. . . As the Wave Rose
Rut and Dave had never seen a shark attack live before. Dave wondered if there would be a lot of blood.
“Man, all you all are messed up since that movie came out. I ain’t seen it,” I coughed as I filled my lungs with a toke and passed the joint to Dave, “and I ain’t never gonna see . . . it . . . maannn.” The smoke dragged out my last word as the mellow settled in.
I leaned back into the yellow-white sand of the dune we were perched on to watch the events as they unfolded before us. A whale had beached itself sometime in the night and during high tide the sharks had been feasting on its carcass. It was now midday on the south side of the pier and the tide was out. Sharks were circling the area, but they couldn’t get to the whale. The three of us had wandered down the beach from the north side of the pier where the body-surfers all surfed. Everyone knew the south side was for board riders only. We were attracted by the crowds that were assembling to watch the idiots who wanted to fish for sharks from the beach. Meanwhile, the board-riders waited for them to clear out so they could catch some waves—they simply ignored the sharks. From up the beach came this hulk-like man with a surf rod. Rut snorted a laugh as hulk-man tried to get his bait out; the waves kept washing it back to shore.
“You know I bet that idiot swim’s his bait out over the waves,” I remarked with my eyes half closed from the weed.
“Bet a lid he don’t make it back to shore,” said Rut with a devilish smile.
“Do you think we should tell him a shark has his scent?” Dave asked as he pointed at the large shadow on the reef and then took another toke. He held the smoke as long as he could before snorting half of it out through his nose and then giving up with a cough.
I decided to give hulk-man an opportunity to make it to shore and started to yell at the onlookers down at the surf’s edge. Wind and waves created too much noise for anyone to hear me from the sand dune perch. Dave and Rut joined in shouting and finally we got someone’s attention that saw the dorsal fin moving parallel down the reef while the man was walking waist deep in the surf back to shore. At the last minute, he finally heard the shouting and turned to see the shadow moving lazily toward him; he then attempted to run through the surf—if one could call it running. Fortunately for him the shark turned and headed out for the bait floating beyond the waves. Hulk-man caught the shark; it was a nine foot white-tip.
“Man that was freaky! Looks like I owe you some weed.”
“Yeah you do and none of that Gainesville Green shit! I smoked a whole five-finger lid and didn’t even get a buzz. I even tried soaking it with Listerine and burying it for a couple of weeks and still nothing.”
“That’s ‘cause you smoke too much. You got to lay off the weed for at least a couple of hours a day to get your system right. You stay stoned way too much,” Dave remarked with that giggle that dopers develop when they smoke way too much dope.
“I hear there’s a party at the shell-pits tonight,” said Rut. “Anyone wanna’ go?”
Turning and walking backward in the sand facing us Dave offered, “Hey, why don’t we head up to Blowin’ Rock and see if Reefer’s surfing tonight. It a full moon and you know he digs a full moon man.”
Now Reefer is somewhat of a legend around the surfing community. They say that he only surfs at night and only during a full moon. No one knows much about him only that he lives on a houseboat in the swamp and settled there after coming home from ‘Nam. Folks believe he is a devil of sorts. They say he cheat’s death because he is already dead! I believe it since nobody who surfs at night could possibly be human. Most of what folks believe is certainly myth, but the fact is—the dude surf’s like a demon without fear, and he does surf at night.
“You ever been to his place in the swamp? Those that’s been there say you don’t come back,” Rut whispered.
“Now think about it man. How can you tell someone that you don’t come back if you don’t come back?” I reasoned.
Rut and Dave both thought about it for a minute. Rut finally understood, but Dave’s mind drifted off into the fog of stoned.
“Hey, man. Whaddya’ say we go check out his houseboat and see if there are any graves,” Dave offered from the fog.
And Dave’s the one who thinks I smoke too much. “Dave, the dude lives in a swamp! There ain’t no graves. There ain’t no dirt to dig in. All you gotta’ do is throw someone in the water and the gators will do the rest.”
“Still, wouldn’t it be far-out to go there and see if he’s sacrificing some virgin to the surf gods,” Dave offered getting excited about the possibilities for the evening’s entertainment involving naked virgins and blood. The lack of blood with the shark earlier must have disappointed him.
So, we all agreed to meet later when the sun set and head out to the point on the Loxahatchee River where Reefer has his houseboat docked. Now it’s one thing to go to the river in the daytime, but at night it gets real spooky. Folks who don’t know the swamp don’t realize how dark it can be. In the darkness everything runs together—the sky, the trees, and the water. It’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. If you live on the river you do so because you like your privacy, and you don’t need any security—the swamp and the things in the swamp are your security.
