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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Red (10/01/09)

TITLE: Lifeguard on Duty


The sand burns the soles of Glenn’s feet, but what does it matter? He’s on a vacation he can’t afford with a wife he suspects doesn’t love him and step-children he’s not sure he loves. Let the sand burn.

“Could you hurry it up?” calls his wife, Haley. She and seven-year-old Macy are easily 30 yards ahead of Glenn, who’s carrying the gigantic mesh bag of shovels and pails and another over-sized canvas bag of beach towels, water bottles, snacks, sunscreen, and his sandals. A blanket droops from under his arm.

Every few steps Glenn pauses for four-year-old Hunter to catch up. A breeze blows sand into the boy’s eyes. “Carry me,” he cries with a seal-like bark, remnants of the previous night’s croup.

Glenn actually considers it before saying, “Not enough hands, Sport. Hang in there.”

“These make my feet scratchy.” Hunter points toward his water shoes, his arms almost perpendicular to his body due to the neon-orange “swimmies” encircling them. He’s been wearing them since the moment he woke up. Glenn’s not sure they’re enough to keep him safe. They shouldn’t be on a private beach without a lifeguard—but Haley insisted on a prime spot on the Lido Key.

Finally Glenn and Hunter meet up with Haley and Macy. They're clad in matching terrycloth jumpers; each has a hand atop a floppy sunhat. They’ve stopped at the exact center of this strand where gulf meets land. Whenever he takes them to the movies, they choose center seats in the theater, too. This should be telling him something.

Hunter points at the only two sunbathers in the secluded alcove. “Where’s the butts on those swimsuits?”

“Hey Hunter, look here—help me spread this blanket.” Glenn drops everything he’s carrying at once. “Grab this end and pull. A stream of air snags Hunter’s corner from his dimpled grasp. He squeals. Mother and daughter look on. “Can’t one of you help him out?” Macy half-heartedly jumps for a corner, misses and sits—watches Glenn finish the job.

“Glenny,” says Haley, pulling her hair back. “Don’t forget sunscreen before you take them in the wat—”

“You put sunscreen on them. I need cooling off.”

His wife removes her bug-eyed sunglasses. “Is that any way for a Christian man to talk to his new wife?” But for once, Glenn doesn’t care—his feet already chilled by damp dark sand.

There’s no hesitation, no getting used to the water. The waves march up his body until he dives under, feels the relief of near weightlessness. The wind continues inland even as the current directs him to the third set of breakers.

Glenn loses time as he rolls up one incline after another. His fingertips become puckered and his mouth feels dry. Yet, he could stay out here forever. He begins talking to God about this very course of action. Or maybe it’s a course of inaction. He chuckles at his play on words, feels the spasm gathered at his ribs, but the sound dies through the rush of air and ocean.

It’s then that he notices the water surrounding him has turned dark red, like he imagines blood returning to the heart looks. But he isn’t afraid. Maybe the heat has gotten to him, or maybe he’s thinking more clearly than ever. He arches back into the waiting palms of the water, surrounded by the blood of Christ. Forgiven of all, cleansed of all, absolved of all. Well, perhaps not the last. Perhaps he’s not absolved of all responsibility.

A trio of seagulls squawks on azimuth with the sun, which ticks at the horizon. Glenn forces his legs under him, takes a look around. Surprisingly, their beach hasn’t moved. There’s Haley at the shoreline, waving, mouth agape—in the opposite direction, a dusky spectrum of pinks.

The salt stings his burned face as he treads homeward. Haley’s shouts become more coherent. “Get out! Get out!—it’s a red tide.” He trudges through the diminishing waves, while Haley continues shouting. Soon he’s poised directly in front of her. “You call yourself a Christian?” she yells. “You owe us better. You have to take care of us.”

Glenn snatches her flailing arm, stills it. “I don’t have to do anything. What I do, I do of my own free will. Never forget that.” The wind, the persistent wind that has plagued him the entire day, relaxes.

He calls to his children, climbing along jagged rocks.

No water today—time to build a sandcastle.

Author’s Note: Red Tide is the common name for a phenomenon more accurately known as “Algae Bloom.” The pigment can be produced offshore and then blown in by a wind. The color causes alarm, but the released toxins are only dangerous to those with respiratory problems.

