Erik C. Martin
My name is Andrew Connick. People around here call me “Sarge,” because I only wear my fatigues. Most don’t know I was a God honest sergeant in the United States Army, Third Infantry Division in the nineteen eighties. I’m taking the time to write this because people have to know what has been happening to the homeless people of Imperial Beach, California.
For almost a week something has been hunting and killing us.
I don’t mean kill with a gun or knife, or any homeless hate crime. I mean tear them up and eat them. Primal, predator shit. The food chain, not the movie.
People think I’m crazy. I’m not and FUCK YOU if you think I am. I know this sounds crazy, but I saw it with my own eyes.
If you’re reading this, it’s probably too late for me. Get this to the authorities and pray their heads aren’t so far up their own asses that they can’t see what needs to be done.
Here is what happened…
The creature showed up the night of August 21st, 2017. I was drinking on the rocks by the beach near the mouth of the Tijuana River. Folks don’t go down that far, tourists I mean, especially not at night. A man can sit and drink without being bothered by law.
The moon was close to full. I could see down the beach a bit, and I could see the surf rolling in. I remember smelling the salt in the air and thinking life was about perfect right then.
I had a pint of Wild Turkey 101. Tijuana was lit up like fairyland on my left; the entire United fucking States was on my right. And the estuary that most of us homeless men in IB called home was spread out behind me.
Half the bottle in, I saw something in the surf.
It was big, but I didn’t think much of it. Weird shit washes up on the beach all of the time.
Imperial Beach borders Tijuana. The Mexicans just throw all of their shit into the ocean and it winds up here. We homeless hit the beach in the mornings like kids on Christmas. I’ve seen everything. Right now I’m wearing a rusty pin that says “ANDERSON FOR PRESIDENT.” I found it a few months ago. First time I ever voted was for John Anderson. I didn’t know then that you weren’t supposed to actually vote for third party candidates. Reagan won and gave us eight wonderful years.
Couple of days ago a dead dolphin washed ashore. If it had washed up a mile, even a half mile to the north, someone would have removed it. But not here. The fucking thing laid there and rotted. I could see it silhouetted in the moonlight.
I watched this big, black mass appear out of the surf. I thought it was a big clump of seaweed at first—until it started moving. A big fish, a dolphin, even a shark, I imagined. But it kept coming out of the water and onto the beach. It still looked like seaweed. I thought about that old Sid and Marty Krofft show, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters; I almost laughed.
Halfway up the beach, it stood up. The creature looked like an ape with hair that hung like wet kelp. It raised its head up toward the moon, and I could see the outline of its face. The creature had a piggish nose, and it was sniffing the air.
It looked at me.
I froze. I was drunk, but not so drunk that I couldn’t feel fear. And that was a sphincter clenching moment. But I’m a soldier. I picked up a fist-sized rock and stood up. I pulled my folding knife out of my front pocket and flicked open the blade.
The thing shuffled closer.
When I was a kid, I visited my grandfather with my mother. He’d had some kind of accident. I don’t remember what happened. I just remember that his foot had this open cut that got infected. It was green and it smelled worse that anything I had ever smelled, or would smell—until that night on the beach.
I felt the whisky I had drank rise into my throat.
The creature’s eyes were solid black like a shark’s. Its mouth was full of barracuda teeth.
I don’t know if I would have fought or fainted if it had come one step closer, but it decided it didn’t want me that night. It sniffed the air and found something more interesting. The creature moved over to that dolphin carcass and dug into the rotting meat that had already been picked over by seagulls, crabs, and flies. The thing tore at the nauseous flesh with claws and teeth.
I moved off slow while it was distracted, along the beach instead of into the dark of the estuary. When it felt safe, I turned and laid down on the top of the rocky barrier that separated the beach from the estuary.
I could see the black form of the monster in the distance, but I hoped it might not be able to see me. If it started my way I would run. The street, with its lights, was close, and I felt a little safer.
The creature finished gorging. It stood and crept into the estuary. From where I was, it looked like the creature disappeared into one of the deep marsh pools.
I walked down the street toward the pier, downing the rest of my whisky and chain smoking the whole half-mile. I hoped to find a deputy. Sure enough, there was a patrol car near the life guard station. I approached from the front and made sure he could my hands. Cops don’t like to be surprised.
It was Deputy Goodnight. Imperial Beach is a small town. Sometimes there was a new guy, but mostly the cops knew all of the homeless. They had arrested most of us at some point, though I always tried to stay on the good side of the law.
