Le Monstre de la Mer by
50
(76 Stories)

Prompted By The Twilight Zone

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“This was a bad idea,” I thought as I peered ahead, struggling to stay on the highway. It was pitch dark and we were mired in traffic. But we weren’t in Boston and it wasn’t rush hour. It was 1:00 am on Monday morning and we were nearing Scituate, a coastal town just north of Cape Cod. The fog was so dense I could barely see the taillights of the car in front of me.

Two hours earlier, Patti and I had been studying in my dorm living room while Aaron and Allan turned on our tiny black-and-white TV to catch the 11:00 o’clock news. The lead story: a sea monster, or something like one, had washed ashore on the beach at Scituate. “Let’s go see it!” suggested Allan. This was not the sort of frivolous activity I would usually waste time on, especially with homework to do. But it was Sunday night and we were tired and bored. “When will we ever get another chance to see a sea monster?” Patti urged, sealing the deal. We piled into my GTO and headed for the coast.

But now, fogged in with dozens of others who had the same idea, I wasn’t so sure. We had no idea exactly where the sea monster was. How would we even find it? Trees lined the road, blocking our view of the beach.

Then we began to see cars parked on the shoulder, lined up on each side of the highway. This must be it, we figured. We pulled in behind them and we made our way through the trees onto the beach.

It was dark, but we heard voices up the beach. As our eyes adjusted to the gloom, we saw an oval ring of people slowly circling a dark mass, writhing and chanting in a primitive, tribal way. We got closer.

Scituate sea monster

The sea monster, end to end. Photo source: Boston Herald American.

My memory is as foggy as the night. I remember the thing as mammoth—maybe fifty feet long and as high as our waists—ugly, and unrecognizable. I remember we joined the ring and danced around the monster, but I have no idea what kind of dance. I remember we joined the chant, but I have no idea what we chanted. (Give Peace a Chance? Puff, the Magic Dragon?) I seem to remember reaching out to touch the thing and feeling cold, damp, solid flesh with a bit of give. Did I really do that? I don’t remember any smell, though it must have reeked. Eventually we drove back to Cambridge and fell into bed.

The scene has only grown more surreal with passing time and fading memory. Did it even happen? I have two reasons to believe it did. First, it was all over the news the next day, and the reports and photos survive online (though the creature was apparently somewhat smaller than I recall). In the Crimson, Harvard’s Assistant Curator of Fishes (who knew there was such a person?) identified it as a decomposing “basking shark,” a type that likes to lounge on the surface of the water, where it is often mistaken for a sea serpent and is vulnerable to being hit and killed by passing ships. Our disappointment that it was not, in fact, a sea monster was almost compensated by learning about this species of sunbathing shark.

The second reason is that, later that day, I wrote a paper about it for my beginning French class. The class was constructed around dialogues, so I imaged one between us and le monstre de la mer. Yes, I still have it. Que faites-vous ici? Que voulez-vous? “What are you doing here?” we asked. “What do you want?” Je veux vous manger. “I want to eat you,” replied le monstre. “But first, bring me the salt and pepper. And some red wine.” I was, apparently, still punchy from lack of sleep.

Still, my teacher liked the paper. Excellent, he wrote. C’est vraiment tien drôle. It’s really quite funny. So I guess I spent the evening doing homework after all.

Profile photo of John Zussman John Zussman
John Unger Zussman is a creative and corporate storyteller and a co-founder of Retrospect Media, Inc.


Characterizations: funny, well written

Comments

  1. Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau says:

    The image of you and Patti dancing around the hulking creature is rather funny, like some ancient pagan ritual (was this clothing optional?). The fact that you still have your French assignment is marvelous. I love the “pass the salt and pepper” routine from the basking shark. What a wit!

  2. Profile photo of Suzy Suzy says:

    I have no memory of this event in November 1970. I didn’t have a TV, or listen to radio news, so maybe I never even knew about it. I wonder if it was covered by the Crimson. Anyway, I agree with Betsy’s comments. I love the ring of people dancing and chanting, and I love your French paper about le monstre. Thanks for a great story!

    • Profile photo of John Zussman John Zussman says:

      Thanks, Suzy. The Crimson covered it a couple of days later (see link in the story), but published no photos so it was easy to skip over. Fortunately, the mainstream Boston newspapers provided visual evidence.

      • Profile photo of Suzy Suzy says:

        Thanks for pointing out the link to the Crimson article, I missed it the first time around. Somebody must have had fun writing it, with that alliterative first sentence!

  3. Profile photo of jshutkin jshutkin says:

    Loved your story, John — though, like Suzy, I had no recollection of it. The dancing around the body was particularly evocative of the era. Indeed, it sounds like what would have happened at the end of the first act in “Hair” had it taken place on a beach rather than Central Park. And I am delighted that you had your very funny French paper to memorialize the event, as well as confirm its actuality (and perhaps your sanity). Conversely, it is interesting that the Crimson article has “no writer attributed.” That could have been further evidence that this was a Twilight Zone occurrence; the article just magically appeared in the Crimson and no one knew how it got there. But I suspect it was simply the result of some aspiring journalist not wanting to be associated with the painfully alliterative first line.

    • Profile photo of John Zussman John Zussman says:

      Thanks, John. Sometimes it’s the aftermath — in this case, my Fresh paper — that gives a story its punch. But I have to stand with Suzy: I love that Crimson lede, love the way it plays with words and treats the event with the levity it deserves.

  4. Profile photo of jshutkin jshutkin says:

    I, too, love the levity of the lengthy lead.

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