It was a warm, wet night, in a late Los Angeles October. The afternoons still felt like summer, but once the time changed back to its dreary winter slumber the nights felt long and dark. The sun set, the air cooled, and thick fog rose up from the ocean and crept ashore like clockwork; by midnight the atmosphere was dank, and reminded Wes of his imagined Sleepy Hollow. There was no clip-clop behind him of a pursuing Headless Horseman, but each time a car raced past above on Pacific Coast Highway he flinched, and pulled his burden closer around his shoulders for shelter.
Wes didn't need light to find his way across these familiar sands -- he'd been here many times before. The beach was smooth, the summer's footprints worn away by autumn's neglect, except for the trail he sought. There it is! Wes sighed, forlorn. Every year he came, and every year he hoped beyond hope that he wouldn't find them. The tiny footprints ran east, parallel to the lapping surf he couldn't see through the fog; in his mind it was a hot, clear afternoon. He wasn't alone; families lounged around him, children laughed and played in the waves, and his beloved Beatrice walked beside him.
"We'll bring our children here someday," she said, snuggling close and whispering in his ear. Wes squeezed her hand in reply. The water sparkled, the sky was bright, and everything was right in the world. Beatrice pulled away and smiled. "Want to go swimming?"
Wes shook his head silently, and almost stumbled before shifting the weight on his shoulders and continuing his trudge along the empty beach. Empty, except for the memory of Beatrice and the footprints she had worn into the sand, so many years ago. He followed them into the dark fog, and caught his breath when they suddenly turned seaward.
There, in the sand, where he knew they'd be, but hoped they wouldn't… a white sun dress and a straw hat. She threw them off at his feet and danced into the water. He dropped to his knees and pushed his burden into the sand. Tears welled up in his eyes as Wes reached down and clutched the thin fabric. He took it up gingerly, slowly, and buried his face in the folds of cloth that still smelt like woman, like vanilla, like summer, like love.
Once his tears slowed, he left the dress in the sand; he knew he couldn't take it with him, and he couldn't bear the thought of not finding it next year, still fresh. He took the straw hat and inspected it closely; it had caught a few strands of her hair, and Wes pulled them gently free and shoved them in his pocket.
Then he looked up. The footprints turned towards the sea, and he sighed again. This was always the hardest part. Wes shook his head – he didn't want to go swimming, but he grabbed hold of his offering by the arm and stood up, trembling.
Slowly, he dragged himself alongside Beatrice's trail. In her footprints he could see her dancing steps, her twirls and leaps and she plunged into the grasping ocean. The water surged as he approached, but only reluctantly revealed itself through the mist. Wes looked at the sand beneath his feet, willing himself to the water's edge, but no farther.
"Beatrice!" he yelled, hoarse, and again, "Beatrice, my love!"
The waves fell back, and revealed a girl lying on the wet sand. As always, he shuddered, but held himself back. She was pale, and cold, but when she turned her eyes up towards him there was still a certain fire that beckoned him into her embrace. How he longed to feel her arms around him once again! But no.
Beatrice pushed herself to her feet and approached. "My darling," she whispered. "How I miss you, I'm so lonely. My heart aches without you."
Wes shook his head and looked away. "No, dear Beatrice."
"Come with me," she sighed. "Come into the water." She stood now at the very boundary of the world, the thin line of damp sand that separated land and sea, life and eternity.
Her eyes darkened, even as her outstretched hand faltered. "Then why have you come, my love? Only to torment me?"
Wes shook his head, and pulled his burden forward. With a grunt he hefted the slumbering man into his arms and held him out. "For you."
Her eyes shifted again. "My dear Wesley, it's you I long for."
"I can't, Beatrice, I can't," Wes replied. "Take him, please."
The pale figure of a woman pursed her lips and held out her arms. "When will it be our time?" she asked, and she accepted the offering.
Wes jerked his hand back as he brushed against the cold, wet flesh of his beloved.
"Am I that hideous to you?" she asked quietly.
"No," he said, and stepped back from the edge. "I'll be back."
"I know you will," she whispered, turning towards the water, weighed down but gliding over the sand, leaving no trace of her passage other than the prints left long ago.
"I love you!" Wes cried out over the ocean, as fog fell into the void of Beatrice's wake; the only reply was a mighty, crashing wave that lunged up onto the sand as if to swallow him, but he quickly made his escape.