THE BEAST FROM THE SEA
And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea
January, 1950 - Cornwall, England.
All was quiet and as it should be, in the small, but ever so unfortunate fishing town that need not be named. To name it would mean bearing its curse. It was a dull town, seemingly untouched by the unfathomable horrors that had swept across the world only some years ago. However, though it was quiet and all but asleep, a low and dense mist was moving in from the sea.
It would not have been terribly unusual to the residents of our unfortunate town, were it not for the evil smell that it carried within. A lingering, sulphuric smell . . . the smell of strange and unsettling things.
Of course, not all in town smelt this omen at once, as the putrid mist made its steady walk through the town’s winding cobbled streets, through the windows of its motley cottages, into the quiet homes where the fireplaces burned softly through the wintry night.
Indeed, not all smelt it, but one man, whose nose was prominent on his weather-beaten face, situated boldly above a thick, dark moustache, standing sentinel between two deep and world-weary eyes. This man was John Black, who at the precise moment the mist was rolling in, spreading its evil as it went, was sitting alone at the bar of a local tavern, drinking whisky and casually smoking his pipe.
John Black, an outsider, was known to the folk in town. He was an honest man, a hard working man, a solitary man, who, with a war behind him, had long settled into life as a fisherman. He was a man without a family, and the only brothers he had ever known had died in Europe.
Nevertheless, he smelt it, disturbing the pleasant, bitter scent of his tobacco pipe, John Black smelt it and instantly felt something rise up within him. It was fear, he could tell it a mile off, something he had not felt in many years.
As the mist was creeping in through every crack and crevice of the tavern, and as the hour hand stretched slowly toward midnight, the door swung open and into the tavern stepped three strangers.
The first was the tallest, and he was indeed freakishly tall. His neck and hands, the only parts of his body not concealed by his ghostly, black leather trench-coat, were covered in strange tattoos. Also, John noticed at once, his head was completely hairless, so that his menacing red eyes appeared his only distinguishable features. The other two men, dwarfed by this hairless monolith, entered behind and loitered in the shadows.
The tall man stopped before the bar and eyed John Black with his powerful red glare. Then he spoke:
“Sergeant John Black, here, after all.” He had a strange, almost foriegn accent and a preternaturally deep voice.
“I’m no Sergeant,” replied John, taking a cool sip from his whiskey. “Who are you?”
The tall man took a pace closer to the bar, stepping under a ceiling lamp which illuminated his whole figure. There was a wicked grin on his face, as though he knew something that no one else did.
“Some call me the Dragon, but I would prefer my name to stay out of it. It’s business, John Black, that’s all.”
John saw clearly now, the markings upon the stranger’s skin. They were the winding, serpentine patterns of scales, snake’s heads and dragon’s breath. He could smell it on the man, the evil.
“I don’t want anyone’s business. Goodbye now, thanks.”
John turned back to the bar. He looked at the barman, who was nervous. John gave him a wink and he disappeared into a backroom.
“I’m sorry, John, but I have come a long way, as have you. I simply cannot take no for an answer. Besides, you haven’t even heard what I’ve got to offer.”
John gulped down the last of his whiskey, placed some change on the bar, and put his pipe in the corner of his mouth.
“I suppose it’s time I go home.”
John Black walked straight past the tall, trench-coated man, toward the door. However, the two shadowy figures, who had until then remained silent, suddenly blocked the doorway. John noticed as they stepped into the light that the two men were incredibly pale, with scars on their expressionless faces. One wore a tattered tweed jacket and a fractured monocle, while the other donned a checkered green flat cap, fingerless leather gloves and a pair of racing goggles.
“I’m afraid I cannot let you go, for your own sake, John,” said the tall man, the Dragon.
“Please, take a seat, let’s talk.”
“Very well,” said John, seeing that there was no option beside violence.
The tattooed stranger pulled a chair and John Black sat down.
“Let’s hear it then,” said John.
“Right now, I have in my possession something that needs delivering. You have a boat, do you not?”
John Black sighed impatiently.
“I’m a fisherman, I don’t deal in cargo.”
“Ah, but a boat is a boat. I am not a stickler for the rules!”
