“Here. Take some before it’s gone.” Don shoved the flask into Greg’s ribs.
“I’m good.” He gently pushed the bottle away and continued walking along Bayshore Boulevard overlooking Hillsborough Bay.
Don held the bottle up and announced, “Everclear… Highly recommended by nine out of ten Neanderthals…” He guffawed and took another swig. “This stuff kicks ass!”
He shook the pint bottle in Bill’s face. The clear liquid danced in the light from street lamps lining the water front. Bill took little notice. He spent his energy staying upright, and keeping up.
He called out, “Hey!”
They looked back.
Don said, “What?”
“Who’s desi… desi…” He paused, overwhelmed at the insurmountable task.
Don moved the bottle back and forth. Bill tried to track it. “Earth to Bill. Greg is designated driver.” He pointed at Bill and himself. “We’re designated drinkers.”
“Good. I don’t want to lose you.”
“Last chance!” Don offered the final draught to his friends. Greg declined. Bill swayed. Don raised it to his lips and leaned back, tapping its bottom, like one urges ketchup. He gulped and gasped in triumph. “Good to the last drop!”
Smiling an enormous, wet smile, he ceremoniously flung the shimmering empty, spinning into the bay.
“Splash down! Ladies and gentlemen, the Eagle has landed!” He attempted a clumsy jig and saved himself from toppling over the balustrade into the water. “Whooo hoooo!”
Bill leaned on the barrier. Lapping waves punctuated the wash of distant traffic. Greg looked past Davis Island. The warm, heavy air hung like a motionless, damp quilt. Tampa city lights glimmered across the bay. A cargo ship moved toward the Gulf. The distant power plant stood alone. Lightning flashed and silhouetted its stacks. Out to the west, blinking lights marked the Skyway Bridge.
A whip-poor-will cried above them. Greg couldn’t locate it in the night sky.
Bill bellowed, attempting to sing. Don joined in. Greg recognized a version of Peggy Lee’s song, ‘Is that All There Is?’ Only they sang it as a march, with Don as Drum Major stepping high, and circling.
Taken by its absurdity, Greg joined in harmony. The phrase, ‘…and bring on the booze,’ received special emphasis. With that, the trio collapsed in hilarious laughter.
Coughing, Don recovered. “That’s the new school fight song. One more time!” They tried but failed to muster another verse. The moment had passed.
“Ahoy, mateys! I spy a pirate ship!”
Greg turned to see Don running toward a sailing ship moored nearby.
“Oh, the Jose Gasparilla.” He’d heard of the annual festival, but had never seen the parade. “I always thought it was a touristy thing. But that looks real.”
The fully rigged, two-masted sloop only unfurled its sails for the January celebration.
Don urged his friends. “Come on!”
Don swung his legs over the chain, barring entry, and continued toward the boat. Greg stopped at the sign reading ‘Closed – No Trespassing – Only Mystic Krewe Beyond.’
Don bounded up the gangplank. “Hurry!”
Out of breath, Bill looked dazed. He pointed at the pirate ship.
“Go on. I’ll be alright.”
Greg straddled the chain. “You sure?”
Bill settled onto a weathered barrel and nodded.
Greg ran up the gangplank. ‘Where’d he get off to? We’re supposed to stick together.’ He called, “Don!”
“Up here!” Don had almost reached the crow’s nest atop the foremast. “You’ve gotta see this!”
Barely conscious, Bill’s head moved like a bobble-head doll.
Greg began to climb, confident that Bill wouldn’t wander off, or drown. It felt good. He reached the top in no time.
Don sang a nonsense version of a sea chanty. He pointed out. “You see everything!”
Though late, club scene traffic moved through bright city streets.
A distant tire squeal drew their attention down Bayshore. A muscle car raced up the boulevard. As it passed their vantage point, the driver swerved into the turn. The car fishtailed and flipped, going airborne and bouncing twice before landing upright across the lane.
Don yelled, “Wow! Cut! Take two!” He mimed cranking a movie camera. “If only we’d had a camera!”
“Couldn’t repeat that, if you tried.”
Steam rose and spread over the hulk. The driver emerged and staggered from the wreck. Appearing unhurt, once clear of the wreckage, he looked back, and then sprinted up a side street. A crowd gathered. Sirens echoed.
Don started down the rope ladder.
“Greg! Let’s go.”
Something else lured Greg’s gaze. A glowing mist floated in the near distance. A numinous, formless mass appeared to grow as it approached. Light came from within.
Don called, “Gotta go! The police...”
“I’ll catch up…”
The bright cloud loomed, rose above him and descended, enveloping him. All about, he saw nothing but light, exceedingly bright, and undefined. Like being inside a sustained bolt of lightning.
The air felt charged. His mind raced but could not comprehend. Time slowed. Awash in the experience, words evaporated. Only dazzling light. Nothing his eyes could rest upon. He squinted but couldn’t look away. There was nowhere else to gaze. He stood amidst a flood of pure light, drenched in meaning.
He grabbed for, but found no railing. Lacking support, yet suspended. Afloat and unconcerned for safety.
The light became unbearable. Unbearably good. He felt swallowed. Crouched into a ball, eyes closed, light washed over him. Became him. Vulnerable, and fearless. Unable to resist, he submitted, terrified, to its overwhelming power. A tremendous calm saturated him.
A calling voice. He realized it burst from within. Words stumbled from his lips. Incomprehensible. Untamed, his voice escaped. It felt like coherent thunder, speaking without translation, directly into and beyond each cell.
Bill said, “What?”
Greg opened his eyes to see Bill looking groggily at him from atop his barrel. Still crouching, he lost his balance and sprawled onto the dock.
Bill said, “You okay?”
Greg stood clumsily. “I think so. Uhm…”
“Your voice woke me.”
Greg looked about in wonder. He gazed up the mast and then at Bill.
“Have you seen Don?”
“Oh, no, I thought he was with you.”
Greg noticed the distant flashing lights from a police car.
“Uh, yeah. He went ahead. He’s over there.”
Bill stood. “Great. I hope we don’t have to post bail.”
They walked toward the clutch of people standing near the wrecked car.
“Some guy totaled his car. They’re not worried about Don.”
“Good. I want to sleep.”
As they got closer, Don emerged from the periphery and hailed them. They waved back.
“Where you been, guys? You missed it.” He rattled on, filling Bill in about the wreck, and everything that happened. No one mentioned the cloud of light.
Greg watched with new eyes. He wondered, ‘Is this how a newborn experiences its first moments?’