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Bones Become Flowers by Jess Mowry: all rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work by any means except short excerpts for use in reviews. The Kindle edition, to date, is the only legally authorized ebook or web-accessible edition of this work. If you find this book being offered anywhere else, either as a download or to be read online, it is there without the author's permission (aka STOLEN PROPERTY) and in violation of copyright law.


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            ___________________________________________________







                                          Bones Become Flowers
                                         © 1999 - 2011 Jess Mowry




                                     To Iris for her art





                                                  En



       Shipwreck! That was Tracy's first thought as she rounded a curve, caught sight of the ocean, and saw the ship lying aground offshore.
       Save the children! was her next when she saw them leaping into the sea. She floored the gas to get out of the jungle. The battered old Subaru, missing on one cylinder since spewing steam on the last upgrade, billowed blue smoke and responded like a slug. Fortunately, the rutted dirt road sloped steeply downhill, and in seconds she had slewed the car sideways between two palm trees and skidded to a stop at the brink of a cliff overlooking a small sandy cove. A cloud of brown dust swirled around her as she flung the door open and scrambled out. The car's front bumper was buried in ferns, and she shoved them aside to see better while batting at colorful butterflies. How could she help? Lifejackets! Rope! Of course she had none. The spare tire could have been used as a float -- had the old rental car been provided with one -- and though Tracy had carefully planned for this trip, she had never foreseen a sea rescue.
       Indiana Jones would have known what to do, but Tracy Carter could only stand watching in impotent anguish and curse herself for not being prepared. The white-sanded beach was no more than twenty feet below, but the drop was sheer, and her frantic glances left and right revealed no way to reach it. The last village she'd seen had been ten miles ago, and Jérémie was at least that far down the dusty goat trail that passed for a road.
       Her stomach cramped, her sight went blurry, and she almost doubled over with nausea. Dizziness made her sway on her feet, and sweat broke out on her face. She hadn't felt well for most of that morning. For awhile she'd tried to deny the disorder, but had finally admitted it was probably due to her stubborn insistence on eating indigenous food with the poor instead of dining in expensive cafes.
       But it was an even sicker sensation to have to stand helpless and watch children drown!
       Her vision cleared, her sickness subsided, and the scene before her looked brutally savage, as vividly colored and stark as a dream. The cloudless sky was a brilliant blue above the green mountains flanking the cove. The sand of the beach was dazzling white, and the midday sun was a blazing brass ball over water like sparkling turquoise. The foundering ship was garishly painted in rust-streaked primary colors of red and black, and yellow and green; and the children were gleaming ebony shapes as they leaped overside abandoning her.
       There was no breeze in the hot humid air; and the jungle smells which had yesterday seemed so sweet and exotic now reeked in her nostrils like something decayed. The placid sea was like liquid crystal, shimmering off to an empty horizon, but the glare hurt her eyes, and the world wasn't pretty when you were sick and children were dying.
       The ship listed on her starboard side maybe a hundred yards from the beach. She might, Tracy's mind abstractly corrected, be more properly called a big boat. Yet she looked more shiplike in overall detail, a half-size version of an ancient tramp steamer with classically practical sea-kindly lines. Her design had gone out of fashion after the First World War, a three-island type with high bow and stern, and cabin and wheelhouse amidships, along with a massive towering funnel that harkened back to the days of steam when height was needed for boiler draft... though she couldn't have still been powered by steam. Two tall masts were rigged like a schooner, one on the foredeck the other aft, though the sails of tan canvas were furled. The vessel's faded but colorful paint showed her to be almost certainly Haitian, and the name on her bows, Enfant Vagabond, was boldly lettered in a childish way.
       Tracy knew a lot about ships, and building boats was her family business. She saw that the ship, for the moment at least, wasn't likely to sink. The angle of list wasn't extreme, though much of her barnacled hull lay exposed, while red-rusted decks and heavy plank hatch covers showed on her opposite side. Tracy noted an old wooden life boat in davits beside the funnel, and watched two figures, one a child's, but the other -- thank God! -- that of a man, swinging it into lowering position.

