Author’s Note: building up to the climax of Volume 4. Hope you all enjoy!
Volume 4 – Chapter 6
The bronze circle flew towards the sky, flipping over upon itself rapidly, catching and reflecting rays of light, before sinking back to earth and digging into the sand with a soft thud.
“Heads.” Miller announced, picking up the penny and placing it carefully on top of the nail of his left thumb. “That’s three in a row for me. You ready?”
“Hit it.” I replied immediately, at which Miller nodded and sent the coin tumbling back into the air. With a split-second’s thought, I raced to get my pick before he could, calling out “Tails.”
He nodded once again, and the penny made its quick descent to the world of man, plummeting into the miniscule grains that made up the surface of the beach. With one deft movement, I reached forward, brushing the particles of sand off of its face and revealing my fate.
“Heads…” I muttered, looking down at the blazing profile of a former leader for a moment before falling on my back and staring at the sky.
“You’ve really got bad luck today, Asher,” Miller commented, rubbing his chin and scrunching his eyebrows in a contemplative manner. “That’s four heads in a row.”
“The law of probability has disappeared from my life,” I said, trying not to think about where I had heard this conversation happen before. I twisted onto my side, letting the sun heat up my right ear.
“To be fair, it was your choice to pick tails four times,” Ayame said. I moved my gaze from a depression in the sand to see that she had propped herself up against her bag, and was now reading from a thick paperback, positioning the pages beneath the shade provided by her hat.
I shrugged, digging my left shoulder into the sand. “For some reason, I felt that my luck would change if I stuck to it. That was probably a mistake.”
“Still, four times….” Miller mused, picking up the coin before striking it with his thumb and propelling it into the air once more. It landed in the center of his palm, and he grinned down at it. “I take it you don’t want to play any more?”
“I think I’m good,” I said, covering my eyes from the glare of the sun. “I’d rather not continue to play a losing game.”
“Fair enough,” he replied, and moved to sit on the towel spread out on the sand to our left. Crossing his legs, he stared out to sea, where a spot of red could be seen floating, moving from left to right erratically among the dark blue water. “Maybe we should go swimming, instead. I’ll bet Cat would enjoy some company out there.”
“I don’t know,” I said, propping myself up on my shoulders and turning towards the water just in time to see her disappear beneath the waves. “It seems like she’s having a pretty good time out there. Besides, I doubt we could keep up with her if we tried.”
“I guess that’s true. Then, what else could we do?”
He grabbed onto his ankles, leaning forward, and I raised my eyebrows. It isn’t often that Miller tries so hard to get us to do something, so when he does, we all tend to take note.
“What’s gotten into you?” I asked. “You’re sounding an awful lot like Cat right now.”
“No way,” he said quickly, shaking his head, seeming eager to prove the truth behind his statement. “I just think that, while we’re here, we should do something.”
“There’s nothing wrong with relaxing,” Ayame said, flipping another page. “Unless you’re Cat, we all need time to rest.”
Miller didn’t miss a beat.
“Believe me, Ayame, I know. I spend practically all of my time taking it easy and relaxing. Maybe that’s why I want to do something so much now, to make up for it.”
She didn’t reply further, choosing instead to look at him and tilt her head as if saying “Who knows?” As she turned to face her book, Miller and I faced each other.
“So, what do you think? Swimming?”
He gestured to the water, and I thought about my options for a moment, the sun beating down on me and heating up my left side. Ultimately, however, the heat ending up making my decision for me, and I sat up.
“Yeah, we might as well. It will be colder, at least.” Miller stood up, and I joined him, turning towards Ayame. “We’ll be back in a little bit, alright?”
“Mm-hm,” she replied, still looking at her novel. “Have fun.”
Spinning around, Miller and I took off our shirts, setting them in his bag, before making our way down the sloped surface of the beach.Trudging through the hot sand, I looked down to watch my feet sink down and reappear, and I felt myself growing more anxious to feel the cool relief of the water.