I told him what I’d seen. He asked me how much I’d drank. Goodnight promised he would check it out and drove off. I knew that he hadn’t taken me seriously. Another deputy might have gone down to the beach and looked around, but not Goodnight.
My camp was concealed in some tall bushes just inside of the estuary not far from Imperial Beach Boulevard. Maybe half a dozen such camps were scattered around the estuary wetlands, closer to the Navy helicopter landing field—more if you counted the adjacent Border Field Park. It was a place that was deceptively big.
I shared my camp with two other men: Jimmy—he’d been a cook until he hurt his leg in an accident and lost his job and then his home; he still didn’t walk so good. The other was Fred. I’ve heard the cops calling him Firebug Fred because he did some time for arson; but he wasn’t a bad guy when you got to know him. I’m sharing this with you because they are gone now, and someone should remember something about them.
They were snoring loudly when I got back. I climbed into my bedroll. Sleep was a long time coming.
The next morning, I told them what I had seen. They laughed. Fred said I had to have been lit up like his ex’s garage. I told them to get fucked.
I walked down the beach to the place where I had seen the creature. The sand didn’t show any tracks. I cast around in the estuary. It took an hour, but I found something—near the edge of one murky, stagnant pool was a foot print.
It had four clawed toes and a fifth in the back. I could see where the creature went into the water, but not where it had come out. I took three steps back. I suddenly felt like I was being watched. I kept backing up until I got to the beach. To the north I could see people walking dogs and jogging. I felt safer.
I didn’t leave camp that night. Fred and Jimmy busted my balls about the monster. I let them. Around midnight, something shrieked amidst the scrub and swamp water. It sounded almost human but not quite.
“Bird,” Jimmy said, but I could tell that he wasn’t convinced.
We were pretty quiet after that. Once we heard something large splash into the marsh water. It sounded close, but it was hard to tell here. Later I thought I caught a whiff of rot, but I wasn’t sure. Fred and Jimmy both denied smelling anything.
The next day was August 23rd. I ran into Red and Mike around noon outside of the Beachside Market.
“Did you hear that ruckus last night?” Red asked me. Red was a freckled black man with blue eyes, a weird looking guy.
I said I had. I told them about the creature. They didn’t laugh, but I couldn’t tell if they believed me.
Red frowned. “You know where all them big pelicans hang out by the river? We went down there this morning and found four of them all ripped to pieces. Figured maybe it was coyotes.”
“It ain’t coyotes,” I said. “You watch yourselves.”
That was the last time I saw either of them alive.
The moon was nearly full. It would have been a perfect night to drink by the beach, but I didn’t feel much like leaving camp. Fred and Jimmy were back before sunset too. We were quiet and drank more than usual.
Fred fell asleep first. He was the oldest and had lived a hard life. He had just gotten out of prison about three months ago after an eighteen month hitch. I guess he was making up for lost time. Jimmy was the youngest but passed out about an hour later. I couldn’t sleep no matter how much I drank. Finally, it had to be close to two, I started to feel tired. I laid back and closed my eyes.
Just as I was falling into the blackness, I heard a faint, high pitched scream far off to the south. A minute later there was a second scream that was immediately choked off, and then nothing. Sleep and booze finally had me and the screams failed to pull me back.
I woke up to bright sunlight filtering through the limbs that concealed our camp. My mouth was dry as dust. I felt sick. My head was splitting and I rolled over and pressed my hands to my temples and tried to massage the pain away. As I laid there trying to cope with the agony of my hangover I remembered hearing those screams just before I had fallen asleep. Had I dreamed those? Imagined them? I hoped I had.
Jimmy and Fred were already gone. We try to stay away from our camp between dawn and dusk. It is close to a well-used trail and we try not to draw attention to ourselves. Technically, we’re not allowed to camp in the wetlands—though the system is set up so that there aren’t very many places homeless men are allowed to camp.
There was a dented, gallon milk jug near the foot of my bedroll that was about a third of the way filled with warm water. I drank it all, knowing it would help my hangover. I took the empty bottle with me to refill at one of the public faucets near the pier. There was a swallow of whisky left in my fifth. I had slept with it, so Jimmy or Fred wouldn’t drink it for breakfast. I finished it—alcohol would help my hangover more than the water would.
I took a cigarette from a crumpled pack. It was bent but not broken. I smoked the whole thing before leaving camp.
