Ren Martinez is a procrastinating writer, fairy punk, and distracted geek. Her aesthetic is “would be suspected of witchcraft by local villagers.” She has been published in Potluck Magazine, Margins Magazine, The Mary Sue, and The Quotable, and is also a regular contributor for Quail Bell Magazine. She currently reside in Richmond with a cat who thinks she’s a princess. If you love snark and pictures of cats, you can find her at @renthemusical and itsrenmartinez on Instagram. For more witchy writings and glitterature, head to renmartinez.com.
I stood on a beach in the middle of July and knew that I would not live another year.
I met Her on accident when I was twelve years old. There was a path curving along the back of my neighborhood, a twisted, winding thing that the local kids would venture down only a few steps before running back, giggling to mask the breathlessness of fear. The trees seemed to lean in closer there, as if they were listening to every word. Sounds tended to disappear into the deep green, interrupted only by the occasional whistle of no bird you’ve ever heard before.
The sun had barely filtered through the leaves as I stood at the curve of the path. My best friend was beside me, tittering into the curve of her hands.
“I dare you,” Geena whispered, pointing forward. “I dare you to go further than anyone else.”
I was not the kind of child who couldn’t say no. Even before I was born I was contrary, refusing to leave the womb until two weeks after the due date. My lateness was a character defect, my stubbornness a genetic fact.
The woods seemed to part, allowing a little light to shine through onto the path, flickering gold.
“Fine,” I said. “I will.”
My feet crunched over leaves and dirt, stepping over roots but never leaving the path. I no longer heard Geena calling out my name, only that humming silence that grew louder and louder. Shadows stretched longer, like hands reaching towards me. When the trees broke open, spilling gold like an egg, I had to shield my eyes for one bright moment.
When I recovered, I saw the beach.
The cove was a tiny one, and obviously forgotten, overgrown and cluttered with rocks and shells. The water was shimmering like fire as the sun set. It squeezed into a narrow clinch, like threading a needle, and beyond I could see where the ocean swallowed it up. It was like a tear had fallen, kept secret by the forest’s protective hands.
It took me a moment to realize I wasn’t alone.
“Hello?” I called out. My step forward cracked a shell beneath my shoe.
A girl stood at the edge of the shore, watching the water sweep up and away, up and away. She had long black hair, a little longer than mine, and her skin was a nutty brown. She was wearing a blue dress I almost recognized, and I squinted for a second before recognizing it as one I had seen in my favorite store just the week before. I had asked my mother about it, and she had said maybe when I was older.
“Hey!” I shouted, walking forward. I nearly tripped, my hands catching me before I fell. The sand was pale and soft against my palms.
When I stood back up, the girl had turned around, and I stared into my own face for the first time.
“Who…” Words hesitated to pass my teeth. “Who are you?”
She smiled. “I am You.”
We made each other a promise. Every year, on that July day, we would walk that path through the forest and spend the day at the beach.
“I’ll always be here,” She swore, taking my smaller hand in Hers. “I’ll always come for you.”
“But, what if you’re not?” I asked.
She didn’t answer, but Her hand gripped mine even tighter.
“I’ll see you next year,” She said.
Every year, we met on that beach. Some years, we would talk for hours, sharing memories and telling tales. She would sometimes divulge bits of the future, but always carefully, like shards of sharp glass.
“Don’t talk to Michael Hitchins,” she told me the year I turned sixteen.
When I heard his name called in homeroom that September, my curiosity got the better of me. In October, I said hello. In December, I fell in love. In July, he nearly choked me to death on the kitchen floor.
When I saw Her, the bruises were still fresh on my neck.
“I told you not to.”
One year, She mentioned that she’d never seen a meteor shower. I spent ages researching, mapping out where I would need to be and how to get there. One winter night, I drove up all the way to Edge Peak and laid on top of my car as the sky fell down. When I saw Her at the beach that year, She pulled me into a hug.
“Thank you,” She whispered.
“You never answered my question.”
She was sitting beside me in the sand, Her long hair knotted on top of her head. Her hair was always just slightly longer than mine. I could never catch up.
“What happens if you’re not here?”
A moment passed, and then She glanced at me, the red bindi between Her eyes glinting in the sun, like a wink. Like a secret.
“What answer are you looking for, Devi?” She asked. “What are you hoping for me to say?”
I didn’t say anything. The question still burned in my gut, but only because I knew the answer, and the two of us refused to speak it aloud.
Fingers slipped between mine, and I remembered it was still summer, and She was still here.
“Tell me about that teacher again. Mr. Fitzer?”
She laughed, the same way I laughed, and told me.
I waited on the beach.
The tide came in and out, the sun sank lower beneath the tree line, the sky burning to blood orange, and She never came. It was only me, alone on the shore, even as darkness fell. I stood there, watching the tide sweep in and out, fists clutching the fabric of my blue dress as I stared at my feet. If I turned, if I moved, if I took even one step from this spot, it was towards a future I didn’t know. Terror kept me rooted; grief kept me still.
Somewhere behind me, a shell cracked beneath someone’s shoe.
I knew that voice.
“Hey!” Someone shouted. I heard them nearly fell behind me, but I knew they caught themselves, their hands dark against the pale sand.
When I turned around, She had just gotten back to her feet. Her face was young, but Her eyes were the same.
“Who…” She hesitated. “Who are you?”
I couldn’t help but smile. “I am You.”
“Her” is previously published in Fuck Art, Let’s Dance Issue #012.