The only light in the swamp tonight came from the red glow of the joint as it was passed around. We stared in the direction of where we believed Reefer’s boat was docked, but we couldn’t see any evidence that it was in front of us since the moon had not yet come up. Darkness worked its magic and produced a chill in me that only I seemed to feel.
“Man! Where’d you get this shit? This stuff is amazing!” Rut said as he tried to hold it in, but coughed it out through his nose. “Damn that’s good shit!”
“I scored it from some freak who said he brought it back from ‘Nam. Said he smuggled a whole key and he sells three-finger lids for fifty bucks,” speaking with some pride as I took the joint from Rut.
“Man, I’d pay a hundred and fifty for this shit. It’s so good that I’m seein’ colored lights,” Dave remarked as he pointed toward the river’s edge.
But it wasn’t the pot that was making the lights; they were coming from the boat in front of us—Reefer’s boat. The lights varied like the colors of the rainbow. They were red, they were blue, they were green, and then they were yellow. The lights were bright and then faded to an afterglow that was still in the memory of the eyeball, but probably not really there. Kind of like the flash leftover from a camera’s bulb. The lights all showed from the small window in the forward side. Rut pointed at the shadow walking through the lights. Somebody was home.
“Let’s get out of here,” Dave whispered. “That dude is conjurin’ some spell, and I don’t want to be a flea again.”
“A flea!” I said a little too loud and then lowered my voice to ask, “Man, you must have been trippin’ on some heavy shit! When were you ever a flea?”
Before Dave could remember an answer, the door of the houseboat shut loud in the dark stillness of the swamp. Reefer walked quietly down the dock right toward where we were standing and stopped in front of us. His voice was a little above the swamp noises of cricket chirps, frog bellows and mullet slaps on the water.
“What the hell do you guys want?” Reefer muttered annoyed.
Dave pushed past us with a shaking, extended hand muttering something about not being turned into a flea again and with an overly excited voice said, “Reefer! What’s happenin’? Hey we were headin’ out to Blowin’ Rock and wondered if you were going to be there? It’s a full moon and all and we know how much you dig that.” Then Dave offered Reefer a hit from the joint he was holding, but Reefer simply shook his head and walked around us to his VW bus. Dave blew out a big sigh of relief probably because he realized that Reefer wasn’t going to turn him into an insect and nervously muttered, “Let’s split.” And before I could react Dave and Rut had jumped in the Falcon and were headed down the sugar-sand road without me. I wondered how far they would get before they realized I wasn’t with them. I was pretty sure they wouldn’t turn around.
“Looks like your friends left you behind,” Reefer offered as he turned to face me.
At this moment the music of the swamp got real loud. My head began to spin as the noise and the fear of standing so close to Reefer and not knowing if he would turn me into something settled into my brain. It didn’t help that the mellow fog in my head began to slip into the paranoid muddle in my stomach. The only response I could come up with was a terrified, ”Are you really dead or did you make a pack with the devil?”
Amused by the myth which seemed familiar to him, Reefer leaned close to my face and smiled as he whispered, “What do you think?”
The full-blown paranoia was now coming from a completely scared-straight head. I knew any minute that this dude was about to cast some torturous spell on me and throw me to the swamp, never to be heard from again. All I could come up with was “I once dated a Satanist” hoping that would appease his demon spirit. Reefer leaned back away from me with a puzzled look as he narrowed his eyes and carefully studied my face to determine my seriousness.
He dropped his shoulders and lowered his face to the ground and then looked out into the darkness as he softly said, “I ain’t no demon.” Then looking back at me with a glare he snarled, “Man, where do you punks come up with this stuff. Why would you even think such a thing,” he asked, but this time with remorse.
“The lights! We saw colored lights coming from your boat man. We figured you were casting a spell.”
Turning his head back to the boat to see from our perspective, he simply said, ”TV, man, TV,” but something in his voice didn’t convince me that we saw TV lights.
All of the sudden the paranoia left and the darkness of the swamp and all its sounds did not seem so frightening. I felt a peacefulness near Reefer that no weed could induce. Shoving my hands into my baggies and relaxing my shoulders I asked without hesitation, “Well, if you ain’t no demon and you ain’t dead or nuthin’, then why do you surf at night? No one can surf like you do and be human.”
