By Niles M Reddick
When J.T. Morgan stood on the deck surrounding the circular turret room on top of the Jekyll club hotel to smoke a cigar as the sun rose, he didn’t notice the shrimp boat passing through the East River into Jekyll Sound before it worked the Atlantic coastline, and he didn’t see young Elliot Gould leaving the family cottage to pick Cherokee roses for his grandmother. What Morgan did see in his mind’s eye over and over was his daughter Julia on the ground below, blood flowing from her mouth onto the grass and her white summer dress stained.
Whether she jumped because of her father’s refusal to allow her to marry Elliot or whether she slipped on the iron railing was never known, but for Morgan and other parents they’d known who lost a child, it’s a blow like none other, and after construction of his own cottage was completed, he never stayed in the turret again. He’d told his wife Ann he awoke from a dream where he’d seen Julia looking down, tracing the shell wallpaper in the turret with her pointer finger, circling the turret, and disappearing through the door. Then, he’d seen her circling the Jekyll Club grounds and then out toward the dirt road that circled the island, repetitive circular movements like the design of a conch shell and the universe.
Morgan’s overwhelming pain led him to befriend the teen Elliot and even offer him a position in the banking industry, even though he knew the senior Gould wanted him to stick with the railroad industry. Morgan knew that industry would fade over time, that the Wrights were onto something with their attempted flights, and Morgan had opted to invest in technology rather than the railroad. Elliot politely declined but invited Morgan to accompany him on an island hunting trip the next morning where they’d check Elliot’s racoon traps near Driftwood Beach.
As they stepped around the palmetto and sago palms and fanned the Spanish moss draping oaks from their faces, Elliot spotted his trap highlighted by the morning light. “Look,” he whispered to Morgan. “I’ve got one.”
“Stay back. I don’t want to ruin his pelt with a shot.”
Elliot crept forward, took the butt of his rifle and raised it high, and swiftly brought it down onto the head, killing the racoon instantly, but when he propped the butt of the gun on his boot to pull the dead racoon from the trap, the gun discharged right into his abdomen, and the young Elliot simply said, “Oh, no.”
Morgan left the gun and racoon and scooped Elliot and moved through the island brush as quickly as he could. He scraped his face, he sweated profusely, and his heart pounded and throbbed in his throat. He reached the Gould cottage and repeatedly kicked the door with his boot.
“Dear God,” Mrs. Gould shrieked from behind her servant when he opened the door. She called to her other servant, “Help me.” They placed young Elliot on the daybed in the drawing room, tried to stop the gushing blood, and tried to get a call out on the new phone line, but it didn’t work as well as it had when Bell had made the first transatlantic call from Jekyll. They sent for the mainland doctor. The servant stood by the grandfather clock’s pendulum in the foyer, ready to stop it the moment Elliot passed, but Elliot’s youth and stamina won. Morgan told the servant, “Get away from that clock. He’s not going anywhere.”
“At least he’s still with us,” he whispered to himself on the way back to tell his wife about the events. Ann stood on the balcony of the turret wringing her hands after one of the Jekyll Club’s employees shared there had been a hunting accident. She couldn’t lose him, too, but she had no need for fear. She was reassured when Morgan was back, and they later heard the doctor had removed the bullet, sewed Elliot’s wound, and gave him medicine to help heal. That night, Morgan dreamed of Julia circling the turret, the club grounds, and the island until she circled up into the night sky toward a distant star.
Niles Reddick is the author of a novel, two collections, and a novella. His work has been featured in nineteen anthologies, across twenty-one countries, and in over four hundred publications including The Saturday Evening Post, PIF, BlazeVox, New Reader Magazine, Citron Review, and The Boston Literary Magazine. Website: http://nilesreddick.com/
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