Black Water BOOks                               presents

 

BLACK TIDE

by john g rees

Here is the beginning of john g rees’ new HORROR book! Enjoy!

BLACK TIDE

PART ONE

    Yeah, we were young once, like you. A dream, a future to play
it out in and only so much time to do it. We lived it like there

was no tomorrow because that was the way it was. You could

be whacked by a semi-truck, flattening your furrowed future. Slip on

a rock in the garden and have a support stake poke you in the eye. Get

sandwiched in a parking lot on your ten-speed and that heart monitor

you wear starts to come in real handy, for once. And, of course, the guys

and gals who’d take it into their own hands. Those kids have balls, the

likes of which make our shriveled raisins cringe. Unfortunately you only

hear about the successes, which are far more exciting than the failures.

And there are far more failures than successes.

    I mean, really. What are the odds of taking a weapon you are probably

not all that familiar with, trying to aim it at a target you can’t really see,

and expecting to get a bullseye? Of course, mass murderers seem to get

it right; all that practice, I suppose. But they, too, were in the moment.

Time was of the essence.

    It really didn’t matter and some were actually lucky, tripping the light

fantastic while doing what they liked to do. Then there were others, like

me, who just enjoyed the work.


    It was late summer when the workboat pulled up to the dock in

Corpus Christi. A hundred of us got off with a month to kill; smoke

and drink away before being sent out again. When I say smoke, I mean

it. There was no smoking allowed anywhere near the gulf, anymore.

What began as the world’s largest ‘known’ oil spill triggered a series of

unfortunate events. Fueled more by greed than the spin-off of polluting

everything, the Gulf region became a dead zone. The fishing industry

became extinct a while after. The loss of sea life created songs and

funds, activists ran rampant in the streets. But little was done for the

fish beyond good intentions. Less even for the fishermen. Wiped out

along with the fish, they sank without a second glance. What use the

knowledge of shrimping when there are no shrimp and won’t be ever

again? Wildlife and coastal habitat retention had become a sad joke,

aiding in creating the world’s largest unrestricted industrial complex.

    Being bordered on three sides by land, a huge floating barrier cordoning

off the Atlantic kept the worst of it contained. The mentality that

created it got the rest of us to believe that if we were all allowed to

completely destroy just twenty - no, too much? Okay then, destroy just

ten percent of the planet, then we can save the rest of it. And we bought

it, or we were bought out. Either way we paid for it.

    Wives and sweethearts picked up some of us. Ex’s, with a trail of

screaming kids, nabbed a few more to get child support before it

disappeared from the workers’ pockets, leaving the rest of us to the slim

pickings along the Gulf Coast. After a week of guy-like debauchery,

some began nursing a hangover that would last until they went back

to work, the lucky few to families…

    Me? I like kids about as much as a jackhammer in the head and prefer a book

to listening to a drunk tell for the nth time about that night and how he found god,

making me wonder: if god was so good why were you hammered all the time?


    Jonah was a maintenance tech aboard the rig. He fled the family

thing, too, but straddled the line between drug addict /alcoholic/sane

person like a tightrope walker in a high wind. That is to say, he was nuts

only half the time. The difference, at least in the practical sense, was that

he had a truck. And like any trucker Jonah had friends with them, too.

   

    I was waiting for a bus with a bag of clean laundry over one shoulder

and a copy of Mark Twain’s ‘Roughing It’, when his big diesel rolled

into the stop, belching its smoke all over the clean duds.

    “You know, Jake,” he said, “a truck like this will get you laid.”

    “No shit?”

    “Yes shit,” Jonah replied with the sharp laugh and clear eyes of one

who didn’t owe anyone anything. “It also gets you where you’re going.”

“I don’t fuck truckers.”

    Jonah laughed loud and hearty, wiping a slug of white snot from his

nose and flinging it into traffic. “I ain’t interested in your ass, Jake. If I was,

I’d of had it already. Now hop in before some cop gives me a ticket.”

    Tossing my laundry bag into the bed of the truck, I climbed the short

ladder into the cab.

    “Get nosebleeds at this elevation?” I asked looking down out the

window of the lifted rig.

    “No, but this shit will give you one,” Jonah said, catching my look of

concern.

    “It’s just coke, Jake, and just for the weekend.” He threw me the

vial, dropped the clutch and lurched into traffic. After availing myself

gluttonously of Jonah’s hospitality, I rolled a cigarette and watched the

decrepit urban surroundings become rundown suburbia.

    “Where we going, Jonah? My pension is the other way.”

    “We busted some serious ass these last few months, brah. Rented the

park. They cleared the homeless for us, so we could have some privacy.

Everybody who put out was invited.”

    “What am I doing here?”

