At the pier By Strega
Jim was the cock of the walk, as the saying went: the biggest, baddest guy on the beach. He'd never finished High School and didn't think much of those who had. He lived in a back room of his mother's house (though he'd put his fist in your eye if you said as much) and made a living by pushing around those smaller and weaker than himself.
He was six feet, four inches tall, with blond sunbleached hair, a muscular frame and a deep bronze suntan that covered everywhere you could see - which was most of him, since he habitually wore only shorts and a pair of flip-flops.
He was big and he was dumb but he was mean too, and over the last two years he'd gathered up a group of smaller, weaker, usually smarter beach bums and in return for "protecting" them he got a cut of the stolen wallets and minor drug deals. Jim had enough low cunning to keep out of sight when the cops showed up,and though everyone knew he was trouble no one could prove anything. When the cops were away he'd show the next would-be beach king the error of his ways by kicking in a rib or three.
When he wasn't being a professional asshole he played beach volleyball and hit clumsily on women who happened by. You would never hear him say it, but the only sex Jim had was the kind you paid for. Mentioning his lack of success in that area was another good way to get Jim's fist in your eye, so no one did.
One morning in the fall his toady - 'friend' was too strong a word - Slim showed up and said, "Hey boss, there's a big seal sleeping under the pier," and that made Jim smile.
In idle moments he tormented whatever wildlife he happened upon, which could be stabbing an octopus he found in a tide pool, feeding crabs to sea anemones after twisting their claws off so they couldn't fight their way free, or throwing Alka-Selzer tablets to seagulls - which disappointingly didn't make them explode, though they didn't look happy after eating them. He kicked stray dogs and threw any cat he could catch off the pier into the surf. He had a particular favorite, though, and that was the sea lions.
A few times a year they would show up at the pier, camping out on boats or just lazing around on the beach. Jim called them 'seals' no matter how many times he was corrected (though no one did that more than once due to his fist in their eye) and they were awkward and slow on land, which made it hilariously easy to sneak up behind them and drag them around by their fins. When he caught a small one Jim would sling it around by the tail and more than once the beach patrol removed a bloodied sea lion corpse from the rocks after he smashed its brains out.
With the bigger ones he had a game he liked to play, too. When he was a little boy, before his innate rottenness was so evident even his mother grew to hate him, she had taken him to Sea World and there he'd seen trained seals balance balls on their noses.
So when he heard that a sea lion was camped out under the pier that cool fall day he grinned, grabbed a beach ball and went to look.
Sure enough, when he climbed down the stairs through the rocks and onto the sandy strip of beach that extended under the pier there was a sea lion stretched out sleeping in the shade beneath the pier. It was one of the big ones, fat and clumsy and maybe twice his weight. Its first indication it had a visitor was the beach ball bouncing off its head.
It started awake and blinked at Jim, its eyes small and dark and its little ears swiveling around to face him. Those ears were one of the ways a sea lion different from a seal, not that he knew or cared.
"You like to play with balls, right?" Jim said, and bounced the ball off its face with all his might. Beach balls varied from thin and flimsy to heavy enough for dodge ball and this was of the latter type. Jim had bloodied more than one nose with it and the sea lion barked and backed away on its flippers as the ball ricocheted off its face a second time.
It was a big animal with a tough rubbery hide but it flinched as he laughed and hurled the ball again. It tried to sneak to the side to escape but he hedged it in to keep it from the water. It had sharp teeth but it was too slow and clumsy to get to him even if it tried, and it didn't seem to occur to it to do so. With a piteous bark it covered its head with its flippers as the ball caromed off its head yet again.
"Oh, what's the matter? Don't like the ball?" Jim tugged his shorts up and grinned. "Let me get it for you."
The ball had bounced past the sea lion and lay touching its flank after rolling off the rocks. If it were aggressive he would have fired off a kick into its side but it cowered under its flippers so he stepped forward and grabbed at the ball.
