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It happened exactly four years ago and I still have panic attacks every time that I get too close to a beach.
There were three of us: Luke, Kiel and me. Actually it should have just been Luke and me, but his girlfriend and her best friend ditched us on the last minute and so we invited Luke's brother, Kiel, instead. Kiel was massive in all dimensions, but as shy and good-hearted as a little girl.
The sky had only just cleared up, so the sand was still moist and the beach empty except for a few swimmers at the far end. Our stuff fell in the sand, we grabbed a tennis ball and a few moments later we were challenging each other to swim deeper and deeper out into the waves to retrieve the ball.
I have to admit that I suck at throwing, but at least I'm good at swimming. Luke was great at both. Kiel couldn't do either very well. He swam like a dog, his hands and legs splashing water from side to side. Whenever Kiel finally grabbed the ball, he seemed unable to swim properly with the arm that held it. After a few rounds, he started to throw the ball some distance in our direction, but since he was unable to throw even remotely straight he usually had to swim even further to retrieve it and only got close to us after the second or third try.
Luke and I were laughing at first, but after five or so times it got rather boring and we stopped throwing the ball far for Kiel. Instead we ended up throwing it parallel to the beach, so that Kiel could half-swim-half-walk through the water; splashing waves to each side.
"Oh, oh, he's going to get back up!"
"No, he will swim the rest, wait for it!"
"Ah, come on, he's trying to get up. See! See!"
Before you judge us as cruel – Kiel loved it. He liked to be the center of attention. Like when he swim-walked past the ball, fell into the water and came back up with something orange wrapped around his hand.
"Woohoo, look guys! Someone lost his trunks!"
I was laughing; Luke was the one to shout back.
"Just throw them back in! Maybe he's still in there and looking for them!"
"Don't be so disgusting!"
"That's your next birthday gift!"
A minute later Kiel had swim-walked back to us. The trunks were still in his hand.
"Dude," I said. "You forgot the ball."
"We can just make a ball out of these."
"Come on Kiel," said Luke. "Get that damn ball."
Kiel threw the swimming trunks towards Luke.
"Who needs a ball when you have trunks!"
"Fuck that," said Luke.
"You're damn lazy."
"Show what you got, Mr. Slim!"
Luke plunged into the warm sea water and swam towards where Luke had left the ball. Kiel laughed.
"Go Luke, fetch! You can do it!"
Luke reappeared out of the water, got on his feet and took a few steps further towards the beach.
He turned around to throw the ball. His arm swung back, then in our direction.
Then he screamed.
The ball ended somewhere half-way between Luke and us. Luke stumbled backwards out of the water.
Kiel stood in place but I took a few steps towards Luke.
"There's a guy here! There's a fucking dead guy!"
In the corner of my eye I saw the orange trunks fall into the water. Kiel ran towards the beach and I followed his example. Luke had already reached the sand and was walking further back. We ran towards him.
There was a body in the water; a man. Long and thin. Face down and naked. With pale, nearly bluish skin.
"Holy fuck," said Luke.
"We should call the cops," said Kiel.
"We should pull him out."
I shouldn't have said that.
"You do!" said Kiel. "I'm not going to touch a dead guy."
"Fuck," said Luke.
"But," I said, "we have to pull him out."
"Fuck," screamed Luke.
"No way," said Kiel. "I'm going to call the cops."
Luke ran into the water.
"Holy fuck," he screamed. "He's moving!"
And in that moment I saw it too.
The right arm raised lightly out of the water, then plunged back in.
Luke was already four steps in the water when the left arm too rose out of the water, then plunged back in. I ran after Luke, right into the water.
Luke grabbed the man's hand and pulled him forward. I splashed towards them. Jointly we pulled his upper body out of the water.
Heavy; cold and slippery skin. I felt his muscles move in my hands.
"To the beach!" screamed Luke.
The man let out a rattling cough.
We pulled him towards the sand; our feet slipping and fighting against the water and his cold arms slipping through our fingers.
"Fuck," said Luke. "I hope Kiel is getting the ambulance."
Kiel was on the beach, running towards our bags. The man was coughing water. Even in that moment, with the panic setting in, I noticed something oily on my fingers. We were wheezing. My foot reached the sand.
