‘The Hollow Boys’ by Spencer Oakes

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A subtidal mess of empty cans and tentacle-shaped bull kelp crowded the beach. The tourists and stalks and bulbs of dead algae were exactly why I came to this place, that, along with the silence and because it had been so long since I quit anything. Waves and eyeballs rolled my way as I walked into the Pacific thresh.

The eyeballs were inside heads attached to floating bodies sat upright with necks twisted like a plump of waterfowl scanning the plain. The bodies were rubberized and black-hole black and the boys’ heads were hollow inside their hoods.

I had eviscerated my social contract and left the city, left the work and the technology. It wanted to find an edge, to live alongside it and let its danger power me for some time.

As I paddled to their break, one hollow boy’s eyes locked with mine before the group moved away with the disturbing grace of a funeral procession. His eyes were like sunken ships. Life on the edge was written on the Welcome-to-Lethe sign. I had a problem with eyes. I’d never been to this place and somehow it was as though these people hadn’t either.

“Locals,” the old woman on the beach said from behind bright-red Céline sunglasses, nodding at the water.

She sat on a chair beside a portable radio, under a rainbow-striped umbrella that said Later Days. She’d been sitting there since the Reagan Administration, her skin the colour of paper bags.

Fog had turned the sky a foamy white, bleaching our surroundings. I squinted at the woman who was spinning the nub of the radio’s antenna between her thumb and finger as golden oldies wheezed through the speaker.

She pointed her spongy hand at me.

“Kook,” she smiled and dried saliva split where her lips met. A sour smell floated behind the goofy syllable. She nodded off or passed out. I took a can of beer, drank it in the car and drove to the hotel.

The road was gravel with shades of green on one side and a digital orchestra of waves on the other, reflecting the twilight. My cellphone vibrated tin with incoming messages as it sat with a half-dozen empty cans on the floor of the backseat. The TV had a channel showing live footage of the swell and as I drifted around consciousness and the city and the edge I watched the grainy image of the six hollow boys fade with the sun.

I left the hotel before sunup knowing the ocean would be all mine. I didn’t know what I would do with it all.

The headiness of the waves muted my hangover. I was wrong in thinking I could have an ocean to myself.

Because beyond the mayhem I saw them sitting amid the water’s push and pull like a bored congregation fixated on the earth’s curvy descent into oblivion. I almost reached them when a wave held me under. I came to in the shallows and watched as the boy with shipwreck eyes returned to his place.

I crawled out of the tide. Fog materialized above, as if there could be more fog. The brainless gaze of the hollow boys remained on the shimmering edge of what I needed.

I woke up coughing, the sound of backseat empties startling me. The car was humid. Treetops were silhouettes against the dim sky and I eyed them from below through the glass. Somewhere in the car the cellphone screamed at me, shaking violently to be touched. I put the keys in the ignition and left the door hanging open. Damp and hot in my wetsuit, I journeyed to the water.

My hollow boys sat in the half-light. I counted five this time. Their heads rotated toward me and the waves parted. I swam to them and when I looked back at the shore there was no fog and I saw the most beautiful, bleeding paradise of tropical supernovas and ultra-violet light.

I told myself I wouldn’t stay long among the hollow boys of Lethe.

Spencer is a Canadian writer. His work has appeared in Shirley Magazine, Occulum Journal, The Ginger Collect and Train Flash Fiction. Along with the Vancouver Whitecaps, he founded MAJOR Magazine. He is currently enrolled in Simon Fraser University’s 2018 Writer’s Studio. He also works as a copywriter. Read his mind and follow @cultofspencer on Twitter.

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