The Beach Gift

I looked at the clock on our 1988 Isuzu Trooper. It read 5:38am. I rubbed my eyes and looked around at my brothers. My younger brother, Mickey, was sound asleep. My older brother, Dan, was looking out the window to his left, watching the moon outside our vehicle.
Spring in Northern California was a mix of a number of things. We could expect rain, sunshine, mist from the ocean. But most of all we could count on the thick heavy fog. It settled in the valleys, and often rested along the coastline. That’s where we were headed now.
Each Saturday morning my mom woke up the three of us, ages 7 through 10, and bundled us up in the Trooper for our 40 minute drive to the ocean. We said we hated getting up early, and complained about it. But the truth was we loved it, once we got out onto the beach. This was a special time of discovery. We were looking for something specific, and the waves often brought us the gems we sought.
As we pulled into the parking lot for Dry Lagoon, our mom looked back and gave a smile.
“Looks like we’re the first ones today.” She indicated the empty spaces all around us. Each of us grabbed our gear. This included fanny packs or trash bags for carrying our findings, a flashlight of some sort for seeing, and a water bottle. The rule was that we must stay within shouting distance of one another. Other than that, the beach was wide open.
While the low tide might leave us any sorts of surprise, what we were looking for were agates. These small shiny rocks could be spotted amongst the millions of other rocks, sand, and debris, provided you knew what you were looking for. After six months of coming out every Saturday morning we were starting to get a good sense of it. My younger brother had great eyesight, and generally found the most obscure ones amongst the rocks. I was gifted with the vision from my mother, not my father, and would spend most of the morning drizzle wiping my glasses.
We walked across the parking lot and out onto the beach. All around us the ancient deadwood pieces lay, like a graveyard. They were the carcasses of giant cedars, washed up on the shore. Right as we reached the water we could see the headlights of several other cars pulling into the parking lot. The game was on. We started to run, wide awake now. Laughing and yelling at each other as we raced across the sand, intent on finding the treasures before anyone else.
Agates, as far as they went, weren’t worth much. You could in theory find one large enough to sell off, but everything we found were things that would probably sell for a few dollars at most. That’s not why we looked though. There was something alluring about the agate, a tiny rock with a pearly milk center, and which when illuminated by the sun, you could see through its milky core. They were beautiful, and came in an infinity variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. They were mesmerizing to find.
On a good day we might come across a few dozen agates. Today was bound to be different.
I had barely begun strobing my light across the sand when I heard the first call.
“Found one!” It was Mikey, and that was his signal for letting us know he had gotten his first agate of the morning. I started to congratulate him when I heard the same sound from the other side of me. It was our mom, she had found one too, then my older brother chimed in with the same call.
I looked down, quickly scanning around me, desperate to be able to add into the chorus. That’s when I saw it for the first time.
My light shone oddly across a large object that reflected the light back to me. I ignored it at first, since my eyes wasn’t looking for anything larger than a coin. But something about it drew my eye. I scanned again, and bent down to look. It was a rock, a large one at that. I put the flashlight in my mouth and shone it at the rock. I bent down and began digging around it.
I couldn’t find where it ended. I dug for a minute, brushing around its edges, ripping away at the sand. My fingers were already starting to feel sore, and still I couldn’t get to the end.
“Hey guys!” I yelled.
Dan was closest, he started walking in my direction.
“Find one?”
“I don’t know. Look at this.” I motioned toward the large object in front of me, and he came in for a closer look.
“What is it?” He asked.
I shrugged, and pointed my light directly into the core. “It’s milky inside.” I said with bated breath.
A moment later we were all standing around it, digging down to its core. After ten more minute we finally unearthed it and could see it in all of its glory. An agate, the size of a small boulder, lay nestled in the rock in front of us.
“It’s gotta be at least three feet across.” Mikey said.
“Not quite, probably closer to two feet.” Dan answered.
“You don’t know that.” Mike responded, and glared at Dan.
“Oh oh stop it boys, it’s big, that’s for sure.” My mom said.
Just then we saw the flashlight of another beachgoer, about three hundred yards in the distance.
My mom reacted faster than I could have expected. Normally slow and methodical, she hurled herself at the rock and flung sand across it.
“Quick boys, cover it. Now.” She voiced in a hushed tone.
Dan caught on quickest, and began shoving dirt on from the other side. Not two minutes later we had it completely covered.
“Ok, now Mikey and Dan, I want you to go down that way, and start calling to each other that you’ve found some. Do it, quick.”
“But mom, I want to stay.”
“No Mikey, go with your brother. This is important, I’ll explain later.”
Then, looking at me, she said, “Nathan, I won’t make you lie, but I’m going to ask you to be quiet, got it?”
I nodded, and creased my brow.
“What are you going to do?”


Last week I finished up another manuscript. With rewrites this puts me at close to 300,000 words across four novels since September of last year. It’s been a wild journey, and I’ve loved nearly every moment of it.

My process typically involves a half hour of writing, six days a week. I’ve also been working on editing my first novel since March.

Writing a first draft is a breeze. I enjoy it. The writing process here is a stream of consciousness as thoughts pour out of me.

Editing has proven the real challenge for me. I’m now trying to decide whether to continue editing The Gifted Curse, or start my fifth novel. I need to get this part right, so editing must become a step that I fully undertake.

I’ve been researching story structure, and believe I have a decent blueprint to apply to a novel. Now I just need to identify where that blueprint should first be applied.

