The trouble was, he was hundreds of miles from the ocean.
Dale jumped up and noticed a thin tear at the bottom of his jeans where the stingray’s tail had grabbed him. He kicked the leaves. No sign of the creature.
The kitchen door creaked open. Lisa, his wife, stepped out onto the back stoop. “What’s going on?”
“A stingray got me.”
Lisa put her hands on her hips. “Last time I checked, stingrays don’t live in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Dale.”
Zeke, their cat, bounded up to their gazebo. It hissed at Dale before slicing the screen that Dale had just stapled back in place minutes before.
“Haven’t you fixed that screen yet?” Lisa asked.
He watched the cat slip though the screen. “I just did. Zeke tore it open.”
“Don’t blame the cat, honey.”
Dale pointed to the ground. “There’s salt water down here.”
Lisa sighed. “If you don’t want to do yard work, just say so.”
“Okay. I don’t feel like raking the leaves.”
“Just rake the leaves, honey.”
Dale lifted up his leg. “Look at what that bastard did to my pants.”
Lisa rolled her eyes. “You got stuck in a briar. Look, I’m going out to run some errands. I’ll be back around dinner. Can you fire up the grill tonight?”
Dale glanced at the yard full of leaves and the charcoal grill that still needed to be scoured. Another weekend would be sucked away by chores. “Sure, honey.”
She returned inside.
Zeke left the gazebo and strutted into the yard. He meowed loudly and picked up something in his mouth.
It was a fish, still wriggling. Zeke darted behind the Azalea bushes with his prize.
The leaf pile sloshed back and forth. It was getting smaller. The leaves were slipping through something. He raked a clump of leaves into the air. Most landed in the yard, but a few just disappeared.
“What the hell?” a voice shouted from nowhere.
A man crawled into the yard from wherever the leaves had gone. He wore shorts, topsiders, and a flowery shirt. He squinted at Dale. “Afternoon. I’m Paul.”
Dale wasn’t sure what to say to a man that had just materialized. “I’m Dale,” he said at last.
“So, this is where those leaves are coming from. Where the hell am I?” Paul asked.
“Same here,” Paul muttered. He surveyed the mountains. He pulled a flask from his shorts pocket and took a long sip. “If I wasn’t drinking, I’d be having a hard time dealing with this. Where exactly am I? Asheville?”
Paul laughed. “Long way from Okracoke.”
The Island of Okracoke was on the opposite side of the state. “Maybe it’s some sort of dimensional vortex,” Dale said.
Paul shrugged. “Doesn’t matter much to me. This will all seem like a dream tomorrow. Besides, the wife is hounding me to fix our deck. It’s two hours by ferry to the hardware store.”
“What do you need from the store?” Dale asked. He couldn’t believe he was discussing home maintenance with a man who had teleported four hundred miles.
Paul swayed slightly. “Aren’t you the friendly apparition? I need a hammer, a box of nails, some plywood, some two-by-fours…”
Dale felt a kindred connection to another husband who had fallen hopelessly behind on household tasks. He walked to the shed and flung open the doors. “Take what you need.”
Paul gawked at the shelves of supplies and the stack of lumber as if he had been ushered inside the gates of El Dorado. “Really?’
“Can I pay you?”
“No worries.” Dale heard the call of seagulls from the vortex and the lulling of the crashing waves. He wished there was a way for him to spend more time at the beach. It had been a couple of years.
Paul held a hammer and stared at the mountains. “Y’all sure have some beautiful country out here.”
Dale grinned at Paul. “How about if you rake leaves and I’ll lug whatever you need to your deck.”
Paul took another sip from the flask and picked up the rake.
Dale grabbed a few two-by-fours. “These okay?”
Dale found his dusty fishing pole and tackle box crammed behind a bag of grass seed. He couldn’t remember the last time he had fished. He pushed both through the hole.
He picked up a starfish. It was dry. The tide must be going out. The perfect time to beachcomb. Why should he be in a hurry to get back to Boone? He walked into the house and threw some clothes and snacks and his mobile phone into a knapsack. He’d find a cheap beach motel.
He scrawled a quick note to Lisa. She could crawl through the hole or drive out to Okracocke. Either way, she’d have a vacation.
After he fed the last of the lumber through the hole, he called out to Paul. “You ever have problems with stingrays?”
Paul was whistling a Bruce Springsteen tune. “Nope. They leave folks alone for the most part. If one grabs you, it’s just the ocean’s way of having you pay attention.”
Dale laughed. “It got my attention.” In an hour he’d be casting a line into the waves to catch his dinner.
Peter Wood is an attorney in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he lives with his patient wife and surly cat. His stories have been published in Daily Science Fiction, Asimov’s, and Stupefying Stories. His first appearance in our pages was “Mission Accomplished” in the August 2012 issue, his most recent appearance was “Special Delivery” in SHOWCASE #12, and his next appearance will be “The Aliens Went Down to Georgia” in the next issue of Stupefying Stories, which is scheduled to be released Any Minute Now.