The Ocean's Cool Air by Vincent V. Cava
I stared up and into the heavens. Stars dotted the evening sky like little white splotches of paint haphazardly splattered across a black canvas by some wannabe artist believing himself to be the second coming of Jackson Pollock. It reminded me of the type of piece one might find in a terrible, surrealist art gallery. One where pretentious hipsters sip Two-Buck Chuck out of plastic cups, all the while hoping their idiotic interpretations of each exhibit will make others think they’re more intelligent than they actually are.
On a nearly moonless night the tiny twinkling specks of light were the only things illuminating the darkness brought on by dusk. I had grown to look forward to nightfall. The days had become unbearable due to the constant bombardment of UV rays that I had been forced to endure. The evening’s cool air tended to my damaged skin and gave me reprieve from the daily beatings I took from the sun. The night also provided constellations, which had become a welcomed distraction. The stars told stories – stories that helped me forget – forget about the decrepit old lifeboat in the middle of the ocean that I was stranded in.
I barely noticed the commercial fishing boat as it approached my dinghy – a testament to how far-gone my mind had become from the weeks of isolation out at sea. Even to this day, I don’t know how they managed to spot my tiny boat shrouded in the vast darkness of the open ocean.
“Hey there! Are you ok?”
The young man was looking down at me from the bow of the ship. His piercing blue eyes almost glowed in contrast to the black sky behind him. Upon further inspection, I could see the whiskers that had begun to sprout from his face – a result of going days without shaving while out on the water. As he scratched his stubbly chin, more of the crew crowded around the front of the boat to take a gander at me. I suppose a half-dead man marooned out at sea was the strangest sight they’d seen in quite a while – an honor I would hold for only the briefest of moments.
“He’s alive!” one of the fishermen shouted, “Let’s get him up here now!”
As I watched the crew frantically buzz around the ship’s deck like a bunch of worker bees, trying to figure out how to bring me aboard, a laugh escaped my mouth. Not a loud bellowing one, mind you, just a tiny giggle. It was the irony of the situation that I found comical. Perhaps that last little chuckle was the humor center of my brain finally fading from the weeks of emotional agony I had sustained. Going out not with a bang, but with a whimper – just a tiny giggle.
It started with a loud crash across the starboard side of their boat. The fishermen struggled to retain their footing when the powerful impact caused their vessel to rock onto its side, nearly capsizing it. Shouts and expletives streamed from the mouths of the startled sailors as I watched them desperately try to make sense of what had just occurred.
Another thunderous CLANG rang along the side of their ship and this time it tipped. The once silent ocean air was now filled with the sounds of chaos as the trawler smashed across the surface of the sea, flipping completely upside-down, and sending the men toppling overboard into the cold, murky water. I struggled to lift my head in order to peer over the side of my dinghy at the anarchy taking place around me.
The fishermen barely had a chance to breach and catch their breaths before it began pulling them back down into the abyss. Their panic quickly intensified as one by one, they started to realize their crewmates were disappearing into the deep, dark sea. You’ve never truly experienced pandemonium until you’ve heard a dozen grown men screaming for their lives in the middle of the ocean. The young man who had first greeted me from the ship’s bow thrashed and kicked through the water, urgently trying to make his way towards my lifeboat. With salvation mere inches away, he flailed his arms wildly, reaching and grasping with reckless abandon, attempting to grab on to the side. I watched the hope in those piercing blue eyes of his turn to hopelessness as a black, sludge covered tentacle wrapped itself around his ankle and yanked him back down under with one quick jerk.
It was the fishing boat’s turn now. Still submerged, the sea-beast easily crumpled the already twisted hunk of metal, before sinking it down to the watery graveyard at the bottom of the briny deep. There it would join countless other vessels that had shared a similar fate.
Without warning, the massive creature erupted from the surface of the sea. I wondered briefly if the salty taste of the water that splashed my face when the beast made its appearance stemmed the ocean itself or the blood of the men who had died in it. I shut my eyes, hoping not to catch a glimpse of its horrible features. The sound of water trickling around the leviathan’s body as it waded towards my lifeboat caused me to wince in fear. Though my eyes were clenched tight, I could still feel its awful presence as it closed in on me. I gagged and choked as the rancid smell of its hot breath forced its way into my nostrils and down my throat. With a thud, it dropped a mangled human limb across my lap – one of the fishermen’s arms to be precise.
It spoke only one word. The same word it had said to me many times before and the same word it would repeat many times after.
And with that it slithered back into the sea, leaving me to myself again. I opened my eyes and stared down at the mutilated piece of flesh lying across my sunburnt thighs. For a moment I was tempted to throw it back overboard, but thought the better of it, fearing retaliation from the creature for not listening to its commands. For whatever reason, it seemed to want me alive, but I wasn’t about to test its patience. I sunk my teeth into the skin and tore a chunk of muscle from the bone. It had been a week since I had last eaten. The hunger pains in my stomach helped to subdue the horrors in my mind and made the atrocity of cannibalism slightly easier.
I let out a sigh and looked back up to the starry night. I was alone again, and once more only silence reigned over the ocean’s cool air.