I have been employed as an independent Forensic Technician for the better part of five years. My specialty is marine science. During my tenure, I have been called in to investigate everything from maritime murder to drunken boating accidents. Blood, rot, and dismemberment are all common parts of my job.
But the most disturbing and inexplicable investigation of my life began with a midnight phone call as innocent and average as any other.
“I am going to send you a fax of everything we have. It’s a lot. Fair warning; this stuff ain’t pretty. Not the type of photos you want your wife to see, if you got one, you get me?”
“Fax is faster than Internet on the island. Plus, we’ve been getting these storms all week… I just don’t trust the computers with a job like this.”
That last bit explained a lot.
“Thank you for all the effort, Tim. I’ll meet you at the docks in the morning.”
My counterpart at the police department thanked me in return and hung up the phone as a treasure trove of documents rattled through my rusted fax machine. Pictures of a wide eyed dead body and lines of cramped, scribbled writing underneath filled my desk. I stared at the pages for hours, trying to make sense of it all, while sleep drifted its way down my heavy eyelids.
One fact in the case jumped out more than any other.
To my knowledge, there are not many marine animals who would leave a human body fully intact after they kill it.
I hopped a plane from Jersey at six AM and met a boat that took me off coast of Maine at noon. I was the only one on board the charter, so I passed the time by watching the water. Rain floated in across the dreary fog banks of the Atlantic. The mist grew so thick that the navigator nearly missed the Island’s small port before he came upon it.
While the deckhands tied up, I called out to the Captain of my charter, a gruff looking fellow named Sebastian.
“Hey, you think this fog had something to do with that girl gone missing?”
He looked at me and snorted unevenly. I could tell he knew I was an outsider. I could tell he did not want to gossip. But he turned back to the rest of his crew as they pulled the boat into the deck and tied her up. When he saw they were out of earshot, he said;
“Every asshole on this rock has a theory as to what happened to that girl. Most will tell ya if you ask. Most will talk your ear off for hours. A small town lives like that, you know. But, to answer your question, no… there was no fog on the island that night.”
He was right about that.
I arrived at the police station on Main Street at approximately two in the afternoon. I was greeted by a giant of a man named Sheriff Pete Bolanski. After a quick tour of the office, Pete escorted me to down to the freezer.
“Any theories?” I asked on the way “What have your interviews dug up? What are people saying?”
The sheriff itched his neck absentmindedly.
“Some people said Emily did drugs. Some people said she drank too much, and partied too much, and slept with a lot of guys,” Pete chuckled and looked down at his feet. “Others swear she was a smart, saintly girl who excelled in school and attended church every Sunday.”
I knowingly rolled my eyes.
“Small town, huh?”
The sheriff sighed as he opened the door and led me to a wall full of slabs.
“One of the smallest.”
Pete pulled a small latch that caused the slab to slide out on its own.
Sitting on the cold metal was a beautiful, blonde, dead girl.
“Do your worst.”
I completed a second complete forensic autopsy while the sheriff looked on in disbelief. Emily’s body did not reveal a single cut wound. She did not have remnants from teeth or scales slid up against her skin. She could not have been hit by a boat, or jet ski, or other engined vehicle, because… nothing slashed her. She did not have any stabs, or gunshots, or abrasions of any kind. The animals had not even tended to remains, before or after death, and she had been out there in the water for at least twelve hours.
“*What kind of marine wildlife do you typically see in the area these days?” I asked, knowing the answer already, but interested in theirs.
Sheriff Pete chuckled a bit before he answered.
“You don’t think…” he examined my face with his dumb mouth agape and found me serious. “People see white sharks, and the like, sometimes. Your occasional Tiger Shark or Bull. But hell, I don’t see a damn bite mark… do you? You think the thing just hugged her to death?”
I turned Emily over and examined her skin inch by inch. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Salt water preserved the remains remarkably well. I did not find a single cause of blood loss head to toe. The coroner marked in his report that he didn’t detect any.
“*But there is some bruising on the neck. You got this, right?” I pointed underneath Emily’s chin with a slightly pink pigmentation seemed to stick out among the rest. “This had to be caused before her death. Whatever killed Emily held her underwater, like this.”
I gestured the movement uncomfortably through the stubble on Pete’s neck.
“I think she drowned, officer. But we need to run a few tests.”
Before we could continue the discussion and get the lab work in motion, a commotion erupted in the waiting room of the small precinct. An angry and obnoxious voice called out so loudly that it caused my comrade to dart from the room in a panic.
“THERE’S BEEN ANOTHER ATTACK. JENKINSON’S BEACH. GET THE BOAT. GET THE BOAT RIGHT NOW.”
