OPENING CHAPTER TO GHOST COAST
Posted on July 10, 2017
Here's the first chapter to Ghost Coast. It takes place in one of my old haunts, Ocean City, Maryland. The trailer is based on the many visits to the beach I took courtesy of my Aunt Jane.
I owe my life to three ghosts.
It's only now, ten years later, I feel ready to put to paper what happened in 1988.
It was not an ordinary beach getaway by any means.
– -Reece Narrows
Aunt Mandy looked back at me as she pulled her tank of a car, a green Torino station wagon with wood grain paneling, onto the interstate. She hadn't changed much in two years. Her hair, a mess of blonde curls, spilled out from under a well worn Orioles cap and down past her shoulders. Always tan and ready to launch her warm, cheesy smile in any direction, she was my favorite relative. She reminded me of the actress Kate Capshaw, who'd starred in the Indy movies and married Steven Spielberg. Lucky guy. Not that I was attracted to my aunt. Nothing like that. I just appreciated how comfortable she was in her own skin.
"Thirteen, huh?" She cranked up the Aerosmith song on the radio, "Angel" off their Permanent Vacation album. "Sorry we missed your party."
"Yep, finally a teen." Two weeks and counting. Not that she'd missed much. Blowing out a single candle on a dry cupcake with its icing threatening to slide off in a hospital cafeteria didn't qualify as much of a celebration.
"I'm sure I have your card still back at the house. Waiting on Laney to sign it."
"Is she home from college yet?" I asked, hoping the answer was a resounding no. Laney wasn't a bad person, but she was a "handful," my aunt's widely used label. Laney had driven many conversations between my mom and her sister-in-law for the past few years. I'd overheard enough of the phone chats to know that Laney was awfully busy "finding herself" to bother with pesky things like compassion and respecting her elders. It always cracked me up to hear Aunt Mandy on the other end of the line refer to herself as such
"She's done with school, but took a three-week detour, a little road trip with her friends down to Florida. Not sure why when we live so close to a perfectly good beach ourselves." She turned down the next song, "Never Surrender," an overplayed ballad by Corey Hart that I was ashamed to admit I knew all the lyrics to.
"Thanks for putting me up this summer." I hated being babysat.
"My pleasure. You need this getaway. Little salt air will do you good." She didn't add anything more. She tried to hide the tenseness in her face by sliding on her sunglasses.
I resented the getaway I was on, not that I'd ever let her know that. My aunt was doing her duty, helping out a relative who was in a tough spot.
Ahead stretched lines of cars preparing to cross the Bay Bridge. Rather impressive for a Wednesday morning. Guess everyone wanted to get a jump on the Friday beach traffic. Ocean City was a prime destination for those looking to play in the surf.
She offered, "We'll get lunch in Salisbury, your pick."
I nodded and listened to the rest of the song, wishing the false swell of confidence the Canadian rocker stirred within me could be transplanted to my mother wasting away in her hospital bed.
We rolled up into the gravel drive next to my aunt's bayside trailer to find Laney waiting. She leaned against the wooden deck that led out to a short dock shared with the neighbor's on either side.
Laney's hair was brown, but she'd seen fit to slap a purple streak down the back of it. She wore denim shorts and a red tank top that exposed her pale midriff. She squinted at us as her mom put the station wagon in park. She chomped incessantly on what had to be a huge wad of gum. "About time you got here. Been waiting around for almost an hour."
Aunt Mandy stepped out of her car carrying the fast food trash from our lunch. "I didn't expect you until the weekend. Last thing you told me was you were taking a detour to Virginia Beach."
Laney rolled her eyes. "Yeah, well that didn't pan out. Mark had to get back today. His dad needed him to work."
I exited the station wagon, cringing when my door creaked as I shoved it closed.
Laney glared at me. "Oh, yeah. Forgot, we have a full house this summer." She looked at their home. "Well, full super cramped, beat-up trailer. I'm not giving up my room."
Aunt Mandy fished her keys out of her front pocket and unlocked the screen door. "No one's asking you to." She gave her daughter a lingering look. "Where is your house key anyway?"
"Lost it. Some gator in the Everglades probably chewing away at it right now." She shrugged, grabbed her bright blue suitcase, and slid through the entryway.
I retrieved my two suitcases and backpack loaded down with books from the back, slamming the hatch to make sure it would secure itself like my aunt had warned me about earlier.
I walked up to the trailer and made a show of taking in a deep breath through my nose. "Ah, feeling better already."
