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The Sea Witch

Lori D'Angelo

Decorative Green Leaf with pink stem

Tristan was known to be a teller of tall tales, so, in the beginning, no one believed him when he said he'd seen the sea witch. He said she was beautiful at first, then monstrous. But, as other strange events began to unfold, we started to change our minds.

     The first strange event was the drowning just before the water race, which had always been a fun children's contest held yearly to mark the first rites of spring. In its 150-year history, there had never been a major accident other than some poorly constructed boats falling apart, usually leading to good-humored sea rescues and raucous laughter. But this year, during pre-race practice, the Morgan boy was found face down and not breathing in the water.

     How had this happened? We wondered.

     Terry Morgan was a swim instructor, and all of her kids, including the littlest one, who had died, were trained to be comfortable in the water.

     "I thought he was with you!" John Morgan said accusingly to his wife.

     "He said he was going to watch his sister," Terry said tearfully.

     "I never saw him," said the sad sister, Joanna. She was thirteen and had been favored to win the race.

     The Baptist minister thought that this was a good time to quote the Bible, but no one else approved of his pious comments.

     "Could someone have done this to sabotage the race?" asked Jed Barker, the local conspiracy theorist. No one answered him, but he was used to being ignored and unappreciated.

     "In spite of this, I'm still going to win," said Joanna haughtily.

     The organizers had been tempted to cancel the race in light of the tragic circumstances, but no one wanted to deprive Joanna of her potential victory. She had lost enough.

     Joanna's boat was made of the finest oak by Jim, the father of her junior high boyfriend, Bo. Even his own son's boat was no better. Joanna and Bo were expected to battle each other to the finish.

     "We should have the race," Tim Teak echoed. He and his son were race day vendors, and he didn't want to lose the money he had invested in supplies for kettle corn and freshly squeezed lemonade.

     Once the race began, the boats began sinking quickly, as if they were made of stone. Joanna, undeterred by her ship's failure and the unusually choppy waters, decided to swim the race to its end.

     Joanna's boyfriend, dark-haired, long-limbed Bo, came in a distant second. The rest of the kids returned to shore without completing the race and watched as the waters heaved and hoed.

     “This is a bad omen,” said a troubled looking Matilda, keeper of the town’s history.

     The next strange occurrence was the appearance of the wreckage. It looked to be at least 200 years old.

     "I think it's Viking!" said Bill Bailey excitedly. He was both the high school civics teacher and director of the Seaside Center Museum, which honestly didn't have a lot to offer other than its interactive seahorse exhibit. "Imagine the visitors we would attract if we had a Viking ship!"

     Less exciting to Bill Bailey were the Viking ghosts that appeared the next day.

     Sandra Lam, who ran the lighthouse, was the first one to spot them. She called Tripp O'Reilly, the town's only police detective, who referred her to the town psychic, Bess Arnold.

     Bess had just groomed Clint, an Australian cattle dog, and was covered in merle-colored dog hair when she arrived at the lighthouse. She eyed the ghosts with alarm.

     "Do you know what this means?" Sandra asked her.

     "I do, but you're not going to like it," Bess told Sandra.

     "Tell me anyway," Sandra said. She was used to strange stories of the sea. She just preferred the ones that weren't terrible or tragic.

     "These ghosts — that drowning is a reminder that the sea demands sacrifice, and, when we don't give, it takes."

     "So then, what do we do?" Sandra asked.

     "We pray for mercy," replied Bess, "and hope that that's enough."

     Sandra looked out at the dark, tumultuous sea and thought about how strange it was that a thing so filled with beauty and wonder could also be the source of so much danger. And then she, like the rest of us, began to understand that Tristan’s tall tales weren’t so tall after all.

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