FREE FICTION: “Natalie” by Bruce McAllister

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Bruce McAllister

I’m not going to give my name. You can figure it out from the forty years of articles.  Some of them say three other people, but there were four of us with her on The Rebel, the fifty-eight-foot Bristol yacht moored that night near Catalina Island’s Avalon Harbor, just off the California Coast.

We didn’t kill her. We just didn’t do anything to keep her alive. She couldn’t swim, and her mother, who believed such things, had once had a vision of Natalie dying in dark water. Her new film === just starting production — was to be her comeback…after all the years of abuse by the men who ran things.

I was the one who heard her take the dinghy, but didn’t feel it was my business. She’d had a fight with her husband and had gone off in a huff. Like all of us, she’d been drinking — a lot.

I was the one who heard the sound, something hitting the dinghy’s gunnel perhaps, something that shouldn’t have, but I didn’t want to believe it was important. I was closest to the sound, but I was laughing with the other men.


Whether I’m the first she has visited or the last, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.

She calls to me every full moon (so that the water will not be so dark) and I go to her. It isn’t a dream. Afterwards I’m wet and I have to shower and put on dry clothes, and then I drink and keep drinking at one of the bars in Avalon even when they’re closed to tourists. They know me. They know I was there on The Rebel.

  To reach her, I take my old ’58 Chris Craft Sportsman, navigation light bright, to the barren Isthmus, to Two Harbors, because that is where her body drifted that night.

I leave my boat at the dock that leads to the only restaurant on this part of the island. No one is here. No ever is. Somehow she knows we will be alone.  I can see lights inside the bigger yachts moored in the little bay, but no one comes ashore.  They’ve settled in for the night. The restaurant is dark. The dock is barely lit.

I don’t take off my clothes. I wade onto the sandy bottom until I see what is always waiting for me there. I cannot look away.  

It isn’t a dead fish or ray, but I wish it were.  

It is an arm, fingers splaying when the little wave takes it toward me.  

Not far from it, as it rolls in the water against me, is a leg as pale as Carrara marble except for the tiny crustaceans feeding on it as it, too, rolls to me, touching me. I make a sound, or someone does. A word or scream or grunt. It doesn’t matter. What I see, not looking down at the leg hitting my leg with each wave, is so much worse:  

A head. Her head, freed from the body.  

That sound was indeed a word. A name.  

Natalie, the head says, or I say it for her because her lips are covered with the same little crabs and can’t possibly speak. I say it in her voice. I would know it anywhere, even from my throat. I know that face, those incredible cat-like eyes, always wide, always wanting something the world cannot give her — the eyes that thousands if not millions of men once fell in love with (I among them). 

I am Natalie, the head says, and I say it too. Yes, I also, say as the head rolls against me, hair like the thinnest of seaweed.  

I could have loved you, the teeth are saying, but that night on the yacht so long ago you let me die, and I still don’t know why.

I try to answer. I try to say, Yes, I did, and I’m so sorry. And yet you live, Natalieyou come to me each night?  But I can’t. Her ears have been eaten away. They cannot hear me. 

I step back, pulling free, and walk from the water toward the single light of the dock and a little Chris Craft I can barely see.  Tiny claws in the water tear at my bleeding skin.  I need to go home.  

But I will come back. I always do. She wants me to.

I will come back until at last — hitting my head on a piling in the darkness, or on the gunnel of my own little boat, trying to get it started, or on a hard metal cleat at the dock, stumbling — I drown and become pieces, ragged and eyeless and bloodless, floating with her in a sea that has no light.

Bruce McAllister is an award-winning West-Coast-based writing coach, writer in a wide range of genres, consultant in the fields of publishing and Hollywood, workshop leader and an “agent finder” for both new and established writers. As a writing coach, he specializes in all kinds of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and screenplays.

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