Volume 15
An Online Literary Magazine
April 30, 2021


From The Island of Mers


Shannon FitzGerald


He had heard the tales of Sasquatch or Bigfoot, tall hairy creatures, much like large apes, that walked on two legs. He didn’t believe they existed. If they did, someone would have hit one with a car by now.



he silver-hulled research skiff bounced over the gray-green waves, headed toward the beach backed by silvery driftwood and an impenetrable curtain of evergreens. Perched in the bow of the skiff, his face wet from spray, Peter scanned the shore. The salt stung his freshly shaven face, making him wish that he had kept his rambling copper beard. He pulled his cap lower over his green eyes and searched the shoreline. He was looking for the small cabin that would be his home base for the next week as he surveyed for marbled murrelets—reclusive seabirds that nest in old-growth forests. In the United States, they were endangered, but on this isolated stretch of Vancouver Island, Canada, there was a good chance he might find them.


There it was—the cabin. Peter squinted. It was really more of a shack than a cabin. The roughly-hewn wood, bleached by the sun, blended with the driftwood, but the red metal roof gave it away. Peter stared down into the bottom of the boat at his 50-pound backpack of food and warm clothes, along with his sleeping bag and pad. Next to it was a duffle bag full of the gear he would need to track marbled murrelets: binoculars, digital recorder, flashlight, compass, neon-orange flagging tape, small tent, and machete. While it was mid-May, he had also brought hand warmers and a thermos because the best bird watching for marbled murrelets was just before dawn.


Peter could feel the boat slow as it approached the shore. The choppy waves had transformed into smooth swells. As a mounded swell passed by the skiff, it felt like the boat slid backwards into the trough, until the crest of the next swell propelled the skiff closer to the beach. The captain throttled back the motor and let the boat glide on a swell toward the beach. Black stocking cap on his head, the black-bearded captain looked like a descendent of a French fur trapper. He had rolled up his flannel red-plaid sleeves, exposing brown sinewy forearms that attested to a life of hard work outside.


They had been fortunate with the weather and sea conditions. While a light gray fog bank hovered offshore, the beach was bathed in the bold, late-afternoon sunlight of the northern latitudes. The sun wouldn’t set until 9 p.m. Additionally, the waves, which could be monstrous breakers, were relatively small. Curious as to how they were going to land the craft, Peter looked up from his gear. The captain had a bearing on the red-roofed cabin. About 100 feet to the right of the cabin, something caught Peter’s eye. Two dark furry silhouettes were sitting on a log, watching the skiff approach. Anticipating black bears, Peter had brought bear spray. As the boat neared the shore, rather than ambling away on all fours, the two figures stood up and walked awkwardly through the jumble of logs into the thick understory of the mossy rainforest.


Peter glanced back at the captain and two crew members. Their eyes were staring at the spot where the figures had disappeared into brush. In an instant, their focus switched back to ensuring a safe landing. Peter thought it odd that none of the crew commented on the figures. Maybe they knew what they were. Not wanting to distract the crew during the beaching of the boat, Peter remained silent.


The captain expertly surfed a glassine wave as it spilled onto the coarse, charcoal-colored sand. With a crunching hissing sound, the hull slid to rest on the sand. The two crew members, men in their 20s, jumped overboard and pulled the skiff up the sandy beach face. As the captain secured the vessel, the two men helped Peter carry his belongings and two five-gallon plastic carboys of water to the cabin. Once that was complete, they all walked over to the area where they had seen the figures. Next to the log where the figures had been sitting, there were two sets of indefinable footprints in the damp sand: one was the size of a man’s footprint and the other was much larger.


The captain, a weathered man with a no-nonsense face, asked Peter, “Are you okay staying here?”


Unwilling to pass up this research opportunity, Peter reassured him, “I’ve seen plenty of bears in my research. I’ll be fine. If there is a problem, I’ve got bear spray and a satellite phone.” The park ranger that Peter had spoken with assured Peter that the satellite phone would work if he were outside.


The captain rubbed his beard, started to say something, caught himself, and said, “Okay.”


Peter asked, “Those were bear, right?”


