“The Ghosts of Magic Beach”
by Jim Shaffer
“The Ghosts of Magic Beach” is a work of fiction. ALL CHARACTERS AND REFERENCES TO ALL FACTS ARE A PRODUCT OF THE AUTHOR’S IMAGINATION. All rights reserved WINK AND NOD PRODUCTIONS 2017.
Prologue- The Summer Before
Tom’s daily observations, on strolls during writing breaks along the small beach behind his house, made it plain to him that it was abundantly clear that the sun was God’s best work. On days when the sun did not break through, he ached for it like any great love.
Tom observes the sun bringing life to the bay, nourishing all parts of the food chain. It feeds the food eaten by the tiny shrimp that spawn on the muddy flats that fed the thousands of small blue crabs. The shallow part of the bay near Keyport feeds the baitfish that the voracious, toothy bluefish chase, churning the surface over acres of water in the late spring. It provides opportunity to the stealthy hawks from the nearby pine barrens who patrol overhead for careless prey.
It also seems to feed men who go down to the water in search of a connection. Tom was a city boy and this assignment was a reawakening of his creative soul and his admiration of the natural world.
Tom inhaled deeply and drank in the beauty of the bay. From the proud stone spire of Mount Loretto on Staten Island’s south shore to the Verrazano Bridge spanning across the New York Harbor entrance and over to Brooklyn’s rough Coney Island beachscape and over to the distant Rockaways, the flat bay sparkled in the August sun.
Tom was up to his knees in water stalking blue claw crabs along an arching ridge of eel grass that extended out into the shallows. A small, thick reporter’s notebook inside a Ziploc bag stuck from the back pocket of his cargo shorts.
His right hand held a wooden handled scoop net. In his left hand he carried a white plastic bucket with six large blue claw crabs snapping and snarling in the bottom.
Tom stops and takes some notes on his pad before replacing in the Ziplock and focusing on a slight movement in the water.
Tom freezes still.
He spots a big blue Jimmie crab trying to hide behind an inadequately small clump of seaweed. Tom slowly moves his net into position; the crab makes a small shift. Tom strikes, the crab darts left. Tom’s precise last minute adjustment wins the battle.
The thick crab’s royal blue claws tear at the green nylon of the net and hangs on as Tom tries to flip him into the bucket. As he tries to loosen the crab’s grip on the metal loop of the net, he catches a quick and bloody nip on the index finger from the fierce crab.
A dime sized drop of blood drops into the water.
The crab releases and plunges into the bucket, setting off a new battle of supremacy among the other captured giants. Tom gives a satisfied look to his catch.
Tom rinses his superficial wound in the sea and wraps the fingertip with a clean Dunkin Donut napkin from a Ziploc in his pocket.
Tom mumbles a brief prayer of thanks and kisses the sky with gusto and he begins trudging across the flats parallel to the beach only emerging from the sea at the last possible point as to extend and savor his communion with the wild sea.
The early stages of the incoming tide pushed ever-increasing waves toward the beach. Soon there would be deepening pinks and blood oranges hues across the Jersey sky.
Blood for blood.
“A large drop of sun lingered on the horizon and then dripped over and was gone, and the sky was brilliant over the spot where it had gone, and a torn cloud, like a bloody rag, hung over the spot of its going. And dusk crept over the sky from the eastern horizon, and darkness crept over the land from the east.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
The sunset is sick with color. The pollutants rising from the industrial badlands of North Jersey infuse bold prisms within the pinks, oranges and gold’s radiating in the sun’s dying light.
Warm colors ripple over the calm waters of the swelling bay. Just another magical sunset for Keyport. It is a warm early spring evening and the earth is thawing after a long, hard winter.
Massive piles of gray snow wilt at the perimeter of the gravel parking lot, melting into streams. The storm sewers gather the streams and the flow drains into the bay.
The waterfront is alive with activity. Families and young lovers stroll along the promenade.
Roller-bladers, bicyclists, hop-scotcher’s, can-kickers, strollers, rock-and-rollers, preachers, teachers and old salts populate the bayfront esplanade. Groups of teenagers gather on the benches. The lifeblood of the town warms toward Spring.
Laughter is a little louder from the teen girls sitting on the benches on the fishing pier; an acoustic guitarist tries them fist few chords of “Sweet Baby James” and the hot dog guy is out for the first time this year with a line six deep.
The evening ends the winter’s long grip and stirs the dreams of the coming summer. People of all kinds enjoy the first worthwhile sunset in months.
In the bay, a line of fishing boats return from the first striped bass runs of the young season, more than a few displaying worthy trophies for their efforts. The silvery bass glisten in the dying colors of the sunset.
Tom is sitting high up on the bench back on the fishing pier. He is an observer. He is studying the scene while he writes quickly into a small reporter’s pad, already thick with notes including folded pieces of paper, pictures and maps.
He takes out a digital camera and takes a few photos of the sun’s last gasps. Tom takes a moment to show his appreciation for the natural beauty around him. His head cocks as if he’s heard a voice. Could that be a wind kicking up from the west? Maybe a late storm to break the still air?
Tom closes the notebook, bundles his jacket against him against the wind and walks west along the promenade toward First Street.
The sky, corrupted by the waste, creates colors of true beauty as the sky fades to dark. The moon rising from the east would highlight many troublesome developments and secrets erupting into action that night.
A storm rumbles to the west, deep and muscular.
Author’s note- This novella originally appeared on the website Shore11.org in 2008. I hope you enjoy.
NEXT EXCERPT-Chapter 2- “The Ghost You Know”