It is the beginning of a glorious Keyport spring evening. The sun descends over a glassy calm RaritanBay. Along the waterfront walk people stroll in the warm glow. A ragged daisy chain of fishing boats chugs along the channel in the direction of the marina. The harbor looks clean today, fish are jumping all over.
In this golden light, Tom strolls toward California House carrying two bottles of wine in a bright red bag. He takes his time and soaks up the fresh sea air.
Just before he reaches his destination, Tom stops on the sidewalk across First Street from Sun House for a look. Was that something moving in the upper window? Nah, thinks Tom, only the shadow of a passing bird.
“Wishful thinking is getting the better of me.” Tom says aloud to himself.
The joke falls flat as Tom feels a change in the air and Sun House seems to be looking into him. Sun House absorbs the light. Even the birds seem to avoid the branches of her trees. She seems to live in perpetual shadows and stillness. A branch moans on an ancient tree.
Tom feels as if it is drawing his energy like a blonde-black hole, the deadened quiet echoing down the corridors of his mind. It feels as if a huge headache is rising behind his eyes and Tom feels woozy for a hot second.
A NJ Transit bus roars between Tom and Sun House, breaking the disquieting spell. The driver, an older black man, wide -eyed, slows and studies Tom’s face with concern. Tom feigns a smile and turns toward town. The driver checks his mirror to see Tom moving again.
Continuing down First Street, California House comes into view like a store wrapped gift. Tom’s mood swings back the other way. The sweet scent of the honeysuckle; the tweets and splashes of small birds frolicking in the birdbath; the robust, earthiness of the rich, freshly watered soil and energy that emanates from California House is a life force.
A smiling Tom walks up the steps. Warmly lit and an elegantly decorated, California House exudes a quirky charm. Her “Lipstick Tower” rises four stories above First Street. The door opens before Tom ever gets to knock.
Equal to the beauty of the fine house is the smiling face of the sultry beauty greeting Tom. Perhaps a bit like Julianne Moore with her dark red hair, maybe a touch of Linda Ronstadt, circa 1976 in her dark sensuality, she is a stunner. Oddly enough, her name is Julianne. Tom is charmed and she knows it.
“Welcome to our humble circle, Mr. Stone. I am Julianne Weston.” Julianne greets her new guest with true warmth and an endearing, almost old fashioned, manner.
“Please, Julianne. Not Mr. Stone. Tom. Like the cat. Meow.” Tom delivers it deadpan, like a comedian on the comeback circuit.
“Meow indeed. Nine lives and all, huh?” Julianne volleys back with a petite smile and a slight turn of the cheek.
“I’m having trouble keeping one interesting right now. Thanks for inviting me. It gets pretty lonely writing all the time.”
“Oh, poor baby. Thank you for the wine. I am sure it is special. Now this party is shaping up. Come.” With a wave of her hand she leads Tom down the hall to the parlor.
They walk slowly, Tom taking in the colorful Objects d’art and curious nautical artifacts on the tables and the quality oil paintings hanging in polished frames on the walls.
“Your home is beautiful.”
“Thanks. Things that we have collected over our many years here. How is your writing coming?”
“Too soon to tell. I am here on a commissioned writing assignment. I was promised ghosts. I feel I was duped.”
“Hmm…I am sure you will see more clearly before you next sleep.”
“Nice talk, but I need action.”
“Some people say that Keyport is the loneliest place on earth. It must be so boring for a busy Manhattanite.”
“It’s not that. I was offered a chance to spend the summer on the lovely bay shore of New Jersey and fish on a regular basis sold me. That part has been fine. Pardon my French but, where are the damned ghosts?”
“Oh, dear man, fear not. I have a feeling the place will come to life for you soon enough.”
Julianne leads Tom into the festive parlor where a cocktail party is percolating a decent clip for a sun drenched early summer evening. All turn to notice Julianne and Tom.
It is a quirky collection of locals and everyone is dressed for viewing. Tom recognizes some of the faces from around Keyport. Luke, who owns the coffee joint Espresso Joe’s; the councilwoman, Cindy Church, he met while having lunch at McDonagh’s during the week; Gio, the barber and singer for a swing band on weekends and around a dozen others. Mayor Steiger waves and Tom waves back.
Tom is glad he put on his new navy linen jacket. He smiles to himself at his own private joke- writers are cut some slack and allowed latitude for dress as long as they wore a nice jacket and good shoes. Tom’s shoes were shiny and his hair perfect.
What Tom Stone sees in the next two hours changes the course and meaning of his life.
Over at AFF, Chester is finishing his second cup of coffee and preparing another cocktail of evil to be released into the incoming tide. Boss told him that they are working on a top-secret product for a new client and everything had to go to plan. Chester assured him as best he could.
Chester stands in a glass room for protection. Chester works the control panel methodically and slowly. An automated robot handles a 55 gallon drum like a toy. Chester uses the controls to measure the millimeters of mixtures of the various chemicals and compounds that would give life to worst instincts of the local dead. The last liquid is neon green, like anti-freeze, but thicker.
As it spills into the barrel, an eerie glow develops. Six red electronic tracking balls, like ping pong balls with an antenna are the the last things to be plopped in.
This horror show goes whooshing through the out pipe at the height of high tide at 12:31 a.m. The six tracking balls send out their first signals at 12:45. Chester will be tracking these balls with reports every 15 minutes until his relief came at 4 a.m.
At one point early in the festivities, Julianne stands before her gathered guests and relays the following:
“For those of you unfamiliar, Dem Bones were, pardon me, are the skeletal crew of Captain Kidd’s notorious ship the “Blessed William.”. According to my granny, they sailed up on a ship made of shadows. And darker matter than that, too.
The ship moved silently up the coast at the dark of the moon, and anchors near the shores of Sandy Hook.
The biggest of Dem Bones – the one that is probably the first mate – has a skeletal parrot perched on his shoulder. He was your great, great grandfather, Tom…”
Long after the scare subsides, when he is deep in dreams, all Tom remembers is blood. Barrels of blood, pouring down the gutters of the three houses, into the drains and out into the bay….