John did not want to listen anymore. He stood up and paced toward the door, where the two deathly pale and oddly dressed men remained on guard.
“If only you would listen,” implored the tattooed man, though with a hint of irony.
“There’s so much in it for you!”
John stopped and turned around.
“What might that be?” he asked.
“Life eternal,” said the man, grinning. “Wealth, of course! Money, I have plenty of that to give. Please, John Black, I’m well aware of your little side-dealings in, what would you call it, exotic cargo.”
John’s patience was razor thin. He clenched his fists. At that moment the barman reappeared from some back room clutching an old shotgun.
“Kindly tell your goons to make way, or their lives will be far from eternal!”
The hairless freak chuckled grimly in his chair, not at all perturbed by the double-barrelled antique.
“Certainly,” he said and waved his tattooed hand at the two men. “Why don’t you sleep on it John, so that you may decide in the light of day.”
John Black left the tavern and went straight home to his bed. By then the fog was as thick as paint, and was settling everywhere about the town. It was evil, John knew it. Somehow, he had always known it, for it followed him. As his head hit the pillow, the hour hand struck one. He soon fell asleep and dreamt of things he had seen in Europe, terrible and obscene things. Things, that like eerie reflections on the water, he had also seen in the mist that night.
The following morning, the morning of what would turn out to be a gray and miserable day, John was out fishing at the tip of a rickety wooden pier, watching the dark blue waves crash one atop the other in mysterious dance.
To John Black’s content, the pier was absolutely empty, not a soul in sight! Only himself, his fishing rod and the massaging sound of the sea. The previous night’s mist and its rotten smell seemed to have moved on. Indeed, so it seemed, but this was not the case, for it was at the precise moment the hour struck eight that John Black’s nose was offended for the second time. It was, there could be no doubt, that very same stench which had cast itself over town last night, within which something evil had secretly moored, concealing itself as it made its midnight crawl through the streets.
John sat up in his fold-away chair and scanned the pier with alert, soldierly regard. There was nothing there, only the faint odour and the gusting sea wind. Suddenly, his fishing line snapped taut. He had caught something! He leapt onto the rod, but was instantly pulled to and fro by it. Whatever was on the end of that line was big, far too big to be controlled. It was too much, the rod was yanked straight out of John’s hands and pulled swiftly beneath the waves.
“Bloody hell,” John Black muttered to himself, staring over the pier’s edge into the sea.
“There goes your rod,” said a gruff voice in his left ear.
“Jolly good effort though, chap,” drawled another on his right.
John nearly jumped out of his skin. Standing beside him, seeming to have materialized from nowhere, were two men that he vaguely recognised. On his left was a short man dressed like a race car driver, while to his right a man dressed in tweed was eyeing him through a broken monocle. “It’s them!” John thought to himself, catching a strong whiff of sulphur. “Those goons from the tavern last night, come to bully me into their rotten deal!” Dark and stormy clouds appeared on the horizon, like something out of a story.
“What do you two circus freaks want?”
“Well now, there’s no need for insults, old chap,” said the tweed-clad halfwit.
“Just leave me alone,” said John, sulking over his drowned fishing rod.
“Please, Mr. Black . . . May I call you Mr. Black? We wouldn’t want Codger to get upset. He’s a little slow, if you catch my drift.”
“Who in God’s name is Codger?”
Suddenly the man in racing gear, wearing his ridiculous goggles, piped up:
“I’m Codger, and I ain’t slow! I’m quick! Do you think I’m slow? Well I ain’t, I ain’t!”
“Calm down, Codger,” said the tweeded gentleman. “Let me talk to the man. So, Mr. Black, have you had any time to consider my boss’s offer? What’s the verdict? I do hope it’s positive. The boss, he can get ever so angry about the most trivial matters. And this happens to be far from trivial!”
“The answer’s no,” said John Black. “Now clear off.”
The slow midget, with supernatural swiftness, produced a switchblade from his pocket.
“Nobody says no to the Dragon,” he said, angling the blade at waist height toward John Black’s guts.
“Keep pointing that little toy at me,” said John, cooly, “and you’ll be on the deck so fast, you’d think it was the grand prix.”
“Gentlemen, gentlemen!” implored the faux aristocrat.