I followed him.
“Calm the fuck down, Jesse, you are going to make everybody panic. What did you see?” Sheriff Pete asked as the telephones bounced off their hooks.
“Something pulled Cherry Woo underwater. She’s still fighting, I think, her boyfriend is there trying to help.”
“We need to go. Now.”
We hopped in Sheriff Pete’s jeep and hightailed it to the beach. When we got there, dozens of people had formed a circle around something out of our line of sight. I pushed through the crowd while people yelled absentmindedly at one another.
“Something held her down. I saw it.”
“That girl was bobbing up and down in the water like a cork.”
“It swam off… Towards the jetty… that was no shark.”
By the time I got to the center, I realized, we were too late.
A beautiful brunette lay on the sand. Her body was positioned spread eagle, and as with the first, I did not see a single cut or bite on her flawlessly tanned body. Nonetheless, I could tell immediately, the girl was dead. Her family and friends wept openly by the water.
Only a thin halo of discoloring dotted the girl’s neck. The injury bore a pattern similar to the first. It took me a moment to trace it in my mind. After figuring out the cause, I returned to the truck, so the people of Appledore Island could not see my reaction.
The bruising resembled two very large webbed hands.
Have you ever seen that scene in Jaws? You know the one; where the innocent beach goers sprint from the water in sheer terror while the camera pans to a wide shot of the all encompassing blue ocean? You can’t see anything yet. There is not a single monster in sight. But the music tells you that something is coming. The panicked screams of the once happy swimmers tells you that something, something too terrifying to even imagine, waits for you just below the surface.
“She doesn’t have a pulse,” the sheriff shouted through my day dreams. “Jesus, I think something crushed her windpipe.”
What they don’t tell you about Jaws is that it’s already downloaded into most of our memories. Forty years later, any time a predator approaches a beach, the reactions of the characters in the film become our own built-in instincts. It is as though the entire real life scene is scripted by some serendipitous Hollywood deja vu.
All it takes is ONE person to start screaming at the beach before folks automatically queue the theme song in their head – dunna, dunna, dunnadunnadunnadunna.
Now try fifty.
The panic of that moment on the beach overwhelmed everyone. A mother pulled her sobbing child from the water. Families sprinted towards one another and embraced. A teenager paced the shoreline anxiously. And at the center of it all, a father wailed over the still warm remains over his daughter
“I have to get these people out of here,” Pete murmured in his own dumbfounded stupor. He finally turned to a deputy, a wide eyed kid named Hooper, and said something along the lines of “Section it off, get me the witnesses, and call the coroner.”
Hooper gestured to a couple uniforms who did their best to form a barrier at the entrance of the beach. After a few moments consolation, he was finally able to pull the girl’s father away from her body and direct him towards an ambulance for shock.
Only the teenager remained.
“Wendy… Wendy was out there too. She hasn’t come back. I’m going. I’m going out there.”
The boy ripped a T-shirt off his pencil frame and sprinted towards the waves with all the bravado he could manage.
The sheriff tackled him just a second corpse drifted in with the current.
The boy began to shake uncontrollably once he saw his girlfriend. He turned to his right and wretched into the sand as we gestured for an EMT to take him away while a more senior deputy fished Wendy from the water.
“What did you see, Sam?” Sheriff Pete asked as he gasped for breath, still tired from the previous chase. “Tell us what the fuck is out there. What are you chasing?”
Bits of vomit dripped down from the beginnings of Sam’s poor attempt at a mustache.
“We were swimming… everyone was there… and then something took Cherry,” he pointed at the commotion growing by the girl’s father. “Wendy and I started to swim back… I swear she was by my side the whole time. And then she wasn’t.”
Fresh tears filled Sam’s eyes as he watched Deputy Wilson try to corral her corpse in the waves.
“Did you see any details from the animal that took her?” I remember asking. “Fins, scales, anything could help kid.”
The boy looked at me bizarrely. He looked like I had just suggested that the sky could be green.
“Not an animal,” he whispered. “I saw hands.”
I worked with the police department to close the remaining beaches on the Island as nightfall crept its way into town. People shouted questions at us from every porch and street corner. We tried to tell them that we were investigating. We tried to tell them we had some leads. But the truth was that we had nothing. Our best plan involved taking a county boat into the water and take advantage of its fish finder. The parallels to Jaws again danced into the back of my mind.
“We’re gonna need a bigger boat,” I joked at the docks.
