A Gator We Should Turn to Be
Fiction by David Busboom
Was it only today the Witch turned up in Jacksonville to weave a net she thought could hold us? Late that morning—this morning—we took Elaine—the name she gave—on the boat through the calm, green waters of the Atlantic and hunted south along the coast for a sandy beach where we could rest and swim and drink Coke.
She was a tall girl with long legs, a slight limp. She wore a blue bathing suit, cut high at the firm thighs, snug over the slender curve of waist and small breasts. We knew she wasn’t a tourist. It wasn’t just her limp, or the recent scar on her right shoulder; it was a bad feeling from deep down in our socks, almost a stink in our nostrils as she handed us the wrinkled ten-dollar bill from her sunflower purse for the boat ride. We added a few bucks to the usual price, hoping she might leave us alone, but she would’ve paid twenty or more before letting us go. We took the money and let her aboard. Gotta be crazy to do otherwise on such a hot, dead morning, right? That’s how it’d look.
Marvin Gaye started singing on the transistor radio we kept in the boat: “Stubborn Kind of Fellow.” Elaine was telling us about a concert she saw two weeks before in Miami.
“Elvis and John Lennon have nothing on Jim Morrison,” she said. Faint Midwest accent—Wisconsin, maybe? Hard to tell if you’ve never been north of Georgia. “I mean, he was stumbling around the stage, guzzling beer, squinting at the audience. But he looked so tough with that devilish beard and dark shirt, those black leather pants…”
She noticed our copy of Tales of Gooseflesh and Laughter where it sat next to the radio, with its weird rocket-ship structures on the cover, and asked if we’d seen the Apollo launch. We hadn’t.
“Author just died,” we said. “Wanted to catch up.”
She pulled a hardback out of her purse to show us what she was reading: Raymond Chandler, Killer in the Rain. Blue jacket, with a knife like ours next to the title. It reminded us of the young boys on the train tracks, their flesh roasting over our fire, steaming in the light December drizzle. Mr. LoScalzo hadn’t hired us for that one; that one had been just for us.
We chose a curved, narrow piece of island three or four hundred yards from the shoreline, edged the boat into the beach. Elaine slipped over the side into shallow water to guide the keel against the white sand. She did this without asking or being asked, almost like she’d done it before.
We’d decided not to kill her, though we wondered if she had a death wish. We yawned, though we weren’t tired. It never hurts to throw them off, even if you don’t throw them overboard. The Feeling can come upon one at any time.
“You want me here, don’t you?” Elaine asked suddenly, her thick, dark hair hitting her shoulders. Her eyes were wide open as if she were seeing us for the first time. She was staring at us; we had her complete attention now. “I mean I paid for the ride, so I might as well hang, right? Anyway, I could use some company.”
Testing us. She had to be in her early or maybe mid-twenties. The kind of young woman to drive us crazy on curious days, especially when The Feeling comes with its mild shakes and its strange, familiar sounds.
The radio played Donovan’s “Season of the Witch.”
She smiled, but not in her eyes. The muscles in her long legs tensed; the left was scarred below the hip. We wondered how her bones might look.
“Your name’s not Elaine,” we said.
“Names change,” she said, after a moment’s hesitation. She reached into her purse, for the weapon we knew she’d hidden there; a switchblade, a can of Mace, perhaps even a small pistol. “Your name isn’t Roger.”
“Names are interchangeable,” we said, chuckling in spite of ourselves and fingering the knife in our pocket. We’d almost forgotten which name we’d given her.
“Where is Phil Carmody?” she asked.
This name was familiar. One of the ones Mr. LoScalzo gave us. Months ago, even before the boys.
“Who sent you?” we asked the Witch.
“Someone who knew Carmody,” she said. “Someone who doesn’t like your associates in Tampa reaching this far north.”
We’d have to kill the Witch after all. She was a wild young woman, probably a drug addict or an alcoholic, not dim but not as bright as us, almost certainly a sociopath. Someone had hired her to “straighten us out” as Mr. LoScalzo might say. How much were we worth? $20,000? $50,000? Anything less would be insulting.
We would cut the nose off her face, strip the flesh from her long legs.
We would eat her, like the boys.
She was already taking something out of her purse, but we were bigger, probably faster….
We rushed her like a reptile, swung out with the knife.
She ducked and brought the gun up: a small black pistol.
We wake on the beach at night, feeling like a shaken Coke bottle.
We are alone. The boat is gone, and with it the Witch, the radio, the knife…. The air is warm and damp. Our skin itches from the sand. Our head hurts.
We push the heel of our hand against our head, brush loose a few grains of sand, and feel a familiar stickiness. The Witch’s bullet grazed our skull just above and behind our eyebrow, but didn’t penetrate. The skin there is ragged and torn. We’ve lost a lot of blood.
We look out to where boats sail in the dark, lights reflecting on the still water. A gull calls from somewhere.
We sit up, hands shaking. We are alone. Our heart hammers. Our eyes sting. Behind them, burnt there, we still see the flash from the Witch’s gun.
We must try now. We can make it.
We can hold our breath a long time.
The water of the Atlantic stretches out before us, gleaming with the million lights of the city in the distance. The voice of the deep is seductive, constant, inviting us to wander in a black abyss of solitude.
We leave our clothes on the sand and stand naked in the open air, at the mercy of the gibbous moon and the beating breeze like a newborn thing.
The gentle wavelets curl up to our feet, coil like tentacles about our ankles. We walk out. The water is cold and deep, but we walk on, lift our bleeding body and reach out with a long, sweeping stroke. The sea’s touch is sensuous, enfolding us in its soft, close embrace.
We go on and on. Don’t look back. Just go on and on and on. One of the boat lights is brighter than the rest.
Our limbs tire. Our head stings and aches.
We think of the Witch, the boys, Mr. LoScalzo, but only for a moment. They are no longer objects of concern.
Exhaustion presses us to stop. The shore is lost in the light, the boat (is it a boat?) so close now.
We can hold our breath a long, long time.
We look into the light. Terror flames up for an instant, then sinks again. We hear our ancestors’ voices. We hear their dead, croaking language.
We can hear Atlantis, full of cheer…
David Busboom is a lifelong Illinois resident with a BA in English and a day job at the Poultry Science Association. Since 2010, his stories and essays have been published in various newspapers, magazines, and anthologies. His first book is Nightbird (Unnerving, 2018), a horror novella about a young man’s obsession.
This article originally appeared in the July 27, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.