Strong waves pounded the dark sand just a few yards away. Hidden by beach grass, they embraced, relieved to finally escape their wedding guests. His poetic whispers suddenly ceased as he leaned back, and said, “There’s something I need to tell you…”

(Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.)

When their wedding guests weren’t looking, John stole a crumpled red tablecloth out of a laundry cart, grabbed Nora, and pulled her outside. The smiling full moon angled its shine at them like a spotlight, guiding them down the pier to the beach. They said nothing, just smiled every time they made eye contact. The tide was high, reaching out for their bare toes. They found the softest sand in the dunes and spread the tablecloth among the bouquets of beach grass.

Nora started to kneel on the cloth but John hoisted her back up. He mimed turning an invisible doorknob and opening an invisible door. He lifted Nora into his arms and carried her across an imaginary threshold. John gently set her down and leaned over to kiss her. His red tie swung out and tickled her nose. She giggled and batted at it like a kitten swiping at yarn.

“Did you have a good day?” John asked. His light brown eyes and equally light brown hair matched the color of the sand around them.

The moonlight reflected off of Nora’s pearl teeth when she smiled. “It was perfect,” she said. “Perfect.”

“Was it?” John drew his long fingers through Nora’s red hair. “One hundred percent?”

Nora outlined his lips with the palm of her thumb. “We’re at my favorite place in the world. We ate my favorite food and danced to my favorite music.” She tapped her chin with a forefinger, pretending to be deep in thought. “Oh, yes, and I married my favorite man.”

He grinned at her and brushed their noses together. “The perfect day.”

“Yes. The perfect day.”

“Well, thank God. It’s about damn time.” John rolled his eyes back so far that they disappeared into his skull before they snapped back into place. “Do you know how many of your days I had to go through before I found the perfect one? I’ve been at this for a lifetime!”

Nora kept a smile on her face but scrunched her eyebrows together in a frown. “You found a perfect day? What do you mean?”

John stood up, rested his hands on his lower back and arched it until his spine cracked. “Do you realize how busy my schedule is? I have a dozen Souls waiting for me in my office. My boss will probably cut my pay in half!”

Nora rose to her feet. “John? What are you talking about?”

“I had the record! For three thousand years I’ve been the only one to find my Soul’s perfect day on the very first try. But then you came along. Never satisfied. Lady, you were exhausting.”

John started circling the tablecloth, glaring at Nora. The footprints in his wake were five times bigger than any man’s. “I thought I found it when I took you on your first date with John. You were almost there when I kissed you on the top of that Ferris wheel.”

When he passed by, Nora stepped backwards towards the ocean. “Honey, you’re not making any sense. Let’s just go back inside, ok?” She wrapped her fists around the skirt of her dress to keep them from trembling.

John clasped his hands together and swung them over his shoulder. “This is my favorite part!” he laughed. “I’ve been looking forward to this forever!” He cleared his throat and his face became serious. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

The salt-heavy breeze tugged Nora’s hair out of its braid. Boiling ocean water wrapped around her ankles and burned her skin. Nora saw blisters bloom across her feet. At that same moment the straps of her dress broke. The left one snapped and wilted, and then the right. The gown became so heavy that Nora couldn’t keep it from sliding off her body.

“What, John?” she gasped. The sand gradually became blood-red. Every inch of Nora’s body began to sweat. “What do you need to tell me?”

His sneer reminded Nora of a hyena. “I am not John,” he said. “This is not your wedding day. It is your memory of it. Before we lock the Souls up, we have them relive a perfect day.”

Nora opened her mouth but suddenly her throat felt like it was full of shards of glass.

“It’s like when you give a child a toy and then immediately take it away. She cries and begs for it. She would have been happier if she never had the toy in the first place.” John’s hyena grin widened until the corners of his lips touched his earlobes. “The pain that the loss causes isn’t worth the joy of having it. That’s how we make Hell more…hellish. We give you a perfect day and then take it away.”

Nora couldn’t feel herself anymore.

“That’s what Hell really is,” John whispered. “The permanent loss of a perfect day.”

The shards of glass spread to the rest of her body and cut her until she became like the sand. The wails of her fellow cellmates joined hers.

John, whistling happily, strolled down the beach to his next appointment.