Anomalies of Painted Tides


Artistic inspiration is a strange thing, coming to be at the most unexpected of times and filling the mind with blooming colors of ideas, thoughts fresh and brilliant as a monarch butterfly that has just emerged from its cocoon. It brings forth something like itching in the fingertips with the overwhelming urge to create, to translate the mind’s new fabrication into the material world.

Like a person learning a new language, not all translations are perfect. Sometimes the proverbial speaker doesn’t yet know the words to get their idea across, resulting in unintentional miscommunication. Other times, there is simply no word in either the speaker’s primary language nor the learning one, to wholly express what they want to say. Regardless, neither of these things stop linguists from pressing forward, as they easily find other words and phrases to work around the hurdle, and while the intended concept is incomplete, it is still expressed to some degree, which is one of the steps of progress.

Inspiration struck Beck very early that morning, when she was eating breakfast in the kitchen. It was one of those studio apartment kitchens, where it was the same room as the living room, and there were stools at the counter instead of the usual table and chairs. One of the walls of the apartment, the one to her left, to be exact, was almost one giant window, through which beams of morning sunlight passed, washing over her houseplants and gifting them with the day’s worth of nutrition. Her cat Adelaide slept peacefully on the floor, directly in the sunlight, while soft acoustic tunes crooned from the small device next to her.

The ocean, she thought. The ocean, it’s so massive, so vast and deep, holding so much untapped knowledge… Beck’s mind swam with what could be hidden in its depths, and how to convey that through the rudimentary tool that was paint. She knew immediately, right then and there, what she was going to paint, and where she was going to paint it.

A joy and excitement bubbled in her insides as she finished breakfast and got ready to leave the apartment. She had the day off, entirely to herself, and she was about to spend it pursuing a new goal within her main hobby. Some of her art supplies were already in the back of her car, as they always were, so she hastily dressed without that worry, donning a loose white T-shirt, a worn jean jumper and her favorite sunflower yellow sneakers. It was comfortable and practical; the front pocket in the jumper being an extremely convenient place to store extra paint brushes. Wasting no time, she made a beeline for the yellow VW Beetle in the parking lot, hopped in, and took to the road.

Words were difficult when used to describe a very specific feeling, one of those feeling being in a vehicle with the windows down in the summer, driving into the countryside, the fresh air clean and whole, when one is unbridled by day-to-day responsibilities and ultimately free. Beck didn’t try to piece words together in her mind to describe the experience; rather she chose to savor it, relishing in the moment for what it was at that tiny, specific moment in time. As she drove, she started to smell the salty scent of the ocean, first as a barely perceptible hint, becoming more pronounced through the walls of the trees, lively and green in this warm season. She could hear the waves crashing against the rocks and sand as she neared her destination, a sound bringing forth delight and clarifying the inspirational idea in her mind.

Beck turned to a smaller road that diverged from the main route, a bit more beaten down and overtaken by nature. Tall grass and dandelions dared closer to the pavement here, blades of grass poking through the cracks in the man-made path, content in their earthy rebellion. The side road was arched over by trees, a green canopy above it all, and Beck thought back to childhood stories and fairy tales in which magic existed and thrived in nature, in forests and meadows and massive old trees. She might be twenty-three now, instead of a mere seven years old, but something about those stories stuck with her as she grew. If magic truly was real, it was in places like this.

The smaller road twisted and turned, climbing a slight hill before the green canopy ended, trading places with the clear morning sky. Ahead lay a parking area, though it barely constituted as such, being untended to for some time. Painted lines in the pavement had faded until they were barely even there anymore, and the garbage bin, unused for some time, had become a home for some local spiders, their webs woven across the circular opening. Beck did have a few pieces of garbage in her car — just a paper bag and some napkins, really — but she hadn’t the heart to disturb the arachnids and their home.

She exited her car, took her art supplies from the back, and began to scale what was left of the hill. It wasn’t much, really, since she could see its top from where she began. The dirt path was overgrown as well, tall grass brushing past her legs, a few strands getting caught between the laces of her shoes. Instead of annoyance or irritation, Beck was thankful for the experience — to whom exactly, she wasn’t sure — and resisted the strong urge to take her shoes and socks off, and complete the rest of the climb barefoot. Common sense prodded her gently in the back of her mind, though, reminding Beck of snakes and bugs and other small animals that hid in the grass, creatures with the capability to harm her, and so the sneakers remained laced.

At last, Beck reached the summit, peering over the cliffside to where the waves crashed against rock and marine life swam about in the churning tides. She couldn’t see anything below the surface from where she stood, but with all that open space, how could there not be life?

She spread her art supplies over the grass, beginning the process by assembling her easel. It was one of those wooden ones that folded up conveniently, so that part didn’t take too long. The canvas was next, then tubes of paint were opened, their colored contents deposited onto the palette. A myriad of paintbrushes, each with different thickness and use, found their way into the front pocket of her jumper, and with the subject of creativity in plain view, Beck began to paint.

The process wasn’t always a fast one, nor was it always slow in pace. Timing was subjective, not determined by the size of the canvas or what was being painted. Timing could not be predicted or anticipated; it was one of those things that just happened.

She was just dotting the unfinished sea with specks of sunlight, adjusting the horizon with mere hints of a coastline, when something started that couldn’t be easily explained. As many things do, it began with a sound, a sound torn from the sea, a massive creature’s cry cut off a second too soon. Beck recognized the sound, having heard one very similar in the years of her youth. Her family had gone out on the bay with a whale watching group, and while they’d only really seen blowhole fountains and tail splashes, it was the voices of these creatures that really stuck with her. They were somber and drawn out, like nothing she had ever heard before.

