Despite repeated appeals to the township’s hierarchy, Chief Grady’s request to hire more deputies had been denied. He’d started asking after the first bodies had been discovered but the entire police department had hoped the escalating catastrophes would finally bring them some much-needed manpower. They were wrong. Depressed, heartbroken souls from all over the country were flocking to “Suicide Beach” in droves and there was only so much Grady, Kline and Barker could do on their own. In the late afternoon, they had managed to chase a scattered handful of morose, disheartened, young women from the beach. The type, Grady suspected, that had self-inflicted cuts carefully hidden under the many layers of all-black clothing. They scurried off the beach throwing scowls and obscenities over their shoulders at the “pigs”.
Though they tried to put up barricades and guard the access points to the beach, there were still only three of them against hundreds of determined individuals.
“Chief,” Barker called over the radio. “It looks like they’re getting onto the beach by the south end. Do you want me to head over there instead?”
“Yeah, if you can get there fast enough.”
“Not sure it’ll do much good,” Kline interjected. “These people are dead-set on getting to the beach one way or another. Heh, no pun intended.”
“Kline! You’re as bad as Francine. Other people can hear our conversations, you know.”
“Sorry, Chief, I swear; it didn’t dawn on me until after I said it. My mom always used that expression and it kinda stuck with me. Like ‘dawn on me’…that’s another one. I call them Bettyisms. Ya know, ‘cause my mom’s name is Betty.”
“Can we focus, please?” Grady grumbled. We need to nab as many of those drifters as we can before they get on the beach. Got it? Because once they’re down, there’s pretty much no way we’ll be able to bring them back. It’s too close to sundown and I will not risk losing either one of you.”
It was a mad scramble to catch as many of despondent as possible. Yet, for every one they recovered, countless others slipped through the barricade. Overhead, a glorious explosion of colors filled the evening sky ushering them ever-closer to the inevitable shroud of darkness.
Grady, Kline, and Barker had managed to corral a bizarre collection of hopeless souls, all cuffed together and stuffed into municipality vehicles. All walks of life were equally represented by the men and women that had been saved. We’re like modern-day cowboys rounding up the herd, Kline mused. Get along, little doggies. At the chief’s direction, they all headed back to the station long before sunset gave way to darkness. Sharon Grady and Francine from dispatch were at the office waiting when the lawmen returned with their “catch”. Doctor Garrett and some of his staff had also volunteered their time, hoping to reach out and make a connection with those who had been rescued.
Tragically, each person that had been snatched from the jaws of death represented a small fraction compared to the countless others that had managed to slip through the blockades to meet their demise. From the beach, a collective sigh of relief was released the minute they saw the police force depart for the safety of their station. Perfect strangers huddled together on the beach, both apprehensive and exhilarated, watching the vivid colors of the sunset mottle together in an inky-blue darkness that represented their own dark despair. For many, that brief connection with nameless soul-mates was the one-and-only time they’d ever felt a bond with fellow humans. A bitter-sweet frosting on their proverbial cake of tragic irony, to only find the connection they’d longed for in the fleeting moments before a grisly, agonizing death.
The last remaining sliver of sunlight hugged the horizon like lover’s embrace, not wanting to part but all the while knowing the time had come to say goodbye.
“NO!” one frightened girl shrieked. “I don’t want to die!”
The others stared as she sprang to her feet and scrambled to gain purchase. The wet sand parted, accepting each footfall into its depths, emitting a sucking sound as she pried each foot free in a mad break for the safety of the streets. The soft powder offered even less assistance, tripping her up as she tumbled to the ground, sobbing. With the stairway to street level in her sights, she hauled herself up again, bawling, as she ran. Terrified, she glanced over her shoulder only to see the last glimpse of sunlight shrinking below the horizon. Her bladder voided as something cold and wet coiled around her legs, pulling her toward the water and her death. She had no words, only high-pitched shrieks that blended into a symphony of fear, her soprano joined altos, mezzo-sopranos, tenors and bass.