The breeze was too warm for a sweater and the water too cold for swimming.
Useless weather, he thought. Good for nothing.
The mild transition between spring and summer didn’t appeal to Alan. He was already missing the winter seas and the raw, wet air that hurt your lungs if you drew it in too fast. In spite of his disfavor with the calendar, he still had the beach and today it was just the way he liked it—empty, not another soul for as far as he could see. The beach was his church, and he worshiped best alone.
He walked at a slower gait than usual, taking it all in, knowing that within a few weeks the crowds would return, littering the sand with their ice cream wrappers and cigarette butts, and contaminating the clean, salty air with the ear-stench from a hundred black and silver boom-boxes bought on sale from the local drug and notions.
Several summers ago he had tried to teach them, to show them how their seasonal invasion—their thoughtlessness and stupidity—was damaging the beach and the wildlife that lived there. They had responded with blank expressions and glassy-eyed indifference, some arrogantly turning up their radios to drown him out, to push him out of earshot.
As bad as the tourist-filled days were—so bad he never ventured outside in the afternoon—the evenings were far worse. That’s when he found his precious beach wounded and bleeding, the sand punctured with empty beer cans and still-glowing cigar stubs. Even more vulnerable, the higher dunes were frequently left suffocating in tons of grease paper, used Kleenex, and the occasional disposable diaper—damning evidence that raging human scum had fucked his beach.
One night, after trying to diffuse his anger with a fifth of Johnnie Walker Red, he had admitted the truth—if only to himself: He would kill them if he could. Club them with the very same shovel he used to pile up their wretched trash, and then let the birds pick their bones.
He pushed the thought from his mind. They would be here soon enough. Right now, he had the beach to himself, and he would savor the solitude for a couple more days, maybe a week, depending on this useless weather.
Alan was taking his usual late afternoon walk along the shoreline. As he inhaled the salt-laden mist and felt the tightly-packed sand crunch under his feet, he easily imagined the light breeze at his back gently urging him toward a large outcropping of exposed granite at the south end of the strand.
As he covered the final hundred yards separating him from the rocky projection, he slowed his pace. No matter how many times he saw it, he couldn’t help but appreciate the enduring strength of the weather-worn monolith. Dark and craggy, it was an unremarkable monument. But for Alan, its stubborn and defiant stand against the elements gave it character and personality, and he always approached it with a kind of pantheistic reverence.
From there, he would turn and gaze back at his house. At that distance, it appeared as little more than a tiny blue-white dot on the water’s edge. Yet, it was his prize—a small bungalow resting comfortably on a hand-laid stone foundation, its weatherworn base hidden under a thick blanket of ivy and periwinkle.
Alan had waited several years for the property to come on the market. Then using his highly developed skill as a negotiator—the same skill that had allowed him to amass a small fortune and retire early from his job as an independent sales rep—he had paid cash.
Today, his anticipated view of the empty shoreline made the solitary pillar of rock especially inviting. Alan quickly climbed to the flat shelf near the top and leaned against the naturally supportive contour of the stone. Slowly, devoutly, he surveyed the entire beach—his beach. At least, that’s what he told himself. And why not? He did, after all, have an innate appreciation for its serene beauty. And he was all too aware of how it suffered when subjected to the abuses of the ignorant and irresponsible—abuses he would never tolerate if the beach belonged to him.
Alan looked out over the water. “So, what will we discuss today? What secrets will you share with me?” The ocean settled his thoughts and he often talked to it like an old friend, his irrational personification of the sea a telling symptom of intentional self-exile. Since his retirement, he had deliberately distanced himself from personal acquaintances, colleagues, and former business associates, favoring his own company—and voice—to that of others.
Although he seldom had to wait for the waves to answer, today his confidante seemed restless and unsettled. Instead of welcoming him with the relaxing rhythm of a gentle surf, the water was agitated, churning with cross-currents and rip-tides. In the distance, burgeoning thunderheads were rising from the edge of the sea, and unlike the usual white blankets that spent the day playing hide-and-seek with the sky until finally resting on the sun-struck horizon like giant puffs of cotton candy, these intruders were different—threatening harbingers, an assault force from an angered Poseidon.
In the companion novella Short Time, you’ll meet a respectable but bored middle-class executive, who exchanges his future for six months of excess and extravagance, only to discover the price he must pay for his hedonistic indulgence is beyond anything he could have imagined.