Sets (Flash Fiction)

Despite the storm, or maybe because of it, Bob went for a walk. The front was early on its approach with swelling clouds darkening the horizon and giving warning to what would come, and the wind carried a smattering of rain. He headed to the boardwalk to watch the waves.

The beach was abandoned save for a few surfers who were eager to conquer the elements. White caps lashed out of the churning water, and the waves broke like an angry thunder. Bob sat on a bench, not bothered by the wetness absorbing into his jeans, to watch the souls who braved the water. Their wetsuits made them lone dots in a sea of violent gray and white.

One surfer in particular caught Bob’s eye. He stood at the edge of the water with his board tucked under his arm, watching. The ocean stretched up the sand, coming just within reach, and then receded away. The man kept his distance as he looked out, as if touching the water would somehow bias his decision. The wind whipped his long brown hair and stained it black with the rain carried in it. The large waves, empowered by the storm, seemed to taunt him. Suddenly, he sprinted down the beach, dove into the water with his board, and paddled furiously. The waves began their barrage, and Bob knew it would take tremendous effort to paddle beyond the break. The surfer advanced and was pushed back. Advanced, pushed back. His progress was minimal, but he continued on.

That was when the first set hit.

Bob saw the man was out of position and not far enough to clear the break. Mammoth bodies of water rose up and crashed down. White water exploded like a bomb set out to destroy a soldier. Bob found himself holding his breath while the surfer was under. He held and held until the small dot of the surfer’s head broke the surface. The onslaught was fierce, primal, and Bob wondered what the man was feeling as he was under that raging water. He wondered if the seconds passed like hours, if each wave was just another version of life that shoved itself in your face.

It always seems to come in sets, Bob thought. You never see the storm until it’s there, on top of you, thrashing you, drowning you. It hammers without remorse and pushes you down, pushes you away. Blocks the light. Mutes all other sounds. Bob found it harder and harder to hold his breath, and he wondered how it was possible that the man could continue. Why won’t he turn back? Is it too late? He glanced around for anyone who could call out to for assistance, but no one was there.

With each wave, the surfer dove down and pushed through. He fought on. After multiple breaks, the set passed and the water relented. He advanced beyond the wave-break, mounted his board, and rested.

Bob felt a strange guilt come over him. The man had won out, and Bob knew too well that if it were himself in those waters, he would have quit. But that black dot in the white water had persisted. The burdens of Bob’s life swirled in the back of his mind, taunting him like the waves did the surfer. The guilt pressed down as Bob came to realize what his walk was for. Avoidance.

The rain fell harder.

A few minutes later, another set came. This time the surfer was in position. He was patient, waiting for the right break. Three large swells passed before he finally paddled in. The black dot in the raging sea soared as though he were surfing the storm itself. The board carved and cut, and the surfer seemed oblivious to the destruction that chased him. Bob watched the man as he experienced what could have easily been the wave of his life. The ride was punctuated with fists raised in the air and a cheer from his lungs.

Then he turned to paddle out again. More waves pummeled him, but the surfer dove down and pushed through. Dove down, pushed through.

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