can do to a man and a woman in a tiny tidal town, I suppose. Beautiful, powerful, reckless love.
It was a sunny sort of day when this mainland man met this tidal woman. He had gone to the tidal town for a little stroll and a mooch around the shops. There’s nothing quite like a stroll and a mooch around on a sunny sort of day. He had already tried a few of the town’s famous ice cream flavors: Burnt Sugar, Pink Candy Floss, Marshmallow Fluff; and had settled on a waffle cone of Dark Brown Sugar Delight, a local favorite. He had strolled through the lawn full of deck chairs, wandered around the little dog park, poked his head into some of the surprisingly sophisticated art galleries and had a good old mooch around the furniture shops. He had even had the chance to check out the old prison, which notably didn’t have any tall bedroom towers as the prisoners were usually left to fend for themselves against the tide. Usually somewhat unsuccessfully.
It was after all this, a fine full day, that he happened into the local gift shop and set eyes on the loveliest woman he had ever seen. He realized, and she quickly realized too, that he wasn’t actually in the market for any gifts. So to strike up a conversation he asked the woman what kind of a gift she would want, if she was in a position to receive the types of gifts that they carry. Not quite blushing but certainly on the way, she described, in elegant detail, a number of wonderful gift options that he might buy for a certain someone on a certain occasion. Without knowing what to say next, the man from the mainland said he would purchase all of the gifts that the lady from the tidal town had laid out and described. It was then that the first Dusker he would meet that night poked his head through the gift shop door and let him know that the tide was on its way in, and that he should start to make his way back to the mainland. A little flustered, and suddenly somewhat anxious about how he would feel if he never saw this woman again, the man nervously picked up his shopping bag, said a garbled farewell and walked out of the shop, looking back towards her with every other step. The woman, knowing full well how fast the tide comes in and submerges her tiny gift shop, started going through the process of closing all of the doors and windows and checking all of the seals, every now and then glancing back at the man who had spent so much time and so much money on the gifts for no one.
It wasn’t until he had walked back through the lawn full of deck chairs, that the man decided he should have been brave enough to give one of the gifts to the lovely woman he had just purchased them from. He stopped walking for a moment and wondered if he could make it back to the gift shop and then back again to the mainland before the tide came in. Almost immediately, a Dusker poked him sharply in the back and told him he should get a move on, surprisingly forcefully, he felt. He carried on moving with the rest of the crowd and managed to amble himself around in a sort of a horseshoe direction until he got back to the gift shop. He could feel the odd friction of going against the crowd, however indirectly, and knew for sure that he had caught the attention of a number of Duskers, whom he had felt bad crossing as he knew they were just doing their jobs and keeping people safe. He felt even worse when he saw that the gift shop had been completely shuttered and sealed in the time it had taken him to reach the lawn full of deck chairs and horseshoe back. He reached into his bag full of gifts, pulled out one of the beautifully wrapped options, and left it on the thick, heavy windowsill next to the well-sealed door. He felt another sharp poke in the back as the third and final Dusker he would meet that night asked him, a little more forcefully still, to move in the direction the other visitors had already moved and get back to the mainland. Adding that the sooner he and the rest of the visitors leave the tidal town safely, the sooner the residents of the town can get on with their evenings. The sharp poke in the back didn’t fully let up until he was well and truly on his way to catch up with the rest of the visitors going to the mainland. He reminded himself that the Duskers were only doing their job.
That night, the man sat in his bedroom on the mainland and looked back at the fully submerged tidal town out in the middle of the ocean. He traced his steps as well as he could from the lawn, to the dog park, to the old prison, and to the gift shop. He watched as each of the bedroom lights in the tall towers turned off and thought, if he had gotten his step tracing right, the last light to still be on was the lovely gift shop woman’s. He wondered if she was looking back at the mainland to see his light was still on too, and whether the gift he had left on the gift shop windowsill was still there, despite the ocean that had risen around it and the current that had likely swept it away.
It was another week until he was able to go back to the tidal town, what with work and all, although it seemed like much longer. As he walked through the town, he remarked to himself that it hadn’t changed all that much. Then he remembered it had only been a week since he was last there, even though it seemed like longer. He took his familiar route with an increased sense of haste, and felt a small bead of sweat on the back of his neck at the thought of seeing the lovely woman again. He arrived at the little gift shop door, after what seemed like much longer than he was expecting, and opened the door much more forcefully than he had meant to. The lovely tidal woman stood before him, looking in his direction, and smiled.
