Recalling the sensation of my eyes bursting before they turned to ash is the only feeling of comfort I can extract from that moment last year.
I was walking my dog on the beach near my home. The beach had been closed for the season because of a toxic algae bloom. The woods in my backyard let out to the beach, though, and I knew enough to stay away from the water.
Parker and I were finishing up when I heard splashing near the shore. I glanced over and saw what appeared to be a school of fish trapped under the thick, algal sludge. I was surprised; the water was supposedly hypoxic from the algae. I assumed the fish would stay away.
The splashing persisted as we walked by. Parker growled. I was concerned, since he never showed any aggression of any sort since we’d gotten him neutered. But as the splashing grew louder and the water grew increasingly turbid, Parker’s growls became ferocious and he started to bark and pull at his leash.
I stopped and held the leash with both hands. The last thing I wanted was for him to jump in and get that algae all over him. I watched the water with Parker for a minute, then tugged the leash to get us back on track. The splashing stopped. Parker calmed down. We turned and began to move back toward the woods.
Right when we were about to step through the treeline, Parker pulled at my leash again. I tugged right back and moved on. Janice was making dinner and I’d be damned if we’d be late. Parker pulled again. Hard. At the same time, he whimpered. I glanced down while pulling back. My breath caught in my throat.
Something was grabbing Parker’s hind leg. Something thick and tubular, almost like a heavily-veined tentacle. As the steady tug persisted and Parker’s whimpering grew shrill and pained, I whirled around and saw the thick rope of veiny muscle stretching from the algae to my dog.
Without thinking, I stomped on the tentacle, feeling its boneless gristle deform under the heel of my boot. With a pull so powerful it tore the leash from my hand and caused a sickening, cracking sound to come from the area of Parker’s leg and hip, the dog was launched through the air and splashed into the water. He struggled to stay afloat.
I ran across the beach and was about to jump in when a writhing mass of tentacles of all sizes began to emerge from the water. They were everywhere and stretched as far as I could see. Way in the distance, something else was starting to come to the surface.
I was rooted to the ground with sheer, uncomprehending terror. I gazed at the shape as it rose from the surf. Parker had disappeared under the water. The tentacles slapped and writhed and twisted against one another as if they were dancing. My eyes remained riveted to the form emerging about 1000 feet offshore. I felt a hideous pressure forming in the back of my eyes accompanied by a blinding headache.
Seagulls swooped from the air to bite the fleshy masses, only to be pulled under by smaller, lightning-quick tendrils erupting from the larger tentacles. As more of the mass in the distance emerged, the blurrier it got. But as the pressure grew unbearable and my vision diminished, I still made out features: a hideous, gaping mouth. Clusters of holes with stalks emerging from them. Eyes attached to each stalk. And something else – something I can only describe as orbs of meat slowly orbiting its main bulk. I wept.
It made one sound. Only one.
With a wet pop, my eyes burst. I felt the lachrymal fluid boiling as it ran down my cheeks. There was intense heat in my eye sockets and I was dimly aware of my hair beginning to burn. Before I lost consciousness, I was overwhelmed by a sensation of relief that I no longer had eyes to stare at the abomination in the water. I was ready to die.
Three months later, I woke up in my own bed. I’d been in the hospital for 10 weeks. My wife had cared for me the entire time. No one knew what had happened to me. If it hadn’t been for another passerby, I would have died on that beach.
In the days that followed, I did my best to relay to my wife what had happened. She just stroked the remains of my face and tried to console me. I could tell she believed none of it.
In my eyeless nightmare, I try to move on with my life. It’s slow going. After what I’d seen, I can think of almost nothing else. There are times when I think I can get by. Times, late at night, while Janice sleeps, and I lay on my back gathering the emotional strength I’ll need to carry on.
But then, far off in the distance, I hear Parker barking. And they’re barks made by something other than him working his mouth and throat and lungs.
I’ll turn over in bed and imagine tears leaking out of my old eyes, knowing things will never be good again.