A Cry of Defiance

Claire Russell

Jesse stood in the water while small waves lapped gently at his ankles. In the black of the night, the unseen expanse of ocean overpowered him with its vastness. For a moment, he considered returning to the mindless chatter around the fire, but the challenge before him bore down on him. A warm hand carefully gripped his, and he looked into the darkness for the face he knew was there. The challenge was risky; with no light, their way was impossible to determine other than by instinct. He wondered if instinct was enough. Their reasoning was incomprehensible, but things had always been that way; spontaneous and impulsive. Driven by the desire for conquest, two people set out to test their ultimate limits. They shared the opinion that the more they saw of the world, the less they liked it. So much was done for people. In this, the challenge had some appeal aside from the rebellious nature of an escape from expectations. In many ways, the main enemy in their lives was themselves.

“Come on then,” said the husky voice beside him.
He breathed deeply for a few moments, then squeezed her hand tightly. Gabby squeezed back and squelched the cool wet sand between her toes. She was scared too, but she didn’t want him to know. With their backs to each other, they stripped to their underwear, and left clothes strewn carelessly across the deserted beach. Gabby shivered slightly, and took a few steps into the water until it caressed her knees. Jesse followed, and they stood and looked at each other in the shallows for a few moments before the moon hid behind a cloud again. Each silently questioned the meaning behind this challenge. A challenge to themselves; to conquer the forces of nature, if they dared. These two people, headstrong and seemingly invincible, had to prove something against an awesome force.

“This is it,” Jesse said with the words catching in his throat, in response to her arm around his powerful shoulders. They stood quietly, seemingly engrossed in the water. In the dark it was difficult to make out their eyes, but the whites shone slightly with the glow of moonlight creeping out from behind a cloud. Understanding of each other’s trust and determination grew between them as their eyes met. Her stomach lurching, Gabby glanced away with a flushed face. Jesse felt her nails digging into his skin. Finally, startled into action by a swell in the faint sound of distant voices, they ran into the waves and dived under the water into the cold darkness. They swam close together, almost touching, fighting the power of the waves and overcoming fear of the deep cold space below them. Hand brushed thighs and feet struck stomachs, but the pain wasn’t felt by either. Electrifying impulses ran through Jesse’s body, his black skin merging with the dark water until they almost became one. He reached out to feel Gabby – his fingers passed along her arm as she surged alongside him.

Night-time progressed as the two untamed swimmers ploughed heedlessly towards Bass Strait. Water forced its way up their noses, filled their mouths with salty foam and tugged at their meagre clothing. Gabby’s eyes stung with the salty water and her parched throat felt ragged. Jesse’s shoulders collapsed every few stroke and his skin felt tight. Still they struggled onward, not sure of their destination of their direction. Their emergence from the shelter of the bay became apparent when they encountered sudden turbulence in the waves. Jesse’s gasping breath became evident to Gabby, but she was crying silently into the waves with her own pain. Cramps crippled them, gripping their stomachs and legs with such vigour that they were forced to stop momentarily. Despite their physical condition and only partial recovery, the pair once again moved competently, pursuing an unexplainable objective that had only entered their heads a few hours previously.

Neither of them could understand exactly why they were behaving the way they were. It wasn’t even possible to determine who had first issued the challenge. To Jesse, it seemed that one of the group had suggested it, everyone had scoffed, and Gabby had decided to challenge herself, convincing Jesse to join her. Laughing, they had apprehensively joked about the impulse to dive into the ocean and swim forever, simply to defy nature. But the challenge germinated and grew.

Sea-jellies washed over them soundlessly, carried by the ocean’s immense power and left the two riddled with stings. The same power tumbled them further and further out to sea. They were swimming less and less, simply battling to stay in reach of each other as nature’s fury pummelled and bruised their bodies. Both had passed the pain-barrier and acted instinctively. In blindness they strove on against the chaotic water, dragging their numb bodies onwards.

Even the tears had ceased – there was not sufficient energy left to cry. Seaweed entwined itself in their hair, tying knots and wrenching their scalps. On the horizon, the sky had lightened, unnoticed by the swimmers clawing their way through a sea of emotion. Still they swam close, touching more frequently and for longer. Hands paused on a head and fingers rested fleetingly on legs. Fear had subsided; in its place a determination to reach an unknown point beyond punished their bodies and minds. They hadn’t properly rested since they had left the shore.

Dawn advanced fierily into the sky, revealing two mortals with their heads barely above the water; alone in a tight embrace. Arms enclosed bodies, and turbulence battered them from beneath. They could no longer see any land which was close enough to swim to. They swallowed water in a frantic effort to gulp some air and kicked savagely in a desperate attempt to conquer the violent energy of nature triumphing over them. They clasped each other, still conscious of their actions. Cold water pitched them around carelessly. In a feeble attempt to gain some warmth, their hands rubbed each other’s flesh, and their clench became tighter. While they were being tossed around, Gabby had vomited and Jesse tenderly washed it from her face.

Squawking gulls circled overhead, paying little attention to the dying couple. Gabby and Jesse found that they were unable to disentangle themselves – the cold had locked their limbs together.

Awareness faded, and shoulders became resting spots for exhausted heads. They both knew they couldn’t survive much longer against the elements. They sank slowly, only to swallow water, and fighting exhaustion, for instinct to force them to the surface again. They had become one. Their actions were one, and their feelings were one. But even instinct could not defy the strength of nature. They weakened dramatically and finally. They had lost their clothes entirely, early in the night, but neither had realised. A final sudden surge of power dragged the bodies under for the last time. They sank, as one, with heads resting together, a stole of seaweed around their shoulders.

  • * *

On the beach from which a wild young couple had departed, clothing lay scattered among the driftwood, sprinkled with sand and grit. The bodies were never recovered. Mourning parents visited the site often, in the hope of gaining some understanding. Friends shook their heads sadly, believing their actions to be suicide, the only means of escape from the pressure of a fast-paced world. Newspaper headlines referred to the ironic accident of the two young greenies who were claimed by the very wilderness they were trying to protect. Still, nobody really understood. Not even Gabby and Jesse. A challenge different from any encountered before, an ultimate challenge had mesmerised them. Some inexplicable force had drawn them to a place others couldn’t visit.

Journal Comments

  • Anneli
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