    “Yeah, about that. We really don’t ask divers too often. Guess the

pressure hasn’t pushed your head up your ass yet. But,” his face went

tight weaving the big truck through some particularly creative traffic

maneuvers, “when your gas mix went screwy, you finished buttoning

that flange and didn’t start screaming as soon as you got out. Covered a

few of my boys by keeping your mouth shut.”

    “No use busting somebody’s balls just ‘cause you want to blame them

for being lame ass mother fuckers.” Jake replied. “Besides I’ve seen it

happen before. I think they invented the term ‘shit happens’ just for the

diving industry!”

    “Fucking ay right there, brah, you fuckers are nuts,” Jonah yelled

above the engine noise.

    “So, kidnapping me is a way of saying thanks,” I asked.

    “Sort of, I wanted to get to know you a little better before… uh,”

Jonah began.

    “Before what?”

    “Before you get sent to another rig.” Jonah’s answer was not an honest

one. When an honest man lies, he generally does so for a reason and you

can always tell. I figured he had his reasons, rolled another cigarette,

enjoying the smoke away from the volatile coast.

    “You’re just different, man. Than the other divers, I mean. When you

get out of the chamber, you pitch in and help us out. It makes a big

difference.”

    “Something to do. You guys do all the work. I’m just picking up the

slack.” I pushed away pats on the back like the plague. Especially on the

rig and being a diver. Competition is ruthless.

    “Not the way I hear it. Waylon, one of the riggers, saw you chaining

Shorty’s crane down just as he was lifting a load of pipes. We would have

lost the load, the crane, and Shorty if you hadn’t picked up the slack.”

    “He seemed a little out of sorts at breakfast, so I kept an eye on him,”

I replied.

    “Yeah, he drinks too much. Hell of an operator though.”

    “We all got stuff.” I didn’t know what else to say. Shorty was a full

blown alcoholic and should have been let go when his condition became

chronic. Booze and heavy equipment is a bad combination. It was only

a matter of time before he killed himself or worse. I kept my mouth

shut as far as my feelings about this were concerned. Jonah knew. It was

his crew, his business.


    Soon we were heading west and north with a truck full of rig workers

we had picked up randomly on the way out of town. Two other trucks

had joined in the caravan, loaded with supplies and more people. The

signs for Big Bend National Park were riddled with bullet holes, smashed

up, or stolen, leaving the single vertical post as a reminder of something.

You just didn’t know what. The National Park System was opened up to

the droves of homeless in the early 2000’s. Well, not all of it. The most

popular remained as they were, but privatized with only their names

altered to pump the corporation that sponsored it. The remainder of

the parks went the way of the rest of the country, tanked by poverty

and apathy. Some, like Big Bend, could be rented, with or without its

current population. Others like the area around ‘Old Faithful,’ once it

started to not be so faithful anymore, became permanent cities. Heat

in the winter and electricity was generated geothermally. ‘Old Faithful’

was lucky. In Glacier National Park, now that the glacier was gone, full

time residents hobbled about strangling the life out of the area’s limited

resources to stave off starvation. Most were toeless from frostbite. In

general, the parks were miserable places to live, yet still they were better

than the cities where the rats and critters had finally won.

    One thread connected all of man – whether you lived in a park,

your car, a gated community, at the office, in the middle of everything

or at the periphery – the internet. Early users warned of the dark side

of the information platform. After a generation or two they died off,

end of discussion. It was so insinuated into everyday living you couldn’t

imagine life without it. Well, most people anyway. I read instead.

Scored books when I could, just for the smell sometimes. The rest was digital

and ever so convenient. You gotta laugh though when someone

complains about having to actually turn pages. Barbaric.

    When conversation wore thin and Jonah began managing the party

while still driving, I stared out the window. The landscape was ruined

years before. The mad rush for quick money left a trail of strip malls,

junk towns, junk food and a junked people that still scratched out a life

from the rotting skeletons of short term capitalization.

    “No vision,” Jonah yelled waving at a ghost town of a mall. “Couldn’t

see but a few years down the road. You probably seen lots of them

traveling from rig to rig.”

    “The shit all looks the same no matter where you go.”

    “Don’t get all bummed out on me, Jake. Have another blast. We took

Big Bend because we wanted to see nature the way it used to be. Should

be cool. No net, no streaming sports, just nature.”

    “Do the rest of our campers know about this?” I asked this as two

walkie-talkies lit up on the dash.

    “Nope. You, me, a couple of the guys. This will be them now, probably

just lost the signal.” Jonah laughed, taking a snort before picking up the

radios. “’Sup, mon?” he asked, as he released the talk button, snorfling

righteously before continuing with the wireless. He looked over to see

me working my jaw back and forth, a little buzzed and worried.

    “Don’t worry, brah. The men and their wives that have come along

aren’t your average net junkies. It’s another reason I asked you; never

seen you pick up your own phone. You got one?”

    “Only the company issue callout,” I said, a little embarrassed.

    “Shit, man, you are in the dark ages. Speaking of, we’re here.”

