Featured Story • February 2016
Luz and Bee at the Beach
The two young women were in bikinis and sunglasses at the beach. The black-haired girl was lying down, her head resting on the blonde girl’s knee. The blonde girl was idly braiding her friend’s hair, hair so black and shining it was almost iridescent, like the carapace of a June bug. The blonde’s hair was like planetary light. The black-haired girl was Bee. The blonde-haired girl was Luz. The beach was crowded. Fat middle-aged tourists, skinny college kids, screaming children, a few locals.
“Hey. Hey, ladies. Blondie. Pretty China girl.”
A young man had come up suddenly beside them.
“You know I’m a nice guy, right? You want to party with me, pretty girls?”
They didn’t look at him.
“What, you too good to talk to me?”
They still didn’t look at him.
“Hey, fuck you, bitches.”
“That wasn’t the smartest thing he’s done today,” said Luz.
A child cried over a dropped popsicle. A discarded plastic shovel washed up on the beach. A couple argued about which nightclub they were going to later. Luz and Bee kept basking silently in the sun. They weren’t sitting on towels and had no bags in sight.
A different man started walking towards them. Muscular but graceful. Curly hair. Tense jaw.
“Bee, we have a visitor,” said Luz.
Bee raised her head slightly to look, then dropped back against Luz’s thigh.
“Ugh. Why is he here?”
They ignored the man as he stopped in front of them.
“I don’t even have to ask what you’re doing here,” he said after a moment.
“Okay,” said Luz.
“But I will ask you why you did it,” the man continued.
“Why we came to the beach?” Luz asked. “It’s another beautiful day on Earth, Michael. Why wouldn’t we?”
“And what happened nearby last night is a coincidence?”
“Lucifer doesn’t answer to you, Mikey,” said Bee.
“It’s not a coincidence,” said Luz. “Moloch has been observing since it started. This morning—rather after-the-fact, I must say—some of your minions started hovering, and we decided it was a nice day for a vacation.”
“‘Observing’? Is that what Moloch’s been doing?” said Michael.
“Yes,” said Luz, “just observing. You really think we decided to create some superfluous cartel butchery? You should know by now what humans are perfectly willing and able to do to each other, all by themselves.”
“Only because of you.”
“If your table collapses the first time it’s nudged, it was poorly constructed.”
“Do you speak for yourself, then?”
Bee started to rise, but Luz put out a hand.
“So you agree?” Luz said.
“Hey,” another young man called out, “that guy giving you trouble, ladies?”
Luz smiled wider at Michael. “No, we’re fine, thanks. Sit, Michael. Or leave. You look like an idiot just standing there.”
Michael hesitated a moment, then sat down beside them.
“What is this, anyway?” he asked, nodding towards their female forms.
“Men in business suits or military uniforms wouldn’t really fit in here, visually,” said Luz. “Besides, we’re so pretty.”
Michael rested his arms on his knees and gazed out at the ocean. There were more children, more popsicles, more contentious couples. Food wrappers. Abandoned beach balls. A baby cried, upset with the world’s wind and sand.
“It’s just it was so awful,” Michael finally said.
“I know,” said Luz.
“Something like that, even after all this time, it’s hard to see and not think it must have come from something. That it couldn’t have just happened.”
Luz looked at him. “Why is this one upsetting you? Atrocities are happening all over Earth, right at this moment. In basements, in boardrooms, in bedrooms, in frayed republics. Prisons. Alleys. Fields. This wasn’t that exceptional.”
“How can you say that?” Michael shook his head. “Why am I asking you?”
“It’s just shocking to you because you’re here so rarely,” said Bee.
“It was shocking enough that Moloch showed up,” Michael countered.
“True,” Luz agreed. “It’s kind of Moloch’s thing, though. He’s very dedicated. Even if it’s just one baby, like this.”
“Just one baby.” Michael pressed a hand to his brow. “But like that. To go like that. And in front of its mother. It took…it took so long. How can you see that and think ‘just one baby’?”
“Because it was just one baby. It wasn’t the first to be killed in front of its mother, and it won’t be the last,” said Luz. “Look at you. If you were human, you’d be vomiting by now. Don’t talk about it if it upsets you.”
Luz and Bee moved to lie side-by-side on their backs. Apart from Bee’s almost too shiny and Luz’s almost too glowing hair, they looked like any other sunbathers. But the sun would not burn them.
Michael remained hunched over, staring at the grains of sand and then at the sea.
“You see that woman?” he said after a bit.
Luz and Bee looked over. Michael was pointing towards a woman with a baby on her hip. The woman was in the early stages of becoming obese and wore a loose t-shirt emblazoned doubtfully with the name of a luxury brand over a too-small bikini. Her makeup was severe and starting to melt in the heat. Highlights in her hair were dyed badly. Large fake gold earrings were starting to discolor.
“Many of her fellow humans would say she looks ridiculous,” Michael continued, “but that woman would die for her baby, truly.”
“Yes, she’s a good person,” said Luz, “but ‘ridiculous,’ Michael? That’s awfully bitchy of you. I, of course, do not disagree.”
“And it’s not fair if you’re trying to make a comparison,” said Bee. “The other woman didn’t have the chance to die for her baby.”
“I know that. I’m just pointing out the good things that exist here. At least for this mother and child… No, there was nothing the other woman could do. She would have died a thousand times over if she could, poor creature.”
Luz leaned back into the sand. “She’s almost gone now. The men are done with her. They cut off her hands to send with the baby’s to her husband, and she’s bleeding out. Moloch’s headed this way. Two of your party are still with her.”
Michael murmured a prayer.
Moloch came grim-faced on fire-darkened wings. As he landed in front of the others he changed to a human shape in faded jeans and a pink tank top.
“You’ve made yourself look like the dead woman,” said Luz.
“Have I?” said Moloch. He looked at Michael. “What is he doing here?”
“Who knows?” said Luz. “Here, sit a while.”
Michael avoided looking at Moloch as he sat down across from Bee. Moloch stared out across the beach.
“Disgusting,” he said. “Disgusting, all these people.”
Michael started to speak, but Luz stopped him.
“Hush, Michael. He knows about the good parent in the fake Gucci shirt. Let him be.”
The group fell into silence. Then there were shouts near the water, then screams. Luz and Bee snickered.
“What did you do now?” asked Michael, standing. “I know you did that.”
“It’s tomorrow’s big news story,” said Luz. “The whole next week’s news story. Reports of a shark—a huge shark—attacking a tourist.”
“An awful tourist,” added Bee.
“The Leviathan? Satan, you—”
“Go save him if you want. A leg and arm are gone already, but he’s still alive,” said Luz.
Michael ran towards the melee.
“Killjoy,” said Bee.
Awhile later Michael returned, hair wet from the ocean. “You know, you three should see all the people rushing around to help him. They’re making tourniquets out of their own clothes.”
“Oh, are some willing to sacrifice five-dollar t-shirts produced by slave labor and carcinogens to save a fellow man’s life? I am deeply moved,” said Luz.
“Scoff all you want, but he might turn his life around after this.”
“Don’t be so cynical,” said Michael. “This brush with death and the kindness of strangers might wake his conscience. The obstacles he has ahead might strengthen him. Now he has an impetus to change himself.”
“He will now, at least, have less to alter.”
“You’re terrible, Luz,” said Michael.
The four stayed on the beach until after sunset.
Janna Layton lives in San Francisco. Her poetry and fiction have been published or are upcoming in various literary journals, including Apex, Jersey Devil, Goblin Fruit, Lakeside Circus, and Star*Line. You can check out her blog, Reading, Watching, Looking, and Stuff, at this link.
Here’s what she had to say about the origins of “Luz and Bee at the Beach”: “In 2012, there was going to be a flashy, star-studded adaptation of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, with Bradley Cooper as the lead. I was initially incensed, until I realized it was pretty dumb to feel the need to defend the honor and purity of an epic poem I had only read excerpts of in high school. So I re/read Paradise Lost and came away with a much deeper appreciation of the work (I was even looking forward to the movie, which was tragically scrapped). I’m fascinated by the varying ways Satan is presented in art and fiction and how what the figure represents depends on the artist or writer and their society. This mostly came of that.”
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