Tim parked his car and turned off the key. He sat for a moment in the small parking area and listened to the ticking of the cooling engine, then relaxed as the sound of the ocean began to sooth his tired mind. He had been looking forward to this hike all day.
He had been to this beach before, but always with friends to party or light an illegal bonfire. This time he planned on simply walking the beach to clear his mind and think about the next step in his life. He planned on hiking to the next parking lot about 6 miles north, then he would hitch a ride with someone back to his car.
“Goddamn developer scum,” he muttered to himself, thinking about his day at work. He was burned out on the consulting world, and he was starting to look for work in some other field just to soothe his battered conscience. As he left the gravel lot and set out on the beach trail, he gently reminded himself to stop thinking about his so-called career and enjoy the scenery around him.
It was about an hour later that he noticed something far ahead. There was a dark shape on the smooth sand at the point where the tide had receded earlier in the day. It was difficult to tell what the shape might be from that distance, as the mist from the breaking waves made it hard to see clearly. Patience, he thought, you will be there in a little while.
Tim was a few hundred yards away when he realized the object was not just a piece of kelp or driftwood. The shape had a definite substance to it, and it didn’t look like a dead seal. As he walked a little closer, a terrible thought suddenly dawned on him. It was a body, a dead person.
He ran the last hundred yards or so and approached the nude woman on the sand. She was laying motionless on her side, eyes closed, her arms crossed over her breasts as if someone had placed her that way. There didn’t appear to be any wounds or bruises on her medium-brown skin. She must not have been here long, he thought absently, as he noticed there was no smell coming from the body.
He looked up and down the beach to see if there was anyone else in the area, but he appeared to be alone with the dead girl. He didn’t want to touch her, but realized he had not checked for a pulse. He gingerly reached out, hesitated, then finally touched the skin under the jawline. Nothing. He felt with a little more confidence now, checking several places on the neck where he thought the vein might be, but found nothing.
He gently touched her arm, and wondered why her skin didn’t feel cold. It was actually smooth and pliant, not stiff as he expected. He reached for one hand and lifted her arm. It was flexible, as if she were simply sleeping. He released her hand and checked for a pulse one more time, finding none. He briefly thought about trying some CPR compressions, but he was so far from help that it would be pointless.
He held her shoulders and rolled her body from its side so she now lay flat on her back, and he looked over her body for a moment. He noticed for the first time how beautiful her body was. She had no hair other than the tight, dark brown curls on her head. Her body was well-proportioned, with average breasts and a slight widening at the hips. He noticed her navel was little more than a little hole, and then his eyes were drawn downward.
Suddenly Tim shook his head and said out loud, “What are you doing?” I’m getting excited by looking at a dead girl, he thought, and the realization made him feel nauseous. He stopped looking at the woman and once again looked up and down the beach for someone to help. He could not see anyone to the south, but his view northward was blocked by a large rock a few hundred yards away. He decided to continue that direction to see if there was someone beyond the rock. In the meantime, he grabbed for his phone, then remembered it was useless; of course there was no coverage here.
Just before he reached the rock a couple of minutes later, he looked back at the dark-skinned woman (why, to see if she was still there?, he thought nervously). To his relief, she remained laying on the sand where he had left her. He continued walking to the point where the rock interrupted the smooth beach, which he figured would be in the waves during high tide. He hoped he would find someone beyond the rock, but as he reached it, if felt like his heart sank.
There was another body just a hundred feet north of the rock. A light-skinned man, laying on his side just like the girl he left behind. He looked back at the girl one more time, the looked forward again to the man. Tim walked to the man and immediately felt for a pulse, noticing that his skin felt like the girl’s, unmoving but somehow still warm and alive. The man had average-length dark hair, with a handsome face. He was also hairless from the neck down and had a tiny hole for a belly button. Somehow this made Tim a little uneasy, as it looked identical to the woman’s navel.
He moved a little way from the body and knelt down in the sand for a moment, putting his head in his hands. I forgot to bring water, he thought, I must be dehydrated. He looked up hopefully, but the guy was still laying in the same spot.
Based on his memory of the park map, he figured he was getting close to the next parking lot, where he would find a phone to call someone. He knew he would have to come with the cops to show them where the body (bodies, he thought, remembering the woman) were located. He wasn’t looking forward to that. He began to jog northward again, running along the smooth sand but still not moving very fast. Winded, he started walking again. He came up to another rock and moved around it … then his body froze in horror.
The next beach stretched for maybe half a mile in front of him, and there were dozens of naked bodies laying on their sides in the sand. The body closest to him was an Asian man. The next was a red-headed woman. The next woman looked like she might have been Mexican. There were bodies of every skin color, and every shade of hair. It was like a United Nations of death, and it was too much.
He moved up the beach away from the bodies and into the dunes, falling from his feet. He leaned over and vomited into the grass. He crawled away from the vomit and meant to lay down, but his stomach heaved again with little success. Finally he just rolled onto his side, laying behind a dune, and closed his eyes, his mind shutting down in overload. The breeze blew off the ocean, smelling not of vomit or death, but of clean salt water. As the sun began sinking lower, the fog crept closer to the land.
