“High School Stories” is what I have decided to call a few otherwise probably unpublishable short stories I wrote as a teenager. So that someone in the world might appreciate them, I will upload the stories here in the order of their composition.
I wrote the “The Beach Guy” in 2014. Prior to “The Beach Guy,” I had written many stories that could reasonably be called “short,” but never in a format that I intended as final. They were always scripts for projects to create later, or else picture books that could be difficult to interpret without me there filling in dialogue. In this respect, “The Beach Guy” was a minor breakthrough.
Every beat of “The Beach Guy”—the tiny shells, the wetsuit, the octopus—stems from South Carolina family vacations. The “beach guy” character comes from a game I played, in which, among other things, I sat up to my chest in the surf with a bodyboard. Keeping still, I let the saltwater sting my unblinking eyes red. If I still had the guts to play a character like that, maybe I could have developed into the next Sacha Baron Cohen. Or maybe not.
In 2014, “The Beach Guy” had already spent years gestating inside my head. As the story I did write back then is unsatisfactory, I think I will eventually reincorporate most of this story’s ideas into the novel Blobbo Inc., whose contours I began to envision during those same childhood beach adventures.
The description of the shells near the beginning of “The Beach Guy” is, to me, legitimately creepy and nostalgic in the same breath. Memories can haunt much as ghosts. In a way, if the right synapses fire, none of our experiences ever die. “The past is alive,” as Kodai Sumio would say.
I uploaded a reading of this story to YouTube. If you prefer that method, please check out the video I have linked below. You could use the video to read along with this blog post, except that I have further touched up the text, so the two will not be identical.
Content warning for suicide.
The Beach Guy
Sam watched a crab bury itself in a small burst of sand. Whether the crab was buried deep enough that the gulls’ pecking beaks could not reach it Sam did not know. He supposed the crab couldn’t have burrowed that far in such a short span of time. Then again, it had moved so quickly.
Sam stood back up and stretched, the bright sun shining down on him and the sand around him. The sand sparkled with tiny, broken shells, and these bones of tiny creatures crunched beneath Sam’s feet on his way back to the blue-brimmed umbrella. In its shade, Sam laid back to enjoy the roar of the tide and the small fruity drink he brought with him. The cup also had a tiny umbrella in it, if Sam’s weren’t enough. He wondered whether would get to see an octopus at the beach, but knew that was unrealistic. Dead jellyfish were more likely, brainless sacs sunken in the sand.
When Sam had been sitting there a while, thinking back to when he’d been little and unburdened with the humdrum horrors of adult life, he felt oddly disappointed. As a child, he had played on these beaches with his cousins, who used to always travel out here for the family holidays. With his cousins, he had probed tide pools and invented silly stories about the small fish darting away from their feet, or about the “Blanket King” for a game they’d invented in the hotel room. However, as the years went on, as the chipped bark from the heart of palm, his cousins’ side fell away from his family, and then his family fell away from him, and this beach along with them. But the trip was not over. There would be a chance for Sam to be happy.
He noticed a guy sitting in the surf. The waves lapped this person, but he appeared to be taking the ocean’s slaps with splendid patience. Sam wondered if that man was okay, out in the water like that.
Slowly, as if the air were not air but some kind of thick, restricting syrup, the beach guy up to his shoulders in the surf stood and drew nearer to Sam.
“Oi!” called the Beach Guy when he was close. “You!”
“Me?” said Sam.
“Why, certainly you.”
The question, after all, was absurd. The only other people on the beach were, from this distance, as tiny as the crab Sam had seen burying itself, though their shapes were more indistinct in the blurs of heat and the ocean’s breath.
This stranger had a faux British accent. He wore trunks over a tight blue wetsuit that left no part of his upper half to the imagination. There was something about the way in which the light shone on this unusual beachgoer that disturbed Sam.
“Say, mate, what’s your name?” asked the Beach Guy, halting beside Sam’s umbrella.
“Why do you need to know?”
“Is it Samuel? You look like a Samuel.”
“How did you—”
“All right, Samuel, come on, what, what. Up you go.”
The Beach Guy pulled Sam up and guided him from the shadow of his umbrella toward the surf. Back in direct ultraviolet, Sam squinted, wondering if he had enough sunscreen. Sam was becoming concerned that the Beach Guy was going to ruin his vacation.
“Where are we going?”
The tiny shells were crunching under their feet.
“I like you, Samuel, so I’d like to have some tea and crumpets. How’s that sound to you?”
“Actually I have a drink back under my umbrella, so if you’d let go—”
Sam tried to free his wrist from the Beach Guy’s grasp. However, for some reason, he was not able to, even though the Beach Guy’s grasp did not seem especially firm.
Soon the two of them were up to their knees in the surf, the water shocking for the heat it sucked from Sam’s legs. A little farther out, floating on the water’s surface, was a bodyboard, on which waited a pot of tea, several cups, and tiers of teacakes arrayed on fine china.
“Take a seat, Samuel,” said the Beach Guy, sitting down on one side of the board. At first Sam found the sea cold, but grew accustomed to it quickly. Sam hesitantly accepted the invitation. Seated, the water was up to Sam’s chest, but the sand did not seem so soft he would sink. He wondered if other beachgoers were staring at him, but none were nearby, and those in the distance appeared as though frozen in place.