       Some of her anguish morphed into anger: why wasn't somebody sending up flares as those children leaped shrieking into the sea? Even in these remote coastal mountains there were surely some shacks or maybe a village hidden among the tree-covered slopes. And a fishing boat or a cargo schooner could have been just out of sight beyond the rocky-toothed jaws of the cove.
       Then, to her relief, she saw another man come out of a doorway onto the foredeck where the kids were scrambling over the rail. The sight of him, an adult taking charge, calmed her churning stomach a little. But an instant later she felt a strange shock when she realized that his panther-toned body was as naked as those of the kids'. Her mouth dropped open when he, too, abandoned the vessel by casually diving into the sea among the bobbing and bushy-maned children. There were at least six kids now in the water, and two more followed the man overboard.
       She raised her eyes to the pair of figures belatedly lowering the life boat. The child, a boy between twelve and thirteen, was also completely naked, but the man was clad in tan-colored shorts. He was as satiny black as the boy, but fat -- at least by Haitian standards -- with a wobbly belly and pendulous chest. Man and boy seemed to know what to do, though neither -- goddamn them! -- appeared to be in any hurry to get that blessed boat in the water and save the shrieking children.
       Then Tracy's mouth fell open again as the man in the sea with the children began to calmly swim toward shore. All the kids stopped what had seemed like panicky floundering, and the whole group struck out in a wedge-shaped formation following the man toward the beach. Tracy thought of an outing of otters, all shiny as rain-slicked obsidian and confident in the crystalline water. Then a new realization dawned in her mind; the shrieks she'd been hearing were laughter.
       Her stomach was soothed by a surge of relief; apparently there had been no wreck, and the ship had been purposely beached, which was common Caribbean practice. She noted now that the tide was out, and the ship would float free on incoming water in about six hours or so. But to hell with that rusty old tub, thank God the children were safe!
       Her legs went suddenly weak as the adrenalin rush of the last few minutes began to seep from her system. She felt dizzy again, then actually shivered in spite of the sweltering sun. She stepped away from the edge of the cliff and sank to the Subaru's hot, dusty hood, reminding herself that sharing a truck driver's breakfast of spiced pork and rice boiled in a can by the side of the road hadn't been one of her smarter moves. Back home in Oakland, California, she would have simply shrugged this off as something she'd eaten that didn't agree, downed a glass of Alka-Seltzer, and done whatever the day required. But there was something frightening, something dark and deeply disturbing about being sick in a primitive land. No matter how mild the complaint -- or in this case how foolish the cause -- it still made you think how the slightest of breezes could blow out the candle of life.
       She told herself again that it was her own damn fault; she'd tried to go native like some culturally-rabid college girl on a tour of Africa; the kind of romantic uninformed fool who believes that racial ancestry can compensate for being brought up in a psychotically-sterilized, paranoically-preserved, and neurotically sealed-in-plastic society.
       Then a new flash of anger overrode her malaise... fun and games were fine, but it was a hundred yards to the beach and none of those kids had a thing to rely on except each other and one careless man. The life boat, a red and black relic, had just kissed the sea with its splintery keel, and the kids were already halfway to shore. The boy on the ship now slid down the falls and unhooked the tackles. He was as agile as a squirrel but uncommonly chubby by Haitian standards, and if he hadn't been naked Tracy would have thought him a pubescent girl. The fat man descended two sets of stairs to reach the rusty foredeck. He might have been in his fifties, and moved with that slow and dignified grace often possessed by middle-aged men with heavy and low-hanging paunches. He caught the line tossed up by the boy, made it fast to a cleat, and then disappeared through a doorway while the boy sat down in the boat and waited.
       Tracy rose, shooed away butterflies, and parted the ferns to watch the children, who had almost -- thank God -- reached the shore. She was still feeling cramps in her middle, but twinges of anger in her mind at seeing young lives so casually risked. She told herself to get on the real, that she wasn't in the U.S. A. anymore -- or Kansas, metaphorically speaking -- and a week in this land of jagged junk, bare wires and broken things should have clued her to that fact by now.
       Curiosity came to replace outrage; she wondered what kind of scenario involved a beached ship full of naked kids. It was common island custom to ferry cargo ashore, but there was no one to receive it here, no trucks on the road, no village nearby, and the cliffs rising sheer from the beach would have made the work difficult anyhow. Smuggling was a possibility; many Haitians, so she'd heard, were forced into smuggling drugs as a last alternative to starving, though more of what was smuggled were sacks of cement, car and truck parts, and second-hand household items. Still, even this rather pathetic smuggling could put Haitians in prison; and she realized that being an observer here -- even if that ship was landing nothing more deadly than a ton of TVs -- might be putting herself in danger.
       She moved back from the screen of foliage and considered the situation. Something inside her rebelled at the thought of running away before she knew what, if anything, she was running from. That concept reminded her way too much of what she had left a week before; a blindly xenophobic society where internationally-ignorant people disparaged places they'd never been, or were ever likely to go, belittled other human beings they'd never met nor probably would; and worse, who passed these traits on to their children. Added to this was the sort of sheep-like self-preservation that made people flock to buy cars that screamed, stampede into gated security condos, and bleat to build prisons faster than schools because they feared the world they'd created.
       Tracy looked around: the car's weathered green paint blended well with the ferns, and what chrome it possessed had long-ago rusted to ruddy earth tones. The cloud of dust she'd raised in stopping had settled in the breathless air. She was clad in tan shorts and safari shirt; good camouflage, if that was needed. Besides, it seemed impossible that anyone could climb the cliff, and improbable they'd be able to do it before she could get the car started and bail her butt out of Dodge. And, she was here to help if she could, and she wanted to know what was up with that ship and those seemingly happy seagoing children.
       But, did she have time? She glanced at her wrist, but there was only a creamed-coffee strip on her dark-chocolate skin where her Rolex would normally be. Old cultural habits die hard, and she'd thought it safer not to be seen on the Port-au-Prince streets with such a temptation to jacking displayed; though she'd heard such crimes were actually rare in one of the poorest nations on earth. The watch was locked in her backpack on the ragged front seat of the Subaru, but she squinted up at the sun. Even allowing for the grisly condition of what passed for a road, there was plenty of daylight left in the sky to make it to Jérémie well before dark.
       Her gaze drifted back through the emerald ferns to the bright turquoise-blue of the cove. The shouts and laughter of the children carried clearly to her ears as they finally neared the shore. Her stomach felt better now. By closing her eyes she could almost imagine summertime swimming pool sounds as a child. And maybe because of those memories, she recalled parts of a poem by Lewis Carroll that seemed to describe the scene. What was the title? The Walrus And The Carpenter. Weren't there some lines that went...

