Night-basted salt water crept up the shore and receded lethargically. Ralph’s boots left ridge filled impressions on the wet sand as he walked down the vacant shore for his fourth on-the-hour patrol. Above, charcoal clouds dourly obscured the moon. It looked like the sinking rim of a giant white Frisbee accidentally lodged into a liquidy darkness never to be retrieved again, only gawked at with forlorn nostalgia.
Sudden faintness peppered Ralph’s senses. He stopped walking, exhaled through his nose exhaustively. He was not sick, rather the torrential stench of the shore had compelled him to breath solely through his mouth for the past five minutes. Ralph got a whiff of the horrid stench during his exhalation.
Having secured the desolate shore of Slumpton beach for over four years, Ralph was well acquainted with its inherent smells of filth and soiled salt water. Usually, he could withstand these smells without altering his breathing, but tonight he could not. Tonight, the smell had augmented, and became infused with an overwhelming putridness that was not there all the prior times Ralph dutifully patrolled the shore for derelicts searching for Captain Wraithsin’s coveted gold nuggets.
“Smells like something dead washed up,” Ralph muttered to himself while cupping his pudgy left hand around his nose. Like the copious garbage and invasive plants that grazed Ralph’s shins, this newer stench of decay conquered the entire mile and a half shore.
It was unseasonably cool for the August night, but given Ralph’s portly frame and the fact that he constantly had to hurdle over-filled trash bags that had long since split and spewed their contents, he had worked up faint perspiration on his forehead.
As Ralph came to the median of the shore, a wheel of an upturned baby carriage grazed his pant leg and left a smear of slick muck. “Fuck,” Ralph uttered as he began to wipe the streak with his bare right hand and instantly regretted doing so because of the repulsive odor that now claimed it. Shit, damn hand sanitizer is all the way up in the booth. Ralph looked up at the steep incline above where the ailing light in the Security booth fluttered rapidly like moth wings.
With his right hand extended far from his body, Ralph continued his patrol with his bottom lip poked out in a subtle pout. He had taken just five steps when he felt a squishy resistance under his left boot. It felt as if he had just stepped into a puddle of jello. No, not jello, more impressionable, like raw ground beef. Ralph looked down and was mortified.
Maggots the size of his pudgy pinky fingers squirmed in gross erratic unison. Their interlocked unity reminded Ralph of a pulsing human brain. Ralph jerked back.
Reluctantly he looked back down at the withering mass again and was unable to hold his gaze for more than a second. They wiggled defiantly as if to claim that in their bloated state that they were the pinnacle of the dipterous species and not the fly.
Irritation overcame Ralph. This night can’t get any fucking better. The shore smells worse than usual, my hand smells like I just picked a damp turd, and I just stepped into a pile of the biggest maggots I’ve ever fucking seen.
“Fuck this job,” Ralph said to himself as he stepped over two upturned syringes that were buried in the neglected weeds. Ralph considered what he might be doing if the city had never ordered the closing of the beach. I damn sure wouldn’t be doing this shit…probably would be at Burger Prince dumping fries in boiling grease, but right now, even that sounds better than this shit.
“I want my son back Wrathsin!”
Ralph’s loathing ceased when he heard the shrill outcry. His brow furrowed and his eyes narrowed. He heard erratic splashing.
About forty yards down shore, Chip the Bum was almost knee deep into the ocean.
Not this mothafucka again, Ralph thought to himself. Worried the fool might stumble and end up drowning, Ralph ran toward him.
“You give him back right now! Why don’t you step off that boat and come ashore, so I can whip your ol’ Pirate ass!” screamed Chip.
Drunk again, Ralph thought to himself as he trudged into the undulating water and soaked the bottom of his uniform pants.
“You got my lil Michael on one of yo cha-”
The bum’s screaming faltered when Ralph yanked the collar of his ragged t-shirt (with his soiled right hand). The astringent scent of sour urine accosted Ralph’s nostrils. Damn he stinks, Ralph thought to himself as he dragged Chip to shore.
