Wednesday, August 12, 2015

High Tide - Chapter One

Charlie Sullinger shuffled his feet over the course gravel road leading to South Cradle Light. As he whistled to his dog, Sandy, who’d sauntered a few hundred feet ahead, he saw the faint beam of light cut through the early morning fog and a sense of accomplishment warmed over him as he knew he’d neared the hallway point of his daily morning walk. Though not a steep trek, the road from the southern edge of Cradle Cove – to the lighthouse – had a steady uphill grade that seemed to wear on his 77-year-old knees a little more each day. And yet the Korean War veteran was far-too stubborn to allow a little arthritis from keeping him from a daily routine he saw as nothing short of a blessing. 

Sandy, his nine-year-old Golden Retriever, was a loyal friend, but instead of dashing back to Charlie’s side when summoned, he’d waited at the crest of the hill, panting slightly. “What’s the matter, buddy? All tuckered out, are you?” Charlie smiled, petting Sandy’s head as he’d pulled even with him on the hill. Charlie reached into his pocket and took out a small milk bone. Sandy sat at attention and stared up at him adoringly.

Nearing the edge of the bluff and the base of the lighthouse, Charlie felt the chill of the early morning southerly that was blowing onshore and tugging slightly on the bill of his Red Sox baseball cap. As he surveyed the water between the mainland and the distant islands of Talisman Bay, Charlie was surprised at the heavy seas, crisp morning air, and the increasing force of the offshore wind that had swept away the morning fog like a car defroster cleared a windshield. “Feels like some weather moving up the coast, Sandy,” he said as peered over the edge of the bluff and watched the waves crash into the craggy granite ledges that lined the outer harbor of Cradle Cove like a serrated knife. 

South Cradle Lighthouse was a lonely structure. The white-painted stone tower rose 60 feet above the wind-swept grass and stood alone. The wooden keeper’s house had been destroyed some five decades earlier in – what was then considered – the storm of the century. And with the advent of the automated lamp, there was little need to replace the structure that had housed hearty and weather-worn families for over a hundred years.

Having walked a few hundred feet northward along the Bluff, Charlie reached Hatchet Point and the southern entrance to Cradle Cove. A rickety wooden fence lined the bluff as the edge of land curled inward. The fence was futile as a barrier, but served as reminder of the two hundred foot cliff that dropped off, just a few feet past. Charlie stood motionless with Sandy by his side. The view of the semi-circle shaped cove never got old for him. With Half Moon Island sandwiched between the north and south channels and adding an extra defense against the often violent seas of Talisman Bay, a nearly identical point of land bordered the north channel. Like Hatchet Point, Raven's Head had a lighthouse, but the privately owned and maintained property included neatly manicured lawns, sculpted hedges, and a stone-walled light keeper’s house that had endured the same storms as its’ former cousin to the south, yet looked no worse for wear. Charlie had only been on the property a handful of times in the last few decades, but he didn’t care for it much. He appreciated its’ role as a navigational beacon and warning about the ledges below, but to him, it was not at all emblematic of the Maine lighthouses the coast had become so famous for.

At low tide, the north and south channels leading in from Talisman Bay converged and narrowed to one 50-foot wide dredged thoroughfare that wound its’ way a quarter of mile through vast white sandbars to the inner harbor that opened up like a flower and was dotted with moorings for boats of nearly all sizes. At any time, the inner section of Cradle Cove may was likely the most protected and sheltered refuge on the Maine coast – an oasis, that at high tide, played tricks on those not savvy enough to mind the green and red navigation buoys.

At dead low tide, Cradle Cove resembled a cracked sand dollar and its' pale yellow sand was the inspiration for Sandy's name. And yet as clever as the name would appear, about half of the town's dozen or so commercial properties incorporated the sand dollar theme in one way or another.

Charlie turned back towards the lighthouse and was about to whistle when Sandy - who was inches from the edge of the cliff - began to bark towards something on the shore below. Fearing a rash action by his dog, who was never one to bark, Charlie began to tug on the retractable leash he had fastened only minutes before. While Sandy typically got free reign to run around without her leash, there were two instances when Charlie made a point to have it fastened - as they walked near the cliffs and in town. 

Charlie felt a slight strain as he stooped over to crawl through the rickety old garden wood fence. Holding the leash with one hand and holding on to the log above his head for support, he grimaced in pain. "Damn it, Sandy," he said. "What in God's name has caught your attention?"

Having traveled about three hundred yards downhill and along the rim of the crater-like harbor's rock walls, the cliff walls had tapered from over a hundred feet to barely more than Charlie was tall, but a fall would still have dire consequences to his frail body, and so he carefully inched his way to the edge, slowly dropped to his knees, and peered intently at the ribbon of jagged rocks that separated the cliffs from the massive sand bars. And despite the vastness of the shoreline below, it was mere seconds before Charlie felt a pit in his stomach like he hadn’t felt since he walked among the lost souls on the Korean peninsula.

He’d hoped his eyes were playing tricks on him. Half a century had passed since Charlie Sullinger had seen a dead body and he found himself caught somewhere between disbelief and shock.

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