“A nurse is the Lord’s fiercest angel.”
—Sorcha Alden, New York 1935
–Still true, New Jersey 2020
“Are you freakin’ kidding me?” I shouted at the six lanes of southbound traffic that slowed to a miserable crawl and then ground to a complete stop.
Never should have agreed to go in on this ridiculous shore house with my friends. Never.
I unbuckled an antique lap belt and hoisted myself through the old car’s sunroof. Red brake lights snaked ahead for miles.
Way back in January, “No thank you,” had been on the tip of my tongue. But everyone insisted I get out more—find a man—up my game. I’ve met every doctor, lawyer, accountant and stockbroker in this state. Boo, not interested.
Across the median’s concrete barrier, the northbound lanes were eerily empty.
That’s a lousy sign. Looks a bit like my love-life.
I slumped down in my seat just as sirens blared and strobes lit up the rear-view mirror. Police cars wove down the gravelly shoulder followed by firetrucks, wreckers and a lone ambulance.
If one ambulance is all they need, maybe it’s just a fender bender?
I fished for a tablet in my backpack and scrolled to the traffic app. Bright red lines in both directions were punctuated by a slew of orange circles with lines through the middle. I banged my forehead on the steering wheel until a muffled bark and wet nose brought me back to reality.
“Oh, puppy. It’s you and me against world, right?” I rubbed fluffy ears. “And I’m sure you have to pee.”
Buried under folding chairs, a mini barbecue grill and my bundle of beach towels, I found a leash.
The car sputtered and stalled.
Damn jalopy. At least it won’t overheat.
I reached out and checked the pavement with my hand. “Too hot for you, little Bonnie.” I hoisted the tawny furball into my arms and knocked the car door shut with my hip. Two lanes away, the grassy median beckoned. I squeezed past a conversion van covered in bible-verse bumper stickers. Inside tightly rolled up windows, the driver blasted show tunes and conducted an invisible orchestra to his own private musical. A silver-haired woman in the car next to him pointed and laughed. I giggled and waved to her with one of Bonnie’s paws.
While I looked around, the puppy sniffed the grass, investigating the scent of every soul that had stopped here before.
What is that rumble? Can’t be thunder. Maybe a dragon?
I swallowed hard as if I were on a plane, trying to relieve eardrum pressure. A few seconds of silence fell over the crowded highway before the crystal-clear sky exploded into chaos.
One—two—three! Medevac choppers roared overhead, low enough for me to read the numbers on their bellies. I spun to check for another as the leash snapped against my wrist. Searing heat shot through my ankle just before my shoulder crashed against the edge of the pavement.
Screams and slamming doors echoed in my skull as I scrambled, desperately searching for the leash. Invisible hands came from all directions, sitting me up and brushing me off.
“Bonnie!” I pushed everyone away. “I lost my dog!”
“Don’t worry dear.” A lady in hospital scrubs handed me an ice pack for my ankle, took my pulse and looked deep in both eyes. “A young man ran after the pup.” Apparently satisfied I would live, she peered past me. “And . . . he’s got her.”
“Small miracle I didn’t hit my head.” I accepted a gauze pad from over my shoulder and held it against my skinned elbow. I turned to see the four-pronged base of a cane and followed the trail of oxygen tubing to a tan, smiling face.
“I have a first aid kit, dear.” The silver-haired woman patted my good shoulder. “For just this situation.”
“How klutzy am I? A blind person could see that—” I gestured toward the rough curb.
“Here you go, miss.” A silken baritone voice swept over me as calloused palms placed a wiggly puppy in my lap. “What a perfect angel. Half terrier, half collie?”
“She’s a rescue so, probably a little of everything. Thank you so much for—” I kissed Bonnie’s fuzzy head and looked up at the good Samaritan who retrieved her.
“Thank you…” I read the letters on his navy-blue work shirt. Beveled Edge Blacksmith Shop. Is that even a thing? My gaze wandered over his sculpted biceps, past his perfectly trimmed goatee and up to dancing emerald eyes. “Ummm, you’re totally covered in dog hair.”
“You’re very welcome.” The man started to brush off his chest and tossed his arms up. “Mud, dog hair, horse hair…all day. Everyday. I may be hopeless.”
“You can’t be from around here.”
“Of course, I am. Born and raised.” The man offered his hand and helped me to my feet. “I’m Justin.”
“I’m Grace.” I looked at my bruised knees and handful of bloody gauze. “Just a name, not a description.”
