When I can’t sleep, I go for walks. It’s counterproductive, I know, but it beats laying in bed doing nothing but thinking about god only knows what for hours on end. I’ve gone as far as Ramsgate during these nighttime excursions, but for the most part I stick to my local area; in that sense I’m quite fortunate, seeing as I live less than five minutes walk from the seafront at Pegwell Bay.
I’d imagine it’s quite a strange place for someone who hasn’t lived next to it for their whole life, as the actual beach is quite small. Instead, the majority of the seafront is covered in the concrete foundations of what was once a cross-channel hoverport. I would have loved to see it in operation, but unfortunately it was shut down long before I was born, the buildings torn down leaving only an expanse of steadily deteriorating concrete and tarmac.
It’s something of a personal favourite place of mine, the hoverport; I’ve been visiting it for as long as I can remember—considered it a part of my home, even—and yet every time it always finds a way to remain interesting. It’s teeming with wildlife, provided you know what you’re looking for and aren’t expecting anything spectacular, but moreover it’s a fascinating example of how nature reclaims all in the absence of humans. More metaphorical sorts could even regard it as a representation of the optimism and subsequent decay of our nation (or even world) post war, though the last time I mentioned such an idea I was laughed at so I shan’t dwell on it for too long.
I haven’t done a very good job at explaining myself, but to put it bluntly I am trying to say I know the place. Whilst tiny, insignificant details may differ slightly from visit to visit, the hoverport itself does not. I could walk around the place blindfolded and still point at every outcropping, every parking space, every single piece of rubble and debris strewn about the area. If something has changed, even slightly, I guarantee I would notice it. I did notice it.
During one of my nighttime walks in the summer of 2019 I noticed some odd markings in the sand near the sewer outlet. The tide was out and the moon was bright, making these strange shapes glaringly obvious. A deep gash had been carved into the sand, leading from the edge of the outlet to a point far out in the distance. My first thought was that someone had dragged some sort of object out towards the flats; my father had often told me of how, as a boy, he would hunt for worms out there to sell as bait for fishermen, and I myself have observed the harvesting of clay in the area, so it seemed to make sense. That was, until, I looked closer and noticed what I can only describe as accompanying footprints.
Astride the main trail, spaced every few feet at what looked to be fairly even intervals, were some sort of footprints. Large ones at that, though not from anything I recognised. I couldn’t get a good look at them as I wasn’t willing to get my shoes muddy—I had left my boots at home, as usual—, but it seemed obvious to my admittedly untrained eyes that who or whatever had left these prints was dragging something either out to sea or onto land.
As silly as it seems to me now, then and there I came to a sudden conclusion that some sort of criminal activity was afoot. People trafficking, drug smuggling, I wasn’t sure, but my sleep deprived mind and overactive imagination had me convinced of foul play. Knowing that I couldn’t simply go to the police about some odd tracks in the sand—I’d no desire to waste anyone’s time but my own—I resolved to return the next night, hopefully to catch and photograph the culprits in the act. A stupid idea, one that was liable to get me hurt or worse, but I never claimed to be a smart man.
As planned, the following night I made my way down to the hoverport. I must admit, I was excited; terrified, mind you, since I had spent the day reading into sensationalist tales of vigilanteism gone wrong and was convinced that I was about to confront some hardcore criminals, but excited at the prospect of something extraordinary regardless. I remember almost falling down the stairs behind the Viking Ship, so preoccupied was I with steadying my now trembling hands that I missed the next step completely and would have fallen had I not grabbed the banister. I can tell you from prior experience that such a fall is far from pleasant.
Just as before I made my way towards the seafront, picking through the shrubbery near the old footbridge and emerging into the open space. It was then I first saw it; a shape, a man, crawling up onto the ramp nearest the outlet. Was this it, was this the criminal, or some unfortunate victim of the seas? I picked up the pace, rushing to see just what I was looking at.
As I drew nearer, no more than 30 yards away by that point, the figure came into clearer view and I froze. An icy chill shot through my body as the now clearly visible figure dragged itself towards the outlet. It wasn’t a man. Not quite, anyway.
It was shaped more like a seal, now that I could see it more clearly. A thick, blubbery yet muscular tail made up most of the body, capped with what seemed to be a tail fluke, pointed like that of a whale. At what I can only describe as the “waist” of the creature, the body angled upwards at about 60°; from there it took on a far more human appearance, though admittedly only recognisable as that of a man from a distance. Long, muscular arms lined with membranous fins supported the creature’s torso, and it dragged itself along with them. That, I supposed at the time, was why the tracks from the previous day had looked the way they did. They were handprints, not footprints as I had previously assumed.
Atop the shoulders of the being was a head, similar in shape to that of a chimp with its protruding jaw and brow, but hairless like the rest of the creature. It seemed to sniff the air, and for a moment the fear that it had detected me manifested as a pit in my stomach. Luckily, it didn’t seem to notice me, and instead slid beneath the railings and into the sewer outlet with a wet thud, out of my view.
Cautiously, taking care to keep as quiet as I thought humanly possible, I drew nearer; I had to see it, I knew I did. I knew right then and there that what I was looking at could very well be an undocumented species, the sheer magnitude of which was not lost on me. I lowered myself onto my belly and crawled slowly to the lip of the concrete depression that led directly into the outlet, the creature now in plain view.
It seemed to be rooting through the piles of clams that always accumulated at the outlet; picking each shell up with its long, webbed yet bony fingers the creature brought them close to its face. It would sniff each shell, then toss them away over its shoulder in a manner I am convinced was one of frustration. Every so often it would, after sniffing a shell, pry it open with a bizarrely delicate precision for a creature such as this, using only its elongated fore and middle fingers to gently prise open its catch. Then it would lean back and gulp down the contents of the shell, before discarding the remains.
I watched it feed like this for what felt like hours before I had something of an epiphany; my phone! Hastily I drew my phone and prepared to take a picture of the creature before me. After all, if I was to be taken seriously I would need evidence, and what better evidence than that of the visual persuasion? I lined up my shot and pressed the button.
The outlet was suddenly illuminated in the bright white glare of the flash I had so clumsily left on. The creature looked up at the source, at me, with a look I am certain was astonishment, and our eyes locked for but a split second.
I fled; scrambling away in terror, fearing for my life, that at any moment the beast could pounce on me from behind, that it would tear me limb from limb as easily as it opened the clams. It wasn’t until I was by the road, doubled over panting in the orange glow of the lampposts, that I realised how much of a fool I had just made of myself. How on Earth would such a slow and cumbersome creature catch me, and why? Regardless, I didn’t dare go back until the following morning.
The tracks were still there, as were the opened clamshells, which in my mind proved that what I had tried to convince myself had been a nightmare was in fact real. I regret running when I did, honestly. The dawn of the new day brought with it greater lucidity, and I realised that if the creature had truly been an ape as its head suggested it was, it was likely intelligent. I don’t claim to be a primatologist, but I know that apes are smart enough not to get caught out by humans in the same location twice. I had thrown away my chance at allowing this creature to receive the protection such a primate deserves all for some blurry images and a sore knee, grazed from my hasty retreat. I tried to report my findings, of course, but without proof I was taken seriously only by conspiracy theorists and other assorted oddballs.
It was disappointing, to be sure, and I felt that I had let everyone down by failing as I did. The only comfort I could really take from the debacle was that somewhere out there, the Sea Ape still lived, and that perhaps one day it would ordain to show itself to a more worthy soul than I.
© 2020 Charlie Beal
Charlie Beal is a history student at Canterbury Christchurch University. He primarily writes science fiction and alternate history