The Gifted Curse: Excerpt Two

When I woke up I felt off somehow. I rubbed my eyes and looked around. As I started to move my head I felt a sudden vertigo come on. The trees swam in my vision and my stomach turned. I closed my eyes for a moment, took a deep breath and opened them again. Without moving I looked around and watched the trees above me. They swayed in the breeze, branches rustling against each other. The sound of the forest brought comfort as my brain adjusted to the feeling. Eventually the sensation passed and I was able to sit up. The light shining through the trees was beginning to take on a softer hue. I wasn’t able to directly see the sun, but it felt like it was much later than when we had laid down to nap. I guessed it was getting on toward later afternoon.
Then I remembered my dream. Dreaming was rare, and it was even more unusual during a daytime nap. I had been chased by two lions. The sensation had felt unreal, even as I slept, knowing that these lions shouldn’t be able to hurt me. They were both males, and their large manes stood out in my memory as dark, almost black. In my dream they were charging at us, but I hadn’t woken in the midst of an attack. Something had happened to make them stop. But now I couldn’t remember what it was. I cleared my head and sat up.
I checked my backpack, it still had water from this morning. As I drank I looked around the grove some more. This was the place where we had come and taken a nap, but it felt changed. The exact nature of the change left me uncertain. The large cedar trees surrounded us like before, but their arrangement somehow seemed displaced. I reassured myself that this was normal. Forests always do this, you think you’re headed in one direction, then you see a tree that you thought you saw before. Easy to get turned around.
“Hey sleepy, time to go.” I nudged David.
He groaned and then began to stretch and yawn.
“This place is starting to creep me out. Can we get moving?”
“Yeah that’s fine, but you woke me up from a lovely nap. I could have slept another hour.”
David sat up now and pulled out his phone to check the time. My phone was somewhere in a pocket in my backpack, and I didn’t bother. The growling in my stomach told me that it was time to eat.
After another moment I was ready to go.
“What are you doing? I want to get back before it starts getting dark, and I’m hungry.”
David was still sitting down, doing something on his phone.
“Oh, sure, just trying to check something.”
He paused for a moment.
“Huh, that’s strange. No connection. Was trying to check on a place for dinner.”
“The phone isn’t working?”
“Oh, I mean the reception isn’t working, there’s no cellular network out here. It was working when we got here, or at least I think it was.”
He pocketed his phone and got ready. I didn’t think about it until later, but it had been another clue, a sign of a change.
We headed out of the small grove, back toward the coast. The path took us into the open pasture from before. I looked around and tried to get my bearings. It was the right direction, but it also felt different.
“Were those trees there before?” I asked, pointing to three trees in the middle of the field. They were cedar, and the tallest one looked to be about forty feet tall.
“I don’t remember them. They must have been there, but wouldn’t they have blocked our view of the grove when we first got here? You know, I think we must have come up over there.” He pointed at the end of the pasture, a bit to the right.
I nodded. “Yeah, I think you’re right.” It made sense, but it seemed wrong somehow.
In an attempt to get my brain onto a new topic, I began thinking about our next steps once we got home. The kind of money we might see from the sale of David’s business would change our lives in a number of ways. It wasn’t so much that we could forgo considerations of income forever, but it was still a big deal.
“Do you see yourself still working if this deal goes through?”
David answered without hesitation.
“Oh absolutely. I’ll take the deal because it’s a good one, but it doesn’t mean I want to change what I’m doing. I have ideas for how I can improve on the work, so I may stay with the company as a stakeholder, or branch out on my own.”
Then, with enough of a pause that I could sense hesitation in the question, “what do you want to do?”
The question took me off guard for a moment.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that, this changes things for both of us. Do you see yourself continuing to work at your job, or do you see wanting to do something different?”
The thought hadn’t crossed my mind. I had imagined using the money toward retirement, buying a home, or investing in the next business ideas.
“I’m happy enough with what we do. It’s just that -“
The words weren’t clear to me at first, and it took a moment to contextualize them.
“I’d like to keep doing what I do, but without the fear of losing it.”
David looked at me and gave a quizzical look.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I think knowing that I didn’t have to work would fuel me on. There’s things I really like about my job, and knowing I’ve had a sabbatical coming up has been a driving factor toward dealing with the unsavory parts of it.”
That wasn’t quite it though.
“There’s something more. I want to continue to excel and push myself, that’s rewarding in and of itself. What I don’t want though is the fear of messing up. There’s always been the risk of being let go if I stepped out of line, or pushed too hard in one direction. I feel like this will help shift things for me, where I can do or say what I need to make the best products possible, without being worried that I could be let go.”
“But doesn’t the checks and balances of the team help make for a better product, what does that look like if someone could just do whatever they wanted?”
His question was sincere, but it missed the point in my mind.
“It’s not quite that. I want the checks and balances, of course, but sometimes I miss sharing my best work or pushing myself because I’m afraid of the repercussions. Knowing we have enough money in the bank to not have to work for years, well that feels like it could shift my thinking.”
David smiled. “You’re excited about this.”
“Yes, I am. I’m thinking about possibility.”
“This is something new for us, and I’m excited to see how it will change things.” He reached around and grabbed my hand, a smile crossing his face.
It was a happy moment for us, our last.
We began to approach the edge of the meadow, where it led further down into the forest, David paused and looked down at our feet.
“What is it?”
“The ground, it was gravel here. I swear I remember feeling the shift somewhere in the meadow.”
I looked down at the ground and saw the small rocks. I couldn’t remember.
“It must have been before.”
“Feels like both our minds are playing tricks on us.” David said.
As we began descending the hill I looked out across the plateau below us. The hills extended several miles, and beyond it I could make out the ocean. There wasn’t much to see, with most of our view obscured by the treelike. I remembered seeing the castle and part of the town before, and looked for it. That’s when I felt the bottom drop out under me. The previous moments since waking had felt unsettling, like I was adrift with some sort of drug. Still aware of reality, but slightly shifted from it. Now the disquieting thoughts jumped to the fore and I knew, with absolute certainty, that something was wrong. I tightened my grip on David’s arm as my fear began to rise.
“David, it’s not there.” My voice broke.
“What do you mean?”
I pointed out to the ocean.
“The town, it’s not there.”