                            The sun was shining on the sea,
                            Shining with all his might:

       And then, a little later...
 
                            The sea was wet as wet could be,
                            The sands were dry as dry.
                            You could not see a cloud because
                            No cloud was in the sky:
 
       Those words had created an idyllic image when she had been a child, a place of peace to play in the sun. But in college she'd wondered if they might have described desolation instead, a desert of sea and an ocean of sand. Maybe isolation was Carroll's intent, a primordial setting too new to have rules where anything could happen. And this Haitian beach was surely all that.
       Her eyes opened again when she realized that every voice, even the higher-pitched younger ones, were obviously male. From her first glimpses in the distance, either leaping off the listing ship or already in the water, she hadn't been able to tell that all the kids were boys. Even now from what she could see through the ferns -- bushy hair sparkling with salt-water sapphires as ebony shapes swam for shore -- she could only estimate their ages as ranging from probably five to fifteen. Images played in her mind, and she pictured the man's body as he'd come down the deck. He'd looked to be in his early thirties, about the same age as herself. Her eyes narrowed slightly in new speculation, and who was she kidding, she wanted to peep him.
       She could have had anthropological motives; she had come to Haiti to try to save children, and here were some children who might need her help. But the buck-naked brother was a bonus: he probably didn't need any help, but watching him did her a lot of good. There he was emerging from the water and gleaming like someone had polished a midnight.
       She swatted butterflies aside and crouched as she peered through the ferns, feeling almost predatory. Her dizziness was all but forgotten, and the incoming mood was pleasantly naughty. She remembered being a girl of thirteen up on the roof of her grandfather's house in the silvery moonlight of newly-born spring. With a bottle of beer and binoculars, she had treated herself to a big-screen view of Troy Trenton's room in his house down the hill revealed by a big glass patio door whose curtains he seldom bothered to draw. Troy had been into body-building ever since the previous fall, swearing that he would look like a god before reaching the age of sixteen. He'd religiously buffed on his weight bench each night in nothing but tiger-striped briefs; and she could still picture him flat on his back with his silky blond hair spilling down like spun gold, while his young muscles pert beneath snowy white skin had performed for her own private pleasure. She had already seen him naked, uncountable times for all her life, but there was a wonderful difference in watching him on the sly. He also had bouts of air-guitar playing, pounding it down to Roll With The Changes, but best of all were those exquisite sessions when he'd make frenzied love to the girl of his fist and she'd always known it was her.
       She experienced some of that same feeling now as the dusky-skinned, muscular, island-man came wading out of the turquoise water and strode onto surgar-white sand. His small glistening army of night-colored warriors trailed at his back like a children's crusade, storming the beach with laughter as weapons. Most Haitian men were wiry and lean and massed a lot less than American males, but his body was almost as starkly-defined as an artist's anatomy model. His chest was a pair of river rock shapes carried high and proud, his shoulders were wide and solidly squared, and his torso tapered dramatically down to a slender and cheetah-like waist. His legs were strong as if built for running, his buttocks and thighs were sensuously muscled, and he certainly walked with the grace of a cat.
       He was pretty damn handsome, Tracy decided, although in a somewhat careless way she couldn't quite describe. It may have been his casual posture, as if he had never learned how to pose or adopt a threatening stance. His hair was as bushy and wild as the kids', and his movements mirrored their spontaneity of action without any forethought. Because of his blackness and her distant viewpoint she still couldn't see his face clearly, but she noted a cheerful gleam of teeth whenever he spoke to the children. A slim silver chain encircled his neck, and a little medallion swung like a clapper between the muscle bells of his chest.
       A familiar warmth began to spread through her. She felt her throat tighten, and reminded herself that she wasn't thirteen anymore. Most of those mysteries had been solved long-ago, and sometimes to her disappointment. This was only supposed to be good clean fun with no complications involved -- as rare a thing in this suffering land as in her own life these days -- and she really should have been moseying on. But instead of leaving she studied the man. Was she searching for flaws, she wondered, a way to define his carelessness, or simply making excuses to linger? She noted a little roll to his stomach, a slight suggestion of chubbiness, but carried so low that she pictured a fast-cat who knocked back a six-pack whenever he downed a gazelle. She watched him sit on the sand, and the roll became more pronounced. She imagined his navel would look like a child's, flattened into a soft little slit. Somehow that made him all the more handsome, especially combined with his unruly hair and unselfconscious lack of pose: perfection is not always beauty, and she'd learned to suspect it in human beings.
       She counted the kids as they waded ashore through the blue-tinted transparent wavelets. There were ten she noted, and all wore the same kind of silver chains and little medallions as the man. Maybe they were Catholic and on some sort of outing? But a naked priest among bare altar boys would have been a more likely event in America. Haitians liked to flirt and touch, and often acted horny as hell, yet their sexuality could almost seem prim when compared to the sublimated lust flaunted beneath the G-string and pasties that passed for American morality.
       And somehow the small silver charms, which weren't crosses, didn't suggest that they carried the Vatican's seal of approval: in fact, on those naked kids in this primitive setting they looked rather pagan. One boy, the eldest and maybe fifteen, also wore delicate gold bracelets around both wrists, while two younger boys, who looked about eight and were obviously twins, had one bracelet each for adornment.
       Well, Voodoo was a respected religion in Haiti; and from what Tracy had learned in her own sketchy studies there seemed to be scant similarity between the rather benevolent real thing and the stereotypical Hollywood horrors of calling up zombies out of the grave, poking pins into innocent dolls, or murdering children to drink their blood.
       In another respect, the silver charms --- if that's what they were -- looked chintzy and cheap, like free souvenirs handed out on a tour. They appeared to be identical, as if coming from a box of hundreds stamped-out in a Singapore sweat-shop; but one size didn't fit all, and the younger boys' charms dangled down to their waists.
       There was something else about these kids that seemed identical but odd, and she wasn't sure what it was. Not their color: even though darker than an average group of African-American kids, their shading and skintones were varied. The same held true for their hair, naturally bushy but personally different. And, except for the twins, they didn't appear related by blood.
       From what she could hear, they seemed to speak only Kreyol, though once she distinctly heard the word, shit. They neither acted outrageously wild or innocently well-behaved; there was joking, jostling, and randy horseplay. It was obvious they were longtime friends, and they seemed more fond of the man than respectful. Their generalized joking included him; and the smallest crept up and attacked from behind. The others looked on and laughed as man and boy wrestled like a panther with cub, but most began to sit down in a circle. The scene now recalled the most famous line from Lewis Carroll's poem:
 