He didn't see the eye peering from beneath its flipper and his first indication that the sea lion was more alert than it appeared was a hard snout ramming into his ribs. Jim let out a surprised shout as the sea lion hoisted him from the ground with a thrust of its thick strong neck.
With a flick of its muzzle it started him spinning in the air, carrying him along with pushes of its nose. He weighed more than two hundred pounds but under its fat the big sea lion was all muscle built up from chasing fish who no more wanted to be caught than the sea lion wanted to be harassed.
By the second spin Jim was dizzy and wanted nothing more to do with the sea lion but it kept him going, flipping him over and over in a nauseating whirl until he didn't know which way was up. In the moments when its nose was not needed for this play the sea lion glanced to one side and then the other, for it was a wise old salt and it wanted to make sure no one was watching. It and the man were the only ones under the pier.
"Stop it, I'm sorry!" Jim cried, and went wide-eyed in surprise as with a last flip of its snout the sea lion straightened him out atop its nose. For a moment he was standing on his head, his blue eyes looking down into the sea lion's dark ones, and then he began to fall. The sea lion was waiting for that and its jaws snapped wide open. Everything went dark and moist in an instant as gravity shoved him to the elbows in the thing's maw, its jaws and thick, rubbery neck expanding to accommodate him.
Jim blinked in confusion in the slimy, fish-scented depths of the sea lion's gullet even as the last vestiges of his momentum pushed him in further, but the sea lion wasn't done with him yet. It lunged upward, jaws agape, and with one enormous gulp it swallowed him to the waist.
In the slimy depths of the thing's gullet he tried to squirm free, but the muscular walls, blubber and tough hide were inches thick on all sides of him. They held even his powerful arms tight to his sides as the sea lion, who had dealt with annoying humans before, jerked its muzzle repeatedly upward. It kept Jim's kicking legs above it so gravity helped push him into its maw, and the slippery gullet offered little resistance as he was swallowed whole. Less than a minute after balancing him atop its muzzle he was down its throat almost to the knees.
A coward at heart, Jim was already begging for mercy and whimpering for his mother. No one had ever been strong enough to treat him as he treated others and he didn't like it at all. Unfortunately it was not a mere beating he endured, the type that might sort out his ways a bit. Instead his head and most of his torso were stretched out in the thick-walled stomach of a sea lion and it was making good progress at swallowing up his legs. It was a big, fat beast, but he was big too, and it swelled and bulged in odd places as its powerful and well practiced throat muscles squeezed more of him down into its belly.
It was at that moment that Jeff walked in off the beach and stopped dead, transfixed by the sea lion's bulging neck and the legs kicking from its maw.
Jim knew none of that. He was reduced to squirming helplessly in the thick, slimy juices of the sea lion's gut, juices that rendered the walls so slippery he could find no purchase. Already its digestive fluids stung his skin and he gasped in shallow breaths of stinking air, smelling bile and the fish it had had for breakfast. Thin, softened bones jabbed at his hands as he struggled to escape, but there was six inches of flesh and fat between him and daylight in the shortest direction and the weight of it all pushing in on him as he wriggled. The sea lion had him at its mercy and his only chance for life was if it coughed him back up rather than swallow the last down. For a moment it paused in its feeding, and down the slick chute of its gullet Jim knew a sliver of hope.
But it was just looking at Jeff, and Jeff was looking back. "Whoa," said the bearded old man, who'd been sleeping on the beach and begging for handouts since long before Jim was born. He took a step back, turning to go get help, but something made him pause. One of the calves hanging from the sea lion's maw sported a badly done tattoo of a flaming skull.
"Well well," Jeff mumbled through his beard. "Look who got himself in trouble." His chest still hurt from the last time Jim let him have it in the ribs, and after a glance around to make sure no one else saw the old man sat on a rock to watch.
The sea lion had paused in his meal when it sensed the old man, but when Jeff made no move to scream or run its sleek muzzle darted upward once again. It could hold its breath for a very long time but eventually it must clear its throat to draw in more air, and it was not disposed to spit its meal back up for that. Instead it thrust its jaws upward, clamped them around Jim's heels, and pulled its head back down to force the man's ankles into its throat.