The Gifted Curse: Excerpt One

My horse stepped up onto the plateau where the narrow path opened up into a field. The shadows were lengthening, and a breeze blew through the trees. I tightened my shawl around my shoulders and let loose on the reins.
I started to image a hot bath in our handmade tub. Then I remembered the clay pipe leading from the spring to the house had a leak. David promised he’d fix it before my return, but I had my doubts. My husband was a strong man, but age catches up to nearly everyone, and the last decade had proven that he was slowing down.

Across the long field I saw the cedar grove, and at its base sat our home. We had built the cottage ourself from the surrounding forests, using pine and juniper. We had crafted a few pieces of furniture from a fallen cedar, but didn’t dare cut down any live trees. Behind the house, and leading up to the cedar grove, I could make out the dozen or plots for our family cemetery. It was unique in that every marker bore the same name.

We’d converted the fields near our home into rye, roughly 10 acres. It was back breaking work, and I knew it was taking a toll on David. He tried to do at least half of the work, but lately it was falling more on me. I didn’t mind, I still had the strength of my youth.

“Come on Bessie, just a few more minutes and we’ll get you all the oats you want.” My mare’s ears perked and she picked up the pace.
Ahead I took another look at the house, and noticed that there was no smoke coming from the chimney. Maybe James wasn’t feeling great. That was the biggest thing I missed about this place, being unable to communicate across long distances. That would need to be our next project, I had already prototyped a few concepts.

Bessie stopped in front of the house, and I climbed down. She followed to our small barn, and I pulled out a bag to give her the promised dinner.
“I’ll take care of you in a bit, let me check on David.” I said, and left her outside.

Back at the house I set my pack down and reached for the door. I turned the handle and slowly opened it, peering inside. Then I slammed it shut.
“What the hell?”

I gasped and stepped away from the house, breathing deeply. A year ago we’d had problems with a family of badgers that made their den under our home. They insisted in dragging carrion back to the nest, which resulted in a smell that forced us to extract them. The dead animals were mostly consumed, but the badgers liked to use their remains to mark their territory.

This was worse. I thought of skunks, but they didn’t live in this part of the world, and besides the sensation was less sulphuric, and more reminiscent of the time I caught a whiff of a dead calf in the field.
I called out from outside the house.

“David, are you here?”

No answer.

I took in a dozen deep breaths, held my bandana over my face, and rushed in. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust. That’s when I heard a scratching wet sound coming from a large dark mass at the back of the room. At first I mistook the mass for a dead animal, and in an instant I thought of some choice words for David.

Then I saw the boots. We’d made them together years ago, when we were in our tanning phase. They had been the first pair that actually turned out properly, and he had been so proud of them. I hoped they were reusable.

My hot bath was off the table for the evening. I sighed and reached for the lantern to light it. The movement forced me to let go of the bandana, and I inadvertently got a small whiff of the room. That was a mistake. After a quick step out for another breath I returned and examined David’s body in the light of the lantern’s orange glow. I stepped to the back wall and grabbed a broom, then advanced toward him.

His body was facing me, and I saw the whole thing. His body was bloated and rigid, and his intestines and organs lay sprawled out around him. His eyes were missing, and several fingers were gone. My first thought was of his shirt. That was a relatively new creation, it had taken us months to setup our own loom. Now there was a gaping hole in the fabric. Then I saw the source of the earlier squeaking sound.

A smaller mass near his stomach moved. A rat crawled out from the hole in the shirt, its belly engorged and its whiskers glistened against the glow of the lantern.

“You’ve had your fill, get out of here,” I said, swinging the broom in its direction. Then I dropped the broom and held my hands to my mouth and nose. The rat looked back at its feast, then jumped away. I watched with amusement as it ran toward the oven and ducked underneath. Something to find later.

The shirt was ruined, but maybe the trousers could be salvaged. We had managed to buy those in the village, so I wasn’t as worried.

I ran to the door, then called out, “Ok, I’ll be back, leave him for me,”. A moment later I was back, pushing a wooden wheelbarrow. My bandana wrapped more tightly against my face. I was thankful for the wheelbarrow, making rubber for the wheels had proved impossible, so we’d fashioned iron plates around wooden wheels. It worked well, and we’d already sold two like it to other farmers.

I looked at David. He was getting skinnier. Last Winter had been hard on him. It took a few tries, and a few runs back to the door, but eventually I was able to lift him into the wheelbarrow, or rather most of him. The rest would require a shovel. At first I considered putting that part off, but thought better of it. The longer that the place could be aired out, the better chance I’d have to get some sleep. I scooped the remains of his intestines and wiped up the fluids with several towels. Then I opened all of the shutters and propped open the door. Thankfully the bedroom door had been kept closed.

