The Shape of Water Continued – short story

Zelda and I stood together on the canal bank watching as they dragged for bodies. We cried when they placed the one red shoe into her trembling hands.

We consoled each other after the investigative interviews.

We bonded when we cleaned out Elisa’s apartment. The princess didn’t own many valuable possessions. I kept her egg timer, and Zelda wasn’t parting with that shoe.

Elisa had some money saved. She left a note saying to split it between us.

Our conversations were stilted as we trundled through grief-stricken tasks.

“I think he healed her and took her away with him,” I’d say.

Zelda’s expression was melancholic, “If she were still alive, she would have let us know.”

“How could she? Too many people are still looking for him….for them.”

Our prospects for work dwindled. Zelda was spending nights on the sofa sleeper in my apartment. Though I enjoyed her company and her cooking, sharing a bathroom with her was nearly intolerable.

“Yolanda, from work, cleaned Colonel Strickland’s office.” Zelda offered as she turned hash browns one morning. “She overheard him talking about where he found it. She knew the place; she has cousins near there.”

“Did Yolanda say if her cousins ever heard of a River God?”

“She didn’t.” Zelda compressed her lips. Those words dropped off into a moment that was as deep and broad as the Grand Canyon. Zelda’s stern brown eyes bored into mine. My scalp tingled. I ran my fingers through the hair that hadn’t been there before Aqua Man.

A postcard arrived one day. Not in the mailbox but slipped under my door. There were only two things on it. My street address and a stamp from Peru.

Zelda and I became unencumbered adventurers. No strings kept us tied to any one place. We headed south making discrete inquiries. We were lucky that Zelda spoke some Spanish. She started teaching me too. A year, to the day, after we left, we stumbled on a lead. Iquitos is a hole-in-the-wall-town with a few services. Zelda found a job almost right away teaching English to school children in the afternoons. She dragged me along sometimes.

One of her students, Jhady, is a disfigured girl, the daughter of a local businessman who owns an ‘art gallery’ in the back of his grocery store. Zelda kept nagging me to show my portfolio to her father.

When I did it, he was only expressing lukewarm interest in my work when he came across a piece titled, Elisa and her Monster. Raimee’s eyes went buggy; be began talking so fast that I couldn’t track a single word. He seemed in danger of stroking out, so I rushed to bring Zelda in to translate.

We learned that Raimee had seen the River God, he said his name is Iglootoo. The River God receives pilgrims during harvest moons. Raimee pointed to my sketch, speaking two words I understood, “White Queen.”

“We found her!” Zelda screeched, her eyes filling with tears.

Listening to Raimee and nodding, she repeated, “A small pilgrimage is preparing to leave next week. He says he’ll arrange for us to join them if you will speak to the River God on behalf of his daughter.”

“Why me?”

She pointed to my sketch.

Waving his arm, Raimee encouraged Jhady to come out from behind the curtain where she’d been hiding. She hung her head, letting her long dark hair form a barrier. I could see enough of her face to observe tight, contorted skin around her nose and mouth.

As the date for departure approached, our nerves grew taught. We took it out on each other.

“What if it’s not them?” Zelda worried.

“It has to be! Raimee recognized Elisa in my sketch.”

“It doesn’t look that much like her! If it is her, what are we going to say after all this time?”

“Hello? I’ve missed you?” I suggested in a sarcastic, biting tone.

“Should we take something as an offering?”

“If we don’t, they might not let us go—” I smiled slowly. I knew what I was going to bring.

It would be a four-day trek into the unfathomable jungle. We bought burros to haul our gear. Neither one of us believed that the other could hike that distance, I hoped those burros could carry people.

We headed out at dawn with guides at the front wielding long, thick blades, doing battling plant life.  Zelda and I were the last stragglers in a group of twelve.

We stood at the edge of a small lake. Thick tropical foliage obscured the opposite shore.

An elaborate calling ceremony began with pounding drums and song. Zelda stood to my left. Raimee to my right, his daughter, pressed against his side like melted cheese on beans. Flower petals were cast over the glassy surface.

When bubbles appeared moving in our direction, all grew silent, even the birds and monkeys stopped chattering.

Zelda’s breath caught when a blue-grey be-gilled head rose from the water like a bioluminescent Atlantean prince.

Following the locals, we dropped to our knees, sinking into warm, soft mud. Supplicants displayed their offerings before them.

We could tell he recognized us when his purposeful footsteps halted; his head swiveled in our direction.

The party leader stood, calling the creature’s attention.

“He knows you!” Raimee stated clearly in English.

“Where’s Elisa?” Zelda whispered vehemently.

I didn’t know, but like her, I was searching. In my peripheral vision, I watched our scaly friend picking his way through the line, accepting gifts and laying his webbed hands on heads, feet, and other places the petitioners extended for inspection.

The expressions of those he skipped turned to masks of disappointment. I wondered at his choices, did he not care for their gifts?

As he got closer, he seemed distracted.

Jhady was next in line. The River God dismissed her. Raimee’s face crumbled, “Not again!” he cried.

“Wait!” I called, even though Zelda pounded on my arm.

I held out my basket. Mewling sounds came from inside.

Aqua Man’s gills flared. I think that’s as close as he gets to smirking.

“I remembered,” I said looking him full in the face. “I was going to ask for more hair, but I’d rather you heal this little girl.”

When he pointed to my basket, signing the word for, ‘funny,’ Zelda and I glanced at each other, grinning.

Aqua Man returned his attention to Raimee’s girl.

Peeling her away, Raimee thrust her forward, admonishing, “Sé quieto!”

Clawed, webbed hands cradled the girl’s face. The River God remained in that position longer than he had with any other pilgrim. The girl’s frightened utterings sounded like the kitten cries.  When he pulled away, A dropped to his knees, hanging his head.

‘Leave us,’ Aqua Man signed.

In the awkward moment when no one but Zelda and me knew what he wanted, Zelda took care of business. “He said you should all go now. “Va! Va!” she shooed.

