This year’s school brochure is out! NOTE: programs are appropriate for PK, Elementary and Middle Grades, Middle School and even High School. Please feel free to print and distribute the PDF
THE ZOMBIE CAT is officially here! After months and months of waiting, you can (finally) get your copy in print or in ebook! Written for middle grade, middle school, and adults with a sense of humor, The Zombie Cat includes seven stories, plus a full length chapter-book (novel). Fun, funny, disgusting, and exciting—you and your
Riding the Monster Wave
– a Zombie Cat Summer Beach Story –
by Mark Binder ©2017 All Rights Reserved
My cousin Adam’s stepdad, my Uncle Paul, invented the boogie board, but Paul never patented it or made a dime, which was a shame. It happened around the time Paul had started dating Adam’s mom, my Aunt Dorothy. I don’t remember how old we all were, but Adam’s real Dad, my Uncle Joe, had gotten killed in the service a few years before, and my cousin Adam wasn’t looking to bond with a new father figure.
Paul was aware of this, but he was persistent. He was in the service too, stationed at the time in Newport, Rhode Island.
One day, he offered to take me and Adam and my older sister Ellen to the beach for a day of fun. My mother and Aunt Dot were thrilled to have time to themselves without kids. They sent us all off with lots of food and warnings about being careful in the sun and water.
As soon as we got to the beach’s parking lot, Paul popped the trunk and pulled out four boards of Styrofoam. They were about three and a half feet long, round at one end and flat at the other. Paul had cut them by hand in his garage.
“I call ‘em Boogie Boards,” Paul said, “because we’re really gonna boogie on ‘em! You know, dance in the surf? Boogie?”
We stared at Paul like he was from some other planet. Grown-ups in those days were really strange; they talked funny and they had incredibly bad haircuts.
“All right, listen,” Paul insisted. “Think of them as surfboards, except shorter and you don’t have to stand up. You just hold on. Come on, guys, it’ll be fun.”
Probably you already know what a boogie board is, but like I said, Paul had just invented them. This was the old kind of brittle Styrofoam that shredded into tiny beads if you rubbed it. We were skeptical. And maybe a little worried. The things looked a lot like squat yellowish tombstones.
We stood on shore and watched as Paul demonstrated.
He paddled out about twenty-five feet from shore, held onto the board, caught a wave and rode it all the way in and up the sand with a big grin on his face.
He’d survived, so we all decided to give it a try. Kids are trusting, especially when an adult authority figure says it’s going to be safe and fun. Plus, it was a warm day and the water was cool and the waves were perfect—not too big and not too small.
“Here’s the deal,” Paul said. “Take your boards into the surf. Float out as deep as you want, watch over your shoulder, and when a wave comes, hop on, and then kick like crazy. You’ll figure it out.”
My sister Ellen, who was two years older than me, got it almost immediately and was soon riding like a pro.
If you still don’t know what riding a boogie board is like, imagine hanging on for dear life to the top three feet of an amputated surfboard. These days, a new boogie board has a safety rope you tether to your arm to keep it from getting swept away when you wipe out, but Paul hadn’t thought of that, so we had to go chasing after them. There’s little or no skill involved.
It took me about half an hour of eating sand and drinking salt water before I got the hang of it. After that, it was fantabulous!
You bob in the surf, watching for the perfect wave. The wave can’t be too small, or else you won’t go anywhere. You’re always looking for the biggest and most perfect wave, but it never comes. So finally, you just take the next one that’s big enough, and as that wave comes in, you kick like crazy and hold your breath. When you blow it, the trick is to bail out before you slam into the sand. But when you catch it just right, it’s like you become part of the ocean. The water takes you along for a massive ride, and then you just skim right up the beach.
Adam, though, had problems. He didn’t want to go into the water at all. Part of it was the fact that he was almost blind without his glasses. Part of it might’ve been his resistance to Paul. Like I said Adam’s dad had only died a while earlier, and I know my cousin missed his father terribly. But mostly, Adam was an Army brat, and while he had grown up on military bases around the world, he had never really been exposed to the ocean in all its glory and might.