The captain and crew exchanged glances. After an awkward silence, the captain offered, “Probably bear. Call us if you need us.” To the crew, the captain said, “Come on, boys, let’s get back before the fog sets in.”


Even though the tin-roofed cabin had a good bolt lock on the inside and no windows, an unnerving sense of the unknown began to grow in the pit of Peter’s stomach as the boat pulled away and left him standing on the beach, his back to the primal forest.



After the boat disappeared around a rocky point, Peter heaved his bags across the door’s threshold. He was relieved to see a metal wood-burning stove against one wall. It would provide heat and boil water. There was a small wooden table, two chairs, and two rusting metal cots. He was grateful he wouldn’t be sleeping on the ground. Years earlier, he had watched the television series, Alone, a survivor reality show in which outdoors types were dropped off at remote spots on Vancouver Island. The contestants’ winning strategy seemed to be who could cocoon the longest in their tent during the torrential downpours. Occasionally, a bear would stalk a contestant, which would prompt an evacuation by the rescue boat. The thought of bear made Peter want to familiarize himself with the area around the cabin.


Walking around the cabin, Peter discovered a lean-to on the leeward side with enough firewood for the week. The wood looked mossy and old with numerous borings from carpenter ants. A rusty axe lay against the stack of firewood. It appeared that it had been awhile since anyone else had stayed here.


Peter considered how he would structure his week of research. In their evolution, marbled murrelets had not developed any defenses, other than to nest on sturdy limbs in the heart of old-growth forests. This made it difficult for predators, such as crows, to reach them. It also made it difficult for Peter to reach their nests. Had there been logging roads, it would have been much easier to venture inland and set up a secondary camp in the forest. However, this section of coast had never been logged. He had brought a machete just in case he needed to do some bushwhacking into the shadowy forest. The flagging tape would help him find his way back. However, he was feeling uneasy with that plan, knowing that he wasn’t alone.



He was looking for the small cabin that would be his home base for the next week as he surveyed for marbled murrelets—reclusive seabirds that nest in old-growth forests.
He thought of another option. Just after the sunset, marbled murrelets fly out to sea to hunt for small fish. After feeding all night, they start returning to land before dawn with their beaks stuffed with fish to feed their young. He could set his alarm to wake up an hour before dawn. With the waning moon, there may be enough light to identify and count returning birds. Similarly, after sunset he could identify and count birds heading out to sea. This felt better. He would start tomorrow. For now, he would take a walk along the beach to stretch his legs. From the position of the sun over the slate blue sea, he gauged that there was enough daylight left for this. The beach stretched a mile or so ahead of him. As Peter crunched through the sand, he wondered about the two figures. Were they bears or something else? He had heard the tales of Sasquatch or Bigfoot, tall hairy creatures, much like large apes, that walked on two legs. He didn’t believe they existed. If they did, someone would have hit one with a car by now.


Similarly, he had heard the coastal indigenous people’s stories about Kushdakas, shape-shifting otter men—sometimes treacherous and other times benevolent.


While on a trip to Ketchikan, Alaska, he had picked up a paper booklet entitled “The Strangest Story Ever Told.” It was written by a miner who, in the early 1900s, had prospected with his buddies in Southeastern Alaska. The miner and his mining buddies had encountered several malevolent, hateful ape creatures. Peter had also read about the indigenous myth of the monstrous, apelike Skookum. Parents would warn their children that the giant Skookum would eat them if they caught them. The myth materialized in the early 1900s, when white miners were attacked by creatures that were pronounced to be Skookum. The fight occurred in a canyon near Mt. Rainier that is now known as Ape Canyon.


Peter shook his head. Maybe the figures were survivalists dressed in fur clothing? First Nation people? Contestants in another survival show? Bears, most likely, was his conclusion.


After about a mile, Peter turned around and walked back toward the cabin. He retraced his footprints in the sand, while his eyes scanned the sea and sky for seabirds. A glance at the ground stopped him cold. Another set of tracks were covering his.


Looking around slowly for the source of the tracks, he saw nothing but beach and the darkening forest. In the damp sand, the tracks were better defined but he still couldn’t identify them. They weren’t human; and they weren’t bear. There was only one set and it veered off into driftwood. Peter quickened his pace to a jog, eyes half on the forest and half on the two sets of prints. He found the point where the other footprints had come from the driftwood to follow him. It was about the same spot where he had seen the figures disappear into the brush.


