Kira was at the beach. Kira liked the beach. If she had to pick her favourite places to visit in the whole world, she bet the beach would be at the top of her list, although the mall would be a close second.
Actually, now that she really thought hard about it, she supposed she only really liked the mall as much as the beach because the mall was open all year round, whereas it almost had to be summertime to go to the beach. Even now, as she was hunched over on the hard sand, she could see why maybe waiting for the summertime would have been a better idea. But waiting for summer took sooooo long, and besides, there was something really fun about having the whole beach to herself.
She glanced over at her mother, who was sitting on a bench far by the pathway that separated the sand from the grass. Her mother looked small in the distance, and when she waved Kira imagined that her mother was a miniature person who was waving from a tiny bench on the ground. Kira laughed to herself and waved back.
She couldn’t remember when she had been to the beach last, but she knew she had never been here before with so few people. She turned her head first down one end of the beach and then the other. The only other people aside from her mother were two people walking a dog far, far away. They looked even smaller than her mother, and so if Kira pretended that her mother was the size of a small fairy, then certainly those two people were ants, walking their ant dog.
Kira didn’t know if ants had dogs, because that seemed funny, and anyway, she had never seen an ant dog, so it probably didn’t exist.
That morning it had taken Kira what had felt like forever to convince her mother to let her go to the beach. Her mother hadn’t wanted to go. She had said that it was too cold to go to the beach, that it was still only April and there wouldn’t be much to do at the beach at this time of year. Kira had to admit it was a little cold out, and the wind was making it difficult to do a lot of things that she normally liked to do at the beach. Playing with a beach ball would have been impossible. Going in the water was absolutely out of the question; her mom had made it perfectly clear that Kira was to stay away from the water.
Kira had argued this point for a bit, but she had finally gave in. She knew her mother would have refused to let her go if she made too much of big deal about it, and Kira would still rather go to the beach and stay out of the water than not go to the beach at all. Besides, right now the water didn’t look all that much fun to go inside. The waves were large and noisy, the water black under the steel of the overcast sky. The water looked a lot like the water that was always left in the bucket after her mom had washed all the floors at home; dark and bubbly.
Still, Kira could still run around and play in the sand. It wasn’t particularly good sand to play in, being all damp and cold. She had tried to dig a small hole with her hands, but found the ground too hard to do much with, but thankfully she had a shovel and bucket. That way her fingers wouldn’t get all cold, which Kira hated more than anything.
She was currently trying to build a sand castle, but was having a great deal of trouble getting it started. The problem was that the sand was cold and wet, a combination that seemed impossible to get to stay. It was hard enough getting enough dirt dug to fill her bucket, but then trying to pack it down like her mother had shown her last summer was getting really tough. And even when she thought she had gotten it right, she’d flip the bucket over onto the flat sand and the whole thing would crumble apart.
She knew part of the secret was water. You needed a special amount of sand and water mixed together so that it would sit right once you turned the bucket over. She glanced down the beach again and saw the ant people walking their ant dog. They had a frisbee that they were throwing into the water, and the and dog would run after it, splashing about until it came back with the Frisbee in its mouth. The ant dog would drop the frisbee near its ant-owner’s feet until they picked it up again and throw it back into the water.
She watched this exchange several more times, and then looked to the water. Sure, it seemed pretty cold and uninviting, but it wasn’t like she was going to go swimming in it. She just wanted to collect a bit of it in her bucket. Then she could carry the bucket back and add sand to the water until she found that perfect combination of sand castle mix she needed. Her mother wouldn’t have a problem with that, would she?
Besides, Kira thought, the dog didn’t seem cold, so it couldn’t be all that bad, could it?
She looked over her shoulder at her mother, and could see her looking right back at her. Darn.
She looked back at the water, and waited. She tried to study the patterns in the waves, when exactly they would splash on shore and then recede. She also tried to see exactly how far the water made it onto the sand before it rolled back. She stayed that way for a bit, watching the waves come in and fall back, until she was fairly convinced she had a good idea of how close she could get without getting wet.
She stood up and moved carefully to the water, very slowly. She held the bucket in front of her so that her mother couldn’t see it. She was trying to act completely normal, like she wasn’t trying to get closer to the water at all, just taking a casual stroll. She knew sometimes in movies people would whistle when they didn’t want anyone to notice them. They would look around and whistle and everyone else would ignore them. The problem was that Kira couldn’t whistle. She had tried before, and her cousin Angela had tried to teach her once, but she just couldn’t do it. But then again Angela was seven years old, so Kira figured she just had to wait another year before she was old enough to whistle too.
From over her shoulder she could hear her mother yell, “Kira! No going in the water! It’s too cold for that!”
Kira’s shoulders slumped and she whirled around. “Mom! I wasn’t going in the water!”