Before the pilgrims departed, Raimee approached us. He grabbed Zelda’s hand kissing it. Thanking me profusely, bowing to the River God, he backed away.

When he could stand, Aqua Man led us over a vine-choked path. The going was slow. He grunted as he pulled at the stalks, so our burros could pass. I tried helping, but he waved me away. I had a waking nightmare that the jungle was a many-pointed sea star grasping and suffocating everything in its path.

He was breathing hard, stooped, and unsteady by the time we reached a clearing. Zelda was steadying him when we heard a, ‘Whoop!’

And there she was! The White Queen, our own dear Elisa. I stared in shock – her eyes and smile were the same, but the rest of her was drastically changed. She was a combination of Jane of the Jungle, a heavily endowed fertility goddess, and an Aqua Woman.

Lumbered toward us, tears streamed down her face, “You found me!”

Another jolt – her voice!

Overjoyed, the three of us were crying and hugging.

After a moment, Elisa pulled away. “Iggy,” she said, “Thank you. Please go now.”

He nodded, turning away. We watched him walk into the water. At thigh height, he dove.

Returning to one another, we replayed a muted version of our happy reunion.

“Let me look at you,” Zelda said while swiping a hand along her cheeks.

Elisa’s hair was hanging in a thick braid down her back. Across the top of her cheeks, along her collarbones and arms, were glittering, overlapping scales.

“How–?” I began, not knowing what else to say. I reached for her free hand. “I saw you shot.”

“It’s a long story,” Elisa replied, her voice lyrical and butter-soft.

Zelda erupted in tears again. “Your voice—it’s just like I always imagined.”

“Me too,” Elisa smiled, “Though I don’t use it as often as I’d like.” Shaking herself, she continued,” Come inside, out of the heat. You’re staying,” It was more of a statement than a question.

Zelda and I hadn’t talked about it, but we’d packed everything.

I situated our burros before following the women into the house. It was a single room building. Two, double beds were pushed up against the walls. A small kitchen counter took up another wall. A table surrounded by four stools stood in the middle.

“Zelda will share with me, and Giles will take the other bed.”

“But what about—?” Zelda asked.

“Iggy?”

“That’s his name?” I wanted to know.

“His name is Iglootoo. He told me that after I taught him how to spell in our language.”

Zelda nodded. “I never thought about him having a name, but I guess you’ve got to call him something.

“Iggy fits him,” I responded. “Did someone give it to him or did he choose it for himself?”

Chuckling, Elisa patted my shoulder. Leaning in to plant a kiss, she said, “I’ve missed you, Giles. We’ll have plenty of time for stories. Did you bring your art supplies?”

“I never leave home without them.”

“Good.”

Zelda joined Elisa in her small garden picking vegetables for our meal. I sat inside, observing. Sketchpad in hand, I let my pencil capture the scene.

Long shadows, two women wearing large straw hats, their heads together. I couldn’t draw the feminine laughter but wished I could capture it artistically. Their voices carried.

“How long till Iggy comes back?”

Elisa straightened, raising a hand to her brow, looking out over the water. “He’ll be gone for a while. Those ceremonies take a lot out of him. He needs to go down deep to feel restored. He’s worried about the baby and me,” she rubbed the base of her spine, “so he hasn’t gone as far as he should. With you here, he can take as long as he needs.”

“Honey,” Zelda came to stand beside her, “are you worried about—” she nodded at Elisa’s middle.

Elisa faced away from me, but I could see Zelda’s expression. In all honesty, I’m glad it wasn’t me out there voicing the questions that were on our minds.

They moved into the shade, sitting close. Zelda’s arm wrapped protectively around her dearest friend.

“My child— if it lives. If we both live, won’t have any friends,” Elisa cried.

“If it lives?” Of course, it’s going to live, and so are you! As for friends—that baby already has four people who love it.”

“It,” Elisa repeated, letting the word hang in the air.

Elisa leaned into Zelda; they huddled together. “I’m so glad you are here, Zeldy.”

“Me too baby girl!”

Our days became predictable; meals, naps, tending to the burros and to the garden. For the first time, in possibly decades, I was relaxed and at peace. I noticed, with pleasure, that I’d lost track of the days of the week.

One afternoon, Elisa and I were sitting at the table sipping tea. I’d just finished telling her about the inquiries, the search for bodies, and apologizing for getting rid of all her things. She patted my arm.

“Thank you for taking care of everything. That phase of my life is dead, you did the right thing.”

When Elisa noticed my eyes rapidly blinking, her mouth turned down. She used to read me like a book. I think her skills in that department had deteriorated.

“Take a good look at me, Giles.” She stretched out a leg. Hiking up her skirt, revealing a creamy thigh, and areas covered with translucent scales.

Across the room, Zelda stirred from a siesta, yawning. Swinging her feet to the floor, she hurried over.

Elisa slipped off her shoes spreading her toes. Holding up her hands, she held her fingers wide. Webbing filled all the spaces.

We couldn’t contain our surprise.

Elisa bit her lip; she looked as if she was holding back a smile. Making sure we were looking at her face, she blinked with a set of inner eyelids. They moved vertically from the corners of her eyes toward the bridge of her nose.

“Mary, Mother of Jesus!” Zelda exclaimed, placing a hand over her heart. She puffed up, “I get that gilly thing,” she waved a finger at Elisa’s neck. He had to give you those when he took you in the water and healed your gunshot wound. But he dragged you all the way out here to the middle of the jungle, and he knocked you up,” Zelda’s voice was gaining volume, her gestures gained air space. “Then he leaves you all alone when you’re about ready to drop that kid—” Zelda paused when Elisa started repeating her tirade in sign language. Like a statue, Zelda rotated ninety degrees on her toes.

Iglootoo stood in the doorway, dripping, a puddle forming at his feet. ‘I did not change her or heal her,’ he said in the silent language spoken with his flipper hands.

One of the kittens scampered in around his ankles. Lightning fast, he pounced. Zelda and I jumped. Striding across the room, handing the cat to me, he kneeled at my side, bowing his head. I patted him, remembering the first time he’d encountered a house cat.