“Come on, Miss Grace. I have water and snacks in the cooler. Enough for everyone.” He waved all the bystanders toward his shiny pick-up truck, stopping to make sure the silver-haired woman’s cane was firmly planted on flat pavement. “Ma’am, what’s better than a Friday night Parkway Picnic?”
Butterflies swirled in my stomach and tiny sparks danced in my throat. I hoisted Bonnie in my arms and whispered in her ear. “Okay, so I maybe I haven’t met every man in New Jersey.”
I’m so, very honored to be chosen as a Word Weaver Winner! Thank you Dan!
The sun peeked above the horizon and sped across the ocean to a strip of sand that used to be a beach. One by one, piles of rubble were illuminated on a landscape changed forever in a single, dreadful night.
So bright—so frigid. The Queen struggled to come up from her fog. Where am I? Ringing silence gave way to the rhythmic pulse of rotors in the sky. So many voices. All strangers—swearing and talking about wreckage.
“This one’s ok—those others are junk.” Cameras clicked as three sets of footsteps passed.
Are they talking about me?
“The Osborne fire jumped the road,” One stranger said.
How bad am I?
“By the grace of God,” A familiar voice answered, “It stopped two blocks away.”
Why am I lying in sand? The Queen spiraled back into her darkness for hours or days—time stood still, sped and sputtered in a bizarre haze until squealing brakes woke her up again.
Amid strobes and police cars, the bus ground to a halt. A passenger stepped out onto the crumbled highway and walked through the remnants of the marina gate with her hand clamped over her mouth.
“Little girl, how did you get here?” A man barked in a German accent.
“I have ID.”
I know that voice. The Queen fought to wake up. Clara?
The girl whipped around and stared into the wreckage.
“This paperwork looks fake.” The man planted his hands on his hips. “Hello missy, pay attention please.”
“Thought I heard something.” The girl turned back to face him. “Who are you, exactly?”
“Hans, the crane operator. Workers from all over the world are here to clean up this catastrophe.”
“I’m Clara. I have to find my boat.”
“Is that the warmest coat you have?” Hans asked.
“It is today.” The whir of a zipper was followed by Clara’s voice muffled under a scarf. “I’ve searched the news footage…all the video is about the roller coaster in the ocean or the ruined mansions up the highway.”
“Which boat is yours, honey? They all look the same. This…” He waved at piles of ruined watercraft, some upside down and sinking and others torn open like tin cans. “This mess, is why people need to put names on their boats.”
A swipe of her fingers flicked away tears. “Glory.”
“You mean the Queen?” The man pointed south, across the yard. “She’s right there.”
“Where? The girl brushed her hair from her face and took a few steps south.
“Whoa, wait. You can’t walk the lot alone. There’s holes in the sand deeper than you are tall.”
Hans led Clara across the marina, pointing out jagged metal and steering her around craters. “The ocean roared through here.”
“I see someone’s entire kitchen and…” Clara picked up a shattered piano keyboard. “How high was the water?”
“Over your head, maybe over mine.” The man stopped short and pointed to the last boat on the edge of the debris. “Here she is…we’ve blocked her up now, so she wouldn’t roll over, but that boat behind her kept her upright. Bit of a miracle, but a shame, the only marking left on that little one is a tiny dolphin on the stern.”
Clara? A weak voice crackled into the wind.
“I found you.” Clara rested her shaking palm on the white boat.
Am I dead? The touch of familiar fingers, sparked energy that raced through the Queen’s hull. Is it over?
“Yes, it’s over. But you made it, Glory.”
Another man trudged across the lot. “That old girl is built like a tank. She didn’t just make it, she saved the Dragon too, though they left a few scars on each other.” He pointed to the swath of mud cut by seawater. “Right here—this was brink of disaster. The current washed her stern around but the bow, is exactly where I blocked it up.”
“Mr. James.” Clara hugged him with one arm, keeping her right hand on Glory.
“Clara, you shouldn’t be here. But, I know why you came.”
“She’s a survivor, my survivor.” Clara rubbed her hands across dings and scratches in the gel coat. “Can one of you do me a favor, please?”
“If you promise to get back on that bus and go home,” Mr. James said, “I know your parents and they must be worried sick.”
Clara nodded and pulled an American flag out of her coat. It unfurled to a full eight feet long. “Can you hang this? I have zip ties.”
“I’ll do it.” Hans grabbed a step-ladder and climbed to the top. He took the ensign off Glory’s bow and tossed it to Clara. “Hold onto that.”
“This was brand new in September.” Clara rubbed the fabric in her hands. The red and white stripes were shredded to ribbons and tied in knots, but the “Don’t Tread On Me” lettering and serpent were still intact.