Somehow, I didn’t notice the people until I almost ran into a tall, bronzed middle-aged man in a speedo. Luckily, I caught sight of his bony feet approaching mine, and I swerved, nearly crashing into Miller. Training my eyes toward the man, I quickly noticed that he wasn’t alone–dozens upon dozens of people were emerging from the water, a troup of dripping bodies travelling up the beach en masse.
The man I had nearly collided with, rather than stop, continued on, shifting just far enough to the side to avoid encountering me again. Looking into his eyes in an attempt to figure out what he was doing, I was surprised to find that he wasn’t even glancing in my direction, his pupils locked on something in the distance.
“What’s going on?” At my side, Miller had also noticed the sudden migration of the swimmers, and was looking from person to person, regarding their heavy-lidded eyes. “What are they looking at?”
I shrugged, having no answer, and turned my attention to the thinning crowd around us, looking at each pair of eyes, focusing on their irises, all of which looked exceptionally dim, especially in the strong light of the sun. Whatever it was that was going on, it didn’t seem good.
Cat appeared about a minute later, at the back end of the flock. As she approached us, dripping wet, her damp hair sticking framing her face and sticking to her forehead, I glanced at her eyes, only to find that they were their normal shade of brown, glowing in the harsh light of midday.
“Yo,” she said as she approached us, lowering her hand from a wave. “You guys have any idea what in the world is happening?”
“Not really, no,” Miller said, a little distractedly. The roaming swimmers were now behind us, staggering slowly up the beach, and we turned to continue watching them. “Did anything go on out there?”
“Not that I can think of. I was just swimming, and suddenly everyone started moving towards the shore at once. I didn’t really get it, but I followed them all back, just in case there was a shark or something.”
“I doubt that was it,” I said. “This doesn’t seem normal.”
“No,” she agreed, shading her eyes and squinting at mob. “Maybe there’s something going on, or th–”
While Cat was speaking, the zoned-out beachgoers had continued their journey up the shore, but then, all at once, they sunk to their knees simultaneously, falling to their sides, forwards and backwards, onto the soft sand.
“Okay, yeah, definitely not normal,” Cat said, taking a step forward. Not saying any more, she walked up the beach, stopping at the nearest person, a middle-aged man with a wicked sunburn already forming.
Kneeling down, she shook him on the shoulder, stray grains of sand falling from their position stuck to his chest as she rolled him to the side. His mouth hung open slightly, and his eyes remained closed, but after a few seconds of observation it was plain to see that the man was still breathing. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought he had simply laid down and decided to take a nap in the sun.
“I guess they’re all asleep,” Cat said, returning to a standing position and brushing sand from her knees. “Although ‘knocked out’ is probably a better word for it. This is really weird.”
I couldn’t help but agree with her–although I probably would have gone with a stronger word than “weird.” Even among the other strange things that had happened to us in the past few months, the sudden exodus of dozens of people from the ocean was something I couldn’t wrap my head around.
What is going on?
“Guys, are you alright?” Ayame’s voice suddenly broke through my thoughts, and I turned to see her rushing in our direction, bare feet sinking in the deep sand. She had left her hat behind, and her dark hair flew across her face. “What’s happening?”
“We’re fine,” Miller responded, still glancing out to sea, as if expecting to see even more vacationers flooding onto the beach. “We haven’t figured out what’s going on, though. What did you see on your end?”
“Nothing, really,” she said, her words interspersed with breaths heavy from her jog over to us. “I was reading, and all of a sudden everyone on the beach was moving. Then they all just fell down.”
“What do you think it is?” Cat said, echoing her early question. Ayame gave her a small shrug.
“I have no idea,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like anyone’s really hurt, though. I checked the old couple next to me, and it seemed like they were still asleep.”
I nodded, glancing around the now-silent beach. People of all different ages were spread out, lying on the sand in all kinds of uncomfortable looking positions, and it was seeming more and more likely that we were dealing with something supernatural again–at the very least, I was finding it hard to think of what could have caused that many people to faint simultaneously.