She smacked me playfully in the back of the head. "Easy, chief. The role of sarcastic teen with a chip on her shoulder has already been filled."
I took the couch in the small living room. Laney complained that my sleeping arrangement on the lumpy yellow furniture whose heyday had to be circa the late seventies when paisley reigned supreme would interfere with her late night television viewing. Her mom displayed infinite patience in how she handled this outburst. I grabbed one of my books, Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, and escaped to the dock.
I went right up to the end of the wooden dock and sat down, letting my legs dangle over the edge. Recalling how I'd gotten a nasty splinter from this very same dock the last time we'd stayed here, I situated my shorts appropriately.
Two rectangular crab traps were stacked to my left, each of the chain-link mesh traps secured to the dock by long ropes. I wondered why my aunt didn't have them stored away in the small shed. Just sitting out didn't seem wise. While bayside breezes weren't as gusty as those along the ocean, it wouldn't take much to dislodge one or both.
I opened my book and tried to focus on the disaster of a comet hitting the Earth. Nothing like an earth-shattering cataclysm to take my mind off the catastrophes happening in my own little world.
The screen door rattled open and closed. I kept my attention on my book. Please don't let it be Laney.
The footsteps scuffed briefly on the gravel before thumping on the deck steps. I wouldn't look over my shoulder. If it was my cousin, I didn't want to give her the satisfaction of paying a lick of attention to her comings and goings.
The small dock vibrated slightly with each intruding step. I tried to listen to anything else but the approaching footsteps―the water lapping against the dock pilings, a bird squawking as it flew by.
Something slimy hit the back of my neck and bounced off. I spun around to see a chicken neck wobble to a stop on the dock, dangerously close to the edge. I wiped the chicken juices from my neck and glared at the poultry-tossing perpetrator.
My cousin stood five feet back, carrying a bucket in one hand. With her other, she reached within and plucked out another chicken neck. She wagged it at me. "Mom wants you and me to bond by baiting the crab traps." She nodded to the steel cages.
I didn't respond.
She studied my face. Probably assessing if she can get away with pelting me again.
Laney darted forward and took to one knee. She held the chicken piece upright and close to my own neck. She frowned. "Guess it needs to be asked. Seeing how you've got the same scrawny necks as these former chickens, you even have the stomach to touch one of these slimy things?"
I snatched it from her hand and stood. I unhooked the central compartment of the crab trap and dropped the neck in. Remembering my crabbing from a previous visit where Laney had been much younger and nicer, I held out my hand. "Two more please."
She thrust the bucket my way, forcing me to remove what I'd requested. I dropped the additional necks in the trap, secured the clasp, and heaved the trap into the water.
I sat back down as I watched it sink.
Laney dropped the bucket next to the other trap and flopped onto the dock. She dangled her legs off the side instead of off the end. "You're not going to get any pity from me."
I kept my head turned so she couldn't see my nostrils flare.
Her voice softened. "People exit from your life all the time."
I knew she was talking about herself. Her dad, my mom's brother, had left when she'd been four or five. "They do."
"Stage four lung cancer. Sucks that she didn't even smoke."
I squinted at her, knowing I've stooped to her level, that I'm playing the exact game she wants. "Yeah, that's the part the sucks. That's the cruel irony."
She scoffed and rocked back and forth. "Nerd. Still got such a big vocabulary."
Laney didn't say anything for a while. This was a different Laney than the one who'd been my coolest cousin growing up. All the other week-long stays at her trailer had been real treats. She'd been up to just about anything, including rowing me deep into the marsh despite being forbidden to do so back when she was fifteen and I had barely been ten. She wouldn't be bringing me honeysuckle to slurp up its sweet nectar either. She didn't want me here.
Finally she sighed and spewed more foulness. She eyed my hair. "Sticking with the Children of the Corn shock-white hair, are you?" She playfully smushed down one of my front cowlicks. "Afraid the mad-scientist look isn't going to cut it with the girls, shrimp."
Ah, two slams in one. Getting a dig in about my shortness as well as my unruly head of hair. I batted her hand away.
Laney stood up and kicked the bucket toward me. She acted disappointed when it didn't tip over and spill its contents. "Got plans this summer. Don't get in my way." She walked off. "And when you bring in a bunch of crabs for our dinner, make sure Mom knows I pitched in."
I watched her walk past the trailer and down the road. No refuge with or from her.
Something told me this wasn't going to be much of a getaway after all.