    A little guard shack sat just off the road next to the rusting pipe gate

that crossed the broken asphalt. The wooden structure looked just big

enough for a man and a wood stove, if the man wasn’t too big. Jonah

honked once, briefly. The mountain afternoon became infinitely quiet

as Jonah shut the motor down to wait. On cue, the door to the shack

swung outward followed by a balding head connected to a neck and

shoulders that had to duck low to exit the hovel. Standing to his full

height made his undersized ranger outfit comical. Short in every way it

needed to be long and long in the places it needed to be short, he wore

it proudly and any reference to comedy was sucked up at the sight of a

menacing-looking double-barreled shotgun held in his gnarled hands

or the scarred face that looked like it had taken a blast from the sawed off

blunderbuss.

    Stepping from the shade of the shack, I saw he held a piece of paper

under the thumb of his left hand as it clutched the twin barrels. He

stopped in front of Jonah’s rig, both barrels casually but seriously

pointed at the windshield as he checked the license plate. Judging by

the length of the barrel, the blast from the weapon would expand a foot

in diameter for every foot traveled. By the time the shot met the glass…

God I hoped the numbers matched up.

    After a few moments the guard followed the gun to the driver’s door

and came to rest just beneath Jonah’s chin. The barrels never left their

target. A muffled conversation ensued that consisted mostly of grunts.

I couldn’t make out a word they were saying, but then the hollow steel

delivery tubes consumed my attention.

    The gun moved forward into the cab followed by the head and

shoulders and stench of the guard as he pushed passed Jonah to stuff

the gun in my chest. His foul breath washed over me, “Hope you enjoy

your stay in Big Bend and that everything is to your liking. If not, don’t

hesitate to go fuck yourself !” As he said the last words he dug the gun

painfully into my xiphoid. I guess it was for kicks but when he pulled

the trigger I about shit my pants. There was no explosion that blew

a hole clean through my torso. Just a click. He waited for a moment

sniffing the air, then pulled himself out of the rig. His smile was tight,

lacking any mirth in the practical joke. Nodding curtly to Jonah, the

guard indicated we could continue on and returned to the shack to raise

the gate. The gun remained pointed at the truck with the remaining

barrel decidedly aiming at me. Our caravan rolled into the park.

    “What the fuck was that all about?” I said rubbing my chest.

    Jonah looked me up and down, his visage hardened as he tried to see

into me. “They say Olaf can tell when a man is not a man.”

    “I may not be much of one…” I began.

    “It’s not that, Jake. Back during one of the drug wars, don’t matter

which one, his family was taken by one of the cartel’s mercs.”

    “What does that have to do with me? I was just a kid when that shit

went down.”

    “It don’t. The mercs were renegades from that Megacorp experiment.

Got away from the big Corp and went free agent. Anyway, they did

things to that poor family. Olaf was a kid then, too. He was forced to

watch as the mercs went barbaric on his sisters, parents and brothers.”

    “I heard it got nasty, the wars, I mean.”

    “Mighty nice word for what went down. From then on Olaf could

always tell when one of the freaks was in our midst. Like a dog.”

    “Hey man, nothing’s been done to me!”

    “I know, cause I been watching you on the rig. My guess is he can tell

when you’re going to be one, too. Commercial diver, top of your game,

a good rep, too. Yep, you’re a prime candidate.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Megacorp only wants the good ones. That’s why me and my crew

fuck up on a regular basis. Not so much as to get our asses canned or

hurt someone, but enough to keep us out of the promotions arena.”

    “So I’m fucking myself by having a good work ethic and run the risk

of being upgraded to experimental status.”

    “They are called Reuseables. And yup, keep up the good work and that

is where you’re headed.”

    “Fuck me,” I said, wanting more information.

    “That they will, you can count on it. We’re here. Keep that shit under

your hat this weekend, we’re trying to forget.”

    “Roger that.”


    Clouds of brown dust fought for the airspace with the diesel smoke as

the three trucks rumbled into the parking area. Men and women were

hopping from the beds before the rigs had stopped and were unloading

before the smut had settled. The campsites were just a short way to the

base of a tall bluff that stood beside a cool stream. There were tents,

coolers, bottled water and beer. The next two hours were spent getting

all the stuff set up; most important was beer on ice, with small talk and

laughter erecting tents, creating a kitchen, and digging an outhouse, for

which there were no volunteers. Finding a shovel amidst the clutter I

asked Jonah where they wanted it.

    “You and your positive I’ll get’er done attitude. This is the kind of shit

I was just talking about with you. See Shorty…”

    Shorty was already at the river swimming with a beer in one hand and

his girlfriend Molly in the other.

    “That’s what you should be doing. But… since you’re here…” he handed

me a small sack, “Pitch the tent over it when you’re done. Behind those

trees should be good,” he pointed.

    The earth was soft, the blade sinking easily into it. Halfway through,

I rolled a cigarette, sitting down to watch the activity by the riverside.