Outside, Bessie had made her way out to a clump of trees in the middle of the field, and seemed content. I pushed my grisly load between the house and barn, following a small path that wound its way up the hill. That’s when I saw the dug gravesite. This was new. I looked down at the wheelbarrow, and saw dirt on his hands and boots. I sighed and set the handles down.

The hole was deep enough, and a shovel and pickaxe lay on the dirt mound beside it. I turned the wheelbarrow on its side, and the body dropped into the hole.

“Thanks David, maybe I’ll have time for that bath after all.” I chuckled as I spoke the words, and reached for the shovel. The body was nearly covered when I remembered something. I climbed in and reached for his boots. After a few tugs it became apparent that they weren’t coming off. The feet were swollen. Even with the laces completely undone I couldn’t get the boots to budge. I’d need to make a new pair. I thought of the alternative, and almost got an axe, then I thought about the actual work I’d need to do to dig the flesh out, it wasn’t enough to just sever the leg. I’d just have to make another pair.

By the time I was done with the hole, the sun was nearly set. I picked up the wheelbarrow and tools and turned back toward home. I’d put up a marker tomorrow.

Over the next hour I took care of Bessie, and made a quick meal for myself. I went to the bathroom and turned on the water. The hot water worked. “Thanks David,” I muttered, and climbed in.

It was morning when I heard the footsteps in the kitchen. I woke slowly, trying to place myself. Then I remembered I was back home. I rubbed my eyes and stretched. Our room was dark, but already light was creeping through the curtains.

As the bedroom door opened, light from the kitchen flooded in. The naked silhouette of a man stood in the doorway. He was barely recognizable, but it was him. He was nearly three inches taller, and his hair was back. Gone was the gray tuffs near his ears. I probably missed that the most. As he advanced

I could make out the definition in his legs, abs, and biceps. I didn’t mind that either.

He spoke softly, “good morning Jennifer, welcome home.”

I yawned and climbed out of bed.

“You know your voice changes each time, that always trips me up. It gets deeper,” I said, then laughed. “Get over here, you look a lot better than you did last night.”

David walked across the room and embraced me. I looked down. “Really?” I asked.

He smiled and gave me a kiss on the forehead. “Hey, it’s been a while since I could do that,” he said, and then he walked over to our dresser to pull out some clothes.

“Why bother, don’t you want some sleep?” I asked.

“I got enough rest, time to get some stuff done around here. I’ve been waiting for years to feel this good again.”

I pulled open the curtains, and more light flooded the room. “Hold on, I want to write it down.” I walked back to my nightstand and pulled a parchment and graphite out of the drawer.

I marked the top of my paper with the date, and began taking notes. “What’s it been, 30 years?” David asked.

“34 years, had to think about it for a moment,” I said. “How do you feel? Everything ok?”

“Like I’m a kid again. The walk from the grove was a bit brisk.” He said, and smiled.

“You know Jennifer, we could make this easier and keep me young all the time,” he said.

I shook my head as I wrote. “We’ve talked about this David, it’s too risky.”

He finished dressing and came over to read my notes.

406 BC. David James Watkins, original age 194, revived again. This time he went 34 years before succumbing to side effects of an illness, probably pneumonia. This is nearly a tie for the longest period yet, just short by a year. All signs point to the pattern continuing. Appearance is normal.

“I look hot, you mean.” David said, and put down the paper. He gave me another kiss, and we went into the kitchen to start breakfast.

The Gifted Curse: Excerpt Three

(Taken from the second act of the book, an excerpt of the protagonist fighting against an unseen enemy)

The moon outside shown brightly from our bedroom window. I couldn’t sleep, I never slept. Well that’s not entirely true, I napped, but more like a giraffe. The curtain was open and the ocean breeze blew through. David was gone on a trip, and I was just laying in bed, bored, thinking about plans for the next day. I was considering whether to just get up and eat, when I heard footsteps coming up the stairs.

The steps grew louder, and I could hear grunts and whispers, maybe half a dozen people. I paused and debated what to do. That was my undoing, I should have acted immediately. As I rose from the bed they burst into the room. There was just enough time to slip a small knife into the pocket of my night pants. 

From the moon’s glow I could see their faces, I recognized one of them from the village. I was strong and fought back, but it wasn’t enough, a moment later I was thrown to the floor, wrapped in a blanket, and carried out of the room. 

The streets were quiet. Even though I couldn’t see anything inside of the blanket, I knew the direction we were headed. These men were taking me outside of town. 

I wriggled my arm from a locked sideways position, moved it down to my side, and managed to get it near my waist. In all of the jostling the knife blade had cut through my pocket and landed near my knees. I wanted my arm to be close to it, and could feel the metal pressing between my legs. The timing was fortunate, as I was unceremoniously dumped onto a hard surface. Before I could move ropes were wrapped around me, and the sudden jostling of the hard surface, along with some strange sounds, told me I was on a cart outside the village.

My guess is that the bastards were too cheap to afford horses, I could have sworn I heard some cows pulling us. After a while the cart took an uphill turn, and I knew where we were headed. They were taking me to the cliff. I struggled and attempted to scream, but the sound that came out was a muffled gurgle. An answer came not from someone who would help, but from a hard leather boot embedding itself into my stomach. I gasped, and struggled for breath. That’s when everything changed. One moment I was laying on the cart, and the next I was hoisted up into the air. Then there was nothing. The arms were gone, the cart was gone, and I was in midair. My breath caught in my throat as I processed what happened, they had dropped me. Water, they were going to drop me in the ocean. Not good. 

