Tucked somewhere near Santa Cruz, but not well-known to locals or tourists, is an expanse of beach dotted with patches of shrubbery and occasional palm trees. Perhaps because the generous acreage is private property, deeded to an obscure trust, few have ventured into the area. Jim Stanger was an exception to this rule.
A few degrees of connections were all it took for Jim to temporarily rent for the summer the California beachfront bungalow that sat by itself under the sun. With no roommates to deal with nor anyone else in the vicinity, he felt he could finally settle down and write his Great American Novel—a longtime ambition he is determined to realize during his summer break.
After a week of succumbing to the lull of the ocean sound whooshing against the sand, he begins each day drinking copious cups of coffee. For every gulp, he taps on his laptop keyboard, aiming to fill several pages per day of whatever inanity comes out. In time, he finds himself being able to string together a coherent story, easily starting from where he left off the prior day. Eventually, he starts to feel wrapped up in the dream world he’s created.
One day, as he finishes a rather involved passage, he glances up, looking out to the horizon to give his eyes a break. A fleshy bit of color swimming in the ocean catches his attention. He squints to better focus his eyes but whatever it is soon disappears from his sight line. For some reason, he feels spooked since he hasn’t mingled with a single soul for a month now. He’s stocked up for three months’ worth of food so he wouldn’t distract himself with runs to Trader Joe’s. He goes back to work again.
The next day, a different rhythmic sound from the ocean interrupts his usual engrossed state. Something about the pattern of the splashing is different from the regular lapping on the shores he’s become accustomed to. He looks out to the ocean and is rattled to see the same fleshy swimmer he saw yesterday, except today it seems a little closer.
In the following days, Jim gets progressively alarmed as he notices that the swimmer gets closer and is staying longer in his sight line. He starts to notice the ribs etched on its chest, although he can’t really tell whether the swimmer is swimming on its back or front. But, the closer it gets, he’s seeing features he’s never seen before on any person. He can’t tell if it’s human, even though the fleshy tone looks familiar.
One morning he wakes up sweating, partially because all the windows are closed and because he’s afraid of what’s been approaching the beach. He decides to pack up and go back to his hometown in Kansas City. His attention is shot; he can’t write anymore.
Weeks later, ensconced in the comfort of his armchair, Jim is watching the morning news and sees a piece about a sea lion festival very close to where he was staying in California. The few images he sees looks similar to what he thinks he saw. He guffaws and suddenly feels like a buffoon for hightailing from such an innocuous creature. With lifted spirits, he decides to go hiking to the state park and come back later to write, feeling revived and inspired.
As Jim finishes his hike, he sees the beautiful view of the lake. From the corner of his eye, he sees a movement in the still lake. Swimming a few feet away is another fleshy looking creature. It’s just like California. But it looks nothing like a sea lion.