With that, they took their first idle stroll together through the tiny tidal town. Past the art galleries and antiques shops, past the old prison, past the dog park, past the lawn, not noticing any one of those places, just completely absorbed in each other. They did, however, notice the ice cream shop and went in to sample a few flavors, before both getting a scoop of Cherry Bark Crackle in a waffle cone. They sat on a bench under a leafy tree and talked about all of the things they enjoyed about life and hoped to share with each other one day. Even after the ice cream was finished and the day’s light began to fade, they could still think of more things they enjoyed and hoped to share with each other. It wasn’t until a Dusker, with a particularly aggressive tone, asked the mainland man to start heading back to the mainland and told the tidal woman to not be so reckless and secure her gift shop, that they realized what time it was and how long they had been talking.
The woman headed back rather briskly to the little gift shop and the man anxiously tried to keep up. A second Dusker stepped into his path and made him stop quite suddenly. The woman kept briskly walking, knowing she had to get back and secure her little gift shop before the tide came in and destroyed it all. The Dusker, with no patience left in his tone, told the man quite squarely that he must start walking in the other direction. The man peered as well as he could past the Dusker’s huge head and saw the tidal woman disappear in the growing crowd of oncoming mainland visitors. The Dusker’s face got very close to his and asked if he needed him to repeat his request. He felt a sharp poke in his stomach and realized he ought to take this Dusker seriously. So he thanked him for doing his job and turned to join the even flow of the crowd, leaning into his tried and tested ambling horseshoe technique and making his way back to the lovely tidal woman’s gift shop. But as he hoped wouldn’t be the case, the gift shop was already closed and sealed up by the time he got there. His heart sank in the way that only love can make it and the anxious feeling of maybe never seeing her again returned. He reached into his pocket and pulled out another one of the gifts she had wrapped only a week earlier, even though it seemed like much longer, and left it on the thick window sill. He turned as a third Dusker pushed him so hard that he had to hold out his arms to keep his balance. The Dusker spoke like it was going to be the last time he made the request for the man to return to the mainland before he would start finding other ways of making him comply. The mainland man, who was quite taken aback and actually a little scared now, agreed and apologized and thanked the Dusker for doing his job and protecting all these lives. He left the tidal town that night feeling like he was leaving without all of himself intact.
The mainland man couldn’t wait another week to see the woman from the tidal town again. Instead, he went back to the little town a few days later, as soon as he could get out of work. It was already quite late by the time he had walked past the lawn and the dog park and the galleries and the old prison. He walked straight into the gift shop and straight into the arms of the tidal woman, who was not expecting to see him but not surprised at all that he was there. She started closing up her little gift shop early to protect it from the soon to be rising tide and took the mainland man up the many steps in her tall bedroom tower, stopping briefly to close the heavy, sealed door around the third or fourth flight. She sat him down under her bedroom tower’s windowsill and sat herself down next to the bed. The two of them caught their breaths without taking their eyes off each other and found their way back to that effortless first idle stroll and the conversation about all the things they loved in life and hoped to share with each other, some day. They talked and talked as the daylight turned to dusk and the dusk gave way to night. The tidal woman, who had not been able to sleep soundly for the past few nights, had found a sense of calm and slowly dozed off against the foot of her bed. The mainland man watched her for a while, finding his own sense of peace, and then turned to look out of the window at the dark blue ocean and the sky peppered with stars. He noticed a rowboat, which was actually surprisingly close to the windows of the tall bedroom towers because of how high the tide had risen. He felt a chill as he realized he was probably not supposed to be seen and ducked himself down so he could just peer over the sill. The rowboat went from window to window, and each time it stopped, one of what looked like three Duskers in the boat peered in. The boat was heading away from the tall tower he was hiding in, which made him wonder if they had already peered through the gift shop woman’s window, and if they had already seen him. He knew there was no way of getting out of there now and felt somewhat frozen in place. His eyes locked on the rowboat and watched until it was completely out of sight. He fell out of his rigid viewing position and melted to the floor, relieved they were gone. He allowed his previously frozen open eyes to close. Forced himself to forget the rowboat and think back to the conversation with the tidal woman. He allowed his mind to return to the somewhat comfortable state of calm. And fell asleep.