I felt myself floating, and counted. One, two, three, four, then impact. Below the cliff I was reminded of the rocky outcropping. I had half expected the waves, but was in luck. They had missed, I was on land. Well, good luck is a relative term. It still hurt. My feet hit first, buckled under me, followed shortly thereafter by my legs, back and head. My body contorted in an unnatural position as my legs twisted out behind me. Air was forced out of my lungs and I gasped for breath. Then I screamed, gagged mouth or not. Sure, I’d be ok, but that fall had broken about two dozen bones. 

For a moment I thought this was it, that they were going to leave me laying on the rocks at the bottom of the cliff. If this was just some unlucky robbery, I’d be fine. They could clear out my house for all I cared. Given a few hours, or days at the most, I’d be able to heal from my injuries. I’d lost limbs before and watched as they regrew. A fifty foot drop from a cliff wasn’t nothing, but I knew I could come back from it. And then I’d find the unlucky bastards and slit their throats. 

I had my knife, and I knew eventually I could get myself out. If the last 200 years had taught me anything, it was that killing me was incredibly hard. 

But that wasn’t it. They weren’t planning to just leave me there. In my pain I missed the sounds around me. I was surprised when I felt hands picking me up again. Breathe came back into my lungs, or least one of my lungs, and I tried screaming again. A sharp punch to the head, followed by another to my mouth, silenced that. So they had further plans, the drop was just because they were lazy. Now I was going to kill them twice. I groaned and heaved. At that point, my attackers and carriers stumbled, and I felt my legs falling. They touched the cold ocean water as it soaked through the blanket. A  moment later I was dropped onto another hard surface, only this one wasn’t stable, it was rocking back and forth.  

For the next few minutes I lay crumbled in a heap at the bottom of some boat. Again, these guys were cheap. It was some rickety row boat. From the sound of it one paddle was missing its flat end, and the other was being pulled by an idiot who didn’t even understand the concept of rhythm. So, needless to say it took them a while to get me out onto the water. And it wasn’t even high tide, from the sounds of it the ocean was as calm as could be. They were just idiots. 

We were on the boat, again that’s a generous word for it, just long enough that I knew parts of my body had begun to heal. For instance I was no longer breathing out of a punctured lung. My breath had steadied. That’s when I felt hands lifting me again, and I got to say hello to the great big blue. Cold water enveloped me, and I gasped and flailed. Of course that didn’t do anything, since I was tied up in a blanket. I began to sink, slowly at first. Then I heard a splash above me, and a moment later my feet jerked downward and I began to sink, much faster. These murdering thieves weren’t content to just drown me, they wanted to make sure I couldn’t pop back up. That’s when I knew they knew. Bastards. 

Again I counted. This time to thirty. I was wrong about the lung, it had started to heal, emphasis on that starting word. It felt like it was going to burst after the first ten seconds. Well great, this was going to be harder to get out of. My legs and hips were broken, my head was cracked, and the fingers on at least one of my hands were a jumbled mess. You’d think this would be enough damage to incapacitate me, but lucky for me I had a thing about getting hurt. If damage occurred, I’d just wait it out and heal for a few hours. 

Just then I didn’t have hours to wait though. My lungs were ready to explode. So, I bent my body and tried to wriggle my hand for the knife. I then encountered the first good fortune I’d had all night. I found it. It was lodged into my calf, must have gotten there when I hit the rocks. That was lucky, impaling my flesh and all, otherwise I might not have found it. I pulled, and felt a shudder go up my leg. Already skin had closed around it, attempting to heal the wound, as I pulled it re-tore the skin. Yeah healing sometimes had it’s downfalls. 

After an agonizingly long period of time, probably another 10 seconds, I managed to get the knife up toward my chest. I held it in my good hand and started cutting at the blanket. In a few seconds I had cut out a small hole and could feel the ocean current through the opening. 

By now my lungs had had it. I was beginning to waver mentally. I started to pull the knife back in when something brushed past me. An instant later it came back and a thing lunged at my finger. It was probably just a fish. But standing at the bottom of the ocean, lungs burning, barely holding onto my wits, I did what anyone would do and dropped the knife. Having done its good deed for the day the fish retreated, leaving me knife-less. 

That’s when I went into full panic mode. I thrashed my arms and legs, pushing against their bonds with every ounce of energy left. It wasn’t enough. I couldn’t hold on any longer. I instinctively opened my mouth and gasped for air. Water came rushing in and down into my throat. I gagged and choked and felt the wave of burning salty liquid enter my lungs. This was it. 

I was about to answer the question that had plagued my mind for centuries. Could I die? Nothing else had worked, I came back from everything else. I even drew some inspiration from that old movie, Groundhog Day. But unlike the titular hero I never restarted, just kept going and worked through the pain. That’s when I had a moment of clarity and realized I’d never been drowned before. In that moment I did the only sane thing left, I laughed. Well it was more of a gurgle and heave, but inwardly I was laughing. Would drowning work? Now this isn’t to say that I wanted to die. David and I were rather happy with how our life was finally going, and I’d just as soon be back in bed. But when you live as long as I have, you gain a morbid curiosity for this sort of stuff. 

