The beach was where it all went down, the online news article said, and Axiom-man saw as much when he touched down on Daytona Beach at 2:00 a.m.
He walked along the shore; to his left the water was black under the night sky, the waves rolling in with stark white peaks. From what he could gather, both from the aerial view and from where he now stood, the whole beach area was taped off, the cops patrolling its borders so no onlookers could make their way down and disturb the crime scene. If a "crime scene" was what it was, anyway.
With only the light of the moon and the stars to aid him, Axiom-man still had to strain his eyes to see.
When he had landed, the sand was clear, a long and wide path of smooth gray, an empty highway along the water. But after several paces, what was up ahead became abundantly clear and the smell of rotting fish greeted him like the thick air wafting from an open bathroom door after a fat man had used the john.
His palm snapped to his mouth to keep from gagging and the further down the beach he walked, the smell grew so strong his eyes began to water. Through blurry vision, he glanced to the right, verifying the police and whoever else was there hadn't seen him. The most he could make out were a couple of cop cars and a handful of officers standing about, their vehicles and their bodies mere silhouettes from this far away.
Keep it quiet and no sudden movements and you should be all right, he thought.
He wanted to conduct his investigation with zero interference, if it was possible. Past experience taught him that cops and capes didn't always compliment each other. Besides, he had crossed the border without checking in. He wasn't sure if he was supposed to or not (this was his first attempt at providing super-powered help internationally) or if his abilities gave him special license not to. He still felt bad about it.
The sand was covered in black ... somethings. They looked like branches and twigs, as if a horde of trees had been poised upside down and shaken out like pepper shakers.
But they weren't branches, he knew. Not according to the article.
They were fish. Dead ones. Thousands of them, both large and small, each one devoured down to their bones, leaving only their skeletons and heads intact.
In the dead silence, the sound was like a series of firecrackers going off in rapid succession.
The authoritive shadows of law enforcement officers over to the right still faced each other, seeming not to have heard or cared; only one glanced over then turned back to his comrades. Another brought a cup of something to its lips. Probably coffee.
Letting go a sigh of relief, Axiom-man floated a few inches off the sand. He crouched down so as to stay low and not draw any attention to himself, the effort from maintaining such a position more than it should have been, his body tired after a thirty-nine-hour flight. He had only one rest in between, a brief nap out in a field on the way over. If only he could have afforded a plane ticket, he could have come at this fresh. Sure, he could have come here on his own steam and rested up at a hotel, but that was out of the question because as it stood, even the price for a room would have been over his budget.
Florida was a long ways from Winnipeg. But he had to see this for himself. Had to come and see if he could help. Since vowing to be more alert to local and international news, he made an effort to check the online news feeds every day and if a situation seemed unusual or large in scale, he'd make every effort to try and lend a hand.
Bringing hope was the task he'd been charged with by the messenger, the one who gave him his powers, after all. And hope was never brought by sitting on the sidelines.
He hovered and drifted across the sand, surveying the blanket of dead fish that had mysteriously washed up onto the shore. Each one he glanced at returned his gaze with a tiny black-eyed stare, each small eye seeming to plead with him for help. We expected to die someday, their dark eyes conveyed, but not like this.
Axiom-man just wished he knew what the "not like this" was. According to the article, early morning beachgoers had come to lay down their towels and go for a dip just like any other day, but instead were greeted by row upon row of lifeless fish, as if the ocean had thrown up on the land, tired of harboring its dead sea life for so long.
And the dead bodies.
The report stated that, at first glance, they hadn't been noticeable, but when a little girl asked her father about the gray man lying on the beach amidst the fish, that's when the madness started and folks gave into panic and fear. The cops were called; the lifeguards--who were just getting in--had ran down to the sandy graveyard to survey the corpse, and the media circus began.
It turned out the gray man wasn't the only fellow laying among the fish. He was one of forty-one and, upon further investigation, one of the forty-one who didn't come home to their families the night before after wanting to go for a midnight swim despite beach hours being over.
