Molly took one step down the beach, then stopped. Her dark hair whipped around in the wind as she turned to look back at Semper. She chewed at her lip and her eyes pleaded with him to not make her go. He took a step toward her and placed one hand on the nape of her neck. Warm waves of relaxation and assurance ran through her body. They looked at each other for a long moment, his face stoic, kind, and fatherly, hers trying desperately to look okay with the idea of the bird walk but not wanting to be away from his side.
Since she had joined Semper’s family, she had spent very little time away from him. True, during the day she might be out in the garden, or washing the clothes down by the river, but he was hardly ever more than a few hundred feet away, and she was never alone; at least one or two of the other women — her sisters — were always with her.
He smiled down at her now, his blue eyes twinkling beneath the long brown hair that wafted gently in the wind. Her chest ached and, despite her attempts to smile back, her lips quivered.
She listened to the waves crashing against the rocks down the gentle, sandy slope behind her and tried to calm her nerves. When she finally thought that she could speak, she opened her mouth to ask if he was sure this was really necessary.
Semper always seemed to know what she was about to say. He gave her a single nod then said, “I wouldn’t rob you of this, Molly. You have doubt in your heart and deserve to have it wiped clean.”
Molly’s eyes flitted briefly from his face to the line of ten faces that stood just behind him. Just last week she had been one of those faces. Her anxiety about her own bird walk had only been quelled by the thought that, at least, she had a week to mentally prepare; it hadn’t helped. That had been Susan’s turn and, like Melissa before her, she had come back even more pure and happy than before. Most came back, but a few didn’t.
Her eyes rested briefly on Sam’s beautiful, round face, framed by short wisps of blonde hair. A pang of guilt ran through Molly’s body. She tried not to compare herself with the other women, but it was obvious that Semper preferred Sam, and it was clear to Molly why. Despite his spiritual talk of overcoming their physical bodies and living above it all, he was still a man, and Sam still had the face and body of a model.
“I’m sorry,” Molly said, her eyes jumping back into his. “I admit, sometimes when you spend the night with the others I get a little jealous, and having to watch hurts a little, but you said yourself that it’s a natural part of growing into our true happiness…”
“It is evidence of a deeper doubt, my sweet Molly, and it is expected, which is why you need to be given the chance to either embrace or purge it.”
Semper leaned close and kissed her forehead. Molly breathed in his musky, comforting scent and her breath quivered.
“I love you,” she whispered.
“I know, Molly. Go, now down the beach and around the corner. Get lost in the thunder of crashing waves, the smell of the ocean, and the warm embrace of the sunlight. We’ll lose sight of you, but we’ll be here, waiting for you to come back to us.”
“How long do I have to wait?” she asked, trying to buy some time, knowing that chemically-induced courage would be on the way shortly.
“Molly, you’ve stood witness for the bird walks of so many. You know you have to wait until the sun is down.”
“Then I can come back and never be away from you again?”
“Once the sun is down, and you’ve spent your time wrapped in beauty, purity, and truth, all else will have melted away and you will know exactly how you feel. If you choose to come back to us, you will come back with stronger faith than ever, but if you find that you miss your old life, this is your chance to return to it free of judgment.”
Around the corner there was a path up to a different parking lot. There was a bus stop there that ran back into town. The path was completely obscured from where Semper and the rest of the family sat waiting. Just like a loosed bird, if she came back, then it was because she truly loved them, not because she felt pressure to stay or didn’t know how to leave. The magic of the place would clean her heart and leave only the truth behind – at least, that’s how Semper had explained it.
“Go now, Molly, the time has come. If you choose to leave, you go with our blessings. If you return to us, you return to loving and grateful arms; but to return-” he gestured down the beach, “first you must go.”
