Lit Up
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Lit Up


Photo by J.S. Lender © 2021

24 miles does not seem like a great distance when you are staring hard into the ocean’s heartlessness.

On a clear day, Toby could see the entire outline of Catalina Island, including the mountain peaks and the nadir near the middle. While waiting for a new set of waves to roll in, Toby would straddle his longboard with his legs circling in the water to keep his balance, and gaze out over the gleaming sun-specked water toward that long, clunky mysterious looking hunk of rock. He knew plenty about the tourists who visited the island, but he wanted to know who actually lived there.

Were the folks who lived there happy? How many plumbers lived on Catalina Island? Was there just one dentist on the island? What if that dentist was not so good with his hands and made people’s teeth worse? Could you find another dentist on the island? Do they ever run out of beer on Catalina Island? Do the islanders fight over crucial supplies like toilet paper and bagels? How many police officers live on the island? What if you find yourself stuck on the island with a rogue police officer like Harvey Keitel in that 90’s movie The Bad Lieutenant?

The waves at Newport pier were small on this day, and Toby found himself in a sort of trance — gazing at the ocean, with the ocean gazing back at him showing greater intent. Usually when the waves were this small, Toby would pounce down on his longboard and paddle back and forth between the pier and the jetty to get some exercise. Toby didn’t consider himself to be old yet, just kind of oldish. At least he could say that 30+ years of surfing had kept his shoulders, chest, and arms respectably toned. However, his beer gut was another story, best saved for another day. But there was no exercise paddling on this day, because Toby was just feeling blah. Not hung over, not tired, not overworked. No, Toby had just been overcome by a feeling of overall defeat.

Toby didn’t know much about boats, but he saw a small white one cruise up past the pier, a bit too close to where the surfers were bobbing up and down in the water like floating bowling pins. The boat sat there in one spot for a while, with the motor idling, making little bubbles pop up at the back of the boat, as if a giant was hiding under water and blowing through a straw.

Before Toby noticed the outline of a human body, he saw glorious, thick blonde hair flapping in the breeze. The unofficial flag of Southern California. Then he saw her. She stood there under the punishing bright sun with golden skin, sparingly covered by a few scraps of a white bikini. Both of her hands were rolled into tight fists, placed unapologetically onto her hips. Oversized dark sunglasses formed a plastic veil over the top half of her face. Although Toby was about 200 feet from the boat, he could see that this was not a woman who was relaxing on a hot summer day. She looked distressed and panicked.

Toby had paddled out a tad bit farther than the other surfers, hoping to catch some of the larger waves coming in that day. She saw Toby, removed her hands from her hips, and waved them over her head while looking directly in Toby’s direction. She then held out her right hand toward Toby and motioned for him to paddle closer.

Toby looked around, unsure that he was the intended recipient of her gesture. As it became clear that there was no one else within Toby’s immediate vicinity, he looked back at the woman and just stared. She stopped for a moment, placing her hands back at her sides, then resumed her waving and motioning toward the boat.

Does this girl want to party or something? How can she tell whether I’m good looking from so far away?

The former Toby was a responsible man who would have looked away and paddled toward shore. Post-divorce Toby, on the other hand, had learned to take more risks in life. Toby’s nasty divorce had not only cost him his wife, his kids and his house, but his career as well. At first he had only been drinking at home after work. Eventually, Toby snuck a bottle of Tito’s vodka into his office, just to take the edge off in the mornings. He managed to hold everything together until the day he told his boss to “shove a bag of dicks in his ear.” Goodbye cushy job in a nice office, hello checkout line at Trader Joe’s.

But it wasn’t just his job and his wife and the drinking that drove Toby over the edge. His four kids had taken a mighty toll, too. The screaming and yelling and fighting had all become too much. Toby had once believed in a master race of “Super Parents” who could calmly handle the insanity of parenting. Eventually, Toby realized that those Super Parents were frauds who were just faking it when in public. If Mother Teresa and Gandhi had a brood of kids together, it would just be a matter of time before Gandhi was driving in a minivan with the screaming brats in the backseat after a miserable sleepless night. Gandhi would lose his shit and lash out at the kids and Mother Teresa might try to intervene, but it would be hopeless.