Tim was startled awake by the foghorn. Disoriented, he tried to shake off what must have been a bad dream. Naked dead people on the beach, he thought with a small grimace. He wondered how long he had been here in the dunes when the foghorn sounded again, maybe 10 seconds long. Something clicked in his mind, because he knew there were no horns for miles in either direction. Maybe there was a ship in trouble on the shore, but it sounded like the horn was coming from the forest behind him. He had to go look at the beach, maybe if just to convince himself the dream was not real. He walked over the last dune when the third note sounded, again for 10 seconds.
At the end of the last blast, he looked with disbelief as the bodies began to stir. He wanted to run back down the beach the way he had came, then he remembered the two bodies he had left behind. Instead he crouched behind the dune and watched as the formerly dead people began to stand in unison. He almost cried out in fear when the foghorn sounded two short notes. The bodies began to walk.
They walked away from the water, not bothering to brush the sand off their skin. They did not speak or look at each other, but with a single purpose they headed for an opening in the spruce forest behind the dunes. Some of the people began to walk past Tim’s hiding place behind the dune. He watched them silently, frozen in place not necessarily by fear, but perhaps morbid curiosity. The horn sounded again, a single long note this time.
As they walked past, he began noticing other things about them. The men were all the same height, as were the women. They all appeared to be twenty-somethings with very similar (and attractive) body types. They had no tan lines or freckles or discolorations at all, everyone’s skin color was very even over their entire body. The men all had average-length hair, the women’s hair all shoulder-length and mostly straight, except for the black men and women who had natural tight curls. And they all had that unnerving little hole where their navel was supposed to be. They were basically identical, with only differing skin colors and faces. It was as if someone had created these “perfect people” based on a template of the ideal human form.
As most of the “perfects” walked toward the forest, he realized the last one was the woman he had discovered first. As she moved past his hiding place, he felt an irresistible urge to follow them into the forest. Without thinking he stood up, but the woman paid him no notice. It was clear that they were being guided like automatons by some unknown force. As the foghorn blared once again, she disappeared into the forest, and he began to follow as if drawn to the same destination.
The opening in the forest closed very quickly as the land sloped upward. The Perfects climbed through the brush and the trees, seeming to not notice their skin was being scratched by the berry vines. Blood started oozing from tiny cuts on their naked bodies, but they paid no attention. Tim was scrambling and fighting his way through the brush trying to keep up with the woman at the back of the line. She followed the others as they stepped over obstacles and fallen trees.
As the sun faded and the fog began to filter into the forest, it became harder to see where the leaders were headed. After about fifteen minutes, Tim was panting and out of breath and found himself falling behind. He lost sight of the woman for a moment, so he used the last of his energy to run toward the foghorn. Mercifully the crowd of Perfects had slowed down, but he nearly bumped into the woman as he broke through a wall of brush.
The Perfects were in a lush, grassy clearing dominated by a tall sandstone rock on one end. Maybe 30 of them formed a ragged semi-circle around the edges of the small opening. The foghorn gave one last short note, the sound seeming to come directly from the big rock. As the daylight faded into twilight, the Perfects stood there motionless, looking at the rock.
Tim took a step back when he saw the rock begin to glow an ethereal blue which bathed the entire clearing in soft light. He looked at the people’s skin again, and noticed that their cuts seemed to have magically healed in the light. The people began moving again, this time toward the rock itself. The first two people reached a cleft in the base of the glowing rock. Tim’s insides froze as they turned their heads and looked directly at Tim. They paused for a moment, then they seemed to step into the rock.
As the Perfects were absorbed by the rock, they all turned and looked at him as if they were marking him, memorizing his face. Finally the dark-skinned woman was the last to reach the rock. She looked directly at him, longer than the others, and seemed to dissolve into the very material of the rock. As soon as she disappeared, the light went out and Tim was left standing in near darkness. He walked up to the cleft in the rock and tried in vain to find a passage, or some explanation of what just happened. He stepped back and looked around the clearing before collapsing in disbelief onto the soft grass. He slept all night.
I still see them.
I said nothing to anyone about this, not my friends, not my girlfriend, not even my therapist. I know it sounds unbelievable, like a bad dream in the night. I know no one would believe me, but I know it was real.
It was a week before I saw the first one. Of course it was the beautiful black woman. She was in the bookstore when I came in, and she looked directly at me with the same stare as when she disappeared into the rock. We both knew. If I looked under her shirt that little hole would be there instead of a navel like us humans.
Over the next few weeks, I saw a few more I recognized, and some I didn’t. But they always look directly at me for a few seconds before moving on. They are always alone, never talking to anyone. I don’t know where they go at night, maybe back to the rock. I’m not brave enough to find out.
It’s a college town, so they blend in with the thousands of students here. The Perfects living among us. But there have been disappearances in the park, people vanishing as if they had left the earth.
As if they had been absorbed into that rock.