This amused him as he turned his head back toward me and gently smiling he asked, “Why do you surf, man?”
Now of all the questions Reefer could have asked me this was the most profound. Surfers, I mean real down to the core surfers, whether they ride a board or not do not answer a simple “because it’s fun!” No, real surfers have a passion, a connection with the sea that’s not that easy to explain. It’s felt by other surfers, so explaining it does not always take words. To those who don’t surf it’s hard to explain, but I knew Reefer would understand.
“When I’m in the water I taste its saltiness, and I feel it cradling me, supporting me. Then as the wave begins to build I feel the pull. It’s as if there’s this mighty force of nature that can’t be controlled, yet somehow nature allows me to share in that power. It’s a high that can’t be duplicated, just repeated each time, brand new, over and over with each wave. It’s heaven, man!”
“Exactly!” Reefer shouted pointing his finger to the heavens as if something existed there that was possibly paying heed to his enthusiasm. He then turned to me and nodded with that brotherhood of understanding that all riders of the sea acknowledge. “It’s heaven,” he said with less enthusiasm and almost as if there was some regret that had worked its way into his very soul.
Pondering this I braved my next question: “Reefer, did the war get you all tortured up? Right now you seem like someone who’s invitin’ danger by surfin’ the way you do. You got some kind of death wish or somethin’?”
I truly touched a nerve with Reefer; he did not answer immediately, but finally responded with a grave whisper “It was a war, but not ‘Nam. It was a war that was before your time. A war that I walked away from just because of that pull of the wave.”
Now I don’t know a lot, but one thing I know is that Reefer wasn’t old enough for World War II or even Korea. What war could he be talking about? Reefer did not let me ask as he moved back toward his bus and began to check the lashings on his boards. Then turning to me he asked, “Wanna’ come along?”
Driving to Blowing Rock should have been the most amazing buzz I could have ever experienced. Here I was with the god of surfing going to witness man’s ultimate test—surfing at night as the moon was rising—and yet I couldn’t utter a word. It was as if it was a solemn occasion much like a funeral. Reefer looked straight ahead and offered no conversation initially. Finally, he broke the silence by asking a question that was more like a statement which really didn’t require an answer. “Did you ever consider that death is a myth and we simply move from one reality to another accepting the consequences that come with each new reality?”
Looking at him in the glow of the dash-lights, I knew that I was not seasoned enough in life to answer with any profound thought. The years spent stoning my brain had put such ponders on hold. The answer to Reefer’s question belonged to the ones who had faced death and somehow put it off for the moment. Here was a man who faced death every time he entered the water and he was about to do it again.
As we parked and unloaded his boards, Reefer had returned to his silence; his eyes were on something in the sea that I could not see. I was not sure if it was some kind of zone he was in or if it was something that transcended the moment. Perhaps he was pondering his own question.
I sat down on a dune and watched as Reefer pushed off into the dark water, bobbing leisurely over the waves. When he reached the place where the bigger waves started to build, he faced into them rather than turning toward the shore while straddling his board. I could make out his outline in the light of the rising moon and I noticed that he had his hands raised like he was surrendering or possibly worshipping the wave. It was at that moment something unnatural began to occur. I noticed that the moon, which was now fully visible over the horizon, was starting to disappear. My first thought was a freighter was slowly moving in front of the moon’s light, but as I looked more intently, I realized it was the wave rising in front of it. Rising rapidly it dwarfed Reefer. With his hands still raised Reefer appeared like a man who had no concern for the consequences of his actions. What could be going through his mind at this moment while facing a giant wave that could snap him and his board without any regard toward him? Here was no ordinary man. In that moment, I knew that Reefer was not inhabited by any demons as many believed. I believed he was occupied by something much greater. I just didn’t know what.
The moon was completely blocked by the wave as Reefer slowly turned his board into it. There was no doubt I was witnessing something that few, if any, had ever seen, and Reefer allowed me be a part of this profound moment. He allowed me to be a part of the pull . . . as the wave rose.
Michael Dooley (aka Woodstok Farley) is an assistant professor at Tarleton State University. He had taught in the Department of English and Languages for nearly fourteen years now. Michael also is a long time sponsor of Sigma Tau Delta and a founding advisor of TSU’s Academic Advising Center. Having submitted regularly to faculty chapbooks, Michael recently has branched out and begun attending local and regional conferences to present original creative short stories in such venues as SCMLA, Langdon Review, SWPCAC, and Scissortail. His latest creation is an episodic 3 chapter work entitled As the Wave Rose.