Chip resisted and flailed his arms wildly like one of those inflatable figures outside a car dealership, but Ralph continued to drag the bum with ease.
“What you doin rent-a-cop? He’s out there in his row boat, don’t ya smell his dead flesh? Don’t ya see him, dat damned demon pirate?”
“No I don’t,” said Ralph not even considering the question. Ralph tossed Chip onto the mucky sand like packaged compost.
Chip propped himself up onto his knees. His stubbled, grief wrinkled visage was twisted into a grimace. “Why’d you pull me out, fatass, don’t you know that demon pirate got my boy chained up to his body?” Tears were sloping from Chip’s blood vessel mottled eyes, they meandered through the film of filth on his face like mini railroads.
Ralph felt a sudden pity for Chip. The bum had been one of the few people who had actually found one of Wraithsin’s nuggets. When he found it, he wasn’t a bum, just an ordinary single dad with a steady 9-5, subsisting in the city. When he found the 11lb gold nugget upon the shore six years ago, he cashed it for millions; it was the happiest day of his life, until his seven-year-old son Michael went missing. When the police never found so much as a trace of Michael, Chip plummeted. Grief stricken and with no financial discipline his millions slowly withered away and so did his soul. He began to drink excessively; he lost job (that he surprisingly still decided to work), then his apartment. To this day, the old bum claims that the demon pirate, Captain Wrathsin, took his son all because he found one of his hexed gold nuggets.
Hoping to scare Chip off the shore Ralph said, “Get outta here, Chip, or I’ll call the pigs to come haul your ass off in the back of a Crown Vic.”
Chip stopped talking audibly and began mouthing words to himself. Ralph noted the queer glint in the bum’s eyes. This mothafucka look like he really did see some kind of demon, Ralph comically thought.
“Come on Chip, get on man,” Ralph’s chubby brown fingers pulled at the air and gesticulated his command.
Chip stood up, still silently mouthing something to himself. He started back toward the end of the shore, where the bordering woods encroached. After about ten paces, Chip whirled around and said, “You bes be wary, cause he may be watching you. Stray from the nugget, or he’ll take your beloved too.” Then, Chip continued walking as if he had said nothing at all.
Ralph bit down on his chapped bottom lip and briefly noted how in all his other encounters with Chip, he had never claimed to see Captain Wrathsin…or smell him.
“Don’t ya smell his dead flesh? Don’t ya see him, dat damned demon pirate?” Chip’s questions echoed through Ralph’s conscience. Ralph also found it strange that he didn’t smell the usual force field of alcohol that seemed inherent to Chip.
Ralph gazed into the ever-sloshing ocean. He saw no row boat with a demon pirate upon it. Who am I kidding, that fool was drunk off his ass, I just couldn’t smell him cause I’ve been trying not to breath out of my nose, sinuses and shit, that’s all. Opting to cut his patrol short, Ralph turned around and began to walk back toward the booth.
Had Ralph looked toward the ocean at that very moment, he would have seen the dark crescent atop the water. No paddles flanked the rowboat. The erratic ocean rose and fell incessantly but this shadowed rowboat remained still as the entity abroad it.
While Ralph made his way back down the littered shore, he couldn’t help but think of the tragic pattern of those who were actually lucky enough to find one of Wrathsin’s gold nuggets. Happy as flies in dog shit, they would always rush to cash it for a couple million and seemingly simultaneously their children and/or spouse would just disappear. There had to be something to it right? Problems and issues in the families before they came into the millions? Something to compel the missing members of the family to up and leave, maybe abuse or something? People say you change when you get rich. Could that have been the case in the half dozen instances of such that Ralph could recollect? Money couldn’t change you that quickly, could it?
His pondering was interrupted by a faint rustling noise. His gaze darted down the shore, where he assumed the sound came from. Chip was out of sight, probably navigating through the woods looking for a spot to sleep. Ralph saw nothing but garbage interwoven with leafy weeds.
But he still heard the rustling sound.