Toby had been surfing three days a week since his divorce and he was in pretty damn good shape. He paddled out to the boat in about 60 seconds.

“Hi, I need a hand. Can you please help me? Tie your leash to the ladder and climb on up,” said the girl.

Toby climbed onto the boat, dripping wet.

“Hey there. I’m Toby. Do you need help with something.”

“I’m Samantha,” she said, holding out her hand.

Toby shook her hand, noticing that the boat was spotless. No signs of drinking or eating or anything else that you would expect on a party boat floating off the coast of Newport Beach. There was no sign of anyone else on the boat, which was strange. This was not the type of girl who took up sailing or learned how to do much of anything on her own. She was a party girl. A socialite. Definitely not the lonely sailor type. She was good at smiling and pleasing and entertaining. She maybe had an Associates degree from a community college, but probably not.

She was a looker, though. Damn near 6 feet tall with sun kissed skin covering nothing but hard, toned muscle from head to toe. Perfect feet with professionally manicured nails — the fancy type of manicure where the tips are white. She lifted her glasses onto the top of her head, revealing hypnotizing blue sparkly orbs outlined by enticing dark makeup. Eyes that were beautiful and privileged, but eyes that had never seen a single day of hardship or hard work, for that matter. Nothing awful had ever happened to this blessed woman and nothing ever would.

“Here Toby, have a beer,” she said, handing him an ice cold Corona from a red cooler.

Toby popped the cap off the Corona with the bottle opener she handed him, and guzzled the entire bottle without taking a breath. He handed the empty Corona bottle to Samantha, and she popped the top off a new Corona and handed it to him, with a look of slight surprise on her face.

“A bit thirsty, are we?”

“Corona is the best chugging beer,” said Toby, wondering if Samantha would be impressed by his beer guzzling skills, or whether she would see him as adolescent and unimpressive.

Samantha slyly moved her hand toward Toby, and gently rubbed the outside of his upper arm with her delicately manicured fingernails.

“You’re in really great shape. Do you surf a lot?”

“Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.”

Samantha placed her hand on Toby’s chest and let it linger there for a few seconds. Toby polished off the second bottle of Corona, and stared out toward the ocean. There it was. That old familiar, warm feeling. Toby felt his problems slowly drift away and he was truly enjoying the hot sun and the cool ocean and the rocking of the boat.

“What kind of music do you like?” asked Samantha.

“I don’t know, whatever,” replied Toby, glaring at her bikini straps with a strange intensity.

Samantha pranced with graceful, narrow feet toward her phone, which was lying lazily upon a crumpled white and blue striped beach towel. Next to her phone was one of those music speaker thingamabobs that look like a giant Tootsie Roll covered in bee stings. Samantha tapped a few buttons on her phone and suddenly Toby heard the Spin Doctors singing about a couple of princes courting the same young girl.

“Whooohooooo, I love this song!” shrieked Samantha.

Samantha’s hands made their way to the back of her neck, as her hips flung themselves from side to side in a violent display of contently arrogant youth. Toby noticed that Samantha wasn’t just thin, she was skinny. So skinny, in fact, that each side of her torso resembled a full slab of baby back ribs with no sauce. Toby had a hard time deciding whether or not so many protruding bones was a sexy feature. But what was sexy was the way Samantha ran her own fingers through her gorgeous thick mane of hair. And the way she licked her lips. And the way her strong, bony knees supported her carelessly rotating hips. And the way her ass resembled two perfect scoops of vanilla ice cream. And the way her breasts confidently occupied their own little slice of the universe without needing any cooperation from any other part of her body.

This girl had definitely made the rounds. Exactly where, Toby could not say, but she had been a woman about town in Newport Beach. Toby could tell by her steely gaze and hard movements. Whether she had been dumped, beaten, abandoned, or ripped off, Toby could not tell. But there was something artificial about Samantha’s icy aloofness that made Toby feel as if he were in the presence of a mannequin or perhaps a talking robot from an old Twilight Zone episode.

“Come with me down below, I want to show you something,” said Samantha, grabbing Toby’s hand with an uneasiness that partially explained her sweaty palm.

Well I guess this is it. I’m going to find out whether she’s as wild as she looks.