He woke up early in the morning and saw that the lovely woman had already left. He made his way down the steep steps to see that the heavy door on the third or fourth flight had been opened. He wandered down into the gift shop to see that the doors and the windows had all been opened too. He looked around the tiny gift shop but couldn’t find the lovely woman. He realized he should get back to the mainland and back to work and thought to himself he would come back again very soon. He reached into his pocket and took out another one of the gifts that she had wrapped more than a week earlier and left it on the shop’s counter. He stepped out onto the ground, now just an inch deep in ocean water, and headed back to the mainland. Thinking, as he went, about how cold and how quiet it was. And already feeling a little longing inside himself.
He decided to go back again later that day, as soon as he could get out of work. It was already getting late as he stepped into the tidal town, and he noticed there was a Dusker taking a tally of all the mainlanders going in and out. He got to the tiny gift shop, a little out of breath, but he couldn’t see the lovely woman anywhere. He felt an instant stab of panic and an immediate fear of loss. He looked over at the counter and saw that the gift he’d left was no longer there. It gave him a pleasant moment of relief but it was immediately weighed down by a feeling of potential dread. He stepped out of the tiny tidal gift shop and wondered what to do. He looked around to see the Duskers already going about the crowd and moving people on, some somewhat more forcefully than others. He started heading towards the mainland, not knowing yet if he actually planned to leave, and saw a group of three rather large Duskers heading his way. Before they were able to fully reach him, he thanked them for doing their jobs and tried to keep walking but they lunged at him and grabbed him by his arms. He tried to twist and turn and loosen their grip on him but they jabbed at him with clubs and winded him and bruised his lip. He let his body loosen for a split second and they picked him up and moved him roughly down the road. Any time he’d make a noise he got a club to the face. Any time he wriggled he’d get a jab in the ribs. They walked him into the old prison and down the steps into the dungeon. They threw him down a second flight of steps and slammed an iron gate behind him. He sat in the almost dark and listened until he couldn’t hear their footsteps anymore.
The town outside was beginning to thin out. The mainland man could hear distant doors closing, distant windows locking and distant voices moving further away. He heard a quiet trickle of water getting louder and felt a small pool forming under his leg. The tide was, as expected, coming in. He remembered there were no tall towers in the prison as the pool under his leg began to almost cover his thigh. The quiet trickle was building to a terrifying gushing. He felt around in the almost dark and got himself to his feet. He noticed a faint shard of pink light on the wall and knew that it would be gone in minutes. Pitch darkness was coming and the prison was flooding. He found a ledge and hoisted himself up. The water almost immediately reached his knees. He climbed up again, his ribs aching, hardly able to see where he was going, feeling around for anything he could pull himself up onto. The water was racing him and winning, already up and around his neck. He reached up higher but couldn’t find anything to get a hold of. He grabbed at the rough wall, hoping to find something, anything, to give him a handhold and a hope but the water beat him to it, completely submerging him. He pushed away from the wall and swam upwards until he finally found his head above water. He kept kicking, pushing himself up and up and up but the water had other ideas. It slammed him against the ceiling and dragged him down a channel and into another room. It threw him down onto the cold stone floor and then rushed in to fill the empty space. He let himself be pushed along until he found something he could hang onto. The water rushed past him until it covered the floor, then started pushing him up again. He felt bits of debris hit him and surround him. He pushed them out of the way and tried to grab another wall. Then he noticed a small gap in the opposite side of the room where the water was running in and back out of. He swam over to it and forced himself inside. An air pocket. He heaved himself up onto a shallow platform inside and lay down. Debris followed him in and got pushed out again by the pocket, then back in and out again. He reached down to see what had been hitting him. Bones. Human bones. These were people. The life drained out of them. Some recently. He started to feel himself passing out, as his mind wondered about where all the blood goes.
The next morning he woke up with a start. He was still soaked through, shivering and chattering. For a brief moment he wasn’t entirely sure where he was and then remembered the evening’s melee with the Dsukers and the flooding of the old prison that almost left him as nothing but bones. He peered out from the air pocket and down the deep shaft that led to the dungeon that he swam up last night. He looked down at a number of solid-looking hand and foot holds that would have served him very well, had he been able to see them. He dangled his wincing legs over the edge and started to slowly and methodically find his way down. As he clambered, he noticed words carved into the dark gray stone and tried to make them out.
