This story is by Jonathan Byrd and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The view from the shore was magnificent. Whether nature was bathed in the cool twilight, illuminated by the full moon, or burned beneath the midday sun the view was spectacular. The nearby rocks, the sugar sand beaches, and the inviting waters all added up to a painter’s dream, a tourist’s delight, and a local’s source of pride. This stretch of beach had it all.
The waters were still. Smooth as glass. As non-treacherous as it could be. Invitingly so. Yet beneath the calm surface of the bay lurked dangers. Whirlpools, and eddies, and riptides. But inviting nonetheless. The dangers lay unfathomable below the surface.
And so they came. Swimmers, paddle boarders, and wind surfers all came.
Daring the elements they came by ones, they came by twos, they came in droves. It was a once in a lifetime experience, even for the ones that came again and again. Dancing with the devil they called it. An adrenaline junkie’s biggest dream come true, a test of bravery and guts, and a scene of much heartache and grief.
Drowned victims washed ashore monthly. Gruesome, bloated, and gaseous the bodies washed upon the beach. Others were reported missing, never to be found again. Daring tales of an epic experience were matched only by the near fatal incident tales.
Until two people decided to take a rowboat down to the beach.
They were not superheroes or extraordinary. They simply saw a need and had hearts of gold. Do unto others, especially when the others needed doing unto. With patience they waited and watched for their first customer. It was a busy beach, so it wasn’t long before the struggling swimmer appeared. The lure of the dance had proven too great for the novice swimmer. He was grateful for the rescue and lavished them with many heartfelt thanks.
A week later, they had rescued their third swimmer. He was a rich entrepreneur, a self-made man, and generous. He gave them each a thousand dollars for rescuing him. The two guys were just there to help, but it felt nice to be appreciated. Discussing it while they waited they formed a plan. They decided to use the money and put up a lean-to. It kept them out of the rain and sun while they watched. Cut down on the wind a bit, and the glare as they kept their eyes glued upon the prize—the waters.
After two months a third person joined them, not every day, because she had to work downtown. She came by two or three times a week, usually on days when they were busiest. When the winds blew the hardest, the seas swirled below the surface, and the devil dancers came in force.
The anniversary of the first rescue came and went. The rescues mounted. They could not save them all, but they saved all they could. Some went back again and were lost.
In time the people that had been saved and that had given back began giving in earnest. A meal here, some boards to build a proper hut, money if they had it. One or two stayed around to help save other drowning people. The beach became busier. The currents were well-known for sweeping people far from the comfort and stability of the shore, but now the beach had a backup. An insurance plan of sorts.
After two years there were fifty people that worked in shifts. Some of them watched for swimmers, some worked on building a big house with a kitchen, bathrooms, and a meeting hall. More swimmers were saved, more members joined. Two more boats were bought, one with a motor.
The motor boat was not just efficient it was fun. Two more motors were bought, and another three rowboats. Someone donated a sailboat followed by a yacht. Resources grew, people joined, and time passed. Slowly but surely a much needed service grew to match the size of the fight. The mission field expanded, not just this beach but all the way down. The waterfront town had a huge beach, and a salvation minded growing body of people to patrol it. As the town grew so did the rescue mission.
The number of people began to swell. The tide of members poured in. Organization was called for. A Constitution, By-Laws, and a Mission Statement were drawn up. Committees were formed. There was a Lifesaving Committee, a Boat Maintenance Committee, a Building Committee, a Planning Committee, and a Food Service Committee. There was a committee for personnel, for nominations, and even a Committee on Committees. They added another building and put up a sign. The building now had a tower with a bell. More people were saved; more people joined the group, especially the saved souls who had come so close to being lost.
Year after year the club grew. They added offices, classrooms, and a gymnasium. Not that they called it a gym, it was a Family Life Center with a multi-purpose room. It worked for sports, but also the big dinners they had. They taught lifesaving classes, boating lessons, and even swimming lessons. Now there was a shed for the boats, a pier, even a bus to bring in members who wanted to participate but had no means of getting to the beach.
The main building had a stage with stadium seating for weekly performances that became so popular they had to add two performances each Sunday to match the one on Wednesday nights. There were programs for people of all ages, young, old, youth, blue-haired, mixed groups, married groups, single groups, everyone was welcome, and everyone saved someone. They continued to grow. The parking lot was too small, they added a playground for the kids, re-paved and expanded the parking lot, then put in a bigger sign, this one with lights and a marquee. A bigger tower was installed in the new meeting hall so they could look way out into the sea and see lost swimmers fighting against the currents and tides of the beach. The old meeting hall became added space for the classes they taught on Sundays. There was talk of buying new property to further expand. And then they bought the land, a mile from the water but room for more, bigger, and better. All in the name of saving those who would be lost.
The group continued to grow, year after year, decade after decade. Each year they had a homecoming event. Everyone who had ever been a member or had ever been saved was welcomed. There were pot-luck suppers, ice cream socials, and weekly classes. Everyone felt good about themselves and most felt even better. They sent out teams to other beaches not just their own. Some in other states, some in other countries, even some overseas. Every so often the elected leader of the grouped who steered the mothership would talk about needing money, or work on the grounds. Someone always provided, no one had to work just throw some money at it. There were over 1400 members now. Including some who could not swim. Some were afraid of boats. Some had never even gotten in the water. Then it happened.
At the quarterly business meeting someone proposed they stop rescuing swimmers. After all, by now swimmers should know better than to be in those cold, treacherous waters. No one wanted to climb the tower anymore and the rope for the bell had dry-rotted. The debate was heated, but when the vote was taken it was overwhelming. The rescues stopped.
The dinners continued, and the classes. The weekly meetings still went on, once on Wednesday and twice on Sundays. People talked about the good old days, dreamed of what used to be. They enjoyed the beach, played in the sand, drove around the waters in their boats. Everyone felt good about themselves. The new property sat empty and bare but it gave them a spot for festivals, and gatherings, and dreams of what could be.
All but two members. They decided to take an old rowboat down the shore to look for drowning swimmers. There were still lost people to be saved.