Bewildering Stories

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Phantom of Sea

by R D Larson

The dismal fog slid in from the Pacific muffling the seagulls and quieting the waves. As it wrapped the land the fog brought a solid silence to the beach where I sat huddled under a blanket. If the sun shone above the gray, I didn’t know or care. In desperation, I clutched the damp sand let it wash my hands as I fought panic.

The land is a part of a mountain that pushed up from the ocean floor millions of years ago. Forests spread from the edge of the ocean back to the East for hundreds of miles. Winding roads were the way strangers assaulted our small village. They thought that they were on a short holiday. Not true. Their money sustained the residents in this phantom reality that separates them from the rest of the world.

I was born here in Shelter Bay under the water sign, Pisces. I will die here by the water. I have sea water for blood or so I’ve always been told. My mother and her brothers came here, refugees from the Midwest after WW II. The very remoteness of the shore was what brings the tourists but, indeed, that inaccessibility and the often-sour weather kept all but the hardiest souls from staying permanently

Living on a spit of land between the deep forest and the Pacific Ocean has its drawbacks and its wonders. Shelter Bay is small, and everyone knows everyone else’s business. These people are my family and my friends. I’ve known them always. But this time none of them told me. Why didn’t they warn me? Were they being merely kind or did they think Thomas had the special rights because of my handicap? Was I singled out for exclusion because of my obvious future? Bitter, I bit my inner cheeks thinking of the people of Shelter Bay protecting me, only failing for now I am at more of a risk than if they’d told me about my husband, Thomas.

I hate everyone in Shelter Bay right now. If I were the sole person living on this shore, no one would be looking at me in that way — the way of pity. I should murder them all, I whispered under my breath as though some nestling evil spirit listened in the logs and sand dunes that surrounded me. A beguiling craziness gripped me tightly with its sharp claws.

I needed to decide. Whatever my choice was there would be consequences. I often sought solace here at the beach. Sometimes I would just brood and often celebrate my successes. Not this day. For Thomas to force me to make such a decision unnerves me.

I put my hand to my head. How could he do this to me? Not just him but they. How could they do this to me? After all I‘ve been through. They‘ve murdered me, murdered my heart. I should murder them. My husband Thomas and his groupie, the beautiful young Rachel has destroyed me.

Of course, there have been others. No one looks or behaves, as Thomas does without engendering supplicants of the female sort but for him to welcome advances of such a young woman is absurd. Rachel came here as the government underling — she was sent here to count whales. A periodic job at best and often filled by the rawest of recruits. They seldom stay more than a few weeks after the fall weather sets in.

Oh, my God, what have I done to deserve such misery? A malformed spine has limited my life more than I can guess. My difficulties have not been narrowed by the surgeries. I have always had to use a cane and have always experienced terrible pain. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed my life. Especially since I met and married Thomas. My mother had not been positive about my future. She first thought that I wouldn’t survive, much less marry, nor meet a man so well suited to cope with my disability.

I marveled that my husband and Rachel became lovers at all. Knowing his sober dislike of outsiders, I hardly believed what I heard last night. This full union has created a child. I would have never guessed Thomas could find interest in such a naïve, young woman. Rachel was maybe twenty-four years old. My unwanted duty was to decide the fate of their equally unwanted child. Both of them were now admitting great guilt over the affair. Thomas suffers more so because he loves me. Rachel has her “career” and has expressed no interest in the child I could never have. Thomas was only an experience for her, I suspect.

Thomas came here in 1990. As doctor from Maine he opened an office for our small community and slowly began to get to know the locals and to ultimately to treat them. He had bought an old wood and brass fishing boat with a small inheritance. He had just begun to restore the boat when I met him at a dinner given by Hatch. Uncle Hatch is a dreadful old fool, forever inveigling and manipulating romance for others since he himself is too much of a drunk to find a mate.

I felt the enveloping fog soften my harsh tears and my frustration. Whatever I decided, they had told me, would be fair. Thomas was ashen and contrite but Rachel was scientific with her description of what and where regarding care of “the fetus” as she referred to the baby. Rachel could have an abortion or she could put it up for adoption. Of course, I had another solution — Thomas and I could raise the baby. Not saying that to them, I had sat there with the two of them at our kitchen table. The baby they pointed out again and again was a misfortune, an accident.

“Some accident,” I said to Thomas and Rachel. And then I had laughed, finding humor as a brace for more than my back.

The day is growing colder and I should go back. I can’t decide what to do about the baby. As I gathered my blanket and cane up I whistled for Libby, my black dog.

Then I heard a car coming down the grade. I could hear the downshift of the gears, the familiar grinding as it slowed for the turns. It was Thomas’ blue pickup. He must want to know what I’d decided to do about his love child or should I call it a lust child since he said he had not loved Rachel? I know he’s feeling guilty and awful and worthless, but I don’t care. I just do not care. An unwanted pregnancy is no longer necessary. The truck screeched into a turn, it’s brake whine muted by the fog. So now it’s time for me to decide. I can’t. I just can’t.

I looked out at the secret, silent sea yet sounding so rich with power. It had sovereignty over all, as I well knew. I committed my decision into the sea. My tears soaked into sand beneath my legs and became one water with the sea.

Libby sprang to her feet, barking. She never barked at Thomas.

The pickup bounced to a stop at the wooden rail. I didn’t move. Libby growled.

Rachel stumbled out of the truck. Her face was blotchy and her hair tangled. She stared around then spotted the dog and me.

Running toward me, Rachel’s legs knocked against each other and her toes seemed to catch at almost every step. As Rachel came close, I could see she’d been crying.

“Thomas. It’s Thomas, the Coast Guard called,” she stammered. “Thomas drowned, his boat crossed in front of a lumber freighter, broke in half. He’s dead.”

I didn’t believe her for half a second. When I spoke I knew it was true. “When? This morning? You’re sure?”

She fell to her knees, burrowing her head against my shoulder. I felt her nod as sobs shook her body. The reckoning of Thomas’s death sank into my mind like an anchor into the sea.

“He’s usually so careful,” I said. The fog lifted slightly. The sun shone as an opalescent disk above the gray. I peered up at it.

“That’s it then. Well, we’re going to be raising this baby together, Rachel,” I said. Feeling oddly relieved I patted her back in a flapping motion, thinking the phantom of the sea had made me an even trade.

Copyright © 2004 by R D Larson

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