Our house at the beach was a survivor. Twelve hurricanes had accosted the shore in the previous twenty years leaving parts of the island in shambles or worse. Through it all, our wooden lady stood strong. So, when the November winds had kicked up again I thought nothing of it. The storm would come, no doubt, to batter our windows. The sea would rise and smash against the deep-set posts that our house was built upon, but a survivor is a survivor for a reason. Our house was well made and all who saw her ride out these storms in the past knew that she would stand the test again.
The storm came at night, after the children had gone to bed. The warnings had gone out days before but the hurricane siren that would blast us from our sleep through even the most vicious gale had not blown. If that siren blew we knew it was time to flee. Mandatory evacuations were rare, but they did happen. People had left the island, that’s true, but we saw no need to pull up stakes. It was just supposed to be another storm.
It was my wife I’d worry about the most. The children would grow so excited, as if a killer storm was a kind of Christmas. They’d make plans to hit the beach as soon as the high waters receded, ready to sift through the fish bones and shells that would be strewn across the shore. It was nature’s refuse, and we all loved it. That is, all except for Molly. My dear bride had grown so tired of the storms, the violent nights of endlessly pounding waves and howling winds. Her nerves couldn’t take it anymore. Concerned for her more than anything else, I failed to prepare for the storm.
The latch on the sliding glass door had corroded on the ocean side of our house and it just wouldn’t catch. You’d try to lock the damn thing and it would just slide open. Even in the best of weather, I’d tell my wife to put the broom handle in the groove so the door couldn’t be opened, but she has so much on her mind. Most nights she would forget. The thought of that unlockable door haunted me. I’d be driving, out on a lecture tour, days from home and the nightmare would come. I’d see the image of an intruder coming across the dark beach, sliding open the glass door, creeping into the house, unnoticed. That night, the storm came faster and harder than anyone had thought possible.
I had fallen asleep, that much I know for sure, because the jolt of the house from a monster wave caught me sleeping, riding the shock wave from my bed. As I bolted upright from the jolt, I saw it, but this monster was not a wave. First it was no more than a dark shape in the corner of the room, a corner that was painted off-white, a place where no dark shape could hide. The stench from the thing stabbed my senses. Eyes watering, nose burning, throat torched, I wretched but my panic kept my stomach from purging. The thing reacted to my guttural sounds, shifting its weight. In the darkness my eyes finally found greater detail. The stinking thing had a head, a leathery face, eyes. Dear god, the eyes! Staring from across the room the massive creature had found me sitting vulnerable and stupid in my bed.
I reached for Molly but she wasn’t there. My panicked brain forced me to stand but then instantly realized that there was nowhere to go. As I stepped toward the bedroom door the creature moved to block it. When I turned toward the – wide open – ocean side door (damn that latch!) the creature reacted again, deftly blocking my every move. It didn’t want me to leave.
I silently prayed that Molly was with the children, that they were all asleep, safe. Standing just a few yards from it now I saw the solid shape of the creature distinct from the shadows. Easily the size of a bull walrus it had no legs, just a massive fleshy tail. But where a walrus would have forelimbs, this beast had arms, powerful frightful arms, three times the size of a great ape’s. So much as a swipe from this aquatic giant and my life, any life, would be pounded to sand.
Down the street a transformer blew from wind snapped wires and in the momentary blue-white arc of light glaring through the window I saw shredded flesh, deep wounds across the great beast’s chest. The smell now had a source. The stink that burned at my very consciousness came from the blood, running like a stream from the injured creature. The electric glow from the dying transformer cracked and flamed for an instant and then was no more. The beast and I were once again plunged into the darkness of the storm.
It suddenly became so clear why this monster had come. My home was the strongest. It was a refuge. Everyone knew it, even the beasts of the sea.
I heard the creature breathing and thought I could detect a growing calm. There was a moment of strange peace, simple silence, but then came the crash.
From a block away, the evacuation siren wailed to life and tore through the night. Its ear ripping blare shocked the monster into action and in a horrifying flip of its gigantic form it smashed through the back of the house. The ocean side wall collapsed and a section of roof was torn off in the gale. The previous calm of my bedroom was flung pell-mell into the teeth of the storm. The wind driven rain instantly drenched my room, tore my possessions from the shelves and knocked me to the floor. I forced myself to stand but the tearing wind caught me like a luffing sail and tossed me from my home. I tumbled on the wind and was then pummeled face first into the sopping dunes.
I lifted my head to see the creature just yards away, charging. My breath shot from me as I leapt to my feet. Bolting, I stumbled on the sand and collapsed in a heap. The next sight was more than I could bear. A second creature, just as large as the first slammed hard against it, chest to chest. The fleshy slap was deafening, even louder than the siren, still wailing, telling all to flee.
But I couldn’t flee. I was paralyzed with fear as I watched the combat of these giant beasts play out. Their actions made it clear that they were fighting for dominance, battling over territory. Each time they charged at one another there massive bulks struck with a thunderous report. As their melee went on just beside me I was certain that in another instant one or the other would fall and crush me like a bug. Gathering what strength and reason I could muster, I managed to drag myself to safety. There, panicked and terrified, as the storm raged on all around, I witnessed the depth of their violent struggle. With each encounter they would tear and rip at each other with their powerful arms. Flesh was torn open in each titanic bout. Blood would spray from one creature or the other, mixing their gore with the slosh of the storm. They were both on the verge of being torn to shreds but instead of ceasing to fight – like logical animals would – these two murderers just attacked each other again and again. Pounding chests and thrashing blows went on until in one blood choked instant, the two giants tumbled toward me. I screamed and lifted my arms for protection and then all went dark.
It was Molly who found me. The sun had come up. The children had woken from their dreams, marveled at the wreck that was now the ocean side of our home and then, as children do, they dashed out onto the beach looking for treasures tossed up by the storm. The day was clear and beautiful. The storm was gone. The siren had fallen silent. Molly found me. Like just another bit of detritus tossed by the storm, she found me there along the shore. She thought I was dead. No wonder. Soaked and bleeding, cut deep by the glancing blow from one of the creatures, I was a terrible sight. I stank of their blood, the rotting crab sludge that coursed through their veins.
When she got me to my feet I saw how strong she really is. Despite my appearance and the pungent stench, Molly smiled, kissed me and said how happy she was to see me. When I then told her that we were moving, she simply nodded.
I was deeply surprised that no bones were broken. My nose was bloodied and swollen. I had a black eye. Purple, then green, then yellow bruises colored my flesh for weeks, but nothing more.
That morning I washed myself in the gentle waves of the ocean for the last time. Standing on the beach, to wary to dive in, I waited for the cold water to rush up the sand toward me. As I rinsed the dried blood from my skin I glimpsed a large shape in the waves. Any other observer would have dismissed it as a trick of the light on the water, but in an instant I knew the truth. The obscure dark shape was the bloated corpse of a dead monster, being dragged to a watery grave by the other.
Saying nothing, I calmly turned and walked out of the water and then packed my family and our surviving belongings for our trip inland. I didn’t need to tell them the truth. The house was damaged by the storm – that was enough. I didn’t need to tell them that two great beasts had fought over our home and that the victorious leviathan would certainly return one day to reclaim its prize – the strongest house on the beach. When that monster decides to settle in to its new home, I want this family to be very far away.