That evening as the three of us ate our meal; Iggy reclined on one of the beds playing with the kittens.

‘Iggy’ eats while he’s in the water,’ Elisa explained.

“I like that,” Zelda commented, “a man that don’t need no cooking’s alright by me.”

When the dishes were cleared, Iggy stood, coming to the head of the table. ‘Elisa asked me to me to tell you our story,’ he signed.

He waited for her signal to start. She nodded.

‘Elisa is a lost cousin.’ Going to her side, he lifted her hair, touching her chin gently with a claw, he turned her face left and then to the right.

Her gill slits flared, displaying crimson filaments inside.

Zelda shivered, “I could have gone all day without seeing that!”

Iggy looked to me, I rolled my eyes, shaking my head.

He continued, ‘I was sent to find her, to bring her home. Elisa was designed to be my mate.’

I wasn’t sure if the word he’d used was ‘designed’ or ‘destined,’ but I was too engrossed to interrupt.

‘I was setting out on my journey when I was captured. I did not recognize Elisa when I first encountered her. My sense of smell is not good in the open air and my thoughts were muddled. When our kind enters courtship, we remain in constant companionship. I did not understand how Elisa could come and go. Her unusual behavior was a curiosity that I studied. When we traveled back here, in our liquid environment, we completed the bonding rituals.’ He paused, looking down at her, running a knuckle along her jaw.

Elisa covered his hand, smiling up at him.

‘I’m in you,’ he signed solemnly to her.

‘As I am in you,’ she replied, ‘and we are everywhere.’

Their moment of intense communication drew out.

I could see Zelda bursting with questions; she must have decided to keep quiet too.

As if reminding himself that he had an audience, Iggy continued, ‘When we arrived, we expected to be greeted by the family, but they were gone. All my people were gone. While we wait for the offspring, I tend to the city and search for the others.’

“City?” I questioned, glancing around.

Elisa sighed, “It’s underwater, and it’s beautiful, Giles! I wish you could see it—draw it.”

Just as my imagination was taking root, Iggy bent over, placing a hand on Elisa’s belly. ‘It is time,’ he signed. ‘We will return in three days.’ Scooping her up, he marched outside.

“Wait!” Zelda cried chasing after them, her voice on the edge of panic. I followed too watching Elisa’s crooked smile as she kept an eye on us over Iggy’s shoulder. She waved before they submerged.

While Zelda was unsettled with the latest changes in her friend’s life, I was revitalized. I would bare witness to a new, possibly one-of-a-kind, life form. I wished for gills and webs so I could join Elisa and Iggy in the sea.

And then there were three.

They arrived in the night when the temperature was low and the humidity was high. Elisa cried a little when she described Gemmalyn’s struggle to take her first breath of air. “If we didn’t make her use her lungs right away, they might never develop,” Elisa’s voice shook. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

The nipper is a delight. ‘Darling’ and ‘adorable’ are words Zelda uses when she holds her. ‘Little Monster’ are others she says when she’s sporting a wounded finger that got too close to baby’s sharp teeth.

On a sweltering afternoon when Zelda was in town, and Iggy was away fishing, I sketched Elisa with her baby. It would be another contribution to the baby book Elisa was making. Gemma, still attached to her mother’s breast, had a full belly and was resisting sleep. Elisa rocked, in no hurry to put her daughter down.

“He took me to the city for Gemmalyn’s birth,” Elisa began. “I’ve never had the stamina to make it without help. When we’ve gone in the past, he holds me around the waist; I help kick. This time he carried me, just like when we left. That position creates a lot more drag,” she laughed softly. “It was an effort, but he got us there. It was the first time I felt sad about the place being deserted.”

“He took me to the women’s hall, then, in his language, he gave me the sights and sounds of the city as he’d known it. In that way, I saw his female relatives, and the traditional birthing circle,” Elisa raised glassy eyes gleaming with unshed tears. “It’s almost indescribable, Giles, knowing how it was and watching Iggy trying to make it right.”

Behind the mother and child scene, I began filling in the background with structures. A bustling, underwater metropolis with lots of Iggies.

“He did the work of the women, helping me bring his daughter into the world. It hurt, there was blood, and the sharks circled above, just like buzzards, waiting for a chance.”

“Iggy kept us safe. We stayed in the royal’s suite in the grand palace. While I recovered, Iggy made sure Gemmalyn didn’t swim out of his sight.”

“And then we came home, to you and Zelda,” Elisa sighed, her eyelids growing too heavy to stay open.”

For a moment, I wondered how this mud brick structure compared to a Royal suite, what held such attraction to keep them coming back here.

I put the baby in her bassinette, covered Elisa, then went to cool my feet at the river bank. My mind was churning with things that only aquatic life could experience.

Iggy emerged with several fish on a kelp stringer. Wrapping it securely around a branch, he let our lunch enjoy a reprieve.  ‘What is on your mind, Giles?’ he signed, he sat next to me.

“I’m tired of sitting around,” I said, no longer bothering to sign back. Though he could not speak, he understood our language perfectly well. “I want to go with you, to help search.”

We started my endurance swimming and free diving lessons that afternoon.

I enjoyed my new quest, searching with Iggy sometimes, and on my own.

Nearly a year later, our little clan is still intact. We’ve added rooms onto to Elisa’s house. The Iglootoo family, as I now think of them, is in residence less and less.

Gemmalyn, the most beautiful creature on the face of the Earth, is the best of both her parents, as most children are. She is graceful in the water and out. She’s as curious as our cats and rambunctious as a monkey.

Though there’s been no sign of Iglootoo’s people, he remains hopeful. He is a devoted mate and father, and he’s a first-rate best friend. He’s accepted us as part of his tribe. Our association with him has elevated us as human beings.

Zelda helps Elisa chase after Gemma when she’s on land. She’s also become my art representative with Raimee, who’s been selling my Iglootoo sketches. (Elisa and Iggy have sworn us to secrecy about Gemmalyn!)

I suspect Raimee’s daughter has been playing matchmaker between Zelda and her father. Zelda nearly glows every time she returns from town.

