Fiction Section: Facundity Fiction
Frank Wagner has been writing short fiction for the past two years, and has had some success as artist in the years previous. He is currently working on a collection of short fiction, of which this is one small sample.
Day after day, day after day,
we stuck, nor sound nor motion;
as idle as a painted ship
upon a painted ocean.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
What cruel irony had brought him here to the edge of a plank of wood, staring into the unforgiving depths of the sea? The captain had set sail from port with high hopes of plundering riches from foreign lands, but the sea and the winds had been unkind. His former crew stood behind him, taunting him with curses and derisively urging him on toward his watery grave.
Turning to make one final address, the captain found no sympathy from his men, nor did he expect any. A few men had broken into the storage room and were presently helping themselves to generous portions of food and rum, which he had previously been rationing in an effort to prolong their survival. “Fools,” he thought, “We’re at least four days from land and they’ll be hung over and starving well before then. Perhaps if they were smarter they’d keel haul me, chop up my remains and try to catch a shark with my leftovers. But I’m certainly not going to give them any ideas.”
He looked past the crew, past the horizon, squinting as he stared into the setting sun. He thought it was the most beautiful shade of red he had ever seen. He found it more beautiful than any other evening, if only because it was to be his last. The sun was fast disappearing from sight, and as the earth continued on its path, he imagined Poseidon devouring it instead of allowing it to pass. Looking at his men, the captain reconsidered his last words and decided not to give them any, promptly jumping into the sea without so much as a farewell nod of acknowledgement. The scoundrels were cheering before he hit the water.
He had been in similar situations before, but never this far from shore and never alone. Fetching the knife from the sheath strapped to his calf, he freed his hands in time to make one last crude gesture to his crew as they sailed off on the evening breeze aboard his ship. They responded by firing a few shots in his direction, but they were now a considerable distance away and in any case, none of them had ever been a particularly good shot to begin with. Making a kill on a ship was different than on land, it was an equalizer of sorts to be in such a confined space, making it difficult for a man to fire an errant shot. Still, the majority of his subordinates had often managed to waste a good deal of their munitions in the midst of a skirmish.
The captain thought to himself that if he ever found his ship and her crew again, he would dig enough of the rounds out of the wood to give each one a warm new home inside their mutinous sculls.
There was no possibility of catching up to the ship, not that there was any form of reasoning which could make that seem like a good idea. Treading water was becoming difficult, so he kicked of his boots. It was growing dark, and as he looked to the horizon, the deposed captain could see that the men had lit the torches, his ship now a small dot of light growing brighter with the death of the sun, and tinier as it retreated from him across the water. He took off his shirt and pants, as there was no sense bearing the extra resistance for the sake of covering himself. In spite of his anxiety, he was proud to invest the effort to prolong what remained of his life.
What a hopeless feeling it was, staring into the darkness below and wondering how long it would be before something down there in the impenetrable depths with a rumbling in its stomach picked up his scent and came up for the kill. He floated on his back and looked above at the growing audience of stars coming out to watch his demise.
He was kidding himself; they would have come out anyway. The universe is nothing personal.
He thought the stars must hate the sun, for it outshines them every day.
Even if he were not eaten by sharks, he had only a short time before the salt water would draw the moisture from his body, causing his organs to begin malfunctioning.
Human brain tissue is roughly seventy percent water, blood ninety-five percent. Lung tissue is ninety percent water and skeletal muscle somewhere around seventy five percent. Human bone contains twenty-two percent water and body fat roughly fourteen percent. Considering our captain is a lean man, he has about twenty some odd hours before enough of the water in his body ebbs out into the sea to kill him. Much sooner than that, his muscles will begin to fail him. Sooner still he will lose his mind.
The captain was adrift in a vast expanse of hypertonic solution. “Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink” he refrained. He could not remember who had penned those words.
Our captain had at an earlier point in his life fancied himself a wordsmith of some talent, but turned to privateering and eventually piracy when his efforts could not provide for his wife and children. Not that he had been an attentive or even present member of his family for some time. He accepted no personal responsibility for abandoning them, placing the blame on the difficult transition period between his previous and present career. To his credit he sent along what he could when the opportunity presented itself. If he were stopped at a port near his hometown he would pay a local child or a woman whose man was down on his luck to deliver parcels of money, food, and other plunder to his old address. He was forced to put a stop to this after a time, having one too many close encounters with the law.