However, the mad raceman started wielding the knife even more wildly, jabbing it near John’s cheek. John, acting on instinct alone, grabbed the arm which held the blade with one hand, and with his other gave the man a swift strike across the temple. The blow landed clean and he dropped to the rickety wooden deck of the pier with a thud.
“My lord, what have you done!” cried the other. “You’ve killed him! Murderer!”
“He’s not dead,” said John. “Just unconscious. He’ll come around in a little while.”
But the man in the tweed jacket was already on his knees checking the racer’s pulse. He cried out: “Dead, I say! Cold as Hell! You beast!”
John looked closely at the prostrate raceman, whom he did not hit very hard, and noticed to his utter surprise that he was in fact not breathing, that his eyes were staring dead and empty into the overcast sky. A trickle of blood then emerged from the man’s nostril.
“Oh, Christ,” John muttered. “He really is dead.”
Suddenly the tweed clad man sprang to his feet, adjusted his monocle and like a schizophrenic, assumed an oddly calm demeanor.
“Now, old chap,” he said. “As it seems you have just this very instant killed a man, robbing him of life, you are now placed in something of a pickle. So, my friend, it is up to you. This can all go away, if you only agree to our business proposition. Your boat, our cargo, A to B, done and dusted! Of course, the extravagant wealth we initially offered may be a little less than extravagant, on account of our dead associate here.” A genteel smile curled around the stranger’s pallid cheeks. “What do you say, Mr. Black?”
John stared down at the lifeless body. It didn’t seem real, as though something, he could not quite place his finger on it, was gironmously off keel. It was ever since that mist had set in last night, as though it had offset the balance of the world, made it absurd, like a dream in which he was waiting to wake up. He felt too, and this unnerved him most, as if something was laughing at him from some unknowable place, some fathomless depth. What it all meant, John Black did not know. He knew only that his choices were limited, and that he was at the whim of this farce of a man with his broken monocle.
“I will make it all go away,” the man kept saying, but the voice now seemed to emanate in strange echoes inside John’s own head. “It will all disappear, old chap . . . It will all vanish.”
The pier was sunless and gray, and the fog was beginning to rise all around them, like souls from the grave.
The hour was nearing midday, and the mist had set in, thick and odorous like chemical gas. John Black was standing on the jetty beside the gangway to his small fishing boat, affectionately named, Old Blue. Standing beside him was the man in the tweed suit, whose name he did not know, but whose thumb he felt pressing down ever harder upon his head.
“Any minute now, the boss will be here.”
Then, like living voices in a dream, footsteps clicked and clacked within the mist, and there emerged on the jetty two men. The first, tyrannically tall and darkly ministerial, was the one known as the Dragon, wearing his black trench-coat. However, it was the man who accompanied him that frightened John the most. It was him, the slow little raceman, risen from the dead, donning the very same goggles, fingerless gloves and racing-green flat cap he had worn when they tossed his lifeless body into the sea. There he was, living and breathing as if nothing had happened!
It was at that point that John Black, despite being a man of notably strong nerve, fainted. When he woke up he found himself lying on the deck at the fore of his boat, rocking from side to side with the swells.
“Wakey, wakey!” said a harrowing voice.
There he was, the Dragon, squatting down beside him.
“Where the hell are we?” said John Black. “This is my bloody boat, you devil!”
“Relax,” said the Dragon, his red eyes glowing like lanterns in the fog. “You’ve bumped your head, so let the fresh sea air in. That’s it, breathe!”
“Get away from me!” said John, staggering to his feet.
The boat was crashing into the waves, throwing him off balance, despite his sealegs. However, the Dragon did not move, like a flagpole fixed to the deck. Just then a strong wind blew, and the wind was like a thousand sirens, like a satanic choir squealing in his ears. Then the sky blackened before John’s very eyes to the colour of pitch and blood, and the sea began to stir and boil, like a witch’s cauldron, like the hatred and fantasies in the hearts of men. And out of the sea there rose a second dawn.
“My God,” said John Black, who could not believe it, for he did not believe.
“Yes,” said the Dragon.
Then the beast rose out of the sea and the earth was taken as first to bear its mark, for the righteous were nil.