Moonlight Writ In Water
The shore lay quiet until the night of October 31st. The last of the tourists had left for the winter. The locals, the little stores' owners, and the vendors, all either agitated, wan, or surly, gathered at the boardwalk. About a hundred. Endless waves murmured must make more money in monotonous splashes on the dark parts of the beach. An undergraduate student who majored in economics mentioned that it reminded him of the linear graph.
“Look, fluctuating gains and losses for this year.”
His girlfriend squinted at the soaked sand and saw they were at the lowest point of the imagined graph. She sighed deeply. Many in the crowd stayed separated from each other. Those who didn’t have vaccinated cards in their wallets wore masks of assorted designs. Some masks had an outline of teeth and jaws of the skull. Others had old symbols found carved into ancient stones. A third of the masks worn were homemade. One person in the crowd said that the internet showed the moon to be the third quarter on her I-phone. Eight blocks away, the digital clock on the bank read 3:34 p.m. Inside the bank, their bank accounts, traumatized by bad summers like the storm, Sandy, and then the CORVID 19, stayed fixed with no hums of activity.
Back at the boardwalk, Rams, Hondas, Cherokees, and other vehicles arrived. High school students piled out as if in a rally. Chunks of red oaks log on bare bunched shoulders, but for two team members wearing sports bras, the football players descended on the beach. Their studious faces bent to the task despite the fine cool sand on bare feet and a party feel to everything. The school’s lacrosse team, gangly boys and girls, helped. They dug a pit and stacked the logs like Hasbro’s Lincoln Logs. If a seagull passed and looked down from above, it would see a growing wooden circle with eight spokes buried deep into the beach. On its side, a chariot wheel that was abandoned by the false god, Neptune, with masses of youths squirming all over it like maggots. Two posts stood alongside the pit. The lightest of the teenagers sat astride the shoulders of the strongest players to put up huge hooks with a wire leader strung through between the two posts. The hooks dangled like claws of giant seabirds.
The local children came with their parents. Eager to come of age when they can carry the logs, hang hooks, and dig an abyss for the bonfire, they sought to amuse themselves. The younger ones copied the teenagers' work in minuscule fashion, building tiny sticks the same as the logs. They tried to use two crustaceans and one mussel for effigies. A ten-year-old boy pushed a needle through one of the crustaceans. He left it string-tied to the stick inserted in the sand next to the tiny model of the real thing that loomed beyond them. A girl dashed off to ask her Dad to borrow a lighter. She came back dejected to report to the others that ‘Dad says no.’ Many giggled and rolled in the soft sand instead. Their clothes grew gritty while the youngest wandered back to their parents, small pudgy hands cradled in large adult ones, and gaze at the wondrous but mundane mystery of the Atlantic Ocean. Another post remained buried three feet deep where the children played. By then, the crowd reached up to three hundred on the boardwalk and the beach.
A foghorn sounded. Rowboats with fishers from the Avalon Marina fishing charter arrived at the shore. Silvery gray and blue scales and smooth rubbery epidermis quivered under the open grey sky. Mouths, most crescent-shaped, gaped hard for the sea that lapped against the hulls a few feet below. The police officers and the firefighters kept pace with the boats coming ashore, rubber boots gashing the soaked sand, their sure footprints wide. They hauled all the sea creatures from the rowboats and hung them on the hooks by the pit. Blood streamed down the mouths of marlins, tunas, swordfishes, and from the trio of dolphins, their bottleneck snouts crying piteously from the torture. No sounds came from the thirteen-foot hammerhead, the six-foot mako, and a bulk of a seventeen-foot great white. To Roberta Martin, one of the wee kids, they reminded her of huge ax-heads, broadswords, clubs, and other weapons left behind by giants like Goliath from Sunday School. The agonized faces became too much for some of the children. Another child sobbed until his father twisted around to sharply shush him. The father’s blue PDNJ T-shirt looked purple in the blood orange hue that shimmied the colors from the surface of the sea. The reflected silhouettes of several firefighters in the red FDNJ T-shirts, running hoses on the creatures split on the water surface. The sprays looked like ink droplets in the sunset that smeared the earthly bluish-purple streaks of the horizon into the red skies of Mars. By then the digital clock on the bank clicked from 6:33 p.m. to 6:34 p.m.
Pastor Beilenson, in his golden-lined white frock robe, stepped forward from the trio of similar clothed persons. In the twilight, he cried out,
“Beaninaigh are the faithful who hold the gods in their hearts, the pieces of the one who walks among us. It is better to be judged by our gods than being judged by the world.”
“Amen,” the crowd rumbled.
Mrs. Kilpatrick stepped forward and cried out,
“Beaninaigh are the blue laws that we live by in the name of the deities. Witness proof in testaments, Maitiu 21:12:17.
Then he entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple.
Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? But you have made it a den of robbers.
And Lucas 19:45-48. All proof of the old way that these laws can coexist with the historical truth.”
“Amen,” the crowd said.
