About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Mark E. Rogers
The moon looked as if it were hanging directly over the border between sea and beach; the surf was a silverlit fury of water and spray.
Hell, Gary thought, If that moon was any brighter, there'd be a rainbow. He took a hit from his flask.
The wind began to blow harder. Despite the warmth the liquor sent coursing through his veins, the breeze still cut.
God, is this really July?
He began thinking about that nice warm bed back at the house. Yes, it was time to head on home. Maybe there'd be news about mom....
"Dammit, God," he said, "I know I don't believe in you, but please let her be okay."
He was about to get up when he noticed something drifting in on one of the combers. Dark and rectangular, it looked almost like a piece of plywood; then he saw it was riding too high in the water. Back of some kind of flotation cushion, maybe.....But there was something about the stability of its movements that suggested something heavy beneath it.
Holy shit, he thought. A flotation cushion. And just about the size of an airline seatback.
The waves pushed it closer to the shore. Soon it was in the surf. Gary sat motionless, hoping his worst suspicion would not be confirmed. He tried to think of something else that could be attached----
(With a seatbelt, Gary?)
to an airliner flotation seatback, something else besides a......
The object tilted in the surf, and a wave caught it, tumbling the whole mass over. Sitting there serenely, as though he were asleep and not a day-old drowned corpse, was a dead gentleman in a business suit. It was hard to tell at that distance, but he seemed to have a large crab clinging to his face.
Gary felt suddenly sick, but parts of his mind remained strangely objective about the whole business. Should he try to haul the guy up on the beach? What exactly should he say when he phoned the cops?
Still he had not moved. Civic duty or no, he found he had no inclination to. Used to dead bodies neatly tucked into coffins, behaving themselves at funeral parlors, he was totally unprepared to deal with one in the process of washing ashore. And this one was an Italian tourist, no less. All the way from Rome, maybe, four thousand miles to drown off the Jersey coast.
The seat shifted with each wave, but it had pretty much run aground. Surf sloshed over the man's face, but the crab was still clinging to him. Looked like it had him by the mouth. Big damn crab.
No seafood for a year, Gary told himself.
That was when he saw the corpse reach up and tear the crustacean off.
A wave splashed over the body. When it receded, the corpse's hand was back at its side.
Old eyes playing tricks on you, Gary thought. Too much scotch. Wasn't any crab to begin with----
This line of argument was cut short as the corpse's pale hands whipped to the seatbelt and undid it.
Gary pressed himself slowly back against the boulder, trying to melt into the stone, even as he ran through the very compelling reasons why he had nothing to fear and could not possibly have seen what he had just seen.....
With a fearsomely quick movement, the corpse rolled from the seat, knocking it on its side as it passed over the armrest; then in an explosive splash it jacknifed up into a sitting position. Chin dripping foam, it appeared to be eyeing the jetty.
Jesus Oh God can it see me........?
But if the corpse was aware of Gary, it paid him no heed; its face swivelled seaward and jerked to a crisp, precise halt. Gary guessed he could not be all that obvious, with his dark-blue jacket and pants against the dark granite. There wasonly his pasty white face, and there was nothing to be done about that, not even cover it with his pasty white hands.....All he could do was press himself flatter and flatter against the stone and pray to Jesus Christ Almighty that he was just too damn drunk and none of this was happening.....
The corpse shot to its feet like a spear thrust up out of the surf. Gary's eyes darted eastward, out to sea, towards the spot it seemed to be staring at.
Three round things appeared in the trough between two waves and started towards the shore. Swells rolled over them, but each time they reappeared, closer to the beach. After a time they were clearly recognizeable as heads, rising slowly from the water, faces pale beneath dark hanging hair. Shiny black shoulders broke the surface; white collars gleamed. Pressing purposefully through the foam, barely staggering as waves crashed into them, the figures halted suddenly where the water was only knee-deep.
The corpse strode out to meet them, splashing through the shallows like an overwound toy soldier. As it came up beside them, they pivotted mechanically around; the four marched back out into the Atlantic, finally sinking from sight.
Frigid sweat poured down Gary's face.
Gone, he thought. They're gone.
He was leaping from stone to stone down towards the beach before he even realized it. Bounding onto the sand, he pelted across the beach to the boardwalk, not stopping till he reached his parents' house.