Remembering the big iron gate that the Duskers shut behind him, the mainland man searched the old prison for another exit. It didn’t take him long seeing as it was, as advertised, an old prison and didn’t have the same kind of impenetrable structure it probably had at some point in time. The sunny early morning stabbed at the mainland man’s aching eyes as he stepped out into the early day. He splashed through the foot or so of water that was still heading back out to sea and thought about whether he should head back to the mainland, back to work and to safety. But he couldn’t get the lovely tidal woman from the tiny tidal gift shop out of his mind. So he decided instead to go back to the gift shop and wait for her there.
To his surprise, but as he feared if he was honest with himself, he found the gift shop was still open. He watched the ocean water leak out of the open doorway as it headed back out to sea. He stepped inside and saw that the ocean had ravaged the shelves and aisles of various gifts that the giftshop held. He looked around for the lovely gift shop woman but couldn’t find her anywhere. He decided to try upstairs, thinking perhaps she accidentally fell asleep and forgot to close and seal up the tiny shop. The heavy door around the third or fourth flight of steps was still open. He got up to the woman’s bedroom at the top of the tall tower and was beside himself to see she wasn’t anywhere, so he decided to wait for her. Still shivering from last evening’s soaking, and starting to feel particularly battered and bruised from the melee and wrestling with the ocean in the old prison, he curled himself up under the windowsill and felt himself pass out.
He woke to the sound of gushing water and quickly rose to a state of panic. He peered over the window sill to see it was already way past dusk and that the tide had already come in. He flew down the first few flights of steps but saw that the ocean water had already made it up past the third or fourth flight where the heavy door was. It brought with it all kinds of gift-related debris, ribbons, wrapping paper, gift cards, glitter packs. A deadly gush of colorful, sparkling water. He ran back up the steps and closed the bedroom door, hoping it would stop the glittering ocean water if it made it all the way up. He backed over to the window sill and looked out to see how high the tide had made it. But the tide had brought with it a rowboatload of unwanted visitors. Duskers. One of them grabbed him and immediately pulled him onto the boat. The others rained down clubs and kicks on him. He deflected as well as he could but ultimately had to give in. The beating paused and the Duskers stepped aside. In front of the mainland man sat the lovely tidal woman from the gift shop. She looked at him sorrowfully, as the Duskers explained he had committed a heinous crime by staying over in the town at night, that the town after dusk was only for the townspeople and that he would have to be punished. Particularly as the old prison had not taught him the lesson that they had intended it to teach. All the while, the mainland man and the tidal woman just looked at each other.
The Duskers went about tying the mainland man up. He noticed they were doing so with ribbons and gift wrap that looked like they had come straight from the gift shop. He got the strange and morbid irony that they were going for and did not appreciate it. They wrapped him up so tightly that he was almost unable to breathe, let alone move. They shoved gifts into his pockets and into the front of his jacket, which he guessed were to weigh him down in the water after they threw him in. All the while, the mainland man and the tidal woman just looked at each other.
Then the three Duskers picked up the man and threw him overboard. He felt immediately alone in the dark blue water as he sank, weighed down by all the gifts. He looked up to see the words Specialize in violation painted on the side of the boat and wondered what would happen if he reached the bottom. He somehow found an incredible capacity of breath to keep him alive as he drifted down. He thought he would be more panicked, sinking to his death, but felt the calm of being somewhat near the tidal woman wash over him. From his sinking position he heard a muffled splash and looked up to see the lovely woman, also gift wrapped, sinking down towards him. The two of them locked eyes once again, both feeling the unexpected sense of peace, and began unwrapping each other when they got close enough to do so. Once they had freed their arms and legs enough to be mobile, they kicked and paddled upwards until they broke through the surface of the water and took a much needed breath. The mainland man looked around to see that they had drifted out somewhat while they were sinking and unwrapping each other. The woman said that it meant the tide was already on its way out, and that they might be better off waiting until it goes out completely before heading back in, otherwise they’d just be swimming against it. So they stayed. Arms wrapped around one another. Treading water. Shivering and chattering. Talking about all the things they enjoyed about life and hoped to share with each other, now that their life together could start.