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Volume 14, Issue 4: Flotsam


Nathan Wilson

It should have been as thick as fudge, gumming me up and making me thirsty, but it wasn't. Instead I stood stretching for it. I reached with every fiber available trying to feel the reality of the sand beneath my feet, the surf grabbing at birds behind me, the blank sky above, the inlet before, the lighthouse flicking in nervous anticipation of armies, black thundering armies that climbed the horizon. I stood with my back to the sea, wanting to be overwhelmed.

My feet moved, and I turned to search for my smallness further out.
Packs of birds ran from the motion of my feet. They ran from the feet of the ocean. Up and down the banked sand they raced, never overwhelmed, never washed out, up to their bird knees and then out again and back in. Froth licked their feathers, but could not cling to their speed. They were frantic sheep in a frantic herd, waiting for something from the sea. They searched the beach in front of me for a drowned friend, bird chief? Master? Dogs then, not sheep. This pack of Argus birds awaited their Odysseus, their Jonah spat up by the great fish.
I grew weary of their constancy and ran at them.
The sand bar peninsula crawled out into the ocean, before it grew fearful and hooked back to run alongside the shore. Along its serpentine back were spines, the gleanings of storms and tides, gathered and piled by gloved and well-paid hands, as if for burning. The cold sand swallowed my feet while I pushed my way up the bank and toward the sea's rejected.
An offshore wind, vanguard to the storm, swam around me when I crested the bank and looked down on the small inlet captured by sand. Beside me towered driftwood strung with torn nets, sheltering trash thrown beneath, one rubber glove, buckets, cork, Styrofoam. The beams to this hall were the shattered and smoothed bones of trees, the tarred and heavy ties of railroads and one sign. The post of the sign was long, twelve feet, long enough to plant deep in sand, deep enough to survive storms. Its face was of wood, but blank. My hand could not quite surround the post, and my arm struggled to free it from the others.
The wind pulled at me, I pulled at the post, and we both came loose. The pile shifted when the sign came away, but it did not fall. It was heavy for my hand, but I turned and held it up toward the storm, trying to think of something to say. There were no words, so I laughed and leaned the head of my long sign against the wind stronger than man's hand. Beneath the both of us, in the water of the inlet, the tops of two men stood fishing. They too faced the storm, unaware of the blessing my rod benedicted above their heads and wet backs.
My moses arm grew weary and sank beneath the weight of my sign, even with the help of the wind. My arm sank, shaking, until the post once again met sand. The armies of the storm grew blacker, faster in their pace, charging the sea. I worried for the fishermen, and watched as lightning began to flick in the distance. The sky above and behind me was still blue, but darkening. Not darkening because of the storm, not yet, but by the force of evening. The sun was dropping, hidden by rumbling clouds.
I threw away my defeated staff and walked on. There were other spines on this sand bar's back.
The birds still ran in the foam, ignoring the coming storm, faithful to whatever the sea had stolen. I picked up a rock and threw it at the pack. It hopped into the arms of the ocean. A seagull flew past me. It held a crab in its mouth, pulled from the inlet, legs moving, clanking. The gull dropped it and landed. The crab was flipped quickly onto its back, its breastplate removed, and its insides eaten. The legs still moved, but slower now. I threw another rock. The gull flew, and I found myself standing over the still-struggling remains. Present for the very embrace of death, I watched. Here was my smallness. Death came, death must have come, but still the legs moved. The jerks slowed and stopped. I pushed sand over the crab with my foot, and looked to the coming war.
The world erupted.
The clouds met their enemy; he burst from beneath them. The blackness had marched too high, well overhead now, and the sun had brought itself low, lower than they. He burst, hugging the earth and ripping at the bottoms of the clouds. Red. I had not seen red before. Clouds with small lightning, finger-tip sparks, could not match his wrath. Their blackness was nothing more than canvas for his fire. I stood and watched that fire grow. Fire from the heavens now springs from earth. Dragons get their bellies burned.
But it was too much. The world would be swallowed, scorched; it could not survive this painting without a frame. I squatted, looking for some boundary, some cork for this bottle, anything that could hold it, make it drinkable, contain it, prevent it from smothering reality. I brought the lighthouse against the sun, but it was eaten, torn down, and trampled. The houses, the cliff, the fisherman, they stood, their blackness together could stand. But the sun grew bigger, grew, shown from beneath the clouds, shown off the clouds, ran all over the ground and up. Madness.
The cliff was gone. Fishermen were eaten by an inlet of fire. I looked to the Argus birds. They had fled, fled or found the one they waited on. Then I looked for my post, the sign stripped of words, undug by the sea. I ran to it.
I drove it deep in the sand and stepped back. The explosion poured around it. I sat and it touched the sun. I crawled onto my belly. The sun was swallowed by the stake.
The painting had a wooden frame. My wife was laughing. She is laughing. She has not stopped. We ran from the rains.

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