by Lenee Cobb
This story is an excerpt of Moonwalks and Unknowns.
Port Williams Beach 1991
Tonight the moon is full and I cannot sleep. It is so beautiful and inviting outside. Time to hunt or hide. Time to ponder upon the ancients. Manganese blues, crystal stars, and unicorns. When youth is restored through wonder, and age is measured in memory. The thrill of being alive to wonder. The dare of present Unknowns.
It is early spring. I am thirty-four and my brother Tom has come to visit. Port Williams Beach lies on the western shores of Sequim Bay. He and I park the car and step out into the swirling fog. Sharp brine beckons me with an ancient familiarity: sautéed in mystery and seasoned with fear.
I glance northward, into the darkness of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and although I hear the gentle lap of small waves, and the faraway bark of a seal, I cannot see the sea through the fog. I feel as if I am trespassing somehow, like I am somewhere I should not be. And in my initial excitement I shrug off a creeping feeling of trepidation for the sake of adventure.
We negotiate the driftwood bridge to get down to the beach and walk south along the surf. The full moon rising in the south over Blyn Mountain illuminates the fog enough for us to see it’s shimmering reflection upon the bay. The scene reminds me of pirate ships and treasure coves. Secret places. Secret places hide Unknowns. I stop walking. My spirit prays. Please God; protect us in Jesus name amen.
My brother stops and turns towards me, speaking quietly, “You okay?”
“Yes.” I whisper.
“Shall we continue?”
I swallow; look him in his shadowed eyes, nod, and stride forward. I am not as brave as I was in my youth, and there are reasons for it. But I will not allow those fears to show.
During my ninth-grade year, our church organized an overnight youth-group trip to the ocean. Everyone else was asleep except for my best friend Annie, and me. We wanted to walk the beach at night. We closed the hotel room door quietly, not wanting to wake anyone.
This was not the first time her and I snuck out together. Sneaking for the sake of sneaking.
Giggling at ourselves, we meander between hotels and businesses until we come to the hole in the fence we’d seen earlier, our nearest gateway to the Pacific. We slip through it.
The moon is rising in the southeast but the lights of the businesses lining the beach obliterate it. We scuttle through sand dunes, make our way to the surf, and walk along the beach, watching starlight glint off of wet pebbles after the foam recedes into the blackness. Occasionally, we stop to look west.
West.There is a point on the dark horizon where water and sky meld and the stars are no more—where I can’t discern what is water and what is sky.
My stomach spasms and my breath catches.
I don’t like not knowing. I was okay till now.
I force myself to study the stars above us. There are two layers of wispy clouds between us and heaven. Annie studies them with me. One layer is moving westward and the other is moving east. The cloud study doesn’t help me. I want to go back. She argues a little.
I do not trust the ocean. I was in Alaska during the big quake and giant tsunamis.
She doesn’t understand. She finds it a lame excuse but humors me. We are on a church outing after all.
I remind myself God is in control. We turn north, ambling at the surf’s edge.
She watches her feet, mesmerized in the glimmer of surf and star, same as I’ve been doing, when I look away. I want to get out of here. It is suddenly so important for us to get out of here.
I search the buildings behind the sand dunes, looking for a landmark that will tell me where the hole in the fence is, not by turning my head, just glancing that way out of the corner of my eye. I’m too proud and stubborn to turn my head and look for our hole. I don’t want her to know just how scared I am right now.
Chills make the hairs on the back of my neck tingle and I force myself to breath because my stomach is clenched. Mid-breath ceases along with my heart. My eyes lock onto another pair staring back at me from the top of a sand dune. The eyes are blazing red, hot as fire, and inside a huge body — a massive blackness standing on two legs and silhouetted against the backdrop of beach business lights.
My head moves not but my chest does. I regulate my breathing, if not my racing heart.
I slide a glance back at Annie and open my mouth to warn her of the beast thing staring at us. She is still staring at wet pebbles and foam. I feel impressed upon not to tell her anything — that if I do she might startle and that would be a bad, very bad thing.
My eyes slide back to the beast’s glowing red eyes. He stares right into mine. He has no pupils. He stands, straddling something large and dark lying in a heap upon the top of the sand dune, maybe even something dead.
Annie and I will have to walk towards the beast and around it in order to get to the hole in the fence that will lead us to the road that will take us back to our hotel.
God created everything. God controls everything. Silently, I repeat this, never losing eye contact.
The time comes when we have to veer to our right, away from the beach and towards the dunes. I pray Annie keeps watching her step. I am not. I am not looking at where my feet are going at all as the distance between us and the beast lessens.
We walk slowly, closer. It does not turn its body but now must turn its head. We are evenly aside it now, 20 feet of sand separating us. I have an idea.
My brother and I walk south, on, and on. Animal trails in the dune grasses disappear into the darkness. Unidentified sounds float above the measured laps of the salt water. I turn around and look back north, where we came from, and outward over the water, which I know by sound and vast darkness to be there, and my heart skips a beat or two because I cannot see it.
Thick fog and inky shadows hide where we came from, the salty bay, the Strait, and the swamp we walk beside. I stop, turning to face the swamp. I scour the dunes trying to identify every silhouetted shape: grass, driftwood, or shrub. My neck chills.
We should run all the way back to the safety of our car but I am too embarrassed to say so. Instead, I casually suggest we turn back now. Thankfully, my brother doesn’t argue.