Atonement

I was walking along a secluded beach when suddenly a goat appeared in front of me. I don’t know how it snuck up on me because the beach was wide, with nowhere to hide. We stood staring at each other for a moment. It was a stalemate. What was that goat thinking?

A rumble came from beyond the dunes which broke the goat from its trance. It bolted straight into the waves and swam out to sea. I didn’t know goats could swim. The rumble grew louder.

The source of the sound came roaring closer. It barged partly over the sand dunes, and partly through the sand dunes. The headlights were like the eyes of a beast, and it stopped on the beach in front of me. It was a monstrous SUV with a crust of rust and a driver whose eyes met mine just like the goat’s had before.

We stared at each other briefly before the driver turned his gaze forward and drove into the sea. The vehicle floated briefly before it was completely engulfed by a wave, leaving no trace. I tried to call emergency services, thinking that a drowning was afoot, but there was no signal.

I began to run back to my parked car when my phone rang. “This is emergency services. It’s YOU who’s in danger.” What were they talking about?

“Don’t look at the neon sign!” Shouted the operator, before hanging up abruptly. I put my phone in my pocket, only to realise that it wasn’t my phone at all, but a clam shell. I looked ahead at the neon sign that was standing halfway between the sea and the dunes ahead. As the waves came nearer, the sign glowed brighter, and as they receded the sign dimmed. Each time it glowed brighter it was apparent that it said something different than what it said before. The glass tubes that held the luminous gas were morphing before my eyes, like carpet snakes entangled in a fight to the death.

I couldn’t avert my gaze, even after hearing that phone operator’s warning. Suddenly the goat reappeared from behind the dunes. It was bone dry, like it hadn’t even touched the water. It approached the sign, which was a hundred yards away, turned to me and stared. With a booming voice that sounded like it was being shouted directly into my ear, the goat said “the operator told you not to look at the sign.”

The goat’s tail stood upright and began to move like it had a mind of its own. It began to wrestle with the serpentine glass tubes of the neon sign. The goat maintained its soul-piercing glare with me as the sign engulfed it like a python constricting its prey.

The goat’s legs disembodied themselves and trotted into the ocean, leaving the tail and body entangled in the luminous mess. As the sign grew brighter one final time – brighter this time than any time before – the man in the SUV appeared behind a wave. He was sitting on the roof as the car floated towards the shore. Air rifle in hand, the SUV man took aim at the sign and just as the glow became painfully bright, the man fired. With a barely audible pop, the neon sign shattered and the lights of the world turned off. The sky turned from blue into pitch black, and the sun went out like a light bulb. The roar of the sea was gone – sucked into a vacuum – and silence prevailed until it was broken by the final sound.

The goat’s booming voice said to me “now begins your atonement.”

T

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