Jimmy was sitting on a picnic table by the beach eating a meatball sub.
“I already made my money,” he said. “Fred is still on the corner.”
I filled up the water bottle and hoofed it down to the main drag, Palm Avenue. I passed a fenced off parking lot that had a sign in front that read, “FUTURE HOME OF THE GOLDENCOAST RESORT—IMPERIAL BEACH’S FIRST LUXURY HOTEL AND RESORT.” Despite everything, I chuckled. The mayor had been trying to get that built for years. I wondered who she expected to stay at her luxury resort. The only people who came to Imperial Beach for the most part were Mexican families from Tijuana, the Asians who fished on the pier, and a few surfers and locals.
Fred was on one corner. We nodded to each other as I went to the opposite corner. Behind the bushes was a milk carton and a sign that read, “HOMELESS ANYTHING HELPS, GOD BLESS YOU.” The best corners always had a seat and sign nearby. You came and used them and then left them for the next person. Sometimes, the deputies would come and take our shit for no reason other than to be pricks.
Fred made his money by noon and left to buy some booze and food. It took me two more hours to get my money, but I finally did and headed back to the beach. I bought a chicken sandwich, a bag of potato chips, a two liter of cola, and a bottle of Evan Williams bourbon, which was on sale. I sat on a bench and ate.
I didn’t see Fred or Jimmy, neither did I see Red or Mike. The only homeless person I saw was a young guy who was actually going up to people as they walked down the sidewalk and asking them for money. It was a stupid thing to do. You could get away with that Downtown, but here people were quick to make a complaint and the deputies had nothing better to do than to harass us. Sometimes, if they were bored, they would ticket you even if no one had complained. It was safer and usually more lucrative just to hold up your sign. Most of the time it only took a few hours to get your day’s cash.
I saw Fred come out of an apartment down the street. It was a rundown efficiency where you could buy weed, meth, or heroin; no sale too small. I might smoke a little weed, but I never touched the hard shit.
“Where’s Jimmy?” I asked. Fred pointed to the apartment. “Have you seen Mike or Red today?”
“Nope,” he said.
Dark was four hours away. I decided to go and check their camp. As I said, Mike and Red camped deeper into the estuary than we did. If I rushed I could get to their camp in twenty-five minutes. I took my time and it took me closer to forty-five minutes before I found it.
Right away I knew something was wrong.
The camp was in disarray. Their bedrolls were shredded and their few possessions were scattered and broken. I stepped on one of the blankets. It squished. I touched it and my hand came away red—blood. I looked around more closely.
I saw scuff marks on the ground like there had been a struggle. Something had been dragged off to the northwest, toward one of the ponds. I followed the trail. When I got closer to the pond, I saw a foot print—the same clawed print that I had seen before.
There were no bodies, but I knew that they were gone—the creature had gotten Red and Mike.
A large air bubble rose up from the center of the pond.
I ran until I thought I would throw up. A Navy helicopter flew low over me. I ignored it. The helicopters flew over constantly during the day. My heart pounded against my chest until I thought it would burst through like the thing from Alien. I looked back over my shoulder and didn’t see anything. I had to slow down.
Maybe I should go to the police again? There was that bloody blanket—that was evidence right? I pictured Deputy Goodnight arresting me and hauling me in for questioning. He was just that kind of asshole. But some of the other deputies were decent. I could tell one of them. Or I could call it in anonymously.
There was a pay phone near the beach, maybe the only one left in the whole town. I dialed 911. I was pretty drunk by then and I don’t remember what I said. I know I told the dispatcher that there had been a murder in the estuary. I’m pretty sure that I told her about the monster. She wanted me to stay on the line to wait for a deputy. I hung up and walked away, not going too far though. I wanted to see who showed up.
A patrol car pulled up ten minutes later. It was Goodnight—fucker must work twenty-four shifts. He looked around and was getting ready to leave when he saw me across the street.
“Sarge, did you call 911?” he asked.
“No,” I lied.
“Someone called and said a monster murdered someone in the park. Weren’t you telling me about a monster the other night? You know it’s illegal to make prank calls to 911?”
“I didn’t call. I think I saw some kids by the phone,” I said.
“Fine, but if we get anymore monster calls, I’ll do the extra paper work to arrest you if it will keep you out of my hair for a few days.”
“Yes sir, Deputy Goodnight, sir!” He drove off slowly.
