Jayne woke up to the sound of the surf rolling up, foam curling around her half-sleep the way it had every morning since she stepped off the plane at Santo Domingo. Her dream, already receding with the tide, left a vague warmth of romance inside her, the kind she’d secretly hoped to find on her vacation, a silly fantasy she knew only existed in cheap drugstore novels.
Just as quickly, the pleasant feeling dissipated with the realization that her mouth and throat felt constricted. It was difficult to breathe and –
She sat up, scratching at a maddening itch racing down her cheeks. The hotel room was just as she’d left it – laptop sitting on the desk, blue sundress slung over the leather office chair. She remembered slipping it on and going out for a drink after watching The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon ended. The tiki bar was closed, so she had walked to a tavern up the road. The warm ocean air blew across her legs as an oversized shanty emerged under drooping palm fronds. Yellow light and reggae music burst from the windows, spilling across the sand littered road.
The bar was packed with sweaty islanders. Lopsided grins shouting between gulps of lager and bottom shelf rum. A three piece band played in the corner. She ordered a Mai Tai and sat at the bar, watching her cocktail umbrella tremble with the bass vibrations.
An attractive young man walked up and asked her to dance. “Vamos a bailar?” he asked.
“No, gracias,” she replied without understanding, but he insisted, beckoning her onto the dance floor with skinny brown arms and bright white eyes.
Sitting on her bed now, Jayne scratched her face, frowning at the dry texture of her skin. Her thirst was oppressive now, suffocating her. The bathroom door stood open across the room and she could see the brushed steel faucet over the sink. She stood, then collapsed to the floor.
“Usted es una captura!” the man had shouted as he twirled her around. She kicked off her shoes and let herself go. Soon, the rest of the bar was watching and shouting, “La captura!”
Afterward, they shared a drink at the bar and she asked what it meant. “You are…a good one. The catch,” he told her and smiled.
“And what do you do with…a catch?” she asked with a sly smirk. She moved her lips around a pastel straw and slowly sipped juice and rum.
The man looked puzzled, as if he didn’t follow, then his smile returned, broader than ever. “A catch find true love. One kiss and they belong together forever.”
His words rang in her ears as she stared at the faucet, digging at the carpet with her fingertips and pulled herself forward. Her legs felt numb and stupid, wasted appendages clinging to her hips. The need for water was so bad now she wanted to cry. She tried to lick her lips, but her tongue felt withered in the pit of her mouth. Terrified now, she cried for help, but only weak gurgles came out. As she struggled across the floor, the memory of crawling through sand came back to her.
The man had taken her to the beach and they watched the moonlight move across the waves. Her eyes started to get heavy when a shadow passed through the water. He jumped to his feet, pointing, beckoning her forward, and she leaned in for a closer look. A quick splash and something soft, salty and wet graced her lips. She fell back on her rear, the man’s teeth grinning above her in the dark. The wide ocean moved in and out, sawing between her bare legs.
The next thing she knew she was crawling through the sand, reaching for the light in her bedroom window, the same way she was reaching for the brushed steel faucet right now.
Her fingernails – still the same bright red she’d painted the night before leaving for vacation – crossed over the carpet and onto the cool bathroom tile. One hand slapped the countertop. The other groped for the faucet. Pulling with all her might, Jayne hoisted her face under the streaming water. She drank for minutes, pausing only to run it over her face and neck. It felt like she could never get enough.
Finally, she turned the faucet off and pushed herself up. Her head appeared in the mirror.
Black slimy eyes lay on the sides of her face, which had narrowed to the shape of a blunt arrowhead. Her hair had thinned to kelp-like strings, clinging to the blue-gray scales on her cheeks. Her ringed mouth opened and closed rhythmically. The need for water came over her again with paralyzing urgency.
Jayne screamed soundlessly into the mirror. And behind her, the ocean sighed, groping the sand for true love.