The sun was just beginning to set when Kimi reached the beach, the wagon she hauled behind her exchanging the clatter of cobbles for the soft whisper of sand. Debris dotted the landscape, leftovers from the hurricane that swept through several weeks back. Kimi kicked it all out of her way, grateful there were no bodies today. The memory of purple and bloated once-people hung over her like a cloud, but she didn’t turn back. She needed to be as close to the water as possible.
That was where the ghosts were.
Well, not all ghosts. Most people lived and died on land, which meant their ghosts wandered the land. But Francisco had died at sea, sunk by the hurricane with his pirate ship O Sussero like a proper captain.
Just out of reach of high tide, Kimi stopped. She pulled her hand-painted sign from the wagon and stabbed it into the sand: Kimi’s Fruit Stand for Dead Pirates and Privateers.
Kimi wasn’t confident she had all the words spelt right. Privateer was particularly troublesome, and she hadn’t wanted to include it, but sometimes, when they were around folk that smelled nice, Francisco called O Sussero a privateer ship. Kimi wasn’t sure if Francisco was being a pirate captain or a privateer captain when he died, so she figured it best to include both, funny letters or no.
Anyway, the sign wasn't important. What was important were her wagon goods: bananas, pineapples, apples, passion fruit, and oranges—fresh and ripe for eating.
See, dead folk loved fruit; it was an ancient sign of respect that could often make the difference between a friendly encounter and a haunting. In life, Francisco had kept a large stock of fruit aboard O Sussero, mostly of his favorite golden oranges. Pirating was a dangerous business that made for lots of spirits in need of appealing, and Francisco made sure they were never caught in the presence of ghosts unprepared.
Kimi grabbed one of the oranges off her wagon, rolling the dimpled fruit in her palms. She had never really liked oranges; she thought they were too bitter. But lately she’d been remembering the times when Francisco would send Kimi belowdecks, and she would hear things that made her forget how to smile. Afterwards, Francisco would give her one of his precious oranges, and everything would magically be good again.
Kimi needed some of that magic now. She held the orange up to her face, inhaling the scent of citrus and earth.
“Captain Francisco Vieyra,” she whispered, lips brushing the dusty peel. She set the orange gently down on the sand and gave it a little push, sending it wobbling toward the water where the waves plucked it up happily to float it out to sea.
The sun was gone now, the night full dark. Kimi stared intently at the crashing waves. Amidst sloshing water and bubbles would be the ghostly hands and fingers of dead sea-goers clawing their way back to land and loved ones.
Kimi perked up as the first ghost languidly pulled themself from the waters, like a dribble of honey from a spoon. It was a man, but not Francisco. Kimi gamely hid her disappointment as the ghost swiped a passion fruit before walking away toward the lights of the city.
The second ghost was a boy, bare chested with pants shredded from the knee down. He started toward the fruit stand with a limp before remembering limps were a problem for the living and correcting his gait. Kimi gave him an apple, and he smiled with a mouthful of smoky silver teeth before continuing down the beach. Kimi wondered if he was going to find his parents, or if he, like her, didn’t have such things, if he had a Francisco instead, too.
But Kimi did not have time to watch him. The other ghosts were coming.
Kimi saw a woman in a beautiful gown who didn’t spare her fruit a single glance, and another child, a girl, who selected the largest pineapple for herself.
But her primary customers that night were a group of ghosts that came out of the water together dressed in a motley collection of clothing, weapons at their waists. For a moment, Kimi thought they were the crew of O Sussero, and her heart near burst from her chest in joy. But when they came closer, she found they were strangers, pirates from another ship. Mayhaps her enemies in life, but in death her customers, and Kimi never turned away a customer.
Sniffling only a little, she handed out the last of her fruits, one after the other, but to her surprise the final ghost to approach already had a fruit in his hands, an orange dripping with seawater.
Kimi’s breath left her chest, and she found herself frozen by her now empty wagon as the stranger stood there with his stolen orange.
He held it out to her.
Dumbly, Kimi took the fruit, letting it fall cold and wet into her hands. The ghost tilted his head back at the ocean, a knowing smile on his face, before he left to join his fellows.
Kimi plopped down into the sand, no longer concerned for any more approaching spirits. Instead, she held the orange and looked out over the sea as far as she could.
She dug her fingers into the orange, prying apart the peel to reveal spongy white pith. She tore away a segment and stuck it in her mouth whole, smashing it with her tongue to release tangy juice that dribbled down her chin as she chewed.
As always, it tasted bitter and oddly salty, but here, now, Kimi would’ve eaten a thousand more oranges if she could.
In the ocean, past the breaker waves and out over deeper water, a wisp of silver, maybe a reflection of the moon, maybe something more, rolled in the cadence of the waves, almost home.
© 2023 Jenna Glover