She watches the humans with starry eyed fascination. Watches them stretch, saunter, and roughouse about. Their grunts, their guffaws, their four letter words shouted aloud. The cream colored skin and clinging raiments of orange and yellow conceiling all but salt caked hands whiskered, weather beaten faces. Extraordinary visitors from a beautiful, forbidden world. From her solitary perch amidst the rolling ocean the great, otherworldly craft that keeps the strangers afloat seems to leap up on invisible legs before crashing into the sea with a thunderous, concussive force. In the spoken language of the above, a single word is carved into the crafts hull. Through sapphire colored lips she tries to speak the word in the custom of the surfacers though the sound she emits is garbled and unnatural, not like the men on the craft whose mouths poor forth rapid articulations faster than her ears can follow. It is as though she is a person rediscovering a muscle after a lifetime of neglect. With a furrowed brow, she consults her mind voice to master the word her underdeveloped vocal chords can not, allowing her conscious to slide over each syllable with relish like an invisible tongue tasting something exquisite. "Lyndsay" her inner voice speaks in a mellifluous chiming echo, and she repeats the word over, and over, celebrating the word, stretching each syllable into the chorus of a song before a deafening crack that sounds like a hole being torn through the roof of the sky makes her dart like an arrow into the the blanketing safety of her cold blue world.
Skirting the shoals of the craggy gray bottom she gazes upward, wondering if it was the surfacers that made the sky to cry out like that. Were there any limits to their power? Craning upward, she observes that Lyndsay has shrunken to the size of a minnow and she giggles and chides herself for being so skiddish. Safely in her element as she was surly she should not turn tail at whatever showy displays of power the surface men could flaunt.
Swiftly, like silk in the wind her fins thrust forward and she glides on a wave of upward momentum. Climbing, climbing, she readies for the moment when the ocean's everpresent being relinquishes itself to the empty, unfilled nothingness of open air, to the danger and mystery of man's world. Rising on a column of blue, eager to complete the act of emergence, of symbolic birth, of gleeful and unapologetic defiance of the edicts of ocean antiquity.
Gazing through the distorting veneer of water caressing sky, she suddenly notices what looks to be a great hand reaching down from above to help her in her ascent, though a moment later she realizes this is not the case in the slightest as the strange apparition does not glide to meet her in a lucid arc of motion but rather plunges forward violently like a starving predator desperate for a meal. A beast the likes of nothing she has never seen before, the creature unfurls its arms and tries to force itself upon her, coarse brown appendages, groping out blindly to ensnare her in its grasp. Instinctively, she propels herself to safety though not before feeling the monster's knotty, chorded fingers scrape roughly against the back of her fins. Turning back upon reaching a safe distance she observes that others are not so fortunate and looks on astonished as a school of black cod are swept up in its seemingly unbreakable clutches. The bizarre, membranous thing, now bulging from its writhing catch, tightens and begins to rise though not before a dozen or so determined cod manage to wiggle their way through through a small circular opening in its apex. Racing away in terror, none of them seem to notice she was there save one, who's tail twitches uncontrollably as though dancing to the discordant rhythme of misfiring nerves.
"DANGER! AWAY!" its thoughts cry out in an unreasoning, terrified voice before hurriedly cutting off after the rest of the fortunate liberated.
Shaken and afraid, she considers abandoning this foolish game. Perhaps it was no coincidence that she had come within bare inches of being ensnared by that fish snatching atrocity just moments ago. As always, she had been careful, but who knew what incomprable methods of human sorcery she was meddling against? They could very well know she was spying and at this very moment be poised and ready to unleash the monster once again. Could her luck hold out a second time? She didn't think so. But fascination's lure had pierced her all the way through and she was too obsessed, too enthralled, and too stygmatized to attemp to pull it out now. Wary of staying in the same area any longer she glides a ways across to the other end of Lyndsay before ascending from the depths to resume her extraordinary observations.