Toby followed Samantha toward the hull of the boat. Toby’s hand had become willfully encapsulated in Samantha’s, and he could not help but notice the sleek design of her bronze arm. Her skin appeared to be the sun’s most proud and beautiful creation. Even her elbow joint was delicately built out of the most well proportioned bones and cartilage Toby had seen in his forty-nine years.

A harsh sea breeze clumsily splashed a large chunk of hair into Samantha’s face, but she managed to maintain her tight gaze upon Toby. Samantha stopped abruptly, blocking the entrance to the hull, facing Toby directly. She approached his mouth with movements as delicate and deliberate as a sniper on a rooftop, before delivering the wettest and softest of kisses while her manicured fingernails gently caressed the back of Toby’s head. Toby felt his heart melt into his stomach, as his knees became wobbly and his face tingled with teenage lust.

“I need you to do something for me,” whispered Samantha into Toby’s ear, with cinnamon breath.

Samantha gazed deep and hard into Toby’s eyes as she gently nodded her chin up and down, causing a nearly hypnotized Toby to voluntarily nod in agreement. Samantha then stepped aside, exposing the entrance to the hull.

Toby’s face let out a grunt and a dirty puff of air shot from his mouth, while an ugly dizziness seized his head.

Two fat white legs covered in black hair could be seen from the top of the stairs leading down into the hull. A single bare foot was hooked under the third step from the bottom.

“He beat me one time too many. Look here, if you don’t believe me,” said Samantha, lifting her hair to show Toby the left side of her neck.

Toby did not see anything except a taut neck covered in sun drenched skin.

“Don’t worry. He’s more dead than Elvis. Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to tie his body down with weights and dump him in the ocean halfway between Catalina Island and San Clemente Island. He’s too heavy for me to move without your help. No one will be looking for him, because he was the prick of all pricks.”

Toby stood motionless, staring at Samantha’s flowing hair, not seeing her lips move as she spoke. He then set his gaze upon the hairy white dead legs sticking out from the hull.

“Have you ever heard of Pitcairn’s Island? That’s where we’re headed after we dump old shit bird into the water. Pitcairn’s Island is the most remote, tiny little island in the middle of the South Pacific. Less than fifty people live on the island, and not even Columbo could ever find us there. Nothing but waterfalls, coconuts, white sand, and crystal blue water. And me! I think we can make a pretty good team. What do you think? I’ve got just over seven million dollars in accessible offshore cash accounts.”

Samantha inched closer to Toby and placed her hands on his shoulders, massaging gently with the smooth palms of her bony hands. Samantha’s eyes creased at the corners, and her brow became hard and determined. Something told Toby that as soon as he helped Samantha dump “old shit bird” into the deep blue sea, he might be next. Except that when it was Toby’s turn, Samantha would be smart enough to simply push him off the boat and into the middle of the ocean at least a hundred miles from the nearest island, so she wouldn’t need anyone’s help dragging him out of the boat. There would be no Pitcairn’s Island, no seven million dollars, and no coconuts in paradise. Not for Toby, anyway.

Toby inched his way closer and closer to Samantha, until they were rubbing their pelvises together like a couple of teenagers slow dancing at the Junior Prom. Toby kissed her neck and then her mouth, while squeezing her ass tight with both hands. Samantha closed her eyes and swayed to the mesmerizing sounds of the waves gently slapping against the side of the bow.

“Adios baby, thanks for the Coronas,” said Toby, as he jumped overboard, untied his leash from the boat ladder, and plopped his gut onto the thick coat of wax covering his surfboard.

Toby paddled toward shore as leisurely as a lazy Basset Hound at the park on a Sunday afternoon. A nice swell was coming in from the south, and Toby could see some decent size waves rolling in past the pier. The tide was rising, and conditions would be good in less than an hour. Toby was going to surf hard, until his muscles ached and his lungs burned. On the way home, he would stop at In-N-Out Burger and treat himself to a Double-Double cheeseburger with fries and a vanilla milkshake.





Welcome to Lit Up -The Land of Little Tales. Here you can read and submit short stories, flash fiction, poetry - in brief, your own legend. We're starting little. But that's how all big stories begin.

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J.S. Lender

J.S. Lender

fiction writer | ocean enthusiast | musician | author of four books, including Emma and the Starry Night. Blending words and waves…

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