by Brian Harmon
There was a strange stillness in the air as the dusty pickup crept onto the empty beach and rumbled to a stop. Was it the calm that followed in the wake of the storm, wondered Everett, or was this merely the way the world appeared when dragged down by a heart too often battered and broken?
He sat behind the wheel for a long moment, staring through the dusty windshield at the wreckage and debris that surrounded him. It was all that was left of the cabin that had stood in this very spot only a week before.
The storm had moved through quickly, and it came very close to missing the little structure. A few short miles up the beach, the only damage had been a few fallen limbs and some washed-out driveways. “Bad luck,” his friends had called it, but his luck was beyond bad.
Everything had seemed to be going great. Just a year ago, he’d had all that he ever needed: a beautiful wife, a great job that put him rubbing elbows with some of the wealthiest people in the world, exotic cars, luxurious vacations, penthouse views. Plenty of the things that made him feel like he was worth something.
Like his private cabin on the beach, for example.
He couldn’t help but wonder where it all went wrong. How did he lose everything so completely? It just didn’t seem possible. One day he was making love to his wife in the shower, and then talking about the trip to Paris they’d been planning for months as they dried each other off. The next thing he knew, he was sitting on his couch staring at the letter she left him—the only goodbye she’d allowed him—and trying his damnedest not to cry.
Then, to make matters worse, he lost a promotion during his struggle to get over her. And the man who took that job wasted no time in letting him go. It wasn’t anything personal, he’d assured Everett. It was simply that his office would look a lot more appealing with the redhead from downstairs sitting at the desk instead of him. After all, he wasn’t qualified to do any of the extra errands for the boss that she supposedly was.
Everett could hardly blame him, he supposed. He had the power, after all. He’d won the position. It was his decision. That was what being on top was all about. You couldn’t be on top and not step on the people beneath you. He might’ve done the exact same thing.
One never knew.
With a heavy sigh, he opened the door and stepped out into the warm sunlight. Debris was scattered as far as he could see across the rocky beach. There would be a lot of work to do before this mess was cleaned up. He didn’t think he could afford to have it rebuilt now. He’d probably be forced to sell it and eat the loss.
He kicked some trash from his path and uncovered a broken and muddy picture. He picked it up, letting the water run from the broken frame. It was the picture of his ex-wife that had hung upon the wall in his bedroom. Her face was distorted and scarred upon the paper…not so unlike the way he had every right to view her now. He thought about dropping the picture back into the mud, even grinding his heel into her washed-out face, but he didn’t. As bitter as he should have been, as he had every right to be, he simply didn’t have it in his heart to be angry with her. He still missed her far too much. He still loved her.
He knew that he was a sentimental fool. But he didn’t care. She’d meant everything to him.
He placed the picture gently atop a heap of dry debris and walked on through the disaster area of his life.
He wasn’t a stupid man. He knew that it was his own, nice-boy attitude that got him into these predicaments. Nice guys finished last. Everything in his life had always ended up this way. He’d rise to the top of the world, only to be tossed aside by the next guy to arrive.
He was too soft.
But such was his nature. He simply couldn’t see how anything would justify being bitter and mean about things. He wished he could be bitter about things. At least bitterness hurt less than heartache.
He shook his head wearily. He remembered the fight he put up in court to keep the cabin. It was the only thing he’d actually cared about at the time. It was just something to hold onto, a lifeboat for his drowning sanity.
“Should’ve kept the Corvette,” he muttered as he stepped through the rubble.
He turned and walked away from the ruins. The past few days—not to mention the past few months—had been so exhausting. Right now his head was pounding and he felt like he needed to take a walk. Perhaps the beach could offer some serenity.
The scent of the ocean drifted across the sand and the rocks as he made his way slowly to the shoreline. He stepped over an old tire and kicked aside what might once have been a suitcase. It was surprising what could sometimes wash up onto the shore, especially after a storm.
He lifted his face toward the sky. “Why me?” he asked loudly. “What did I do?”
A giggle rose from the water just ahead of him and he froze, startled. He gazed out into the warm sea. There, a woman sat up to her neck in the surf, staring back at him. Only her tanned face and sandy hair were visible above the soft waves.
“Do you always talk to yourself?” she asked as she grinned up at him.
He could say nothing. He was shocked that there was anyone out here at all, much less the lovely vision he was seeing now.
The woman giggled again. “What? You’ll talk to yourself, but you won’t talk to me?”
“I…I’m sorry,” he stammered. “I…”
“I’m just out for a swim.” She stood up and began walking toward him. He’d been shocked to find her there at all, and was astonished to see that she wore no bathing suit. “Want to join me?”
He stared at her as she stepped out of the water, stark naked, and crossed the open beach. The sunlight glistened upon her wet skin as she walked right up to him and placed her hands against his chest. He felt the warm seawater soaking into his shirt.
She was like something from a movie. Her every movement, every gesture, was a masterpiece of beauty, grace and sexuality.
He could say nothing. He stood frozen as the woman slowly unbuttoned his shirt and slid her wet fingers down his bare chest.
“Come on,” she pleaded. “Live a little. Have fun.”
He looked down at her, studying her. She had a gorgeous body, lean and fit, a work of art. Her skin was soft and flawless. Her round breasts, still glistening from the surf, shimmered in the gleaming sunlight. Her eyes were brilliant and green. They stared directly into his, bold and unafraid. She was unbelievably beautiful, easily the most perfect woman he’d ever laid eyes on.
