The Elementals

Free The Elementals by Michael McDowell

Book: The Elementals by Michael McDowell Read Free Book Online
Authors: Michael McDowell
the girl until she had almost forgot her anger. Luker blew the horn, and she jerked around.
    He pointed ahead, and mouthed the word Beldame . India leaned back against the windshield, not caring if she blocked his vision, and stared ahead. They crossed a small damp depression of wet sand and clay, shell-littered, that looked rather like a dried riverbed, and proceeded onto a long spit of land, no more than fifty yards wide. On the left-hand side there was the Gulf, with gulls and flying fish, and porpoises in the distance; but on the right was a narrow lagoon of green motionless water and beyond it the much wider peninsula that was traversed by the Dixie Graves Parkway. On this narrow spit they traveled another quarter of a mile, and the little lagoon on the right grew wider and seemingly deeper. And now before her, she saw a group of houses: but not houses such as had been built at Gulf Shores and Gasque—those little shingled shoe boxes raised on concrete blocks with rusting screens and dried-out roofs. These were large, eccentric, old houses such as appeared in coffee table books on outré American architecture.
    There were three of them she saw now; three solitary houses arranged at the very end of the spit. They were large, tall, Victorian structures weathered a uniform gray, with angular verticalities and hundreds of scraps of unexpected wooden ornamentation. As they drove closer, India saw that the three houses were identical, with identical windows placed identically in their façades and identical cupolaed verandahs running around three identical sides. Each faced a different way. The house on the left looked toward the Gulf, the house on the right toward the lagoon and the peninsula of land that snaked out from Gulf Shores. The third house, in the middle, looked toward the end of the spit, but its western view was evidently blocked by the high dunes that had formed there.
    The houses were placed at right angles and backed onto an open square of shelled walks and low shrubs. Except for this vegetation, all was white sand, and the houses stood foursquare on the undulating surface of the shifting beach.
    India was entranced. What mattered intermittent electricity, what mattered washing her hair in cold water, when three such splendid houses composed the whole and entirety of Beldame?
    Luker pulled the Scout up to the shrubbery shared by the three houses. India jumped off the hood. “Which one is ours?” she demanded, and her father laughed at the excitement she could not hide.
    He pointed to the house on the Gulf. “That’s ours,” he said. He pointed to the house directly opposite it, on the little lagoon, “That’s Leigh and Dauphin’s place. The water is called Elmo’s Lagoon. At high tide, you know, the Gulf flows into St. Elmo’s and we’re completely cut off here. At high tide, Beldame is an island.”
    India pointed to the third house. “And whose is that?”
    “Nobody’s,” replied Odessa, as she lifted one of the boxes of food out of the Scout.
    “Nobody’s?” asked India. “It’s a wonderful house—they’re all wonderful! Why doesn’t anybody live there?”
    “They can’t,” said Luker, with a smile.
    “Why not?”
    “Go round the front and see,” he said, pulling the first of the bags out of the Scout. “Go round and take a look, and then come back and help Odessa and me unpack.”
    India stepped quickly along the paths in the common ground, what Luker called the yard, and now she saw how closely the sand dunes at the end of the spit had encroached upon the third house. Something made her hesitate to mount the steps up to the verandah, and she skipped around the side. She stopped short.
    The dune of white sand—blinding now that the sun shone glancingly off it directly into her eyes—did not merely encroach upon the house, it had actually begun to swallow it. The back of the house was intact but sand had covered the entire front of the house to a line well above the verandah

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