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Slack Tide

by Benjamin Crocker 7 months ago in fiction

An Island Horror

Slack Tide
Photo by Daniel Jensen on Unsplash

Jake and Tess pulled off the ferry onto Keiser Island’s main road. They coasted through town at a perfunctory twenty-five miles an hour, passing diagonally parked cars. Tess rested her hand on Jake’s thigh. They passed the Fraternity Village general store, the Methodist Church, the post office, a tiny grocery store, and an even tinier police and fire department.

“And that’s where town is,” Jake said. It was a drastic change from their place in Boston They were used to a cramped loft apartment, their new house would feel huge. “I count one place to get pizza, hopefully we never lose power.”

“I love it,” Tess looked up at her husband, her eyes glassy with excitement.

“I do too.”

The road forked. The right fork led to small neighborhoods and a school. Jake took the left fork, which quickly left civilization behind and approached Shirttail Point. On the way they passed few broken down trailers. The tarred road came to an end Jake bumped onto the dirt road that would eventually end in their gravel driveway. Tess rubbed his thigh. She grabbed his free hand and squeezed.

“I love this place,” she said again as they approached the house.

“I do too, let’s go prep for the movers, they should be here soon.”

“You’re hopeful.”

“Shush you.”

Tess pouted, furrowing her brow. Jake took two fingers and smoothed out her frown. Jake parked outside the mudroom door.

“Let’s explore some more while we wait!”

The house on Shirttail Point stood centered and alone in a grassy half acre lot. The front of the house was dominated by a farmer’s porch with a centered entry. The back of the house was the major selling point. French doors lined its entirety, giving each room a view to the ocean. Tess danced into the library.

“I love this room,” Tess wandered along the rows of abandoned books in the library, “it’s sad, but also great, that they left all these books behind.”

“I got the impression that the books had been left by a few different owners.” Tess ran her fingers along the bindings of the leather volumes.

“Are you going to set up shop in here to work?”

“That’s the plan.”

Tess popped up on her toes.

“Can we share? I mean, it would be great to set up a little reading chair and table in here. I could browse and watch you work,” Tess beamed.

“Maybe even distract me when work hits a block.” He pulled her close and kissed her, he let his hands explore her familiar, lithe frame. She gently pulled away to look at him.

“Mr. Crosby!” she feigned horror, “the movers will be here any moment.”

“Damn them,” Jake said, “later perhaps?”

Tess slid her arms over his shoulders and leaned in. She kissed his lips gently. “Later, definitely.”

They walked hand in hand out of the library. Tess stopped in the hallway. “I love this view. I can’t wait to watch the tides roll in. To smell the wind off the ocean. To watch storms, the lightning and crashing waves. It’s going to be beautiful and terrifying.” Her eyes locked on his. “I love you and I love this house.”

“I love you back.

Jake and Tess christened the house over inexpensive wine and pizza from the Fraternity Village store, surrounded by empty boxes. The girl behind the counter had been friendly. She was a local girl in her early twenties. She had gauges in her ears and small tattoos on her wrists. The pizza had been more than adequate. The night had been clear. They left the windows open and fell asleep in each other’s arms to the sound and smell of the ocean.

In the morning, Jake woke early. He looked out at the sea. It was still as glass. His mind wandered to daydreams of large sea creatures crashing through the still water. He left Tess in bed with a note that he decided to try breakfast at the Frat-Ville store, which had a line of cars parked in front when he arrived. Old locals, Jake thought.

Jake chose a seat at the diner bar. He left two red vinyl topped stools between himself and the next patron. The girl with gauges that had sold them the pizza was back behind the counter running orders for breakfast and filling coffee. She probably clopened daily.

“Good morning, and welcome back,” she said. “Coffee?”

“Please,” Jake said.

A local man looked at Jake.

“You’re new here.” It was a statement not a question. Not overtly hostile.

“Just moved into the house on the point.”

“Welcome to the Island,” the man extended his hand, “Ed Daigle.”

“Nice to meet you Ed, Jake Crosby.”

“What’s your occupation Mr. Crosby? Certainly, ain’t fishing. You a teacher?”

“Critic. I write a little too. And I draw. I’m working on a graphic novel with a colleague.”

Ed nodded. Jake thought he was still judging.

“The point has a wonderful view, should be good for the mood. Lotsa artsy people come here to work, then they leave. You married?”

“Yep. I let my wife sleep. Yesterday was a long day.”

“A wife.” Ed said it like he was surprised but not upset. “That’ll make her happy. And a happy wife, a happy life. Kids?”

“Working on it.”

“Kids are a blessing. At age four. Until about twelve. Then again when they’re older and out of the house.”

“Ed is full of it,” said the girl with the gauges, smiling at the two men.

“Like you would know shit about shit Noelle,” Ed retorted through a playful smirk. “You barely get away from this store. You’ve had, what, two boyfriends in your entire life? You certainly ain’t had a kid. You’re so skinny a kid might kill you.”