                       'The time has come,' the Walrus said,
                       'To talk of many things.'

       Everyone knew the verses that followed... shoes and ships and so on. It was doubtful these kids possessed any shoes, but they obviously had a ship. Then she realized what was different about them; and it was own kind of cultural blindness that had kept her from seeing it sooner. Except for their untamed hair, their prominent-tummied and sway-backed builds, they looked like well-fed American kids instead of the thin and often cadaverous children she'd seen for the past seven days. Their small-boned frames were sturdily filled, and the fifteen-year-old had a beautiful body that might have been chiseled from onyx. All the boys' bellies were healthily round, except for the eldest's rippled with muscle, and the twins' as big as beachballs.
       Tracy studied the pair for a moment: their tummies were hugely disproportionate to their possibly eight-year-old frames, which made their movements clumsy and slow, and their stances ungainly and awkward. Bellies that big were an obvious burden; and Tracy wondered if they might have some sort of development disorder.
       The oldest boy remained on his feet like a beautiful statue of jet. His delicate jewelry gleamed in the sun, and his stance showed authority, feet slightly spread, hands curled on slim hips. He seemed to be watching the man for a sign. Tracy scanned the group again, and another few lines from Carroll's poem, no doubt jumbled, popped into her mind... something about walking with oysters:

                           'But wait a bit,' the Oysters cried,            
                           'Before we have our chat:
                           For some of us are out of breath,
                           and all of us are fat!'