Back at the cabin, Peter grabbed an armful of logs and dumped them by the wood stove. Immediately, a legion of carpenter ants scurried out. Not wishing to share his accommodations, Peter stomped on as many of them as he could. He turned on the lantern and then bolted the door of the windowless cabin. The old logs were damp and it took some doing, but Peter got a fire going. Dinner was simple: two ham sandwiches he had made that morning and a can of cold chili beans. After jotting down a few notes about what he had seen and how he planned to proceed with his research, he hesitantly turned off the lantern and slid into his sleeping bag. He didn’t know how long he stared at the firelight flickering on the rafters and peaked roof, his mind rummaging over the various explanations for the day’s occurrences, but eventually he drifted off to sleep.


Peter didn’t know what time it was when he heard the first sound. The fire had burned down to glowing orange coals. He had been asleep and the sound had cut through his sleep.




He sat up, straining to hear. There was nothing but the rhythmic crescendo of the waves breaking on the sand, punctuated with a seabird’s cry. Peter lay back down on the cot. Through the pulse of the breaking waves and the pulse of the blood in his ears, he heard a twig crack.


THUD! Something landed on the tin roof.


All at once, there was a cacophony of noise as objects rained down on the metal roof. It sounded like someone was pelting the structure with rocks and small logs.


Instinctively, Peter groped through the duffle bag looking for the bear spray. The din stopped. Standing in the dark with the bear spray in his sweaty hand, Peter could feel his heart racing. Suddenly, the cabin lurched violently from side-to-side. And stopped. From another side of the cabin, the shoving began again. Concerned that whatever was shaking the cabin might push in the door, Peter climbed onto the table and swung himself up into the rafters. Among the shuddering and creaking of the wood, he thought he heard a low snorting, like that of a bull.


He lost track of time in the dark as whatever was attacking the cabin would circle and try it from another side. At one point, he heard the metal of the hinges and bolt screech as the thing hit the door with its body. It was pointless to call for help. No boat was coming out here in the dark and he doubted that they would send a helicopter for his insane story.


In a nightmarish daze, Peter waited. At some point, the cabin stopped moving. Not daring to make a sound, he lay on the rafters in a semi-conscious state.


It was 5:00 a.m. when he decided to call the captain. Using the satellite phone meant going outside. Listening, he heard nothing. Slowly he unbolted the door. Dawn was still 40 minutes away but the night sky was lightening in the east. A small seabird zoomed by overhead, stubby wings propelling it toward the forest. Peter was too preoccupied with the call to notice.


From the captain’s groggy response, Peter could tell that he had woken him. “You’ve got to come pick me up. Something attacked the cabin last night.”


“Are you okay?” The captain’s voice was alert and concerned.


“Yes, but I want to get out of here.”


Hearing the anxiousness in Peter’s voice, the captain said, “I’ll muster the boys and we’ll be out there as soon as we can. Hang tight.”


To Peter, it seemed that the captain had been expecting his call.



“You’re not the first to leave here early,” the captain informed Peter as the skiff slowly glided away from the beach. The rain had returned and Peter watched the beach, driftwood, and forest blend together in a gray-green watercolor as the shoreline receded.


The captain poured something from a tarnished silver flask into the scalding cup of coffee that he handed to Peter. Over the sound of the outboard motor, the captain mused, “Normally, they last a few days and then something funny happens.”


One of the crew, a young man with a Peruvian knit cap under his Gore-Tex hood, added, “Yeah, the last guy said that he was kept up most of the night by something circling the cabin banging two rocks together. Man, did he look spooked when we picked him up.” He gave Peter a questioning look. Warmed by the whiskey and coffee, Peter began recounting his tale with “I would have preferred banging rocks.”


Shannon FitzGerald, B.A., M.S. has taught environmental science and oceanography, including as an instructor at North Seattle Community College. She has also worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Bay of Mermaids is her first book in the fantasy romance series under the pen name Majia Comella (Balboa Press, a division of Hay House, 2015).







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