It was getting dark and I didn’t want to go back to my camp, I’ll admit I was scared to death. I thought about just leaving IB. Easier said than done. But I didn’t want to be hanging around when Goodnight came back by.
I drank some more in an alley behind the Imperial Bar and Grill until one of the cooks came out and chased me off. I finished the bottle. It wasn’t enough. I had a few more dollars in my pocket—enough for a pint of Old Crow and a bag of peanuts. I drank while I walked.
The full moon lit up the estuary with a surreal, silvery light. A bit of humid haze made the lights of TJ look fuzzy—or maybe it was just the booze finally kicking in.
The liquor made me bold. I could go back to our camp, I told myself. The monster had eaten two men last night—it wouldn’t be hungry again tonight.
I staggered down the dirty trail that led to our camp. Once, I tripped and almost fell into a big cactus. I laughed for no good reason.
I caught a whiff of something unpleasant.
“Somebody left their dog shit on the trail, or Fred got too lazy to walk down to the water,” I thought.
But it didn’t smell like shit.
It smelled like rot.
It smelled like death.
Still drunk but scared now, I crouched low and looked around. I couldn’t see anything. My camp was right around the bend. Did I hear breathing? Fred and Jimmy both snored when they were drunk—so they snored every night. And I knew that they had been using dope earlier. They’d be out cold. I stayed down and duck-walked until I could peek around the bend. I was afraid to look, but I did, my mind insisting that nothing would be there.
But it was there!
A black, hairy abomination—it was less than ten feet away from me, standing at the entrance to our camp! The creature turned and looked right at me—its eyes were cold pools that devoured joy.
It was carrying something over its shoulder. Fred. I couldn’t tell if he was alive or dead.
I pissed myself. I’m not embarrassed to say it. I was like a little kid pissing their pants because they thought they saw the boogeyman. Except the boogeyman was real and it was staring me in the face.
The corners of its mouth pulled back. It looked like it was snarling, but I knew better. The fucking thing was smiling at me! It was playing with me, mocking me.
If it had come for me then, I probably would have died of heart failure. But it turned and started off to the south moving very rapidly in a sort of easy run.
I knew I should look and see if Jimmy was in our camp. He’d been doping too. The creature could have come in, killed Fred and carried him off, and Jimmy would have never even stirred. Or it could have gotten him first. Jimmy could already be bloating in some brackish, underwater larder next to the rotting half-eaten remains of Red and Mike.
I wish I could say that I manned up and went into the camp, but it would be a lie. I ran back the way I had come, toward the lighted road. Going too fast and being too drunk, I fell twice, bloodying my knees and scuffing my palms. I ran till I reached the sidewalk. I walked half a block and began to throw up in the parking lot of the Jasmine Gardens Apartments. On my hands and knees I puked out the booze and peanuts. I kept retching even after my stomach was void of contents and all I could do was dry heave painfully.
Headlights illuminated me as a car pulled into the lot and slid into an empty spot.
“Hey, you all right?” a male voice asked.
“Just leave him alone,” said a female voice.
“Are you dying?” said the male voice. “Because if you’re not, then get the fuck out of my driveway, you drunk fucking bum.”
“Matt, just come inside.”
“Fine, but I’m calling the cops. I’m sick of these god damned vagrants!”
“I’m going,” I muttered.
I got up. I actually felt better. Puking out your guts can be an amazing thing.
I crossed the street and wandered down an alley in the back of a little dive bar. I sat down on a pallet and my mind just shut off. I passed out.
I woke up with a bright light in my face.
“Sarge, Sheriff’s department. C’mon, time to get up.”
I shielded my eyes from the Maglite. It wasn’t Goodnight.
“Deputy Wright,” I said.
“Sarge, I’m sorry but I can’t have you sleeping here.”
“I know. I’ll get going,” I said.
“Thanks. You still camping down there with Fred and Jimmy?”
I said I was. I didn’t mention the creature, or that Fred and Jimmy were probably dead now. Maybe I should have. I just asked for the time.
“Thanks. Be safe.”
“You too, Sarge. You don’t look so good. You should think about drinking less.”
“You’re right about that.”
I wandered around in the predawn.
“I should just get out of here,” I told myself. “I should just go.” Interstate 5 was only about two miles away. I could hitch a ride north, I could go to Los Angeles or San Francisco, or stay in San Diego but just go up to Ocean Beach maybe. In the morning. First thing.
