The Unintended Story

Eddie Flotte, watercolor of Strathmere, NJ

Eddie Flotte, watercolor of Strathmere, NJ

I clicked open the file on my computer. The document spread across the screen and I began to read.

The rain was relentless that night and it left a chilly fog across the barrier island beach town. Outside the coffee shop I was posted-up in, the salt air hung low and dense, the boardwalk smeared with wet sand and melting slush from last week’s snow. The salt marshes in the bay filled and flooded, snaking their way across the sea grass and into murky crevasses.

Taking another sip of tea, I continued reading, completely enthralled by the sheer terror and fascination of the words I could barely believe I was actually reading until my cell phone buzzed with an incoming call. Flashing across the screen was an unfamiliar number with Maui, Hawaii underneath.

Normally I would have waited to see if a message was left but out of curiosity I answered it.

“Josh, it’s Eddie, how are you?” asked the familiar voice. I should’ve known. The only person I’d know with a Maui area code would be Eddie, one of my favorite artists in the world. Originally from the northern countryside of Philadelphia, Eddie was a famous watercolor painter with deep ties to South Jersey. Every year he would make his way back to the Jersey coast to paint in what he described as “the greatest source of inspiration” he had ever known.

Last year, I wrote a feature article about Eddie for The Ocean City Sun magazine. He had spent a few months painting and I wanted to get him some promotion as well as share his deep, genuine love for the shore. It had been over a year since Eddie and I spoke and or saw each other, but he had raved about my article and told me repeatedly that it was the best anyone had ever written about him. Nevertheless, I was surprised to hear from him on a cold, rainy March night in Ocean City.

“I’m just coming over the bridge from Margate right now. Do you have time to meet for a cup of coffee?” He asked.

“I’m actually having one right now, come and meet me,” I said.

How unusual, I thought. What was Eddie doing in New Jersey during the winter? But then I thought back to the article I had written, remembering the distinct line describing how Eddie romanticized about living and painting at the Jersey Shore in cold, isolated dead of winter.

In walked Eddie, wide-eyed and disheveled, smiling and holding his weathered backpack. He took a seat across from me, scooting forward, clutching a macbook he pulled from his pack.

After a brief catch-up conversation about work and life, Eddie vaguely and cryptically began to tell why he asked to meet with me.

“Josh, a few months ago I somehow stumbled upon a secret community in the salt marshes,” he said through a whisper. He went on to tell me about a painting expedition in an undisclosed location in Cape May County that led him down a long, unmarked gravel road, past battered and bullet-ridden “No Trespassing” “Keep Out” and “Authorized Vehicles Only” signs. The road led to a large cluster of wood-weathered cottages perched out over the murky salt water and sea grass. His eerie description had me totally captivated. A skinny, twisted boardwalk scattered with splintered and mangled planks slithered down in-between the wood piling-stilt dwellings.

“The long stretch of sheds, shacks and bungalows was built right into the mud, held together by knots, hooks, clamps and odd patches of split, reused, miss cut wood,” he said, “And hope and will power.”

He went on to tell me about the mysterious characters he encountered living there, his haunting nights spent sleeping inside one of the abandoned, mutilated, Post-Hurricane Sandy shacks, the grotesque noises, creakings and ritualistic signs and omens that surrounded him during his stay.

As he babbled on, his lips quivered and his eyes peered into mine as if they had witnessed a deep terror or supernatural phenomenon they could never unsee. His trembling hand passed me a flash-drive.

“I wrote it all down. It’s a book. I want you to edit it. I want you to help me finish and publish it,” he said.

Awestruck, I snatched the drive and inserted it on my laptop. The day had started ordinary, but now it was fatefully divine; shrouded in mystery.

“Eddie, I’m honored that you would even consider me,” I said.

With that he thanked me, zipped up his backpack and said his goodbyes. Stepping out into the rain, he vanished into the night of the foggy salt air.

Wait, what just happened? I thought to myself.

I clicked open the file on my computer. The document spread across the screen and I began to read.

Taking one last sip of tea, I was completely bewitched by the sheer terror of the words I could barely believe I was actually reading until my cell phone suddenly buzzed with an incoming call.

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