A different group of men are at work on that side. One of them, an older one judging by the rumpled indentations of his skin and the tired, deliberate way in which he places his steps, struggles to re-position a set of cumbersome looking equipment and calls out for help. "David! Lend me a hand her will ya son!?" Appearing beside him a moment later is a much younger man who quickly relieves his beleaguered looking crewmate of his burden, casually hoisting the gear onto broad shoulders that appear as though they had been chiseled from granite. "Careful Grady, were a long ways from the nearest emergency room and I promised Charlotte I'd have you home in time to help her re-tile the kitchen didn't I?" The elder seaman grunts, eyeing the veral deckhand with grudging appreciation. "Good boy. Now Howz' about more muscle and less lip Hercules, eh?" David laughs and begins to say something which is immediately drowned out in a rising cacophony of rain drops barreling down from the sky like a million liquid kamakazis and the whap whap whap sound of Lyndsay as she leaps and crashes. The rain is soaking through the conceilatory orange hood masking his profile and he slides it off and she is convinced that the sea holds no comparison to the crystal blue hue of his eyes as he gazes out to the edge of the world and lets his long dark hair be tossed about by the invasive rush of rain chilled wind.
"David..." she speaks softly from the rippling undulations below. It is the first word she has spoken aloud in human custom and she smiles for having discovered a voice she hardly knew existed. Her reverie is short lived however as an almost unearthly rumbling from an endless suceession of pitch black thunderheads lining the skies above imposes itself on the moment. Minutes pass and activity aboard Lyndsay slows to a crawl as the men stop to survey the ever darknening skies. Their fingers twitch nervously and their faces read like a shared unspoken prayer for mother nature to be generous to them. But like a depraved animal that knows no kindness, only the lurid satisfaction of the kill, the squall intensifies.
She looks on worriedly at the men in craft as their earlier zeal and lusty fortitude begins to erode under the chaotic force of the downpour. A stubby, hard looking man emerges from within the vessel and begins to shout orders to the agitated crewmen as bodies rush to and fro wildly with none of the steady cadence and rhythme of before. Then, it is as if the very essence of nature's might itself, distilled into a vibrant bolt of blue fire tears open the skies and discovers a viable target upon which to excise all its unbound ferocity.
Terrified she ducks underwater wondering if the storm isn't divine retribution against her treasonous and incendiary behavior in daring to venture to the surface. Her thoughts are interrupted by a sharp osillation of water at her back and she looks to see a school of mackeral brush past her, their usual drowsy colllectedness now abondoned in the face of the sound and fury above as they push, nudge, and jostle to be formost among the group. DANGER, DANGER, DANGER, AWAY, AWAY, AWAY, there thoughts scream out to her, piercing in their urgency. She looks at them, then at surface above. Not blue but black now. What had that streak of light done to Lyndsay and the men? To David? It does not matter. She is terrified and wants nothing more than to give in to the fishes frantic flight mode and race off with them into the safe familiarity of the deep, discarding this day as a half remembered dream only there to laugh and feel silly over later on. But there is another feeling inside her that is stronger than the fear. A feeling potent enough to challange even the terrible blue fire she witnessed pour out of the sky. And as she musters her courage and swims back up, she cannot help but wonder if it is a human feeling that compels her to do so. An earie light filters over the water as she tilts back to surface. It is blood orange like the setting sun and accompanied by something else, dark and foul looking. The cloud of smoke assails her senses the moment she draws her first breath and she coughs uncontrollably, swiveling in the water before at last regaining sight of the ship. Lyndsay is on fire.
