Short story with scene of men standing on an alien beach waiting for a female alien to emerge

Scriber

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Back in the summer of 1993, I chanced upon a short story in the public library of Ocean City, Maryland that had a huge influence on my own writing. It was in a hardcover anthology collection that seemed a few years old, but I cannot recall the collection title, story title, author, or even any key words or proper nouns. I want to say it was written by John Varley -- but despite some research I have not been able to verify this.

My memory now has only retained a handful of scenes from the story, including:

-- The backdrop is an alien planet that the male protagonist visits. He stands alone on a beach, along with other scattered individuals like him, facing the water silently. After a time, an alien, beautiful mermaid-like creature emerges from the depths and "chooses" a solitary man, approaching him to join into some sort of strange coupling. The protagonist, having newly arrived, knows only that this bizarre ritual is permanent, and the men standing on the shore are desperately hoping the alien creature chooses them. To the protagonist's horror, the alien seems to begin approaching him, and he sees the other men looking at him with jealousy. Freaked out, he slips away before the creature has fully emerged.

-- The protagonist meets an older man who has taken residence in a palatial home overlooking the alien sea, with the intention of coupling with one of the alien creatures from the beach. I believe he has already been paired with one, which appears as a beautiful woman, but there's a strange sort of stillness and silence that permeates his household. I believe this older man holds some important knowledge about the overall significance of this planet.

-- There is some sort of all-consuming, sentient darkness on this planet that is somehow spiritually linked to the protagonist. The end of the story involves his encounter with this entity, which seems neither malevolent nor benevolent.

-- And finally, the planet is home to an alien pack animal that wails horrendously as it pulls carts and wagons -- apparently the civilization on this planet is not highly advanced.

That's pretty much all I can remember. If anyone has an inkling to what this is, I'd be immensely grateful -- I want to put this 25-year old search finally to rest!
 

Joshua Jones

When all is said and done, all's quiet and boring.
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Sorry, I haven't the foggiest, but I saw where you found it. Ocean City is about 30 minutes from where I live! Are you from the area, or were you in on holiday?
 

Scriber

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Back then I was living and working in Ocean City for the summer just out of college ... but no, I'm not from the area. I wish I had more info on the story, as it's been on my mind (somewhere, at least) for 25 years!
 

Joshua Jones

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Well, I do head down that way somewhat regularly. Maybe I can swing into the library and see if they still have a copy, or if one of the longstanding employees knows what it is.
 

Scriber

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That would be much appreciated -- thanks! However, I did check it out again maybe ten years ago, after the library had moved to a new location in town. No luck, though you may have a better chance since you know the staff.
 

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