The Golden Bee
The captain finished binding the anchor to the fisherman’s feet and admired his handiwork, his breathing ragged. “That’s a mean double constrictor,” he said, feeling through his inner pockets for a celebratory puff. This was about two hundred years ago.
“A little showy,” the fisherman said, pulling at his restraints. “Me, I lean toward the strangle-snare.”
The captain nodded, found his pipe, beat it against the heel of his hand. “That’s a respectable knot,” he said.
“You struggle, it holds tighter,” the fisherman said. “Would’ve been a good choice, seeing as I’ll probably be struggling a bit as I drown.”
The captain crouched down on the deck of the Golden Bee, shielding his flint from the salty wind. The crew let out a roar from the fo’c’sle, deep into what sounded like a serious game of carrick.
The captain got the pipe up and running, the warm orange glow harsh against the endless washes of grey. Smoke drifted NNW. He said: “Pulled in the nets one day and found a whole skeleton in there, and stuck in his skull was this pipe. Mitchum saw the sparkle and thought he’d, ha ha, he thought he’d finally dredged up the, what, the tiburòn del oro? But it was just this poor drowned sod with a pipe in his noggin and maybe two score mackerel.”
The fisherman grinned off one side of his mouth, his shoulders bent and mismatched and sore. Barefoot, only recently able to grow a beard. His bound wrists itching, that tooth in the back of his head, rotting away for months now, poor drowned sod, that tooth really starting to ache. “Now how’d he get a pipe up there, I wonder?”
“I got a theory that goes our skeletal friend was enjoying a smoke just like this,” he puffed out a nice little ring, “when he was scuttled or tossed or maybe got in a fight, got a jab right in the mouth—”
“He’s standing there smoking with a fistfight in the midst?”
“Son, I seen some coldblooded apes, they’re chatting up your mother or waxing their mustache while giving you a good stabbing. One hellion — well, you heard about Hull, I know, working the banjo, singing hymns even as he’s going at some poor innocent seaman with his spurs.”
The fisherman’s cough was shallow, and wet. “Heard the government took his head right off and the head just rolled ‘round, laughing and laughing.”
“Pff, your informant can take that clap back to the gully,” the captain suggested. “Hull’s still at large. You remember the time we come along the, oh, the ship where Bess, where—” He stopped suddenly, remembering, a confused look tangling up his bloodshot eyes. “Maybe we should make this quick,” he said.
The fisherman nodded. “I’d hate to get rained on,” he said.
“All such a damn shame,” the captain said. “We run into you and I say to ... I say to my wife, I say to my beloved, I say, Bess, this whelp’s got fish jumping out the water just for the privilege of being in his net, let’s get him aboard, get him on the crew. And she says, the loveless wretch, she says: Oh he’s so much like you as a younger man.”
The fisherman gave out a quiet laugh. He couldn’t help it. The captain lurched down, took him by the throat. “Thought we had this brotherhood of the sea,” he hissed. “Thought I could pass down the wisdom, bring you up like my own boy...”
“That sounds very nice,” the fisherman croaked.
The captain threw him down on the deck, got back up with a tired sigh. “I expect it from her,” he said. “But this, you, it, it, just...” He jabbed at his chest with his thumb, unable to gather the grains of emotion together into a complete thought. “It’s ... you know not to knock about with a man’s woman. It’s wrong. And I’m trying to do the right thing by you, taking you out here and giving you a man’s death. This is how I’d want to go. When my time comes—
(the captain’s time would come early the next morning, his time being a disappointingly prosaic throat-slitting)
—I hope this is just how it runs, the sea opening up and letting me right in, right where I belong.”
“The sea’s like a woman,” the fisherman said. “Opening wide for anyone who wants to go in.”
The pipe dropped from the captain’s mouth. He picked up the anchor and swung it overboard. The fisherman jerked feet-first against the rail and then flipped over it. He managed to grab hold with two or three fingers but the captain brought down a meaty fist and shattered his bones. The fisherman let go, said “Ffhhh—” and followed the anchor down to the waves below.
The God of the Sea
The fisherman shouted but only sickly bluish bubbles came out. He thrashed against the ropes, felt something give way in his shoulder. The surface shrunk to a single blinding pinprick of light and then vanished. Earth, warm, horizontal, too many things disappearing above him forever. Eardrums throbbing, bee stings behind his eyes, in his throat.
Look like you could use a drink.
No ma’am I’m sure I.
Oh now don’t be.
I can see that.
The fisherman hit the bottom of the ocean standing upright. Silt mushroomed around the anchor. His body shuddered and twisted and he howled his last breath.
And then he heard a piercing song in his punctured ears, and then he opened his eyes. He saw a giant hand reaching out for him, fingers outstretched and clenched in rage.
The ropes fell apart, freeing his wrists and ankles, threads of hemp unwinding and floating away. He swam, grasping for the hand. Their fingers met and he was surprised by the rough, stony texture and th—
a jagged white fire lit up his veins / the water around his body recoiled, tearing itself apart / something dark and empty underneath
—e fisherman let go, felt a soothing beat coming from his belly. The seawater coursed in and out of his lungs smoothly, cleanly. He could make out every edge and shadow of the enormous stone hand reaching up from the bottom of the ocean, here where monsters gave off their own light. His fingers and shoulders felt fine, just fine. The tooth was calm, silent.
He breathed in deep, and currents spiraled out from his open hands. He listened as his laugh escaped to the surface.