       She wouldn't have called the kids fat, except for the chubby boy in the boat and the mammothly tumescent twins. And none seemed out of breath from their swim. Come to think of it though, the fat man would have made a good Walrus. Did that make the man on the beach The Carpenter?
       If he'd made a sign Tracy didn't see it, but the ornamented godlet seemed to issue instructions. Everyone, including the man, got back on his feet and moved off in different directions. The twins came waddling toward the base of the cliff, leaning backward to balance their bellies, and Tracy sank lower behind the ferns amid the hovering butterflies. She saw the boys were gathering driftwood, probably for a fire. Was this, after all, just a picnic? She turned her attention back to the ship... and froze. Her stomach twisted in agonized knots, and shivers ran down her spine in the heat.
       The fat man and the chubby boy had been busy loading the life boat. There were two big styrofoam picnic coolers, some sort of keg-shaped object -- obviously heavy and wrapped in canvas -- and a short-handled shovel. But what made her stare in shock was the sight of yet another boy, naked, maybe newly thirteen, and in most respects  -- looking well-fed and wearing a charm -- just like the others on the beach.
       Except he was in chains!
       The black iron manacles locked on his wrists, and the two feet of stud-links connecting them, were so huge and mediaeval-looking that she might have thought them papier-mâché if they hadn't been so obviously heavy. Their weight would have dragged the boy instantly down had he fallen overboard; and neither the fat man nor his chubby accomplice seemed to care in the least as the chained boy climbed awkwardly into the boat. In fact, the chubby kid cursed the chained boy!
       Tracy's first thought was, thank God the sea is calm! But then a part of her mind -- the part raised in a safer world -- ran shrieking away to some distant corner of her skull as the man tossed a whip to the chubby kid, who savagely lashed the chained boy with it!
       She sank to her knees behind the foliage, oblivious of the butterflies. Somewhere inside, a seemingly long-forgotten voice was screaming at her to run. It was as if for an instant she'd been hurtled backward through time. The nausea and dizziness that had plagued her all morning crashed down again like a club. Yet, despite her spinning head and cramping stomach, she almost did run... not to the car, not down the road, but into the forest behind her.
       That impulse passed, and she fought back her sickness, terrified that if she threw up she'd be heard by the twins, who were still near the base of the cliff and clumsily picking up wood. Her shock descended into horror as she saw the captive boy struggle in his shackles to the middle of the boat and take up a pair of big heavy oars. The chubby boy, who had once seemed so cute, was now a cherubic demon from hell, lashing the captive with leather and curses. Tracy's eyes flew wide as a thin bloody stripe appeared on the chained boy's back. The fat man climbed aboard without comment and sat down in the stern as if nothing at all was wrong with this picture. The chubby kid cast off the line, and stood in the bow curling the whip as the boy in chains began to row.
       Tracy had rowed big boats like that... in fact, now that she saw it afloat, she realized it might have actually been one of hers. But even a strong and experienced rower would have struggled to row it alone. Just as her body battled its sickness, the civilized part of her mind tried to combat this abuse of a boy by counter-attacking with logic. It tried to convince her this couldn't be real, that this thing was some sort of stylized ritual, and the crimson stripe on the chained boy's back was just an illusion or trick. It even tried to tell her how ridiculous that chubby boy looked with his blubbery belly and bobby breasts, trying to act so cruel, now lashing the captive with curses again.
