It sat unobtrusively on the fishing pier. It could have been a drying puddle of rainwater, or the leftover gore from a gutted pompano, but it wasn’t that substantial. It wasn’t transparent like water, or glossy like blood. It was opaque, all light swallowed into its dull, flat surface.
At first glance, passers-by thought it was a shadow cast by one of the crane-necked lamp posts, but it pooled in the wrong place.
As I sat on one of the backless benches lining the port side of the pier, and watched the black matte spot. it became apparent that it never moved. While other shadows stretched and lengthened, and shifted across the wooden slats, this smudge had stayed transfixed.
Anglers, pulling their wheeled, frankensteined coolers saddled with nets and various test-line poles, stepped around it without thought. Tourists, tiny cameras held out at arm’s length, tripped over it. Looking down to search for the culprit, they found nothing.
Some pigeons had waddled over to inspect it. They ruffled their feathers, puffing out their chests in an effort to show their dominance, only to hop-skip away without dipping their beaks into the inky shade.
My curiosity no longer allowed me to sit idle. Slowly making my way toward the spot, while attempting to not look directly at it, I kept it in my peripheral vision. Halfway to my destination, I saw him.
He was a small man, the size of a young boy, but his wizened face and doddering gait told me he was not long for the world. Tiny tuffs of white haphazardly escaped his greasy ball cap. His hands were jammed into the front pockets of shabby dungarees. A mousy brown corduroy jacket that was too big for him, made him look like a child dressing in his father’s old clothes.
I stopped about 10 yards away, watching him, not bothering to hide my stare.
At the edge of the pool, he stood looking into the darkness without a sound. Removing his cap, he ran his gnarled fingers through wispy threads of hair. Jamming the hat back on his head, he worried the edge of the spot with the toe of his scuffed wellie.
Gasping when I saw the surface of the spot shudder, the old man looked up and smirked at me, then held a finger to his lips to quiet my involuntary exclamations.
One more nudge, and the spot rolled up into a pencil thin tube. The old man reached down and picked it up, tucking it into the bib of his dungarees. Before turning to leave, he smiled at me again. He winked then began whistling a tuneless song.