Her mother shook her head. “That’s not what it looked like. I already told you this morning, we can go to the beach, but no water! Besides, you’re wearing your jacket and boots! You don’t want those to get all muddy.”
Kira pouted, but she walked back to her spot on the beach. She didn’t care if she got her jacket wet and muddy. That was the whole point of wearing a jacket, wasn’t it? So that it could protect you from things like rain and snow and mud. She knew there was no way she was going to get to the water again without her mother noticing, so she spent a minute or so kicking into the sand with her foot before dropping her bucket onto the ground. It was useless to throw a tantrum – she already knew this – but there was always the faint hope.
When she didn’t hear anything from her mother, she gave up. She picked up her bucket and looked around the beach again. The two ant people and their ant dog were still playing far down the beach, but aside from her mother Kira couldn’t see anyone else. She scanned the sand.
There were rocks of various sizes speckled throughout the sand, so with bucket in hand, she began looking for the good ones. Finding good rocks was something that Kira thought of as being one of her specialties. There was a trick to it. The rocks couldn’t be too small, because then they were useless. They couldn’t be too sharp or jagged either, because those rocks didn’t roll on the ground well. Sometimes big rocks could be jagged, because those ones were good for putting other, smaller rocks on top of. But the general rule was that they should be on small enough, but also smooth and roundish. If they happened to come in different colours, that was a bonus.
She walked up and down the sand, picking up some rocks and tossing others, and the whole while the waves crashed in and out, in and out. For some of the rocks that were buried too far under the sand, she used her plastic shovel to dig out around them. Then she would use her fingers to pull out the loosened rock. Some of the rocks were either too big or too buried for Kira to be able to wiggle them out, but that was mostly okay because there were so many rocks in general that it didn’t matter.
She continued this way for a while until she stumbled upon a very interesting rock. It looked round and smooth, but it stuck out of the sand much higher than the rest of the rocks that she had seen. Kira knew she had hit jackpot here; not only was this rock round and smooth, but it was also big and round and smooth. She placed her bucket – now half filled with the other stones she had found – next to her newest find and set to work. She began by using her shovel and digging a perimeter around the stone, slowly gouging a trench in the sand around it.
Almost immediately, she realized that this was going to be a lot of work, but also practically buried treasure, and she became excited. Imagine her mother’s face when she brought this back and showed her! She would look at Kira and smile and say, ‘Why Kira, that’s just about the biggest stone I’ve ever seen in the whole world! How did you ever get it out yourself?’ and Kira would smile back and then she would take the rock home and they would keep it… They would keep it somewhere… Well Kira would find a place to keep the big rock and maybe even her and her mom could paint it together. Then every time someone would come over, they could point to the big rock Kira had found and everyone would think she was just about the strongest and most clever little girl for even having found the rock to begin with, let alone dig it out all by herself. Plus she could paint it the best colours, and they would all think it actually was a treasure.
The problem Kira was having at the moment, though, was finding somewhere she could dig her fingers into to pull it out. It seemed the farther around the rock she went and the deeper she dug, there was just more rock underneath. She moved around it, crawling in small circles, digging deeper and deeper with every turn.
At a certain point her shovel wasn’t doing much good anymore. It was just too big, and the only way to get that far down was to crouch over and reach her hand in. She didn’t like this much, since the sand down there was cold and hard, but she couldn’t see any way around it. She was bent over so far that her nose was almost touching the top of the rock, but still she could feel stone go deeper. She used her fingers to pull at tiny handfuls of sand, tossing them over her shoulder, when she felt something.
Kira pulled her arm back instantly, unsure what she had just touched. It hadn’t felt like stone or sand, and she tried to peer in the small tunnel she’d dug around the rock. The space around the rock was deep and narrow, and the cloudy sky didn’t offer much light to see by. So she leaned in closer to try and get a better view. She didn’t see anything, and tried…
Wait. She did see something, didn’t she? She squinted her eyes, just to be positive, and sure enough, there was something definitely moving down there. She pulled back for a moment, and looked around. Her mother was still sitting on the bench far away, and the people were still playing with their dog. Nobody was paying attention to her though, so she leaned back in to get a better look.
It was something small, protruding from the dirt near where she had dug. Its head and tail were both under the sand, so only a small section was visible. It squirmed and writhed, its shiny exterior catching small glints of light from time to time. Kira frowned. She couldn’t quite make it out, but as far as she could tell it was a worm. Only this worm was all black, and Kira didn’t think she had ever seen a worm that was completely black before.