Why was she hearing whales here, though? The water in the area was far too shallow, and whales didn’t tend to venture too close to land. Beck put the brush down, stepping closer to the cliff’s edge to get a better look, and was absolutely baffled with the sight that met her eyes. The sea bubbled like mad — only in one particular area, though — as if it were contained within a pot and boiling, then shapes began to rise from the water. They were dark and massive, lifting into the air from the blue depths, head first, then fins and body and tail, until there were five of them, five dark and speckled whales suspended in midair. They were silent, somber voices long since cut off, and utterly motionless for those few seconds before crashing back into the ocean with a colossal splash.

Take a picture, she thought, though the idea came too late. The spectacle had vanished below the surface of the sea, but the waves from their descent persisted, washing to the shore and the cliff and the beach in the distance. There were people on the beach too, tiny specks of humankind, many of them rushing to where sand met the sea. They’d seen it too; Beck hadn’t hallucinated it. The spectators gravitated to the shoreline, like iron filings to a magnet, even as the waves from the whales’ descent bore down upon them.

Beck watched, wordless, as large shapes became discernible among the froth of the sea, the waves bringing something forth to the shore. She already knew what it was before it was entirely visible, something in her just knew, and felt unsettled to say the least, when the bodies of the five whales washed ashore. The urge to take a photo struck again, and again she didn’t listen, something telling her that wasn’t a good idea.

One of the onlookers stepped closer to the beached whales, as if drawn in by some unknown force, and placed a hand upon its side. Maybe they’d never seen a whale before; Beck wasn’t one to judge people for their actions. The whale tipped over to one side, its mouth opening just a bit, and a mass of colored plastics spilled out. It was hard to discern from where she stood, but the deluge looked to her like it had come straight from a landfill. Shocked, the onlooker jumped back before the plastic pooled around their ankles, and the others around them followed suit, keeping a safe distance from the bizarre spectacle before them.

In the distance, Beck could see police cars approaching, their red and white flashing lights cutting through streets as they made their way to the beach. There were two of them, followed by what looked like two larger black vehicles, all four of them pulling up to the beach, treading rather ungracefully upon the sand as they came to a stop. Officers stepped out, but instead of heading straight for the unusual spectacle, their focus seemed to be on the spectators. The spectators were herded away from the beached sea creatures by the officers, towards the large black vehicles, where they were ushered inside.

At that point, she knew she had to leave. Beck was dealing with something far bigger than she could handle by herself, so she hastily packed up her art things and descended down the hill to where the VW Beetle was parked. With everything stashed in the back, albeit messily, Beck keyed the ignition and veered out of there.

Earlier today, not even two hours ago, she’d found herself reveling in the sheer beauty of the moment, in the wonders of nature and the warmth of the summer air, but she felt that no longer. The elements around her remained unchanged, but Beck herself was absolutely struck with what she’d just seen, her mind trying to comprehend it, trying to find a reasonable explanation. For the whales, there was no way in nature that they could have risen from the water like that. She recalled the way they’d levitated, almost as if possessed by some evil force or controlled by an otherworldly puppeteer. As for the officers, she was all too familiar with the concept of the government controlling everything, keeping hidden things that could cause public upheaval. She had gone to an art school, after all, and that sort of information was common knowledge there.

When she got home, the first thing Beck did was collapse onto her couch. She climbed the stairs to her apartment, unlocked the door, and sank onto the cushions, allowing her mind to work through and process what she’d just experienced. Adelaide noticed her arrival and joined her there, making herself perfectly at home atop Beck’s outstretched legs.

She couldn’t help but smile; Adelaide always seemed to understand when her owner was stressed and brought her comfort. Beck patted the cat’s head thoughtfully.

“Adelaide, you wouldn’t believe what I just saw today,” she said. “Didn’t expect to go whale-watching, and I know I’m definitely going to start recycling more.”

The cat didn’t meow back or anything, opting to lay down instead, and Beck scratched behind her ears, continuing. “They just flew out of the air and floated there, like they were hanging or something. You should have seen it, it was so weird. And then the police showed up! The people on the beach, they got carted into these black vans...Adelaide, do you think there’s a conspiracy?”

Adelaide gave her a blank look, as cats often do.

“Do cats even have conspiracies?” she wondered aloud. “I know some people think you guys can see ghosts and stuff, but flying whales and all that plastic…” It was thick, she recalled, compacted together and yet simultaneously fluid. Where did it even come from, and how did it get inside the whales?

Beck laid back, fully reclining on the couch while her cat closed her eyes to nap. She had no idea what had happened to those onlookers on the beach, but could only imagine what strange and unknown means of interrogation the police were using on them, no doubt at this very moment. Her thoughts gravitated toward memory-wiping chemicals for some reason, and she could only picture the civilians clustered together in a room, forced to stare at hypnotic, moving patterns on screens and breathing in fumes against their will as they were forced to forget.

She was lucky It was only a thought, of what could be happening, but she counted herself very lucky.

Sure enough, the next day held absolutely no news coverage of the event. It carried on like any other normal day, as if nothing unusual had happened. Beck followed suit, going to work as per usual, continuing on in normalcy with the rest of the people. And yet, it was still shocking to realize the world that she was living in, that the people in charge of it all were essentially liars. Yes, under some occasions, those in power will cover up the truth to prevent a mass ruckus, but the scale of dishonesty didn’t sit quite right with her.

She drove to work, same as usual, and she was the only civilian to know of the bizarre anomaly that occured the day previous, when she went to paint the sea.