Low Tide Jenny sat in her folding deck chair on the beach, stationed right where the sand met the ice plants, staring out at the black ocean with her eyeless sockets hidden behind oversized sunglasses. Her red bikini top was faded, slopping off her deflated tits, and the few strands of hair that still clung to her skull made Babs think she had probably been a blonde in life, though Babs couldn’t begin to imagine when that was.
No one ever saw Low Tide Jenny move, but Babs assumed from the pattern of her appearances that she must have a sense of humor, since she mostly appeared when tourists were on the beach. That meant she appeared less and less as the years went by – Santa Carcossa’s status as a vacation destination had been fading since the 1950s and especially since they shut down road access in Sectors L through R. Still, nothing made Babs’ day more than explaining to some bewildered snow bird who’d wandered in off the board walk, face pale and hands clammy, that oh no, that’s just our Low Tide Jenny, she’s harmless, don’t worry about her.
“She loved the beach when she was alive,” Babs would say as she folded a “Santa Carcossa est. 1868” sweatshirt across the counter and rang up the sale. “After she passed, poor thing, she just wanted to enjoy what she loved in life.”
Babs didn’t know if that was true, but she liked the sound of it and it wasn’t like anyone actually knew the truth about Low Tide Jenny’s origins. The locals, what few remained, just knew that she had appeared on the beach at her own whims for as long as anyone could remember, always in her red bikini and sunglasses, always sitting silent and still in her folding deck chair. Some people said she used to be a flirtatious starlet who summered at the Santa Carcossa Sands resort, until a jealous lover murdered her and dumped her body into one of the local sea caverns. When she was younger, Babs thought that version was more thrilling but now she preferred to think that Jenny’s end was peaceful. It would be nice to have a peaceful end.
Jenny’s long hair and perfect teeth made Babs think that she was probably beautiful when she was alive, in that bleach bottle blonde sort of way, a classic bombshell beauty. Marigold told her, when they first moved in together, that she found that beach ghost creepy. But that was a long time ago, back when Santa Carcossa didn’t empty out in the off season and when the off season didn’t last the whole year. When Babs closed the shop and headed home, the dunes were dark. She could see lights in the windows of one out of maybe every dozen houses. The Sands had been shuttered for decades, but its skeleton still loomed over the town in the darkness.
Marigold hated Low Tide Jenny and she hated the beach. She hated getting sand in her crevices and salt in her hair, hated the sand fleas and the wind and most of all hated the trash that would wash up, hated the oil black color of the waves, hated the brooding yellow sky, all of which triggered her hysterical sobbing and begging Babs to tell her that it would all be fine.
“Have you ever thought of leaving,” asked Marigold over dinner. Babs didn’t answer, she just got quiet and hoped that Marigold would stop. “There’s more fires. And the sea’s getting worse.”
“We could go to Las Brujas,” continued Marigold. “There’s nothing here.”
Babs couldn’t give Marigold an answer and that just made Marigold mad, so she stomped off and locked herself in the bathroom and eventually Babs had to go apologize. But Marigold wouldn’t understand. Babs’ mother used to run the shop, back in the old days, selling dreamcatchers and snow globes and driftwood mobiles. Babs had gradually replaced the old inventory over the years with personalized novelty license plates and T-shirts emblazoned with messages like “Female Body Inspector” and “I Lost my [Picture of a Heart] at Santa Carcossa.” Babs kept telling herself: I live here. There’s a community here. I know there is.
She thought back to how it used to be: The boardwalk was bustling, there was an arcade and a midway, a wax museum and an aquarium, and endless rows of chowder houses and fish ‘n’ chip restaurants, each one draped with whimsical fishing nets and Japanese glass floats and each one with a fiber glass statue of a bearded sailor in a yellow rain slicker, biting a corncob pipe between his teeth and holding a small chalk board that said “Today’s Special: Clam Chowder w/ sourdough bread bowl.” Every day’s special was always clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. She didn’t remember the names of the people, though. She should have learned them when they still lived around here.
They shuttered the shops when the wildfires tore through the hills and then the ocean turned black and the tourists stopped coming and they started closing the roads. And everyone left Santa Carcossa because they were all smarter than Babs. Maybe they won’t close any more roads, Babs always said. But they always did. They always did.
The radio always had new announcements about road closures.
Marigold spent most of her time crying these days. Babs knew when she returned home that Marigold would be staring at her cellphone, sniffling and sobbing and pretending that she was trying to hide it and whining “I’m sorry, I know it makes you mad.” It did make Babs mad.