Elisa has been pushing Zelda into talks with the National Parks system. Her goal is to make sure that their home remains protected and safe, that people like Colonel Strickland can never repeat what happened to Iggy.

Iggy restored nearly all my hair and gave me back the body of a forty-year-old.

I’d be remiss in ending our story without mentioning my fresh start with love…

Iggy believes that the merfolk are fairytales, he’s wrong.

Mermaid Book Links

(in order of appearance in the video)

Descending, Holly Kelly
http://amzn.to/2ofuQH3

Shearwater, D.S. Murphy
http://amzn.to/2Ct3ORG

Ingo, Helen Dunmore
http://amzn.to/2EAZKVb

Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale, Carolyn Turgeon
http://amzn.to/2FaLhMR

The Marked Ones, S.K. Munt
http://amzn.to/2EB3lmb

The Mermaid’s Sister, Carrie Anne Noble
http://amzn.to/2C63lsG

Underneath: a merfolk tale, M.N. Arzú
http://amzn.to/2C7neQj

Deep Blue, Jennifer Donnelly
http://amzn.to/2HsR9lA

Lost Voices, Sarah Porter
http://amzn.to/2BBbXGR

 

More Stuff

Click here to read Lisa’s movie review, film themes, a collection of trailers and a “Monsters are Living, Breathing, Metaphors” director discussion.

Underneath: a merfolk tale, by M.N. Arzú book review

Another movie Continued short story – Age of Adaline Continued

 

Your Thoughts

 

Did you enjoy the Shape of Water Continued? Did you feel that the story stayed true to the personalities of the characters in the movie?  If you were to write a Continued story, what would be similar or different in yours? Leave comments below.

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Digging Up His Brother-In-Law in San Francisco’s Pioneer Cemetery

Humans are the only species that buries thier dead. 

After Phineas Gage died (1860), he was buried in Lone Mountain Cemetery in San Francisco. Six years later, his brother-in-law, David Shattuck, along with two physicians (past mayors) dug him up.

Gage’s traumatic brain injury (1848) made him famous in neuroscience and psychology fields.

Once he learned of his patient’s passing, Dr. Harlow (who treated Phineas) asked to have the body exhumed for the advancement of science. Phineas’s mother received this request and saw that it was carried out.

What is it like to unearth a member of your family?

Excerpt from Phases of Gage: After the Accident Years

David Shattuck (husband to Phoebe Gage / brother-in-law to Phineas Gage)
Lone Mountain Cemetery, San Francisco 1867

On a misty morning in November, I found myself in the Lone Mountain Cemetery looking down at my brother-in-law’s tombstone. Doctor Coon and Doctor J.B.D. Stillman stood at my side, each with a shovel in hand.

Guards stood at the closed entrance gates affording us privacy.

Coats came off as digging commenced. At first, I felt that I was committing an unforgivable sin. But as my back strained and my hands developed blisters, those feelings subsided, until my shovel made contact with something solid.

The other two paused, nodding to one another, then resumed. Once space was clear, the two doctors were about to lift the coffin lid when I interrupted. “Wait! Gentlemen, please bear with my squeamishness. Before you open it, would you prepare me for what I am about to see?”

Doctor Coon looked uncomfortable. He glanced at Doctor Stillman who replied, “Why, David, you need not see anything.”

“No,” I disagreed firmly. “I promised my wife that I would follow it through to the end.”

“She never needs to know,” Doctor Coon replied softly.

“I’ll know. Please, just tell me.”

“Very well,” the man sighed as he wiped his hands on his vest, “By now, all of the body fluids will have dissipated. The clothing will be intact. Likely, dry skin will still cover the skeletal remains. Hair will be present.” Coon paused to see how I was taking it. “Shall I describe what we’ll do next and the skull removal process?”

Squeezing my eyes shut, I nodded.

“Once the lid is off, the first thing I will do is hand you the iron bar. Next, I will test the skull to see if it separates from the spine. If not, Doctor Stillman has tools for that. I will remove any organic matter that freely separates. Doctor Stillman will take the skull and place it inside the box.” Coon paused, waiting for my response.

“Understood. Proceed,” I said gravely.

It took all three of us climbing inside the hole to pry the lid up and place it off to the side. I was surprised to see Phineas’s body exactly as Doctor Coon described.

Mummified-looking remains wore Phin’s clothes. But it no longer looked like the man I remembered. When I hopped out of the hole, Doctor Coon handed up the bar. It was ice-cold to the touch, heavier than I remembered.

Not wishing to watch more of the proceedings, I held it up, running a finger over the words etched on its surface.

This is the bar that was shot through the head of Mr. Phinehas P. Gage at Cavendish, Vermont, Sept. 14, 1848. He fully recovered from the injury & deposited this bar in the Museum of the Medical College of Harvard University. Phinehas P. Gage Lebanon Grafton Cy N-H Jan 6, 1850

I remembered Phin’s story about the engraver he hired to do the work, misspelling his name. I could hear Phineas saying, ‘When mistakes are made, it’s the good man who doesn’t get angry, but figures out how to move forward from there.’

I chose to focus on memories rather than listen to the doctors going on about their ghoulish activity.

“Mission accomplished,” Doctor Stillman proclaimed loudly, breaking into my thoughts. He and Doctor Coon replaced the coffin lid. “Let’s get that hole filled.”

When we finished, Doctor Stillman offered to take the skull with him to process it for travel.

I promised myself at that moment, that ‘the skull’ would remain inside its box until it was delivered to Doctor Harlow. I didn’t care to, ever, look at it, or have any member of my family see it.

Without my noticing, a murky fog had rolled in. The city beyond the cemetery walls had been engulfed in a chilly, dull, gray blankness of a November day. Seagulls could be heard high above in the blue sky that must be up there. Our boot steps sounded muffled.

Doctor Stillman cradled the box in front of him like a wise man on his way to deliver a gift to the baby Jesus. Doctor Coon carried shovels and a bag of tools. I kept pace with the others, Phineas’s bar grew heavier every minute.