“That’s what a hundred mile-per-hour wind does,” Hans said, “Now, where do you want this beauty?”
Clara pointed to the rail above her head. The flag whipped in the wind and she felt Glory’s hull vibrate, as trickles of life lit chrome and stainless steel.
Hans stood back nodded at the massive flag. “That should bump the roller coaster off the news. Unbelievable, in this day and age, nobody saw what happened here. No power, no satellite photos—just a disaster zone.”
I know what happened, Clara. I’ll tell you every detail.
“How will this ever get cleaned up? It’s so…” Clara searched for the right word. “Destroyed.”
“I’m not just cleaning it up. I’m rebuilding—better than new.” Mr. James spread his arms. “This place will be sparkling by Memorial Day.”
“I promise,” Clara whispered, “I’ll go as soon as the bus comes back.”
“Take your time.” Both men stepped away and watched the teenage girl rest her palms and forehead against the hull.
“She always talk to that boat?” Hans mumbled.
“And the boat answers,” Mr. James said, “People thinks she’s nuts, but you and I know she’s not.”
“I knew you’d make it, Glory.” Clara didn’t try to stop her tears this time.
Sshhh, please don’t cry. Your prayers saved me…saved my soul.
As the late autumn sun began to set, Clara boarded the bus as promised. She took a long look back at the piles of boats and mountains of debris. Glory sparkled on the edge of the wreckage, her new flag billowing in the wind, her light and life returning and growing brighter by the minute.
“My Glory.” Clara poked the bus driver’s elbow.
“All I saw was a pile of rubble when I dropped you off, but it looks like you sprinkled that ship with glitter.” The bus driver pointed to the red, white and blue in Clara’s hand. “You should frame that little flag.”
Clara slumped down in the seat behind the driver and dropped her face into her hands.
“I know it’s been a nightmare.,” The driver said, “A bad time for our shore, but if we work together, we’ll come out the other side.”
“Stronger.” Clara nodded.
The bus driver swung the doors shut. “I assume you named her?”
“She kinda’ named herself.”
“Never stop believing.” He smiled into the rearview mirror. “Hold tight, your soul.”
Clara wiped the final tears from her eyes. “It was Glory, who held onto me.”
Based on the true story of Glory Days…a survivor, my inspiration and a genuine Queen.
To catch up on the talking boats;
A frenzy of activity and machinery rousted boats from their slumber like a string of light bulbs flickering on, one at a time.
That was a quick winter, Dragon said.
“What’s the latest?” A man’s familiar voice rang out across the lot.
Dolphin’s Tail woke up. Spring already? Yay, spring!
“The Weather Channel is the only thing on TV,” Another man answered.
A nor’easter maybe? Better Days asked.
“They’re saying Category 3. We’ve been through it before,” The first man shouted back.
Hurricane? All the young boats turned their panic toward the Queen. What do we do?
Calm down everyone—it should blow out to sea, The Queen said, We’ll be fine, as long as we’re together.
“Guys, did you hear?” A truck gunned through the gate, with its driver hollering out the window. “The storm’s turning—rocketing directly at us.”
Something’s wrong, Better Days gasped.
“They’re evacuating the whole island,” The driver said.
Dreadfully wrong. Gusts off the ocean whipped a cloud of salt spray across the Queen’s bow. Clara is praying for me.
Within a day, the sound of power tools and storm preparation faded and vanished along with the last evacuees. The beach road was deserted, but the air was far from still.
I know it’s daytime, but I don’t feel one ray of sun, The Queen said to Better Days, If that quaking is the surf, it sounds like a monster beating down a steel door.
There’s always been someone here to watch over us, Better Days’ voice cracked, Tonight, we’re on our own.
White foam exploded through a breach in the sand dune, followed by green water that turned the beach road into a river of debris.
How can we save the little ones? The Queen moaned as shards of shingles and cracked ceramic tile ricocheted off her hull.
The boats braced against the fury of the ocean and none paid attention to the silent encroachment of the bay until they started to float off their blocks. Shrieks of terror joined the howling gale.
Better Days shouted above the wind, They’re sinking!
Dolphin’s Tail, hang on! The Queen screamed in the bedlam.
I’m behind you, The little boat answered, Hooked onto your swim ladder.
Blowing sand assaulted the Queen like a thousand flying needles. I’ve never felt wind this vicious.
Shock waves rolled across the floodwater, heaving asphalt and sand toward the bay. Better Days spun off her blocks and slammed into the Queen.
That felt like an explosion, Better Days said, From the north.
I feel heat to my port side, The Queen’s voice jumped an octave, I must be facing the beach. Ripples spread as a fireball cut through rain and wind. Something’s burning.
