The Halloween Project 2023 - Story 1: High Tide
Searching the sand for sea glass. That’s what Jacob did, day after day. Walking along
the high tide mark he always enjoyed checking out the beach homes that lined the sand; some stately reconstructed behemoths raised high above his head on concrete pillars or telephone pole timbers. Some were simple old-time, tiny cottages clinging to their strip of sand, not yet gentrified yet vaulted into the stratosphere of multi-million dollar homes just like the little bungalow he owned a mile down the beach. He had it winterized when Emily passed, sold his house and lived there full time.
“Where are all the people? The homeowners? The renters?” He often thought. He saw
deck chairs and umbrellas, ocean kayaks, and discarded beach toys, but no people. No children laughing. No grouped chairs with tanned folks drinking Long Island iced tea and beers. They were always absent.
But Jacob enjoyed the beach every single day, never mind the season. Beautiful autumn days with the first onshore cool breezes, the humid 90-degree summer afternoons. April and May welcomed the seasonal influx of migratory birds, and winter; cold and raw and stark with snow and crested, filigree ice to the waterline. Occasionally, a beachcomber made their way
down the strand. There would be a quick exchange of nods, and both move on in the opposite direction. Usually, an older woman, much older, and a middle-aged man. Certainly younger than him, but moving ever so carefully.
Jacob walked every day. Every single day, now that Emily was gone. It had been eleven and a half years. He went back to Long Beach often in those first days, she had loved it
so. Then he thought, ‘She loved it and so do I.’ That’s when he moved in and he went back to slowly traversing their usual route, scouting for seaglass.
He always grappled with the contradiction of scouring the beach at any tide for the hidden gems of glass; green, brown, and white the most common, then the aqua, root beer, and cobalt blue. If you kept your eyes on the sand scape which was essential in finding glass, you overlooked the waves, the birds, the distant boats, the sky and sunset. It was a trade-off. A win whichever direction your gaze took, but a trade-off nonetheless.
He admired the tenacity of the gulls against the wind. The temerity of the plovers. Boats
seemed less and less frequent, but he always acknowledged the ferry, though distant and hazy, with a wave. Horseshoe crabs beached and died. Sunsets were always spectacular. An
orange like no other, and as it set in those last few seconds, he would always announce, “Aloha!” As they had, together, for years.
One late October afternoon, the light dimming behind him a week before Daylight
Savings Time ended, a man approached on the shore from the east. The small figure grew in
size until they were ten yards apart. At the same moment they stopped and looked up.
“Hello,” the man called lightly, as if they were long friends.
“Hello to you,” Jacob replied, surprised.
“Wonderful day,” the man exclaimed. He might have been 60, or 65, Jacob thought,
never one very adept at telling people’s ages. A youngster compared to his own 88 years in the book. The man wore a weathered hat topping his sharp visage, a battered coat and khakis, resembling much like a hundred other beachcombing glass seekers over the decades.
“I’m Jacob,” he offered.
“Michael,” came the reply. And then added, “Walk much?”
“Every day,” and after a hesitation, “Every day. For years and years.”
“Really?” MIchael affirmed.
“Oh, yes. It’s a beautiful beach. And I love it so.”
“If you have a minute, let me ask you a question,” Jacob said.
“Fire away, I’ve got nothing but minutes, lots and lots of them.” He replied.
“I’ve walked here for years. More than a decade now. And before that too. Truly, every
day. For the life of me, I cannot understand where all the people are who live in these homes.
Vacations? Fourth of July? Memorial Day? Labor Day? Weekends? This place used to be
filled with people. Partying, throwing Frisbees, making sand castles, drinking beer, being loud
sometimes. And children! All the time children!”
There was a quiet moment. The small waves buffeted the shore a dozen times. One
gull called loudly and took off from the shore, beating only a wingtip’s height above the water. Michael looked out. The orange grew more brilliant, reflecting on the small waves. Then he turned to Jacob.
“Do you have children?” He asked.
“Oh, yes! Five! And eight grands,” Jacob said enthusiastically.
The quiet returned. And stayed for longer than a moment. Another dozen waves
washed the shore.
Michael, slowly once again, looked shoreward, then out to the waves. He picked up a
rock and hurled it. Then he turned to Jacob.
“There are no homes here on this beach. Long Beach is just a strip of dunes and
grasses and birds. And seaglass.”
Jacob looked at Michael, a quizzical frown on his face. “What are you talking about?
Just look..” and he gestured with his hand inland, turning slightly and stopped.
There were no homes. Just sand and shells. Shells washed onto an abandoned beach,
some piles eight feet deep. Beyond that more dunes, further on, grass and sky. And clouds,
the same billowy clouds. Majestic, pronounced, moving ever so slightly across the expanse,
transposing the setting light.
“But,” then again, “But?” Jacob muttered.
“It was the hurricane,” Michael began, “the hurricane of 2032. Emily it was called. Hit
this shore as a Level 5, broke all the meters. Some say it topped out over 200 miles per hour.”
“What?” Jacob could barely breathe out the question.
Michael continued, “Complete catastrophic destruction. Nothing left standing for miles
along the shore and a mile inland. Those who didn’t evacuate perished. I think there were over 400 dead in all. The town and state decided to pass ordinances prohibiting future building of any kind. Controversial, but it passed. It was inevitable, I suppose, what with climate change and global warming and the entire planet just turning into…” his voice trailed off for a second, “This is a nature preserve now. Hard to get to. You have to have a boat. This entire beach is now a barrier island.”
“But my house…it’s just a mile down the beach,” Jacob protested.
Michael responded slowly, and said, “I don’t think so Jacob. I don’t think so.”
“When did this happen?” Jacob asked.
“Well, like I said, 2032. That would be 11, maybe almost 12 years now.”
“And the name of the hurricane? You said the name, didn’t you?”
“Emily. The hurricane’s name was Emily.”