So I was curious what would happen next. I didn’t black out, I thought that was the natural next step. Instead something strange happened. I guess it reminds me of a nature show I watched once. The crazy guy on camera had been bit by an insect, and was using a venom extractor to pull out the toxins. He described feeling the venom literally moving up his arms. The feeling I had was similar in that I sensed my limbs, organs, and veins and muscles all seizing up at once. The funny thing about it is that my brain was cognizant enough to recognize this happening. My best guess was that my body, used to healing itself no matter what occurred, was choosing the areas to focus on and ignoring the rest. My limbs ceased to function, I was paralyzed, but able to think. 

My brain and heart, and other critical functions, somehow kept going. I’m not sure how, because oxygen was in limited supply around me. My body fought for its very life, with every pump of my heart, and with every firing of the neurons in my brain. Somehow my body did its thing and kept working. 

I stood there, frozen in place, pondering my next moves. Knife, ocean, rope, blanket. I considered each of these, and imagined myself getting out of it. Slowly I developed a plan, though my thoughts were barely cohesive. If I could force movement into any part of my body then I might have a chance. As I started to concentrate on my fingers I could feel them moving in the dark, just slightly. The effort took more than I expected, and I blacked out. When I came to I tried again. I had little sense of time. Minutes, hours. They all floated past. 

When I woke again I felt for the hole in the blanket. Only, the hole wasn’t the same hole. Around it I could feel the growth of some sort of weed or underwater grass. Something was growing on the blanket. That’s when I realized that I wasn’t alone anymore, small fish were swimming in and out around me. 

The problem came with the crabs. To this day I hate the little alien creatures with every ounce of my being. It must have been like those documentaries on TV, where the little sea creatures find a dead whale and feast on its body. Something about me screamed dead to them, or maybe these guys didn’t have a particular affinity to dead things. My inability to fully move was just enough to keep them interested. 

At first there was just one. A small crab found its way through the hole in the blanket, crawled down, and investigated. It decided to see if things were good, if I was food. It pinched at my pants, and then started to pull. Its little pinchers must have gotten tangled up in the fabric, because initially I felt no pain. But after some time it reached the prize that it sought. It broke through and got a taste of what it wanted, my leg. 

If I could have screamed at that point I would have, if I could have shook it away, I would have. I moved my hand close and tried to push it away. It moved off and I fell fell mostly unconscious again. That was one time where it was convenient. The problem was, I woke later by more pain. This time it was around my neck and right eye. Two of the crabs were digging around in areas they found to be more accessible. Namely, the fleshy parts of my head. 

In all of the decades I’ve been through, in everything I’ve seen, and in every death I’ve experienced, watched, and imagined, nothing has ever come close to what I experienced at the bottom of that ocean. I’ve been through pain and torture and near-death. This wasn’t the same thing, this was something entirely different. 

Little by little, the crabs, later joined by larger animals, started to enjoy their feast. My body fought and healed itself, but it couldn’t fully regenerate everything. My ears were eaten, then my nose. My toes were eaten, and large chunks of my thighs, neck, legs, and breasts were torn off. I silently screamed and fought it, and then I’d black out again. Each time I mentally resurfaced and felt the pain of being ripped apart, alive. 

This hellish nightmare state continued. It would have been over quickly if I hadn’t been healing, that only prolonged it. The feast didn’t stop. The crabs and small creatures kept coming. Pretty soon they were crawling over the outside and inside of the blanket. My skin and clothes were ripped to shreds. That’s when I thought that it would finally be over. This was a losing battle. There were too many of them, and not enough of me. 

That’s when things started to change. If they hadn’t gone for my eyes I might have known, I might have realized that something was changing. Little by little, my body fought against the invasion and regenerated were it could. It didn’t have any specific intelligence about where it healed me, except that it seemed to focus on things that were vitally needed or things that I was attempting to use. For instance, while the little devils got one of my hands, and all the fingers on it, the hand that originally poked through the hole healed itself. Awake or asleep I shook that hand just enough for them to leave it alone. 

Later I came to again and re-entered a state of consciousness. Before, every time I’d attempt to push the animals away, lack of oxygen and constant pain, along with the inability to move from my confines, would be too much and I’d black out. But now something had changed, I wasn’t tied up anymore and could move, just a little. The animals had torn away the blanket from around me. I instinctively moved my saved hand and realized it was freely mobile. Using every single ounce of strength and sanity, I fought against the urge to start freaking out and pulling at the creatures that surrounded me. It was like being covered by bees from a hive, they dreamed across my body, nibbling and pulling where their hearts desired. One crab was going to town on my larynx, shredding it up and digging into my neck. I could have sworn I actually felt it poking around inside of my throat.

That particular crab got my attention and I reached for it. It was a smaller one. Not like the larger ones that crawled around my feet. I grabbed it, and held tight. It wriggled in my grasp and attempted to turn its pinchers on me. I kept holding onto that crab and slowly tightened my grip. After a few minutes I felt a slight crack. I relished the feeling of power that came back to me in such a small act. It was my way of fighting back. I squeezed until the crab stopped moving, ignoring all the rest around me. Then I dropped it, and knew it had fallen to its grave by my feet. 

Slowly, very slowly, I started shaking my shoulders, and found my other arm. I found it with my free hand and tried to move it. Only, it wasn’t an arm in the normal sense of things. Past the elbow a fleshy strand of skin hung around a protruding bone. My fingers from my good arm felt the bone, and must have touched a nerve. A shudder and groan erupted from me and I flailed as hard as I could. The pain awakened something insight of me, it was like turning on all the lights at Christmas. Suddenly I was back online. 