Noelle rolled her eyes. “Do you want breakfast?” she asked Jake.

“Yes, please. Uh, what’s good?”

“Get the Deckhands breakfast,” Ed suggested.

Jake nodded at Ed, and then at Noelle.

“You know, when I woke up this morning the water looked like glass.”

“Slack tide,” Ed returned. “It’s the point where the water is calm. Don’t be fooled though, the waters around the point ain’t always good for swimming in. ‘Specially near your property. Folks, usually flat land summer people, get pulled out to sea by rip tides. Happens a couple times a year. Sometimes kids too. They stay out too long, swimming in the slack tide, and then the waters start stirring and folks get caught in it. Then they’re gone.”

“Any way to swim out of it?”

“If you’re a strong swimmer, maybe a strong swimmer can scoot sideways out of a riptide if they keep their head, don’t panic and fight it, and when they get their bearings swim with the current and off to the side. Only problem is they’d have a hell of a time swimming back, fighting the waves in and out. They’d have to be damned good.”

Jake nodded, looking grave.

“But like I said, mostly summer folk. Keiser is empty come winter. Nothing for the tourists to do.”

By Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Down the dirt road that led to Shirttail point, pushed off to the side of the road was a dilapidated trailer. Rusted corrugated metal, a muddy door yard, one old truck resting in the ruts of repeated comings and goings in front of an equally dilapidated garage. Robert Delaney trudged through the muddy driveway, dirty water creeping up the back of his legs. He slunk through the front door, his mother was sitting on the couch smoking, watching daytime television.

“You talk to your doctor?” she howled at her son.

“Yes,” Delaney kept walking to his room. He pushed open the hollow door. He pushed his long greasy hair off his forehead. His feet were soaked. He kicked off his sneakers and peeled white socks turned grey from wear off his feet. He tossed them into the hamper. He dried his feet and pulled on newer wool socks. He then pulled on a pair of worn duck boots. He counted himself lucky that he was able to find some in his size at the Marden’s on the mainland. Probably some dead guy’s shoes. He thought with pleasure. That’s why they were so cheap. Mine now, and perfect for trudging on the point.

Delaney walked out of the trailer past his mother again. She was fishing around in her purse for a bottle of pills. One day she will OD. Delaney thought. No Narcan here either. Maybe the rescue could get here. Maybe they would see the address and just take their time. Delaney’s pace quickened. He was focused on The Point. Focused on Leviathan. Soon the sun would set, he would come to The Point in the pitch black. Delaney focused on the lights of the house on Shirttail Point and marched forward undeterred. His heart was beating with anticipation when his boots hit the solid crunch of the gravel driveway. I could just walk right up to the house, he thought. He crouched down and found the short rock wall that lined the edges of the lawn. He crept to the other side of the wall and skirted it until he found himself at the oceans edge. At the place where he had been caught a few years ago. He began to strip down. Naked he lowered himself into the crevasse. His legs were pulled on by the water. He imagined the jaws of a giant sea dragon swallowing him. His feet found the squish of seaweed and then solid rock. The water returned and tossed Delaney up to the top of the crevasse. His fingers found a good hold and he felt the water pull him again. It was higher around his chest. He took a deep breath as the waves released him again. He held onto the rocks but lowered himself further down the crevasse. The water came back and covered his head, he felt his hands slip and the water begin to pull away. Panic set in momentarily and then his grip caught. The cold water rolled down his body and the sensation of being swallowed left him.

Then he was blinded by an intense light, he heard shouting.

“What are you doing?” Jake yelled.

Delaney scrambled up the rocks naked, trying to hide his body, but Jake followed him with the flashlight.

“S-Sorry,” Delaney said.

Jake tossed Delaney’s clothes at him. “We saw you walk down the driveway, what are you doing?”

Praying to Leviathan, Delaney almost said. “N-nothing,” he answered. Aware that he was shivering as he slipped his dry clothes back on.

“Go home,” Jake said.

Delaney said nothing. He jogged down the driveway, one hand pulling at his sagging jeans. He ran into the darkness and didn’t stop until he arrived at the muddy driveway leading home. Please be asleep, he thought. He noticed the flickering light of the tv as he opened the door. His mom was vacant on the couch and his dad was pacing and screaming into a TracFone. Someone owes him money. Delaney thought. His dad put the phone to his shoulder.

“You stink like fish, where have you been.”

Delaney shrank, “down at The Point.”

Delaney’s father closed the distance between them and slapped Robert twice, then pointed toward the door to his room. Robert knew he was in for a beating.

By Keith Luke on Unsplash

“The Delaney boy has a brain like a bag of feral cats,” Ed Daigle said. “The whole family is bad. And Bobby, unfortunate soul that he is, has it the worst.” Jake was turned toward Ed on his diner stool.

“I caught him skinny dipping at night around our house.”

Ed nodded. “The boy has a history on that property.”