Paul, for his part, was almost completely clueless about kids. He’d figured he’d just load us into the water and let us play. He was laughing and joking, encouraging and cajoling and generally having a good time. Paul wasn’t a dad, though, and didn’t know that young boys need constant minding to prevent dismemberment and death. Plus, you can’t ride a board yourself and really pay attention to someone else. There’s no control on a boogie run, and your head has a tendency to go underwater when you least expect it.
So, Paul wasn’t looking when I finally got Adam to leave his glasses on shore and venture out above his shoulders to catch a moderately big wave.
The ocean is a surprising place. One moment it’s amazingly calm, and a moment later it can be violently rough. Something like that happened while Adam and I were out there. One instant we were laughing, and the next, Adam was gone. Just gone.
There was beach. There was ocean.
But there was no Adam.
Ellen started screaming.
The lifeguard started blowing her whistle.
Paul, who had been laughing, turned white with fear.
Everyone else on the beach was running around like crazed seagulls.
It seemed like Adam was gone forever, but it must’ve only been a minute or two later, that we found him.
He wasn’t drowned or broken—Adam was buried. It was a wipeout of massive proportions, and he was waaay up on the beach, planted face down in the sand with his feet sticking up and out, kicking like crazy.
The lifeguard was standing there, wondering what to do. She was only a few years older than my sister.
Paul grabbed a shovel from some little kid who had been building sand castles and dug Adam out in seconds.
Adam was coughing and sputtering, spitting sand and trying not to rub his eyes.
Paul told me to grab the little kid’s beach pail and fill it in the ocean. I did. (The little kid was still crying like crazy because these big people were stealing all his stuff—but we didn’t care just then.)
As soon as I got back with the water, Paul dumped the entire bucket on Adam, who sputtered.
“What the heck did you do that for?” Adam yelped.
“Got to clean you off,” Paul said. “Are you OK?”
Adam stared at Paul with hatred and contempt. “I’m not dead. Somebody sandpapered my face, so I’m probably bleeding, right?”
Paul got very quiet. “Nothing broken?”
Adam shook his head. His board had been shattered, and he realized he was lucky.
“Go take a shower,” Paul said softly. “Meet us at the snack bar.”
Adam stuck on his glasses and then stalked off without saying another word. It took him a half hour to get all the sand out of his hair, and by the time he got to the snack bar, we’d already finished our cones.
Paul bought Adam a double scoop of blueberry ice cream. (He also gave me a chocolate ice cream cone to take to the screaming little kid whose stuff we’d borrowed.)
While Adam accepted the cone, he didn’t look at Paul. He sat at the table and stared out at the ocean.
Flash forward a few years.
By then, Paul had retired from the Navy, married my Aunt Dot, became my uncle and they’d all moved to Groston. He and Adam still didn’t get along much.
During the summers, we mostly went to our family’s vacation house in New Hampshire, but every so often, Paul would convince everybody to get in the car and drive down to the beach.
It was the first killer hot day of the summer, and Paul said that the ocean would be perfect.
My parents loaded everybody up into the mini-van and we all trucked off to Scarborough Beach for the day.
Scarborough is an awesome ocean beach in Narragansett, Rhode Island. It has big waves, white sands and a fantastic snack bar.
I don’t know if it was the same beach we’d been to when Paul took us out the first time, but it felt pretty similar. Except by now, every single kid on the beach had a boogie board, and Paul was grumbling that he should have trademarked the whole board concept, which probably would have made him rich.
Because it was so hot, even the grown-ups went in the water. My mom and dad and Aunt Dot and Uncle Paul were floating about, drinking iced coffee from plastic cups.
(Ellen had met some girls her own age and had wandered off to flirt with boys.)
I was boogie boarding like an insane clown fish. It was a blast. The only thing missing was my cousin. Playing around in the waves by yourself is great, but it’s better with someone else.
Adam wouldn’t come into the ocean. He was sitting by himself on shore, trying to read a thick book of Greek mythology for fun.
It wasn’t that he didn’t know how to swim. Adam swam in the pool and at the swimming hole in New Hampshire all the time. But at the beach, he stayed under an umbrella up above the high tide mark.
