Reproduction on the Beach4 min read


Rich Larson
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Animal cruelty or animal death, Body Horror

Rose wakes from a wave-tossed dream and rubs the crust from her eyes. The six AM sun has prybarred its way into their rented cottage, finding enough gaps in the shutters to illuminate Niall, pouring the coffee.

“Someone’s been watching TikToks on the pot again,” he says.

Rose sits up. “Because I’m actually twelve, sure.”

“Using Twitter on the shitter, then.”

“What are you talking about?”

The thick dark coffee splatters into her tin cup, but instead of handing it to her he places it on the stove and takes an exaggerated step backward. He plucks at his left eye, exposing the reddish innerskin.

Rose checks herself in her phone camera. The sclera of her weepy right eye is a delicate shade of fairyfloss pink.

“Conjunctivitis,” Niall says, as if he knows. “Don’t pass it on to me. We have to go back to work tomorrow.”

After breakfast they return to the beach. Rose thinks it might be a bad sign that even though her and Niall have been secretly together for almost a year, neither of them can admit they want to see what happened with yesterday’s tangled washed-up bodies, pretending instead they’re after a final romantic stroll.

Both corpses are gone, but yellow police tape is still flickering in the seabreeze. Rose wanders closer and peers at the sandy depression left behind. She wants to make a joke about spending most of her life in a sandy depression, but it’s the last day of the vacation and Niall might take it the wrong way.

She promised herself, when all this started, that she would never be suffocating. She would be just as detached and cool and sexy about it as he was.

“To the lighthouse?” Niall suggests.

“To the motherfucking lighthouse,” Rose agrees.

They walk in the borderland between crumbly sand and foamy tide, where everything is smooth gray possibility. Occasionally they maneuver around hills of seaweed. When she squints they look like heaps of electric cable and black rubber tubing. She waits for another body to wash ashore, but all they see are plough snails.

“I think this one’s eating another one,” Niall says, squatting down on his hairy haunches. “They’ve got that inside-out stomach, right?”

Rose squats beside him. The snail is extruded, swirling out from its shell like a fleshy pink ballgown, dragging its smothered prey toward the water. “I didn’t know snails were cannibals. Kids’ books always make them look so cute.”

“You still read kids’ books, huh?” Niall says, with a glimmer of the old mischief.

“Yeah,” Rose says. “I’m like, twelve, remember?”

This time he does a microgrimace at the age-gap joke, even though he set her up for it, the asshole, and they trudge the rest of the way to the lighthouse in silence.

Rose keeps her sunglasses on during lunch, which is an enormous pillowy gatsby, stuffed with fries and sausage, that they split between the two of them. They check Twitter about the washed-up bodies. Information is scarce, but because one was disfigured and the other wrapped in plastic, people think it was a drug murder.

“You got your tattoo touched up,” Niall says, while she’s licking fry sauce off her wrist.

She gives the little blue fish on her forearm an affectionate glance. “Did, yeah.”

“By Gavin?”

Niall forgets many things, but has the names of all her exes memorized.

“‘Course,” she says. “He’s the one who inked it, and touch-ups are free.” She waves her greasy fingers. “Be right back.”

She goes to the toilet to wash her hands, extending the moment in which Niall gets to wonder if she’s sleeping with Gavin. He likes wondering that sort of thing, and she wants to get one more good fuck in before the vacation is over, conjunctivitis or no.

Then she raises her sunglasses, and does a macrogrimace. It’s gotten worse: her lower lid is fully encrusted with pale pink, spidery little wisps coming off it.

She goes back to the table, and as she opens her mouth to say I might need a pharmacy, Niall opens his mouth and says they shouldn’t see each other again.

They both hate arguing in public; Rose leads the way to the beach. Her head is awhirl and there’s a horrible squirming sensation in every part of her body. Her right eye feels like it’s wrapped in cat tongues.

“Unless one of us quits, or switches jobs, it’s got no future,” Niall says. “And I’m ready for a future.”

She yanks the sunglasses off and knuckles her bad eye, no longer caring who sees. “Unless I quit or switch jobs, you mean…”

“If I meant that, I’d have said that.”

She rubs harder. The squirming worsens. “Due to you earning quite a bit more, due to you being my boss, and me just being a junior editor you wanted to fuck.”

“Stop touching it,” Niall says. “Jesus, Rose, I think it’s bleeding…”

“And these little vacations are such bullshit.” Her eyelids feel like a cheese grater now, but she can’t stop. “I have to pretend I was somewhere else, and pretend it was so boring I didn’t even take photos…”

“Rose, your eye.”

He holds up his phone, and she sees slick pink ropes twining together where her right eye used to be. Her heart stops. She has a suddenly terrifying memory of the bodies they gawked at, one facedown in the sand with blood puddled beneath, one wrapped in that shimmery pink plastic.

Something erupts from her eye socket, blooming outward like a flower, filling her whole field of vision. She hears Niall bellow but it’s cut short. The membrane drags her forward as it wraps around his head, shoulders, whole body. It’s hooked into her very own nerves, must be, because she can feel every thrash.

One thought comes strangely clear through the panic and pain: if she can just get both of them into water, they’ll be okay.

She hauls him by inches toward the churning sea.

  • Rich Larson

    Rich Larson was born in Galmi, Niger, has studied in Rhode Island and worked in the south of Spain, and now lives in Ottawa, Canada. Since he began writing in 2011, he’s sold over a hundred stories, the majority of them speculative fiction published in magazines like Asimov’s, Apex, Clarkesworld, F&SF, Lightspeed, OMNI, and His debut novel, Annex, comes out from Orbit Books in July 2018, and his debut collection, Tomorrow Factory, follows in October 2018 from Talos Press. Find more at and support him via

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