“They closed the roads in Sector G,” blubbered Marigold, tears streaking her face and snot dribbling from her nose. “How can they do that! How can they do that!”
Marigold was always asking how they could do something when, invariably, they did it.
Babs took Marigold in her arms because that was all she could do and held her close and stared off into the distance, thinking of Low Tide Jenny, as Marigold sobbed.
“I’m sorry,” Babs said stupidly. “I’m sorry. Maybe it’ll get better. Maybe they’ll reopen the roads. Maybe the tourists will come back.”
Babs tensed. Marigold was like that: she wanted hope and then she spat it back in your face.
“This is all I can give you,” said Babs.
“You hate me. All I do is cry. Why are you even still with me?”
Babs pretended the question was rhetorical and she went with a distraction.
“I saw Low Tide Jenny today.”
“Why are you always talking about Low Tide Jenny? I don’t want to hear about Low Tide Jenny.”
“Why? Are you jealous?” Babs laughed. Good. She should be jealous. Let her feel bad. Let her be jealous of a dead woman, dead from before either of them was born, because it was absurd, so absurd that it would make her feel stupid for thinking it, yet also maybe she was right to feel jealous.
“I need my husband,” said Marigold miserably. Liquid snot cascaded from her nose. “Please.”
“I’m going to the beach,” said Babs.
“Is that what you’re going to do? Go to the beach? Instead of trying to help me?”
“I’m going to the beach,” Babs said again.
Babs stomped across the shoreline, kicking up sand with every step. Things washed up on the beach more and more. The usual plastic bottles and Styrofoam bins, of course, but other things too – pinkish purple blobs that Babs had to assume were some deep sea creatures roused from their usual haunts in the trench by the coming cataclysm and now throwing themselves onto the sand to die. It gave her a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach to see them and she was thankful that Marigold never came down to the shore because surely the sight of them would just incite yet another ugly crying fit, where Marigold would bawl for hours and demand that Babs tell her something good, tell her it would all be alright, tell her they would leave Santa Carcossa and move someplace nice where the world wouldn’t follow. There are so many stories about falling in love, thought Babs, but they don’t tell you what it’s like to fall out of love. They don’t talk about the long nights lying in bed, listening to the steady breathing of a stranger and wondering how it came to this. She ran through the arithmetic in her head: How many more years of this.
One day, Babs came home and Marigold was gone. Her closet was empty. She probably left for Las Brujas, she always thought that she would be safe there – the sky was reportedly still blue for now, there was no ocean in sight, and road access was plentiful. She would have left via sector E; it was the last accessible road out of town.
Low Tide Jenny would never leave, not for good. She might vanish momentarily, retreat to whatever otherworld ghosts retreat to, but she was doomed to haunt this stretch of beach indefinitely. She might still be here after Santa Carcossa was gone, after the oil black waves rose and swamped everything, until there was nothing but dark waters under a yellow sky. She had waited on the beach for three days in a row, which was highly unusual, and Babs wondered stupidly if Jenny was waiting for her.
“Are you appearing for me,” asked Babs. Jenny didn’t respond. She just stared out at the ocean.
“It was blue when I was a kid,” said Babs. Jenny didn’t respond. There was no sound but the wind and the pounding surf and Babs felt the tension drain from her body. It was quiet. Thank God for the quiet.
Babs put her forehead to Jenny’s and closed her eyes. Jenny’s skin was brittle and papery-thin like the rind of a wasp nest. Babs sighed. Her hand slithered under the cups of Jenny’s bikini, her fingers closing around the ghost of a breast, feeling the fossilized nipple against her palm. Her tongue probed Jenny’s dry mouth, running over cracked lips and rows of perfect teeth.
Babs parted Low Dive Jenny’s legs and heard a brittle crack like a rotten log bursting. She crawled between her knees and put her face on Jenny’s lap and looked out at the black ocean. She felt a hand drop, feather light, against the crown of her head and rest there. They sat there together, under a yellow sky, and waited patiently for the tide to come in.
Bitter Karella is the writer and horror aficionado behind the microfiction comedy account @Midnight_pals, which asks what if all your favorite horror writers gathered around the campfire to tell scary stories. When not writing twitter jokes, she also dabbles in cartooning and text game design. His horror text games, available on itchio, include Night House, All Visitors Welcome, and Toadstools.