I thought about my family. Somewhere I had an ex-wife and two kids, a son and a daughter. My son, Andrew Jr. would be about twenty-one now. My daughter, Julie, would be nineteen. I hadn’t seen either one of them for over fifteen years. I wondered what their lives were like now. I started to cry.
I went to the camp this morning at dawn. I called Jimmy’s name several times with no answer before I went in. No one was there. All of Jimmy’s and Fred’s belongings were there, including Jimmy’s hunting knife. With his bad leg, he worries about getting jumped so he always carries his knife. Always.
The day returned my courage. I am not going to run. I’m not embarrassed about my reactions last night. Regret is useless. But I was an infantry sergeant, a fucking warrior, and I reacted like a panicked child. I’m going to redeem myself.
Behind our camp are mounds of cut limbs and miscellaneous refuse collected by the people who maintain the wildlife reserve. I looked for thicker branches and hauled off several armfuls. I spent four hours this morning carving them into points, making spears. A fire to harden the tips would have been nice, but it is very dry in the estuary. Despite the fact that this is a wetland, it is arid country. Any smoke will bring the fire department running.
The whole time I worked I was hoping that Jimmy would come limping up, smile, and tell me that he passed out behind a dumpster last night. He hasn’t come. My spears are finished and half of them are in the ground near the trail leading into camp.
Now I have nothing to do but wait. I found Fred’s notebook and a pencil. It was good that I hardly drank today, otherwise I never would have written this. It has taken several hours and now it is full dark. For the last hour, I have been writing this by the light of a tiny Fraternal Order of Police penlight.
This is my plan—I am going to kill the creature or drive it back to the ocean. I would be happy if it went back to wherever it came from. I’m going to beat this thing or it is going to kill me. If you find this writing, I am dead. Because if I live I will probably burn this notebook.
So if you find this, remember our names: Sgt. Andrew Connick, James McKelvey, Fred Harper, Michael Johnson, and…Red. I never learned his name, I’m sorry about that. I hope there aren’t any more.
I have to put the light out and be ready now. I have a pile of spears, Jimmy’s hunting knife, and my own folding knife at hand.
I smell rot.
Dan Wright pulled his patrol car beside Deputy Goodnight’s so they could code four. Goodnight was sipping coffee and eating a breakfast burrito. He was alone.
“Where’s your trainee?” Wright asked.
“I sent him down the path and told him to roust the homeless camp.”
“By himself? What if he gets in trouble?”
“With Jimmy or Sarge?”
“You never know,” Wright said. “And Fred can be a mean SOB.”
“I’ll check on him if he’s not back by the time I finish my burrito.”
“You know, I haven’t seen any of our regulars around for like a week.”
“What do you mean?”
“Our homeless guys, Sarge, Red, Fred…I haven’t seen any of them. Not just the regulars, no homeless. I haven’t seen anyone on the corners, nobody begging on the beach.”
“Good riddance, less for us to do,” Goodnight said. “Maybe the ‘mayor’s initiative to combat the homeless problem’ is working. Whatever the fuck it is. She’ll take credit for it anyway.”
“I guess. It’s weird though.” Dan Wright pointed to the back of the Nature Center lot where there was a path that led down to the estuary. “Here comes your trainee.”
The new deputy was young and enthusiastic with a crisp, military cut. Dan Wright remembered someone saying he had been in the Navy. He was alone. The trainee had a crumpled notebook in his hand.
“Nobody was there,” he told Goodnight. “The camp looked trashed.”
The older cop looked disappointed. “What’s that?”
“I don’t know. Some kind of diary. It says something about bringing it to law enforcement. I only read a little. It stank down there.”
“Sarge’s bomber manifesto probably. That thing isn’t going into my car. Probably got jizz on it. Toss it and get in. We have to go check the new resort site. If it gets vandalized LT is going to have our nuts for supper.” Goodnight turned to Wright and asked, “You coming?”
“I’ll catch up. Gotta piss.”
Goodnight drove off. Wright got out of his car and walked to the tree line. He was still bothered by the missing homeless. He’d try checking some camps later, he decided. Dave Wright zipped his fly and turned back to his car. As he did, he caught the whiff of rot.
Erik C. Martin resides in California and is the author of three books for middle and young adult readers. His short fiction has been featured at FrontierTales.com and A Year in Ink IV. He can be found on Twitter @ErikCMartin and also at ErikCMartin.com.