She sat and wondered what to do. She wanted to keep digging for the rock, but she didn’t really want to have to deal with the black worm. She wasn’t afraid of worms, normally. Sometimes when it rained she would go outside and all the worms would be on the ground and she would pick them up and watch them squiggle in her hands. You could even stretch them a little bit, but not too much because it probably hurt them when you did that. Besides, worms were only yucky because they lived in the ground. Kira understood that it wasn’t their fault they were all muddy and slimy; who wouldn’t be if they lived in dirt all the time? She also understood that most other girls didn’t like worms, but that’s because they were stupid. Allison at school said they were gross and only boys played with worms, but Kira didn’t think so. Plus Allison was stupid, too. Allison actually liked broccoli, so Allison’s opinion about worms was actually wrong.
Kira looked back in the hole. There was something odd about this worm though, even aside from its colour. The first thing was that it looked much fatter than any worm she had ever seen, maybe about as thick as her jump-rope at home. The second was that every worm Kira had ever seen was bumpy and had lines on its back, like the twisty straws she would sometimes use to drink her milk. Most worms were like accordions, or twisty straws. But this worm didn’t have any lines or bumps on it. If it wasn’t moving around, she thought it might have looked like a metal pipe.
She turned to her mother. “Hey! Mom!”
Her mother, who was doing something on her phone, looked up. “Yes?”
“I found a worm!” When her mother didn’t react, she added. “A really big one!”
“You should come see it!”
Her mother shook her head. “Honey, I don’t think worms live in the beach. It’s just sand.”
Kira opened her mouth to say something, then closed it. What her mother said made some kind of sense, didn’t it? She looked back down the hole. The black worm was definitely moving, and to Kira it looked like it was moving through sand, its exposed section pushing forward somewhere under the big rock. Or, maybe even into the rock. Kira wondered about this for a moment. Worms didn’t eat rocks, did they? She knew worms ate through dirt, and sometimes apples. But rocks?
She turned to her mother again. “Hey mom? Do worms eat rocks?”
Her mother seemed pre-occupied. “What’s that, dear?”
“I said, do worms eat rocks?” She hated when she had to repeat herself to her mother. Her mother hated when she had to repeat things to Kira, and yet it never seemed to matter when it was the other way around. She folded her arms to emphasize her impatience, a trick she had watched her mother employ about a bajillion times before.
Her mother was shaking her head. “No, honey. I don’t think so. Probably really little rocks, but that’s about it.”
Kira shrugged and took her shovel in one hand and carefully prodded the moving black tube in the sand. It seemed to tense and recoil slightly, but then it kept moving. She pushed the tip of her plastic shovel into the hole again, and was about to poke it again – this time more carefully – when the large rock suddenly moved. She yelped and fell backwards, bringing her hand to her mouth, giggling. It moved the rock! The black worm had been able to move the giant rock all by itself!
“Honey?” her mother called. “Is everything alright?”
Kira tried to put on her serious face, but couldn’t help it. “It moved the rock, mom! All by itself!”
Her mother seemed to want to do something. She put her phone down on the bench beside her and stood up. “Kira. I think it’s time to come back now. It’s getting a little cold out, and now you’ve got sand on your coat.”
Kira looked around, like this was the most obvious thing she’d ever heard. “I’m lying in the sand!”
“I know, Kira. Get up. Come on over. When we get back we’ll get you out of those clothes and have some hot chocolate.”
Kira sat up slowly, the shovel in her hand. She hadn’t wanted to leave yet. For starters, she still wanted to take the big rock home. Also, she wanted to see how the worm in the ground had gotten so strong. But her mom was still looking at her, and anyway, hot chocolate sounded good right about now. She also didn’t like that her bum was getting wet from the sand underneath her. She had tried very hard up until that point to make sure her bum didn’t get wet.
She took a look at the rock. She couldn’t see down the trench she had dug around it from where she lay, but the bit of rock that she could see looked like it was maybe shaking. She thought about getting up and kicking it, just for good measure, but decided not to. Something about it seemed very strange to her. It was just a rock, after all, and maybe a big old worm eating it, but there was something about all of those elements that didn’t make sense to her.
“Okay Mommy! Coming!”
She stood up and shook her whole body in an attempt to get rid of any sand that was on her, like she had seen the ant dog do when it got out of the water. Then she headed to where her mom was standing. She took a look back at the rock and saw that it was really moving now, swinging back and forth in the small space she had dug around it. Something about it frightened her a little, so she hurried a bit more to her mom. She heard barking far away.
She looked down the beach to where the people with the dog were. Only there weren’t any people anymore. There was only the dog. The frisbee he had been playing with, (because to Kira, the dog was definitely a boy,) was lying on the sand by itself. There were two big spots of really dark sand where she had last seen the ant people. The dog had seemed to have forgotten all about his frisbee though. Instead the dog was barking at the ground, using its paws to dig into the sand. She tried to look closer, but the wind kept pushing her hair into her eyes.
“Mom?” she asked, when she was a bit closer.
She pointed down the beach. “Where did the people go?”
Her mother followed her pointing down the beach. “What people, honey?”
