Far beyond the Paulo Lighthouse, a tidal flow wound its way, in a hundred tiny aquatic arcs towards the bay.
No, it was further than that, right out to where only the reckless and foolhardy would go. And then beyond, to where the reckless and foolhardy would turn back. (If they still could.)
There it lay, miles out at sea. Even with the beam of the lighthouse, you’d struggle to see it. But oh, you could see it if you knew how to. Tom always saw it.
At midnight, on the dot, the crystalline wave rose out of the sea.
Nothing stood higher than the midnight wave.
Nothing was above an evil that rose from the depths of the water, when the moon was full, as the clock struck twelve.
Most folks dismissed it as an urban legend, but Tom always scoffed at them.
Urban legends didn’t take your oldest son from you.
A voice screamed from the other room and Tom Hathaway sat up. Even after a year had passed, sleep still eluded him.
But that was a penance, wasn’t it?
Even if he couldn’t for another sleep for another year, for another ten or even fifteen, it didn’t seem to matter.
Nothing seemed to matter since Jake had been stolen by the sea.
He flicked on the light by the bedside table and wandered across the floorboards that felt like ice under his old and calloused feet. Little Daniel was at the window, tears streaming down his hot and puffy face as he pounded on the window with his little pink palms.
His screams had abated, but he was letting out the soft and low moan of a trapped animal.
Tom briefly wondered how many more episodes of night terrors that Little Daniel was going to have.
He wondered groggily how many more sleepless nights there would be before life continued.
Not until life went on, or until life was okay or acceptable, but how long it was until it merely continued.
He put his arm around his youngest son and patted his shoulder.
Little Daniel flinched for a second before recognising his father and burying his head into the right leg of his pyjama bottoms. “Just a bad dream, son.” Tom said. “Just a bad dream.”
Little Daniel nuzzled further into Tom’s leg as Tom held his son closer.
Tom thought of his oldest son and his eyes stung. It was only after he’d gone that he wished he’d hugged Jake more; so much more, in fact.
But there was that phrase, Tom thought as he felt the first warm trail begin to make its way down his face, about locking the stable after the horses had bolted.
As Tom did what he’d hoped not to and broke down next to his son who’d started wailing again, he wondered how he was going to see tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
Tom’s last thoughts as he climbed into his bed were that if he were to get through it all, he’d only be able to do it by fiddling with the padlock of an empty and silent house, remembering what once was.
Tom’s alarm started buzzing at five-thirty. He wasn’t asleep, but in a conscious/unconscious haze.
The tide had died down to a consistent watery thrum as Tom made his way across the beach. The grey skies, cold frosty winds and gentle patter of rain did little to stop him.
This was his vigil.
At seven, the first batch of surfers arrived, with crew cuts, shark tooth necklaces, and radioactive yellow surfboards with “Walls Ice Cream” stenciled on the front. The surfer at the front with a bobbing crop of bleach blond hair ran straight into him.
“Uh, can you, like, get out of the way?”
Tom stoically pointed to a large four-foot high picket sign.
On the front of it was a crudely drawn surfboard underneath a large painted “X.”
“No surfing.” said Tom.
“Hey, you must be the guy that the shopkeeper told me about. Nah, I’m sorry, man, but I just wanna catch a quick wave or two.”
The surfer tried to pass by Tom, who moved across with frightening agility.
Tom was the upper end of sixty, but stepped across to block the surfer’s path with the spry footwork of a man thirty years younger on hot coals.
Tom made a mental note to have a stern chat with Greg over at the Sand and Sunray Post Office, along with an informal talk with two members of the local county council just for good measure.
Tom eyed the kid with the surfboard, furrowing his wrinkled brow.
He was every bit like Jake.
“I said no surfing allowed, pal. You can surf up by Stark’s Cove or the other side of the bay, but you can’t surf here.”
“You just can’t.”
The surfer looked at his friends for support and found none forthcoming.
On a litter bin just behind them, a seagull tried unsuccessfully to pull out a Cornetto wrapper coated in chocolate dregs and squawked indignantly at the injustice of it all.
Several other seagulls circling the sands squawked back in agreement.
A small van with a mesh wire cage attached to its rear trundled along the beachhead as the three surfers stood in front of the immovable father.