Though all the bodies were intact--they were empty, just sacks of skin and bone, all the fat, muscle and organs having been sucked out. As to where they had been sucked out from, the only guess at the time the article was released was through the mouth given the amount of blood caked around the lips and the little bit of tissue that had gathered along the insides of the cheeks and on the tongues.
Now, on the beach, Axiom-man wondered if he'd come across any more bodies or if all of them had been found and carted away. But here and there, amidst the sea of fish, were blank spots in the sand, roughly five or six feet long. Enough room for a body.
"What happened here?" he whispered quietly.
After having floated along the lengthy shoreline, he touched down on the other side where the sand was clear again. The cops were far in the distance; there'd be no way they'd see him in the dark.
Hand still over his mouth, Axiom-man walked the width of the beach. The blanket of fish ran a good twenty or so feet in from the shoreline.
Unreal, he thought.
The waves rolled in.
He turned his gaze toward them, hoping their rhythmic whooshing would help him collect his thoughts and figure out his next move.
The waves seemed about three feet high and if this was another time, he'd love to run into them, try and swim over them and cool down from the hot muggy air and long flight. He'd never seen the ocean before, only in pictures. It was too bad his first time had to be like this.
The waves continued to make their way in.
Three feet high, sometimes four, sometimes two.
Then a larger one came. It grew from the water like a bubble made of molasses. It rose higher and higher and each time Axiom-man expected it to peak and turn white at its top--it never did.
Shouting echoed down the beach; the cops must have seen it, too.
The rumbling of the water grew louder as the behemoth of a wave, now at least twenty feet high, came into shore.
It rose even more, and more still, the massive bubble coming straight for the beach. It didn't let up and only when the gigantic wall of dark water hit the shoreline did it finally curl in on itself and pour over in a fantastic deluge of salty power.
Axiom-man turned to fly away--but he wasn't fast enough. His body about ten feet from the ground, the water came crashing down on his back, sending him plummeting into the murky depths, slamming him down onto the sand. The sound of the water bearing down swarmed over him and his ears jumped at the sudden onslaught of noise. He pushed against the sand with all he had, anything to get himself up and out of the dark, but even with his great strength, he could only push up so far before his hands dug into the wet sandy bottom and sunk in.
Water plowed into his back, soaking his body through his uniform.
Then what felt like a hail of stones spat onto him like bullets from a scatter gun.
He grunted from each blow beneath the water, wondering what was repeatedly striking his back so hard he was able to feel it through the thick fabric of his cape.
The sound of the water crashing down began to settle, and he was torn backward from the sand as the water quickly receded.
The force of the rushing water dragged him along the sand. Eyes closed, he winced every time his face and body scraped against something sharp and bony. Seashells?
The water sucked him back and pulled him off his stomach until it flipped him over and he was yanked backward onto his shoulder blades. Water rushed over him and his lungs ached for air. He tried sitting up but the force of the rushing wave pinned him.
The momentum of the water pouring over him finally slowed and he was able to move a little. He kicked on his flight and managed to pull up from the water and break through its surface. He spiraled into the sky, wanting to get as far away from there as possible.
But he couldn't.
He had come to do a job and he was going to see it through.
Hovering high above the beach, he watched as the water covering the entire beach finally receded and, now, even with the black water gone, the sand was still dark, covered anew with fish heads and bones.
And more bodies.
Axiom-man flew down and nearly threw up from the smell.
The cops off in the distance were on their radios, calling in the event.
Still careful to keep his distance from them, he flew to the end of the beach and was about to touch down when something caught his eye.
A faint green glow came from somewhere beneath the fish, its light partly breaking through the gaps between the bones and fish heads.
He flew over to it, hovered above it for a second, before landing and moving some of the fish away with his hand.
An old and sea-worn black box greeted him. Atop the lid was a glowing pukey-green circle with a jagged swirl running through it. And though he knew better, this box somehow felt alive.