“Whatever the reason is, I think we should call someone,” I said, finally, bringing my attention back to my friends. “Even if they seem okay, we shouldn’t risk it.”
“Oh, yeah,” Ayame said quickly, reaching instinctively to her side before, realizing that she didn’t have pockets, bringing her hand to her shoulder and pointing backwards. “I’ll go get my phone.”
Without another word, she spun on her heels and began walking away from us quickly, eyes glued to the ground to avoid stepping on anyone laying in the sand. Once she had gone, Cat sat down on the ground with a huff.
“I wonder what the cops are going to think about this,” she said while absentmindedly brushing sand off of the tops of her feet. “You think they’ll take us in for questioning?”
“Most likely,” I responded, and sat down myself, staring out at the ocean.
Without the countless bobbing heads and figures moving around in the water, it looked much larger, taking up most of my vision. The waves continued to roll in, foamy water crawling its way up the beach, disturbing the piles of surfboards, paddleboards, and even small boats that people had deposited on the beach in their trance.
Somewhere nearby, I heard the quick sound of fluttering, and turned my gaze upwards just in time to catch a small group of seagulls rising into the air, carrying bits of dropped food in their beaks. I wondered briefly why they, like us, hadn’t succumbed to the weird mob mentality that had overtaken all of the humans in the area, but gave up on it almost immediately, chalking it up to whatever force had been at play in all of our lives recently.
The sun, still hanging high in the sky, shone its rays into my eyes and, not being a fan of the idea of early-onset cataracts, I lowered my line of sight to the ocean once more. The dark water continued to swirl, and I followed the patterns, drawing my eyes out towards the horizon, where the pale blue edge of the sky met with the straight line of the ocean.
That was when my eyes caught something.
At first, it was hard to make out–staring at the blank slate of the ocean for so long had done its number on my ability to focus on one area of it–but as I continued to follow the disturbance on the water, it soon shifted into focus.
For a moment, I tried to convince myself that my eyes were playing tricks on me–my vision has never been perfect, and I easily could have been seeing things–but I quickly gave up. On the dark blue canvas of the sea, there was no mistaking it. I was looking at a giant, moving head.
Of course, it probably wasn’t only a head, but that was all I could see, bobbing its way through the waves, getting closer to the beach with each passing second.
“What is that?” Cat asked, drawing my attention from the water. She was staring out to sea, her fingers closed around her eyes, forming makeshift binoculars. “A whale? Or maybe Nessie’s long-lost-sibling?”
“Your second guess is probably closer, honestly.”
Miller took a few steps forward, squinting his eyes to try and get a clearer picture. Glancing back out to the water myself, I had to agree with him. Even from the beach, the creature looked nothing like a whale–its head, a narrow, malformed rectangle the color of tar, couldn’t have belonged to any type of sea animal I could think of, and I wondered what exactly we were dealing with.
“Huh, if that’s the case, then I think I’m going to call it Nestor.”
While I questioned her choice of name, I didn’t comment, preferring to keep an eye on the approaching creature. It seemed to be moving relatively quickly, growing in size as it neared the beach, and I began to notice an increase in the swirling of waves around its hulking head. In fact, when I glanced down at the white sand in front of me, I saw that the water was crawling much faster and farther up the beach, nearly reaching my toes.
And that was when it started raining.
The storm came practically out of nowhere, starting out as a slow drizzle and picking up force as the minutes passed. Staring at the sky for a few moments, I followed the incoming wall of dark clouds as they sped across the sky, trying to figure out how a guy could look down for a minute and miss the formation of a massive storm.
At some point while we were alternating between following the creature and stealing glances at the darkening sky, Ayame came back, staring out at the ocean with wide eyes. Sitting down next to us, her eyes never leaving the dark stretch of water, she pointed backwards.
“I…..I called the police,” she said. It seemed like she was finding it hard to focus, the droplets of rain buffeting her face and the mysterious creature taking up most of her concentration. “They’re on their way.”
