When people think of homes on the beach, they think of paradise; panoramic views with pristine white sands leading into hues of blue. They think of plate glass and every room is a room with a view. Homes surrounded by ocean, of private beaches beyond. All of these vistas set to the sloshing sound of the tides as they rise in and out like the beat of breaths.
They don’t think of places like the old place I had the unfortunate displeasure of discovering. A cottage that rotted along a road called Midnight Pass, shielded from view by a mass of overgrown palmetto fronds and banana leaves. Wild growths of looming palms and bird-of-paradise that shrouded every angle; growing thickly, abutting the winding road. The scrub on either side grew in such density, it also blotted out the house’s view of the sky.
Beyond this house was a private beach. A private sea of red; a tide of turtles and eels, of rays, of dolphins and of countless fish swimming on their backs and sides. Swimming on the surface; moving with the hissing breaths of current, each with death inside their eyes…thousands of casualties, rotting and bloated with gas.
And yet… It was what I’d found inside which was unspeakably worse.
This experience changed me from who I used to be. Before the night that this happened, I was a developer on Florida’s coastlines. My name is
Jonathan Latham not important, for I am a man changed...
We would find beach houses. We would seek out the older ones specifically…relics left over from the 1950s in all of their boxy glory. We bought homes with minimal square footage, with claustrophobic designs–then we knocked them down. In their place, after a few months time, on even the smallest lot would stand a three or four story monument to ostentation that someone soon would brag about with nonchalance. A two or three car garage at the bottom, a massive master suite on top, and an array of open living spaces and guest rooms overlooking the water sandwiched between.
We always found the perfect places to develop with ease; a casual drive down coastal roads, following forks towards the beach and somewhere between the modern constructions and rising condos, we would happen on an old place that needed work and knock on the door and make an offer. Some were squat, one story block constructions, sometimes with their original slatted windows–the single pane kind that shuttered open by crank. We would find the rectangular ones in the “mid-century modern” style: front doors at the center and windows placed symmetrically on either side. These ones topped by flat roofs that spilled rainwater towards their backs. We would find them by accident really. How these places somehow withstood decades of flooding and hurricanes we could almost never tell.
I found the house on Midnight Pass in much the same way. It was an accident. It was just past noon and I had been following a coastal road while on the search, looking for just such a place. Looking to find something old and crumbling that I could hopefully persuade its owners to sell.
The day was dreary. Above me as I drove, slate hued thunderheads hung low seeming to brim with fury overhead, threatening to spill their bounty of storm down onto the world below. The windows of the car were up, but the cold air that came through the vents wafted vaguely the scents of that impending rain, commingling with the salty breath of the shore.
My phone chimed a notification. I only took my eyes off the road for a moment.
The sound made by the tires on the driver-side of the vehicle was deafening. The car, though I slammed on my breaks, did not stop, opting to fishtail instead. Together we spun, the car and I, into the oncoming lane and then off the road, into the underbrush that grew along the edge. There was another loud explosion, that one was of glass, and the world around me faded to black.
The bleeding had stopped by the time I awoke but the gash on my forehead remained a searing pain. Around me the storm was in the height of its wild throes. I wiped at the mix of blood and rain that soaked my face, hoping to relieve the burning behind my eyelids. Opening them groggily, everything around me swam into view. The car had been practically new, and now it was wrapped around the base of a palm tree swaying violently against the winds of the storm. The windshield and parts of the dash lay in pieces around me and my clothes were drenched. The phone that had set this accident in motion sat dead in the passenger seat, getting hammered by the rain.
“Shit,” I muttered, finding it completely unresponsive.
Every part of me ached. When I began to move around, I did so very slowly. As I sat amidst the wreckage of my vehicle, I began to gingerly flex and prod all my tender places checking for any breaks aside from the car. Prodding my vertebrae, my neck arched skyward, the inky blackness of the night was suddenly alight with the white branches of lightning spanning the entirety of my visibility from east to west. There, amidst the whip-like snapping and thrashing of the palms, was a small single-story house; though deserted and crumbling away, it was potentially better shelter from the wind and rain than the shattered husk of my Audi.
I pulled myself from the wreckage cautiously so as not to further injure and ran through the monsooning dark to the shelter of the overhang above the door. I had been almost certain the place was abandoned, yet I raised my fist, preparing to loudly beat the door.
As I did so, the wind blew it open.
“Hello?” I shouted above the wind, the rain, and into the empty dark. There was no reply. I limped through the doorway. The entry was a hall with no place to go but right; separated from the rest by a wall, the plaster was cracked and falling away into dust. I tried to close the door but the wind had wedged it into place against the warped hardwood floor and after my accident I could not muster the strength to unstick it.
