Sometimes the night seems to know things.

Richard heard it in sound of the crashing surf, muffled but still audible from out of sight just over the dunes. He saw it in the way the tall grass trembled in the breeze. The way the ghost crabs crept out of their holes in the sand at the edge of the campfire’s light, ready to dart back in at the first sign of danger.

He finished off his Heineken with a long guzzle, fished another out of the cooler beside him and cracked it open. The urn’s brass weight rested solemnly in his lap.

On their last trip together, when Cheryl made him promise to spread her ashes here, he’d grown angry and said she shouldn’t talk like that. Like the cancer had already won. He regretted that bitter exchange now, of course, and the night knew this. But it knew something else as well, something that had been seeping into his mind in the months since Cheryl’s death: without her, his existence had absolutely no meaning.

He felt stupid for taking so long to finally admit it to himself. The night had known all along. And it beckoned, promising sweet relief in its embrace.

Except for a few campfires twinkling hundreds of yards away in either direction, the beach was deserted. Hopefully, his body would be found by some early-morning jogger, and not by someone’s kid. If he managed to swim out far enough, he might never even wash ashore. He might end up as food for sharks. Or maybe nibbled away by some school of little fish. Back into the circle of life; Cheryl would’ve liked that.

The churning waves glowed faintly under the moon, reaching for him, collapsing and retreating in frothy white lines. Just as he stepped onto the hard, wet sand, he heard something: a male voice–or more accurately, a grunt–nearby.

Wishing he’d brought a flashlight, he peered into the darkness in that direction. There, about twenty feet away, he could barely make out a human-sized shape in the moonlight, lying in the surf.

His first thought was teenagers, doing what teenagers do whenever they can manage to sneak off together. Just like him and Cheryl, long ago.

He was about to turn and walk away when the shape thrashed. It was definitely a man–not fooling around, but fighting with someone, or something. He crept closer.

When he saw the girl’s long, dark hair fanned out on the sand beneath the man, the ugly reality of the assault struck him instantly. It was as though a switch flipped somewhere inside him. Hot rage flared and adrenaline surged. He charged forward, swinging the urn with both hands in a high, overhead arc. The blow landed squarely on the man’s back with a meaty thud. He cried out and rolled off the girl, saw Richard raising the urn to strike again, and scrambled away into the darkness.

The girl rose to her feet in one fluid motion, like a marionette pulled up by its strings. She stood motionless, completely nude, her skin gleaming like porcelain in the moonlight. Her wet hair hung down over her face and covered her breasts.

“Are you okay?” Richard asked, shaky and out of breath.

No response. In the darkness, her eyes looked like two charcoal smudges. He couldn’t make out a mouth or nose at all.

Queasy uncertainty washed over him. This girl had needed his help, he reminded himself–and he’d defended her like a pro, chased off her assailant. Hell, for the first time since Cheryl’s death, he felt like he actually had a goddamned purpose.

He set the urn down and took off his windbreaker. As he put it around the girl’s shoulders, he noticed what looked like a white rope hanging down into the water behind her.

She leaned in and hugged him unexpectedly. At first, he was relieved by the gesture–but she was too cold, too hard. And she reeked like dead fish. The rope tensed and rose up out of the surf, and he saw that it was actually an appendage that grew from the base of her spine like a long tail, thick and eel-like, stretching away and disappearing into the ocean.

The instinct to flee pounded in his pulse, but it was too late. The girl-thing tightened its grip on him, and he felt a burning sensation as thousands of tiny bristles poked through his clothes and into his flesh. He caught sight of a huge, bloated form breaking the surface some distance out, glistening under the moon, just before a violent jerk of the cord yanked him off his feet. He struggled, knocking over the urn in the process, but couldn’t break free.

As he was being pulled through the water–towards the mouth of God knows what–an odd sense of awe overtook him. The night had fulfilled its promise in spectacular fashion, revealing one of its secrets to him in the process. What other monstrous life forms lurked out there, ancient and undiscovered, down in the deep?

Cheryl would be amazed. But as he struggled to reach the serrated folding knife in his pocket, he realized she would have to wait to hear about it, because he’d changed his mind.

He was going to live after all.