Kira tried to point at the dog instead. She closed one eye so she could aim with her finger better. “They were with that dog. They were playing frisbee with it!”
Her mother looked at the dog, then back to her. “Don’t worry about the dog. I’m sure its owner is somewhere around.”
Kira wasn’t quite sure about this, but there wasn’t much else to say.
“Kira?” her mother asked.
Her mother smiled. “Are you forgetting something?”
Kira looked around. She had her jacket, her shoes and her shovel; she didn’t know what her mother was talking about. “I don’t think so,” she replied.
Her mother pointed. “Your bucket?”
Kira whirled around, looking behind her. There was her bucket, sitting next to the hole she had dug. She didn’t move.
“Well?” her mother urged.
“Can you get it, Mom?”
Kira’s mom wasn’t having any of it. “Come on Kira. Go get your bucket so we can get going.”
Kira hesitated. She didn’t really feel like going back near that rock again. Suddenly there was something weird about the rock, where before it was kind of fun. Because before it had just been a rock and a worm. Now it felt like something more. She looked up at her mother, who only stared back patiently, and then back at her bucket. She knew there was almost nothing she could say that was going to get her out of this. It was just a stupid rock, right?
She started walking towards it, the wind blowing in off the water. As she went she looked back at the dog, with his mysteriously missing owners. She wondered why they would have left so quickly and forgotten about their dog. They would have at least wanted to take the frisbee with them as well, wouldn’t they?
Kira remembered when some other people had forgotten their dog. It had been just this last summer. She and her mother were going grocery shopping, and when they were done they were going back in through the parking lot. Kira had been sitting in the seat of the shopping cart, because even though her mom said she was too old to be sitting in the trolley seat, she still let her do it sometimes. When they were putting the food back into their car, Kira saw a dog. It was inside a car and it was wagging its tail, so she waved. Kira’s mom looked to see who she was waving at and saw the dog. It was a really fluffy dog, and it looked like it wanted to come out and play.
Kira’s mom said they needed to wait for the owners to get back. Her mom said that you shouldn’t leave dogs in the car during the summer because it got really hot in there, and so they waited a while for the owners to come back, but then they didn’t come, so Kira’s mom called someone on the phone. She told the people on the phone that someone left their dog in the car, and soon the police had shown up. Kira didn’t think that the dog could open the doors by itself, and neither had the police because they ended using a special key to open one of the doors. Kira’s mom was able to leave after the dog was out, but Kira wanted to stay. One of the police ladies had told her it was bad to leave the dogs in the cars when it was really hot out because they could die. Kira wanted to stay so she could tell the stupid owners that they left their dog in the car and it could have died, but her mom said the police were going to make sure that happened.
She was thinking about this as she went to get her bucket. It wasn’t hot out, so the dog probably wasn’t going to die. Kira was still a little confused about what it meant when something ‘died’, but she had an idea that it wasn’t all too good. Bugs seemed to die all the time, and sometimes the plants in her mother’s garden also died, but Kira didn’t really care about the bugs and when the plants died, her mom would just replace them.
But still, she wondered why anyone would leave the dog all alone like that, whether it died or not.
She was closer to where she had left her bucket now, and when she looked closely at where she had started to dig her hole, she was surprised. It took her a moment to understand what she was seeing, but as she approached the spot she had left, there was no mistaking it.
The rock was gone.
She reached the edge of the hole she had created and peered down. It was definitely a complete hole, and the rock was definitely now gone. She looked around, as If the giant rock could have somehow rolled out or been blown away by the wind. There was nothing around, obviously. She leaned carefully over the hole and tried to see where it might have gone. There wasn’t much to see down there; there was barely any light in the cloudy sky, and the hole looked pretty deep. She could see a little bit down, maybe a foot or so, but after that the hole was completely dark.
She turned to her mother, who was standing patiently watching her.
“Mom? Did you see where the rock went?”
Her mother was shaking her head. “I have no idea what you’re talking about Kira. How about you grab you bucket and let’s go?”
Kira looked back down the hole. There was definitely no sign of the rock anywhere else, and she knew for a fact she hadn’t dug nearly that far down before. Suddenly she was struck with an image in her head of the rock sinking far down into the sand, like it was a marshmallow in her hot chocolate. She loved hot chocolate, but somehow this image didn’t seem right to her. Things like rocks weren’t supposed to sink into the sand at a beach.
Also, she thought she could hear something coming from that hole. She could barely hear it, over the wind and the sound of the crashing waves, but it was there alright. A low, humming sound, like the sound a car made when it wasn’t moving. Or like an animal that had been sleeping but was now starting to wake up.
Kira didn’t like the sound, or the hole or any of it anymore. She suddenly wanted to leave the beach more than anything. She turned around and grabbed her plastic bucket and started to jog back to her mother, a little relieved to be leaving.
