GREEN PORT BEACH, FLORIDA - Joel Landon wouldnâ€™t miss his morning beach run, even with a category-four hurricane slamming the shore. He was pumping south, energized by the wind. Churning waves pushed glistening foam across his path as runoffs cut through the sand. He loved where he lived, the rhythmic sounds of the sea, the smell of the air and the crunch of shells beneath his feet. Good riddance to the treadmill and big city crowds.
Close to his usual turn-around, he heard a female voice, but saw no-one, just the cloudy seascape to the south, bending palms and water-streaked dunes to the west.
â€śMidnight.â€ť Her cry came again.
Joel slowed his pace and rounded a dune. There she stood in a gray fitness hoodie, slightly over five feet tall, looking away. He stopped.
â€śMidniâ€“â€ť She turned and faced Joel, her hand reaching into a pouch at her waist. â€śKeep your distance!â€ť
Joel lifted his arms.
Her hand withdrew and tossed back the hood revealing a familiar face and brown shoulder-length hair blowing in the wind. â€śIsnâ€™t your name Joel?â€ť
â€śAmber?â€ť He had seen her a few times at the weekly recovery meetings.
â€śYou were going to shoot me?â€ť
â€śOf course not.â€ť
â€śSo, whoâ€™s Midnight?â€ť
â€śMy black lab. He ran ahead of me somewhere into the dunes.â€ť
â€śHavenâ€™t seen him, but letâ€™s look.â€ť The hurricane was eroding the coast on its pathway north, opening up new areas.
â€śMidnight likes to explore. What are you doing here?â€ť
â€śIâ€™ve got a place just up the beach.â€ť
â€śI didnâ€™t know there were any homes in this area.â€ť
â€śNo regular homes.â€ť
â€śDonâ€™t say it - Youâ€™re the boat guy.â€ť
â€śMy reputation gets around.â€ť Joel led the search through the dunes. â€śWhat brings you to my beach?â€ť
â€śOh, itâ€™s your beach?â€ť Amber had an attractive smile.
â€śNot really, but I like to meet those who visit.â€ť
â€śFair enough. We recently moved into a rental trailer at Oceanside RV Park â€“ less expensive than an apartment, and right on the beach.â€ť
â€śMe and my rescue dog, Midnight.â€ť Amber walked along with Joel, both alert for any sign.
â€śSo you like all animals, or just dogs?â€ť
â€śMost animals. It helps in my work.â€ť
â€śYour work. Are you a vet?â€ť
â€śNot me. I assist the doctor at Beaches Animal Clinic.â€ť Amber stopped. â€śI hear Midnight.â€ť
An excited bark could be heard to the north. Following the sound they ran further up, away from the water. Finally they spotted some movement through the sea oats near the bottom of a huge dune.
â€śMidnight?â€ť Amber called, while continuing to move closer.
The dog was deeply occupied, growling and glued to its spot.
Water run-off from the higher inland elevation had eroded a sharp trench through the center of the dune, and it was at its base that the dog was digging furiously. Heaps of sand had been moved, exposing a long bony object.
â€śWhat have you found?â€ť Amber pulled a leash from the open pouch at her waist. â€śMidnight! Come!â€ť She went to the animal and attached it. Reluctantly the dog yielded to her tug, still barking and growling as Amber restrained him.
Joel glanced from the dog to Amberâ€™s face, following her gaze to the dug out area.
A well-preserved, possibly fossilized, massive fish skeleton at least six feet long lay unearthed, stretching from its fluked tail down toward the sea. He figured that it had been buried for a long time. â€śSome fish,â€ť breathed Joel.
Amber edged closer while shortening the leash on Midnight. â€śThose appendages on the sides donâ€™t look very much like fish fins.â€ť
Joel stepped forward to inspect the fish, fossil, or whatever it was. What she said was true. Two opposite sets of bones stretched from the upper part of the skeleton outward from each side, just likeâ€¦ â€śarms?â€ť
â€śSea cows or dugongs have arm-like appendages,â€ť said Amber.
Joel grabbed a piece of driftwood and pushed it into the dirt just below one of the unusual bones and slowly levered it up. What appeared connected was a shock â€“a splay of finger-like bones. â€śDo sea cows have appendages like these?â€ť
At first Amber was silent, still intently studying the mysterious remains while trying to keep Midnight away. â€śCan you get the head up?â€ť
Joel brushed that end with his stick exposing the surface of a large rounded bone. He then started to lift. At first it held tight, then something snapped and up it popped. Joel stepped back.
â€śIf I didnâ€™t know betterâ€¦â€ť Amber couldnâ€™t complete the sentence.
Joel was also at a loss for words. Such things didnâ€™t exist. He slowly scanned the skeleton again â€“ the distinct fluked tail and fish-like lower body. Then above a pelvic area, the spine and rib cage, arms, neck and skull â€“ almost half-human, except for one thing.
â€śThereâ€™s no jaw,â€ť he said, with a sigh of relief.
Amber was pointing to a pile of dirt not three feet from the head. â€śWhatâ€™s that?â€ť
Joel saw a protruding bone that Midnight was sniffing, stepped closer, and slowly worked it free from the pile. He could feel his heart thump.
"What is it?" Midnight responded with another bark as Amber knelt for a better look. "Sit!" Finally the dog obeyed her command.
Joel ran a finger over the large dark teeth. There were two rows with a few broken off and missing. The width of the jaw was well over a foot. "He may have found a primitive shark. They have double rows." What does the Vet's assistant think?"
"We don't work on sharks, but if this is from one, a lot has changed. The teeth look freakishly human. And the structure of the mandible... It seems to match the skull."