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The Whimpering Beach

A short story by Fletcher Kovich


Perhaps a necessary part of any adventure is an element of danger. Perhaps without that element, there can be no adventure.

The news told me of invisible “bugs” that wanted to harm me, of the depressed economy, the impending floods, the risk of being knifed by errant youths—Do not, whatever you do, go out after dark. And this was all in my own country, in my own home town. This was not freedom. Here, I was in prison, and the guards at my door were called Fear. I needed a holiday and perhaps it was this that made me ignore the UK Embassy’s warning about terrorist activity in the Southern Philippines.

I closed my front door behind me, suitcase in tow, and as I walked away I heard a shadowy voice within me cautioning: “But the plane might crash…”

A mantra came to me: “Fear, I am no longer yours.” And I walked away, not even glancing over my shoulder.

In the Philippines, I arrived at my hotel in Davao. Of course, Davao was in the South. I alighted from my taxi and looked around, to the noisy streets, the smiling Filipino faces, the dazzling sky, to the hotel building, to the dark shadows concealing the alleyway across the street, and to the murky shade under the trees there, but nowhere could I see Fear lurking.

On the second day, I was sat in a bar when a teenage boy passed by me as though being carried on a breeze. I looked down and saw on my table a glossy flyer advertising the Bluejaz Resort in Samal and promising an island paradise of crystal clear waters and white sands. I looked up and the boy was gone, but standing in the shadows I thought I caught a glimpse of Fear, who whispered to me: “And now they have come for you.”

I pocketed the flyer and was soon stepping up off the Samal ferry and onto a long stone-built jetty which ushered me onto those white sands. I sat at a table in the shade overlooking the beach and a warm breeze caressed my face which seemed to connect with a profound calmness buried within me. There were happy, chatting voices all around, like birdsong in a forest. I looked along the beach and thought I heard a whisper coming from the shade of a table canopy: “I wonder how they will get to you.”

I looked away and focused on that forest birdsong.

There was a group of Filipino friends playing volleyball on the white sands and one of the men looked over and, as he saw me watching him, he froze momentarily, as though recalling a long-lost memory. Then the moment passed and he resumed his play. I watched him jumping for the ball and—I guess he could not help himself either—he kept glancing back at me. He was in his late twenties, of athletic build and perhaps slightly taller than the average Filipino. He wore a white sun visor and sun glasses but this did not in any way disguise his focus on me, as though there were some fundamental force passing between us which did not need mere vision to guide it. He struck the ball again and as his friends cheered, he glanced back at me as a child might to its parent—Look what I did; are you proud of me?

It was then that I heard it for the first time. As the man then looked away from me I heard a distant whimper carried on the breeze, as though coming from somewhere nearby, though I could not tell where. There was something about the quality of this whimper that made me wonder, for one moment, whether the beach might be haunted. I could still hear the group of friends playing volleyball and those other chatting voices. But the quality of that whimper seemed different from these other sounds, for it seemed I had heard the sound inside my own head, rather than it travelling to me from outside. And yet it was not like the memory of a sound; it was much more vivid than a memory. It seemed I heard the sound through some extra channel that had momentarily opened up within my head; the experience was fleeting but vivid and was like nothing else I had ever known and I realized—with absolute certainty—that I had just experienced telepathy.

I watched the game and thought no more about it—for what else could I have done: shouted out to everyone nearby that I just experienced telepathy? No, this was one of those one-off miraculous experiences we each might sometimes have in life but which must remain our own private experience, for we can only communicate common experiences to other people, and this experience was far from common. So, I said nothing and continued watching the game.

Later, I was waiting at the bar when I noticed the sound of the volleyball game had ceased. I looked round and the Filipino man was standing beside me. He smiled and asked:


In the shadows behind him I felt that Fear was stood, glancing at me but this time saying nothing; he just watched me, as though words were no longer needed.

“English,” I said.

The man looked puzzled, “Excuse?”

I told him, “I’m from England,” which did not seem to help, so I added, “British?”

His face relaxed and then seemed to glow with excitement, as a child’s does when they think of an impending birthday, “Ah, British!—U.K.”

I smiled, “Yes.”

He glanced down at the bar stool beside me and I motioned for him to sit there if he wished, which he did. I held out my hand and introduced myself.

“Hello,” he said, “I’m Hass. Please to meet you. I notice you watching our game.”

As I held his hand in mine, I recalled the sound of that telepathic whimper. Perhaps I now associated it with him, since I heard it while watching him. But whatever the reason for me recalling it at that moment, it reinforced the idea that there was something special about that beach, about what I was experiencing there, and perhaps it was this that made me smile so broadly back at Hass, or perhaps it was simply the fact that something about his smiling face was so captivating. As I looked into his dark eyes, it seemed that something from within those eyes reached down into my heart and held it. Ordinarily, this might have made me look away in alarm—so strong was the effect on me—but I kept watching him and smiling, as he did also, for what seemed like half a minute, as though we were holding a deep conversation with our eyes alone.