It was louder, heavier, and more defined. So much that Ralph no longer thought of it as a simple rustling. Ralph continued looking around the shore trying to identify the source of the strange sound.
He took the mag flashlight out of the small velcro pocket on his belt. Before he could turn it on, the sound amplified.
With his mouth slightly agape, Ralph stood perplexed. The initial sound he heard had evolved into a steady rhythmic jingle that seemed to enigmatically come from all angles. Then it suddenly crescendoed to the point where Ralph was certain the source of it was right behind him.
Ralph whirled around with the gleaming flashlight in his right hand, the left a trembling clenched fist. There was nothing but the liter-strewn shore. His heart jutted repetitiously. Ralph exhaled emphatically through pursed lips, gulped dry spit, turned the flashlight off, and put it back into the velcro pocket.
Dis smell and dat bum got me trippin, Ralph tried to placate himself. The strange rattling had ceased.
With his nerves wired and his conscience exasperated, Ralph felt an expanding pang in his gut. He wanted his fiancé Mariah. She always made things better. An image of Mariah smiling, showing off her dimples bloomed in Ralph’s mind. Oh how he yearned to hug and feel the inherent warmth of her pecan skin. He licked his chapped lips for a quick ravenous second when he thought of kissing hers.
Wanting to see how much time he had left until he could go home and make these thoughts reality, Ralph looked at his burly, bare left wrist and uttered, “Fuck”.
Left my watch at home, he thought. His hands had already begun to pat his pockets for his cell. Both pockets were empty; his cell was up in the booth.
With extra pep in his step, Ralph resumed walking. He opted to walk closer to the water so that he wouldn’t have to navigate through the endless garbage. The moody tide splashed the sides of his boots.
Ralph continued on briskly.
When he was nearing the point where the shore bled into the start of the gravel incline that lead back to the booth he tripped over something solid and protuberant. He regained balance and looked behind him to see what he had stumbled over.
His eyes widened, his heart paused, and his mouth dropped open in awe. The most brilliant gleam he had ever witnessed lay lodged in the wet sand behind him. Compelled by the belying lure that had enticed many others, Ralph reached for the gold nugget. On the motionless, unnoticed, rowboat fifty yards from the shore, the entity grinned perniciously with his needled teeth.
An enthralling relief enraptured Ralph when his hand bore down on it. He and Mariah were going to be rich. He could quit this job. They would move far from the city of Slumpton, maybe to a tropical island where they could spend their days reclined drinking alcoholic beverages from coconuts.
Ralph pulled the nugget from the sand and grew more ecstatic when he felt its overt weight. This has gotta be worth over 10 mill, Ralph thought.
Ralph wiped the sand on the bottom of the nugget onto his un-tucked uniform shirt. He didn’t give a fuck about his uniform anymore; soon he wouldn’t have to wear one. This might be the biggest one anyone has ever found, he thought to himself smiling profusely, showing all his white gaped teeth.
Then, he heard the strange dissonance again. It sounded as if it were right in front of him.
Alerted, Ralph studied the shore. He was ready to protect the nugget with his life. The abrupt jangle lingered in his ears like an echo. This strange resonance made him able to identify the sound: chains. Dangling chains, swaying and clanking into each other.
The sound ceased as fast as it had arisen. Ralph gripped the amorphous nugget to his heaving chest and scanned the shore. He saw no one.
Had he looked into the water, he would have seen the still rowboat just fifty feet from the shore, with the stark shadow upon it.
I’m outta here, Ralph thought to himself, dismissing the strange noise. He tried with minimal success to contain his jubilance and stay alert as he began to jog up the gravel path.
The stark figure in the rowboat continued to watch Ralph until he reached the shore. Then it appeared out of thin air onto the shore right where Ralph had found the nugget. The residual victim’s bones that were attached to the chains permanently affixed to its body pendulumed and grazed the wet sand.
When Ralph got back to the booth, he grabbed his cell phone and left, not bothering to finish the remaining three and a half hours of his shift. His happiness was practically seeping out of his chubby clean-shaven face. He would hold off on calling Mariah and surprise her.