The Beach Guy poured Sam a cup of tea, but the waves splashing over and around them quickly upset all the snacks and china.
“Feel free to enjoy the nosh, Samuel.”
Sam looked down at his cup, now full of saltwater but no tea. The Beach Guy did not seem to make any especial effort to close his eyes, even when the salty waves splashed over him, and so they were deeply bloodshot.
“It’s fine. So, uh, what did you wanna talk about?”
“What do you do for a living, Samuel?”
“I, well, these days I’ve been moving between a few serving jobs. But I’ll become an engineer. They always need engineers. I’m enrolled in a program. I can stay afloat with that job. Er, ironic way to put it since, you know.”
“Are you happy with your work, Samuel?”
“Me? I’m a professional suicider.”
“Suicider is also a type of poison, but I’m obviously not a drink. You see, I kill myself professionally.”
“Then how are you alive now?”
“As a suicider, Samuel, I know the tricks of the trade.”
The splashing waves obliged Sam to occasionally pause in the middle of his sentences, but the Beach Guy continued to speak even at the cost of swallowing seawater. Every wave sent a tremor down Sam’s back, for he could not tell whether the dark water might fling a jellyfish or small shark onto his body.
“I am a talent scout. I was hoping that I could convince you to pursue a career in the suicide field.”
Sam squirmed with discomfort, and not only because of the waves lapping over him.
“Samuel, you absolutely ought to consider a career in suicide. There is no shortage of job openings.”
“Can I go now? I’m going now.”
“Blimey, leaving already? But you just got here! Say, Samuel, would you care to learn what brought me to Sunshine Beach today?”
“Brilliant! I am searching for the Great White Wave.”
“The Great White Wave. That sounds fantastic. I’m pretty sure things didn’t pan out for the white whale guy either.”
“The Wave didn’t earn the name for nothing. The bloody thing killed a relative, and so my clan has sought it out for years. My goal is to commit the ultimate suicide in its foam.”
“Not to get revenge or something?”
“Revenge? Why? As a professional suicider, I can tell you that death is a lovely thing indeed. Every life ends, Samuel, so your average plonker spends theirs in fear. To live is to suffer. A death is a gift, Samuel. It is peace. The only freedom there is for an atomic creature.”
Beach Guy’s tea party was now entirely destroyed, washed away like the sand streams tumbling along the sides of Sam’s hips. This should have only have been somewhat annoying, but he felt an acute sorrow. Sam had heard about box jellyfish, tiny animals whose sting was nonetheless deadly to humans. Of course there weren’t any in this part of the world, but the ocean’s entire surface concealed innumerable other unpleasant stingers, teeth, and poop, and any set of eyes could lurk beneath the salty waves.
“What’s wrong? Do you want to leave that much, Samuel?”
“I’m don’t like what you’re talking about, so—”
“What a sodden chap. Have it your way. If you ever decide you’d care to drown with me, though, you need only ring me up. Pleasure having you over.”
In a hurry, Sam splashed out of the surf. He feared consequences as bad as they were for Lot’s wife, but the pull was irresistible. Sam glanced back at the Beach Guy. He sat as one might in one’s living room, except up to his hard-nippled chest in the ocean where the lapping waves left him hardly moment to breathe.
Sam did his best not to let this incident ruin his day at the beach. He wanted this vacation to be as nice as the ones he had years ago here, and there had been no sign of the Beach Guy back then. Had there? As he settled down beneath his umbrella, dry sand clinging to his soaked legs and chest, Sam reflected that he had never sat around in the shade like this back then. He was out playing in tide pools and finding weird driftwood. There was a year where he and his cousins collected shells, and he brought a bundle of them back home. Though the carrion-stripped bones were beautiful and whole when he’d gathered them, the moment he opened the bag back at home, many had broken.
That night, having taken a shower to wash the salt out of his hair and put on his jammies, Sam settled down to read a book. He had been saving this novel for his vacation. The hilarious author had been a favorite of his a few years ago. But Sam found that the characters were forgettable and the sentences impossible to focus on. Worse, the jokes fell flat. Sam placed the book on the couch cushion beside him. He should have brought the author’s earlier work.
This hotel, Sam considered, resembled the hotels in which his cousins tended to stay back then. Even the yellow walls’ hard, wooden corners felt somehow soft. He could remember eating candy in this rooms, laughing over one of that author’s books. They played that game involving the “Blanket King.” If only Sam could remember the rules. A spare blanket, just like the one they had tossed over their heads back then, sat folded in the closet.
However, in the final few years he had traveled here with his cousins, they started bickering. In their fights they became petty and crude. Sam preferred to keep to himself than listen to squabbles over who spent too long in the bathroom. At this moment there occurred to him the possibility that his cousins had always bickered, but had hidden it from him when he was little. His cousins also studied engineering, last Sam had heard. One dropped out, but the other was doing fairly well. He seemed happy when Sam talked to him, but that was quite possibly because he was happy to talk instead of contemplate combinations of chemicals.