A gruff man suffering from male-pattern baldness got out of the van and started to pick up the green Peroni bottles littered in front of a pile of logs, ash, and spent Rizla packets.
“Look, man, dude, we’re sorry.”
“Sorry for what?” said Tom, conversationally.
“Your son, man.” said the black-haired surfer behind, adjusting the front of her wetsuit as she spoke. She had an agitated look on her face and was looking over Tom’s shoulder at the waves which seemed to coax her into the sea.
“But stopping everyone from going surfing isn’t going to bring him back, my dude.” added the surfer next to her, a heavy-set black man with dreadlocks threaded with thousands of coloured beads.
Tom regarded them all with a cold contempt.
He grabbed the surfboard out of the blond surfer’s hands and, ignoring his protests, began to walk over to the rock pools by the side of the shore.
“IT’S ON LOAN, MY DUDE, IT’S ON LOAN!” howled the surfer as he chased after him. Tom ignored him and began to raise the surfboard above his head, ready to bring it down on a selection of hard and pointed rocks.
“Wait! We promise not go in the sea! We promise!” protested the blond-haired surfer, his voice rising into a falsetto.
Without lowering the board, Tom turned his head. His eyes were dark. “You’re going to go to the other beaches, yes?” he said.
“Of course, of course! We don’t want any trouble, sir!” said the surfer. His hands were clasped together in a plea as he stepped casually towards him.
“Alright,” said Tom.
The blond surfer breathed a sigh of relief until he saw Tom raise the board. He let out a small cry as the board splintered and burst into hundreds of tiny plastic fragments that rained down upon the sands.
“Just gotta make sure, though.” muttered Tom. He turned to walk back to his house as the black surfer began to pick up the fragments of the broken board and the blond surfer’s lower lip began to quiver.
He unlatched the door and walked into the foyer of his small house. Kicking the sand off of his boots, he headed into the kitchen and pulled open the refrigerator. The dinky light inside pinged on, highlighting half of a cheese sandwich, a bottle of milk, and a small tub of butter.
He sighed to himself. Was he supposed to have gone shopping yesterday? The days had an irritating tendency to blend into each other.
He was looking forward to a celebratory cup of Earl Grey with his legs up on the sofa and a few trashy American shows like Judge Judy, but Daniel couldn’t exactly have a pint of milk with a lump of butter in it for his tea, could he?
He shook his head, slightly angry and sad that such a thought had bustled through his head. He loved his son. It was unfortunate that he just felt sometimes like…giving up. Every single task of the day was just so much more effort than it had ever been. Every single thing he’d enjoyed doing was turned, almost as if by magic, into some sort of dreary chore without purpose.
That was just what grief did to you, it seemed.
He pulled on his coat before pushing open the front door and heading out the shops. Before he got to the end of the driveway, he remembered that he’d forgotten to do something. He turned back to his house and took out a cracked yellow part of broken surfboard from his coat pocket, hurling into a container he’d duct taped to the wall.
The broken surfboard fragment pattered against the thousands of other surfboard fragments in blue, red, yellow, green, purple and countless other shades in between as Tom continued down his driveway and off to the shops.
By midday, he reached the local supermarket. It was a Tesco, although it hadn’t always been that way. Underneath the plastic lettering, the words “High Tide Supermarket” could be seen bleached into the wall.
That’d gone under in 2005 and was happily bought out by the bigger kids on the playground.
Tom struggled with the trolley for a minute or so, having difficulty detaching it from the chain of others, before finally wrenching it free and heading into the store.
He didn’t take long; he never did. From the plastic sign advertising beer and disposable barbecues under a harsh florescent light at the door to the bucket of reduced Snickers bars at the till, Tom Hathaway took about five minutes.
He liked to think it was just because he didn’t particularly like shopping or ambling and did it for the sake of efficiency, but if he was being honest with himself? He was scared.
People were starting to notice, and people were starting to point. He pretended not to hear the jibes, the mutterings about a man who lived alone with his son who was becoming increasingly unfit to look after him. Oh, he heard them alright.
As Tom put his shopping onto the moving conveyor belt, he felt a strange sense of determination to get things back to normal again. Whatever shape or form this “normal” would eventually take, he wanted it. Craved it so bad. For both himself and Daniel. They’d—
The checkout lady had said something. Tom wrapped his arms around himself. The checkout lady had said something and he hadn’t…he hadn’t heard her! He looked nervously into her face, wondering what to say. He looked past her to his shopping, sitting on the other side of the woman with red lipstick and a plastic name-badge marked “Jolene.”