With my good arm I began pulling crabs away, left and right. I focused on the ones attacking my head and face first. My rapid movement and shuddering must have sent some sort of signal to the rest of the crabs. It would seem they decided that there was now better food to be found. At first they began to drop slowly, then all at once, I could feel the weight of them moving down my body, shoving and pushing against their neighbors to get to the ocean floor. 

I stood there wriggling and shaking as much as I could, continuing to move my arm around my body as fast as I dared. I didn’t want anything thinking I was dead again. When the last of the crabs had gone, I was able to stop and take inventory. I felt around with my good hand. My body was riveted with gouges and holes. I could feel through my rib cage in a number of areas. In at least two places I found tiny fish inside my skin attempting to dig further. My eyes were gone, I knew that by the fact that I couldn’t see anything. I decided I wouldn’t feel for that place, better not to right now. I felt down my legs, the clothes and blanket were all gone. Just my skin, or whatever remained of it, was there.

After a moment I bent and felt my feet, or what was left of them. They were bound by rope and something else. My hand felt over the rope and touched on the additional object. For a moment I puzzled on the shape. Then I remembered, it was a metal chain, and it was coiled around my legs. Something about that wasn’t right, but at the time I couldn’t put two and two together. 

Then, I felt something that gave me a shock, if that was even possible down here in the water. My left foot had been halfway chewed through, up to the ankle. I was careful not to touch the open nerves at the end. Since one of my feet were gone, I was actually able to slip my left leg out of the chain and rope. And just like that I was free. Well, partially. There was still a literally ocean above me, but one step at a time. 

For the next few hours, or perhaps days, time is hard to tell in between consciousness and blackout, I walked across the bottom floor of the ocean. I was completely disoriented, unable to see, and without any internal compass. That was when panic truly set in, and I almost lost it there. I was cold, hungry, and dying every moment. I just wanted to have the pain end, or find my way to the surface. 

Finally I found a large strand of kelp that was blowing in the proverbial breeze. A strong ocean current had bent it in my direction. I grabbed onto that kelp with my good hand and pulled as hard as I could. 

The energy required was exhausting. I kept pulling, then I felt another piece of kelp and pulled on it. I still couldn’t see, but I sensed that I was traveling upward on a long slow grade. With any luck it would lead me to shore. 

That moment finally came when I reached my fingers up for the next strand of kelp. They landed on nothing, I kept feeling around, unsure about what this meant. My brain was trying to process what to do next. Then it hit me, I was touching nothing because, for the first time since entering this watery grave, I was touching air. 

That moment was one of the happiest of my life. I sobbed uncontrollably and gulped in more water, I convulsed, and nearly blacked out again. I reached up and quickly felt for the air above me, to just to make sure it was there. 

I continued moving forward, hand in the air whenever possible, looking for a way up. The ground was running flat at this point, with no more slope. Finally I bumped into a slimy, mussel ridden rock that jutted out in front of me. After some searching I found a tiny hand hold and grabbed onto it. I heaved my head out of the water and attempted to take a breath. Right then a wave crashed my head against the rock, and I started coughing and went into a full on spasm. I sunk back down. 

This would call for another tack. I hobbled past the rock, and continued around, until I found a tiny crevice through it on the other side. I jammed my bad arm joint into it, ignored the pain, and reached my good arm out to find another hold. Using the last bit of my strength I pulled myself up. Got my head and chest above water and tried to breath again. 

Nothing. I forced a cough. It didn’t work. I pulled myself a little higher and somehow was able to seat myself up on the rock. I was now half way out of the water. I leaned over, pulled my bad arm out, and used my good hand to shove my fingers into my throat. My body responded and I heaved. 

Then it came, thick phlegmy liquid came pouring out of my throat. I heaved and vomited, each production of liquid encouraging a fresh wave of heaving. Then it all happened at once, I was no longer pouring liquid out of my mouth, something else had happened. I was breathing air again. I cried, fresh tears welled up in my eye socket as I tasted the sweetest air in the world. It was pure and salty and delicious. With some discomfort I laid down across the rock, head up, gasping in air. 

If anyone had seen me then on the rock, I would probably have validated all the tales of silkies, zombies, or undead creatures. Maybe I would be the origination of some of those stories. My body must have looked like a corpse. I was stripped to the bone in a dozen places. No nose, no ears, no eyes, a foot missing, an arm missing, and toes missing. Holes chewed into my ribs and thighs, and a dozen other wounds across my body. I might have just stayed down there until nothing was left and the fish had their fill, but my body resisted. 

Slowly I started healing. Much slower than normal. My skin began to regenerate and pull together. The thousand tiny cuts and rips, along with the larger wounds, started to heal over. Several hours passed, and I managed to drift to sleep. I was asleep, really sleeping for the first time since entering the ocean. This wasn’t black out unconsciousness, this was normal rest. 

I woke up and felt chilled to the bone. The whole time down there I had felt the cold of the water, but somehow my senses had cut off that feeling. Now I was shivering uncontrollably. I listened to the sound of the waves beating against the rock, and felt water spraying against my body. 