       But the civilized part of her mind now seemed very small and had shrunk away to cower in shadows. Her vision had gone blurry again, but her eyes returned to the beach: the boys and the man had gathered a big pile of driftwood and now stood watching in silence as the boat slowly neared the beach. Its pitiful oarsman glistened with sweat that streaked the blood on his back. The group on the beach were facing the ocean; she couldn't see their expressions. Again, the beautiful godlet took charge; a word and the group divided in half, flanking the boat as its bow finally grounded in inches of water and crystal-clear ripples caressed its scarred sides.
       More orders from the young god: the twins took the coolers, a small boy the shovel, and the other kids lifted the canvas-wrapped object. These things were carried across the sand and set down near the pile of wood. Then all the boys returned to the shoreline and formed two rows flanking the godlet.
       The fat man got out to waddle ashore, bearing what seemed to be garments of midnight satin or ebony silk. He offered these things to the godlet, who stood with his arms crossed over his chest like the Creator on Judgment Day.
       But the young god did nothing, only stood ferally handsome and looking fiercely aloof. Other boys came to the fat man, took what he held, and gathered around the godlet to robe him in what Tracy thought was a cloak, but then saw was really an ancient frock coat. A top hat was reverently placed on his head. The last people in the world to wear such things -- at least seriously -- had been undertakers. A few stage magicians still wore them, pulling rabbits out of the hat; and in some other setting Tracy might have laughed: the naked boy -- his coat was unbuttoned and much too big so its tails spread out in the sand at his feet -- with his feminine jewelry and silly top hat, which was way too large despite his all his hair.
       But there on that beach in the stark sunlight, the boy's shape sent a finger of fear down her spine.
       The faces of the rest of the group, the two men, the boys, looked grim. They reformed their ranks like a sinister receiving line. The chubby boy had stayed in the boat and done nothing except occasionally curse the captive, who, still facing seaward, had shipped the oars and sat slumped-over, panting in the heat. The sweat had thinned and spread the blood that welled from the wounds on his back, so that now he seemed to be bathed in crimson. There was also blood on his wrists where the massive old shackles had chafed. The chubby boy spat commands to the captive, who got clumsily out, burdened by his chains, and stumbled to the bow. He lay face-down in the shallow water as if forming a human bridge to the beach. The chubby boy, bearing the whip, walked over his back to reach dry land. Tracy winced, almost feeling the salt in his wounds.
       But as soon as the chubby boy stepped ashore, the frock-coated godlet knocked him down! Tracy recoiled in new shock: that was no acting! The long coat had whirled with the force of his swing, and she'd actually heard the wet-meat thud of his fist against the chubby boy's cheek. The chubby boy crashed to the sand and lay still. The wild young god stepped back, crossed his arms, and waited.
       The chained boy rose to his knees. Tracy couldn't read his expression through the swirling murk of her vertigo... was he crying, or was that only sweat? Darkness hovered at the edge of her vision, narrowing it down to a tunnel. Her clothes were soaked with sweat of her own, and yet her teeth were chattering, and she shivered under the blazing sun. The chained boy finally got up. There was only silence from the others as he made his way between their ranks and threw himself down at the feet of the godlet. But the young god turned his back on the boy and walked away, his coat tails dragging behind him, to where the shovel stood ready for digging.
       Digging... what?
       Like a midnight specter the young god pointed. The chained boy rose and came to obey. Slowly, painfully, dripping blood, he took up the shovel and began to dig while the god and the others looked on,
       Tracy's eyes wouldn't focus. The butterflies were only bright blurs, macabre colors like funeral flowers; but the picnic coolers down on the beach suddenly fascinated her. She wondered what they contained. Idiotically, yet another verse from Carroll's poem crept unbidden into her skull.