A raven landed on a tombstone nearby. It shrieked, raising its wings like it expected a token in exchange for letting us pass.

When the guards opened the gates, the metal hinges let loose a high-pitched protest. I wondered if the flaming gates of hell would sound that way if this deed took me to that entrance.

Worse yet, would Phoebe ever forgive me for this?

The Gage family was one of many who were affected by grave removals in San Francisco.

With growing pressure to make efficient use of valuable real estate, the dead of San Francisco had to make way for the living.

By the end of 1948 bodies in several pioneer cemeteries were moved to a mass grave site forty miles south in Colma, California.

Thousands of tombstones were recycled. Civic uses included; the sea wall at Yacht Harbor, breakwaters at the Aquatic Park and Marina Green, construction of a Wave Organ, as fill bedding for the Great Highway, as paving stones in the storm drains at Buena Vista Park and erosion control at Ocean Beach.

Phineas Gage’s niece, Delia Presby (Shattuck) Oliver’s gravestone appears on Ocean Beach when heavy storms move sand out to sea. It was last uncovered on June 4, 2012. The lettering — still legible — reads; Delia Presby, wife of, F.B. Oliver, Died, April 9, 1890, Aged 26 yrs., 10 mos. 27 days, — Rest –

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Wave Organ in San Francisco - photo by Kārlis Dambrāns - https://www.flickr.com/photos/janitors/15174001514
Wave Organ in San Francisco – photo by
Kārlis Dambrāns – https://www.flickr.com/photos/janitors/15174001514

 

Background Research:

Encyclopedia of San Francisco – Removal of San Francisco Cemeteries
http://www.sfhistoryencyclopedia.com/articles/c/cemeteries.html

1950 Location, regulation, and removal of Cemeteries in the City of San Francisco by William A. Proctor
Department of City Planning
City and County of San Francisco
http://www.sfgenealogy.com/sf/history/hcmcpr.htm

oddfellows-1180x500

A Second Final Rest: The History of San Francisco’s Lost Cemeteries film by Trina Lopez
http://trinalopez.com/finalrest.html

KQED Radio Program: Why are all of San Francisco’s Dead People Buried in Colma?
https://soundcloud.com/kqed/bay-curious-has-colma-always-been-for-san-franciscos-dead

Transcript: https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/12/16/why-are-so-many-dead-people-in-colma-and-so-few-in-san-francisco/

History of Erosion on Ocean Beach by Bill McLaughlin Surfrider Foundation, San Francisco Chapter
http://public.surfrider.org/files/a_history_of_coastal_erosion_at_ocean_beach_0412.pdf

 

Delia Presby (Shattuck) Oliver’s Gravestone:

91507663_133905039892

Ocean Beach Headstones – Weird San Francisco History

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Tombstones-from-long-ago-surfacing-on-S-F-beach-3618805.php

122 Year-old Gravestone Washes Up on Ocean Beach
http://www.missionmission.org/2012/06/04/122-year-old-gravestone-washes-up-on-ocean-beach/

Find a Grave

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=91507663

Other San Francisco Cemetery Information:

Still Rooms Slide Show by Photographer Richard Barnes – Bodies found during the construction of San Francisco’s Legion of Honor
http://www.richardbarnes.net/still-rooms/mtjfumzj50oowcnkvam1c2ewduv6l5

Additional Gage Resources

Lisa’s San Francisco History Research Sources on Pinterest:

 

 

Hitch’n

whn

“My entire life has been lies,” thought JJ as his boots tapped out a rapid tattoo. “It’s a sham, a false reality that everyone has purchased a slice of. There is no path to success. It’s just consumption, power mongering, and environmental destruction.”

JJ had left a monument in the center of his neatly made bed. His diploma from Wharton University, crumbled into a ball, and his wallet. Inside it was $250 in cash, his credit cards, and his driver’s license. JJ’s vehicle registration and passport completed the assembly. On top of everything, he’d left a cryptic note, Mom, you won’t be able to find me where I am going.

At the time that JJ had written it, he’d been seething with anger, wanting to lash out. Even in that highly charged state, he realized that it sounded like a suicide note. He didn’t want anyone to assume that he’d taken the easy way out. JJ added, When I find what I am looking for, I’ll be in touch.

His backpack was light. It contained a Swiss Army knife, a flashlight, a set of magnets his father had given him on his sixth birthday and the tiny ceramic jar (containing his baby teeth) that his mother had saved.

On the deserted road, a car’s approach could be heard from a long way off. Confidently, JJ made a fist with his thumb pointing up, holding it out.

A wind kicked up in all directions. The air buzzed and crackled. But JJ didn’t look around, he kept striding. A bright light appeared in front of him.

That made him stop. A large bubble, about fifteen feet in diameter, emerged. It undulated as if it were alive, growing increasingly fatter, straining at its surface.

With a pop, it burst. In its place, stood JJ’s dream car.

It made no sound as it crept forward, stopping at his side. The driver’s side door opened. When JJ leaned down to peer inside, he only saw darkness. For a moment, he thought about his note, maybe it was a suicide note…maybe not.

JJ got in.

_______________

Vistual Writing Prompt:  WritetoDone website – in 350 words or less, write about what happened next – November 2016

Guest Post – Underneath excerpt by M.N. Arzú

short story cover art3

Daybreak usually found Neil Thompson walking down the shore. At this early hour, the deserted Maine beach was his and his alone. Thoughts about everything and nothing formed and vanished in his mind along with the waves. At fifty-two, few were the pleasures left to him from his childhood, and fewer the moments he actually got to enjoy them.

He loved this part of the beach, his own private sanctuary off the beaten path.

Further down the beach, the waves were washing against a large object, but the dim early light and the seaweed distorted its form. Frowning, he wondered if the sea would reclaim it or if he would find trash polluting his little piece of heaven.

Wind beat on the back of his neck as he tucked his hands into the pockets of his jeans. He left footprints that quickly washed away, while taking his time to reach the mystery item the sea had so generously brought to his feet.