Like a green young soldier ordered to man the front lines on the day the bloodshed is at its grisliest, she looks on with mounting horror at the varying reactions of the men on inside. Some, shaken with panic, take a flying leap from the deck where they flail ungracefully in the turbulent waters beneath while those posessing of firmer character aggressively douse the assailing walls of flame with hefty pales drawn to the tip again and again. But the effort is having no visible effect. The fire only becomes angrier at the men's attempt to squelch it and seems to grow hotter and even more deadly. David is at the forefront of the attempt, his handsome face tarnished by smoke as he slings heavy balefuls of water upon the oscillating crimson tongues with a steely resolution that seems to energize the other men. Eyes stinging with sweat and tears they chuck and heave, drowning out the ardent cries of protest from aching muscles exhausted from a long day’s work. Like a group of warrior tribesmen grappling with a predator they fight on half mad with courage when suddenly the ship itself appears to moan in agony as a series of sickening snaps tear her open from within and they are at once struck with the grim understanding that their struggle has been for naught. A rabid malignance, the fire has seeped into the very bones of Lindsay herself and with bitter acknowledgement that their combined will could not overcome nature at its fiercest, the crewmen make like bandits for the ship's sole life boat as more ruptures in the hull appear and pieces of the old girl begin to collapse around them, red wreathed and smoking. Retreating down a side latter the men retract the cables holding the modest vessel aloft and rapidly pile in, plunging their hands into the frigid waters to help those foremost to abandon the ship drag themselves aboard before someone jerks the outboard motor to life with an unceremonious tug and they finally feel themselves being carried away. Some, overwhealmed from the ordeal go so far as to use their hands and arms to try and hasten the escape.
Upon having gained a safe distance the men conduct a silent head count. One short. "Oh God...Grady" David whispers with mounting horror. He rises to his feet amidst a throng of incredulous, disbelieving glances.
"DAVID NO! GRAB HIM YOU ASSHOLES!" Screams the skipper but it is to late, and before the others can so much as raise a hand to thwart their foolhardy compatriote David is already cutting through the water with marked determination back toward what can now only be described as a floating microcosm of hell itself.
Terrified, they cry out words of petition. That Grady had known the risks. That he was certainly already dead. That David was only sealing his death warrant as well.
David hears all of these things but listens to none of them as his fingers finally brush against the hull of the ship before a ill timed blast of sea water sends him coughing out loud. Gritting his teeth he reaches for the thin metal ladder bolted to Lindsay’s portside. The sizzling sensation of hot metal on flesh makes his hands sing out in pain as he hoists himself unto the battered, smoldering ruin of the deck. Like stepping into a furnace the heat is now nearly unbearable and whatever former dependence he held in the seemingly indestructible armaments of youth is quickly stripped away as wave upon wave of scorching agony blasts him from all sides. "GRADE!" he cries out hoarsely between great, hacking coughs as noxious gouts of acrid smoke reder him dizzy and unbalanced. He brings his foot down on a weak spot in the deck and a stabbing pain shoots through his ankle as a section of the it collapses beneath his weight. Pivoting wildly to the side, he scrambles to free his leg from the treacherous aperture in the floorboards. Using both hands to ease it out, he hunkers to one knee, gently caresses his throbbing ankle and noticing, through a dense haze of tears and exhaustion, the red rivulets of blood filling up the long, winding gash that stretches the length of his pantleg.
Undaunted, he again throws his voice into the charred oblivion of the once robust and seaworthy veseel.
"GRADE!" Nothing, save for the subversive crackling of ongoing incineration.
He barely hears it. A whimper coming from somewhere within the smoke and ash.
Wincing, David pushes himself upright by the strength of his uninjured leg and limps in the direction from which the voice originated. The smoke has laid a black shroud over everything and he extends his hands out before him like a sleep walking caricature to navigate his way through the blackness. Twenty paces or so later and his foot happens upon something yielding and, in spite of his throbbing ankle he manages a smile as a voice yelps out in mixed surprise and indignation.
"What’re you trying to help me or do me in!?" David looks down to the sight of his old friend pinned to the deck with a collapsed metal girder pushing down unto his chest and ribcage. Kneeling beside his fallen crewmate, David hooks his hands beneath the fallen girder and pulls upward like a weightlifter performing a curl while Grady, appearing as though he has aged another twenty years during his entrapment aboard the burning ship, lends what meager strength he has remaining to push up against the metal girder that has rendered him immobilized. For three agonizing minutes the struggle stretches on and the two men manage five or six inches on the girder before their arms go limp in supplication and a volley of explosive gasps ensue.
