When the tide finally exhausts itself to the sea, it leaves behind a graveyard of broken shells and tangled seaweed and debris from the boardwalk across the way. Sometimes the fish trap themselves amongst the muscles and spend their last few minutes gasping for the aqueous air they’ve always known. Sometimes transparent jellyfish parts decorate the lines between the ocean and the sand like the laced edge of a tablecloth. Sometimes other creatures beach themselves, always by accident, and often a tragedy, if not for human kindness.
I was often on the beach as a child, as it was only a block and change from my house, and I loved to spend my time with the wild sea creatures I learned about in my local aquarium. Once, I was on the beach when the low tide had just settled. A crowd of people had gathered – all bikini-clad and sun-pinked from the afternoon – around a particular spot before the sea. When I approached them, I saw they had found a horseshoe crab, an ancient crustacean with little acknowledgement of the human world. The half-dressed men were shouting at it, holding their children at bay, trying to figure out how to toss it back into the sea from which it came without it attacking them.
A horseshoe crab has a long, thin tail, not unlike a ray’s stinger, but the horseshoe crab is harmless; that tail exists solely for turning themselves over when they’re stuck on their back. This one’s was flailing wildly, trailing behind it as it scurried around, looking for a way back to the waves, unable to sense it from afar. Its shell is heavy, hinged in between the angular head and spiked body, and despite all the legs underneath, it moves rather ungracefully on the sand – it can only really glide underwater. It clobbered around the old edge of the tide, stumbling over the daytripper’s garbage and fragmented clam shells.
The people moved away when it approached, shrieking as if it were an alien – and perhaps, to them, it was. It was unknown and shaped like danger, like the thing that killed a famous animal expert years ago. But it was known to me, so I cradled the horseshoe crab in both my arms, letting its multitude of clubbed feet scrape against my skin, letting its tail flop and poke around, ignoring the reprimands of the grown men afraid of the crab.
I was maybe six years old or eight or twelve – young enough to be yelled at but old enough to understand that the horseshoe crab needed to go home. I walked out to the tide, until the water reached my hips, and laid the horseshoe crab down under the water. It ran itself in a circle, like a puppy ecstatically chasing its tail, before vanishing into the great green of the saltwater sea, and I never saw it again, but I never needed to.
Georgia Riordan (she/they) is a writer originally from a square-mile town on the Jersey Shore. She has a BA in Writing from Ithaca College, where she also studied English, literature, studio art, digital art, and education. Her work primarily focuses on the topics of mental health, trauma, and identity within the genres and cross-genres of poetry, magical realism, and horror. Her previous publications include The Asbury Park Press, Il Giornalino 2017, Odyssey’s online platform, Zoetic Magazine, and Vermilion Magazine, among others.