Portuguese Bend, Abalone Cove, Palos Verdes Peninsula, California
As the bus left the Point Vicente Lighthouse I made plans to check out both Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Mysterious Island again from the Walteria Library. Also, I wanted to learn how the Fresnel lens was made. Mrs. Shoulder’s brows wrinkled but she said she would try to help me find some reference books at the Walteria library.
The lighthouse had been a great mystery and I hoped the second part of our fifth grade class’s adventure would bring equal rewards. We began with lunch on some wooden picnic tables above Abalone Cove. Mom had made me a baloney sandwich with a small package of Laura Scutter’s chips and a chocolate chip cookie. Mrs. Shoulder brought cartons of milk for everyone. She gave half her sandwich and a bag of chips to Johnny Reyes who never ate lunch at school.
The first thing Mrs. Shoulder had us do after lunch was to watch out for these little birds called gnatcatchers. One of the triplets—Andrea, Claudia, and Jessica—found a bird fluttering his wings along a footpath.
Mrs. Shoulder put a finger to her lips and whispered to us all, “Over by the clump of brush. A gnatcatcher just came out. Watch him.”
We had studied the gnatcatcher in class. He obtained his lunch by fluttering his wings to scare bugs and stuff into his path. Then he would grab them with his long beak.
The gnatcatcher was a busy bird. It would try his luck here and then fly over there. Before we knew it he was gone. I could tell by Mrs. Shoulder’s expression that the class had disturbed the little grey-feathered bird.
Mrs. Shoulder rose off her knees, got everyone’s attention and told us all to put on our rubber boots.
“Yes, Mrs. Shoulder,” the class said, in harmony.
We were going to hike down to where the seashells washed ashore. According to the tide chart she had showed us yesterday the low tide began early this morning. Mrs. Shoulder wanted us to see the sea life in the tide pools. She had wanted to go here first and then to the Point Vicente lighthouse. The sailors told her another school had reserved the afternoon tour there.
After I put on my boots I looked up at a few clouds that had joined the seagulls. The white birds dove from the sky calling out messages that none of us understood. Mrs. Shoulder said that the sea gulls were your friends. She said, “When the Portuguese sailors first arrived the seagulls met them off shore and guided the sailors to Abalone Cove.”
I mistook one of the seagull’s shrieks as a warning of something evil on the other side of the cliffs. Debbie Muntz’s big brother had fostered this idea yesterday when he told us that Japanese soldiers from World War Two still occupied caves beneath the cliffs below Portuguese Bend.
At Abalone Cove the cliffs weren’t steep like at Point Vicente lighthouse. We followed a dirt path that lead diagonally across to the beach at the bottom. Off to the left the land mass rose quickly to the cliffs of Portuguese Point. I gazed out to sea in hopes I’d sight a whale.
Once again one of the long freckle faced pigtailed triplets, Andrea, Claudia, or Jessica was the first to find something, but his time it wasn’t pretty.
The class formed a half circle around the big dead fish while small waves brushed up against it. A bigger fish had taken a big bite out of his side.
Mrs. Shoulder made no effort to shoo us away. She shook her head in sympathy and said, “Ahh, that’s too bad. What a beautiful porpoise. It looks like shark bite. Remember when we studied about the sharks, class?”
Murmurs of, “Yes Mrs. Shoulder,” followed.
“The shark is a predator, just like the T-Rex was eons ago. You should always be careful when you swim in the sea… And never swim in the ocean at night time.”
I stared at the dead fish until something atop Portuguese Point caused me to gaze up. Could it be movements of the Japanese soldiers left over from WWII that Debbie Muntz’s big brother had warned of? I thought of the shadows across our porch at night and the evil ghosts that must exist if the legend of the “Lady of the Light” ghost that inhabited the lighthouse was true.
Bad things were out there, too.
Author note of July 1st 2018:
I’ve completed step #2 of my quest to publish my mystery novel Portuguese Bend. This week I am forwarding the manuscript to a professional editor. Next step: research literary agents and publishers.
My story Portuguese Bend begins in 1942, not long after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. On a field trip to the cliffs along the Southern California coast classmates Rick and Lynn disobey the teacher’s warning. His fifth grade crush Lynn climbs a huge rock and Rick follows her up. The ensuing terror plagues Rick until seventeen years later in 1959 when the the forces of evil attempt to use the incident to destroy Rick and his true love Gina.