There are giant monkeys down by the beach and they eat children.  

Four monkeys, each twelve or fifteen feet tall, sitting in a circle with their backs to one another like soldiers forming a square on some old battlefield.  They’re all godawful bright colors, blue and red and green. The one facing me is rain-slicker yellow loud enough to deafen you, his hide so glossy it shines in the moonlight.  You can see the crescent of the moon itself reflected in the big black pupils of eyes the size of hubcaps; eyes that bulge in a wild, unblinking stare to complement the maniacal grin frozen on his flat monkey face. 

He just sits there, grinning and staring, one of his hands raised up at this side, palm out, beckoning to you with his fingers like one of those porcelain cats you see on the counter at the China Buffet.  Only instead of a paw the monkey has a hand, four fingers and one big thumb, and I wonder if that thumb is fully opposable.  You don’t want a monster like that having too much in the way of thumbs, or else you got to worry about how long it’ll take the bastard to get around to making some weapons – or more likely traps, to help it catch more children.

Goddamned monkeys.  Nearly pissed myself when I first laid eyes on them, and that was when I was loaded with liquid courage after a night at Coogan’s.  Half-sober now and it’s even worse, looking into those evil faces and hearing the kids screaming loud enough to drown out the crash and roar of the surf. The monkeys swallow the kids whole, and don’t digest them right away, oh no, they keep screaming even once they’re down in the monkey’s belly.  But the worst part isn’t the sound, it’s that the monkeys have windows in their bellies, so you can actually see the poor kids shrieking inside. Make you sick to look at it.

Someone oughta do something about this travesty, but one man isn’t enough to stop a monkey that size, let alone four of them.  So I run down the boardwalk to the tattoo parlor and try to get that big, bearded artist to come help, but he’s got a line of drunken tourists waiting for ink and doesn’t want to lose the business, at least not for some crusade against the monkeys.  I turn to the fools standing in line and ask them if they’d rather have ink or justice, and they say ink, and no one steps out of line except for one skinny guy who stumbles outside to puke next to the bike rack and he isn’t going to do anyone any good tonight anyway.

To hell with this place, I say, and then head down to Coogan’s for reinforcements.  People there know me, see, so it shouldn’t be hard to recruit some muscle.  Sure it’s late on a Thursday and the place will be half-empty, but I figure we can do it with just six or seven if we plan and organize, use the gun Pat keeps in the backroom and maybe fashion some weapons out of stools and knives and bottles.  Goddamned monkeys will never see it coming.

It’s Jimmy behind the bar tonight, and as soon as I walk in he’s pouring me a double of bourbon.  Bad manners to turn down a drink, and anyway I’m gonna need one before I face the monkeys, so I take the glass and down it in two gulps.  Then I start telling everyone how it is.  How them giant grinning bastards need to be stopped and how we should figure out a way to rescue the kids from inside their bellies.  I sell it good, cause I’m really fired up now, and that bourbon is starting to work in my guts.

 At the end of the bar Blake raises his glass.  “About fucking time!” he shouts and upends his beer.  But the others aren’t so gung-ho about the mission.  Stevie and Jingles nod but they don’t say anything, and I know I’ll have to work on them some more to really get them to commit.  Maureen will be even harder, since between her bennies and the dumb tourists plying her with drinks she’s used to getting paid for everything and nothing at once.  I figure I’ve got off easy when she says she’ll go along against the monkeys if I buy her a Jack and Coke.

Blake snorts.  “Fuckin’ mercenary.” 

But I can’t let Blake’s principles hold up the mission, so I go ahead and order her the drink.  It’s a good deal, really, since if Maureen comes along Stevie will come with her, and he’s got those big thick arms that’d be real useful for swinging a tire iron.  The problem is that as soon as I tell Jimmy to pour her a drink Jingles pipes up and says he wants one to, and Charlie follows suit.

 “Mercenaries!” Blake shouts.  “You’re all goddamned mercenaries!  Jesus, Jimmy, gimme another!”

So Jimmy pours him a beer and I tell Jingles and Charlie I’ll buy them a round after we’re done with the monkeys. Pretty clever on my part, I figure, since a man will work harder when there’s a reward coming.

Jimmy asks if I have a battle plan, and I say not yet, but we can hash one out real quick and get moving.  Charlie must have already forgot he isn’t getting paid in advance, since straight away he volunteers for a suicide mission: says we can strap explosives to him and dress him up like a little kid and see if one of the monkeys will try to eat him.  Stevie tells him it won’t work because Charlie looks too much like a monkey himself and everyone knows monkeys won’t eat their own young.  Besides that, where the hell are we going to get explosives this time of night? 

“Fuck explosives!” Blake shouts. 

He’s right, we need to make a realistic inventory of our weapons.  First thing to consider is firepower; that will give us a clear advantage over the monkeys, since I’m pretty sure they only know how to throw shit.  I ask Jimmy if Pat still keeps that .45 in the office. 

“Yeah,” Jimmy says.  “But ain’t kept ammunition here in three years.”

“Fuck ammunition!” Blake shouts.