"We have to turn him to his side," I said.
"Sure," said Luke.
We pulled the man another few steps up on the sand, then, carefully, Luke lowered the arm he was holding and I pulled my side of his body up. His body was turned to the side, but his head was still hanging limply down.
"Are you okay man?" I said.
In one fast motion his head turned towards me. Nearly blue, shiny skin. No skin around his chin, just bare teeth.
His body slammed back into the sand and I stumbled backwards.
"Are you crazy?" screamed Luke.
"Fuck man! His eyes are all black!"
Black eyeballs. Not gray. Not white with a large black center. All a deep, shiny black. Luke tried to turn the man on his back but struggled with the slippery body.
"Fuck, Luke, get away!"
"You can't just leave his face in the sand."
In one quick movement Luke rolled the heavy body on its back. Then he too screamed. Eyes, but no nose. Just large teeth and skin wrapped tightly over bone. Pale, nearly blue skin. The man's jaw was opening and closing.
Luke was stumbling backwards; fell. Luke screamed and kicked. The man's right hand was wrapped around Luke's leg. The man's head turned to Luke. Luke screamed for help and I just stood there. Then the man's other arm rose from the sand. Luke kicked sand towards him. Still screamed.
"Let me go! Get him off! Fucking get him off!"
The man rolled on his side and his other hand grabbed for Luke. Luke pulled his leg away and the man missed. Luke kicked for the hand and the hand grabbed his second leg. I was running forward.
"Fucking help me!" screamed Luke.
The man breathed a rattling cough. My foot hit his back. Pain in my toes. Something in his body cracked. My foot slipped off his back and I barely caught my balance.
The man coughed. His hands were still wrapped around Luke's legs and Luke was grabbing sand and throwing it into his face and hit with his fists against the hands. The man's legs started moving. Slowly; like snakes wriggling from side to side.
"He's pulling me in!" screamed Luke.
The man's legs moved faster. I kicked against his head and screamed from the pain. The man made another rattling sound. His feet disappeared in the water.
"Fucking help me!"
I kicked his head again but the man didn't seem to notice. His knees touched the water. I punched against his face. Luke kicked but his feet got nowhere and he tried to punch the man, but the man was pulling him too fast. His black eyes seemed to be on me and on Luke and on everything. I punched against his teeth. His teeth opened and tried to grab my finger. I pulled my hand away just in time; fell backwards too. The man's hip reached the water.
Luke was crying between his screams and throwing sand towards that face. I saw Kiel coming closer; running full-speed towards the man. I pushed back towards my feet and tried to kick his eyes, but I missed and slipped off his head and fell back into the sand. Luke was clawing and trying to grab the sand. The man's chest reached the water.
I jumped back to my feet. Luke's feet reached the water. I ran behind Luke and pushed my arms under his shoulders. His hands grabbed mine. I pulled, but Luke's knees disappeared in the water.
We screamed and pulled and the man's bare, large teeth only seemed to grin. The man's shoulders reached the water. Luke's hip reached the water. Kiel's scream. Kiel's body crunched against the man. Kiel, with his huge mass, lying on the man. And the man bit deep into his chest. And Kiel screamed even louder than Luke. And the man's head shook from side to side and left a bleeding hole in Kiel's chest.
In that moment, with my arms under Luke's and my feet dug deep into the sand and Luke's scream and Kiel's scream and the man's bloody grin, I saw another pale hand in the water.
A pale hand that grabbed the man's leg.
And he slipped away under Kiel. And there was a loud crack and Luke let out a scream I will never forget and Luke was jerked from my arms.
We tried to grab his hands, but he was gone so quick. We ran into the water, but we didn't see him anymore. I'm ashamed of that, but Kiel saw some movement, some pale color, but it didn't look like Luke and we quickly ran back out.
We stood there, with our eyes towards the water and Kiel's hand on his bleeding chest, and we cried. The ambulance arrived. We screamed something about Luke being pulled into the water and a pale, naked man pulling him inside. They called for divers and tried to treat Kiel's wound, but he didn't let them.
The police came a few minutes later; the coastguard took another twenty or so minutes. Two divers; later another four. Several black rubber boats. They searched until the late afternoon. The only thing they found were orange swimming trunks.