I took a deep breath and enjoyed the smell of the salt air and the warm San Diego sea breeze. To my left and right, the white sand of Coronado Beach stretched almost as far as the eye could see, from the Naval Air station in the north to the open ocean in the south. Ahead of me, the blue Pacific Ocean rolled calmly into infinity.
“What’s the matter, Ray?” Agent Three, Suzanne Rockford, stretched languidly in one of the wood-and-canvas cabana chairs we’d brought on our little picnic. “Afraid to relax?”
I chuckled, wishing I looked half as good in my swimwear as Rocky did in hers. “Just not… used to it.” Only two weeks ago we’d been fighting for our lives in the wilds of Colorado against a giant tarantula.
“All work and no play, Agent One…” Buster “Ace” Freeman laughed as he fished in the oversized picnic basket that Rocky had packed. “Want a sandwich? A beer?”
“Beer would be great,” Rocky said.
“For me, too.”
Ace uncapped a pair and handed them to us, then took one for himself, plus a ham and cheese on rye. He raised the bottle. “Happy New Year!”
We all clinked beers. “Happy New Year!” Rocky and I replied.
I settled into my chair, trying to shake off last year’s nerves. We’d gone from occasional incursions of monsters to almost weekly incidents. The afternoon sun on my skin felt great, but it was hard to let go of a problem that had been twenty-four seven for so long.
I sighed. “Now that Dr. Mihm’s in custody, maybe we’ll see the end of all this strange invaders stuff.”
“Let’s hope!” Ace raised his drink in a salute. “Mmm… Great sandwich, Suzanne.”
“Thanks. It’s an old family recipe. Too bad Lucy couldn’t join us.”
Ace laughed. “That girl? Take some time off when the Bureau has new planes to break in? Not a chance. I was tempted to join her myself.”
“Planes I hope the agency won’t need.” I stared out over the wide Pacific. “Though there were those UFO reports off the coast…”
“Which we can check out tonight.” Rocky snuggled down in her chair. “Right now, I want to enjoy the sun—and then maybe go for a dip.”
“Hear hear,” Ace agreed, leaning back and putting his hands behind his head.
“At least the Navy said those giant isopods Ruth fought have been wiped out,” I mused.
Rocky groaned in exasperation. “Ray, I swear you won’t be able to relax until all the world’s problems are solved.”
Ace flashed us both a sly smile. “I think the real problem is that Ray’s Russian ‘girlfriend’ is still at large. No rest for Agent One with Tanya Ruhoff running loose.”
“…And what about her?” I sat up and swung my legs over the side of the chair, which almost tipped the hammock-like contraption over. “She insisted the Soviets aren’t behind the giant bugs and flying saucers. But is she telling the truth?”
“Why start now?” Ace took another swig of his beer.
Rocky shook her head. “We’ll catch her… eventually. And the Teragons will pry the info they need out of Dr. M. Then we’ll mop up whatever mess is left. But right now, you’re at the beach on a lovely day having a picnic lunch with two of your best friends. Ray… What more do you want?”
“Help!” An unexpected shout split the warm afternoon air.
We all sprang to our feet and quickly located the source of the cry: a couple struggling on a blanket further up the beach. The woman looked to be fighting with her husband or boyfriend.
Since none of us have ever been good at being bystanders, we sprinted down the beach even before taking in the whole scene. The woman tried to pull away from the man, but he refused to let go.
“So much for relaxing,” Rocky grumbled.
But my initial assessment had been wrong. The woman was pulling on the man’s arm because he had sunk into the sand up to his knees and was rapidly sinking further. They seemed unable to stop his descent; both were yelling their heads off.
“Grab hold!” I ordered, though my fellow agents had already swung into action.
Ace and I seized the man’s arms, while Rocky helped the woman grip his hands and wrists. All four of us heaved with all our might.