Sam approached his room’s window, which commanded a view of the surf. Now the moon and not the sun lit the beach, and the tide licked much higher, depositing a new layer of tiny bones to be crunched tomorrow. Was the Beach Guy still out there in the darkened waters, waiting for the Great White Wave? Maybe, but, if he was, Sam could not make him out. Shame about the tea party, Sam thought. There were innumerable other secrets concealed in the waters that covered the world. The land on which men like Sam walk was the exception, poking out of the ocean chipping away at its edges and always tossing up more charnel matter on top of which civilization builds itself like coral.
Sam woke up in the middle of the night, bladder full. The blankets were soft and warm, but he peeled himself off them anyway. When he was returning to his bed, though, he screamed—there was someone standing in the corner of his room.
He grabbed his cell phone and said he had nothing valuable. Even the cell phone was an outdated model now worth less than the cobalt inside it.
“I’m not concerned about your mobile, Samuel,” said the intruder. “Blimey, man, it’s only me! From earlier today, remember?”
Sam recognized the intruder’s faux British accent.
“Get the hell out of my room!”
The Beach Guy flicked on Sam’s bedside lamp. Under this lone light, the bed and the two men and Sam’s suitcase cast fantastic and monstrous shadows. Sam thought that the Beach Guy, still clad in his wetsuit, seemed more uncanny than before. At least he was dry. He smelled like saltwater, though.
“I understand why you might be upset, Samuel, but it’s very important you listen carefully. Monsieur Octopus has recently cast a spell on the Blanket King, and as a result, your bedclothes are dangerous to touch. Stop! Good God, man, don’t get back into your bed! Didn’t you here what I just said? I’ll need your help to stop Monsieur Octopus, Samuel. Even I can’t do it alone. He, not the Great White Wave, is my true enemy.”
“Get the hell out!”
Suddenly something began beating on the closet door from the inside.
“What—? What’s going on?”
“Careful, Samuel,” the Beach Guy said, holding back an arm to protect Sam. “It’s Monsieur Octopus.”
The closet door flew open. In the weird and dim light, the smallish and brownish octopus that oozed out seemed as much shadow as matter. This went deeper than the Beach Guy?
“Run, Samuel—I’ll hold him off!”
Sam no longer felt he should argue.
Slipping his shoes on near the door, Sam fled the room. Behind him the Beach Guy and Monsieur Octopus fought a spectacular battle, harming his memories as much as each other. Sam had wanted to see an octopus, but he should have been more cautious. This was hardly the octopus he’d imagined, aiming its suckers at human eyes.
Even a grown man has his limits, and Sam was brought almost to tears. This world had tolled him so much for so long. As a child, this beach had been a rare reprieve. As an adult, all he asked was for this opportunity to enjoy a vacation like he did when life still seemed livable. But now, that guy and that octopus—if guy and octopus they were—had stolen this opportunity. Though, Sam had to admit, he might not have had any chance to begin with.
He descended flights of stairs. In an emergency, elevator use was discouraged.
Sam had the suspicion that these two interlopers were not new to this beach, but being young and naïve as a kid, he never noticed. Up until this time, he had hid from them like that crab from the seagulls. Now that he knew, even his memories of childhood were soiled, his former happiness revealed for the poison it was.
Once he had escaped the hotel, Sam stood in the moonlight in his pajamas. All was quiet and still save for the sound of the advancing tide in the distance. At night, the treetops and dunes became pitch black. Sam remembered that his uncle once saw a big cat in a forest somewhere near here.
Up above, the window of his room shot open and his sheets and blankets flew out. They tackled Sam, and he grappled with the cheap hotel linen with all his strength but, with all this outrage even at the beach he once loved, he wondered why he should even bother anymore. In this state of mind, all his strength was rather less than it might otherwise have been.
When it seemed the spellbound blankets were about to crunch Sam’s bones like his feet did the shells, something tore them off. The Beach Guy had saved him. He looked different in the moonlight, as if somehow more tangible.
“Samuel,” said the Beach Guy, “we can only defeat Monsieur Octopus together. For now, you must rest. Death may be beautiful, but people must be preserved to appreciate how beautiful peace is in comparison with the tortures of living. We can save the Blanket King before then, Samuel, if you and I work together. Blankets are very soft, as soft as sand, and there is good in saving them.”
The Beach Guy reached out his hand. What did Sam have to lose anyway? He gripped it, and instantly felt cold from the wind of the night.
The Beach Guy conveyed Sam along behind him, and, beneath the moonlight, the two escaped to the surf, as high as it had gotten. The land had to be abandoned to Monsieur Octopus, at least for the time being.
The next morning, the people in that hotel awoke to discover that most of their bedclothes had vanished. Quite a few had suffered from strange and frightening dreams. Some remembered racket from Sam’s floor the night before, but nobody could confirm the details. One woman said she saw a man rolling around in some sheets outside the hotel. They were left bloody. A security camera showed the missing guest running downstairs and then towards the beach, out of shot. Apparently, all that had left behind in Sam’s room was a single smelly blanket.
Sam never returned. By the next week, this dropout from a college engineering program was reported missing. The ocean swallows up many things—sometimes people among them.