Laughter and mock arguments drifted across the swale. Someone was

playing a guitar as the rising colorful tents helped to fabricate a festive

atmosphere. Already I was a bit jealous at the ease of the camaraderie

amongst these friends as they created a dream, while I dug a shit hole.

Fool enough yet to laugh at myself, I stubbed the butt, deciding to

create the nicest outhouse ever. Even taking a shit is part of the dream.

A couple hours later I took Jonah’s advice.


    The heat of the day was waning as the sun crested the butte to the

west. The ice-cold beer went down easily and way too fast. With the last

of the sun I stripped and dove into the cool water. The current was lazy,

the water, clear. I scrubbed the sweat and dirt away but felt there was

filth that remained. There was something in what Jonah said about the

Reuseable Program and Olaf ’s nose, what there was left of it anyway.

Giving up my quest of cleanliness, strong practiced strokes propelled

me against the current to where my clothes lay in a bundle. They were

gone. In its place was a towel that was busy keeping a couple of beers

cold. Setting the coldies in the river, I dried off making a skirt from the

towel.

    “Hey digger,” came a voice from a riverside copse of trees. Scanning

the shrubs, I spied my clothes hung on a line as they waved in the breeze

but saw no body to connect the voice to.

    “Thanks for the towel. Want one of these?” I picked the bottles from

the water, popping the tops with a rock. When I looked up, she was

standing right next to me. Plucking a beer from my hands she leaned in

close, inhaling deeply.

    “I think Olaf has his head up his ass. You smell okay to me. I’m

Julie, Shorty’s daughter.” She tipped her beer in salute then drew from

it deeply. Jonah said to keep it quiet so I struggled with what she said

while trying to think of something clever to say. She was cute and the

last light of sunset did her no harm.

    “A pleasure,” I said reaching out and shaking her hand. They were

strong and calloused, no stranger to hard work but with a woman’s

tenderness. “Thanks for washing my clothes,” I chinned at the trees,

“that bad, huh?”

    “Just used the outhouse. Saying thanks, I guess. You gay? I mean you

made it soooo nice. Besides I wanted to smell the real you.”

    “I didn’t know Shorty had a family,” I said, veering the subject away

from me.

    “Mom and Dad were divorced years ago. They get along great now.

But tag’em with married and it’s hell on earth. Trust me I know.”

    “I’ve seen his temper on the job and glad it was never directed at me.

Hell of an operator, your dad.”

    “Yeah, that’s the problem. He’s too good at what he does. If it wasn’t

for Jonah, they would have taken him a long time ago.” Julie must have

seen my bewildered expression in the twilight. “You know, Megacorp, the

Reuseables.”

    I didn’t like the direction of the conversation, always returning to the

subject of the Reuseable Program. “Listen Julie, this is all kind of new

to me.” I knew more than I was willing to let on about, so I played it

dumb. It was something I was good at and would serve me throughout

my life. Not that I knew this of course. “Jonah ask me not to mention it

this weekend so could we talk about something else?”

    “Sure, you want to have sex?”

    “Me and my big mouth,” I moaned.

    “I was counting on that.”

    “I need something to eat.” Seems I was always changing the subject.

    “I was counting on that, too,” She laughed, taking my hand and

leading me away from the fire down the beach.

    “No really, I’m hungry,” I said fighting a losing battle.

    “Me too!”


    Dawn came with a profound silence. I listened to the wind blowing

through the trees and rippling water, silent except where it bumped

into the shore. Not wanting to move, I feared rustling the sleeping bag

would shatter the moment. The state of grace slipped away naturally,

chirping birds heralding a new day in the pre-light of dawn, and I knew

I was alone. Sitting up in the lean-to, I was busy taking in the river when

footsteps came up to the blind side of the tent. I thought it was Julie

when a cup of hot coffee was placed where I could reach it. When I

went to get it, a pair of steel-toed boots stomped down hard on my

hand, pinning it to the ground.

    “Fuck my daughter, will ya?” His words hid the sound of his other

boot coming through the thin wall of the tent connecting with my

solar-plexus, knocking the wind from my lungs and tumbling me headlong

into the cold waters. Coming instantly aware an instant too late, I

met with a flying leap from Shorty, who was dressed for the occasion in

underwear and boots. Leading with his head, the little man nailed me

in the chest, plowing me under the water. I was ready this time and took

it without losing my air, letting him force me to the bottom where he

proceeded to stand on me and do some sort of little dance.

    Struggling when you’re under water is usually a waste of time and air.

It’s best to relax and think rationally about things. With the breath I

took before going under I figured I had an easy four minutes and a ballbusting

five. That is unless Shorty started jumping up and down. His jig

died down and the clarity of the water allowed me to see enough to tell

what he was doing. Every diver has had it done to them, whether they

knew it or not. Shorty was taking a leak. With the current running, the

act was more symbolic than, say, a golden shower on dry land.

