No one knows that my affluent aunt bequeathed me her favorite thing in the world, the beach house she bought many years ago on the Florida Panhandle. I’ve been renting it out for years actually, though I haven’t visited it since I was a kid. She knew how much I loved her beach house and how overly giddy and thankful I was every time she took me on one of her vacations. My guess is that’s why she gave it to me; I may have been the only one in the family to love it as much as she did. I think she knew I understood how special a place it was.
It’s been many years since I last saw or spoke to my aunt, my uncle (by marriage), and my two cousins. No one in my family has. Many think it’s because of a falling out she had with my mom. It has been quite a burden on her all these years and while there have been several attempts to mend fences, our requests have fallen on deaf ears.
I’ve recently accepted the fact that I’ll never see them again. It’s the main reason why I finally decided to take my husband and daughter down to the beach house for some summer fun. I also decided to go because I received some odd complaints from the last couple renters. We got here this morning and it is everything I remember it being. It is truly paradise and I found myself angry that it had taken me so long to return here.
While my husband and daughter were down at the beach, I decided to spend some time in the house. I was flooded with great childhood memories. I remembered playing hide and seek with my cousins, I remembered my first time successfully flying a kite on the sunbathing deck, and I remembered my aunt sharing a secret little compartment behind her bed stand where she hid her favorite sugary treats (she was diabetic, so she hid them from her husband). Out of curiosity, I went to see if the nook was still there and it was. In it were some much expired Werther Originals hard candies and a dusty guest book.
It is years old and reading through it was a treat in itself. Reading how many lovely families had the time of their lives in this house brought me many smiles and a sense of pride. That was until I reached the last entry of the guest book. Unexpectedly, it was an entry left by my aunt. Here is her entry:
-September 25th, 2001
-I remember the rain pounding on me with the rhythm of an icy waterfall and I remember the pain of the cold heated me more than my nightgown ever could. The warmth of my breath fought through the bitter darkness of the evening only to be beat back by the unrelenting frigidity of the wind at my face. Thankfully, the warmness of the gulf radiated just enough for me to find some comfort in the storm.
-The waves quickly rolled in, one after another, bashing my stomach and chest. I turned my head to avoid the violent aggression of the water as it pummeled me and attempted to intrude my body through my nose and mouth. The gulf’s hospitality sure was lacking tonight, a drastic change from the filled beaches of the morning past; children building sand castles, couples floating and drinking and cuddling in the water, snowbirds out to roost under umbrella tents and the shadow of books. No, tonight was so much different, so much bleaker. The kindness of the gulf seemed to have set with the sun.
-It seemed too small of a beach community for so many people to litter my little slice of heaven during the day. My beloved beach house, light tan with soft pastel and white colored accents with a large sun bathing balcony, only has four beds and yet this beautiful beach had several dozens of visitors on its little stretch of land. They could have spread out to the shores on either sides of this lot but they did not. They did not because they knew what I knew, that this section of beach was perfect. The sun stretched over us and was offered no invitation for quarter by monstrous condos or gray clouds. The gulf breeze swayed against our bodies as though it were dancing to its own serenade while the sugary white sands warmed our feet and massaged our heals. The saltwater offered refreshing retreat as it frolicked on our lips like the salted rim of a frozen margarita. Gentle waves offered both play and coddling as the seabirds flying above glided almost still, resting on the wings of the wind. Even the small fish and baby crabs could be seen sashaying in the translucent emerald green water. Of course these people did not spread out past the boundaries. Who would ever abandon this glimpse of heaven bathed in sunshine?
-That was this morning, however. Tonight, I remember being deep enough to float and not stand, as the waves seemed to have let up a bit on its attack. As I bobbed, four feet up and four feet down, I remember being thankful that my stomach was empty. The gulf showing some compassion by lending me its warmth, something it was lacking on the shore and on my walk in. It quickly became difficult to keep above water, however, as the crest always bows to the trough. As I rose to the peak of each wave, I glanced ashore to see if they were all still standing there. They were.
-Looking back, their touch was warmer than I would have expected. I am surprised they were even able to wake me since I am such a heavy sleeper. I was gently awakened by a soft grab on my ankle and the grasp was strangely lukewarm and damp. There was an old comfort to it much like how my father used to wake me for school when I was a child. It made waking up to a room full of a dozen shadows a bit less petrifying…A tiny bit less horrifying.
-When I sat up, I quickly buried myself as deep into the headboard of the bed as I physically could. I surveyed my surroundings. There were exactly twelve of them, these shadow people, with their onyx liquescent bodies; gray smoke dancing off and through their bodies like black liquid ice. They stood there standing motionless with various displays of body language and height. The shadow that touched me to wake me sat there at the foot of the bed, legs crossed with its hands rested gracefully. It was looking at me, or I think it was looking at me, I could not tell since there were no facial features. But I could feel them all looking at me. I could also hear them.
