[Editor’s note: this is fiction.]
The sky is the color of steel, the cold gray of the coffin. She would have loved it. The sun of the south was too violent, and the Pacific Northwest cloudy weather matched her soul. She would have loved attending her own funeral. A light drizzle came and went right in the middle. The flowers fell on damp earth. None of us brought umbrellas, she would think it’s sacrilegious. We cried and mourned. I left early.
I went to the south, down to my pier, got in my boat and set off. It was early afternoon. The sky grew cloudier and darker by the minute, the wind sang louder.
It was cold, the drizzle a persistent beat on every surface of the world, but the sea was calm, and I pushed out into the sound.
The funeral, my last time seeing her. A life, a body, a person so close to me and mine for years, together and often joined as one, now buried under the ground. My thoughts returned to the plot of land and her final resting place. I always thought it was in our bed, by my side, where she came to end her days. But it was at a random park, in some damn neighborhood I’d never even been to before. The funeral occupied my thoughts and I hated everything about it. The priest who barely knew her, the idiotic speech of some distant friend.
I thought dark and violent thoughts, and the world followed suit. The waves began to peak above my head, a storm picked up. I looked around and found myself face to face with murderous Mother Nature as railroad cars of water came crashing down on my pitiful boat.
Instantly I found myself in the cold water, shivering and lost, unable even to find where up was. I clawed at the frozen water around me, fought for purchase in her steep spires, and found none. It battered me back and down, deep into the ocean, away from the light and toward the infinite dark.
I sank beneath the white peaks and thought of her. Thought of my former pets. Would I meet them again in the afterlife? What of my grandparents? After more than two decades apart, due to immigration and the great distance between our countries, would I finally be able to catch up with Alex, with Maria, and Nikolai, all of us smiling and chatting in heaven? Will I be able to ask them, as myself an adult now, all the big questions I never got to ask before? “Did you love each other?” “Why did you leave?” “What was the happiest day of your life?” The questions I’d rehearsed and thought of countless times while I was alive.
How am I still thinking these thoughts?
I look around, for the first time in minutes. The level I’m in has a green quality to it. Above, a gray-blue mix of raw power. Below, the infinite darkness of the ocean. I’m swimming below the storm and above the deep cold.
I watch and consider this. How is it possible? How am I experiencing this? Why am I not dead? Not that I’m complaining!
A dark shape maneuvers through the murky waters around me and I think it is a great big shark. I follow it with my body, twist to face it as I continue to beat at the water and try to stay well away from the dark, fast-moving creature.
A dark line juts out of its side and I see a harpoon embedded in its flesh. A green, moss-filled chain trails some dozen feet behind the creature. Just as it’s about to leave my sight forever, I reach out and grab at the last few links. A large hook on the end jams itself into my wrist, like a nail into Christ’s, and I am pulled along behind the great creature, dangling off the chain of the harpoon stuck in its side, yet another leech in its collection of snagged organisms.
The pain is great and I pass out, only to awaken immediately and in shock. This goes on for a while, miles or ten of miles, I cannot say. I cannot scream, my lungs unable to push the water, and yet I live and experience these moments.
The creature pulls me through the sea, sometimes going deeper, sometimes coming within view of the turbulent surface, but always keeping me submerged. I stop wondering how I am able to live. This does not feel like life, more torture.
Eventually, and much too late for my own tastes, the creatures ceases and the pull of the chain in my arm abates. I pull the hook out and beat for the light above. It seems closer, and so inviting. My head breaches the surface and I am flooded by light and blue sky!
I float on my back for a moment on the once-again calm seas. The storm has passed while the wild creature pulled me all over the sound. I look around and see land. It is so close!
I pull and paddle toward the shore and eventually find myself tripping on the pebbled surf. The final shallow waves carry me out onto an empty shore in front of a dock. I climb out of the ocean and look upon myself.
Despite the minutes, hours, what felt like days being pulled beneath the waves by a monster, I am no worse for the wear. The wound in my wrist has already sealed itself up, and does not bleed much at all. The cold has not brought me to shock, nor am I winded from the long swim to shore. There isn’t a thing wrong with me, even after surviving such an ordeal. I look myself up and down and wonder if this is what the afterlife is like.
I look around and spy on the dock a building, its only occupant, a tavern. I walk in.