The poet, Mr. Motet, marched about and shouted,
“Beaningaigh is the witness to the highest prophet and philosopher among us, the poet Blathmac, the second to the three deities in one, the fruit of thy mother’s womb. Beaninaigh is the three deities in one, three written in one, the Ulster Cycle, the Tain written in the three ages.”
“Amen,” the crowd said.
The teenagers lowered themselves into the yawning pit, carrying mistletoe branches and seaweeds bundles. They squatted, knelt, and bent to tuck them among the cumbersome logs and when done, climbed out. Between the spokes, the remainders brought lighters to click them to the kindling. It started with hazes of smoke then flickering sparks. Several flares swelled into torches. The glows turned smooth faces into meaningless leers and sneers. They clambered out of the pit and marched back to their places in the crowd, singe marks reddening their torsos, arms, and legs.
The municipal servants and the charter’s fishers pulled the tunas, swordfishes, and the marlins off the hooks to toss them into the smoke-filled flame engulfed pit. Hiss of saltwater steam rose along with the sparks. The cries of the dolphins turned into shrieks. Hands seized the screaming mammals. Tossed them into the flames. The burly laboring figures moved serenely to the sharks. Thank the gods, Dionysus-Osiris, that sharks have no sound organ to scream. The hammerhead merely flopped in agony as its flesh bubbled and frothed from beneath its smoking scales. The mako put up a fight, biting one police officer’s hand, and lacerating the elbow of a firefighter with its blade of a tail. In the pit, it even snapped at the flames that rippled through its body. With rhythmic grunts, the fishers, the police officers, and the firefighters shoved the great white rather than heave it into the pit, the giant shark dredging sand slopes in its wake. The last one lay there like a titanic slug, dying as it lived. Without a complaint.
The first one they decided to call, “The Taunting Thief.” An outsider, a Hispanic man, had posed as Ms. Littleton’s guardian. He had been going through her purse in front of her on the porch of her home when the police cruiser pulled up. Mrs. Kilpatrick, the judge, had presided at the municipal court next door to the bank and listened intently as the prosecutor, Mr. McArthur declared,
“Whether he be a fraudster or taker of Mrs. Littleton’s free will, he is either a thief of something concrete, her social security, or something abstract, her freedom to decide for herself.”
The thief sat there, slowly blinking his eyes in disbelief. He shot upright on his feet, shouting. Ms. Scully, his defense lawyer who has sleep apnea, slumped in her seat snoring quietly. Mrs. Kilpatrick had perfunctorily held him in contempt and ordered the accused arrested and put in jail. Now on the night of Samhain, the police officers threw him wailing into the fire pit. He reeled from one flaming wall to another, clods of sand billowing from his hipster blazer and T-shirt with the scripture: Well Care Inc. falling off into burning pieces. Smoke billowed into the navy blue sky. The kindest among the crowd shouted advice for him to inhale deeply to end it all. A few of them plugged their ears with fingers for his howls for mercy were worse than the dolphins.
They called the second one, “The Penitent Thief.” The accused had pleaded guilty to the charge of fraud. In the earliest morning, he wept as he confessed to posing as a Census Taker 2020 to Ms. Johnathon, a sweet lady with intellectual disability and had taken her social security number to steal her identity. Ms. Scully, alert enough to keep her eyes open, declared that,
“The accused plead guilty to the charge of misdemeanors and disorderly conduct, and so a quick sentence will be carried out later.”
The confessed thief found out the true meaning of the word “quick sentence,” ten hours and fifty minutes later. He bellowed curses while the police officers duct-taped him to the post where the children had played. One police officer stuffed mistletoe leaves and seeds down his gullet and duct-taped his mouth shut. She flounced off into the anonymous crowd. Children should not learn these kinds of words. Nor should Ms. Johnathon who attended the bonfire ritual. A junior who qualified for the Georgia State Champion stood seventy meters away with his Olympian recurve clutched in his knobby and disjointed-looking fist. His gawky form straightened, aimed, and an arrow thunked into the wood through the outsider’s chest. Some people cheered.
The last one… a real cutie. Luscious long legs, breasts like peaches, golden tawny skin, she was the final one, “The Innocent.” At the September 24th to 26th Irish Festival along Olde Jersey Road, some of them saw her. She had danced at the folk-rock concert beneath the black vinyl of the big tent. Her face and her upper body remained stiff as her sneakers marched, stomped, tread, and leaped in place. Her blond hair bounced and bobbed along with a bevy of other teenagers near the front of the stage. About a month later, William "Billy Boy” Squire, the quarterback, had met her at a small Wildwood Halloween Eve party and invited her to the bonfire at the shore. She came that night. Dressed in long-sleeved cotton shirt, shorts, cotton-candy colored hair in pigtails, her make-up white, and wrapped in a red blanket with the emblem of Jolly Roger in rouge. Her distress showed through widened deeply mascaraed eyes and a puckered frown through thickly put-on lipstick when the crew hoisted the first dolphin upon the hook. Her screams had started when the police officers tossed the first thief into the burning pit. The athletes of the high school picked up their sharpened poles. They formed a horseshoe-shaped group around her. She sobbed and begged them to let her go home. One of the girls on the football team tugged the blanket off her. The others drove her ankles deep into the ocean with gentle but firm pokes of the poles. She whimpered for her mother as she backed further into the unforgiving ocean. One of them poked her hard enough to slit the skin near her pelvis. Blood streamed out of the pocket of flesh and blood, caking the soaked shirttail in red velvet. Forced to go farther, she had to put her dance skills to use, treading the water and this time, paddling with her bloodied arms to keep herself afloat. Two of the athletes swam along to keep her sighted. From the light of the bonfire, everyone could see her painted pleading face floating disembodied in the darkness of the deeper waves. Her cries faded. A small wave returned one of the ribbons from her hair back to the sodden shore. It only slithered with the next wave.