His heart slammed in his chest when he finally realized what he was looking at: a dead body. Frozen to the spot, he stared as wave after wave crested over the white chest and dark trousers of a man’s corpse, and all he could think about was how much he truly wished the sea would take it back.

Holding his breath, he tried and failed to look away. His stomach felt too tight and heavy while his mind navigated a strange mix of morbid curiosity and utter disgust.

A particularly large wave crashed beside him, drawing him from his thoughts and reminding him that the tide forgave nothing on these ever-changing shores. A full minute passed before he resigned himself to the grisly duty of dragging the dead man out of the ocean’s grasp. He would need to call in the authorities on what was becoming anything but a normal day. Quickly, he dialed the number and waited impatiently.

Holding his phone in one hand, he reached for the man’s shoulder with the other. Movement met his touch, and he jerked his hand back in shock. Life still clung to this body. The man was still breathing.

“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”

The voice on the phone caught him off-guard, and he almost dropped it.

“Sir?”

“Yes! Hello? I’m Neil Thompson, I’m at the beach. I’ve just found a man here. He was brought in by the tide. I think he’s still breathing, but I—I don’t know what—”… to do…

The words stuck in his throat.

He’d honestly thought those were trousers. Through the dark seaweed, a hundred shades of blue glinted off each scale as the sun rose in the early hour, the sea no longer able to disguise what Neil had ignored before: A tail.

Longer than legs would have been, the tail rolled lazily with the tide, somehow at an odd angle. Instinctively, he took two steps back, almost losing his balance. Every fiber of his being screamed for him to turn around and run, but he was trapped in his fight or flight instinct.

Gentle waves reached them again and again as Neil struggled to breathe. Where knees should have been, a deep gash ran horizontally, torn flesh and scales the testimony of a gruesome accident. Closing his eyes, Neil swallowed bile.

In his ear, the dispatcher kept asking questions, though God knew about what. He wished yet again that the sea would take back what it had brought in.

“Mr. Thompson, paramedics are on their way, but we need an exact location.”

Hysterically, he looked around, a tiny part of his mind deciding this must be a prank. Somewhere, nearby, cameras were recording his reaction and one day soon he would be watching this on reality television, laughing at his gullible self.

And yet, no matter where he looked, or how much he wished it wasn’t, the beach was deserted.

This is real. God, this is real!

“Mr. Thompson? Can you hear me?”

Neil looked down at the man who wasn’t a man, coming to grips with the fact that myth had crossed into reality, and no one but him was witnessing this bizarre twist in his life.

“Mr. Thompson!”

“Yes!” he answered, snapping out of it. It didn’t matter if this was the strangest day of his life, he could only guess the man in front of him was having his worst.

“I’m here,” he reassured the dispatcher, giving his address and a good estimate of how far he’d walked away from his home. “I’m across from Cluney’s store. I’ll stand by to signal the ambulance, you won’t miss me.”

“Okay, Mr. Thompson, this is what I need you to do while help is on the way.”

The operator listed off tasks: get him safe, check his breathing, check his responsiveness to touch. Maybe there was more, maybe Neil only half understood what the woman was trying to tell him, but he had the insane need to correct his early statement. You’re not coming to aid a man.

She kept asking all kinds of questions, expecting him to do all kinds of things.

Placing the phone in his shirt pocket on speaker, he mentally went through the instructions from the dispatcher on what he needed to do. Finally, taking a deep breath, he fixed his eyes on the lifeless face. Several bruises were starting to turn purple alongside the right temple, certainly the product of one hell of a collision. Neil had to talk to him to see if he could get a response.

“Hey…” Neil whispered, his voice deserting him.

“Hey,” he tried again, sounding slightly louder. “Well, crap, I don’t know what I’m doing…” he murmured. Shutting his eyes tightly for a second, he took a moment to get his racing heart under control. He positioned himself above the head, and with trembling hands, he reached under the ice-cold armpits.

“Okay, okay, here’s the deal: I’ll move you out of the sea, and you don’t bite my head off, okay?”

The man was heavy, and with some considerable effort, Neil dragged him out of the water. Part of Neil expected the tail to turn into legs. Part of him expected those eyes to pop open and sharp teeth to start gnashing at him.

None of that happened.

He took his phone out and went back to the dispatcher. Drowning people swallowed a lot of water, she informed him. Neil had to move his unconscious victim onto his side in case he vomited.

Neil stared at the tail on his victim, and almost laughed. This man was the furthest thing from drowning that one could get. In fact, maybe he should be pushing him right back into the sea.

“Mr. Thompson, do you understand?” the dispatcher asked, concerned.

“Yes,” he said, absently nodding.

He’d just found a mermaid—merman—yet no one would ever believe that something so fantastic could happen to someone so mundane.

Turning to look down the road, he strained to hear the ambulance sirens, but all he heard was the sea. He still had time.

Hanging up, he deftly turned his phone camera on and began gathering proof of what he was witnessing. No one would ever doubt what he’d just seen.

* * *

To the untrained eye, the hospital Emergency Room was nothing more than a chaotic arrangement of people shouting at each other and working their shifts on caffeine alone.

Well, that last part is true, Gwen Gaston thought, the last drops of her coffee still tasting like heaven. She’d been crazy for a fourth cup of liquid energy since two patients ago.

From her vantage point on the opposite corner of the ER entrance, Gwen watched gurneys and paramedics come and go, their patients delivered to the capable hands of her colleagues. Being the ER on-call surgeon guaranteed she never got bored, which was the main reason why she’d applied for the position two years ago. She’d been missing the adrenaline from her early days as an emergency doctor, and the intricate puzzles and challenges each ambulance brought to her hands.

Her timer went off, the cue for getting back to work. She threw the empty paper cup into the nearest trashcan and rubbed her hands in anticipation.

She was overweight and out of shape, and she knew she didn’t look like the ideal surgeon to handle the turmoil of the ER; half her diet consisted of an unhealthy dose of soda and chips to compensate for long hours at work, but damn, was she good at what she did. Most days that included patching people up from the inside out, six cups of coffee, and a good measure of yelling.

