As Rodger walked down the path of white stones, his ears reddened from the cold. He tucked his hands under his armpits and increased his pace. He looked left and right regularly, hoping for something. Anything.
What if there was a tide? What would he do when it came in? Behind him he could still see the wound in the sky. But Frederick had been unable to hear him even when he had stood right below the machine. He could easily disappear beneath the cold water and Frederick would never know where he went. Would not even be able to look for him.
Something moved in the waves to his right. He shook his head and looked again, but there was only water. He hurried on.
His nose ran. He wiped it with his sleeve. Why did he ever say yes to this stupid expedition? Oh, he knew the answer to that, he cursed himself under his breath, but what would all that money be worth if he got stuck in this God forsaken dimension? He gazed out across the water to where the sea and sky merged. It looked exactly like the sky had done on his last day at home.
He and Frederick had been to the gym that morning and they had decided to take a walk along the beach before parting. Frederick was going home to his family. Rodger was going home to his empty flat.
‘You’ve never really told me about your family,’ said Rodger picking up a flat stone.
‘There’s not much to tell,’ Frederick pulled his fingers through his messy yellow hair.
‘Tell me what there is’ Rodger tossed the stone and it skipped on the water five times before sinking.
‘Well, I still have my parents,’ said Frederick picking up a stone, ‘my mother makes the best fried chicken.’
Rodger had a sinking feeling.
‘You’ll have to try it when we get back,’ continued Frederick. ‘And my father knows everything about rocks.’ Frederick smiled, ‘but you had better not ask him about that, he can go on for hours.’ He tossed the stone which skipped seven times before plumping under the surface.
‘I’ll keep that in mind,’ said Rodger and threw another stone. It skipped twice. Of course Frederick’s parents were great.
‘Then I have a brother who is two years older than me. He’s a trucker, but shorter than me and so thin it almost looks dangerous. We always joke that he should have been the nurse.’
Rodger looked at the tribal on Frederick’s bulging upper arm. He would never have guessed nurse when he first met Frederick.
‘Then there’s my little sister, Lily,’ Frederick crouched down, picked up and discarded several stones, ‘she’s only twelve.’
‘So she’s, what,’ said Rodger, ‘fourteen years younger than you?’
‘Fifteen,’ said Frederick, ‘and she’s the cutest thing in the world. It’ll be a hassle chasing the boys off when she gets older.’
Rodger tried to smile.
‘It sounds like quite the family.’ Rodger felt an emptiness in his stomach. He should never have asked about the family.
‘It is,’ said Frederick, ‘man, it’ll be tough saying goodbye.’ He studied the stone in his hand. Rodger looked down at him. Frederick turned the stone over and over with his fingers, his blue eyes unfocussed, the corners of his mouth turned down.
‘Why are you going?’ said Rodger.
‘What?’ Frederick looked up.
‘It doesn’t sound like you want to leave them.’
‘I don’t,’ Frederick rose to his feet and gazed out over the water.
‘Then why are you going?’
‘Lily’s going blind.’
Rodger opened his mouth, but closed it again without a sound.
‘It began about a year ago,’ said Frederick with his back turned, ‘she can see with glasses as it is, but it’s getting worse. The doctor says she’ll be blind within the year without an operation. If I just get back from this one expedition, it’ll be enough.’
Rodger swallowed. He went up to Frederick and put a hand on his shoulder.
‘You’ll get back,’ said Rodger, ‘don’t worry, you’ll get back.’
Rodger wiped his nose again as he marched along the white stone path. At least Frederick would still get his share.
This is part three, here are parts one and two: