Summons in a Bottle

Hoofbeats echoed across the wooded knoll. Their cadence slowed as the slope steepened, the path covered with little terraces of roots and auburn earth. As the rhythm faded into the background, the scene opened into a sunlit field, leaving behind the shadows of the forest. Rows of deep green leaves with purple veins populated the nearby rows, forming a small neighborhood within the varied social order of the field. An unseen hand wrangled one stand of bushy leaves and extracted the root of the beast. Dangling in the air was a turnip, plump and purple, varnished and stuccoed in a fertile black and brown matte patina. A voice broke the soft symphony of soil raining down upon the garden.

“Ah, not as luscious as a coconut, but you will do.” After a pause, the green-haired bauble disappeared and some rustling of fabric could be heard.

Silence again. The maroon orb reappeared and hovered in the space above the backdrop of brown and green rows under the tapestry of blue and white which extended into a canopy far above the scene. “You’re a beet!” the voice exclaimed with the tone of dismay in the first two syllables swept away by the relishing delight of the third.

Alternately, the non-turnip would disappear, crunching would be heard, and then the diminished root would appear with a progressive compendium of convex excisions. After several iterations of this repeated verse and chorus, only a thin sliver of stem left from nibbled leaves down through the reddish-brown flesh to its tap root remained. It dangled in space as if asking a question.

Suddenly there arose that rhythm once more. It was the sound of hooves trotting along, coming out of the forest and entering the field. The view of the field swam swiftly around to reveal three palm trees where the forest had stood, a hammock hanging between two of them. Had the hoofbeats been coconuts imitating horses? There was indeed a solitary coconut at the top of each of the palms, nestled just beneath the leaves, three in total.

A different voice called out, but it was unintelligible. Was it the voice of the forest? But there was no forest, was there? Was it the palm trees? The scene wavered and went black for a few quick moments, then became clear once more.

“Is this your bottle?” demanded the voice. Yes, it was clear now. That is what it had said.

The three men bobbed up and down along with the backdrop of the shoreline behind them, and the rowboat someone in back of them, anchored a fair jog or sloshing out in the water. It would be a slogging. It was a fair slogging off.

The three men were dressed in tan uniforms with green berets. It was the one to the left who had spoken earlier. He was the one holding out the bottle accusingly in front of him. Now the middle mouth uttered words across the background of waves. He too held something out in front of him as he spoke.

“Well ma’am, this is a summons. You are hereby fined one hundred and fifty dollars for this. And the note inside implicates you further.”

The left-hand man pulled a burgundy cap from the bottle which was shaped like two spheres having intimate relations. A note fell from the mouth of the inverted bottle and into his other hand. He unrolled the parchment and read aloud from the middle of the inscription.

In a feminine voice he said “This is the third such note that I have sent so far. I am hoping that someone comes to find me. I am very hungry and don’t know now long I can last.” The odd-colored paper turned. Red ink in loops and lines blurred incomprehensibly. “Did you write this?”

As soon as the men bobbed up and down again two times in unison, the middle one spoke again. “I see. Admission to three counts of littering. Not just this one. Well then, three counts, one fifty per infraction. That will be four hundred fifty dollars, ma’am. How do you intend to pay?”

The beet stem hover further away until it met with the middle man’s hand. “Credit then,” he said. Alright. We’ll charge your account.”

A strange form occluded the view of the man with the bottle. There was some strange sound as well. It sounded like “May I have my bottle back?”

The men looked at each other. The one on the right, who had not yet spoken, said “Don’t see why not. We don’t need it as evidence any longer.”

Lefty put the note back in the bottle and capped it, reached out and the bottle disappeared from view. The three men turned to go, sloshing out toward the boat. There was no rescue planned. Just a fining. Littering. It is a very serious law, littering the oceans, and someone has to police it. There were three sent in lieu of a jury. Also there was safety in numbers. You never knew quite what you were dealing with.

The fumbling made no sound. It was silent. It was a well-planned and well executed maneuver, performed with the immense skill of a practiced hand. It was swift. Quicker than any could have responded to.

The iguana skeleton, green frills still on its head, somewhat intact, lay where the tools had been–hidden beneath a row of indiscernible artifacts. Three coconuts lay at the feet of the palms, the hammock gently swaying in the breeze. One of the fruits had been plucked from its tree by a spear, the second cut perfectly in half by a machete, and the third harpooned irrevocably.

Again the scene swam this way and that. The bisected coconut came closer. And the sound of hoofbeats was heard once again. And amidst the din of the wind of the forest, a voice could be heard. “Ah yes, this is better than beets; terrificer than turnips.”

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