                           'A loaf of bread,' the Walrus said,
                           'Is what we chiefly need;
                           Pepper and vinegar besides
                           Are very good indeed...'

       Those coolers seemed to add a grisly finality to her sunlit horror. They convinced her beyond doubt that what she was seeing was real. The remains of her logic might still have persuaded her that she was hallucinating in a fever brought on by eating bad meat...
       Except for those coolers.
       Except for those commonplace styrofoam symbols of civilized leisure and play. Just as a demon from hell wouldn't have needed a machine gun to further enhance its menace, neither could her own subconscious have added prosaic picnic coolers to a racial-memory nightmare.
       Her reason made one last try: she could blow the car's horn, flash the lights! Though she couldn't physically stop whatever hideous thing she was seeing, at least the participants would know they'd been seen! And, hearing her speed away, they might stop it themselves.
       Down on the beach no one spoke. The ebony god stood proud and grim in his black frock coat and tall top hat. There was no whisper of wind. Even the sea was silent. The only sound in the world was the lonely iron rattle of the boy's massive chains as he dug. It was a bone-chilling sound... somehow an old, old sound.
       Isolation. Desolation. ...Death!
       Suddenly, Tracy remembered the final lines of the poem:

                         ...But answer came there none--
                         And this was scarcely odd, because
                         THEY'D EATEN EVERY ONE!

       She had never fainted before in her life. But, as her grandfather had often said, there was a first time for everything.



           

                                       End of excerpt. This book is available on Kindle.