The Peopleby Candice Lola
- short story
The strange group of people that lived on the waterfront had been there for decades, or centuries now, according to some stories.
They were so good at dunking their heads into the sand at any sign of trouble that they barely felt the grains scratching against their eyeballs anymore.
They became fast at it, too. At every light breeze or floating leaf, down they would dive headlong into the gritty blackness, pretending to be safe from the changes around them.
They were a large group. They took up nearly the whole beach; thousands and thousands of varied bodies and colors. It was a beautiful to see. A faraway bystander or passerby could marvel at the sight while scurrying by, hopefully, because the whole place was very dangerous if one was paying close attention.
When they were new to the place, they looked fresh and new. There were rumors that they arrived on the shores in ferryboats, and other rumors that life rafts floated up, full of these bewildered creatures, who promptly stepped onto dry land for the first time in months and refused to venture out again.
Some said they all came at once. Some said they came over months and years. Either way, there they were, day after day the same, refusing to build or to move or to grow.
In reality, no one could explain how so many foreigners ended up living next to a pond that they claimed to have never seen before.
Thousands of beautiful people.
All standing still.
It was a tumultuous place, this beach. High winds hit it frequently, bringing sharp branches or high waves, depending on the direction they decided to blow.
Fast winds that could “drive a needle through a tree trunk” as my mother used to say, although I suspect exaggeration.
Dangerous winds that could certainly drive a stake through the air, through another branch,
even a soft body refusing to leave the sand, whether you could believe that or not.
The beach people chose to not.
Instead, they lived huddled together, battered and bruised from the wind and turmoil.
Close to this crowded beach was a small town.
The townspeople, unabused, and privileged folk, were during their leisure time able to develop methods of protection and soon after, detection of the storm winds and weight.
When the townschildren became the townspeople they discovered heavier and stronger materials to build their houses with,
and their children discovered ways to make these materials cheaper and lighter.
On and on for generations this practice improved and protected the lives and livelihoods of the townspeople, causing them to become a very prosperous town in their own right.
Almost once a day, important people from the town would make the trip to the beach, both out of wonderment and concern. Many times they would just peek, but on days when the town alarm shouted “DANGER!” in bell tones they would meekly and politely announce: “Beach people! You are welcome to take shelter from the impending storm in our town, which has generous space for shelter!”
Every time, the beach people would argue back,
“We have planted here and we will die here, if that is what the winds decide.” And then, as if that was the cue, thousands of heads would disappear into tiny sand dunes, leaving thousands of purposeless necks next to folded bodies that undoubtedly shivered, but did not move.
The nervous townsperson would leave.
The storm would rage.
And when the rain cleared, everything went back to the same, save the twenty to thirty skewered souls scattered around the beach, or blown into the town, or taken out over the water without a trace.
And so, after every storm there was a period of loud wailing that echoed up into the town and bounced off of the cheap, affordable, strong walls of their houses.
Such was the tradition.
A tiring, draining, mournful tradition.
Those have a way of driving us to insanity.
And so, as time went on, the wailings became more and more lonesome.
The explanation for the deaths more and more final.
The beach people had found a new, more satisfying way to deal with their dwindling numbers; a new way to blame the freshly dead.
They deserved it. They had to have. Otherwise
why would the wind decide to take one and not the other?
Now, instead of groaning together, loved ones and friends would cry quietly for hours, hidden away from the rest of the beach, as to not to reveal their relation to the deserving fool. The dead, unburied out of shame, would rot where they fell.
This is how it was now.
The townspeople had stopped trying. They had heard stories too.
Stories about the ignorance of the beachfolk, the cruel stories they told for comfort, and the hopelessness of reaching out to them.
There was a semblance of peace for years, each side believing that they could coexist in ignorance of the other. Townspeople stopped visiting the pond, inside building ducts to bring them the water they needed. Waterfront folks stopped getting any goods from the town, instead developing a way of life around what they could fashion with what was around them.
Their delusions and hubris grew generation after generation, as their distance, as did their distain.
As did the wayward bodies that scattered after every swell.
Those bodies, flipped so carelessly about, began rotting into the ground beneath them.
The toxins that poured from green limbs and blackened skin began to seep into the river, and flow through the ducts, into palms and the water glasses, and then into the delicate systems of unsuspecting, stubborn people.
With each gulp they damned themselves further, and the poison, with no respect of station or location, began to eat away at their insides.
It was months before anyone even noticed. The weakest of them faltered first, withering slowly over weeks and weeks before finally collapsing into a purple heap, a literal shell of themselves.
The townspeople, as was their nature, began to ask questions and conduct research. The beachfolk, true to their nature, shrugged off the deaths, referred to their existence as “dead weight” and continued happily on with their lives.
So more died.
Frantic now, scientists in the town conducted experiments on everything they could think of; the food that grew there and the food they imported, the brains and bodies of the deceased folk, the air, and finally, the water. There is where they found remnants of the beachfolk who had deserved their due.
They had solved problem, after months of mourning and studying and worrying, it had been so simple.
Shrieks of relief emanated from the lab where they had spent the last several weeks. The poisoning would stop by simply properly burying the dead beachfolk, and adding a medicine to the water for the next few weeks as the toxins filtered themselves out.
It would save thousands, maybe millions of lives. And it was so, so easy.
Two scientists, delirious with fatigue and excitement raced towards the shore to share the solution.
They stumbled over their feet and their words as they loudly addressed the beachfolk with the good news, “We’ve found the source of the poison! It’s the water!” then, with hands shaking with excitement, “here is a solution we concocted to cleanse the water, and you may take advantage of our assistance in burying those already dead!”
“We will NOT use your manmade elixir in our natural water,” the beachfolk retorted as if they had sole usership. “How are we to know that this here isn’t a poison that will make things worse?”
The scientists were too stunned to answer.
“Further more,” the eldest of them continued, “those who died lightened the load for us, they weren’t pulling their weight; they were lazy, and that is why they were taken.”
For the beachfolk, it had seemed so simple all along. For them, this was it, this was all. Any new information, no matter how helpful it claimed to be, was to be viewed as a threat to their way of life.
Try as they might, the scientists could not convince these people otherwise. The beachfolk chose to clutch to their beliefs that made them feel safe, even though it put Every fact was met with suspicion. Attempts to expound were waved off, and finally, the scientists, diplomatic folk, walked away from the meeting downtrodden and defeated.
You see, with diplomatic folk, decisions must be arrived at peacefully.
Those who worship peace and are accustomed to privilege are raised to believe that things will work themselves out, given enough reason and enough time.
For them most of the time, this is how it goes.
Those who are privileged with enough leisure time to further themselves in believe that justice and reason will prevail, and that emotion and disruption are counterproductive.
They aren’t used to the ruthless, they aren’t familiar with those dedicated to ignorance
or those who will follow that ignorance to their demise, and to the detriment of those around them, if that is a side effect.
Not until the very worst has happened
Until just a few stragglers remain on both sides
Until people are dropping around them and they feel they might be next
that the cultured and refined realize that yes, drastic messy action have value.
Drastic actions, like gathering all the decaying bodies they could find under the cover of night and burying them in a lot miles away.
Dastardly things like secreting treating the water in the pond, every night, over weeks.
Shocking things, like confronting and discrediting the eldest among them.
Sneaky things, like lying when confronted by the few surviving beachfolk.
Terrible things, like killing those who caught on to them.
Despicable things. Unspeakable things.
Things that people with civilized breeding would never do
people who want to survive