    Now I’m trying not to burst out laughing and lose, prematurely, the

precious moments I had left. Shorty finished up and checked his watch.

He carefully got off my chest and checked his watch again. The current

lifted my body from riverbed slowly pushing it downstream. From my

position I could no longer see Shorty, but it was about then that he

figured something must be wrong. Before I could say, ‘put me down,’ he

had me out of the water, pumping my chest. I stopped him just before

he started the rescue breaths.

    “I’m okay, Shorty! Listen I’m the one who was taken advantage of.” I

wasn’t going to apologize or beg.

    “You son of a bitch!” He started to yell but as the sun came over the

horizon so did a smile begin on one side of his face, reaching across to

the other. “That’s my Julie. You hurt her I’ll kill ya. Now that the father

business is over with, let me buy you drink.”

    “It’s a little early, ya think?”

    “Never too early to chain an old operator’s crane down, ya think?” He

laughed reaching an arm up around my shoulder. “Nice outhouse, Jake.

Going to have to bring you along more often.”

    “Thanks, I guess. You going to fuck me, too?”

He would have missed, so instead of avoiding it I let him clip me in

the jaw and caught him as he lost his balance in the sand, letting him

land on top.

    “You’re all right, Jake,” Shorty said pushing himself off and standing.

The day passed in about as nice a way as I can remember. Seemed

someone was always playing a guitar along with the laughter of children

and the sunlight dancing over the water. I found it was like Jonah had

said, it helps you forget. As the day drifted downstream those of us that

could hiked upstream, to a waterfall and swimming pool. Julie and I

hung together a bit. The night before was fun and we left it at that. She

was a social butterfly and this was her karass. I admired the way she

worked the group but had no intention of tagging along like a dog.

    The sun was directly overhead warming the tops of boulders scattered

around the perimeter. We spread out blankets in a shaded spot, then

everybody hit the water. Off to the side of a cliff face Jonah and a bud

began spidering up a crack.

    “Hey Jonah! Where you going?” I yelled from the water. All I received

in reply was an arm beckoning me to follow.


    Climbing out of the water and putting on my sneakers, I jogged over

to where they started the climb. I looked up at the gnarled sandstone

crevice, ‘This isn’t the first time you’ve done something stupid for

the male bonding thing,’ I said to myself. The rock was crumbly and

slippery when wet, which I was. You had to push with your feet on one

side of the crack and push your back against the other side to keep from

falling. A trail of sand cascaded down with every step. Twenty feet up

the crack widened making further progress impossible. ‘Fuck me.’

    “Hey Jake! Look to your left.” Jonah was pointing to a ledge.

    I gave him the okay signal and began descending. Had to get down a

few feet to access the shelf. My back started slipping and I couldn’t stop

it. My feet began scrambling to keep up with my body but only ground

away at the loose surface. Then suddenly - air! Swinging to the left and

stretching my arms out, I hit the ledge. There wasn’t anything to grab on

to, so I planted my palms on the sandstone, pressing as hard as I could.

If the surface wasn’t disturbed, it had plenty of friction to hold you - at

the price of your skin.

    Feet searched for anything to gain a purchase. Nothing. Carefully, I

began to kick my right foot into the vertical wall. The gouging was slow

and I was tiring fast. Finally a dimple I could catch my toes on. Push up,

replant my hands and do it again with the other foot. After three such

steps I was able to sit down on the ledge and catch my breath. The group

of swimmers, who had been watching silently from below, broke out in

applause and laughter. I suppose I should have felt embarrassed, but the

adrenalin had me pumped. I stood and raised my arms in a mighty way,

turned and looked for the rest of the way up. There, cut into the stone,

was a stairway to the top. You had to laugh.

    “We made the steps last year. Started them high to keep the kids safe.

How’s the back? We were watching, too.”

    “I don’t know. You tell me.” I turned so he could get a look.

    “Eww. Ahh, you’ll be aw’ight.”

    Jonah made a thumbs up to Frankie who started a sprint towards the

cliff. I turned to watch him blast by and take a wild leap. Frankie was

pedaling all the way down to keep upright. Just before he hit the water,

he balled up finishing with a cannon ball. ‘And the crowd went wild!’

    “Okay Jake,” Jonah began, “A little heads up. The pool is deep enough

but there are some big fucking rocks under there. The best is to do like

Frankie and take a flying leap. If you want to do a fancy dive take a good

look first. You can see them clear from up here.” Jonah pointed to some

light blue boulders just below the surface.

    “I’ll stick with the bat outta hell thing,” I said, taking a sobering look.

    “Okay, see you down there.” Jonah ran away from the cliff, spun

around and bolted for the edge screaming like a wild man.

    I gave him a minute and followed in a like manner. It was worth the

climb.

