Frankie stood ankle deep in the extreme low tide surf. Any further or deeper would be considered “swimming alone” which according to her mom, Elsa, and Dad was strictly taboo. She shivered slightly, her bathing suit offered no protection in the chill dawn air.
“I’m not swimming,” she told herself, “I’m on a scientific survey!” She gasped softly as the retreating water pulled with great force against her ankles. Out before the breakers, the sea water crashed on itself in a weird diagonal pattern.
“Rip-tide,” Frankie muttered, “note to self: look up relation to lunar eclipse low tide and rip tide phenomena.”
She was now mid-calf: “I’m not swimming,” as if to reassure her parents, Rose, Bill, Woody: “I’m…” a sudden back tow nearly pushed her over. As she steadied herself she caught a glimpse of a girl in white, running on the beach but when she turned to get a better look all she saw was a crow probing in the little “V” shapes in the low-tide sand for a sand crab.
She gazed out past the waves. “Something’s out there” she whispered. And yes just past the breaking waves something poked up, white, like fingers, huge, like branches of a sun bleached tree or…bones…
Joel had written in his letter to her that many legends and myths have truthful origins. Frankie waded out further. What if Evan’s story was true? What if haunted bones washed up on lonely beaches and stole you away forever, like CharMan, a wretched curse. were they connected somehow? Frankie who was now waist deep bent her knees, used a driftwood branch as a walking stick but the hungry tide pulled at her as she drew closer to the source of her next story.
A wave broke, white foam dancing across the crest, no, a girl, a woman, dressed in white! Frankie didn’t even realize that she was wading deeper out into the strong current. Suddenly a huge wave broke and knocked Frankie over . She the force of the water tore her staff from her hands, she tried to stand but as she took a deep breath another wave rushed in and she was totally submerged. The rip tide was pulling her out to sea…it all happened so fast! Frankie curled into a ball and after tumbling and rolling found the sandy floor, she grasped at it, dug her fingers into it but the water, the rip tide, the gravity of a lunar eclipse found her, pulled her, she was being slowly swept out to sea. “No!” Frankie thought, “Correlate data.” and struggled to control her rising panic opened her eyes in the churning green bubbles and grasped for a hold on anything. She stayed flat on the sandy floor and reached and grabbed and grasped something solid. “Breathe-I need air now!” Frankie took a chance and stood up.
The water pulled out so far that she was now free up to her shoulders. She gagged and choked and then sucked in lungfuls of air. “I am she who breathes!” she told herself. What was this thing in the water? Whatever it is, it saved her from being swept out to sea. She couldn’t see what it was in the churning water. The tide pulled out some more, only chest deep now. Off in the distance far away on the dry shore, her only witness, the crow…” Once upon a midnight dreary- While I pondered weak and weary…”Poe, Woody recited Poe for me, me! Why would he go through so much trouble?” Now a few days after Frankie’s Birthday bon-fire party, Frankie was on the very same beach where Evan told his “Bones of the Earth” story. The same beach where CharMan walks and howls and steals you away forever…Frankie looked out to sea: no wonder the water pulled back so far; the biggest wave she ever saw crested and broke in a heart beat, a flash, a blink. Frankie took a huge gulp of air took a hold of whatever this jetsam was that was stronger than the maw of the rip tide. She dove under just as the wave rushed over. She clung to the thing and explored it with her hands: Smooth long shapes, rooted deeply in the sand. A gap, protection from the forceful tide? She slipped inside, she probed the floor of the macabre cage. The sand felt strange, soft, yes mushy. Overcome with curiosity Frankie plunged her hand in the odd pool of sand. Her hand sunk effortlessly into the sand until she hit something round. Horror shot through her when she tried to yank her hand out and felt a vacuum pull, she was trapped! Visions flashed through her mind: Elsa walking up and down on the beach calling for her, Rose and Bill nibbling cold french fries, waiting on the nearby pier where she promised to meet them that afternoon, Joel at the Saigon Hospital wondering why she stopped writing to him…
“Taken away forever!” Frankie released a few bubbles, “The White Lady was trying to tell me that I am she who walks on the sand!” and with that thought Frankie pulled with all her might and with a horrible squelching burp the sand released her hand. Frankie squeezed through the gap, the cage, the gateway to the bottom of the ocean. She stood up and took one more breath, dove under the churning water and crawled along the floor of the shore using the out going momentum of the water, came up for air and waited for the receding wave to back out.
It took nearly an hour to fight the rip tide and get to shore. “I am she who breathes, who walks on the sand” she repeated over and over. Frankie struggled to the sedge grass where she had stashed her back pack and with trembling hands changed into dry clothes. She glanced at her watch: two hours before she was to meet Rose and Bill on the pier to discuss the White Lady, what would she tell them about this morning, what would she tell anyone? She took out her field journal and began to write:
November 2nd 1968
Notes on the Bones of the Earth: It is my scientific assessment that the bones of the earth from Evan Cole’s rendition of a local legend may be explained as follows: The curse so-called demonic bones have a natural and scientific explanation based on observational and historical research:
Whale bones, washed up during an extreme low tide (such as today’s ref. 11/2/68) sink into a section of clay and silt and are held tight against surf and tide. Undisturbed with in the rib cage this sandy mud forms a type of quick-sand which could trap anyone fool hardy enough to venture out alone that far into the surf. Thus the belief that people are actually “Taken away forever by bones or by CharMan, when sadly they are swallowed by quick sand and add their bones to the quagmire…Frankie shuddered as she recorded her observation: what had she touched in that quicksand? She surrounded herself with a wall of imaginary fire, walled off unnecessary fear and dread and continued to write…
These whale bones, legend has it, appear every hundred years. I propose that a natural phenomena such as an earth quake (ref last October 1967) could pushed the bones up and make them temporarily visible.
Frankie paused in her writing to pour some coffee from her thermos. She held her cup to warm her hands as she gazed out to sea. Three more crows strutted along the shore. The White Lady warned her of danger. Strange forces were at work in her life, something is out there but nobody can ever know she went swimming by herself today…
#1 in a series of short stories based on the characters and circumstances in “The CharMan Chronicles”: book one: “The Book of Fire”, book two: “Letters from Home” and Book Three: “Blood and Guts and the Sapphire Star”
See Prints of Lisa’s art work at the Fremont First Friday art walks.