It is a conventional enough bar on the water front, sitting atop a wooden dock that juts out to sea, its clientele hard-faced and weather-proofed. Early morning drinkers and dedicated alcoholics. I walk into the familiar room and suddenly I’m home again. The bartender calls out a hearty hello. I sidle up to the bar and order a pint. There’s just the one choice, or likely just the one for the sort of soaked man who walks in from the street, and quickly I’m facing a light-colored beer with an unscrambled egg sitting at the bottom, a shot glass next to it filled with a dark liquid sloshing over the lip and down the sides.
I down the breakfast of champions and belt out, “Who knows someone who drowned?”
The bar falls silent. Eyes are on me.
“Know anyone who drowned?” I ask the bartender. I’m incredibly aware of dozens of eyes that are following me. The pints are down on the tables, the conversation dead, every face it turned in my direction. But also downward. I look around and can’t find anyone looking at me. All eyes are on the ground.
“What the hell is going on here?” I ask loudly. The bar shifts and a dozen people are after me, arms out to grab at my extremities. I am surrounded, dragged to the ground and then they start to beat me. Punches and kicks land at my sides, arms, legs. They avoid kicking my head, at least, but the punches cover my entire body.
I scream out and a dozen hands grab me. I’m wet, sloshing in ocean water, dripping buckets as the dozen hands pull me in out of the tangle of fishing net. I cough and sputter and bullets of rain pelt my face and I’m almost drowning a second time as the storm threatens to fill my lungs.
They pull me into the boat and there’s again solid surface under my hands. I laugh and cry. I’m happy to be aboard a ship once again, among men, people like me. Not the zombies of my nightmare.
I must have been close to death to have imagined such a hellish scenario. These men rescued me after my ship capsized. I shouldn’t have gone out in such terrible weather, but I was too despondent. These thoughts fly through my head before I even stand up. This ship is a miracle, in my mind.
“Are you OK?” one of my rescuers asks.
I nod in response, take a long deep breath and finally look up at the men who pulled me from the raging ocean.
They are the same mob that I faced in the bar. The man who just spoke, was the bar tender from the tavern. He brought me a beer with an egg and a whiskey chaser.
“You wouldn’t have drowned, of course,” the man says. I watch as he pulls open his shirt and points to his exposed neck. Thin fleshy flaps flitter as he inhales and exhales. My right hand comes up to my neck and I gingerly touch the same area.
I tear my hand away as my fingers touch the moving flesh of the gills. I’m having trouble breathing and my head begins to hurt.
The man comes over and helps me take a seat on the deck. The others spread out, some move to the back, others toward the control tower.
“Take it easy. It can be tough, coming to terms with this part of you. Relax and try to remember where you’re from.”
The ship rocks back and forth and the rain pelts the deck around us. The man is watching me and seems intent on keeping me safe. I look him up and down. He’s a fisherman through and through. His raincoat is stuffed with bait, rolls of lines, knives. As we sit, he picks up a short harpoon that fell on the deck earlier, and places it in a quiver that he now holds before him.
I wonder what they hunt with those.
There’s a commotion on the other side of the boat, the other sailors rush over, the man next to me peers up, then comes back to me.
“Was there anyone else in the water?”
I shake my head. I don’t remember if there was. Where are we? What happened in that bar?
The man hands the quiver to me and goes to the other side. They’re looking overboard, a light above us burns through the storm and lights up the rain and the waves.
I pull on the largest harpoon in the quiver and bring it up. It has a chain running down to the deck, the other end of it under the seat. I don’t bother with it. I put the harpoon in the crook of the ship, between the hull and the length of deck I sat on. The harpoon’s chained-up end thus secured, I maneuver the sharp edge toward my heart, hold it there as I stand up.
I dive onto the weapon and drive it through my skin, in between the bones and deep into my organs.
The pain is immense and I scream, the words caught up in the storm and quickly carried away into the void. I slide lower on the harpoon, it twists and pushes my rib bones further apart. I collapse in a ball of blinding aches. My chest is being ripped open.
I lie and stare outside, toward the wild waves beyond the hull. I stare through a hole in the hull, something that must come in handy when the sailors haul in their prey, or drowning men. I inch toward it, grab onto the edge and pull myself.
It’s agonizing, but then a wave comes along and tips the boat, and I go flying into the briny deeps. The chain follows and I pray it wraps itself around me, snaps my neck. I cannot stand this hell that I find myself in.
The water swallows me up and the chain drags me down. The grey of the overcast sky grows dark and far away. The waves are seen, not felt, and soon not even seen as I keep dropping to the bottom.
I look down and it is an absolute darkness. It surrounds me now. I hold a hand out and cannot see it. Is it even out there?
My head pounds, a vice is squeezing every part of my body. The pain is red-hot under my skin and pulses. I close my eyes and pray for destruction.