by Chip Livingston
Some an’ time jumbie dem do crash a party.
Some an’ time dem jumbie t’row dey own.
“What’s that even mean?” Kyle whispered.
I used my normal voice, noting how he tends to whisper in the dark. “According to the guidebook back at the eco-tent, jumbies are invisible spirits, tricksters, a type of duende or little people. This is one of the most secluded beaches on the island.”
“You think it’s safe at night?”
“You wanted to feel shipwrecked. The guidebook said a number of ships sank out here in the 1500s, unable to see or cross the enormous coral reefs.”
He directed the phone’s flashlight from the old wooden sign someone had carved their couplet into, two posted stumps to indicate the pathway through shadowy seagrape vines and thorny catch-and-keep. “After you then.”
“I’ll go first, but turn off the light. Our eyes will adjust.”
I leaned in to hear him say, “What if I just shine it on our feet?”
“If you’re whispering to hide from the jumbies, you don’t want to light up our shoes. The book said the locals believe that jumbies don’t have feet, and that they’re fascinated by human shoes. Locals leave their shoes on their porches so the jumbies won’t enter their homes.”
Kyle cleared his throat. “You’re making that up.”
“Read the book when we get back.”
He turned off the flashlight and we found our sight and step on the planked path through the brush. A wind rattled the leaves in a sound like thrown pebbles, a wind that followed us in gusts down the warped boardwalk, the moon enough light through the canopy overhang to see our pale feet and the black straps of our flipflops. Not enough light to avoid the unavoidable banana spider’s nest we stepped into. We squealed first, laughed at ourselves and each other, swatting the sticky threads, then ducked under a low branch of a seagrape bush and stepped onto white sand illuminated blue.
“This!” Kyle kicked off his flipflops and danced across the sand. He raised his arms to spin. He raised his voice. “We’re the only ones here!” He stopped spinning to look first at the slow breaking waves and then up and down the beach making sure. He looked at me. “Leave your shoes. Come. Kiss me. This is shipwrecked.”
We weren’t shipwrecked. We’d flown in on a plane that hadn’t crashed. We had a jeep up the hill. We’d come looking for this kind of isolation, wanted to feel like we were the last couple of romantics on a warm deserted island. Warm had been key. Alone was key. And after eleven-hundred miles of blue, a hairpin runway and six crooked miles bumper to bumper in a safari taxi, a ferry boat to the smaller island, we’d gotten close to alone. Not this close.
Stepping barefoot toward Kyle, I closed my eyes and embraced him. His skin, warm from the sun we’d spent the day under, smooth from coconut and aloe. I opened my eyes and we walked to the water. Facing across the coral protected harbor to the dark Atlantic Sea, nothing north for thousands of miles until Nova Scotia. Kyle took my hand and we started west along the hundred-yard strip of sand. I leaned into his shoulder as we walked.
As we neared the other end of the beach, where we’d have to turn around but maybe sit first for awhile, Kyle said, “Look at all the stars.” We stopped to look up, as a wind rushed from the trees to the ocean, and we turned toward the shadowed brush, and then whiplash quick to follow the sound of pebbles or something splashing over the water.
Kyle took out his phone and scanned the trees with its light.
I felt cold, dizzy, and knelt to touch the sand. Froze. “Kyle.”
The flipflops we’d left eighty yards down the beach were there right beside us. He shined his light. “How the fuck did those get here?”
A gust along the shore churned up tiny whirlwinds of sand.
“Let’s go.” Kyle grabbed our sandals and my hand. Nothing behind us as we ran. We put on our flipflops at the trail and kept our pace up the planks. That sound of scattering gravel didn’t stop till we cleared the bush, lit up the headlights with the push of the unlock button on the jeep’s remote-control key fob.
My heart pounded from the rush.
“What’s that on the windshield?” Kyle said.
White grains or tiny sticks dotted the jeep’s hood and front glass.
“It looks like rice,” Kyle said, examining a piece on his index finger.
“Get in.” I couldn’t start the engine fast enough, flipped on the windshield wipers.
“What?” Kyle asked as I gassed into reverse, squeaked the clutch grinding the jeep into first.
“It was rice all along.” My voice quivered. “The other thing I read the locals do. Besides leave their shoes on their porches.” I shifted to second. “They scatter rice because they say the jumbies will stop before going inside to gather and count it.”
“What else didn’t you tell me?”
“That locals don’t go to that beach, they believe it’s haunted. But not from the shipwrecks. In 1733 there was a massacre of slaves from the sugar plantation, where they’d met on Jumbie Beach to plan a revolt.” It felt revolting to say out loud. “I’m sorry I brought you there without telling you. I thought we might finally be alone.”
“Even if you told me, I’d have still said let’s go.”
“Well, just so you know, when we get back to the eco-tents, we should leave our shoes outside and enter the door backwards.”
“Well, just so you know, when we get back to the eco-tents,” Kyle whispered, “I’m reading the whole guidebook.” He took my hand from the stick shift. “And we can look at it this way. Nobody threw rice at us outside the courthouse.”
Chip Livingstonis the author of three books of poetry, including the recent Saints of the Republic, a novel, and a story/essay collection, and editor of Love, Loosha: The Letters of Lucia Berlin and Kenward Elmslie. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Ploughshares, The Massachusetts Review, and other journals. He teaches fiction writing in the low-rez MFA program at Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM, and lives in Montevideo, Uruguay.