Together, we dragged the guy out of the quicksand-like pit, but he didn’t emerge alone. Along with his blood-covered legs came a pair of claws big enough to crush a bushel basket.
The man and woman kept screaming as we towed the bleeding man toward safety. Just then, a crustacean the size of a German shepherd emerged from the hole. It had a thorny, fan-shaped carapace, red above and white below, spiky legs and a pair of wicked, black-tipped pincers.
Rocky gasped as the thing shook the sand from its back and scuttled after us. “Holy Crab!”
She and I kept dragging the victim away as Ace grabbed a nearby beach umbrella and jousted with the ten-legged invader.
He stabbed the umbrella’s top point at the thing’s face. It grabbed the improvised weapon, shredded the fabric, and snapped the wooden pole. Ace backed off, but he’d bought us enough time to retreat to where we’d set our interrupted picnic.
Thankfully, by then the wounded man had regained his feet; he seemed able to walk.
“Get out of here,” I told the couple. “We’ll handle this.”
They didn’t argue and quickly limped away.
“Ray, catch!” Rocky dug a pair of Colt 1911s out of our picnic basket and tossed them to me. In reply to my questioning look she added: “I worked in the Resistance. I always come prepared.”
Ace reached us with the crab in hot pursuit.
Rocky tossed him a pair of guns, and we all opened fire on the mutant. It took about ten shots to break through the shell and bring it down.
“Tough son of a—” A new round of screams cut Ace off as, up and down the beach, a half-dozen new giant crabs emerged from the sand.
I glanced at Rocky. “Hope you’ve got more ammo in that basket.”
Suzanne’s eyes gleamed as she smiled. “Better…” She tossed me and Ace M3 submachine guns and claimed one for herself.
“I thought that basket felt heavy when I carried it over here,” Ace observed wryly. We all traded up, chucking our Colts into the picnic basket.
“Extra clips are in the trunk of the Studebaker.” Rocky nodded toward where we’d parked, then fired at a couple of the newly emerged crabs.
Ace and I took some potshots as well. Unfortunately, a few chipped shells didn’t distract the crustaceans from attacking hapless vacationers.
“If we save those people—” I began.
“—The rest of the crabs will come to us,” Ace finished. “Lead on, Agent One.”
I did, though I felt distinctly out of uniform in my swim trunks.
We zeroed in on a crab engaged in a tug-of-war with a kid who didn’t want to give up his innertube, despite his mother trying to pull the boy away.
A carefully placed shot deflated the flotation device, which convinced parent and child to high-tail it toward the Hotel Del Coronado while my team blasted that critter into crab meat.
A pair of muscle-beach types tangling with two of the monsters became our next rescue. The he-men were yelling bravely and wielding heavy wooden beach chairs like lion-tamers. That worked fine until the crabs broke the chairs into splinters and started on the musclemen themselves.
Concentrated fire from my team allowed the bruisers to escape with a few lacerations and a broken arm. The crabs we turned into soup.
Between the mutant monsters and the gunfire, the remaining beachgoers were now fleeing the sands at top speed.
That left Ace, Rocky, and me the only items on the seafood menu.
A half dozen of the enormous red mutants scuttled after us as we fought a retreat toward the parking lot. The grease guns’ rate of fire was our advantage, but the M3’s .45 caliber slugs didn’t do any more damage than our Colts had. It took multiple shots to get through the monsters’ thick shells.
Worse, behind the dog-sized crabs came one the size of a Nash Rambler.
We kept shooting. We kept retreating, the white sand hot under our bare feet. But we were getting tired, and our ammo was running low.
“I’m out!” Ace called as we hit the parking lot.
“Me, too,” I echoed, felling another invader. That left two of the little ones and Big Daddy coming behind. Fortunately, the King of the Crabs moved slower than his smaller kin—but the little monsters would still cut us to pieces without some fresh ammo.
Rocky threw open the trunk of our Studebaker. “Ace, catch!” She tossed him an agency-issue M1 rifle, and then flipped a shotgun to me. “Ray!”