In the slimy hell of its gut Jim felt it move and knew he was about to be swallowed, but there was no stopping the beast. As he had pushed others around for years, now he was the one being pushed down a throat to a sickening digestive end. The great bulge that was his feet was moving into the sea lion's rubbery neck and there was a last graze of fangs against his toes and a press of strong warm tongue against his insteps as the beast gathered itself for the final effort. Then it swallowed and its throat muscles contracted powerfully, squeeze his feet downward. Jim whimpered as he was swallowed shorts, flip-flops and all.
"Well, that's just too bad," Jeff murmured as the bulge made its way down the sea lion's neck. It stretched and wriggled where it was, forcing the bulge out of its neck and down into its body, and it watched him out of beady whiteless eyes as it got its meal situated for easiest digestion. Jim was a big man but sea lions are amorphous bulks on land and if he hadn't known what had happened even Jeff, who had seen hundreds of them in his time, wouldn't have realized that its body was bulging in odd ways. There were still twitches moving through its thick rubbery flesh as Jim struggled, but it had the man stretched out in its stomach and he wasn't getting back out the way he got in.
Suddenly the sea lion lay its head down, as though it had dozed off, and Jeff turned his head at a sound. Slim was coming down the stairs to the spot beneath the pier.
"Hey, old man," said Jim's toady. "You seen the boss?"
"No sir," said Jeff, aware of the sea lion's eyes boring into his back. "I was just takin' a break from the sun. Don't want no trouble, sir."
"No you don't," said Slim, and his eyes fixed on the sea lion. "That's a big seal."
"Sure is," Jeff said, and hoped Slim didn't notice the weakening struggle beneath the sea lion's rubbery hide.
Slim's eyes were drawn by the beach ball being pushed up against the tide line by the waves then sloshing back down with the water. "Oh, hey, that's a good ball. The boss likes those."
"He sure does," Jeff said with a nod. Liked to pelt them at people's faces, he didn't say.
"Well I'm taking it," Slim said, and after snagging the ball he headed back up the stairs.
The instant he was out of sight the sea lion let out a long, relieved-sounding belch. A wet red flip-flop shot from its maw as it vented the air that went down with its meal. It blinked and almost looked embarrassed.
The movements under its blubbery hide had nearly stopped. The king of the beach had finally met a challenger he couldn't intimidate and in a day or so Jim would exist only as sea lion fat, whatever droppings it released at sea and memories.
Those would not be fond memories for the most part and as Jeff hauled his creaking joints off the rock a rare grin split the old man's beard. "Good job, son," he said, and came just close enough to pick up the flip-flop a few yards from the sea lion's bloated flank. "Not many will miss that one."
He dropped the flip-flop in the first trash can he saw and ambled away whistling a jaunty tune. Behind him, down in the stinking depths of the sea lion's guts, Jim gave a last kick and stilled. His wholly self-centered life had ended, ironically enough, with him serving as a meal for someone. He barely felt it as the muscular stomach wall kneaded its acids into every nook of his stretched-out body. As far as it was concerned he was just a very large fish and a sea lion's stomach knows what to do with fish.
The beast blinked quizzically at the two men who next appeared under the pier. One of them was familiar and though it of course did not understand their chatter, they certainly sounded upset. But without their leader they hadn't the courage or motivation to approach what was after all a rather large sea lion - about fifty percent larger than he'd been fifteen minutes ago, even. It was the third time the tall thin one had seen him but he was just part of the landscape. They had other concerns.
The sea lion lay stretched out, his flippers partly concealing the more awkward bulges, until the men left. He had never bothered a man who didn't bother him, but the one stretched out in his stomach had it coming and the sea lion certainly couldn't complain about a nice, warm beach and a full belly to go with it. With a burp he lay down his head and resumed his nap.