Cry for the Strangers

Prologue

A clap of thunder awakened the boy, and he lay very still in his bed for a long time, wishing the storm would go away, yet, at the same time enjoying the excitement of it. As each flash of lightning briefly illuminated his bedroom, he began counting the seconds, waiting for the explosive roar of thunder. The storm bore down on the coast; the interval between the flash and the sound grew shorter.

When the moment separating sight and sound shrank to only seconds, and the boy knew the storm had reached the beach a mile away, he rose from his bed and began to dress.

A few minutes later he opened the door and stepped out into the driving rain. It slashed through his clothing, but he seemed not to notice. He began walking slowly away from his home, into the wrath of the storm.

He heard the roar of the surf when he was still a quarter of a mile from the beach. The rhythmic pounding of the waves, usually a soft, gentle sound, was amplified by the storm, its steady beat carried on the wind. The boy began to run toward the sound.

A sheet of lightning lit the sky as he left the road and turned onto the path that would take him through a narrow strip of forest to the beach beyond. The thunder crashed in his ears as the white light faded from his eyes: the storm was all around him.

He approached the beach slowly, almost with reverence. Just beyond the woods a mound of driftwood lay tangled on the beach, blocking his way. He worked his way over it carefully but steadily, his feet finding the familiar toeholds almost without guidance from his eyes.

He was about to clamber over the last immense log when the storm suddenly broke and a full moon illuminated the beach. As if by instinct, the boy dropped to his knees, crouching as he surveyed the strip of sand and rocks in front of him.

He was not alone on the beach.

Directly in front of him he could see shapes, dark figures of dancers writhing in the moonlight as if in some sort of ceremony. He watched them in fascination. Then he realized there was something else. Something vaguely disturbing.

As he watched his eye was caught by a movement near the dancers. Two other forms were moving in the moonlight—not gracefully, purposefully, as the dancers did, but struggling, rolling about in the sand as they fought the ropes that bound them hand and foot. The boy remembered the legends, the stories his grandmother had told him about the beach, and with the memories came an electric surge of fear. He was watching a storm dance, and he knew what would happen. He crouched lower, concealing himself behind the log.

The dancers continued their strange rhythms for a little longer, then suddenly stopped.

As the boy looked on, the dancers surrounded the bound figures who lay squirming at their feet—a man and a woman, he realized now.

They put the man into the pit first, then the woman beside him. They seemed to be weakened, for their struggles were feeble and their voices could not be heard above the surf.

The dancers put them in the pit so that they faced the sea.

And then the dancers began refilling the pit.

They did it carefully, relentlessly. No sand fell into the faces of the victims, nor did the shovels strike them. But as the minutes passed, the pit filled. In a little while there was nothing left above the surface except the silhouettes of the two heads against the foaming surf beyond.

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