"David, listen to me... " Grady manages over the incessent cacophony of burning wood and alabastar, but David refusing to do so, shakes his head doggedly before his shoulder is grasped tightly by a hand calloused from hurling many nets. "Dammit kid you need to get clear of here now! The fuel tanks are going to blow any second! Just what the hell were you thinking coming back here anyway!? Sighing in fear and pain, Grady looks up and into the face of the scrawny young boy he had reluctantly allowed to join his crew at the almost unheard of age of thirteen. Back when the aches and pains that were now becoming harder and harder to endure were little more than a mild annoyance, easily ignored and he could cast a net and reel in a catch with the best of them. Better than the best of them. As was the precedent for any Captain worth his salt. If it had not been for the desperate appeals of the little prince's mother, for that was what he and his crew had dubbed him, not unflatteringly, during his first few years aboard due to his fine dark hair and deceptively delicate appearance, she was a widow trying her damndest to raise him and four girls on a waitresses salary with little success, he had known her, a lifetime ago, watched her come of age in the very town he had apprenticed on his first boat all knees and elbows and as green as they come. Even years later, after the ravages of heartache and loss she was still the most beautiful thing he had ever laid eyes on. How could he ever refuse her anything? Slowly, his grip loosens and his voice comes softer. David...it's okay...really... I'm okay..just go..please...
Gasping for breath, David covers Grady’s hand with his own and a second later, thrusts it away disgustedly.
"The hell with you! I’m Hercules remember! Now quit acting like some decrepit bagger at the A&P! You’re a Goddamn fisherman now you push that freakin' thing for all your worth you crone!
"Little shit" Grady rasps, "and here I was just starting to get a tan." With that his face contorts into a grimace of effort as once again he pushes up against two hundred plus pounds of solid metal. David, likewise redoubling his efforts, looks as though fire is about to burst from his veins and they protrude like thin exclamation marks beneath the tensed skin of his arms and neck.
Slowly, tortuously, the beam rises up from Grady's chest and at last with a stoic cry, David thrusts it forward were it smacks the deck with a deafening wham. Exhausted, he helps the older man to his feet, wrapping his arm around his shoulder for support in spite of his mangled ankle.
"We survive, first rounds on me." Grady says, smiling wanly, his wrinked skin caked heavily in soot.
"Alwayst thought a brush with death would be the least it would take for you to loosen that wallet old skin flint," replies David as the two commence in an urgent, ungraceful shuffle toward the nearest edge of the boat. Flaming debris spits out at them from the curtain of smoke stifling their vision and David grips his mentor closer before extending his arm in a sideways v to deflect it away. Stumbling a little ways ahead, David's waist finally collides with the hot metal rail running along the ship’s siding and he cries aloud in mixed pain and elation. Breathlessly he turns to the older man at his side realizing, upon observing Grady's drooping head and vacant expression, that his friend is nearly running on empty. A few more minutes of breathing in all this carbon dioxide and he would be no worse for ware as well.
"Don’t you dare give up on me now old timer" he rasps through lips more stained black with ash and grunting in exertion, heaves him into a fireman’s carry before committing him to the water‘s below. The sudden immersion seems to send a jolt of awareness back into the older man's senses. Shock mingles with relief as he breaks the surface and gazes up at the ship that just a short time before, he was convinced would be his funeral pyre. He looks up and sees David on the rails, poised to join him, and he motions frantically for him to jump.
Meanwhile, a stone's throw to the distance, the crew of the fish and shrimping boat once known as Lindsay look on in stunned silence as two ghosts emerge from the standing sheets of flame, for not more than ghosts could have survived such an unholy inferno. But when they observe the soutestained silhouette of David struggling to lift Grady over the bow reality sinks in and they know the sea is not playing tricks on their senses. "C‘MON!" one screams. They had not gotten but a few feet when suddenly there is a thunderous sound and the crimson wreck which had not long ago resembled a seaworthy vessel is swallowed in a hellish ball of fire. "Christ! The fuel tanks!" one of them cries out as the blinding glare generated from the blast forces them to duck their heads as they begin to feel specks of debris rain upon them. A moment passes and they lift their heads, reluctant to see but powerless to do otherwise.