On the way back, she heard the dog barking in the distance again and stopped just long enough to look at it one more time. It was still hopping around on the sand, every once in the while using one of its front paws to scratch at something in the sand..
“Mom?” she asked, when she was by her mother’s side. “What’s the dog doing?”
Her mother only shook her head. “Who knows, babe? It’s probably playing with something in the sand.”
“Oh,” Kira replied. To Kira though, it didn’t really look like it was playing. “What’s it playing with? It left the frisbee on the ground.”
Her mother could only shrug. “I don’t know. Could be anything. A crab or something?”
Kira nodded, although she didn’t really think this was true. For starters, she had never once seen a crab on this beach before. She would have definitely remembered if she had. Secondly, her mother had that look that said she didn’t really believe what she was saying herself.
Her mother was still staring at the dog, and after a bit she shook her head. She took Kira’s hand. “Let’s go, honey. I don’t know why anyone would leave a dog like that on the beach. It’s dangerous, you know.”
Her mom said this last part more loudly than the rest, so Kira nodded. She cupped a hand to her mouth and shouted down the beach. “Yeah, doggy! You should go home! It’s dangerous out!”
Her mother started to pull her away, and they headed back up the path to where their car was. The car was in the parking lot, but they had to walk up the pavement path and around the grass and the hill to get to it. The hill wasn’t too big, but it was big enough that they couldn’t see any of the cars, and so to Kira it was enormous.
She had almost forgotten completely about the dog and the hole when suddenly there was a loud cry. Both her and her mother turned around to see what it was all about.
When Kira turned, what she saw confused her. She could still see the dog down the beach, only now it looked like it was waving at her. Kira almost waved back, but then realized that dogs can’t wave, not really, anyway. Plus it was starting to yelp really loudly, and she didn’t think a dog would do that unless it was scared or hurt. Her brain tried to make sense of what she was seeing; there was a dog, and it was standing up mostly, only now it looked like it had really long arms or very wavy hair coming out of it.
“Mom?” she asked, “What’s happening to the dog?”
“I don’t…” Her mother was squinting her eyes to try and make out what Kira was talking about.
The dog was still making that awful yelping noise, and now Kira thought it was actually getting bigger. Like it was growing up really fast, although maybe that wasn’t really it either.
There was no answer. The dog cried out again, this time even louder than before, and now Kira saw that the dog wasn’t getting bigger at all, not really anyway. Instead, it looked more like things were growing out of it. They were long, black things, like rope or, or…
“Mommy?” Kira asked again, this time a little more frightened. “Why does that dog have octopus arms?”
Suddenly there was another yelp and then a loud pop. Kira was reminded of how a balloon makes a popping noise, only this other noise wasn’t quite like that. To her it sounded more wet, more like a balloon filled with water instead. Only maybe that wasn’t right either. It sounded like when she pulled at the velcro on her shoes and it made that ripping sound. That was it, she decided. It sounded like wet ripping.
The dog didn’t really look too much like a dog anymore to Kira. In fact, if there was a dog there before, there was nothing like that there now. A big splash of red stuff,
(blood, Kira, that’s blood, like when you scraped your knee on the cement last summer and Mom had to put a big bandaid on it,)
shot out all over the sand, and strips of felt,
fluttered trough the wind like old newspaper.
The spot where the dog was standing before wasn’t empty though. It wasn’t like a bubble that just popped.
Her mother let out a cry and squeezed Kira’s hand hard enough that it started to hurt a bit. Kira didn’t like it when her mommy was scared, because if her mommy was scared that meant she was supposed to be scared too, didn’t it?
“Mommy, what happened to the dog?” She was trying not to cry, but it was hard to look at what she was seeing and feel her mother holding on to her like that without becoming a little frightened.
Again, there was no answer, but now Kira wasn’t exactly sure her mom knew what was going on, either. The big red mess was still all over the beach, and there wasn’t any more yelping or barking, but coming up out from where the dog used to be, there were now five or six of those long black… snakes?
No. There was a word for it, but Kira couldn’t for the life of her remember it. They were octopus arms, all right. Big, black octopus arms. They swayed and moved around, some of them scraping across the sand and grabbing the bits of felt
from the ground and pulling them back, sucking them back down into the sand.
Before she knew it, her mother had grabbed her and lifted her up to her chest. Kira accidentally dropped her bucket and shovel.
“Mommy!” she cried. “My bucket!”
Her mother was already turning, holding Kira close to her, moving in the other direction of the used-to-be dog and the beach. Kira could see her bucket and shovel lying on the pavement behind them, the big orange sand castle bucket rolling back and forth in the wind. Somewhere, not far away, she heard another scream. Only this one didn’t sound like a dog. It sounded like a person.
“Forgot those, honey. We have to leave!”
Kira frowned. “But mommy!”
“Kira, I said no! I’ll get you new ones, okay? We have to go NOW!”