The speaker overhead chimed and a man called a code blue for the trauma room. Her phone began buzzing with an alert at the same time: they needed her to start prepping for emergency surgery. She walked faster.

“What do we have?” she asked to no one in particular on her route to her new patient, slipping out a pair of latex gloves.

“Some idiot in a mermaid costume half drowned down the beach,” one of the paramedics told her. His partner looked anything but amused. In fact, the guy looked downright scared.

“Okay, he’s stabilizing now. Can someone get that tail out of the way?” Dr. Bill Shore ordered, sounding calm and collected despite such an odd request.

She entered the trauma room and the smell of the ocean hit her before she could even take a good look at the man. She’d been expecting a half-assed costume made out of cheap plastic in pinks and yellows, adorned with shiny fake gems to complete the look. What she wasn’t expecting was how real the disguise looked. It was decorated with hundreds of tiny bright scales, complete with thin lateral fins that were torn everywhere. The length of the tail reached all the way down to the floor where people narrowly missed it with their shoes.

“What did you page me for?” she asked, mentally shaking her head at the crazy things she had to put up with in her line of work. This close, she could see small clusters of scales framing the youthful face and parts of his shoulders, which then disappeared down his back. His ears were pointy, and his skin almost translucent.

“We’ve been having a hard time with his vitals, and I could really use your help figuring out where he’s bleeding. We can’t seem to keep his blood pressure up.”

Gwen’s fingers expertly palpated the abdomen, looking for the elusive internal bleeding. Intrigued at what she felt, she started listening with the stethoscope a moment later, while monitors kept pace with a weak heartbeat and shallow breathing. Bruises adorned the right side of their patient’s head, and she would bet good money that his right wrist was broken.

What the hell is this? She thought as she kept moving down, unable to identify the internal sounds. Something was seriously off, she just couldn’t put her finger on what.

“Can someone page neurology, please?” Bill ordered.

“Are they filming something nearby?” Jackie, the senior nurse on staff asked, while touching the line where skin became tail. “This costume is definitely professional. I can’t find where it comes off.”

Still listening, Gwen’s eyes fixated on the middle of the tail, where she could see sluggish blood pooling onto the gurney. That gash was bleeding real blood.

Bingo!

“It might be painted on the skin,” Gwen absently explained. She stopped listening and started seeking where real muscle became part of the disguise. Her hands methodically felt beside and beneath the smooth texture of the tail, imagining how two legs would be able to fit in the narrow outfit. Where knees should bend, she unexpectedly felt a pulse.

She looked up at Bill, who was busy checking the monitors.

“I need to see what’s going on down here,” she said, signaling the tail.

“Okay, on three!” Bill said, and deftly they moved their patient onto his side. The back was as meticulously decorated as the tail, the blue scales following the spine in a narrow line, all the way to the back of his neck. The deep gash ran from one side to the other, cutting through several layers of tissue.

“Let’s clean this wound,” Gwen ordered to their other nurse, Oscar. It unnerved her that she could be fooled by an elaborate Halloween costume. She pressed down on her newly discovered pulse point, and saw the tail twitch further down. Blinking, she pressed again, sure she was imagining things.

It twitched again.

“We really need to get this thing off,” she heard Bill saying, but he sounded so far away. “Gwen, how bad are his legs?”

“I can’t find—”she started to say, sounding equally far away. The gash hypnotized her, forbidding her to even blink. Some forty percent of the tail had been cut deep, and her surgeon’s brain automatically calculated the odds of keeping the limb or amputating it.

For the first time, Gwen saw that tail as part of a body.

“Gwen?”

“It’s not a costume,” she muttered, bewildered, but only Oscar turned to look. Everyone else kept going at it as if they were treating a human.

“What?” Bill asked while he listened to the lungs with his stethoscope.

“It’s not a costume,” she repeated louder, turning to look at Bill with round eyes. “It’s—it’s real!”

Only Oscar understood her, moving away immediately, his eyes going as big as hers.

“What are you talking about?” Bill asked, forgetting his stethoscope.

“The ta—tail is bleeding,” she forced herself to explain. “There’s a pulse, even a reflex. Bill, I can’t find any legs in here.”

This time, Jackie moved back. Frowning, Bill moved next to her to take a closer look.

“X-rays,” they said at the same time.

Hesitantly, Oscar helped her and Bill to place their patient on his back. Two seconds later, they cleared the room to evade the momentary radiation.

“I’m sure this is perfectly logical,” he told Gwen, looking through the door at the impressive tail that still touched the floor.

“Birth malformation?” she offered, equally locked on their patient’s body. “With that length?”

“Someone’s playing a prank on us,” he muttered, entering the room once more. Behind them, only Oscar entered willingly.

“Or maybe he was playing a prank on someone else and it went horribly wrong…” she reasoned, looking at the monitors, “You can’t fake these vitals.”

By the door, Jackie made the sign of the cross. On the hall outside the room, the paramedics argued with each other about who’d been right.

This is becoming a circus.

“Bill?”

“We’re not dealing with a Disney character!” he snapped. She silently agreed: she doubted she’d ever seen a Disney character with abs like those. She chuckled at the stupid thought, barely containing a full blown hysterical attack.

“Get the labs done,” he told Jackie, the poor nurse looking paler than their patient while she fled the room.

“Get another gurney,” Gwen ordered Oscar. “We need to level off that tail.”

More people crowded the door, blocking anyone who was actually trying to work. The news of what was going on in the trauma room was spreading like wildfire.

“This is getting out of control,” she warned Bill, for the first time chaos taking over their highly tuned and efficient ER.

“Listen up!” Bill roared, walking towards the door, towering over everyone. “This is not a mermaid, and this is not a freak-show! Get back to work and let us save this man! NOW!”

They cleared out in two seconds flat.

“Are you sure?” Oscar asked, bringing the gurney Gwen had asked for into the room.

“YES!” Bill shouted, impatience showing through. “And whoever suggests otherwise—”

He didn’t finish, but the meaning hung in the air. Silently, Oscar helped her get the tail up.