-They all seemed to speak in unison with the same consciousness but with different, muffled sounds. It was whisper-like voices, some tones dragging behind others as they spoke like rapid and soft little echoes. It was haunting yet beautiful, spiritual. They told me that things were going to be okay and asked me to follow them out of the room. And so I did, into the hallway where several other smoky figures lined each side of the hallway, some leaning up against the dimly lit blue walls, others squatting casually, and some more like soldiers on guard, all staring at me as though I were walking the red carpet. As I passed the other bedroom I remembered my two daughters and husband fell asleep in the bunk bed room after an evening of board games and ghost stories. I asked if my daughters and husband were safe and they ensured that they were. I cannot explain why I trusted them. Maybe it was the thought of risking waking my girls to this strange and frightening spectacle. They did not need to experience whatever this was and if they did then I wanted my husband to be there to protect them.
-As I entered the kitchen I noticed several other shadows, all standing throughout the space and living room, watching me as the first group guided me toward the backdoor that was facing the gulf. As I opened the door a winter-type chill smacked my body. It was abnormally cold for this time of year this far south and the rain was twice as frigid. I noticed on the sunbather’s porch, down the wooden-decked pathway and on the tall dunes there were several dozens more shadow people standing and watching me. I asked the group of shadows ahead of me who all of these people, these things, were. I asked where they were taking me and why were they all staring at me. With each question my voice began to tremble and fear started to overwhelm me like the cold did once I opened that door. They said that I would be alright and that they were the same as me. They were watching me because they wanted to welcome one of their own.
-Soon I was ushered past the berm and toward the shore of the gulf. I stumbled through the thick and wet sand as they pointed me toward the violent blackness of the gulf. I understood that they wanted me to go in but I paused and asked what if I did not want to go into the deep. They stoically answered that I must trust them, “for there is no other choice.” And so I have.
-In the water, I remembered losing my ability to keep my head above the waterline. The saltwater burned my eyes and throat and panic started to sink in. On the horizon, I saw a few shapes emerge from the audience of shadows and approached the water’s edge. One by one they entered the water; their smoky bodies illuminated the water with a stunning silver brightness radiating from their bodies. As they swam toward me, I remember being unable to resist the urge to purge myself under the unyielding juggernaut of waves.
-I sunk and released the last of my breath and gasped in the sea. My lungs drunk in the saltwater with the growing pressure of a water balloon at the end of a hose. I flailed out to grab anything and nothing in a final attempt to pull myself toward life. Unexpectedly, I felt a familiar touch on my face, the same touch that woke me and put me toward this journey; my final dip in the gulf. He was face to faceless face with me.
-Two other silver shadows glided to each of my arms and held each of my hands in a loving embrace; one hand to the shadow’s cheek, the other hand to its chest as a child would hold a teddy bear. I remember noticing the shape of her glowing pigtails, the same pigtails she was wearing as she jumped up and down on the bed during her playtime with her father. I noticed the other wearing a silhouette of a nightgown just like mine, one of a mother-daughter matching set I chose for us as a Christmas gift this past year. And I remember gazing back forward and thinking to myself and to him, “I knew it was your touch that woke me, my love.” As my consciousness faded, they lovingly guided me into the tender abyss of the gulf, to our Elysium, making me another welcomed guest at our beach house.
I remembered being at my aunt’s house on the Christmas she gave my little cousin the nightgown she was describing in the last paragraph. I remember it because the sleeves and cut of the gown were so unique. And because my cousin was so happy to look “like her momma.” It is also one of the last times we were all together as a family. I daydreamed about my uncle’s ghost stories and how my other cousin wouldn’t leave the house unless she had pigtails in her hair. But I’ve mostly just wept.
The last couple of guests had complained about weird things happening inside and outside of the beach house. The one complaint that riled me up a description from a man saying he saw a woman in a nightgown disappear on the beach and he said he had visions of people standing in the hallway, much like the description in the guestbook entry. This same man was kind enough to send me some vivid sketches of what he saw.
The sleeves were so unique.
After seeing the sketches, a part of me wanted to believe that my aunt had just moved down here, maybe into some other beach house on this stretch of perfection. I didn’t put much stock into the disappearing thing, at least not at the time anyway.
My aunt added one more note at the end of the guest book that has me asking a lot of questions. If this is true, who sent me the keys and deed to the beach house? And if it is true, what should I do? How do you turn down paradise? How do you walk away from Elysium?
-“My Dear Rosie,
-Whenever you are ready, we will come get you.
-With eternal love,