I kept shouting and waving, trying to get him to come in. The water was cool. The waves were perfect. Every so often Uncle Paul would frown. I think he still felt bad for traumatizing Adam at such an early age.
The morning sped by, and before we knew it, my mom and Aunt Dot were insisting that everybody get out of the water for a while to eat lunch and digest. Nobody wanted the soggy sandwiches we’d packed, so Uncle Paul and Dad went to the snack bar and bought us clam chowder and a huge bucket of clam cakes.
Clam cakes are basically deep-fried clam-flavored donut holes. They’re perfect beach food, because whatever you don’t eat, you can throw to the seagulls, who catch them in midair.
We were all dozing in a greasy food coma, so nobody noticed when Adam tied his glasses around his head with rubber bands and sneaked off.
Adam was proud but embarrassed. He had decided to go out alone, so he could practice boogie boarding without anyone watching. Everyone else was asleep, so nobody could make fun of him.
On the one hand, it was brave.
On the other hand, it was stupid—because Adam didn’t tell anyone where he was going—into the water—by himself.
It was a while after we woke up before anyone noticed Adam was gone, and at first no one thought anything about it.
Grownups were more laid back in those days. We didn’t have cell phones, so nobody expected instant communication at all times. Ellen was still off with her new friends, and none of the parents figured that Adam would be in the ocean, right?
Of course that’s when things at the beach started to get weird.
All of a sudden, the lifeguards began blowing their whistles over and over. They were waving their hands over their heads and screaming like crazy for everybody to get out of the water.
Everyone else was pointing out at the water, which was doing something we’d never seen before.
The entire ocean was peeling away from shore.
It was like a sudden and incredibly low tide. The lowest low tide ever.
Nobody really had to get out, because the water was just gone. Kids who’d been swimming or floating were suddenly standing or lying on wet sand.
The ocean drew back and back and back, until it almost vanished.
We could see all sorts of hidden things like damp boulders, tons of rocks and shells and gravel, a sunken sail boat, and a few flapping surprised fish. Freshly revealed crabs and clams were frantically digging down to hide under the sand.
The lifeguards were all blowing their whistles and jumping up and down on their chairs, but for a moment or two, we all just stood on our towels and stared, because it was so wicked cool.
Even the seagulls had all flown off, and the shore got really really quiet.
You probably never thought about this, but part of the experience at the beach is the roar of the waves coming in and going out. There’s also the sound of the water crashing, and the rolling rumble of sand and rocks tumbling underneath. It’s continuous and overwhelming. There’s always this loud feeling of power and movement.
But now, with no water and no birds, all we could hear was the wind, which was actually getting pretty still too.
Suddenly, there was a shrill electronic squeal as one of the guards came over the loudspeaker.
“Attention. Attention. Scarborough Beach is now closed. Scarborough is closed! Please evacuate immediately in a quick and orderly fashion. This is not a test. Attention. Attention. Scarborough Beach is now closed…”
The guard on the loudspeaker repeated himself three times, his voice getting louder, faster and more frightened, until he was practically screaming.
That’s when everybody freaked.
That’s also when we realized Adam was missing.
If you really want to panic a bunch of beach goers, tell them to evacuate in an orderly fashion without giving them any good reason. Parents were yelling, kids were screaming and crying. Suddenly everyone was grabbing their coolers and towels and chairs and umbrellas and booking like crazy for the parking lot.
Later on, we found out about the underwater earthquake off Georges Bank. We read in the newspaper about how tsunamis work, the way water recedes unexpectedly and then comes crashing back to shore all at once in a monstrously big wave. Tsunamis have wiped out villages and even cities, but as I said we didn’t know much about them at the time.
All we knew was that everybody else was running around, and Adam was nowhere to be seen.
Aunt Dot was hysterical. Mom tried to calm her. Ellen had shown up and she was crying. I was scanning everywhere up and down the beach. Uncle Paul and Dad didn’t know what to do. They were trying to get the rest of the family back to the van and search for Adam at the same time. The lifeguards were fairly useless, and I don’t suppose you can blame them. Even though they were the only ones trained in disasters, they were still teenagers, and rather than helping, they hightailed it out of there as soon as they could.
Fifteen minutes after the first whistle had been blown, the beach was empty—except for us.