Kira was quiet. Her mother never really yelled like that, and usually she only did when she was really angry, like the time Kira thought it would be fun to decorate their bathroom with her mom’s lipstick. Only Kira hadn’t done anything now, not really, and her mother didn’t really sound angry either. She sounded frightened.
Her mom was jogging, and was holding Kira to her chest so that she was looking backwards, away from the direction they were moving. Over her mother’s shoulder, she could still see the beach and those long black octopus arms. By now they had swept all around the hole they had come out of, the hole where the ant dog used to be, and there was barely any sign that the dog had even been there to begin with. Kira also noticed there were a few of those black things coming out of the hole that she had originally found the rock in. The one she had gone back to find nothing but a big hole that went down forever like that movie Alice In Wonderland. Those black arms were also waving around from there, stomping on the sand and reaching out like they were trying to grab the wind itself.
It reminded her of a toy they had at her school, one that you would put Play Doh into, and then if you put it in and turned the small crank, it would come out the other end like spaghetti. At school, it was one of her favourite toys. She and another girl put in a whole bunch of Play Doh once at school, and when the green and orange Play Doh came out the other side, they pretended it was their own hair, dumping it on their heads and dancing around like they were princesses.
Only she didn’t like this kind of Play Doh. In fact, she didn’t think it was Play Doh at all, because at school if the stuff that came out the other side of the crank started to move by itself, she would have been very scared.
She realized, for perhaps the first time, that she very scared and might have to pee soon.
“Mommy.” Her voice came out in small gulps, because she was bouncing up and down in her mother’s arms.”
“Mommy,” she repeated.
“Yes dear?” Her mother sounded a little out of breath.
“I’m scared,” said Kira, simply.
“It’s okay honey. We’re almost at the car.”
Kira tried to turn around to see just how far away from the car they actually were, but found she couldn’t. Instead, she looked at the only thing there was to look at, which was the beach behind them.
There were now six or seven different places in the sand where those octopus arms were coming out of the ground. Some of them were actually really big, almost as long as the hose that she sometimes used in the summer to help her mother water the plants in the backyard or to fill her kiddy pool with. Only these were much thicker than that hose, almost as thick as tree trunks.
It was hard to see anything too clearly because her head kept bouncing up and down as her mother ran with her, and her hair kept going in front of her eyes. But Kira thought she could see parts of the sand moving as well, parts where there weren’t the octopus arms. Something was under the sand, moving around, making little sand hills as it moved. It looked like the Bugs Bunny cartoon when he would go under the ground. You couldn’t see him because he was under the ground, but you could tell where he was going because he would leave a hill of sand wherever he travelled to.
Only this wasn’t Bugs Bunny, and there were more than one of those moving hills under the sand. Some stopped moving, and a few of those black octopus arms would pop out. Most of them kept moving though, digging and moving and creating small hills wherever they went under the sand. There were maybe a hundred of them. Kira couldn’t actually conceptualize what exactly a hundred of any one thing meant, but since it was the biggest number she could think of, that’s what she said to herself. Either way, there were a lot of them, and some of them were moving towards her and her mother.
“Mommy, hurry!” she cried into her mother’s ear.
“Okay, honey. Okay. We’re almost at the car, okay? Just hold on tight and we’re almost at the car and everything…”
Kira’s mom had stopped running, had slowed to a jog. Then her mommy said, “Jesus Christ. Oh, Jesus Christ.”
Meanwhile, some of the Bugs Bunny hills were still moving toward them. One passed right under the paved walkway they were running on, splitting it in places. The pavement crumbled and shot out of the ground, making a sound like when you jostled a bucket full of rocks together. The Bugs Bunny hill ran straight into a pole with a sign on it on the other side, and out of the ground came a long black octopus arm. It waggled around a bit, then wrapped around the sign post, kind of crumpled it a bit, and pulled the whole thing back down underground.
“Mommy!” Kira nearly screamed.
They were moving again, fast, her mother’s hand on the back of her head. “Okay, honey. Just hang on and close your eyes, okay? Just don’t… Oh God. Just don’t look, okay? The car’s right there. Just don’t look.”
Kira didn’t know what her mother was talking about. As far as she was concerned, it was impossible not to look. There were those black arms waving everywhere on the beach now, and even bigger ones were still coming out of the sand. These ones were as big as actual trees, going high up into the air. The beach didn’t really look like much of a beach anymore; there was hills and sand and those octopus arms everywhere. In a funny way, it actually looked more like a forest.
In the distance, far in the water, Kira thought she could see something big and black pushing just out of the top of the water, like a bubble in a glass of milk. It was enormous, bigger than any fish or whale or anything Kira had ever heard of living in the water.
Suddenly they were up and around the hill, in the parking lot. The hill began to block most of Kira’s view of the beach, but she could still see some of those arms waving in the air in the distance.
