BY NICK MCLAUGHLIN
It lay half-sunken in the wet sand of low tide, the water parting around it with each swell of the waves as though trying to avoid it. Only a half hour had gone by since the sea carried the thing to its final resting place, and yet the crowd that had gathered was enormous. The strobe light of a thousand camera flashes illuminated the thing in harsh bursts of white light, the flare of the bulbs reflected in the film of salt water and slime that enveloped it. Children pushed to the front of the crowd, pulled back swiftly by concerned parents who, hypocritically, watched unblinking at the mass that had come to this beach to die. It was impossible to turn away; that animal urge that entices one to slow down on the highway to gape at a violent car crash had seized the minds of the onlookers. There, surrounded by a whispering semicircle of horrified beachgoers, was the fifty-foot long upper body of a colossal, water-logged man.
Time and water damage had brought ruin to the man’s form; his eyes were all that remained truly intact, full and wide as the eyes of those who stared at him. Only the gulls seemed unconcerned, as they perched atop the gray-green shoulders, squawking and fighting over fleshy strips of this impossibility. His jaw was dislocated, hanging open, a bloated tongue resting on the sand like the corpse of a great sea snake. Beyond it was darkness, a Stygian abyss encircled by dull, rotten teeth, that seemed to draw light into it like a black hole.
By the time the police arrived and pushed everyone back, barking their orders with voices that seemed to tremble more than usual, the man had a name. Leviathan, they called him. The biblical allusion felt appropriate, somehow. There was something about his eyes that spoke to them. Something in its eternal gaze that suggested sovereignty. A biblical name felt right.
On the third day the Leviathan laid in the sand, Lydia began to notice a change in her life. She awoke in a cold sweat, from a dark and dreamless sleep, and saw her husband sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at the wall. It wasn’t that Ted’s expression was unreadable that bothered her; on the contrary, she could see what he was thinking as though it were written on his face. Nothing. His face and mind were blank. There was not a person sharing her bed. There was the absence of a person, crudely shaped into human form.
But then he blinked, and smiled, and shook his head, and everything appeared normal. He was still a little groggy, he hadn’t had his coffee, whatever the excuse may be. And yet for a few fleeting moments, Ted had not been there. She couldn’t explain it, and that worried her. Before she could say anything, he was gone, marching down the hall to their son Mike’s room to wake him up for school.
The news on the TV in the kitchen was local, and it centered on the Leviathan. A helicopter shot of the vast corpse made regular circles above it, as though something were going to change. The newscasters had run out of things to say about it on the first day, but they kept showing it, and everyone kept watching it. It couldn’t be ignored. Ever since Lydia had peered into those cold, sightless eyes on that beach, she’d been enraptured, as had they all. A palpable sense of wrongness emanated from the shoreline where the Leviathan lay, and it had claimed their thoughts.
Ted entered the kitchen, carrying Mike and setting him down at the table, joking with him. Lydia didn’t notice he’d entered until he swept up behind her and kissed her on the cheek. She smiled and said nothing. He was a good man, sweet and boring. An architect that her parents had been more in love with than she had. But she didn’t regret settling down with him, or having Mike. He was there for her, and that was what mattered, in the end. He was staring at the TV when she turned around, shaking his head and muttering word- lessly. The screen bore an image of the Leviathan’s face, all sagging grey flesh and half-exposed bone, his piercing eyes watching from beyond the grave. Ted matched the thing’s gaze, and Lydia thought she saw a moment of clarity pass over his face. He saw her looking and smiled benignly, as he always did. Then he stretched his arms, put on his coat, called her Lindsey, and left for work without eating breakfast.
Ted worked from home.
She couldn’t leave Mike alone, so she stayed with him until the bus came, as he picked at his eggs with a profound lack of enthusiasm. As he ascended the bus steps, Lydia hurried to her car, and noticed that Ted had not taken his. It didn’t matter. She knew where she would find him. It did not make any sense, and yet it was the only thing that made sense.
He was there, standing knee-deep in the water, his coat slung over his shoulder. Dark clouds rolled in overhead and a light rain fell upon the beach, turning the clean white of Ted’s pressed shirt to a damp gray. One and a half of the Leviathan’s eyes remained above the water, staring back at Ted. He wasn’t smiling, but he looked content. At peace. Like this was where he belonged.
Lydia shook his shoulder, and he turned to her, surprised, as though woken from a dream. He said he couldn’t remember how he’d got here, an answer she’d expected. He remembered eating breakfast, which he hadn’t done, and furrowed his brow when she mentioned “Lindsey.” Shrugging, he turned and made his way back to the boardwalk that led to the street, leaving Lydia alone in the water to wonder where all the police tape had gone.