He’s right, it wouldn’t give us much advantage anyway.  Those big bastards can probably chuck their shit a good twenty yards, and I can just imagine trying to draw a bead on one of them from that distance with giant gobs of shit flying at me, jagged shrapnel of half-digested child bones spraying out on impact.  No, if we’re going to win we need to find some way to outthink these brutes, take them fast and by surprise and finish them quick.

Jingles slurs something no one can understand, and I ask him to repeat it.

“Buildatrap” he says.  “Digabigpitorsomething.”

“Fuck traps!” Blake shouts.

He’s right, it would take too long and we don’t have anything to use as bait, even though Charlie repeats his offer to dress up like a little kid.  Maureen asks him if he’s got a Peter Pan complex, and he says he’d take Never-Neverland over Va Beach any day, there’s probably less traffic and cheaper beer.  Maureen says she’ll drink to that, and Charlie asks for another glass so they can toast.

I sit down on the barstool with my chin resting on my hand, trying to think of how to go about this.  After a couple of minutes of trying it’s clear that my idea machine is gummed up, so I tell Jimmy to pour me another double to get it unstuck.  I sip and think and when the glass is empty I still haven’t come up with a good plan, so I order another.  The idea fuel is starting to work, I can see the faint outlines of the plan starting to form, it all comes down to one key element that’s just out of reach, like a name you can’t remember but it’s right on the tip of your tongue.  I’m closing in on it when Stevie disrupts my train of thought to say he appreciates me finally taking the initiative against those goddamned monkeys, and to show his respect he buys me another double.  And then it’s back to thinking and planning and the last thing I remember is the sound of breaking glass and Blake shouting “Fuck glass!” and me thinking that it would hurt like hell.

It was a bad night for a war anyway.

The next day I’m slouching in a booth at Vito’s Diner on 25th trying to coat my stomach with some grease when I see the big delivery truck pull up to next to the Italian ice stand across the street, backing over the sidewalk onto the grassy lot between the stand and the edge of the surf shop.  A guy in coveralls gets out and goes around back to slide open the rear door, and out climbs this enormous blue gorilla.  It sure is a sight to see, watching him squeeze out and unfold himself to full height, nearly twenty feet tall.  He stretches his arms and legs and back, yawns, and then lays down on the grass, basking in the sun and probably glad to be out of the truck, which is now driving off down the street to deliver god knows what else.  A giant gorilla, lazing about across from the diner, ignoring the curious stares of people passing by.  Hell, I think, chewing on some bacon, he can’t be any worse than those goddamned monkeys.

By the time I walk up to the cashier to pay my bill the gorilla is on his feet and stretching again, flexing his arms and his joints like he’s getting limbered up for some action. I’m a little worried about that, especially since he’s got this malicious little smirk on his face, like he’s getting ready to do something that’s bad but fun. But there’s something about him, maybe just how loose and relaxed he looks, that makes me more curious than scared.  So when I step out of the diner I don’t leave straight away, but hang around to see what the big guy is up to.  He scratches his head for a minute, thick fingers burrowing through wild tufts of blue hair, and then starts loping down the sidewalk.  I follow him down 25th and across Atlantic Avenue toward the boardwalk, and ahead of us I hear the sounds of surf and screaming children and know he’s headed for the monkeys.

The monkeys don’t even get up. They just sit in their same square, back-to-back formation, turning their heads to watch the gorilla coming.  Maybe they’re too heavy with the weight of all those children in their big, clear bellies.  Or maybe they don’t think he’s a threat, even though the green one and the blue one take a few half-hearted shots at him, lobbing their shit in his general direction.  It’s no contest.  The gorilla walks up to the green monkey, grips its shoulder in one hand, then grips its head in the other and rips it clean off.  He moves onto the blue one then the red one and finally the rain-slicker yellow one, quick and methodical, until all the monkeys are headless and dead, still sitting up because they’re too bottom heavy to fall over. 

The gorilla takes a moment to survey his work, then reaches down and carefully rips open the side of the yellow monkey’s belly.  A half dozen children pour out, screaming and crying and running down the boardwalk as fast as their little legs will carry them.  The gorilla works his way around again, ripping open the belly of the red one and the blue one and the green one, and more screaming kids go running off, probably scared that the gorilla is going to try to eat them as well. But the big ape just watches them go, then takes one last look at the dead monkeys, torn bodies still perched on their haunches, lifeless hands beckoning. He grunts faintly, scratches his head, and starts thudding down the boardwalk, headed god knows where. 

For a while I stay behind, looking at the bodies of the giant monkeys, their fur so shiny it glints in the sunlight.  There’s no screaming now, and all you can hear is the sound of gulls and surf and the traffic over on Atlantic Ave.  The sky is clear and breeze is gentle, but the sun is hot and the salt air makes me thirsty, so I head down to Coogan’s for a drink.

John Keel lives in the mountains of West Virginia, where he divides his time between his day job and writing short stories that vary from humor to science fiction to alcoholic fever dream. His work has previously appeared in The First Line.