He is a lamb. The ocean, an alter. "I have a name, what is it?" the young man wonders as consciousness fades in and out like like a black and white silent film with damaged, missing frames. Careening wildly his lungs scream for air and he opens his mouth though nary a hint of oxygen can be found. With a defiant cry, weak hands reach and writhe in desperation for the water's surface seemingly miles away before at last succombing to their cruel captor's icy embrace. Murky green dissipates into a swirling tableu of black and red and with the seeming departure of reality comes the certainty that the threshold of the living has been left behind. For why else would he feel the sensation of hands clutching him tight? Of long hair brushing against his skin? Of an unmistakeably feminine figure pressed closely against him? With sudden intensity the taste of lips hits his mouth like an electrical charge and a surreal sense of awareness washes over him as breath is forced back into his starving lungs in long sensuous bursts. Slowly, the veil of incoherence liftes and he realizes he is moving at incredible speed, no longer a captive of the sea but gliding effortlessly through it like a hawk cutting deftly through the wind. And she is beside him the entire time, holding him close, never letting go, a phantom lover.
Minutes pass. Or are they hours? Time assumes a lucidity that blurs and contorts perception like a winding corridor of deceptive trick mirrors. Faintly he hears a voice, drifting evocatively from somewhere unseen, infiltrating his senses, sweet, soothing, beautiful. A tonic equally healing and debilitating. He moves his arms and legs and feels the course, yielding texture of the sand bank upon which he rests. His eyeslids flutter open and she is there and she is singing to him. Singing in a tongue he has never heard before. Singing though not a word leaves her lips. Her face is like nothing he has ever seen before and he struggles for a clearer picture though his vision is obscured with the sting of sea salt and the muddying veil of lingering delirium. Vaguely he senses a hand gently caressing his face and wonders at the membranous folds of skin resting between the narrow, sinuous fingers. It does not matter though. Nothing matters but that she keep singing to him. That the moment be wrung dry and the dream last for as long as possible. He smiles and reaches up to take her when suddenly a distant chorus of men's voices intermingles with hers and before he even realizes she is gone they are upon him. Genuflecting in the sand they shower him in a loud chorus of hurrahs before helping him to his feet as two crew members rush to support him on either side, taking the pressure off of his hurt ankle. His back is covered in first degree burns and he flinches in sudden pain and discomfirt as a large overcoat is wrapped around him in place of his tattered shirt.
"Gave us one hell of a scare kid...A damn brave thing...Can't believe your still here..." their commendations, though well meaning assail his mind like falling glass and he twists around desperately searching for some trace of the one who saved him though none at all can be found.
Amidst the swarm of his coharts David hears a familiar, weatherworn voice call out to him and suddenly Grady is in his arms and crushing him in a fierce hug as though the younger man might choose to depart from the living at any second.
"Damn it kid don't you ever do something that stupid again okay!? You hear me!?" Grady manages, trying, with little success, to choke back tears of happiness and relief.
"To hell with you old man" David replies with a dry smile," hugging him back though his eyes continue to comb the beach and the ocean beyond, longingly, relentlessly. The Skipper is among them and though the hard looking man is likewise belated to find the youngest member of his crew alive following his harrowing ordeal, he cannot help but regard him with a suspicious look bordering on outright fear.
"how on God's earth's did you manage to swim back inland in the state you were in? We were nearly fifteen miles out at sea?
Hesitantly, David regards the skipper, completely lost on what to say. Completely lost on a lot of things. "When you first caught sight of me on the beach, was I alone?"
"You mean you didn't..you didn't see her too."
"No, but had I spent the last few hours drinking sea water maybe I would have. Who are you are you talking about son? Who is "her?"
Grady along with the rest of the lot gaze at David expectantly, waiting on pins and needles for the next words that would leave the young man's mouth. However, David cannot meet their eyes and instead looks to the sea for answers though the immense sleeping giant before him is a closed book, mysterious and unknowable. He aches with a desire to tell them everything that happened. To profess the truth of what had only ever existed in folklore and bedtime stories. The song of his mysterious rescuer still echoed in his head, begging to be shared with the world. Was it enough to bear silent witness to the extraordinary? Could he learn to keep this treasured in his heart for the rest of his days?
Quietly, he looks back at them, the ghost of a smile touching his lips.