“Mommy, hurry!” she said again, hoping this might make her mother move faster.
“I’m going honey! There’s just… Okay, don’t look, okay? We’re almost at the car. Okay?”
“Okay, mommy,” she said.
But of course she looked.
There were only a few other cars in the parking lot, but the pavement here already seemed wrong to Kira. She was still looking over her mother’s shoulder, looking in the opposite direction they were moving, but she knew that there was something wrong with the floor. It was cracked in some places, pushed up in others. The farther into the lot they got, the more Kira realized that whatever was on the beach was probably here already too, because in some spots there were big holes in the pavement, going far down underground. There was also a lot of noise, and it sounded like there was a construction crew working, only Kira knew there hadn’t been any construction workers there. Last summer the construction crew outside of her house had made a lot of noise, but they had big claw-machines and Bully-dozers all over, and she knew there weren’t any of those here.
Now a few of those black octopus arms were coming out of the holes near them, coming out between the cracks in the breaking pavement. They were shiny and dark, and they wobbled around in the air before either smashing down onto the pavement again or pulling back into wherever they came from.
“We’re almost there, baby. We’re almost there. Keep your eyes closed.”
Kira never did. Instead, they passed what looked like it used to be a car, only it was more like two cars because it had been broken almost in two. There were more of those arms wrapped around it, and on the ground next to the broken car was…
Kira’s brain tried to fit the pieces together in a way that made sense. She knew what she was seeing, but somehow her mind was trying to tell her it was something else.
Her mind was telling her it was simple. There was a man who owned a car, and he drove it to the beach. When he decided he didn’t want to stay at the beach any more, he went back to his car to go back home. Only he must have gotten really tired because instead of getting in the car, he decided to lie down on the ground next to his car and take a nap instead.
He fell asleep next to his car, and when those black octopus arms found him, they were wrapped around him to keep him warm. They were making a blanket for him, and he was just sleeping, that was all, and when Kira looked closely, she realized that the black arms also thought maybe the man might have been hungry, because one of them was going in his mouth and down his throat, and boy he must have been tired because he still wasn’t waking up, even though his eyes were open and now his tummy was getting so full of food that it was making his shirt pop out and Kira couldn’t believe the man was still trying to sleep even after one of the octopus arms poked one of his eyes and went into his eye it squirmed into where his eyeball used to be and now he was so full of food that the food was starting to come out of his belly and the octopus blanket was wrapping him so tight that maybe he was shrinking a little bit…
There was another of those loud sounds, that wet ripping noise she had heard from the dog. Only this one was much louder and a lot closer. Somewhere in her mind she already knew where it was coming from, and part of her wanted to look away, but she didn’t.
The man disappeared in a flurry of pants, flannel jacket and that spray of red rain. Some got on Kira’s face, and this time she really did close her eyes. Her face was wet with red rain and also maybe hair or something sticky like the wet cloth she washed herself with when she was taking a bath.
Her mother was still holding Kira tight to her body, and the bouncing up and down as they ran together was making her confused with her eyes closed like that. All around them was that sound of pavement cracking and a low rumbling that seemed to Kira to come from somewhere down below the ground, like a big machine like the ones she had seen used on farms before. Like the Bully-Dozers in front of her house. She tried to remember the image of it because all she could think about was octopus arms and she knew that the machines didn’t look like octopus arms at all. Her mother kept whispering in her ear as they ran.
“Almost there honey, just hold on tight. Hold on tight and don’t let go of mommy.”
She held on and didn’t let go.
Suddenly she was wrenched from her mother’s chest and she let out a cry. “No!”
Her mother was there though, telling her it was okay, it was just her, it was just her mommy. There was a moment where she couldn’t feel her mother any more, and that scared her, but she didn’t open her eyes. She was tossed sideways onto something soft and there was a loud thud. After that the sounds around her became more quiet.
There was another moment and then she heard her mother speak. “Kira babe, sit up please! Get up!”
Now Kira had to open her eyes because she didn’t know what was going on or what sitting up meant. They were in their car. It took her a second to realize this because she normally didn’t sit in the front seat with mommy and didn’t recognize it. But her mother was sitting next to her and leaning over, trying to prop her into a sitting position with one hand. Kira helped as best she could and before she knew it she was buckled in. Somewhere outside there was another loud crash from below and now the car they were sitting in actually tilted, the back seeming to sink a little into the pavement. Outside of the window next to her mother there was one of those black arms wriggling around. Kira could see it clearly, and it’s dark skin was black but really shiny, like oil maybe. She thought she could almost see through the skin, like when in the fall they put all the dead leaves in their backyard into those clear garbage bags and left them on the road. The arms were black because whatever guts and stuff were inside the clear skin was actually black. The arm was still waving around, and it looked to Kira like it was looking for something. Kira’s mom turned and saw it, then jumped back in her seat.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” her mother said, and Kira couldn’t help but gasp. She knew that word was a very bad word and her mom never used it unless she was really angry. Her mom didn’t really look all that angry, but actually a little scared, and this worried Kira more than anything because her mom wasn’t ever scared of anything. Not even when Kira told her there was a something in the closet, or that other time she had found a spider sitting right behind the toilet and her mom came right in and with one hand scooped it up and walked right to the patio door and tossed it right into the backyard.