“It was a delight to see,” I told him, recalling the sight of him striking the ball and looking back to me, as if for my approval.

It seemed we already knew each other, or perhaps I was deluding myself. I seemed to feel this more and more about new people I met, and perhaps it was true; perhaps I did already know them, for once you have come to know yourself well, then perhaps you already know most other people, for there is not that much difference between us.

“Are you staying here,” I asked.

“Just for the day. I came with my friends.” He glanced towards his friends, who were sat at a table nearby. One of the women in the group was watching us, smiling. I looked back into Hass’s eyes. Of course I knew what his friend was thinking, but I—as we do in this situation—did not refer to “the game” that was afoot. I pretended to have no knowledge of it and simply said, “They will miss you.”

He said, “They will understand.”

Then I realized, as I was watching his face, that as I glanced over at his friends I saw Fear standing at their table, as if waiting on them, and he glanced back at me and whispered something but I was not listening.

Hass said, “Are you staying long?”

We started to talk and our lives began to empty out onto the table between us. He told me of his brothers and his mother and his work in Davao, and was eager to hear of my life.

From a distance, I noticed the shape of his body and the way he moved while playing volleyball. And now I was—to my surprise—captivated by the shape of his fingers. I watched them as he held his glass and then gently gesticulated, using only his fingers, as though demonstrating his innate reserve; and the more gently he expressed himself, the more captivated I became. I watched the shape of his lips as he spoke, the way his mouth moved and the glimpses I caught of his tongue as he told me about his unhappy experiences with his ex-boyfriend, an American whom he had fallen in love with. I could only half hear his words, as the sight of his mouth bewitched me—just as his eyes had done, only his mouth cast its spell by dancing a sensual symphony—for that was how I experienced the sight of his lips; they were entering me and affecting me physically, as only the sound of the most sublime music could sometimes do—and this symphony drew me in to its dance as I watched it. He perhaps noticed my distraction, then broke off and said:

“But I’m over him now. And I don’t want to talk about him, anyway. Tell me more about you. How is your holiday going? I hope you’re enjoying it. Have you met anyone nice yet?”

As we spoke, I again recalled the sound of that telepathic whimper. Hass continued talking and I kept watching his eyes and I could not help smiling, as he was smiling too, and as I watched him, I was listening, in my mind, to the sound of that whimper, and I tried to picture who could have made the sound. I imagined a young boy who was afraid; perhaps he was cowering in the corner of a room with a snake blocking his path and it was dangerous for him to move but he had no choice; he could not stay there for ever and this sound I could hear was his whimpering as he took those first few steps.

Hass asked, “Where are you staying? Will you be here long?”

As he asked this, I caught a glimpse of Fear passing by our table, who whispered to me: “He has come for you. He has a knife.”

I started to speak, to block the sound out: “I’m staying here tonight. I’ve booked a room.”

We continued talking, but Hass talked less and less, due, probably, to the suppressed excitement I could tell he was struggling to contain, like the excitement of a boy who had been told he had a special gift waiting for him if only he could keep it secret. He managed as well as any excited boy could, but I was fully aware of the rising tide of desire within him as we walked across the warm sands towards my room—I recognised this so readily since I was attempting to keep the same secret. We entered the shade of my room and as our eyes met I again heard that telepathic whimper, and again, though I was hearing it inside my head, it also sounded as though coming from nearby, perhaps just outside the room.

“Did you hear that?” I asked.

“Hear what?” His suppressed excitement was now making it difficult for him to speak.

Fear had stepped into the room, for I glimpsed him standing in the corner, and he whispered, “It’s a trap. His friends will be here soon to kidnap you. He has a knife. He will pull it out soon,” but then I heard no more; I could only see Hass’s face.

We made a drink and sat at a table and as we continued talking, there seemed to be something familiar in his dark eyes, as though—from within his eyes—I could see myself looking back out at me, but myself from somewhere back in my childhood; or perhaps it was Hass’s soul from back within his own childhood—and it seemed like an innocent, romantic, simple child who just wanted to be loved and had no other worldly concerns.

“I’ve never been here before,” he told me, meaning the beach resort.

“No, me neither,” I said and we both laughed.

“Of course you haven’t,” he told me; “you don’t live here.”


[End of extract]


 The full text of this story is included in Fletcher's collected edition of short stories, which can be purchased in paperback or Kindle format. Click here for details.



14 December 2009


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