Fiction · 04/29/2009

The Bay

There was something in the Bay. Or perhaps it was just the suggestion of something in the Bay like the idea of a serpent in Loch Ness. The Bay was older than the Loch, and the rumor of something in the Bay was even older. The Squaxin fished the Bay long before the first Americans settled on its shores. The tribe knew about something under the still gray waves. They told their stories in Lushootseed, a language very few people speak any longer. They stayed clear of the Bay aware that in the clear depths there was more than just starfish, otters, and salmon. There was no need to disturb what had always been there.

The American settlers didn’t live on the shores of the Bay until recently. Douglas fir trees grew in the soft, glacial moraine of the shore. The sides of the Bay rose quickly and fell into steep gullies where rain collected into streams. The gullies filled with shadows, salmon berries, devil’s club, and herons. At the margin of the surf and the forest, the waves left a steep mud bank and a broad beach of pebbles rounded by the motion of the glacier and buffed by the tide. Kelp and slime coated the stones. Sea anemones and crabs moved in the pools.

None of the early settlers wanted to live in the steep terrain. They cut the fir and sold the lumber. When they fished the Bay, the fishermen sensed the same thing in the water the Squaxin had seen. The fisherman told each other that there was something in the Bay. At low tide the Bay was nearly cut off from the rest of Puget Sound. The Bay itself was deep but circled by mudflats at low tide. In the trapped water, salmon, halibut, and smelt were easy targets. It was said that a fisherman found his boat trapped in the clear water of the Bay. In the depths he saw a face staring at him. At first he thought there was a dead body in the Bay. He leaned over to recover the man or woman – he couldn’t tell – but realized then from the distortion, from the hazy disappearance of stripes of the image, that he was either staring at a ghost or an object that was fathoms below him in the deep, a very large object that looked like a man. It would have to have been huge, whoever told the story always said. There was something in the Bay and so people stayed clear of the water. There was no need to disturb what had always been there.

Gradually houses appeared on the shores until the Bay was ringed by homes. The fir was no longer cut down but preserved to keep the unstable sides of the Bay in place. A highway rimmed the upper ridge. Low tides came and went and these new people didn’t spend time on the water. From behind plate-glass windows, the mysteries of the Bay were suggested but hardly as present as the coffee the new people drank or the newspapers they read. The surface of the water reflected the green in the trees and the gray of the sky.

The developers didn’t live off the bounty of the Bay. The Bay needed to be included into their larger system of highways, power grids, cul-de-sacs, and waste treatment plants. Crews measured for fault lines and the shifts in soil composition. They charted the depths of the bay. They left measurement buoys to track the flow of tidal water. Even though they had never seen the still, clear water they had studied its contour lines. In order to measure, assess, and create accurate models of tidal flows and soil erosion crews disturbed every square foot of the bay. The developers needed to know the limits of their domain.

One day while standing among the pebbles, looking for shells at one of the Bay’s unpopular public beaches, in the rain, a man and his daughter noticed that something was floating in the middle of the Bay and was moving toward the shore. It kicked up giant waves. They pocketed their white garnets and red sea snail shells. A head rose from the water. It was covered with barnacles and leathery green kelp mixed with its dark silver hair. The head belonged to a brown-skinned native man as tall as a skyscraper. He stood yawning and stretching in the shallow water at the edge of the Bay. He put both hands on his knees as if he was having trouble standing. He blinked and rubbed his eyes. He was naked as anyone would be naked who had been lying under fathoms of seawater for several millennia.

The man and his child hid in the forest behind some bushes. The girl was curious. “Maybe he doesn’t know what time it is?” she asked. And the man realized, he didn’t even know how to ask questions of this man, if it was a man. Who was this person? How did he become so large? Where is his mother? Had a he fallen into the Bay? He realized his daughter asked her questions because the giant looked as if he’d slept in and wasn’t even aware yet he was late for work.

The giant urinated on the shore, rinsed his hands in the seawater, and began to walk to the east.

Hardly anyone was at home in the houses around the beach. It was just after school and before they started to return from work, in the sleepy middle of the afternoon. A few retired people pottered in the garden, napped on the couch, or sat reading in the daylight from the west. It was the middle-of-the-winter and this was the lightest part of the day, a kind of twilight that permeated rooms rather than illuminated them. The giant quickly moved across the highway and over the ridge down into the packed suburbs developed on the flat plateau between the Bay and the Green River. He was noticed then. People called fire stations, police stations, and news stations. The response was one of alarm. An alien had invaded. The terrorists had formulated a surreal assault on Middle America. First they had attacked Wall Street, now they were attacking Main Street.

The giant continued to stride toward the East, careful to thread through the neighborhood and not step in front of moving cars or on houses probably more because it was like stepping on a snail or a sea shell than out of a sense that there were people there. The giant may have lived on a different gauge than everyone else. No one called out to the giant. No one said anything to him.

The Internet described people’s perceptions – a monster invading a Seattle suburb – but didn’t tell the whole story. Only when he appeared on the TV news did people begin to see him as a person. The TV, paradoxically, was more accurate and showed a groggy, middle-aged naked Native American man. He was covered with skin lesions, barnacles, and sea anemones from lying at the bottom of the Bay. He haphazardly wandered through what appeared to be miniature houses, water towers, and highways. The idea of a man was understandable to them, just not a man as tall as the power cable towers.

United States Northern Command ordered an airstrike, unsure of what to make of the giant and not wanting to risk anything. Its movement was calculated. There was no need to evacuate because the giant would be in the open terrain between Auburn and North Bend in an hour. In the meantime, policemen in riot gear kept people off the roads. People remained in their buildings and waited for the all clear.

Two Super Hornets zipped across the horizon on the hour. The giant had been out of the water for seventy minutes at that point. It turned to see the two dart sized jets flit past. They deposited four Mark 77 napalm bombs. The giant burst into flames and burned to its skeleton in fifteen minutes. An ancient KC-135 tanker plane chugged in the trail of the jets and dropped its load of water on the flaming heap of muscle, bone, and brain matter. The water left behind the damp, charred remains. The attack on America had been thwarted. And in the relative safety, scientists came to investigate the remains, ask their questions, measure, assess, and create modules. They removed what was left until the giant was just a suggestion of something like the idea of a serpent in Loch Ness.

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Matt Briggs’ writing has appeared in in SmokeLong Quarterly, First Intensity, The Clackamas Literary Review, and is forthcoming in The Golden Handcuffs Review and Birkensnake. The Before Columbus Foundation awarded his first novel, Shoot the Buffalo, an American Book Award in 2006. A new novel, The Strong Man, will be published later this year. He blogs at: http://mattbriggs.wordpress.com.