“Here, let’s see…” Gwen murmured, clinical eyes looking for a better angle into the wound. They turned their not-mermaid onto his side again, and methodically she assessed the damage.

“He needs the OR,” she said aloud—for his not-tail, she privately added.

“He’s going to need a whole lot more than that when he wakes up and explains what the hell is going on here,” Bill murmured under his breath.

She couldn’t agree more.
__________________________

The excerpt that you’ve just read is the first chapter the book Underneath, a merfolk tale.  If you liked it, there’s more!

I had the pleasure of reading the entire manuscript as Michelle was creating it. It’s fast paced and good to the very last drop.

Follow the links below to learn about M.N. Arzú and how to get her books.

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More by this author – The Librarian Book Review

 

 

 

 

An injured merman is found washed up on a beach in Maine.

Merfolk have been hiding in plain sight for centuries. Now they are now torn between sacrificing one of their own—or telling humanity the truth.

Underneath, a merfolk tale takes the reader on a journey through secret societies, conspiracy, investigation, parental love, and coming-of-age

1850 – The Rising Phoenix – San Francisco

October 28, 1850 

Dearest Wife ~ 

There have been two more fires. San Francisco, like a phoenix, continually rises from the ashes. The damages, this time, are thought to exceed $15,000,000. I can comfortably speak of the numbers. Not so—of the personal toll.

Too many friends have been taken by fate or by their own hand.

Remember the Patterson family? After their home burned, Mr. Patterson shot his wife and their baby daughter in the street. He was found lying dead on top of them.

Thomas Maguire – who owns the Jenny Lind Theatre – has lost everything six times! He jokes that one day he will write a play about it. I appreciate his candor and I admire him for not succumbing to hopelessness.

1906 earth quake

Our warehouse fell to the flames. We had to have guards at the burn site every hour of the day and night so that no one would build on our ground.

There is much talk about forming a fire company with volunteers and of construction methods that will withstand conflagration.  

I ache with missing you, but I am glad that you have been spared the agony and upheaval here.

 All My Love, Reece

William_Coulter_-_San_Francisco

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Writing Prompt: 200-Word Tuesdays – June 2016 prompt theme: Wrinkled Paper

This letter is an excerpt from a book in progress. Haylee is a monster story with scene settings that are historically accurate.

Haylee is a mysterious and rare Traveler. She is time shifted from 1984 to San Francisco in 1850. While there she meets and marries Reece Keener (Haylee and the Traveler’s Stone). Having returned to her own time – Haylee and the Crystal Carrier’s Consort (working title) – Haylee discovers a series of letters that her husband wrote.  This letter is one of that series.

History of the San Francisco Fire Department – Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco

Only the Treehouse Knows – 200 words

treehouse cover

“T’was an ‘venture coming ‘her when we was kids.” Bill parked his diesel pick-up at the road side.

Sweltering, moist heat engulfed them when they stepped out of the air conditioning.  Bill’s crooked finger pointed at something over the rooftops. “Ya can jus make out the tree over ‘ther. Was jus open fields back then.”

“Is that where it happened?” Shayden asked as he took off his mirrored aviator sunglasses and squinted.

Bill said, “Some thirty years ago, now.”

Shayden pulled his phone out of his pocket, zoomed in on the tree and started snapping. “Do you still live around here?”

“Yep, ‘bout four miles away.”

“Have you heard of any unusual things happing in the area?”

“Ya might could say that,” Bill snorted. “It’s not some’thin people in these parts like to talk about much.”

“Would you show me what it was that you wrote in about?”

Bill scanned the road for traffic, then with his mouth pressed in a harsh line, he began unbuttoning his work shirt. He pulled the fabric back to reveal the lumpy spot in his side.

Shayden’s eyes opened wide, he swallowed audibly. He looked to Bill and held up his phone; Bill nodded.


Story Prompt: @200WordTuesdays on Twitter

Theme: Empty fields & nostalgia

Numbers Cruncher

Alberto had everything a man could wish for ─ notoriety, beautiful women, and Numbers Cruncher smflashy cars. His biggest problem was a father who expected perfection.

When Alberto was in fifth grade, he scored 100% on a math quiz. He remembered his father standing proudly, while proclaiming, “When you are older, you will work for the family as a numbers cruncher.”

Four years after graduating from UCLA, Alberto continued to work as an accountant in his father’s office. Last year, he’d been, ‘number one.’ His coworkers constantly pestered him to hold up his finger so that they could laugh.

Alberto sat in the hushed waiting room. He shoved his hands deep into his armpits and settled his forearms over them like a chicken adjusting its wings.

Tony, his cousin, sat opposite him drumming on a case that sat in his lap. He smirked at Alberto.

To Alberto, Tony looked like a sausage stuffed into a three-piece-suit. They’d been best friends when they were kids. Once puberty hit, Tony spent time bulking up at the gym and training to become an EMT. Tony steadily climbed the ladder in the family business because he was good at carrying out orders and cleaning up messes.

Alberto found it difficult to breathe. The seat of his chair felt like it was made from a pin cushion with the pins sticking in his ass. They were waiting for the tax preparer to check Alberto’s work.

His father strode into the room like a general about to address his troops.  Not making eye contact with Alberto, he gestured in Tony’s direction. The sound of the zipper releasing its teeth had Alberto pushing against his backrest and shaking his head.

“No! No! No!” he screamed.

Tony opened the case. Nestled in a velvet lining, gleamed a razor sharp chef’s cleaver. Tony lunged for Alberto as his father lifted it and adjusted it in within his grip.

The struggle to free Alberto’s left hand was over quickly. Bracing it flat on a nearby table, Tony nodded to indicate that he was ready. Alberto’s one remaining finger ─ his index ─ lay exposed and vulnerable.

“Father! I beg you!”

His mouth formed a grim, straight line and he responded while raising his arm, “It’s our way, son. This is the price for making mistakes.”

 

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Story Prompt: @GHowellWhite1 Twitter Prompt

Theme: Pen a story from the point of view of an accountant. Genre: Horror