Chapter 3: The Collector
The man atop the dunes carries a long, knotty walking stick to which is fastened a dull blade curving down like the beak of a raptor.
“What’s going on?” I say. “Who is that guy?”
“A Collector,” says Sabonis.
The man strides purposefully down the dune.
The legless man panics. He veers towards the boat shelter, arms thundering down like pistons. The Collector swoops in gracefully, swings his stick in a great arc and takes the legless man down at the arms, gouges him open sternum to shoulder.
The legless man goes limp. The collector scoops something from his carcass into one of the many little black baskets that are slung over his shoulder.
“Jesus!” I say, cringing. “What exactly is this guy … collecting?”
“Shades,” says Sabonis.
“You’re sure this isn’t Hell?”
“Yup,” says Sabonis.
The Collector looks at us. I crawl away, crab-like.
“Don’t worry,” says Sabonis. “He won’t touch you, you’re too pretty. They never go after fresh meat.”
The Collector smiles at me with warm and kindly eyes, like a friendly gap-toothed grandpa, like a farmer tipping his hat to the little neighbor girl while out doing his chores. He winks and turns away. The throng beneath the boat clambers into its dark recesses as the Collector strides past them and into the fog.
Sabonis looks at me. He reaches down and smudges the algae on my arm. “Dang are you gooey. How long had you been floating?”
“Don’t know,” I say. “Can’t remember.”
“Yeah. I guess Floaters never do,” says Sabonis, “They just float in, with never a clue as to how they got there.”
“Oh, I remember how I got here, alright,” I say. “It’s the floating part that’s kind of fuzzy.”
Sabonis looks skeptical. “Okay. So how did you get here?”
“Well. I was carried up high … by these … like … ropes. Just my soul, I guess. My body stayed behind. It was a long, long ways. Over houses and highways and trees, lots of trees. There was a big river. The Hudson, I think. And then lights. The edge of the city. Then blackness. Complete and utter blackness. I went into the water, but I didn’t get wet. Breathing didn’t matter. And I came out and there was something in the sky, looked like a giant … sewing machine, or a … jellyfish, spilling thread and tentacles everywhere. I floated … like in a dream … till I woke up here.”
“You’re shitting me,” he says. “You remember all that?”
“Giant jellyfish, huh? I suppose that could be Elysium. Just … never heard it described that way before. Still, I’m impressed. Everyone comes in from the sea, but no one remembers that stuff. I mean, no one.”
“I must be special,” I say sarcastically. “That’s why God gave me titties.”
“You are special, hon,” says Sabonis. “No Floater ever remembers … floating.”
“So what do we do now?” I say. “Make sand castles?”
Sabonis looks into the fog. There is a faint glow moving down from a height.“She’ll tell you.”