The quarter moon and the stars twinkled deadlights on their placid faces. The world blurred as the flames licked at the horizon. Every man, woman, and child undressed. Masks fell away from some to reveal lips peeled back and teeth resembling the same rictus as the design on one-third of the masks. Puddles of kakis, variety sweat shorts, cargo shorts, halter tops, sneakers, sandals, black socks of several elderly men, bikini tops and bottoms, T-shirts from various municipal services, kiddie wears, and a nylon cosplay Spiderman costume covered the shore like a beachwear junkyard. The tide of the bodies shifted toward the ocean, genitals exposed. The youths kicked at the sand into the great emptiness suffocating the blaze. Someone set the bound corpse on fire.
The naked fell upon the dead. A pack of teenagers hooted and broke from the feasting to paddle for the blonde girl in the ocean, making fins shapes out of their hands and arms. Several hummed the theme from Jaws. The bound corpse burned and the children danced around like nymphs. The adults brought back handfuls of glistening fleshes and giblets from the smoldering pit and fed them to the eager snapping jaws of the children. Adults’ hands threw sand and patted the flames out on the post out only to tear into the burnt corpse along with their teeth and bring the feral children more molten meat. In the cold light of the moon, only the nameless and sexless bones in the ash-streaked pit, the posts, and the shivering fetid flesh of the crowd remained. Silence but for the sound of moist chewing.
When the far-off bank clock clicked 3:34 a.m., many looked expectedly toward the ocean. It may show, waist-deep at the horizon, standing in one of the trenches. With seaweed hair kilometers long. It may come in the form of chants from the deep. No more sitting at the countertop going through bank statements. No more hostile letters from creditors. No more warnings of turning over accounts to collection agencies. No more bloodied bruised faces and bodies in domestic violence calls over bills. It could come as a smell of a sea in the summer, the only thing to compare to is the secret heady scent of your lover’s secretions after sex. Any Deus Ex Machina descending in a contraption carrying a metafiction author from above to wrap everything up with grand fanfare. Anything. Even the sight of a hag chortling from beneath the boardwalk would have been cheerful. Nothing came but for the tangerine lights of dawn. Awakening realization faltered them. Half asleep, they dressed and cleaned. They stumbled and mumbled that they had done it incorrectly, one of the town’s elders shouldn’t have incorporated Jesus Mysterious into other corresponding research of pagan rites, they got the numeric wrong.
They just long for a booming summer. Those crisp boardwalk fries with a dash of apple cider in paper cones with ketchup blurts and the sugary powered funnel cakes are the best, Ms. Johnathon thought as she dreamily tugged the remaining part of the Spiderman costume over her doughty shoulder. A teenager complained that they still can see her sagging tits through the nylon. After a mean shake of his head, he joined the group carrying the burnt post away. Mr. Motet beamed, remembering his youth: loud good times, tight bodies rippling in bathing suits and bikinis, and the frost of vanilla custard in a cone. Truly no emperor but for the emperor of ice cream. The undergraduate student remembered himself as a child who stepped out onto the balcony to watch the sparkling lights of the Ferris wheel in the distance just a bike ride away. A rueful smile on his face, the undergraduate student recalled sad rainy days of childhood when pink to purple dead jellyfishes washed up ashore like oversized penis tips severed from rumored giants. He then shoveled more sand into the pit of bald bones, abandoned masks, and glass pieces from burnt sand. Another clump clattered upon the skull with the burnt duct tape still wrapped around its jaw. Out into the ocean, the rowboats shrank away to the size of toys.
They left the shore practically pristine. The last, Roberta Martin in another kid’s swimsuit and shirt, held hands with her parents. She scowled, thinking how the burnt mussel tasted. Her mother wore fisher's rubber boots, and varsity sweatpants, and a T-shirt, and the father had taken one of the priests’ frock robes to wear. Away they walked from view like the sunny ending of a Disney movie. The water lapped against the front shore, sealing and erasing the footprints and the holes of the two posts. Not one person saw the early light glimmering on the palm-sized empty spaces between the waves that multiplied multitudes of mouths. It was as if nobody had been there at all.