Just Down The Road
If you asked most people who worked at AFF (Allied Fragrance and Flavor) what went on in the basement of section two, they would probably say something about a classified research grant. A small number would say “top secret” and a select few would simply ask for your identification and have you escorted away from the premises.
This facility had all new equipment and many prototype models of various shapes and sizes, a new particle accelerator, photon enhancers, shiny centrifuges, gallons of toxic chemicals, and all from government grants.
All Chester knew about was discharge management. He was the fourth man in charge on a rogue project. He was given the exact chemical compound that needed to be added to the discharge to render it harmless. Chester hadn’t a clue to what he was doing, but he did it efficiently.
The discharge was then released into a pipe that took it to the bay. It was Chester’s job to send this “harmless” chemical/biological cocktail into the drink as his boss, Mr. Signs had taught him. They pay Chester well. If Chester knew the effect of the gas on the living organisms he would have felt bad, but he would do it again tomorrow.
If he knew the effect it had on the dead, well Chester would have just died of shock right where he stood. Chester knew better than to mess with the dead. He had recent experience with them.
He would have never done the job no matter how many twenty dollar bills he found stuffed into an envelope in his mail slot each week. Chester had reverence for the dead and a peculiar take on torturing those who mucked in the misery of others. He just did not know what he was doing.
Across the bay from dark Keyport, the twinkle of Staten Island’s south shore and the distant pulse of Brooklyn and Manhattan shimmer and shine beyond.
The ghosts of Magic Beach stir and Keyport becomes alive with the dead.
Tom Stone was on a roll, typing furiously into his laptop just as the lights blew. From his desk facing the corner, from Tom’s “writing windows” he can see both the dark bay between the tree branches and the lights of First Street heading west.
The flash of lighting that preceded the blackout burned his eyes like an old fashioned sulfur bulb white-out. . Stunned for a moment, Tom rubs his eyes vigorously and gets his bearings in the newly dark world. The shadows of the twisted trees outside the window are burned on top of the glare from the lightning flash.
If you drew a triangle between the three houses, the direct center would be right in front of the Salvi house. The sparks from a downed power wire, like a dancing snake that’s been shot dead in a graceless collapse right in that very spot.
The stink of electrical burn floats ominously and a small cloud of dark, acrid smoke rises into the air, drifting east.
Back inside, Tom, finds his bearings, pulls on a sweatshirt and Met hat and walks downstairs carefully, flashlight in hand. Tom stops in the front room downstairs, checks the special affects set up, unplugs the computer and speakers.
A torrential microburst of fierce rain sends many from the tour group looking for shelter. The disappearing semi-circle of people around the front steps makes a bee line for the small pizza place just across First Street. The smoke cloud dissolves to gray and is washed into a whirl pooling drain.
Gourmet Pizza City has one electric light on- OPEN, courtesy of a small gas generator. Candles are quickly lit by a quick owner who sees a chance to sell out his stock.
All the tables are soon beaming out precious, honest fire light. The gas oven burns on, so they still are able to make hot food on this cold, rainy evening near the bay. Tom was starving after the three hour writing frenzy he just put in. He was as hungry for some pizza and some human conversation.
As Tom entered the pizza place he sees the deeply appreciative tour guide, an actor taking bows, fresh off his remarkable performance. Cesar spots Tom and he signals for 2 slices as he eases toward the counter. He winks at Tom like they were remaking “The Sting”.
“Some guys are just lucky, Cesar. Did you organize this blackout?”
“Hello, Mr. Tom. If he has perseverance, sometimes luck finds the man whose front path is cleared and ready for the “luck truck” to back into. I try to prepare for all possibilities. I have a generator out back if it is still dark tomorrow.”
“The ghosts should be busy tonight, my friend.”
“Don’t joke about ghosts, Mr. Tom. It is bad form. You have been writing too hard.”
“I’ll believe them when I see them. I really love to write, but the ghosts are just not cooperating.”
“So you think, papa. So you think.”
Tom smiles and pays, tips and takes the white paper bag. Music begins from a small radio beside the generator. People are warmed and begin to smile deep smiles. At the first let up in the rain, a group breaks off, it is the newly inspired guide, as he gathers the gals, a few giggling fair maidens and some other chancers head towards the McDonagh’s Pub or The Bulkhead and ice cold, blackout beer. Here comes the night.
Out on the east side of town, a drain opens and releases something new, all cloudy and smokey. Wicked spills into the incoming tide and begins to kill the bay in a whole new way.
This night, new storms rolled into the bay. The storm is crazy with lighting, alive with bold strikes and crashing thunder. The heavy, sustained rain was coming down. A nearby lighting flash illuminates a white house on First Street where a curtain opens slightly and a man peers out into the dark with night binoculars. The low hum of a small generator on the front porch is constant.
Matthew Salvi is under house arrest serving the remaining six months of his sentence on a tax charge. From the second floor window, Matthew watches Tom at a desk taking notes by candle light near the window writing on a laptop computer.
A mug of coffee steams on the desk. A full moon peaks through the increasing clouds.
Sunday night’s late Sports Center flickers on in the next room as the lights return. Matthew drinks a goblet of red wine in long, deep gulps. He burps softly.
“Boy if this guy is here for a story, have I got one to tell ‘em.” Matt quips to the curtains.
Visiting hours would commence in 2 hours. He had a feeing that it might be a busy morning for his consultancy.
Ghosts are like anyone else. Unlike anyone else. They have individual quirks. Some are mean and mischievous; some you could have a beer with.
They were moody as a group, many with the curse of poor impulse control keeping them in purgatorial limbo. Mocked by their own lack of reflection in a mirror and eternally slagged for being so dang’ed stupid.
A quick montage of the faces of several ghosts around this town would convince you that they were a sorry lot, all cool and indifferent stances and spooky poses, scary noises, funny and clever quips. You might see one shape-shifting into a gull down by the waterfront or gusting past you as a plastic bag chased by its own ghost along windy Front Street. They mostly keep to themselves, but not always. Recently, they seem to have become much more restless and mischievous.
Recently, a rumor that the ghost of young Lester Stillwell, killed in the famous, “Jaws”-inspiring, Matawan Creek shark attacks in 1916, was seen swimming out to sea during a recent thunderstorm, a storm so violent it shook stone buildings.
The fine point is that there are ghosts and no one would be surprised down at The Bulkhead or Espresso Joe if you said so. They might compare notes, a few of them. But mostly they’ll just ignore you, act like you said nothing.
What I can tell you is this; this is a story of three, okay really four, girls in their hay days. They played on the strand of sand they called “Magic Beach” that ran along Raritan Bay’s southern belly and the shallow, warm waters of the Keyport Flats.
Sun House is like Gwyneth Paltrow, warm, strong, sexy, in control and icy at the same time. She moves about Sun House in a floating grace and lightness that only death can bring. She is often not what she seems to be.
The setting sun aligns with the top floor of Sun House. Strong light blazes through the belfry windows, creating a huge eye in the old house.
It is perfectly still. No creaks, no groans and no scary sounds. But the light is using the prism to see something. The keeper of Sun House likes the quiet and very much prefers it to the screaming.
And Sun House has been witness to some mighty screaming. Screaming down through the many years that would make a thousand banshees proud.
A shadow absorbs a crescent of light in the belfry of Sun House. Not a soul notices. She is watching Tom stride through the gate and walk up the path through the exotic foliage, to California House’s inviting front door, carrying wine at sundown.
The fine porcelain of her semi-transparent ghost skin seems to blush with the glow of life.
In the empty belfry of this lonely house, no one could here her warmly say…
“You look just like your great-grandfather.” …
“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.