An excerpt from Poseidon’s Eyes, my short story forthcoming in Writers of the Future, Volume 31 on May 4th.
The illustration is by artist Megen Nelson. Stop by her website and check out her other work!
Sometimes you can get to know a whole town by understanding just one man. In the seaside village of Summerland, that man was Peyton Jain. Peyton was in his 60s, as best I could tell. His face was craggy and weathered, with a beard like sea foam on rocks and eyes of Poseidon’s blue.
Some folks thought of Peyton as a nuisance to be reported or a vagrant to be run off, but I knew different because it was Peyton who put me right with Summerland’s spirits. The locals have joked about spirits as long as anyone can remember, but it took the murder of the Kelly children to remind us just how real—and how powerful—the spirits could be.
Summerland sits like the Pythia over a cleft in the rock, soaking up the vapors of prophecy along with the California sunshine. Spiritualists started a commune here over a century ago. Egalitarians at heart, they outlawed money and divvied the land into tent-sized plots.
Oil—oil money, really—edged the Spiritualists out. Derricks took over the beach, and the Spiritualists’ canvas utopia turned into a shantytown for oil workers. My house was made from two of those oil shanties sandwiched together. The shanties had been built before electricity, so the wiring came up through holes in the floor, and the doorbell was an old ship’s bell, corroded green with salt and time.
The house had no foundation, just posts and piers and seven jacks. When the floor sagged, Peyton crawled beneath to twist the jacks until everything was more or less level. That was a blessing to me because I couldn’t abide the narrow crawlspace with earth pressing in around me and voiceless whispers winding snakelike over my skin.
The county said the whispers were nothing to worry about. Radon gas. Natural seepage. Buy a detector and install a fan. But radon doesn’t creep up through the floorboards in silver ribbons until it pools in the corners, like living smoke. Radon doesn’t whisper in the darkness like waves on sand.
But spirits? That’s exactly what they do.