Jake leaned in, “explain.”

“Well, you see,” Ed paused to gather his thoughts. “It’s not really something I know for sure. I just know what I heard.” Ed leaned conspiratorially. “But what I heard came from our tiny little police department.” Jake listened with rapt attention. “The Delaney’s aren’t strangers to law enforcement. Mostly domestic disturbances, vandalism, acting a fool at the Tap House. Some thinks the father deals in pills. Normal,” he paused, searching for the right words, “white trash problems,” Ed whispered finally. Jake nodded again. “Bobby has not had it easy, and something is just not wired right with the kid.”

“What did he do on my property?”

Ed stammered.

“You’ve already been a willing talker,” Jake reminded him.

“Ah, shit. He was caught, trapping stray cats. I think it started out with throwing rocks at them. There was talk of that. But what got him sent to the Schuyler house was trapping the stray cats and kittens around the island.” Jake looked at Ed, his eyes urged him to keep talking. “And. Trapping cats doesn’t get you sent to a home for disturbed kids who need social skills.”

“They caught him at the point, putting the cats in burlap bags. The kind they wrap around the root balls of trees you buy at the store. He was tossing the writhing bags into the water at the end of slack tide and watching them get sucked out to sea. The family that lived on Shirttail point before you, it was a pastor, his wife and a little boy. The pastor found Bobby Delaney giggling up a storm as the bag of cats squirmed and mewled and got sucked under. The Delaney boy said he was feeding Leviathan. The sheriff was called, and Delaney went away to that home for a bit.”

Jake looked thoughtful for a moment. “Ed, why did the pastor’s family leave?” Jake’s voice was filled with apprehension.

“Ah, well,” he stammered again.

“We’re friends Ed, tell me why the family left.”

“Nobody knows what happened for sure, I want that to be clear and in the open.”

“Robert Delaney drowned the child,” Jake said, that it wasn’t a question in his heart disturbed him.

“No, no, that would have been impossible,” Ed quickly corrected. “He was still at the home.”

“Thank god.”

“There’s some that think the mother did it. Karen Delaney. But it’s just as likely--more likely in fact--that the young boy was playing down at the point and was lost in his own imagination when the tide came up and took him. Or perhaps he fell in and couldn’t get back out.”

Jake looked down at the floor. “Maybe Leviathan was hungry,” Jake quipped and was immediately ashamed. “I’m sorry, that was in poor taste.” He paused searching for the right words. “I’m just a little shaken about having someone walking around my house. It was never an issue living in a locked building in the city. You’re vulnerable out here in the burgs.”

Ed nodded. “We have our own problems, too.” Daigle pursed his lips.

By Marcus Woodbridge on Unsplash

Robert Delaney writhed in bed. He was battered and bruised. He was also determined. Robert had listened as his parents shouted at each other after the beating until his body had succumb to fatigue and he passed out. He dreamt of Leviathan, and freedom. Now he listened to what sounded like panicked rummaging. He could hear his father cursing and tossing things in the small bathroom. Robert got up and limped out of his room.

“Stay out of the way!” his father screamed. Robert looked into the living room and saw his mother on the floor surrounded by vomit. One down, he thought. The fog of sleep had completely left him. He walked to the old truck and pulled a hammer out of the back. He limped back inside. His father was now tossing his mother’s purse hoping to find Narcan.

“She doesn’t have any,” Robert said. Lifting the hammer. His father looked up in time to take the head to the face. Delaney added three more swings to be sure. Then he sat down. He dropped the hammer to the floor and caught his breath.

Robert dragged his parents out to the truck and tossed them in the bed. It was dark but he knew the dawn wasn’t too far away. He got the keys and left the house for good. He drove for Shirttail Point.

Tess woke up to pee. She walked down the hall and looked out at the ocean. The sun was just starting to rise, and the waves were crashing against the rocks. She saw an old pick-up truck parked in the yard and Robert Delaney dragging a body to the surf. She woke Jake and sprinted out of the house. Jake rolled out of bed and followed her. He watched as she jumped at Robert Delaney, who shrugged her off into the surf. She came up gasping for air and was immediately sucked out by the rip tide. Jake sprinted past Delaney and jumped into the crevasse as it filled with water. He felt the sea grab him and pull him away from shore. I’m coming Tess. And when I get you, I’m going to swim hard and sideways against the current. He swam. His lungs full and pounding. His heart fluttering. The pressure built up around him. Jake swam harder. Delaney stripped out of his clothes and left them neatly folded on the grass. He stepped down into the crevasse and let it fill with water. He plunged his face into the sea, the cold relieving his battered body. He felt the sea first grab at his feet, then his waist. He felt his fingers rake across the rocks. I’m finally gonna meet Leviathan, he thought. Then he was weightless.

fiction

About the author

Benjamin Crocker

US Navy/Army veteran and graduate from the University of Maine. Avid traveler-read, suffers from wanderlust.

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