Excerpt From Submitted Short Story

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Ophidia

The cold air ripped across the beach like a wraith lashing at exposed skin. Cold Harbor lived up to its name most days, but today especially so. The black waves slammed into the coast sending up a thick spray. Dr. Reid Clark stood near the road away from the biting spray. The sheriff had called earlier that morning asking for consultation on a death. He didn’t know how a researcher could assist on a homicide, or how the sheriff knew his name. However, the sheriff’s tone left little room for argument. The body lay close to the shore, with tarps protecting the scene.  The deputies milled about near the body, while the coroner and sheriff spoke. Sheriff Day waved for Reid to approach from near the body. He began to walk down the embankment and into the sand, sudden anxiety gripping his chest. The sand was wet and cold, some it spilled into his shoe filling him with discomfort and doing little to ease his growing fear. He hated beaches, the sand seemed to never come out of his shoes, and the spray always coated his clothes in salt. 

“Morning, Dr.Clark now I know you’re not an expert on animal attacks, but I thought maybe you could give it a try,” called Sherif Day over the roar of the wind. Reid quickened his pace and came to stand behind the sheriff. 

“Good morning, sheriff. I can certainly do my best, but I’m more of a scientific historian. I’m sure your coroner knows much better than I.”

“Well Dr. Clark I’m rather new here myself and a little help can’t do much harm.” 

“I’ll do my best, but again, I’m sure I won’t provide much insight.” Reid wished that the man would let him leave. 

“That’s all I’m asking for,” The sheriff lifted the tarp off the body exposing a shocking scene. The fishermen’s body was mangled beyond recognition. Beneath the sternum, nothing remained, except for ragged strips of flesh that hung from the eviscerated torso. Reid stifled the need to vomit, hot spit filling his mouth as he turned away from the horror. 

“What you think could have done it?” asked the sheriff. Reid composed himself, blinking away tears from the corners of his eyes. The crescendo of panic faded as he straightened his jacket, and began to repeatedly clench his hands. 

“Maybe a shark, but I’ve never seen one do that amount of damage around, especially this far in the northern hemisphere.” 

a large grey truck pulled over onto the embankment near Reid’s small purple beetle. Its lights flicked off and a man climbed out of the truck. He was short and somewhat heavier set. He began down the embankment, stumbling in the sand. He wore an old flannel shirt over a once white shirt. His stocking cap was torn and ragged in places giving him a disheveled look. This was compounded by the unkempt hair and beard that whipped about in the frigid gusts. 

“Mornin’, Sheriff,” called the man as he approached the scene.

“Paul, this is Dr. Clark. He’s going to be helping out also,” said the sheriff. Paul grasped Reid’s hand and gave it a firm shake.

“Nice to meet you, Dr. Clark.”

“Paul is a fishermen from down in Port Royale since we’re so close I asked him to drive up and give it a look, same as you.” Paul walked closer to the mangled hunk of flesh, wincing as he saw the full extent of the injuries. 

“That’s a pretty mean bite,I’m not sure what could do that, but God almighty I hope I never meet it.”

The trio stared at the body, uncertainty painting their faces with a tinge of fear. 

“I’m going back into town guys, I’ll let the Coroner and his men finish up. I’d appreciate it if you two could think on what could’ve done it and both meet with me in town later.”

“Would this afternoon be all right for you two? I’ll be back around five,” asked Paul, glancing from the sheriff to Reid. Reid nodded, but continued to wish that they would let him simply leave. 

“Sounds like a plan, see both of you later. Just come on down to the station and ask for me, Cindy’ll tell me you’re there.”

As the three began to walk up the sandy hill a wave crashed hard into the beach sending up a chilling spray. Reid jumped, the cold surprising him. He turned, facing the ocean and thunder echoed as swells and black clouds writhed on the horizon. He glanced back at the poor soul that lay on the beach, but something then caught Reid’s eye. A piece of coral had washed ashore. It was discolored, a strange green spine jutting from the side of the tendrilled mass of white spines. He walked toward the fragment, lifting it from the sea. The coral had grown up around the green plate-like thing. He took the strange fragment and carried it with him to the road. 

“Hey Paul, you ever seen anything like this before?” He said handing the coral to him. 

“Oh yeah, I’m not sure what the thing is but every so often one will wash ashore. It’s funny that kind of coral isn’t supposed to live around here. At least not near shore, its from way down deep.”

“Yeah that is funny… , oh thanks for the help.” Reid then took the piece of coral, and walked to his car. He placed the coral on the passenger floorboard, on an old-college t-shirt. The car was a welcome respite from the frigid wind. He stared again at the odd coral formation puzzled by the mysterious origin. He drove into town, rain falling with a gentle patter against the windshield, the streams racing along the glass. The slate gray sky blanketed the world in a dreamlike monochrome. 

