The sun can really zap a person. Beach days are the bomb, but the walk back to the rental…ugh. All Harry’s energy had seeped into the soft white sand of Corolla Beach. The rest of his family had gone back earlier, but Harry’s lounge chair was set at the high tide line, and he’d committed to waiting it out. The waves were inches from his toes, and any minute now he’d be rewarded with a cool surge. Those little digging bubble makers had a settlement beside him, and he enjoyed watching the coquina clams stick their colorful butts skyward and tunnel into the sand when the waves retreated. He only got so much time oceanside, and Harry was a carpe diem man.
A rogue, brutal wave jammed his belly button full of sand and lodged several coquinas into the folds of his swimsuit. Time to go. Supper should be ready, and he was hungry, could practically scoop up the little clams beside him and munch a few, if he wasn’t particular about his seafood. Could seafood be too fresh? Harry picked up a coquina and sniffed. Yes, too fresh. No butter or salt. But how his belly complained for a crab patty with a side of dill sauce. He shouldered his beach chair and towel, slipped on his flip flops, and trudged toward the access ramp. It only took one block for the gritty sand in his flops to saw away at his sunburned feet. A shower would be nice. After dinner.
Their rental was on Ocean Trail, a Cape Cod with life-sized mermaid yard ornaments on either side of the driveway. The mark he looked for was a yellow house on stilts, which he thought he should’ve seen by now. That was where he was to turn. He’d committed the yellow house to mind because it had an upper deck, the rail of which was lined with empty beer bottles. He remembered it because, what if a gust of wind came along? Glass everywhere.
The yellow house and beer bottles hadn’t materialized, and the road no longer looked in any way familiar. Everything shimmered and blurred, painted bloody by the setting sun. Harry’s legs were sending him the alarm they sometimes did when he hadn’t eaten in a while: low blood sugar. He was about to turn back when he saw the sign for Currituck Banks Reserve, the place where wild horses roamed. Now he knew he’d gotten off track somewhere.
He rubbed at his eyes, trying to quell the double vision, another sign he needed to eat. He winced and blinked at the sand he inadvertently put there. With sand in his eyes, it was impossible to read the street signs. The more they watered, the more he rubbed sand into them. He’d wiped his hands on his towel, but it did no good. His bottom eyelids practically sagged with sand. Every blink was agony.
What was going on here? He felt like Norman on On Golden Pond.
A car horn blared, and Harry felt an unnerving whoosh against his towel. In his semi-blindness, he’d almost stepped in front of a car. Almost bought the farm. He wished he hadn’t left his phone behind, but he’d worried it would get sand in it. Ugh. What could he do but keep going and hope he found the yellow house? The sun had gone completely down, and his family would be worried. Good. Maybe they’d come looking.
A strange tickling in his swim trunks made him shake out his leg. Some sand and a coquina clam fell out. More prickles, a sting, and Harry smacked his damp swim trunks. Bad idea. The smack pissed off whatever critter was inside there and it—no they, THEY let him know. He’d touched off some kind of coordinated stinging attack. Had he sat on an ant hill? It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. Walking was impossible. Everything was impossible. OH BUT THE PAIN. Harry stood at the corner of lost and desolate and jumped up and down, hoping to dislodge the horrible, biting, burning, stinging things from his most vulnerable spot.
He could take no more.
He jumped out of his swimsuit and waved it like a white flag.
Impossible numbers of purple, yellow, blue, white, orange coquina clams were trying to dig themselves home. Into Harry’s skin. He tweezed one with his fingers and pulled. It held on. Gritting his teeth, Harry squeezed it tighter and pulled harder, till it came away with a flash of pain. Blood flowed. He flung the little pest, plucked another. And another. By the time Carol Ann pulled up in the car, asking what the heck was he doing sitting on the curb? She was about to give it to him about a cold dinner, but then stopped when she saw his glazed, fevered expression. Without a word and like a zombie, Harry went back to his clam picking. Carol Ann screamed when she saw the blood.
True: About ten years ago on a family trip to the Outer Banks, Harry got lost on his way home from the beach. Harry is my father-in-law, and whenever I talk to him, he makes me laugh and smile. These days Harry drives a school bus, which I think is very cool. His kiddos adore him. He makes the bus ride one of the best parts of the day. Carol Ann has a big heart and would go looking for him any day (although I made that up because Harry eventually found his way home). Harry said it was like the scene from On Golden Pond where Norman gets lost while picking strawberries.
Want your own MTO Horror? I’m excited to say a few more victims stepped up to the plate! It only takes a minute. Go HERE if you dare.
Coquina clams photo credit: Kevin Adams, fineartamerica.com
Up close coquina photo credit: Harry Rogers, fineartamerica.com
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