We caught the weapons and fired, not even pausing to call “Thanks.”
Ace’s rifle fragmented one dog-sized crab, but my shotgun blast merely slowed down the other. Fortunately, that gave Ace time to finish it off.
“Nice shot!” I enthused as he swung the rifle toward Big Daddy.
The M1’s thirty-ought-six round chipped the gigantic monster’s shell, but nothing more. It lumbered forward, titanic claws snapping.
Ace and I gasped. “Uh oh…!”
The enormous crab exploded into a thousand pieces just before it reached us. Pulverized shell and crab meat rained down on the beach parking lot.
Rocky grinned at us, the bazooka on her shoulder still smoking.
Ace whistled. “Nice trade-in!”
I could only shake my head in appreciation. “Rocky, remind me to always have you pack my picnics.”
About “Crab Beach”
If you’re familiar with the Killer Crab series by Guy N. Smith, you might think those novels were the main inspiration for this tale. But sadly, since Guy’s death during the pandemic, most of his books are out of print, and I only own two of that series on Kindle (the first and the last, weirdly). So, they didn’t come into play much when I was plotting this story.
However, most of you probably remember that I’m a huge fan of stop-motion animation, which gives me a couple of obvious inspirations.
The first is Ray Harryhausen’s amazing giant crab sequence in Mysterious Island (1961). In the film, our heroes are stranded on a remote island and end up facing a variety of gigantic fauna, including an animated crustacean, which Ray created from the carcass of an actual edible crab. Because it’s Harryhausen, of course the crab fight is amazing.
But probably even more of an influence for this story is When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970), Hammer’s “sequel” to Raquel Welch’s star-making vehicle, One Million Years B.C. (1966), which featured top-notch Harryhausen dinosaurs.
When Dinosaurs… featured amazing dinosaurs, too, (and a very sexy Victoria Vetri) but it had animation by the great Jim Danforth. At one point in the film, the scantily clad cave people are chased around the beach by giant crabs. And although the crabs in this episode are somewhat larger than those crustaceans, especially our King of the Crabs, Danforth’s work was definitely foremost in my mind when I cooked up this story.
Of course, neither the Civil War soldiers of Mysterious Island nor the cave folk of When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth had the weapons our US Science Bureau agents use to fend off such beasties.
I chose Coronado Beach (sometimes called Del Beach) as this tale’s setting for a couple of reasons: One, it’s the beach in Some Like It Hot, one of my all-time favorite movies. And two, because of that film, I once visited the beach with my buddy, comics writer and Villains & Vigilantes co-creator, Jack Herman.
It was the night after the San Diego Comic-Con (ages ago now), and Jack and I had been flown out to San Diego (on cheap red-eye flights) to work for a comics publisher who turned out to be completely untrustworthy. We’d been ridden hard and put up wet, as cowboys say, and were pretty exhausted, with just a little time to kill before our flights back to our homes in the Midwest.
So, Jack and I hired a cab and went out to the Hotel Del Coronado, which then looked exactly the same way it looks in the movie. We arrived just before sunset on the night of the full moon, and the beach was gorgeous.
Weirdly, that nearly endless stretch of white sand was also deserted.
Jack and I wandered the shoreline pretty much alone. Miles and miles of beautiful beachfront, and I don’t think we saw more than a half dozen people the entire time we were there.
So, we watched the sunset, held a burial at sea for a convention badge belonging to one of our convention colleagues (though I no longer remember who—possibly Bill Willingham), and walked up and down the beach while the moon rose, marveling that everybody who actually lived in California had taken all this natural beauty for granted and stayed in for the night.
If our wives had been with us, it would have been a perfect, romantic evening. As it was, it was a great moment for two old friends to relax after a grueling convention.
Someday, I hope to return there with my wife. Maybe Jack already has. I’ll have to remember to ask him.