He drove into the small fishing town of Ophidian Bay. The town was small, home to only two thousand or so. The town had known better times. Once a hub for fishermen, now little commerce remained. Dr. Clark initially came to the bay in search of why the town had failed. The Smithsonian tasked him with discovering the cause for a piece on North American fishing. So far, he was uncertain why many of the fishermen abandoned the region. Ophidian Bay was well known for whaling during the first half of the century, but a series of terrible storms had ravaged the area. This caused the whalers to leave, but the fishermen left with them. Reid asked around the town for weeks, but everyone he met was tight lipped on the subject. The behavior perplexed him, it seemed to only occur in Ophidian Bay. The fishermen forty miles south, in Port Royale, were quite friendly and answered his questions without evasion. However, this spawned another mystery. Why was Ophidian Bay struggling, while their southern neighbors flourished? Port Royale expanded in the past century from a miniscule village to one of the most frequented stops along the northwestern coast. 

Dr. Clark drove through the town, past the few remaining stores lining the main street. He took a left past the ancient bar lovingly called The Broken Oar. He continued down the aged, pockmarked road until he arrived at the only hotel in town. The decrepit structure seemed to lean with each gust of wind, the paint cracked and peeling everywhere. The shutters, what remained of them, hung loosely from the windows broken and flapped in the breeze. From its architecture it appeared that it once was quite beautiful. He found it haunting it’s lost beauty hung to the building like a burial shroud. Past decadence revealed itself in strange ways. His favorite was the massive chandelier in the lobby with string lights thrown about it as the wiring failed. The entire town mirrored this feeling. Once beautiful things now forgotten. 

As he gathered his things, standing in the overgrown parking lot rain continued to form an oppressive wreath of grey. In his hands, the sharp coral felt cool and wet. The emerald plate seemed to shimmer and warp in the light. He passed through the cavernous lobby, climbed the stairs, walked down the long hall of the second floor, and arrived at room 33. His door swung open, moaning as it went. The lights did little to illuminate the room, He had found that dim and grey were the go to for the small fishing hamlet. Reid lay on the bed, thinking of the events from the beach, he still felt the man’s grey lifeless eyes staring up into him.

***

The fragment of coral rested on the small worn dresser in the corner of the room. For the past two hours Reid, researched everything he thought held relevance to the attack, and coral. The horrific wounds did not match shark attacks. While many sharks, including some quite large ones did reside within the waters, none left wounds similar to those of the fisherman. That which had shorn the man in two left strange round indentations along what remained of the sternum. Reid still could not drive out the gruesome image from his mind. The coral he discovered belonged to a species that resided in the dark some one thousand meters below the surface. Reid could not fathom how such a sample had risen up from the depths. 

Perhaps it’s unrelated, I may just be grasping at straws, thought Reid, as he stared at the mysterious tangle of coral. The pale white coral appeared unremarkable, but the strange, angled plate still shone with that shifting, emerald light, that seemed to writhe and dance in the light. While the color and strange optical behavior appeared completely foreign, he felt some familiarity with the shape of the object. Reid reached into his bag, sifting through the contents. Finally, he found the pocket knife at the bottom. He pulled it free, and flipped out the blade. Reid wedged the blade between a small gap in the coral and the mysterious plate. After a few minutes of prying, and some erratic stabbing, pieces of broken coral fell to the floor. Now freed from the coral prison, he saw the true shape of the thing.  The diamond shape was odd, and soon exposed the true nature of the object. While unlike any scale he had seen before, he recognized the sloped round edges that tapered into points. He set the scale back on the dresser, and lay on the bed more confused than before. He rested his eyes and slowed his thoughts,letting sleep take him. 

Reid awoke two hours later unsure of the time. The eternal grey, of Ophidian Bay prevented any determination for time of day. He grabbed his phone from the nightstand, checking the time. He found two missed calls, and a voicemail from the sheriff. He pulled up the voicemail, and listened. 

“Dr. Reid, Uh.. you know maybe you were right. This was a bit of an overstep to ask you to help. I could tell that you seemed uncomfortable and  you know I think it’s best if my department pursues this case on our own from here on out. Hope you understand. I just think it’ll be safer.” 

“Weird,” mumbled reid to himself. This morning the sheriff ignored all his many protests, adamant on needing Reid’s help. The gruff man did not feel like the type to change his mind seemingly on a whim. His mind began to spin, what happened between this morning and now. Something felt wrong, he could feel his face growing warm, as the hairs along his neck stood on end. A chill ran down his arm, as Reid became aware that it felt as though he were being watched. The room felt still, but it was as though there were some shift in the air. He jumped out of bed grabbing his keys, dashing through the door. He left his room, and bounded through the hotel towards his car, every few steps glancing about wildly. A blast of frigid Ophidian Bay air ripped at him as Reid stepped out into the crisp salty air. He climbed into the car, locking the door behind him. The heat began to warm him, melting away the cold from his joints. From the corner of his eye, a single curtain swung back into place in a second floor window. Reid pulled out from the parking lot, and began driving toward the police station, his heart pounding in his chest.

***

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