    Julie daubed some gunk on the torn skin I received during the climb

and lit a joint while we sat on one of the hot rocks to chase the chill of

the mountain water away.

    “If Dad had come along you would have seen some diving. He used to

do it as kid down in Mexico, hustling pesos from tourists till one of the

resorts saw him and hired him on.”

    “No shit. I’d have never figured Shorty for smiling for tourists.”

    “He was smiling for the money, but it gave him a hell of an

understanding of people.” Julie was obviously proud of her father.

    “That being we are all assholes, right?”

    “You got it.”

    “You don’t see him smile too often any more. When you do it makes

your day somehow.”

    “There’s no money in it, Jake. You’re a little slow, aren’t you?” she

asked fondly.

    “Maybe just a little.”

    When the sun drifted away from the pool, so did we. In the afternoon,

shaded areas were like refrigerators. Shorty was doing shots and chasing

them with bong hits by the time we got back.

    “Hey, why didn’t you wake me? I wanted to do some diving,” Shorty

demanded.

    We looked around at each other till Jonah stepped up. “Nobody that

brave here, my little friend.” Jonah burst out laughing, taking the bong

from Shorty and refilling the bowl.

    When he was through with a body racking coughing fit, I asked him,

    “How do you pass your piss tests?”

    “We don’t!” This time he was down on his hands and knees laughing.

    “What’s so funny?”

    “We don’t,” he laughed out again. “You divers got one hell of a lawyer.

A no piss test contract. Who ever heard of such a thing?” By this time,

he had worked himself into such a dither, he had to let it finish on its

own.

    I didn’t get it, so I poured some coffee and rolled a cigarette. Halfway

through both, a hand was put on my shoulder.

    “Come on, Jake, let’s go have a little talk.” It was Jonah and the laughter was

gone, probably not far, but out of sight for now.

    We climbed to the top of a huge rock, nearly a hill in itself, to catch

the last warm spot before sunset.

    “Got another?” he motioned for a smoke. I rolled two. We smoked in

silence but before we were through he said, “You know why we don’t

pass our tests?” I shook my head. “Because we want to be fuck ups in

the company’s eye. You get good, they take you. You think you were

invited here just to spend the weekend with a bunch of guys you work

with all the time?”

    “I was wondering.”

    “It’s because we like you. You’re all right and Julie says you’re on the

level, so we’re asking you if you want in. Guys like you get shanghaied in

their prime. They don’t wait till you die. And if they do, there is a good

chance they’ll expedite the issue.”

    “Yeah, Julie mentioned that, too.” He could see my eyes clouding over

with confusion.

    “Fuck me,” I said to no one in particular.

    “They will if you don’t listen up.” Jonah paused to see if I was getting

it before continuing. I guess I was. “Take Shorty for example. Top

operator, in his 60’s and at the head of Megacorp’s ‘want’ list. That is

until we convinced him to join up.”

    “Since then he’s been a drunk and they leave him alone?” I asked.

    “Sort of. Their scientists can beat the alcohol thing but they can’t fix a

fuck up. It was planned to have Shorty tip his crane. We placed a Scuba

bottle in the cab so when he went over he would have enough air to

hold him till a diver was put in the water. You chained the crane at the

last second, foiling that plan, but it worked out just the same.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “We got it on vid. On the one hand Shorty still looks like a fuck

up, but… on the other it made you look good. Megacorp monitors all

operations looking to weed out guys like Shorty and cultivate guys like

you.”

    “Jesus, Jonah, you make this sound maybe a bit conspiratorial.”

    “A bit, Motherfucker? You need to read up a little more on current

events. Mark Twain didn’t have to deal with the likes of Megacorp.”

    “I guess not. So what, what do I do?”

    “That’s up to you, Jake. Kismet has a way of taking care of these things.

In the mean time, hang with us. I’ll keep you informed.”

    “Who’s Kismet?” I asked, innocently.

    “That’s the ticket,” he laughed. “Kismet is Arabic for fate. Come on,

dinner is ready.”


    For some reason, camp food always tastes better than it actually

is; must be something to do with being outdoors, away from

industrialization and pollution. Of course now it was just the illusion

of seclusion, but it was good illusion. Live music, perhaps one of life’s

rarest treats these days, filled the air as the stars did the sky. Some sang,

others danced, we all forgot.

    Well after midnight, Julie and I left the last guitarist in his quiet

melodic musings for a spot farther away from the camp next to the

river. The vigorous passion of the previous night was balanced with

a holding and caring that was all too absent in my life: the warmth

of another’s body next to mine, a quiet passion of communication.

    What two hands can say to each other is more than words can

describe. From the blackest night to deep hues of early dawn we held

each other. It would not be enough for what the future had in store. It

was just enough for now.

    The morning was chill, with a fog blowing down the river. We

watched the ghost drift over the camp lightly caressing those who slept

outside and leaving what appeared to be a trail of tears in its path. As

it passed over us, the dampness clung to Julie’s face, creating tears that

rolled down her cheeks. It was not just the fog.