Something huge. Dragon shuddered as her fiberglass skin was ripped open under the Queen’s anchor. What’s going to stop that?
Another wall of ocean water swept boats into piles, crushing some instantly, while dragging others sobbing into the lagoon.
A towering wave of mangled roof trusses lifted Better Days up and smashed her into the Queen again.
I have to let go, before I sink you too, Better Days said, I really wanted to see Tahoe.
Don’t you give up! The Queen wailed, I can’t survive alone.
Yes, you can. Clara would be lost without you, Better Days forced her accent over the gale, until the swirling current sucked her away, Hold on for Clara.
Splintered pilings, and the remainder of the house collided with the Queen’s bow like a knockout punch, bending her steel bow rail, piercing her deck and driving her deeper into the water. One more hit like that and I’m finished. The last of her companion’s tortured pleas were swallowed by claps of thunder—even Clara’s prayers became distant and finally vanished.
I must be dying.
Nose down. The battered Queen sighed deep in her hull and shut down her consciousness, driving all her remaining power at one goal. Hold on, with every ounce of strength…hold on.
to be continued…
To catch up on the talking boats…Soul of Glory- Part 1 – https://monstersnangels.com/2016/08/15/the-soul-of-glory-1/
So, just for a few minutes, suspend disbelief and listen to the boats talk…
The unwelcome chill of middle October swirled around shuttered bungalows and rattled discarded beach chairs. Lined up like soldiers, boats of all sizes filled gravel parking lots, blocked and secure for another New Jersey winter. They chattered away amongst themselves, like children on the playground.
I want to scream at the top of my lungs! Dolphin’s Tail proclaimed, Nobody’s around to hear us.
For the millionth time, most people don’t hear you anyway, The Dragon answered, Just the littlest kids.
My Clara still hears me. The biggest boat spoke up from the center of the pack. And she’s a teenager now. Last week she said good-bye for the winter and thanked me for taking care of her.
That’s our job, Better Days said, her voice smooth and refined, like the champagne color of her hull. To keep them safe.
I just dread these cold months, Dragon said, Maybe someone can fix my blue stripes while we’re stuck on land? They’re peeling.
You need to sleep, lass, Better Days chimed in, We all do.
I don’t think I can, Dolphin’s Tail moaned, Why can’t it be summer forever?
I want to hear a story. Dragon said, Better Days, you’re the oldest. Why do you have an accent?
My owners are from Ireland. I’ve lived across the Atlantic Ocean, on Lake Michigan and now here in Barnegat Bay. Next year—Lake Tahoe.
Tell us about the boats who used to live here…like Thunderbird, Dragon nagged, Is it true, that she was made completely of wood?
Solid mahogany. Legend has it, that a presidential peace deal was signed on her deck, right there at the end of Dock B, Better Days said, The Queen’s slip.
No wonder there’s a party down there every night, Dolphin said, I want to be the Queen when I grow up.
What else? Dragon asked, I want to hear more.
I may be the oldest, but I haven’t been here the longest, Better Days said, Ask the Queen.
Oh, that’s right, Dragon whispered to the grand boat in the center, Why do they call you Queen Mary?
That’s just Clara’s nickname for me, but I like it, The big white boat answered, I’m not nearly as regal as the real Queen Mary.
Weren’t you moving to Louisiana? Dragon asked.
My family found a house on Lake Ponchartrain, and then a hurricane destroyed everything, The Queen answered, They were scared enough to abandon the whole plan. Clara told me…
I’m sure it wasn’t that bad, Dolphin’s Tail interrupted, Where’s Thunderbird now?
Cruising the Caribbean, The Queen answered, The true, endless summer.
I’m going there next, Dolphin’s Tail said.
Little Dolphin, The Dragon sighed, Has anyone told you how squeaky your voice is?
She’s still a wee thing, Better Days lilted, Wait until next year.
Next year, Dolphin’s Tail said, I want the Queen to teach me everything she knows—like how to stop when I sense danger.
How did you learn that, actually? The Dragon asked, I managed to slow down, once, to keep from running aground. When we got back to the marina, someone called a mechanic.
That means you did it right, Better Days chuckled.
You learn by being in danger, and having the lives of your passengers in your control, The Queen answered, I’ll teach you. Promise
All winter, I do what, again? Dolphin’s Tail moaned, How do I know when it’s over?
Sleep, Better Days answered.
She means, stop jabbering, Dragon said, The bright sun and warm wind will wake you up.
Good-night, kids. The Queen slipped into silence while the little boat’s chatter dwindled away…
to be continued…