The house itself stank of mold and the encroaching scent of the seawater, crashing and enraged, just beyond the western walls of glass. The windows on the front were sparse and small, in contrast to the large floor-to-ceilings, that past an open doorway, lined the back. During the day there might be views of endless glittering sea; now, the sight was obscured by the dark beating rain that pounded the sliding-glass and the deluge of water that fell from the roof in a thick cascading sheet.
I began to relax and wipe away some of the wet. Then, on the other side of the curtain of runoff, a dark form took shape. A man coming towards the house from the beach through the driving rain. I felt a chill rise in my gut and tried to shrink away in the dark, unseen, back out the way I entered. He pressed his open hand fully against the glass door and forgoing the handle, began to slide it open with his palm. Creeping back through the entrance hallway, the front door slammed shut. I rushed to it as quickly as my pained leg would allow, and to my great horror, it was stuck again, this time trapping me inside.
“Leaving already?” the man called. I felt my heart sink to my feet. Damn! I had been seen! Unintentionally, I’d held my breath from the moment I saw his form begin to lumber towards the house from the beach and now it escaped in gasp.
“I-I-I’m very s-s-sorry.” I stammered, “I–I’ve been in an accident; out in the yard. I can pay for any damages. I found this place by mistake; was just trying to get out of the rain and nobody answered when I knocked. If you have a helping hand, I could sure use it.”
“Nobody was home when you knocked. Here now though” He was closer now, his voice as salty and gruff as the sea. There was an excited gleam in his eyes. They looked like giant black pearls in the darkness, and yet shone as if alight within. His smile was too white and too wide. “Oh there’s always someone to help anywhere, just gotta reach out.” he remarked strangely, “that’s how all places are. The large and the small. I’d offer you my phone but don’t got one.”
“Do you have any other way to get out? I need help.”
“Can’t say I do.” He said, “My name’s Whim, did I already say? It’s short for William. It’s nice to meet you.” He did not extend his hand to shake. Just stood at a distance of about five feet, grinning at me in the dark.
I hesitated, finally replying with: “nice to meet you sir. I’m sorry I just let myself in. I didn’t realize anyone lived here.” I offered him my hand in greeting but he didn’t respond. Just looked into my eyes, not breaking gaze.
“That’s fine,” I told him, edging my way back to the door, “I can just go back out to the road and try to flag someone down.”
The man’s impossible smile grew wider, “nonsense,” he told me.
“Well I just don’t want to be any trouble.”
“That’s the trouble with trouble, ain’t it?”
“Come again?” I heard a quiver in my voice as a tried to tamp down the edges of fear.
“Nobody wants trouble; everyone makes it.”
“I suppose so,” I remarked cautiously, then changing the subject: “This is, uh, a nice spot you’ve got here.”
“Nah, it’s a dump,” smiling still, “barely any furniture and the stuff that’s here’s pretty moldy from the damp.”
My thoughts whispered: It does smell awful in here.
“Well, I mean, it’s a good location.”
“What’s good about it? The water? Hah! Anything that gets anywhere near here dies. Too mucky.”
“Well,” I inhaled deeply, “a lot of that can be fixed. I actually buy places like this.”
“Is that so, Mr. Jonathan?”
I shuddered at the formality of hearing the sound of my name come out of this strange, informal, sodden man’s mouth.
“Oh yes sir. I could fix this. I’m in interested places like this.”
“You’d be the only one.” His smile lessened as he shook his head, “whole neighborhood’s gone to shit.” The smile was only diminished…dimmed…it never left. “Well, let me show you around, I guess.”
Thoughts whispered: Oh boy. This is going to be…rather awkward for us.
“Alright, my friend, right this way we have the dining area, and there through that doorway’s the kitchen.” Whim lead me through another doorway to the room that I could see from the front. The room I watched him enter from, with all of the sliding-glass doorways. As we walked closer to the windows the sky parted and that’s when I began to realize something very strange was happening.
The clouds opened up and a sickly green haze began to shine through. I looked at my watch. It read 10:23.
Whispered: 10:23? At night? This time of year it should be full dark by now.
Whim grunted, “see what I mean?” He gestured displaying the world beyond. The water was thick and sloshing brown.
Brown like the color of a cup of strong tea is brown.
Brown like dead things are brown.
It was dense like a slick sticky blanket. The way it moved was like someone shaking dust in slow motion from a rug made of rotten kelp. A rug of dense death; of sea life floating. “Pretty bad huh?” He remarked as the clouds closed and the rain resumed.