He forgot to grab his pack of Newports off the desk before bolting out of the slide door toward the bus stop down the road. But what did he care, he would be rich, he would be able to buy them by the case now, no more single packs for him. Plus, with all this newfound happiness, he might not have the need for the noxious cancer sticks anymore.
Ralph jogged the entire dirt road that lead to the bus stop. The nugget was too large to fit in his pants pockets so he had to hold it in his right hand. He gripped it like Colin Kaepernick holding a football on the run. He was too ecstatic to become tired by its cumbersome weight.
Usually Ralph couldn’t afford the increased fees of the night bus. But now he would spend the last four dollars in his pocket because soon he would be rich. I’ll be able to buy my own damn bus, Ralph smugly thought as he waited for the bus.
The bus pulled up.
He stuffed the nugget in the back of his pants. Of course it didn’t fit all the way, but his un-tucked shirt would cover it, and there probably wouldn’t be anyone on the bus at 4:26 in the morning.
Ralph stepped onto the bus, and non-chalantly gave the driver his money. The driver, an old black man with a receding mini gray afro took the money and nodded. Ralph discreetly made his way down the narrow aisle.
The only other person on the bus was Zelda: a middle aged woman who claimed to be Thee clairvoyant of Slumpton. She was asleep.
Ralph eased by the middle section of the bus hoping not to wake her. He had to readjust the nugget and push it more into his pants. When he did this, her eyelids fluttered but she didn’t wake.
Ralph sat in the back of the bus. He knew he shouldn’t take the nugget out, but it was beginning to hurt his lower back and he wanted to stare at its luster some more.
He took it out carefully and held it tight against his right hip. Ralph checked in on the bus driver and was relieved when he saw that he was in the midst of turning the steering wheel.
But Zelda had awakened and was looking right at Ralph with bewildered gray eyes that ostensibly contrasted her almond skin.
“You found one of his nuggets?” she blurted.
Ralph looked down at the bulging nugget by his side and then back up at her. A brief wave of panic struck him. But then he relaxed when he realized he was in control of the situation. He swallowed dryly, looked up at her, and smiled.
“Yeah… I jus—“
“You damn fool!” she screamed. Startled, the bus driver looked into his rear view mirror and regarded both of them with a nervous glance.
“Don’t you know dat gold’s cursed?” Zelda was easing herself down the elongated bus seat further away from Ralph. Her thin lower lip trembled uncontrollably.
“Wrathsin was no ordinary pirate screamin arrrgggh, fighting swords, and boozing. Wrathsin was a lone pirate, a sadist, who sought people more than treasure. He would enslave each of his victims until they died on the opposing end of chain link that lay embedded in his skin. It is said that he had over a hundred of these chains draping from his body.”
Ralph reacted with a guffaw. When he got his laughter under control, he looked at Zelda, regarded the beads of sweat that had broke out on her temples and said “Ouhhhhh Spoooookyyy…Look Miss Zelda, there ain’t no damn curse. I’m going to cash this mothafucka and get outta this damn city. That’s it, aint no psychopathic pirate coming after me.”
“You damn fool, it aint you he after. Once, you take a piece of his cursed gold he comes and takes your heart’s gold… your loved ones,” Zelda replied.
Annoyed Ralph glared at her, “Shut up you ol’ bitch. You don’t know shit.”
The bus driver glanced again at them through the rear view mirror, but said nothing.
Seemingly unoffended by his insults, Zelda held her stern stare on him and said “I know that centuries ago, a horde of bounty hunters amongst five different ships had Wrathsin surrounded in his rowboat. Before they could bring him in, he slit his own throat and let his blood gush over the gold nuggets he had on the floor of the rowboat. Then, he just plopped right into the water and they never recovered his body cause a great whirlpool suddenly came and sucked it away. All they had to show for their efforts was the bloodied gold nuggets. When they returned to the mainland eager to see their families and tell the tale of their journey. They all found that their beloved families did not greet them on the dock as they expected, nor did they greet them at their homes. They were gone.”
