Once upon a midnight

Monday Morning Story


Chapter from the work in progress Krayatura: Beast from the Sea

Ransom Island lay 15 miles off the South Carolina shore, a five-mile-by-three-mile oasis surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. Year-round population: Several dozen.

Once a year its population swelled to about 200 to host a philosophical and political seminar called the Ransom Island Sessions. More than one president of the United States had attended Ransom Island, where no minutes were taken and imaginations were freed to conceive bold ideas and bold solutions to the challenges they faced. It was here where some of the most courageous or most foolhardy initiatives (depending on your politics or point of view) first saw light of day at the annual sessions.

This was one of the other 51 weeks.

The sun had set over the mainland somewhere beyond the horizon. No one had come or gone from the heliport or the docks all day, but there had been an unusual amount of activity overhead and out on the water: A Coast Guard helicopter zooming overhead, several small boats far offshore and heading northeast. Shipping channels were in that direction but over the horizon; people usually didn’t come to Ransom Island to be with other people or watch the trappings of civilization float or fly by.

Seth sat on his screened front porch reading a book. More precisely, he sat holding a book in his hands. Anyone observing him might conclude he was reading the book, but actually he was staring at the words and paying no attention. The night was too calm to be concerned with words. It was just warm enough to be comfortable but not hot; it was summery but not muggy; the breeze was gentle. Good sleeping weather.

But Seth was not tired. Nor was he restless, or troubled, or anxious. And for all of those reasons he was grateful.

A woman walked into the room. He looked at Alice as if it was the first time. She was tall and slim, with an intelligent face that was a little too long to be a “classic” beauty, with a more pronounced nose than the most beautiful women, although he found her most beautiful. Straight brown hair cut just above her shoulders, an athletic body that suggested regular workouts but not to the point of obsession.

“How’s the book?” That low, husky voice of hers made the most innocuous three-word question sexy. He watched her settle into the other wicker easy chair and his sense of peace was complete.

“I’m not really reading, actually,” he said, closing the book and leaning back. “Just enjoying a nice evening and doing nothing. It’s a wonderful change of pace.”

“I’m glad,” Alice said. “You work too hard. You needed to relax more than you know.”

The crickets or tree frogs or whatever small animals had settled on this remote island sang their evening song. Here and there a cry of a bird.

“It was good to come out here to the island,” Seth agreed. “We need to do this more often. You’re right, I work too hard, I think too much. I need some time to just let my mind go blank, you know?”

The breeze brought the salty air in from the sea. Alice extended her hand between the chairs, and he reached across to take it. The soft warmth was comforting. Seth breathed in deeply and exhaled a long, contented sigh.

Somewhere out by the beach came the sound of landfall. He felt, more than heard, a heavy thump.

The song of the small animals stopped, cold. Silence enfolded the thick tropical air.

Another thump, ponderous, closer.

The breeze went still.

Seth and Alice slowly let go of each other’s hand and peered into the darkness.

“What the hell is that?” Seth leaned up on the arms of the wicker chair.

A much heavier thump, and the sound of something enormous brushing against the trees.

“Seth – we should go in.” He waved her off.

“Do you hear that? Something’s breathing. Something huge.”

“In the house, Seth!” Tugging at his arm. “We have to go inside!”

Thump. Trees parted next to the patio and there it was.

Dark, massive feet sprouting dark, massive legs.

Seth looked up.

And up.

And up.

In the dark, enormous eyes blinked.

They ran into the house.

Turned off lights.

Stumbled in the dark.

Crouched. Cowered.

Grabbed each other and clung.

“What is that, Seth?” A desperate whisper. “What’s that thing?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know.”

“What are we gonna do?”

“Shhhhh,” he said, stroking Alice’s hair as she trembled in his arms. Or was he the one who was trembling? “Shhhhh.”

Raspy, loud, slow, heavy breaths from outside and above. Trees rustling as the huge beast brushed past. A moaning creak as enormous weight slid past the house.

Thump, rustle, thump. Thump.

The shudders from the massive footsteps grew less. It was walking away.

“Is it going toward the village?”

“I think so.”

As if to confirm, an astonished scream cut through the quiet. From very far away, they heard someone shouting, “Get in the house! Get in the house!” and then a shredding sound and people screaming “Run! Run!” or just screaming.

And then, the howl.

It began like a wolf’s howl but grew into a lion’s roar, or a seal’s cry, or an eagle’s screech. It was a mammal’s roar or a bird’s cry or both. It was a sob of loneliness or a long cry of anger or a plea of hunger. It was nothing they had heard ever before and every yowling bark they had heard time and again.

It was the trumpet at the end of the world. It was a herald from the beginning of time.

The warm, thick air filled rapidly with silence as they held their breaths, not daring to make a sound for fear the giant would hear and come to them.

And then the void was filled with crashing and tearing and ripping and death.

From their hiding place they heard the village ending. And the little screams. And the howl. That howl they would never forget.

And a thump. A thump. The waves parting to allow an enormous something. Splashes. Splash.

And then nothing but the sound of Alice whimpering in his arms, and far-off screams.

And the insects and tree frogs began to sing again.