Our rag tag group of investigators kicked off from the slip at around seven o’clock. A thick band of darkness covered every inch of the horizon’s dark blue water. A hint of the mainland shone through the distance. We bounced between the lights of Maine and Appledore Island like an awkward pinball hoping to find a hole.
In two hours, we found nothing. I was not even sure what we were supposed to be looking for.
Around 9:00, the steady roar of the engine started to dissipate, much to the Captain’s surprise. He fiddled around with it for the better part of a half hour while Deputies Hooper and Wilson offered a few frustrated kicks.
At 9:30, he let out a defeated shout.
“It’s done. Unbelievable. I just checked the damn thing this morning. Hoop, radio home, tell them we need a ride home.”
Hooper fiddled around with the radio in the cabin. I waited for static to fill the empty evening. I waited for the familiar crinkle of a voice on the other end.
“Radio is busted too,” Hoop shouted in confusion. “What’s that mean?”
Sheriff Pete stormed into the cabin and clicked the radio button half a hundred times.
“Appledore, come in.”
“Appledore, come in.”
“APPLEDORE, COME IN.”
We waited for a few more minutes.
“What that fucking means, Hooper, is that we’re stranded. Dead in the water. Sitting ducks. You got another engine in your pocket? If not, we’re fucked.”
I coughed to clear the air.
“They know we’re out here, though, right?”
The sheriff gave me a sympathetic look.
“Yes, but, we’re at least an hour ride out. And the ocean is a big place, kid. We can use the flair later if we’re desperate… but they won’t find us until the morning.”
The Jaws theme song started to play in my head.
We waited in the boat for the better part of two hours. Wilson and Pete talked absentmindedly for a bit. Hooper tied up a fishing line and sat with the pole in his hand lazily. Eventually, they all fell asleep, leaving me to watch the water on my own.
Rain started in again just after ten o’clock.
The gentle waves lapped against the hull of our small ship. It relaxed me. I felt my eyes come close to closing as the water dripped lazily against my forehead. The comfortable snores of my comrades did nothing more to keep me awake. I drifted to sleep sometime after ten thirty.
I woke up to a splash and heap of commotion.
Sheriff Pete was shouting about something. Wilson darted in front of me with a flare gun in his hand. He set his feet to aim at something outside my line of sight. Then he fired the gun quickly. A marvelous blue wave shot out from the center of the gun. He cursed immediately after.
“Fuck, I missed it.”
I pulled myself from a comfortable position and stumbled over to the source of the conflict. I expected them to be shooting at something in the water. I expected them to be looking down with nets in hand.
The Sheriff held a fish beater over his head while Wilson desperately tried to reload the flare gun. I shouted to ask them what we were looking for, but before I could, I saw the source standing five feet to my right.
I have thought quite a lot about the animal I saw that night.
I only saw it for a moment.
It stood like a man. Dark blue skin rippled on top of muscles that popped out at every corner and angle in the dim light. A bald head met a pair of glittering black eyes. The beast held an unconscious Hooper in it’s massively curved arms. I tried to move towards them. I tried to shout for Hoop to wake up. We were all shouting. We were all attempting to look menacing as the creature cradled our friends and hissed back at us like a defensive mother. It bowed in our direction, like a dog that looked ready to play. Hints of a smile played upon razor thin lips.
Then it look one sidelong look at the water, and launched itself into the waves.
We searched for Hooper the rest of the evening. We looked for the creature too. We used our still working spot light to illuminate the waves, and around midnight, a human body lapped helplessly against the hull of our boat.
Hoop’s body had only two bruises, and both were on his neck.
Two perfectly symmetrical bruises in the shape of two human thumbs.
Three men sat on a boat with the wet body of their dead friend in the center.
None of us were not quite sure what to do.
The storm continued over our heads. Rain upended the sky in neat patterns of white. Wind made the waves jump up and down rhythmically. Thunder shook the fishing gear on board like a drum. The ship rocked so feverishly in between that I needed to adjourn to the railing for some puking.
Pete and Wilson whispered to each other throughout the night. I heard the name Kane come up a couple times. Wilson even shouted it a few times. But I didn’t bother to listen to the details.
I didn’t think they mattered. We were trapped.
Our engine remained disabled. We could not swim away and make it to shore from such a distance. That prospect also entailed entering the water with whatever the fuck had just killed Hooper, and none of us seemed too eager to try. I had also managed to completely lose my sense of direction. We had been drifting for so long, then, that we could have been anywhere.
At around one thirty in the morning, Wilson found a second flair in the back of the boat. He glumly removed the packaging, loaded her up, and fired the bright blue light a mile into the sky. We wordlessly watched the bright sparks fall effortlessly to the sea. Then we waited.
