There is the smell of brine and of rotten vegetation, and of something else. There is the sound of water falling upon itself. His bare feet are cold and damp and there is grit between his toes. The sand is wet but he is unsure if the tide is coming in or going out.
He can’t see the water.
He can hear the push and plash of wave upon wave, falling forever up the beach. He can hear the hiss as grains of sand as they rub, one against the other. The sea pushes and pulls at the shore, grinding, forever grinding, eventually wearing away the land and absorbing the minerals into its salty self.
He stands within a thick fog. It presses in from all directions, a uniform greyness. It makes the skin on his face and neck feel the same kind of wet sliminess that his feet feel on the sand. The fog on his brow collects into droplets that run down his face and neck. It tickles.
Blind in the fog, he walks forward. The volume of the sea sounds is constant and never seems to fade or rise. He thinks that he may have been walking for a long time, mile-upon-mile. Although, he still feels full of energy, fresh and not fatigued at all.
The fog thickens the smell of rot. It might be seaweed, heaped in wet piles, as the sea retreats, or it might be something else. Whatever it is, it leaves a sharp and tangy sensation at the back of his throat. The stench of it is held suspended in the droplets of fog. He is drenched in it. His nasal cavities feel full of it, it runs down his throat like cold snot.
The smell is on him, around him, in him.
He wants to cough it up, he needs to cough it up. To spit and retch and be rid of it. To get that foul accumulation out of his lungs. It feels like an invasion. But how do you stop yourself from breathing?
The sound of the waves is a steady presence coming from his right. As he walks within the grey he adjusts his direction to keep the sound of the sea there. He must keep it there. It shows him that he is walking towards something and not in circles. It is his only reference point. The sound is there, just as it has always been, as the waves strike the beach, erode the coast, turn cliffs to boulders, boulders to pebbles, pebbles to sand. He feels like he has been walking for an age.
He coughs. Once, twice, thrice. Something comes up and it feels weighty in his mouth. He spits it out and keeps on walking. He does not feel unwell, he has no fever, yet what he had just expelled had the right consistency and heft of well-cured pneumonia - phlegm rich and potent. That other smell, that under smell, is back stronger than ever. Something rotten.
He coughs again, harsher, and there is pain. He staggers with the violence of his cough. He holds his hands up to his mouth and when he looks, his palms are covered in red. He sniffs them. This is the source of the smell. He wipes his palms on his clothes, and they disintegrate on his frame. They are wet and slimy and nothing more than rags.
The sound of the waves stops.
Something wet runs out of his ear. He lifts his hand but there is something wrong. He tries to click his fingers beside his ear but his fingers are too soft, too wet. He puts the tip of his pinky finger into his ear and it comes out warm. It’s covered in blood and ear wax. He can’t hear anything anymore.
He falls to his knees. He is naked. He feels like he is nothing more than slime. He feels his breath as it rattles in his chest and throat. He can’t hear it.
He wants to lie down. The fog coalesces and holds him up.
His laboured breathing stops. His eyes are gelatinous puddles on his face. His brain, still being fed oxygen feels his body dissolve. The fog holds him, cradles him, into itself. His brain is the last to go.
No eyes, no ears and no brain.
Yet he hears voices and sees figures in the distance, emerging from the uniform grey. He is welcomed.
And is glad.