In truth such matters were out of his hands, and things at home were more terrible than he could venture to imagine. If he balked at the thought of his own demise, knowledge of the fate of his wife and children would have set his heart and mind into madness. In this sense he is fortunate to die alone, even if he does not know it.
Unbeknownst to him his wife had been executed in the town square by a government official in order to set an example for anyone else considering taking up the lifestyle of a renegade. It was rather a cruel way to send a message, as her children had no relatives and survived by the charity of strangers…for a time.
But their lives are another story.
The captain thought of his children. He would never see them grow up, and they would never see him grow old. He would never grow old.
Formerly he had been in charge of a government privateering vessel, having risen to the rank of captain before turning to a more lucrative career in piracy. He had recruited a few cutthroat drunks with nothing better to do than get smashed, plunder strange places, and shoot people for money. And for a time things went swimmingly. No pun intended.
Still, he had grown homesick quickly out at sea.
One by one we all must go
Though where we’re headed we do not know
Death in this way is the same as life
Who’s in charge? Trouble and strife.
Our captain had written that little parable the day he set sail from his home long ago, knowing that one way or another he would never return.
It was now black as pitch, save for the stars, and he was thankful that the moon did not shine too brightly and deprive him of their company. There came a splashing in the water in the distance, to which he steeled his nerves in preparation for the possibility of becoming an impromptu meal for some ghastly creature. He pictured the encounter in his mind. Perhaps it would have a little nibble first to see if his flesh was appealing, before coming in for the kill. Or maybe he would be the victim of some behemoth that would swallow him whole and slowly digest him as he lived for a short time off of its air supply. But nothing came to dinner the whole night through and by dawn he was more than half mad as the greedy sea sucked the water from his body.
His joints were becoming stiff and he was increasingly thankful for the buoyancy of the salt water that so hopelessly surrounded him. But as his mind and body began to fail him, he had a change of heart. Taking his knife, he cut open his abdomen and awaited the inevitable. Just as he was blacking out from blood loss, a shark came and took him by the midsection into its gaping maw and carried him under the waves. He was thankful for the company, as he did not wish to die alone.
Joseph Depczynski is a student at Southeast Missouri State University. He pretends to be an accomplished author through his publications on online writing communities like WritersCafe.org, and although he has been published in his former high school’s literary journal, “The Perihelion,” he continues to strive for high excellence.
Escape From Guilt
I found myself drinking again. I liked feeling numb. People didn’t understand that. It was always rum and coke. If they’d ask me what I was drinking, I’d tell them the same thing I had the night before, and the night before that. Then they’d leave me in my room. I’d sit in my chair and drink. I’d drink and drink and drink until the world around me spun into blotches and mixed hues of surreal images.
Partway through the night I’d turn myself to face the window. I appreciated the world through this unmagnified lens, and I’d make myself believe that what I saw on the opposite side was the only real thing in life. What went on around me was irrelevant; nothing mattered when I hit the bottle. When I looked through this window everything seemed to click for me, and between drunken nods I felt free. I felt unburdened, and lighter because the problems I had everywhere but the window were gone. Then I’d drink more because the feeling was beautiful to me.
“Get away from here Stella! Get away from the door! There’s nothing you can do for me!” I’d shout in almost perfect rhythm to her persistent knocks. It didn’t matter to me that she cared enough to check and see if I was still alive, or that I’d even lost the fucking trial. I cared that I wasn’t able to save my brother from the juried fate he was dealt. When these racing thoughts came to a climax in their rampage through my mind; after kicking up horrible synaptic emotions, I’d feel the pain of what I tried so desperately to shut out. It would start small, like a prick from a rose bush, beautiful, perfect, and the embodiment of love. Then it would grow and grow until I began to choke. Then I’d find the world outside my window blur and crumble as the emotions inside me fought their way to the front of my inebriated mind.
I’d then fall to the floor. The glass would shatter. The liquid would ripple. The beauty of the world outside my window would fade, and turn back into everything I tried so hard to escape.
I woke up in a spinning haze. The room around me was dimly lit, but bright enough that it sent shearing pain from my eyes, into my brain, and down my spine. I gagged when I smelt the dry outline of the rum that had spilt the previous night. I managed to pull myself up and into my chair that sat facing the window. With one hand bracing my head, and the other on the arm rest, I sat and wished this time I’d not woken up.