But now her mom was scared, and that made Kira awfully frightened.
“Mommy?” she asked timidly. “Are we going to be okay?”
Her mother, looking as sweet as an angel, turned and smiled to her. “Of course honey.” She said.
And then, without warning, she said, “Now hold on Kira-babe.”
The car was suddenly alive and it lurched forward and Kira could almost feel the wheels spinning beneath them, and the next thing she knew they were moving forward. Mom was driving a little fast and going left and right too much, so Kira kept sliding back and forth in her seat. She wasn’t big enough to see too much outside of the front window except for the grey sky and a few rain drops that hit the glass.
Kira decided there wasn’t much to do except wait until her mom said it was okay. She was trying not to cry, but it was hard, especially when she couldn’t see anything and her mom kept using that very bad word. She kept quiet and kept her head down and held her hand out in case her mom made another fast turn and Kira got swept into the car door again.
After what felt like forever, Kira finally looked up to her mother, who was breathing heavily but didn’t look so scared any more. “Mommy?”
Her mother looked at her for a split second, smiling. “Yes honey?”
Kira was fiddling with the zipper on her coat, embarrassed. “I’m sorry.”
Her mother was shaking her head. “Sorry for what?”
Kira shrugged, as if that explained everything.
“Kira honey, it’s okay. I won’t be angry. What are you sorry for?”
Kira threw her hands up, tears coming to her eyes. “Because I think I woke it up! It was sleeping and I moved the rock and it got angry and now it’s awake! I didn’t mean to mom!”
Her mother looked confused. “Kira, honey. Listen to me. I have no idea what that thing is, but whatever you did it wasn’t your fault, okay?”
Kira nodded, but didn’t really believe her mother. “Even though I poked it with a shovel?”Her mother’s eyes widened. “You what? You were… You touched it?”
Kira pouted. “I didn’t know what it was! I swear! I had my shovel and… Mommy, where’s my shovel? I want my shovel.”
Her mother took a deep breath and suddenly the car was slowing down and they had stopped somewhere. Kira could see trees outside of the windows, but other than that the sky was still just grey. Her mother turned off the car, took off her seatbelt, and did the same for Kira. Then she grabbed her daughter and pulled her over to her seat so that now Kira was sitting on her lap. Outside Kira could hear other cars driving around them now, and there were sirens coming from somewhere. Kira didn’t know which sirens belonged to which cars, so she just decided they were all fire trucks.
Her mother hugged her long and hard. Kira finally got up and wrapped her arms around her mother’s neck and hugged her tightly.
“Kira. I love you so much. You know that, right?”
Kira nodded into her mother’s shoulder. Out the back window Kira could see a lot of cars and lights flashing down the road. They all looked like they were heading to the beach that they had just come from. In the far distance Kira could actually see the water, just over the faraway hills, flat and grey in the fall light.
And there, in the water, was something extremely large – almost as big as the hills themselves – that seemed to take up the entire lake. It was black and had many, many arms.
“I love you too mommy.” Kira said. She was less afraid now, but still scared. “Are we going to be okay?”
Kira’s mom nodded back. “We’re going to be fine, babe. Now sit back down. And put your seatbelt on. We have a bit of a drive to make. Okay?”
Kira did as she was told. Something about her what her mother said upset her a bit, because it sounded like they weren’t going to be getting hot chocolate any time soon. But that was okay, Kira decided. As long as she and mommy were okay.
They drove for a while. Her mother must have noticed the red rain drops on the front car window, because she used the wipers to try and get them off. It only worked a little, smearing them around more than anything. Once, a helicopter flew overhead, and Kira followed it as far as she could before it flew out of sight somewhere in the distance. Her mother kept switching the radio station, which was annoying Kira because all they were doing was talking and she hated when all the radio people did was talk.
After a bit, her mother spoke to her. “Kira honey. So I was thinking, would you want to go up and give your grandmother a visit in Orangeville?”
Kira beamed. “Grandma Alice?”
Her mother nodded.
Kira clapped her hands. “Yay!”
Her mother smiled. “Okay. I think we should go there for a few days. Does that sound good?”
Kira smiled. “Yay! And I play on her swing?”
“Of course, dear.”
“Okay, but mommy?”
Kira thought about it for a second. She had made up her mind. “Next time instead of the beach can we just go to the mall?”