No one answered.
At around two, I found a warm six pack of Miller High Life buried underneath the tackle boxes. Thrilled with my find, I matched over to the guys, and tossed them two each.
Wilson offered me only a cold stare in return. After a moment’s hesitation, he leaned over and grabbed a can from my hand.
Then he placed it next to Hooper’s corpse.
“It was his beer.“
After chugging my only remaining Miller, I rested my eyes on the sky while the other two men kept watch on the water. Forks of lightning danced across and seemed to stretch the entire length of the horizon. I tried to sleep, but my mind stayed on the crimes of the past few nights.
Each of the three victims bore the same injuries: circular bruises on the neck inflicted by a creature with one unique characteristic; thumbs.
Chimpanzees have opposable thumbs. Most of the lesser apes do as well. But you would not expect to find a chimpanzee or gorilla swimming in the water off the coast of Maine. So, barring some sort of extraterrestrial circling the sea, to my estimation, there was only one type of creature that could have killed all three people: A human being.
I must have dozed off for a bit.
I awakened to a keen aching in my back and the panicked screams of Sheriff Pete and Deputy Wilson.
“Oh God, oh God,” Pete shrieked. “*Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God!**”
I rubbed salt and cold water from my eyes to find both men standing by the side of the boat.
“Get back,” I shouted deliriously. “You don’t understand what we’re dealing with.“
“No…” Wilson started. “You need to see this.“
I stood to my feet and gingerly walked over to the railing. The rain had stopped. The moon looked close to making up its mind about dipping beyond the horizon. The heightened visibility of twilight allowed me to see an outline of the object in the water.
Bloat and rot had obscured the details of what looked to once be a young woman. Her skin sagged and co-mingled with the warm salt water. A checkered jacket and distinct pink wristband stuck out like a literal diamond in the rough.
Sheriff Pete vomited over the side of the boat.
“I bought my wife that same bracelet,” he said through spittle. “You don’t think…“
Before he could finish, Wilson pointed to another object in the distance.
In total, four corpses lazily surrounded our ship.
Both men stopped talking.
A look of haunting recognition and dumbfounded disbelief filled Wilson’s young safe. He pointed to a body directly to our right.
I waited for Pete’s wife to get closer with the waves, then reached out and dragged her over with an old fishing net. Once I got the body on board, Pete quickly pulled the bracelet off her rotting wrist.
His sobs confirmed my worst fears.
I stepped away to give the men some privacy as they worked together to recover the remaining remains. I later found out they included a local entrepreneur, his secretary, the mayor Appledore himself. And, of course, Wilson’s seventeen year old sister.
All with the same exact injury.
No cut marks. No bite marks. No other entry wounds whatsoever.
I thought back to the distorted image of the attacker in my mind. Blue skin. Bald head.
Could it have been a costume?
The pieces clicked together just as an unusual shade of yellow slipped between the rough water to my right. Something about that object did not belong in the middle of the sea. So I studied it for a bit. I thought it could just be pollution, or a piece of plastic, at first.
But as it got closer… I recognized a brand name.
Then an arm.
“Wilson, get over here,“
Nobody answered me. So I shouted to my crying friends a little louder.
“Somebody bring me a fucking gun!“
My excitement seemed to grab their attention. Pete arrived at my side immediately with a pistol in hand. He scanned the water beside me. I pointed to the yellow object pushing its way through the waves
“There,” I pointed. “Air tank. Shoot it.”
He stared at me for a long moment.
“Is it him?”
Sheriff Pete fired.
The scuba tank exploded in a confetti of blood, metal, and bits of blue jumpsuit.
A nearby lighthouse that missed our flares was not able to ignore the explosion. The watchman dispatched a recovery boat arrived to our location approximately thirty minutes later. Pete, Wilson, and I were rescued at six in the morning; after twelve hours alone on the open sea.
The police concluded their investigation the next day.
The killer was identified as a teenage boy named Kane.
The local scuba instructor.
Kane did not know the victims personally. He did not hold a grudge against any of them. But when the boy turned up missing the next morning, Wilson demanded a search of his apartment, and Sheriff Pete begrudgingly obliged.
His persistence paid off.
The search of Kane’s apartment revealed a number of costumes intended to entice timid kids to trust the water, for swimming lessons, and the like.
It also revealed an unusual fascination with serial killers.
Maybe ‘fascination’ is not the right word. Obsession is more accurate. This kid kept a map, with every active killer in North America, neatly described and organized on his wall.
Kane also pinned a note card over the entire state of Maine. It read, in still wet handwriting;
“7 Drowned off the Coast of Appledore Island.”