Molly turned without another word and started down the beach, determined now to show her strength. She planned to walk down around the corner, wait for the sun to go down, then run back up to them. She walked into the blinding sunlight with the thunder of crashing waves wrapped around her. When she made it about halfway down the slope, she glanced back over her shoulder. Her thin shadow pointed directly back toward their small forms, all sitting in the sand now. They wouldn’t be able to see her anymore, she was lost in the glare of the sunlight. Taking a deep breath laced with sea foam, Molly turned back down the hill and continued her bird walk. It hurt to be so far away from him.
Once upon a time she hadn’t been able to wait to be by herself, craving alone time and loathing anyone that stood in her way. That, though, had been before she had found somewhere that she really felt she belonged: before Semper had found her. When Semper had approached her at the farmer’s market and told her about how they lived, the idea of living with such simplicity had appealed to her in a way more akin to longing than preference. When she had joined them, only a week later (despite the outraged cries of her parents), she had found that her daily work was harder than she had ever worked in her life, but she didn’t mind because she was happy. It was good, honest work, which had clear, and simple goals. They cultivated food, so that they may eat. They cultivated friendship, so they would not be lonely. They served Semper, so that he would look on them with favor. At the end of every day of hard labor, she would wait eagerly to find out which three women got to climb into the great central bed of their sleeping chamber and make love to Semper. The rest of them would watch from the long, padded surface that ran in a ring around the outside of the room which would be their bed for the evening.
When she was chosen, it was the happiest she had ever been, and when she wasn’t, it hurt. The pain just made the naked embrace of the women around her more comforting as they peered from the shadows. Not being chosen strengthened her bond to her sisters, just as Semper had taught them.
As Molly approached the corner, she found that she was losing herself in the light. She could still see the things around her, but the piercing sunlight made it all seem so ephemeral and thin. Lacing her weed with Semper’s powder had always shown her the weakness of reality and the fragility of social constructs. Now the rocks and sand and sky looked ready to shatter and fall away, leaving only her, the sun, and the sounds of crashing waves.
Turning the corner, she unclipped the pin holding the thin cloth about her shoulders, and it slid off in the wind. The toke Semper had given her just before sending her down the beach was starting to settle in and she wanted to feel with all of her body as she lay on the sand. Semper had said to lose herself in the beauty as the sun set, and Semper always knew best; that was just what she would do. Then, when it was over, she would go back to him and he wold surely choose her that night.
Without breaking her stride, she untied her sarong and let it flutter to the sand behind her. Her entire body tingled.
She stooped to the ground and stretched out on the wet sand, running her hands up and down her stomach and chest. She let the sounds of crashing waves fall all around her and smiled as the cold tips of sea foam reached up to tickle and exhilarate her naked skin before retreating back into the ocean.
Every sense felt so strong and crisp, even while the separate senses mixed into each other. The sounds of the ocean had a blue taste and the sweet beams of sunlight smelled fresh. She became aware of every bubble brushing against her and every grain of sand clinging to her prickling flesh.
The feeling of a tongue against her inner thigh sent chills up her body that were so strong she didn’t even question where it had come from. It wasn’t until the sensation had slithered all the way around her thigh that she realized it wasn’t Semper licking her at all. Whatever it was, it was cold and clammy. Though it was tantalizing, it didn’t work up her leg toward her vagina, but instead wrapped itself around her leg. She caught her breath and looked down to find a thick tentacle wrapped around her thigh just as the appendage began to tighten and jerked her toward the breaker.
She screamed as she tried to scramble away from the water, but the unimaginable strength of the tentacle pulled her toward the ocean. Another tentacle shot out with lightning speed and grasped her around the middle as her hands clawed uselessly at the wet sand. Her screams of terror only faltered as she was pulled beneath the water.
Lost to the waves and wind, her cries never reached the ears of Semper and his family. Semper had been sure that Molly would come back to him, but when she didn’t he would take it as affirmation of his beliefs about the bird walk. One simply never knew; even some of his flock that he felt so sure were committed decided to go catch the bus and leave.
As the sea monster pulled the struggling girl toward his massive jaws, he noticed that it was another hippy girl. He had gotten a few hippies here lately, which was great; he preferred to eat organic.