    “What is it?” I asked in the hush of dawn.

    “I don’t know. I feel something separating us,” she replied, wiping the

drips away.

    “Today is the last day. I feel the same way, too.”

    “It’s more than that, Jake. I had a dream we were being pulled apart. I

was screaming, you were mute.”

    “What was doing the pulling?”

    “I don’t know; it had no face.”

    “Come on, let’s get some coffee. We can go for a walk and talk about

it.”

    Julie was shy slipping into her clothes, I likewise. Something was

dividing us. And it was growing stronger.

    The lone guitarist was still at it and had made a pot of the dark master

just prior to our arrival.

    “Thanks, Frankie,” I whispered. “Anybody else up yet?”

    “Just Shorty. He headed up to the falls to catch some rays and get in

a few dives.”

    I rolled a cigarette and drank my first cup in silence while Julie went

to the loo and did her morning routine.

    “Let’s head up to where Dad is,” she said to me. “Is he drinking,

Frankie?”

    Frankie rolled his eyes with a ‘duh’ expression.

    “Back in a bit, man.” Julie and I reloaded our cups and headed

upstream. We didn’t talk as I thought we would, but that’s not to

say communication wasn’t happening. We followed the trail on the

canyon floor next to the river. Gossamer bands of fog cut off what little

sunlight entered the cleft at this time of day creating a darkened surreal

atmosphere so in contrast to yesterday’s picnic.


    We found Shorty frying himself like a chicken in a pan on one of the

rocks that stood above the billowing cloud. Slowly the fog cover began

to burn off. Shorty rolled over to sear the other side. Julie stripped,

going for a swim while the fog still clung to the water. She disappeared

in moments with only the sounds of repetitive strokes splashing the

silence. A large shelf had an undercut created eons before. It was out of

the wind, dry and afforded a picturesque view of the waterfall and pool.

Perfect for a coffee and smoke.

    It was too beautiful and the forgetfulness of the previous evening still

lingered. Indeed it was a fine moment. But like all they pass, for in that

moment I felt a change. Something was in the air as the fog dissipated

and reality clarified.

    Shorty stood and stretched. His broiled little body glistened of oil

and sweat. “Where’s Julie?” he yelled over.

    I made swimming motions with my arms.

    “Call her in. I want some pictures when I dive.” There was a slur

in his voice and wobble in his steps. Frankie hadn’t lied in his silent

answer. Personally, I thought Shorty would quit the drinking for the

weekend. I reminded myself it was none of my business when I heard

Julie returning.

    “Hey - just in time. Shorty is going to dive and wants you to shoot

him.” Julie got out of the water and dried. I drank deliriously of her

unabashed toweling and dressing. Her utter lack of self-consciousness

was as beautiful as was she. I wanted to hold her right then, right now

and forever.

    “You ready down there?” Shorty yelled from the top. How he got up

there is beyond me. Some of the holds are far apart. There wasn’t much

time to ponder this as Julie hollered up that she was ready.

    It was funny to see Shorty psych himself for the dive. He was usually

busy being the clown. Seeing the other side was, well, scary. He walked

forward, wavering just a bit from the booze and took a good look from

the jumping off place. He paced backwards, counting his steps, gave

his body a good wriggle then became still for a moment. With a hop,

he pumped five powerful steps coming to the edge, as both knees bent

springing him up and away from the rocks. On the way up he assumed

the jackknife position and began to flip. Once, twice, before snapping

open into the straightest little arrow you ever saw and penetrating the

water with barely a splash. It was perfect.

    “You get it?” I yelled to Julie with a huge smile. She nodded with a

grin and love for her Dad.

    “Man, that was killer. Two and a half, knifing into water. Sweet!”

“That’s my Dad.”

    Just as she said this, we both looked back at the water. Bubbles still

rose from the entry point, but Shorty had not surfaced. The edge of the

pool was irregular with boulders and rock outcroppings, limiting one’s

view of the whole.

    “Hey Shorty! Great dive man, where are you?”

    “DAD!”

    “Quit fucking around man!” I was running around the pool hoping

to see him hiding on the backsides of the rocks. No such luck. Back

to where I began and I started stripping off my clothes. Julie’s face had

gone ashen. Going to hug her, she started to collapse so I eased her to

the ground, turned and dove into the icy water. He was nowhere near

the entry point. The current deep in the pool, however, was moving

me around pretty good. I figured it must be doing the same thing with

Shorty. I surfaced, took another breath and went back under, looking

everywhere at once while the current moved me around.

    A shaft of penetrating sunlight illumined a gray blue hand sticking

out from beneath an undercut in the stone.

    ‘Oh shit, Shorty!’ I cried silently, swimming in close to get a hold of him.

