The auditorium lights dimmed and a nervous hush fell over the crowd. At first, there was no picture, only a grainy, dark gray screen and a choppy, nasally, voice.
“Doug, can you hear me okay?”
“Yeah, I hear ya.
“Cool. I’m gonna get these fires lit and then I’ll check back in via the walkie-talkie but if you notice anything, anything at all, you’d better give me a heads-up Got it?”
“Whatever. Just remember, your hour started five minutes ago.”
The screen dipped down as the man behind the camera, Josh Austen, nestled it on a tripod. He was seen spraying an ample amount of lighter fluid on a pile of wood. Deputy Barker’s voice interrupted the silence.
“Folks, I’m gonna fast-forward through the next forty minutes because there’s nothing but a sunset and some idle chit-chat.”
There was a murmur of agreement from the audience and Chief Grady gave him a nod of approval. The tension in the room was palpable. Nearly everyone in the auditorium had lost a friend or loved one and the prospect of seeing what had happened, first hand, filled them with trepidation and dread. They stared, slack-jawed, at the screen as familiar scenery flashed from brilliant sunset to dusk in mere seconds. Their cameraman, Josh, announced that he was switching on the night-vision filter and the screen took on an eerie green glow.
“Everything okay up there?” Josh’s voice crackled.
“Yup, everything’s cool here. How ‘bout you?”
“So far, so good. See, I told you there was nothing to…hang on. Did you see something?”
The camera was lifted off the tripod and Josh fiddled with the zoom. The rapid back-and-forth motions, as he struggled to adjust the focus, made many nervous stomachs in the audience do flip-flops.
“Doug? Did you see that? What the hell is that?”
“Josh, get off the beach. GET OFF THE BEACH!”
The already grainy images on the screen blurred as something dark and lightning-fast darted in front of the lens, seemingly knocking the camera out of Josh’s hands. The scenery pinwheeled over and over until the camera landed in the sand while high-pitched screams of agony echoed through the auditorium as Josh Austen met with certain death. Ladies in the audience screamed and some cried. Just as Barker was about to turn off the video, a chunk of severed arm splattered onto the sand directly in front of the camera. A river of blood gushed from the appendage and flooded the lens.
“Lights!” Mayor Farmington screamed angrily as he stormed to the front of the auditorium.
The mayor’s face was flushed with fury as he snatched the microphone from the podium. He blinked repeatedly, another telltale sign of his anger, as his eyes adjusted to the sudden change in light. He scanned the room, taking in the apparent fear and distress of his townsfolk, allowing it to fuel his own outrage.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I apologize. I am shocked and offended by this pathetic ploy from our own Chief of Police to sensationalize our community’s tragedy. This ridiculous video offered absolutely no insight into our problem. It was a dark, blurry waste of time. Perhaps, what we need is a police force that is focused on the safety of our residents rather than gimmicks to hide their ineptitude. I mean, honestly, for all we know this could be a trick, some kind of set up for a horror film. Like that Blair Witch video thing a while back…remember that…how everyone thought it was real but it was just a publicity stunt! I propose a vote of no confidence in Chief Grady and his staff.”
Shocked gasps tittered through the auditorium. Outraged, Sharon Grady sprang to her feet, prepared to defend her husband to her dying breath but before she could utter a word, her husband shook his head no and motioned for her to sit down. Angry tears prickled her eyes but she took her seat. In her place, others rose up and shouted their disapproval. Boos, jeers, and grumbles grew louder as Mayor Farmington tried to smooth over the ruffled feathers.
“How dare you?” A voice shrieked from the outer edge of the room. “Chief Grady cares about every single person who lives here, not just the rich or important neither. He never treated me no different than everyone else just ‘cause I ain’t got so much money and didn’t get a fancy education. He don’t look down on me ‘cause of where I work. He even came to my Kurt’s funeral! So don’t you dare say he doesn’t care about us!”
“That’s right,” another chimed in. “He came to my boy’s funeral too!”
“Yeah,” Eric Downey bellowed. “Four of my friends were killed by this…thing…and Chief Grady was at all of their funerals. Not only that, he took the time to talk to me after we found out about it, you know, to help me cope with what happened. Most of the people in this town treated me and my friends like a bunch of burned out losers but not Chief Grady. He treated us like regular people.”
“If it wasn’t for Chief Grady, I might never have quit drinking. I can’t even count how many times I’d woken up in the drunk-tank. Chief would feed me some breakfast out of his own pocket, mind you, and he introduced me to the leaders of our local AA chapter. When I finally agreed to go to a meeting, it was Chief Grady that went along with me,” added Carl Hogan.
“I can personally confirm that Chief Grady has been to every single funeral service for each and every victim we’ve had,” Walter Cummings, the local funeral director announced.
One by one, members of the community stood up and defended Grady, offering personal testimony to his dedication and compassion. The chief felt an unfamiliar tightening in his chest and, for the first time, he truly understood the expression ‘tugging at your heartstrings”. He’d never realized that the rest of the community felt so strongly about him and he was touched. He even went to bat for the Mayor, insisting that he and Dale Farmington went way back and, surely, Dale wasn’t trying to pin the blame on him. The townspeople disagreed and continued their testimonials in favor of their Chief. Basking in the warm, fuzzy, glow of professional respect and admiration, Grady missed the abrupt turn in conversation.
“No way! It looked more like a tentacle than an arm!”
“Get outta here, that was definitely a man’s arm.”
“I thought it looked more like a shark’s profile.”
“They were on land, you idiot! What are you saying; we have land sharks, now?”
“It was so fast, like some kind of demon bird or something!”
Already short tempers were threatening to flare into a full blaze. Grady knew he needed to diffuse the tension quickly and get people on their way home. He and his staff still had a great deal of work to do.
“Folks! Please, l need your attention!” He called out in his most official police-business voice. “Quiet down, please! Thank you. As you know, this is the first time I’m seeing this video. My deputies and I are going to head back to the station and review it some more. We’re also waiting on a report from Max Hooper, the oceanographer we’d called in, he’s doing some sort of enzyme work up to help us zero in on what we’re dealing with here. Before we wrap things up for the evening, I’d like for us, as a community, to decide whether we want to enforce a curfew or just let everyone be accountable for themselves. So, all in favor of a curfew, please raise your hands.”
***Be sure to return, Monday, April 28th for the next installment of Ocean***