Another burst of laughter spurred from Ralph’s mouth. “Lady, are you fucking kidding me, you expect me to believe this fucking fairytale?”
Unaffected by Ralph’s incredulity, Zelda went on with a seriousness that only made Ralph laugh more. “When the bounty hunters couldn’t find their families they condemned the gold, believing it was hexed by Wrathsin in his dying moments. When they cast all of the gold back into the sea, they saw Wraithsin returned from the dead as a hideous demon in the middle of the sea upon his rowboat with each and every missing family member chained to his flesh.”
“Ahahah,” Ralph cut her tale off and laughed hysterically as he caressed the gold nugget absently with his right hand. “You mean to tell me this resurrected… form of Captain Wraithsin fit dozens of families on one little rowboat? Come on lady, clean your crystal ball off.”
“As the lord, can work wonders, so can the devil,” said Zelda sternly. Her thin lips were coated with spittle from talking so fast.
“Oh, so now Wrathsin worked for Lucifer?” asked Ralph sarcastically expecting an immediate answer.
Zelda did not respond.
The Bus was stopped at a traffic light. Through the window across from her seat Zelda saw movement on the street corner. Her body became rigid with fear. From his backseat, Ralph could not see what incited her fear.
On the street corner, Wraithsin casually waved at her like a greeting clown at the entrance to a circus. His obsidian skin looked rough and leathery. His bald bulbous head made him look like a vile goblin from the sea. A lipless grin filled with keenly pointed teeth stretched across his face. His profound, lone black eye skewed toward the center of his face, a tattered patch covered the other he once had. The chains affixed to his body draped like a grotesque coat. At the end of each chain were human bones.
Zelda, gasped when the guttural voice of Wraithsin invaded her mind.
Now you just shut up and let him find out about me the hard way, you old cunt.
Zelda shrieked and began to tremble.
“What’s wrong with you lady, you look like you just seen Wrathsin?” Ralph asked still chuckling.
He pulled the cord that ran above the windows so the driver would stop. The bus came to a screeching halt. Ralph stood up, gripping the nugget ostensibly in his right hand. “Fuck you lady, I’m rich,” he said as he held up the nugget and flaunted it at the woman before pompously stepping off the bus.
Crazy dumb bitch, Ralph thought to himself as he made his way down his street’s narrow sidewalk. It was still chilly, but all Ralph’s excitement had his blood boiling. It was 5:01AM, and no one was on the street. Ralph felt safe holding the nugget out in the open. He would be jumping for joy with Mariah in his apartment building in a matter of minutes.
When he was about sixty yards away from the stone stoop of his building, he stopped. Not trusting his eyes he blinked several times. The broad figure on the stoop remained with the smaller figure in front of it.
Not sure of what he was looking at, Ralph walked cautiously toward the stoop.
The broad figure came into focus.
Its skin was the obscure color of the ocean under a night sky. Dangling from its slouched calloused body, at numerous points, were thick chain links that varied in length. Ralph’s eyes widened in horror when he saw the various bones at the end of each chain: a femur, a humerus, a tibia, a cracked cranium that perturbingly looked like a child’s. Ralph even saw what looked like the tiny bones of a baby’s foot dangling from the chain-link that drooped from its pointy right ear.
Ralph’s morbid observations halted when he saw the chain wrapped around Mariah’s neck, like a metal python. At the sight of Ralph, she reached adamantly toward him, begging to be saved. Her eyes were bulging as if they were getting ready to plop right out of her head. Her mouth was open in a dire scream, but not even a whimper escaped.
Wrathsin’s lone, soulless, black eye looked like a baby black jellyfish as it leveled on Ralph.
“You take my treasure, I take yours,” said Wraithsin before disappearing out of thin air with Mariah.
Ralph dropped the golden nugget and screamed in agony.
He could still hear the maddening rattle of the chains.