“Now now, Mr. Latham, there’s more to see” he said grabbing me by the arm.
There was that shudder again, my name sounding unnatural and formal on his lips…
No…not formal…Unnatural because we never gave him the name.
I struggled to break from his grip, but his hold was steadfast, “Now, sir, let me show you the way. Someone else here wants to meet you. Lots of somebodies. They’d like to talk to you in the sand of the sea and the light of the moon.”
“LET GO OF–”
Let him take us to meet them. Let him show you.
We approached a doorway, which he swung open revealing a darkened staircase endlessly winding up and out of view around a rounded corner.
“They’re just up there,” he whispered now, grin glowing bright, “go up them stairs and say hello.” He thrust me through the doorway and slammed the door behind me…
Strangely, I didn’t resist…just began to climb into the dark.
Whim was out for a swim when the storm blew in.
As I climbed the carpet beneath my feet, the steps began to sound less hollow and grow hard, eventually melting into jagged stone.
The storm of sludge came in with the tide and when it went out there was nothing alive.
Strange stone. Porous and slick with algae. I knelt down to touch it; coral. My hand came away sticky with black tendrils of seaweed like slime. Then the ground fell away. And I felt myself lifting.
Lifting to the sky…
I found the sky was floating and black beneath the rippling sea. Schools of tarpon and snook darted around me.
They don’t swim as you dive further down, they float on the bottom. Even fish may drown.
They swam with turtles and eels and dolphin. Nine dolphins swam past, their skin waterlogged and flapping away from their bones inside. The stench was horrible. Realizing I was breathing this–this toxic water–and not understanding how, my stomach twisted with panic. I began to wildly kick for the surface and away from these nightmares. As the surface approached me, I realized it was solid and made of sand. I looked down into the depths where my feet were steadily treading and could see the rippling light of the moon beneath me. The surface was below and my hands were touching the sand and silt at the bottom of the ocean of dead things that swam in circles, eyeing me.
When the sea has had enough, the seathings will swim with their bellies up.
I was upside-down…which meant the fish were swimming upside-down as well. As I righted myself on the sand, the water I swam in parted in a circle around me and rushed away in all directions–an aperture opening out into the horizon, sending hundreds of thousands of dead and dying sharks, fish, turtles, sea-diving pelicans, manatees; everything crashing down into the sand, and those that were bloated with the gas of decay split open. The sound of rending flesh as they burst in explosions in the sand was an immersive and all encompassing symphonic horror–as was the putrid air that rushed out into the desert void left by the exodus of the waves. I stepped cautiously forward, crunching bones and squishing the rotting guts of a mackerel underfoot.
Behold the destruction that falls at our hands. This is what’s wrought by the folly of man
And the sand before me began to sink away into a pit. A hole that, starting the size of the head of a pin, began to widen and grow. When the hole seemed as wide as a grave, something came forth.
A writhing mass of violet violent tentacles, numbering in the thousands and undulating wildly reached out of the pit, carrying something serpentine up. The twisted body of an eel with the torso and arms of a man and teeth like sharp sticking pins. They carried this beast to me up from the sand, as if on the sigh of the breathless absent waves.
“Thisss. All of thisss you have done,” the creature hissed. Explaining that you and me… We did this. All of it. This death pocked plane of sand and bones beneath the surface is a place that we made. We polluted the water. We were destroyed their home. We were destroying the mysterious everything beneath, and their innocent screams could not be heard in our words because we did not care to take the time to listen. We didn’t know that we needed to. We didn’t know how.
The writhing tentacles then carried to the beast, on their purple carpet of suckers, a translucent squid, the size of a fist.
I awoke in the shattered husk of my Audi, wet and dripping and covered in glass, unable to determine what was real and what was fevered dream brought on by loss of blood. I climbed out of the vehicle and walked back into the one-story bungalow. It was as I had remembered, only lacking now the door that lead to the stairway up–or topsy-turvy down. I crossed through doorways to the room with the view. As I approached the glass a man, breached and dove through the midnight muck of red tide like a dolphin. The fish littering the black surface like a blanket of lifeless stars.
I could see in the glass, my face was different. I was changed. I wept openly for the dead. My lament was joined by a corus of others from outside, out in the water. I could hear the wild, sadly hopeful voice of Whim screaming too as he swam out past the breakers that did not break. Breakers painted solid with blooms of the algae.
You might come and join us here if you follow the map. Whim and I can show you the way…Or if not, you could learn to understand what the tides say.
I could hear another voice. A hissing coming from inside me.
In my reflection, in the glass, in my open mouth–
A translucent tentacle was reaching out, now with a tiny voice of it’s own.