She backed away from him, beckoning him with her finger. “Come on. I want to show you something.”
He shook away his astonishment and began to remove the rest of his clothes as she dived back into the waves and slowly swam away from him.
This was exactly what he needed: a little good luck to ease his bad. And this was good luck. How many guys, he asked himself, go for a walk on a beach and find a beautiful, sex-crazed woman swimming naked in the water? Had it ever happened to anyone before? He was willing to bet it had never happened to that cocky jerk who took his job. Oh, if only he could see this!
He cast his clothes aside and followed after her. He didn’t want to waste time wondering who she was or why she was here. This was his chance to have a little fun, like she said. This was his chance to live, to do something he’d never done before.
This was just what he needed!
He swam out into the water, his heart pounding with excitement, following the gorgeous, teasing woman until long after he could no longer touch bottom. Then he stopped and looked around.
The woman was gone.
He turned in a circle, looking, searching every rock and every wave. Where was she? She couldn’t have simply disappeared.
He heard a soft splash behind him and turned, startled to find her right before his eyes. “Were you under water that whole time?” he asked. It seemed to him that she’d been under for quite a while, but perhaps it had only been a moment. After all, he was busy trying to swim out to her. He wasn’t in the best of shape these days. He couldn’t even remember the last time he swam.
She giggled and moved closer to him. “My friends say I have gills,” she replied.
“You know,” she said as she wrapped her arms around his neck and pushed her naked body against his, “I didn’t expect to see anyone out here.”
“You didn’t?” To his own ears, it sounded like a pathetic reply, childish even, but her eyes only brightened at his obvious exhilaration. She seemed amused by him and his fascination with her.
“Must be our lucky day.”
He nodded, excited. He could no longer hold his excitement. He felt like a child on Christmas Morning.
She thrust herself forward and kissed him hard. He could feel himself being pushed under the water, and had to struggle to keep his head above the waves.
She smiled and tugged at his wrist. “Come on. I want to show you something.” Holding onto his hand, she began to descend beneath the surface.
He took a deep breath and followed her into the depths below.
She led him deeper and deeper into the murky darkness. He could feel the pressure growing at his ears and in his chest, and wondered if he’d be able to descend as deep as she wanted him to go. But then his fingertips dipped into the soft sand and the woman turned to face him again. She pulled him close and pressed her lips to his.
He reached out and grasped her breasts, kneading them with his hungry fingers as she thrust herself eagerly toward him.
This was beyond anything he’d ever imagined. He was making love to a gorgeous woman on the ocean floor. This was the sort of thing other men lied about while drinking with their friends. This was the stuff of movies, not of true life…especially not of his life.
But the pressure was growing rapidly in his chest and though he wanted nothing more than to stay with her, he couldn’t. He wasn’t in good enough shape. He couldn’t hold his breath for this long. Reluctantly, he let go of her and began to rise toward the surface.
But she grabbed him by his wrist and pulled him down again. She kissed his neck and his chest, her lips venturing lower and lower as she held him with surprising strength.
He struggled to rise to the surface again, but like before, she wouldn’t let him leave.
My friends say I have gills, she’d said.
His heart began to thump painfully in his chest. His lungs ached. And yet she hadn’t even begun to look as though she needed to surface. He pulled at her, trying to wrench his hand free from her unyielding grip, but she wouldn’t let him go.
She floated just beneath him, gazing up into his eyes, and for the first time, even through the blurry murkiness of the water, he noticed how brilliantly green her eyes were. They seemed almost to glow in the murky depth of the ocean water.
As he stared down at her, she opened her mouth, revealing rows of long and jagged teeth. Terror swallowed him, paralyzing him. In his panic, he wondered absurdly how he’d failed to notice them while kissing her. He struggled to pull his hand away from her, but she was so very strong. Valuable breath belched from his mouth and nose as he fought to free himself.
He was certain that he was about to feel those razor-edged teeth in his flesh, but he was wrong about that. She didn’t snap at him. She didn’t even move toward him. Instead, something appeared from her throat. A long, tongue-like thing snaked from between her lips and rose toward him, gray and dark, like an eel. It hovered before him for a just a moment and then lashed out in the murky depths with the speed of a frog snatching a fly from the air. There was a piercing pain in his stomach, and then something awful was squirming deep inside his belly.
He tried to scream.
On the surface of the water, not far from the beach, the still waves were shattered by the quiet fury of escaping bubbles. Far below, the water became clouded with blood, the blue murkiness filling with the dark red tint of gore as predator and prey struggled in the shallow depths of the sea.
An hour later, the man awoke upon the sand, naked and wet. Slowly, he stood up and staggered back toward his truck. There was a fleshy wound on his stomach, just below his belly button, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it was. It was healing fast.
He stopped once to pick up the clothes he’d left strewn upon the sand, but didn’t bother to put them on. He had things to do. His flesh tingled, and he yearned to go back into the sea, but he couldn’t. Not yet. He knew somehow that he only had perhaps a week before he’d have to return to the ocean and remain there, but in the meantime he had some people to visit. First was his lying, ungrateful bitch of an ex-wife. Second was that high-on-his-horse bastard that had stolen his promotion and then fired him for his efforts. Then there were others. Maybe that whore redhead who slept her way into his old office. And plenty more. He would make them all pay. He would make them all hurt. Then he would return to his princess of the deep.
As he walked, a long, snaky thing emerged from his throat and nimbly brushed the sand from his ear.