The next several nights he came home late, his pants wet to the knee. Mike ate less and less, more often than not just staring at his food as though waiting for it to move. The news kept broadcasting footage of the Leviathan, but their reports became brief and unsubstantial. The TV showed long, still shots of the corpse, with a soundtrack of silence, broken only by the cries of the gulls. Lydia found she could no longer dream. There was only darkness waiting for her in sleep, although she thought from time to time she could hear the faint crashing of the waves.
When she went into town, she saw people stopping randomly in their tracks, falling into trances. It took her thirty seconds to wake the cashier at the supermarket, who had been gazing upwards with a benevolent smile on his face, whispering to himself. No one drove anymore – it was almost like an unspoken agreement between everyone in the town to abandon their cars. Even Lydia found it difficult to get behind the wheel. Walking just felt like the right thing to do.
They had had no contact with anyone beyond the town since the Leviathan arrived. No one had entered the town, and as far as she knew, no one had left. Every channel seemed to broadcast the same thing. Their phone lines went quiet, and there was a sense that their town had become an island in a vast sea of nothingness. As though they were the only ones in the world. No one could adequately explain this feeling, but it persisted all the same.
One morning, she awoke to find herself already in the kitchen, in darkness. The sun had not yet risen over the horizon, and the shadows clung to everything. The only light came from the TV, upon which was a silent image of the Leviathan’s face, surrounded by hundreds of people. Ted was among them, naked and kneeling. Though the corpse’s face was obscured by the crowd, Lydia still saw its eyes, somehow. They invited her to join the crowd. They emitted a wordless message of welcome.
People began to disappear shortly after that. It was in small numbers at first. The boy who brought the newspaper was the first one Lydia noticed. Next it was the old woman down the street whose husband had died only a few months prior. Then the cashier from the supermarket vanished, and then the bus driver, and then the cop whose beat took him by Lydia’s house. No one commented on it, and there were no missing persons reports on the news. There was no time for them, for the news broadcast the Leviathan 24/7.
Ted disappeared two weeks after the Leviathan washed ashore. Lydia came into the bedroom late at night to find him crying, holding his head in his hands. When she went to his side, he looked up at her and grinned, and she saw that he had been crying with joy. He said “Father,” and stood, leaving the room. That was the last time she ever saw her sweet, boring architect.
That night, she dreamed. She was walking along the beach in the night, the moon and stars casting the shore in a pale glow. Before her, the Leviathan laid in the sand, exactly where it had washed up two weeks ago. She felt a cold wind course through her hair, and for a moment thought it was the colossal being’s breath. Perhaps it was. It watched her as she approached, its silence an implicit acceptance of her presence.
Halfway there, she realized something, and though she couldn’t define quite what it was, it filled her with terror. She turned and ran from the Leviathan, stumbling in the sand, panicking. She ran towards the Leviathan. She turned around, and ran towards the Leviathan. She turned around, and ran towards the Leviathan. It was there. It was always there. It would always be there.
Was it a trick of the light, or had it moved? Was it the whisper of the wind, or had it spoken? Was she awake, or dreaming? And whose dream was it – hers, or his? The Leviathan loomed, larger than before, it’s skin clearer, its flesh tighter. Inside its yawning mouth, she saw movement; not quite shadows, but the suggestion of motion. She felt herself drawn to its eyes, and it watched her, and it watched her, and she awoke.
Mike was gone. He had taken all of the food in the house. The news broadcast an unbroken image of the Leviathan’s eyes. Their cars were missing from the driveway, and she had a faded memory of moving them, but nothing concrete. As she stood in the street in her nightgown, under the gray morning sky, she saw everyone moving towards the beach. She joined them in silence.
As they walked, they disrobed without thinking, operating on instinct. Lydia did the same, though she could not fathom why. A voice in the back of her mind screamed, but she ignored it. It was not important. Their destination was important. There, the answers lay. Half-sunken in the sand, the answers lay.
Some of them were crying. Some of them were laughing. But no one said a word as they stood before the Leviathan. Had it always been this large? What once appeared to be fifty feet seemed more like a hundred. Had its eyes always been this color, an icy blue that sent daggers of cold through Lydia’s veins? Had its mouth always been so wide? Had it always been smiling?
One person said Father. One person said King. One person said God.
They walked into the Leviathan’s mouth, hand in hand.
Everything seemed to blur. There was no shape to the world. There was darkness, and yet there was light, and the two coexisted in perfect balance. They spoke, and their voices merged into a beautiful harmony, a song for the Leviathan. Within the music, she felt her husband, and her son, and yet they were not there. The warmth encompassed Lydia wholly, and she felt born anew.
Perhaps they had misjudged the thing when first it washed ashore. It was not dead, but dreaming. Not one, but all.
Not Leviathan, but Lazarus.
She embraced the dark, and was one with everything.