El Diente del Tiburón
The next morning, the captain was strolling the deck of the Golden Bee, enjoying a nice breakfast of goddamn mackerel pike, turning his eyes heavenward for a moment and asking God why, in all His infinite wisdom, why did He give man a thirst for the sea and yet make the beasts that live within it taste like a dead man’s nethers, and then there was an alarm, a ruckus from the crew, yelps, feet squeaking against the planks, and the captain turned and saw something rushing at him, a noise, a slash of white, speed beyond that of a mortal man, surely, and the captain put up his hand to deflect the blow but the knife went right through his wrist—
EDITOR’S NOTE: Not to be pedantic or anything but it was a shark’s tooth, not a knife.
—and then there was a coolness at his neck and then a wet warmth and then the captain was dead on his feet, lurching like a drunkard but not falling, and then this specter, this murderous ghost, absolutely stark naked by the way, this phantom took the captain by his lapels and flung him overboard like a rag doll, his twelve-score pounds negligible to the monster, its hands stained red with blood, and the sea opened up and swallowed the dead body of the captain, and I am not speaking figuratively here but saying that an actual eddy formed just off the port bow, a whirling throat of air, and the captain tumbled several hundred feet before hitting the first drop of water, and then he was consumed, twisted apart, and the throat closed up again, spewing a geyser of seawater against the Bee.
And just like that, the fisherman became the new captain. The crew was not interested at all in disputing the authority of this tooth-wielder and neither was the dead captain’s wife, who unlatched the door to her quarters and welcomed him back without a word.
But the fisherman was no ship captain, and frankly didn’t want to be. All he wanted was to take everything that belonged to the man who drowned him. And so he did, except for the captain’s knowledge of navigation, team leadership, distress signals, armament, tacking, jibing, furling, or really anything necessary to keep the Golden Bee afloat.
Which is why, later that week, the schooner got tangled up in el cenagal: a peaceful, shallow stretch of water where, years earlier, a ship had mysteriously sunk, then snagged a second ship, and then a third and fourth and tenth and twentieth until the whole area was nothing but a rickety deathtrap of shattered masts and rotting sails.
El cenagal had thus become a popular hangout spot for buccaneers, who would wait nearby for a hapless vessel to get caught in the web, and then swoop in for some easy plunder. Within a day of the Bee’s entrapment, they had leisurely murdered the entire crew, pilfering its goods and bullion and weaponry, and then sailed back to land, feeling oddly unsatisfied.
The fisherman came to in the middle of the ocean, sunburned, surrounded by the bodies of his erstwhile shipmates, their bloated bellies nudging up against him. He swam the miles back to shore like they were nothing, moving with an eerie kind of grace.
He found himself on a desolate stretch of sand at the tip of a curved peninsula which formed a little bay. He made his way inland to a dense forest and found the very scalawags who’d ended the Golden Bee, drinking the local juniper and arguing over their newfound booty with good-hearted shoving and knuckledusting.
The fisherman approached the camp and informed everyone that they were fucking miscreants and effeminate cowards and substandard rapists and that they were to return everything they’d stolen.
Once the laughter subsided, an exceptionally hairy sea tough strolled over, flourished a small blade, held the fisherman by the back of his neck and cut his stomach open. He returned to his pungent brethren who slapped their scarred palms against his, a gesture of triumph and goodwill.
The fisherman stood there holding in his guts. He said this is my land now, and there came a vast roar from the west, and at first the buccaneers thought a storm was coming in, but then a great wave burst through the trees, instantly flooding the camp, dousing the fires, sending barrels and cannonballs and muskets skyward. Most of the men died by having their heads crushed against tree trunks, and the rest drowned.
The sea subsided, waterlogged bodies hung from twisted trees, coastal fish flopped and gasped. The fisherman picked up a crab, tore off a claw, and tasted its meat. He felt fantastic.
The fisherman headed out to the pointed tip of the peninsula, leaned into the salty wind, and threw his net. The sea gave up its bounty of sablefish, rockfish, dungeness crab, spiny lobster, bluefin tuna, pink shrimp. Anything he wanted.
Word spread quickly, and soon the shoreline was crowded with dead-eyed anglers, baskets overflowing. They asked the fisherman how long the season lasted here, and he said there are no seasons if you know what you’re doing.
Then he asked the men to look at the sky and to look at the sea and they nodded in appreciation and then he waded out into the waves, bent down, waited a moment, then thrust his hand into the water and plucked out an enormous silver salmon, not even native to those waters, his fingernails deep within its flesh. The men were astonished and stayed put, building lean-tos that became tents and huts and shacks. Idle ships and journeymen couldn’t argue with the fisherman’s success, and quick access to Port Rohner up the coast made for easy trade. They settled, took wives, built docks, and pulled one fish after another out of the ocean.
The fetid shantytown grew into a village, big enough to need a name. The fisherman called it the Hook, based on the shape of the peninsula and the tool that snagged their livelihood. And he dubbed himself the Mayor, this skeletal, scarred kid of eighteen, and even though many tried to take the name from him over the years, using all manner of weaponry, none were successful in making the boy stay dead, and he is still the Mayor today, still impossibly young, overseeing two centuries of brother killing brother, stabbings, gougings, chokings, gunplay, boating accidents, infidelities, fires, one fire after another, well poisonings, trees crushing horses, detonations of every stripe, welts, hangings like you wouldn’t believe, kicking feet, fixed contests, rigged elections, car wrecks, overturned trucks, slaughtered cattle, men cleaned like fish, drownings, endless drownings, too many to count, suffocations, draggings, beatings, dislocated shoulders, a history of mayhem that we all feel ticking inside us as we walk this city’s streets, even as we hoist a child to our shoulders or kiss a girl on her neck, even as we think ourselves good and honest men.