There was no surf. No people. All the other families had run to their cars. The parking lot was jammed. The road was bumper to bumper. As much as everyone wanted to get away, they were all stuck in traffic.
Fortunately for everyone, it was only a small earthquake and a tiny tsunami. I hate to think of how bad it would have been if it had been a big earthquake or a really big wave. None of the cars were moving. Kids on bicycles were moving faster. Horns were blaring.
All of the seagulls had flown off.
My whole family was running up and down the sand, screaming, “Adam! Adam! Adammmmm! ADAM!”
Then my sister Ellen shrieked, “Oh my God!” She pointed out into the ocean. “Look!”
Far out to sea, but moving fast, a wave was coming in. The wave. No, it was THE WAVE. The biggest wave any of us had ever seen. It looked like a gigantic black wall of water moving toward shore like a bulldozer. Not a small bulldozer either. The King Kong of bulldozers.
“Oh my god!” Aunt Dot cried. “It’s Adam!”
Bobbing at the top of the wave, riding a red boogie board right at the curl was the white glistening shape of a short boy with brown hair and glasses.
“Ba-gahh-Bagah!!” my father shouted, making no sense whatsoever.
There wasn’t time to run away or do anything else.
“Listen!” Uncle Paul yelled, “When the water hits, take a deep breath and dive into it.” He handed each of us a boogie board. “If you get dragged out to sea, stay on the board.”
Ellen looked terrified. My mother gave us both quick hugs. Dad said goodbye. Aunt Dot was in tears; she was watching her son coming closer and closer.
Then the wave hit, and we dove into it.
It was like hitting a wall and then being thrown into an industrial size washing machine on an overloaded spin cycle. Everything whirled and twirled. I swear I saw three lobsters swim by as I hung onto my board. Then it was dark and loud and salty. For a while, I felt like my lungs were going to burst. I didn’t know which way was up.
And then it was gone and I was floating on smooth seas, not fifteen feet from shore, surrounded by my family. We were so lucky. Ellen was sobbing. My dad and Uncle Paul looked shell-shocked, but my mother and Aunt Dot were already busy scanning the shoreline.
I saw him first, and I had to grin. “There he is!”
Adam was standing up on top of one of the lifeguard chairs. He still had on his glasses. He was holding his boogie board over his head, jumping up and down and shouting over and over, “Whaaaaaahooo! Whaaaahoooo!”
We all paddled into shore.
By the time we got to the base of the chair, Adam was down, had his boogie board under his arm and was heading back toward the ocean.
His mother and Uncle Paul intercepted him, wrapped him in their arms and gave him hugs.
“Did you see that!?” Adam shouted. “Did you see that? I rode that monster wave. That was awesome! I’m going back in!”
“No no no no. You are not. You are not going back out there,” Aunt Dot said.
The ocean was all back to normal. Except for the completely empty beach and an old waterlogged sofa that had washed high up on shore.
“Come on, Mommm!” Adam moaned. “That was my first ride on a boogie board ever. I want to do it again. And again!”
“Nonononono,” Aunt Dot gibbered. She held on tight.
The parents were all firm. Nobody was going back into the water until the lifeguards gave an all clear. And of course, the lifeguards were all stuck in traffic like everybody else.
Later on, we learned how truly lucky we, and the entire state of Rhode Island, had been that the wave was so small. The newspapers said that if the wave had been much bigger it could have taken out the whole coast.
But I think we all knew that at the time. We sat by ourselves, the only people on the long empty beach, watching the waves come and go, the debris float about and the seagulls return one by one.
Ever since that day, Aunt Dot and my mom and Ellen freak out a little bit every time we want to go to the beach.
But me and Adam—especially Adam—we go into the ocean with authority and a certain amount of swagger, because we know how to boogie board like gods.
Recently, vandals tagged the statue of The Big Blue Bug. There’s another statue in Providence,the statue of Roger Williams, Rhode Island’s founder. This is the story behind the two statues…
On the way back from the library, I met a bunch of kids in the park. One boy (off screen) was screaming his head off. He was being punished because he’d let go of the safety rope, designed to keep the kids together as they walked. His punishment was to sit to one side. Part