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This article has been read 753 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Charla Diehl 10/10/09
At the conclusion I felt I had read an intriguing intro to a story that was yet to unfold. You left me wanting more.
Bryan Ridenour10/12/09
Ouch. I feel for Glenn. She keeps using his Christianity against him...unequally yoked possibly? Anyway, it seems he's getting dumped on a lot. Quite creative use of topic. Good job.
Jan Ackerson 10/12/09
Exquisitely written. I especially love the paragraph where Glenn arches his back; I had to slow down and read that 3 or 4 times to savor its rich layers of meaning.
Steve Uppendahl10/12/09
Very realistic and powerful story. The intro paragraph is excellent--great job setting up the mood of the story. I also like Glenn, again very realistic.

Even though there isn't really any physical description of the characters, I have no problem visualizing them.

I would've liked a bit more dialogue, but your descriptions of inner thought are excellent.

Well done.
Sheri Gordon10/12/09
Wow. Your writing is amazing. You put me right in the middle of the scene...in the middle of their lives. I, too, want more. Excellent job with the topic.
Betty Castleberry10/13/09
You captured your MC's emotions very well. Held my attention, too. I couldn't stop reading until I got to the end. Two thumbs up.
Verna Cole Mitchell 10/13/09
Pictures, pictures--all the way through. This is so well done. I felt a lump in my throat when I read HIS children. What a great way to show an attitude change with God's help. I love Glenn! Now if his wife can "grow up" a litte!
Loren T. Lowery10/13/09
I really like the way this is presented in present tense. It is not an easy thing to do, but very effective in putting the reader into the immediacy of the action.
It was very easy to identify with Glenn and the reason for his actions or as he surmised in the water, his non actions. I especially liked how he considered the possibility or impossibility of complete absolution.
I think his step-children are fortunate to have such a father figure in their lives- I wonder if that was one of the reasons he choose to marry whom he did. Based on what I've seen of Glenns' heart, I can't totally agree with his opinion about his free will: “I don’t have to do anything. What I do, I do of my own free will. Never forget that.” But the parting tag line is priceless and couldn't be said any better: "The wind, the persistent wind that has plagued him the entire day, relaxes." I can you can tell I got a lot out of reading this. Great job!
Colin Swann10/13/09
Very interesting, I didn't fully understand about the red tide until I read this. Good that the red tide of the blood of Jesus was creeping into the picture.

Thanks for sharing - Colin
Jim McWhinnie 10/13/09
Well-crafted, very readable work ... I love your clear and vivid style ... so smooth...
Joshua Janoski10/14/09
Had you not hinted, I would have had no idea that this was your piece.

Don't get me wrong, the writing is excellent as always, but this seemed different than your usual fare. That's good, because it shows your range. You can do funny and sarcastic. You can do serious pieces like these with very strong messages. You can write anything you want and make it excellent. That's not just cheap flattery. It's truth.

Always a pleasure to read your stuff. :)
Laury Hubrich 10/14/09
What a sad life for this man. Maybe he will step into the Godly role as man of his family and tame his wife a bit? This is very different, very out-of-the-box. Excellent.
Brenda Shipman 10/14/09
Glenn is a very believable character; I found myself rooting for him the whole time! Amazing description of setting and his thought processes. I love the subtlety of the message and character change. Excellent piece!
Kimberly Russell10/14/09
Wow- excellent writing (as always). As a "former" step-mother, I could sadly relate to this story that could possibly not have a happy ending. Way to stir up the emotions!
Beth LaBuff 10/17/09
When our oldest daughter got married, Tilman sang a song he wrote. The basic theme was you “You Have to Choose to Love,” especially when the honeymoon is over, or someone starts an argument, etc. Your writing says so much without “spelling it all out”. You always amaze me, and this entry is no exception.
Benjamin Graber06/28/11
Wow, Lisa - I really like this one. It is very simple and down to earth, but has a very serious feel to it, too, calling us to make the right choices in our lives, and reach out with love...
Allison Egley 06/28/11
I like this.

I wasn't sure if there was much more significance to the red tide at until the end. I kept expecting something else to happen.

I liked the analogy of the blood of Christ. I have a feeling there may be more to this story, and I'd love to read it.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 06/29/11
This is a great example of how life just sneaks up an you if you aren't paying attention. I love the details and the characters are so- maybe even too real.