A dark cloud of blood floated around his head. His body was stuck and I wasted

precious seconds trying to dislodge him without doing any more damage.

    Julie was at the water’s edge when I surfaced. Her face went from pale

to panic to what do I do? Struggling on the treacherously slippery rocks

made getting his body out of the water near impossible. After a certain

point, we could get no farther. I got a solid purchase for my right foot

and was able to jam my knee under his ass to keep him from sliding

down. It was awkward but it worked. I started CPR. Adrenalin coursed

through me like never before. Chest compressions followed by rescue

breaths, over and over and over and over and over. The initial chest

compressions pumped the yellowish water from his lungs and beer from

his belly. Blood from a nasty head wound, that we hadn’t had a chance

to look at yet, flowed into the foam and water. After a few minutes we

were covered with Shorty. Julie through her tears remained stoic and

did her part. It must have been killing her to do it. But something in the

killing brought life.

    As I took a break from crushing Shorty’s chest, Julie continued with

the rescue breaths when suddenly we noticed he was breathing on his

own. I checked his pulse. He had one, barely. We both took a much

needed breath, only one, before putting our backs into getting Shorty

off the rocks.

    Hands appeared where none had been before. Hard hands. Hands of

men. Fresh men who could lift the man we could not. While Shorty was

being carried into the shade, I found my t-shirt, folded it and was back

at Shorty’s side as he was laid down. I placed the cloth over the head

wound, but not before getting one of those all too clear images of the

destruction. Shorty was missing a large portion of the back of his skull;

the convolutions of his brain were moist and soft. I held him there with

his head on my knees. Tears rolled down my face but I was not crying. I

had done all I could do, or so I had thought. Julie sat by her father’s side,

holding his pale but alive hand.

    “Where did you guys come from?” I was out of it and a little

confused.

    “Julie called on her phone when you jumped in the water. Is he going

to be okay?”

    I shrugged my shoulders.

    “I called the medi-vac chopper, too. They should be here…” she

began.

    The whack-whack-whack of a helicopter broke the morning’s silence

and shattered our forgetfulness. Frankie pulled a pair of binoculars

from his shirt and focused in on the sound.

    “Aren’t the Med choppers orange?” His question had an ominous

boding for the group. The communal silence went deep.

    “Yeah. What color is it?” Jonah asked.

    “Black, no markings.” Replied a somber Frankie who was busy putting

the glasses away. “Everybody who is not involved in first aid, let’s go!”

    En masse, they gathered what they brought and double-timed it out

of the falls and back to camp, presumably to begin breaking down. Only

Jonah, Julie and I were left at the pool.

    “What’s this mean, Jonah?” I asked, changing out the blood soaked

tee on Shorty’s head for a fresh one, like one would a diaper, all the

while trying not to let Julie see it. Jonah did. Whatever his reaction was

he kept it to himself.

    “It means Megacorp picked up on it. They are on their way to take

Shorty.” Jonah was pissed.

    “What? Take him where?”

    “They can fix that, Jake,” Jonah pointed at Shorty’s head, “And you’ll

see him working a crane in a few years. But he won’t see you.”

    “They’re going to re-use him, Jake,” cried Julie. “It’s my fault. I gave

the medi-vac Dad’s insurance numbers. Bastards had to make sure they

would be paid first.” She cried in shame, squeezing her father’s hand.

    “All requests go through a Megacorp filter. It’s not your fault, Julie.

It was mine for making your dad drink too much. You see, Jake, it was

Shorty’s reason for joining us.” Jonah listened for the helicopter. It was

close now.

    “Dad did not want to be reused. No matter what. ‘Kill me if you have

to’ was the way he put it.”

    “We have about a minute before that chopper comes in over the

canyon and hovers on the pond. We have to move, NOW!”

    “I’m staying,” said Julie, resisting.

    While the two had been explaining, half of me was listening. The

other half was coming to terms with the very near future. When I

spoke, it came firmly as in the way of a command. For it certainly was

no request.

    “Jonah, take Julie and get her out of here. I will deal with Megacorp.”

    Jonah took Julie by her limp shoulders, raising her to her feet.

    “I won’t let them take your father, Julie. I will miss him.” I didn’t know

what else to say. ‘Gee, I’m sorry I’m gonna kill your dad,’ just didn’t seem

to cut it.

    “Thanks, Jake.”

    “NOW Julie, they’re coming over the ridge.” She had gone catatonic.

Jonah bent low and picked her up in the fireman’s carry and ran for all

he was worth to the slot where he could climb out unseen. How he was

going to do that concerned me very little at this point.


This is the just the beginning of john g rees’ new HORROR book

                                        BLACK TIDE©


Look for BLACK TIDE released by Black Water Books!

The freaquel to his first two novels, anoxic zone and Halocline, it tells the story of Jake Strom and how he came to be a “Reuseable” by Megacorp


                           

BLACK WATER BOOKS, 2011©