The Holy Land
Rudy drove; I rode shotgun. Holly sat between us, getting her knee bumped by Rudy every time he shifted gears.
Highway 101 winds along the gentle rise and fall along the bluff tops in this part of the county, sometimes skirting the edge of the drop-off to the restless Pacific, at other times cutting a hundred yards inland on the ribbon of road winding through waist-high coastal grasses. Rudy drove the twists and turns slowly, cautious in the fog, his headlights lighting up a a space barely two car lengths ahead in the cottony greyness. At at the unpaved parking lot that served the stairway leading down to the cove and rookery, he pulled off the highway. The fog was thinner here mostly a cold mist at ground level, with a thicker blanket lying in a low ceiling maybe fifty feet overhead. The Safari van sat at the entrance of the stairway, its engine clicking as it cooled, wild grass swaying in the clammy breeze, licking at the dripping metal halfway up the hubcaps.
"Bitches," Holly whispered, as Rudy bumped the truck over the grass-shrouded pot holes to a parking spot on the opposite side of the stairway entrance from the van.
I climbed out. Holly scooted out Rudy's side, moving fast before I could get around the truck to try to stop her from pulling out one of the shotguns from Rudy's rack.
"You shoot one of these before?" Rudy wanted to know.
"Daddy was a hunter," Holly said, taking a fistful of the cylindrical shells from the box the Rudy offered her. She worked the pump, slotted the shells into the chamber. "He taught us all how to shoot."
Rudy took the other shotgun and asked me, "You want one, Neil?" nodding at the last rifle in the rack.
I shook my head. "I don't think we should ..." I stopped when Holly shot me one of her "Shut up; this is going to happen" looks. I followed them to the platform from which the stairway descended. Holly led the way. The stair steps, ancient wood, soaked black by salt and heavy sea mist, rains and coastal fogs, squished like damp sponges with each footfall. From below, the roar and thump of the constantly breaking waves played a harmony/rhythm to the melody of the sea lions' barking choir. Halfway down the first section of stairs, Holly's foot crunched through a section of rotting plank. Rudy caught her arm, steadied her. "You O.K.?" he asked. She shook him off, cradled her shotgun and stalked down to the first of three small landings where stairs builders had angled the switchbacks. The cliff beside us dripped a dense network of thick stemmed, flowering vines, a mass of greenery studded with big bell-shaped blossoms, deep purple in hue, a purple lmore red than blue, with their wide mouths rimmed by pointed pedals that made them look venomous.
Holy hesitated on that first platform to gaze down at the beach. Rudy and I slipped in on either side of her. About seventy yards to the north, through tendrils of thin fog, we could see the black shapes of a half a hundred sea lions, lying like enormous slugs in the white sand; and we could make out the smaller shapes of the Tyn tiny darting bird-like figures, hectoring, hyena-like, one of the beached animals.
A rustling behind has us caught our ears. Our nerves on edge, we spun around together to see a rat bigger than a chihuahua, with a frayed yellowish pelt and oozing sores on its flanks. Holly growled low in her throat and raised the barrel of her gun. The animal squealed and jumped back into the vines, its naked, obscene tail wiggling a goodbye to us as it slithered out of sight.
Holly spit on the landing platform them bound onto the next section of stairs, taking two at a time now. She was twenty yards out onto the sand, striding hard, scaring up a flock of big gray sea gulls before Rudy and I hit the last step, where the little-headed safari driver had been sitting smoking a cigarette.
"HEY! HEY!" he called after Holly, standing and starting off to chase her. She spun around, sending a spray of sand arcing off toward the surf. He stopped as though he'd hit a wall; she didn't have to raise the gun; the look on her face told him she'd do it, she'd point it right at him and pull the trigger, too. He backpedaled as Rudy and I passed him, and said, "Hey, man, you guys can't ... hey man, I'm callin' the cops."
I spun around and sprinted back to him, pulled the cell phone from his paw and tossed it out into the turbulence of the cold waves, then turned and sprinted up to Holly, to try to convince her to stop short of murder. I fell in step behind her, a bit off to her right. As we approached the rookery it became apparent that the sea lions forty or fifty adults, massive males and the sleeker females, along with a score of human sized babies were beginning a migration into the surf, a collective undulation down wave-carved slope into the crashing surf. All of them except one medium-sized female who'd been cut from the herd and bitten mercilessly by the tag team attack of the Tyn. She howled, dog-like, and her watery-eyed pup, held in check, away from her mother by the sheepdog efforts of a separate Tyn, whimpered piteously. The mother tried to move toward her baby and received a bite on her neck for her effort by one of the jackal-like Tyn, who spit out the pound of flesh, a bloody chunk that rolled toward the water, collecting a powdering of sand. The mother turned back to strike at her tormentor, who danced away from the awkward lunge. The largest of the gulls Holly had scared up landed on the slab of jiggling neck meat, gave it a cock-eyed look and pecked up a dripping morsel.
"They're going to eat the baby," Rudy said in a dry monotone.
The Tyn didn't see us, and thirty feet out as another of the Tyn trio darted in and severed the mother's carotid artery, inciting a gusher of blood Holly dropped to one knee, raised her shotgun and let loose with a blast that hit the alien closest to us, the one who'd been guarding the pup. The Tyn's head exploded, a spectacular burst of bits of skull and a dark-toned blood. The now-headless alien remained standing, stiffened in a mannequin mode, gushing like an overheated radiator from the ragged open would of its neck that shot an indigo mist into gray sky. Her cohorts squealed through the tapering roar of the shotgun blast and moved toward us, silver teeth bared. Holly had frozen, gape-mouthed, at the sight of the carnage she'd created. Rudy didn't; he whispered "Mother of God," and fired off a round, high, proving himself either less ruthless or a worse shot than Holly. The three remaining Tyn stopped, whistled piercingly then balled and began to roll down the the slope of the hard-packed sand to the water. The mannequin's geyser died; she crumpled. The pup yowled and wiggled itself up against its mother, whose blood, poring from her neck wound, soaked the sand black. Gulls fell on the dying sea lion from the sky, and I touched Holly's shoulder. She jerked and dropped the gun. A shore break wave washed over the three Tyn balls, swept them toward the cliff, then carried them in a foamy backwash out into deeper water, where the sea lions small whiskered heads atop blubbery conical necks poking from the choppy surface circled them.
I had a sudden unbidden thought, of their captive cousins, the ones who perform in zoos and water parks, clapping their flippers and balancing balls onto their noses for the entertainment of a higher species. That didn't happen. They tore the Tyn apart, the initial bites on each ball sending out hard jets of blood that propelled the globed-up aliens on wild swooping paths over the bumping surface of the cold water, away from immediate danger. But their pursuers were accustomed to the various escape modes of their prey. The chase seemed almost a game to them. They followed the Tyn balls until the propulsions had petered out, then they ripped them up and ate them.
Published November 2007