What do you want from the liquor store
Something sour, something sweet
I’ll give you all that your belly can hold
You can be sure you won’t trouble no more
– Ted Hawkins
In the early days of the city, the inlet had accumulated wild tales and dark stories. There were too many fisherman lost to storms whose boats ended up in the inlet. Sometimes miles away from where they should have been. Too many sailors vanished off of boats that passed by the spot, and too many children went swimming off its banks and did not come home. Some blamed a man twisted by pain whose spirit, no longer human, lurked in the shallow waters. Others blamed an ancient thing from the deep oceans, come ashore to remedy its hunger or even its boredom. Conventional wisdom dictated that something older than humanity must be very hungry or at least very bored.
On the warm nights of the summer, the water would sometimes glow with a dull unsaturated green when the surface was disturbed by the few waves that could pass through its narrow mouth. The natural phosphorescence was hard to see now in the murky nights. The water vapor that hung in the hot air over the inlet trapped the light of the casinos and bars from the highway. In some ways the world had changed very much, but in other ways it had changed very little. Few men still remembered the stories about the inlet. It was now the bright lights of bars and costly thrills of the casinos that lured travelers past the forgotten inlet on their way into town.
The man on the beach read the letters on the sign. “DANGER, Deadly Rip-Currents.” There was an identical sign every hundred feet for the length of the beach. He had heard the locals talking about the freak tidal patterns of the inlet that had killed his brother. They had not found his body, but they had found his shirt and shoes on the beach. “Why the hell did he get in the water” the man thought. The man gazed slowly over the line of ocean disappearing behind the horizon. It was cool and green and peaceful.
It was a nice place to die. He lay down the flowers he had brought on the sand, hesitating a moment before picking them back up. He walked slowly down to the edge of the water. The air felt strange on his skin, and his legs ached. Life was coming back to him now in slow pulses each day. It felt strange not feeling the simultaneous numbness and vibrance alcohol brings. It had made him feel a purpose while robbing his life of any real purpose. He was remembering the nuances of real life so long forgotten, and with them the loneliness and the fear.
He threw the flowers as far as he could, white roses. They landed with a crisp soft sound in the green water as he turned to go. Next to the road he spotted the rotting husk, the dry shape of a giant turtle, beached and dead. “What the hell was it doing out of the ocean?” he thought. It’s bony beak was half buried in gravel, already partially bleached white by the beating of the sun.
When he was back at the house his father had rented for him he brought in his bag and heated a cup of soup in the microwave. “Pack a bag and go live dry by yourself for awhile before you try to go live dry in the world” his father had told him. He had missed his own brother’s funeral. Rehab, for the second time in a year. His father had told him it was the last chance he had. He had felt old and dried up.
No longer angry or scared like he had been his whole life before that, just tired. And so he had gone, to the house by the beach to tell his brother goodbye, and to live by himself dry. That night he dreamed of pale thin white arms cradling his brother gently around the chest. They held him like a mother holds a child, while they pulled him down into blackness. There were white rose petals spinning slowly in the water while he closed his eyes and disappeared.
He had been there for three days before he needed to go back into town. It was raining and he had to drive slowly to see the old road with its worn paint. Suddenly there was a sharp jolt, and his car jerked to the side. Cursing, he threw the door open and went to check his tire. The rain made it hard to see, but there was enough reflected glow from his headlights to see the shape of another giant turtle beneath his wheel. Alive but in agony, it’s shell cracked and its gore splayed out in the water on the road. It was writhing. Why did it leave the water?
Instinctively he looked out across the road to the ocean from where it had come and stared straight into his brother’s eyes. His dead brother fled, towards the beach. Before he could think he was running after him. His car and the turtle forgotten, he was running across muddy grass, then sand, and finally into shallow water. The grey shape of his dead brother always seconds from vanishing into the night ahead of him. And then, he was swimming.
He couldn’t scream, he barely had time to breathe. It was all he could do to keep up. Then he was underwater and he could see his brother swimming down into green light. The green light was peaceful and cool in his eyes. It was the antique green of a glass gin bottle, making the ocean around it resonate with a foamy green glow. He saw hundreds of people all around him, floating in water, and staring with sad blank eyes. There were more people than he could count. All of them clutched something tightly to their bodies while they stared out into the green. Giant fish, a pretty girl, a life preserver, a fistfull of cash, or a lost dog; they all held the thing that had lured them to their deaths.
He realized the thing he had been chasing was not his brother at all, but a thing with pale eyes and long white arms. He saw his brother in the crowd holding the body of his child daughter who had died long ago. He was almost out of air, and he glanced upward to where the rain pounded on the roof of the ocean. “You can save him, you can take him back.” He heard a voice echoing in the green water. His brother was so close, he reached for him trying helplessly to pull his brother’s body upward. His brother’s eyes stared ahead into the green ocean blankly as he drowned, holding him.
Joel Blackstock is an avid reader and explorer with an interest in Southern history and folk traditions. He has a BA from the University of the South in Religious Studies and Masters of Social Work from the University of Alabama.