He felt a sinking feeling in his stomach, knowing that she’d no doubt said something about him not being fit to be a parent.
“I’m really sorry,” said Tom. “I’m trying to do better, I really am.” He felt his eyes well up as he felt a tap on his back.
“Hey,” said the customer behind him. “She’s asking if you’ve brought your own bags or not.”
Back home, Tom slouched on the sofa and began to channel surf. It had become something of a habit, keeping his eyes busy so that he didn’t have to look above the television.
But there was nothing on and still about three hours until Daniel came home from school. He’d done the domestics, he’d sorted the groceries, he’d done the dishes, trash, and cleared the crud from the black drainpipes that skirted the house and his eyes were glancing upwards, away from Dr. Phil, who was talking about some trashy young teenager on the placating glass teat.
As his eyes drifted upwards, he tried to think of more things to do, but there was nothing and his eyes finally caught up with the shelf he’d been avoiding since Jake had gone.
The worst part of looking at his trophies wasn’t the part he thought it would be. He thought he’d look at the awards and simply weep uncontrollably for his lost son, for his legacy, for everything that drove Jake into being just like him. But no, that wasn’t it.
The worst part of the trophies for Tom was, oddly enough, the thin film of dust that had built up around them over the year they’d gone untouched.
They used to be cleaned regularly, but Tom couldn’t bear to look at them. At least, he thought he couldn’t bear to look at them. Now that he was looking at them, he felt a strange but happy emptiness. It was almost like nostalgia, but sweeter.
He remembered each one he’d won and the time spent with his son, who’d been just as enthusiastic as he’d been, looking at the surfboard that he’d put above his trophies after he’d set the world record for largest wave surfed at a staggering 50 feet.
Of course, that was before newer surfers like Garrett had come along and swiped the record by surfing the 78-footer down in Nazare, Portugal.
Man, those were the days. Him and Jake around the breakfast table, talking about the waves, the surf, the style, the newbies, the peak tourist surf season.
He’d never really bonded with Jake over much, apart from their mutual love of surfing. It was all they ever needed. Ever since Jennifer Hathaway had gone out the door for cigarettes one day when Jake was early teens and Daniel wasn’t even out of diapers, he’d always had trouble keeping the family together.
He’d hoped that Jenny would come back at some point and sort everything out, but she must have had really had trouble picking between brands at the store, because it had been four years and she hadn’t come back. No word, no letter, no sign of her. And last year, when her own son had passed away? Nothing. She’d just stepped out, skipped out on the family in the lighthouse. Sometimes he felt sad about it, enraged about it, but generally the grief had turned into a greying shadow next to Jake’s disappearance.
As the girl on Dr. Phil was laughed at by the studio audience and she started launching expletives at them, Tom turned off the TV and sat up. It was time to get Daniel from school, and besides, trash TV just wasn’t doing much for him today. Today felt like a different kind of day.
It still felt different as he drove Daniel home from preschool, getting beeped at by drivers left and right because his mind was distracted. Twice he ran over the kerb and a pedestrian hurled a Starbucks coffee cup at him. He watched the drink explode over his windshield with mild interest, the brown and steaming liquid drizzling down into his windscreen wipers.
“Huh.” he said.
“Dad?” said Daniel. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, son. Just fine.”
After he fed Daniel some baby carrots, pork trimmings and broccoli, he carried him upstairs in a fireman’s carry and popped the boy into bed.
It was only when he pulled the covers up to Daniel’s neck and stroked his tufted hair that he felt his mouth open and finally realised why he’d felt different all day.
“I’m going to go and find Jake.”
“Do you think you’ll be able to bring him back, Daddy?”
A moonbeam had slid through the circular window of the small cottage. Tom continued stroking his son’s hair as he watched the silvery shore writhe onto the sands.
Tom checked his watch. 11:30 pm. It was time.
For all installments of “Riding the Midnight Wave,” click here.
Charlie Chitty is a currently unpublished author from Cheltenham in the U.K. He has performed short pieces at Flasher’s Club, a local short story open mic club in his town.