The sound was beyond deafening. With all the subtlety of a freight train careening over a chasm the Pacific hurled itself relentlessly into the narrow rocky inlet. Each new assault threatened to leave him battered. But like this recalcitrant cove he was steadfast in his quest. Like the sea, unrelenting.
The beach was dotted with sun-blanched driftwood and the pinkish-red corpses of unlucky crabs the gulls had picked bare. Mounds of spaghetti-like green and orange seaweed huddled alongside dense leafy bundles of tide-twisted plant life. Clusters of pulsing anemones, starfish and mussels clung to the algae-coated rocks.
He detached the aluminum forearm-crutch and raised it over his head. The moon stared down like a watchful elder as he cocked his arm and hurled it into the surf. It floated on the foamy surface for a moment before being swallowed up by a ferocious wave. He leaned his weight on the remaining crutch and dragged himself forward, his shriveled legs trailed behind leaving snakelike impressions in the sand.
His remaining crutch lost its grip on a salt-slickened patch and he tumbled forward, face-planting into the rocky sand, his mouth filling swiftly with the brackish seawater – his nose assaulted by the stench as a horde of beach flies swirled into his eyes.
He unbuckled the offending crutch and sent it clattering into the rocky tide pool. He was alone now. Unshackled and unprotected. He tasted salt on his lips. Felt the sand crunch like bits of glass in his teeth. He sensed subtle motion beneath his fingers where clams gasped upward with sucking mouths and the sand crabs scuttled about in tiny pockets of air.
He hoisted himself upright onto his hands like a beached mermaid and gazed out at the surf. The moonlight was sparkling on the water. He tried to remember what it felt like to swim.
A California Gull twisted, arched and dove striking the surface and emerging with a prize. Lt. Paul Leland Johnson, former platoon commander and US Navy SEAL, reached the water’s edge with three powerful thrusts of his arms and slipped beneath the waves with the silent grace of a sea mammal.