Mikey leaned his face against the passenger seat window, watching the sun glow orange and pink behind the treetops. He loved nature, especially sunsets. It’s beautiful, he thought, but not as beautiful as the bay.
Earlier, they had crossed the Chesapeake Bay, and Mikey had thrilled at the view. The vast, rippling water seemed to go on forever. Birds swooped down to splash on the shore, and he wanted to join them. Even now, as trees rolled by outside his car window, the clouds in the sky streaked with vibrant color, his thoughts wandered to the bay.
A sign announced the nearest gas station, and Mikey’s father flipped the blinker. “Let’s stop for gas, then back on the road.”
Mikey felt a wave of relief. He’d been stuck in the car for hours and was eager to stretch his legs. He almost never went on business trips with his father, but his nanny had come down with the flu, so Michael Sr. was forced to bring him. Even though Mikey knew he was a burden, he enjoyed their time together and made an effort not to complain.
As they pulled into the gas station, Mikey thought how nice it would be to live in this part of Virginia. It was pretty, so rich with wildlife. And closer to the bay than his home in Maryland.
“Why don’t you hit the bathroom?” Michael senior said as he parked the car. Mikey nodded in response and hurried off.
As he headed for the front door, he came upon a frail-looking man slouched in a wheelchair. Liver spots freckled his pallid skin, a few wisps of white hair on his scalp. One of his legs was a stub below the knee, his pant leg tied into a knot. In his lap, he held a cardboard sign with sloppy, hand-written letters that said “Spare your change for a Chessie survivor.” Mikey didn’t know what that meant. But the man looked awfully sad.
After using the restroom, he dug around in his pockets and fished out some coins. He walked over to the one-legged man, whose dark eyes leered at him from a sagging, wrinkled face. He dropped the coins into the can in his lap.
The old man’s lips formed a thin line, as if trying to twist his permanent frown into some semblance of a smile. He spoke in a hoarse voice. “Do you know about Chessie?”
“N-no, sir,” Mikey stuttered.
“Do you know about the Oyster Wars?” He sat back, waiting for an answer, his dark eyes fixed on Mikey.
“Yes, we learned about that in school.”
The old man nodded. “Good! Then you know about the bloodshed that took place on the bay during those violent Oyster Wars. That’s how Chessie got a taste for human meat. It was all the dead bodies in the water!”
Mikey gulped and took a step back, but the man’s words held his attention.
“It was seventy years ago when Chessie got me, yet the memory never fades. My older brother was pulling a net from the water as the sun sank low in the sky. We were usually on our way home by then; didn’t like being out after dusk, but pa’s net had gotten tangled in the brush…”
“My brother turned to me as he pulled the last bit of net from the water. With a smile on his lips, he started to speak. That’s when we heard the splash. I saw it before he did… Chessie burst from the water like a demon out of hell. My brother didn’t stand a chance. The creature’s mouth clamped down, crushing his ribs. I heard the grinding and popping of his bones over the sound of Chessie thrashing in the water. The creature’s mouth was huge—as wide as a hippo’s—but with rows of piercing, needle-like teeth. Its black, slimy skin gleamed in the fading light as it tried to pulled my brother from the boat.”
“I hesitated, but only for a moment. The sight of my brother in that monster’s drooling grip quickly spurred me into action. We were ten years apart, but that never made a difference. We were two birds of a feather, him and I.”
“I rushed to his side and beat the creature with an oar until it broke. I stabbed the jagged wood between its foggy white eyes. And you know… that was the most disturbing part… those eyes. They were lifeless, like a dead fish. A prehistoric beast that should have died long ago but somehow managed to keep swimming.”
“I felt victory as Chessie released my brother from her jaws and slipped back into the bay. My mistake was leaning over to see if she was dead, because that’s when Chessie got a second wind.”
“She lunged for me. I jumped back and slipped in a pool of my brother’s blood. Pain exploded through my body as she caught hold of my leg with razor sharp teeth. My hands scrambled on the wooden planks, looking for anything to hold as the creature slid back into the water, taking me with her. I heard my flesh rip apart… then she was gone.”
“Some say it was luck that Chessie only took my leg. I’m not so sure about that. As I propped myself up and watched her swim away, I looked down at my blood spilling over the wood and heard the awful sound of my brother’s last breath… and I knew my life was over either way.”
The man grew silent. His story was over, but Mikey didn’t know what to say.
Michael Sr. waved and called his son across the lot. Without a word, the boy turned and ran away. He reached the car and climbed inside, looking back at the old man.
I hope we don’t have to cross the bridge again, he thought. I don’t like that Chesapeake Bay.
©2013 Lindsey Beth Goddard