When I’d woken the second time I was hunched in an impossible angle in my chair. I was cold, and I could feel a draft coming in from the door to the hallway. My hangover had decided to leave a parting gift in the form of sharp hunger pains, and I pulled myself up once again in order to shuffle from my study to the kitchen. I had gotten to the door when I stopped for a moment in realization that I might see Stella. It had been days since our last encounter, and I preferred to avoid any further interactions from fear of whatever might be brought up. I turned back to the shattered glass of rum, it was a reassuring reminder, except that I hated when I broke glasses.
With my trash bin full of small bits of jagged glass and crumpled paper I made my way down the hallway, past pictures of my father and sisters, and to the spiral staircase that led to the kitchen. Stella was there, and she was washing dishes. I let out a lengthy sigh as I put my hand to the railing, and began making my way down like Dante did with Virgil. The smell of cooked food sent warm reassuring feelings through my head, and I began to think of what I’d like to eat. This was my second favorite thing to do besides avoid my family, and I relished every minute of it.
I had made it partway down the stairs when I found the one step that cried out in agony as I put my weight on it. It was like an alarm going off in a POW camp because Stella had turned in alarm at the sound of the step, and let out a loud noise in surprise.
“James!” she shouted, putting her hand to her chest.
“Stella. Good morning,” I replied, making my way down the last few steps, and landing shakily on the cool tiled floor of the kitchen.
“You scared me!” she exclaimed as she turned off the water and dried her hands on the floral patterned dish towel beneath the sink, “I’m glad to see you’re still alive,” she said with a smirk.
I felt anger begin to bubble inside of me as I dumped whatever remained of my escape into the trash can. “Yeah, well what can I say?” I set my bin down, and made my way to the fridge. Whatever was inside would surly help ease the pain in my stomach.
“Break another glass?” Stella said as she walked past me to the trash can and peered inside. She let out a laugh and said, “When are you going to learn, James?”
Upon opening the fridge I found a plate covered in saran wrap. It was like a biodome; the condensation hung to the ceiling of the plate like I hung to my booze. “I see you left me some food?” I was thankful, but not in any mood to continue the conversation further. I took the plate out and hastily removed the plastic. The smell of the food escaped, and I nearly fell over in anticipation as I placed it in the microwave to heat up. I cringed when I typed in the numbers. I didn’t want to be down here any longer than I had to.
“James, I know you don’t want to hear it but I’m concerned. I never see you anymore, and I feel like I’m living here all alone!” She began to shout, and I could see tears streak across her cheeks and dive bomb to the floor.
I turned away from her and towards the window overlooking the sink. “Yeah, well we all need time alone, right?” I stalled. The numbers on the microwave ticked down as if to signal to me when Stella would go off.
“Talk to me, James!” She came over to my side. I could feel her gaze against my face as I tried my hardest to ignore it. “What’s done is done! You can’t spend your days drinking away your problems! I need you!” Then she turned away.
“You think it’s that simple? You think I can just walk away from this, Stella?” I didn’t want to get into it, but the microwave, in all it’s cruel irony had counted down perfectly, and I found myself facing the one person I loved more than my brother. “This isn’t something I can put behind me, Stella! This isn’t something I can forget about like some cheap date!” I was fuming. I felt light headed, but food could wait; instead, I took a glass out and filled it with water. I drank it as fast as I could.
Stella had turned back to me. Her face was red and puffy, and she was crying harder than before. “You act like this isn’t hard for me either! Your brother is my family now too! You can’t blame yourself for losing his trial! You can’t escape everything through glasses of cheap booze!” She was shouting now. Her cries could surely be heard across the street, or by the neighbors who had a knack for asking about our arguments. “You’re my husband, James! Don’t do this to us!”
She had slid down the cabinets to the floor. I turned my attention back to her as she sat with her head between her knees and sobbed. I was speechless with guilt and I clenched my teeth from the resentment I felt toward her because of it. Then, I put one knee down, then the other, and I placed my hand on her shoulder. “Stella, I love you more than you know.” That was all I could think to say. Then she brought her head up and looked straight into my eyes; they were gleaming fiercer than a star at night, and all I could think to do, was pull her into my arms, and hold her.