Feeling with my good hand, I reached up into my face and felt around. My nose was healing over, and I could tell the gaping hole wasn’t as large. A thin piece of flesh was converting the single large hole into two holes, where nostrils would soon form. My ears were filling back in slowly. Then I checked my eyes. One of them was still a deep hole, a socket. Nothing there except that gap. The other though, it was there. I could feel it beneath new flesh from an eyelid. Using muscle memory I slowly tried to open my right eye while holding my hand over my left. 

The light blinded for a moment, and I had to blink my eye closed. After a minute, I tried again. Everything was blurry and my vision couldn’t focus. After several more attempts something finally kicked in and my brain registered sight. I could see the the shape and color of the rock, and the water around me. 

I looked to my left, where I had crawled up, and saw the setting sun. Then, in the other direction I saw the moon. It was a full moon. I’d been underwater for a month. 

Summer Camp Thing

It was the last day of Summer camp, and the final group of kids had just left on the large bus. The dust and sound of its engine could be seen and heard in the distance. A bell rang across the camp, and the nearly five dozen teenage staffers let out a collective roar of exuberance. The next few hours were completely free time to relax and catch up on sleep. 

Joana Halverson was 18, and had let out as Assistant Water Sports Director for the Summer. With the departure of the kids she was looking forward to a long, leisurely swim alone on the lake. 

She knew that the water should be checked for moccasins, but felt no inclination since there were no longer any kids to watch over. There had been no sightings the entire Summer, and she had personally checked that morning. She disregarded the sign that read No entry unless lifeguard on duty, and dropped her towel and sandals by the beach. 

At first it looked like she was alone, but then she saw John, the Water Sports Director. He was on the dock, facing away from her, holding a large rod and a two-way radio. He was bent over the dock and  looking into the water, talking to someone. She briefly wondered what they were doing. 

Joana waved to John, and then turned away, wading into the water. If she had stopped for just a moment, if she had looked back, she would have seen him turning and saw his frantic movement, followed by waving and shouting. But there was no time for that. 

The pain came, instant, radiating, like a hot ember pierced through her body. Her right foot was on fire. The pain shot up past her leg and all the way to her spine, enveloping her neck and head. A puncture, she had stepped on something. She could feel what was best described as a pulsing throb through her veins. As a child she had stepped on a rattlesnake once, and knew something about venom and its reaction on the bloodstream. This was worse, ten times worse. 

With the pain came paralysis. Her body seized up, and she gasped for breath. Joana fell over into the water, face down. That’s when she could feel something large wrapping around her leg. 

A whistle blew overhead and Joana finally registered the sound of splashing and yelling coming from the dock. But it was a faint whisper. The thing, and it was a thing, something large and enveloping, pulled at her body. In an instant she was yanked backward, and then pulled along the bottom of the shallows toward the drop-off.

Lake Parabula was known as the deepest freshwater lake in Virginia. It had been a scuba diving test ground before being purchased by a local Baptist church as a Summer camp for kids. 

As she was pulled down she could remember the fact that staffers  relayed to each of the kids on their first day of orientation. A number stood out in her mind. 352 feet. That’s how deep the water went at its lowest point in the lake. In fact it was so deep that you could see the difference by looking at the lake on a satellite map. This thing was making a hasty retreat for its murky home in the center of lake. 

The shallows disappeared under her and the deep black hole opened up. That’s when the third phase of the venom struck her. Only this time it was no longer painful. Peace came over Joana as as her paralysis combined with semi-consciousness. She couldn’t fight it, and she was strangely accepting of what lay ahead. She was going to die, and for some reason she was ok with that. She imagined her life ahead of her, gone in an instant. Thoughts flooded through her head. Thoughts of school, her career ambitions, the promise that she and John would start dating right after camp, her twin sister Jane sleeping in the cabin across the lake, her her long dead parents and her promise to them the night before they died. All of this flashed before her, and she knew that, despite being surrounded by water, tears had formed in her eyes.

That’s when she felt a sudden shift. The paralysis and pain that completely entombed her abated. It wasn’t gradual, at once she had control of her mind and body again, and the thing let go. She felt the large object slither off her leg. Terror suddenly came flooding back, drove her forward. She kicked and flailed as hard as she could, groping for the surface above her. Joana was a strong swimming, training for a triathlon in the Fall. She judged the distance above her to be no more than 20 meters, but reaching it proved difficult. 

The entire event prior had taken less than ten seconds from first sting to the thing letting go of her, but the journey back to the surface took nearly a minute. If Joana hadn’t spent most of the  Summer swimming she might not have been able to make it. As it was she could see black spots clouding her vision as she clambered upward against the black abyss. Her entire stroke and kicking was off, but she had no time to register why.

The surface came all at once. Joana shot upwards, gasping for breath, coughing and sputtering. 

“There she is, I see her!” A voice shouted to her left. 

“Grab her under her armpits.” 

“Be careful, hold her head.”

She could hear a dozen voices around her, and she struggled to speak. Seconds later she was partially dragged back onto the sand. Her feet resting underneath the brackish water.

She looked up at the earnest faces and tried to yell. She wanted to warn them, wanted to get away. John was closest, and was trying to prop up her head with the towel. That’s when the screams started again. 

Joana instinctively pulled up her legs to protect against that thing, whatever it was in the water. It must be coming back, it was going to try and get her again. That’s when she saw it. Her right foot was gone. It had been cleanly amputated at the calf. Only, it wasn’t some sort of rip from an animal. It had been cauterized, and smelled of burning flesh and rotting vegetation. The thing had gotten its first meal.