“It doesn’t seem like they’ll make it in time,” Cat responded, not looking in Ayame’s direction. I glanced at her quizzically, and she stood up, stretching her arms out and cracking her knuckles. “That thing’s getting bigger every second, and so are the waves. If it gets to the shore, something bad is going to happen.”
She didn’t say another word, and we all fell silent–I have a feeling that, by that point, we’d all kind of gathered the importance of the situation, but hearing Cat lay it all out so bluntly really drove it home.
“Even if that’s true, what do you think we should do about it?” Miller asked. “We don’t even know what that thing is, let alone what we could do to stop it.”
“We should go out there and try,” Cat said simply. “We might not know how, but if we wait around and do nothing, it’s definitely gonna make it here. With how many people there are here, there’s no way we can protect all of them if that happens. The only solution is to go to it, before it comes to us.”
With that, she crossed her arms, and turned to look in our direction. From the look on her face, I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy to argue with her on this one, but I figured I had to give it a shot.
“You have a lot of outrageous ideas,” I said, pushing myself into a standing position, ”but this is one of the worst. How do you plan to fight that thing on the water?”
“We have the swords.” She shrugged. “And plenty of boats washed up when the people came onto the beach. We can get out there no problem.”
“I don’t doubt that we can,” I said. “It’s what you want us to do out there that I’m worried about. We don’t even know what that thing is, but you want us to head out into the ocean and fight it?”
“I can’t think of many other options for us,” she said, raising her voice to be heard over the intensifying rain. “I’m gonna bet that this thing is like the others, and is probably going to attack us either way. At least out there it won’t hurt anyone else. Besides, it’s not like this is our first rodeo.”
“You’re acting like we’re experts,” I responded. Glancing out to sea, I noticed the dark head inching closer. “But really we have no idea how to deal with this.”
“I think so, too,” Ayame said. “It’s dangerous to go on the water in a storm in the first place, let alone with that thing out there.”
“And anyway, there’s always the chance it won’t come onto the beach in the first place,” Miller broke in, apparently deciding it was time to voice his opinion. “I think we should wait and see before doing anything.”
“That seems unlikely, with our history.”
Cat stood with her arms crossed and regarded each of us in turn, droplets of rain rolling down her face. We remained silent–each of us having taken our stance–as her eyes moved from one to the other, until she blinked, and raised her gaze to the clouds.
“Listen, I get what you’re all saying,” she said, “but I still have to go. There’s a chance that people could get hurt, and as long as I can do something to try and stop that, I don’t have a choice. I’ll be back soon.”
And then she was off, blasting towards the shoreline, jumping into the nearest abandoned rental boat, heading towards the waves and the dark crown of the creature. Truthfully, I’m not sure how she got away from us so quickly–it seemed that she was here and then gone, without any of us being able to so much as attempt to stop her.
For a second, I stood there in silence. The rain continued to fall, picking up force with every passing moment, washing the dry clumps of sand from the tops of my feet, slipping into the soft ground and sliding into the ocean with a soft hiss. Foamy water continued to make its way up the beach–it was nearly at our feet now, and soon it would gain on the people behind us. Out in the dark water, the slender head of an unknown creature sat, moving steadily closer.
Simply put: if things continued as they were things could get very bad, very quickly.
But Cat was out there, fighting that possibility.
Truth be told, there was a large part of my mind that, knowing what I was about to do, actively fought against it, trying to anchor me to the beach. Still, that small part that told me what I should–or rather had–to do somehow succeeded in its mutiny, and pushed me forwards.
It took me longer to come to a decision than it did Cat. I was nowhere near as secure in my conviction as she had been. In the end, I couldn’t even muster up enough confidence to promise Ayame and Miller that I would be back.
But even so, I ran. Feet pounding on the cold surface of the beach, I flew as fast as I could in the direction she had just gone, towards the sea. Within a few moments, I felt the cold splash of water on my ankles, salt filling my nose as the water rose towards my waist. It was hard to see with the rain falling in my face, but I thought I caught a hint of red and, heart pounding, I dove into the water.