April 17, 2009

The Sailor and the Sea Creature

The boat rocked in the middle of the endless sea, its sailor hunched, stoic, watching time drift by. Sat there for all those years, he had felt his youth slip away, his strength diminish, his humanity escape on the countless passing waves. But not his desire. That was all the company he had, all that kept him sane throughout the unbroken cycle of bitter, cold nights and pale, colourless mornings.
It was the desire for the kill that had dragged him away from his family and friends. Since the creation of his hometown, whispers had travelled from lips to ears, and from father to son through generations, of a creature named Chthonia. This creature inhabited the deepest depths of the ocean, surfacing once every century to unleash its chaos and misery.
It was such a time as this, when the sailor’s great-grandfather was a mere child, that the beast rose and, with teeth as sharp as the machete and eyes as black as thunderclouds, decimated their village, devouring its people and tools. Terrified, the villagers swiftly packed their remaining belongings. The shrewd piled in to the surviving boats, while the rest had their possessions strapped to their backs as they began the arduous swim to new lands, fear the black demon snapping at their sanity.
Eventually, a new settlement was established, and daily life, if uneasily, returned. But the murmurs persisted. The day would come when the creature discovered them, and inflicted its suffering once more. Rumour hardened into fact, as once again the bloated behemoth layed waste to their village, kicking everyone back in to the mired equality of poverty.
The people grew to resent their lives, the transient nature of their existence. Everything built was doomed to fall, and everything made was doomed to be discarded. A call was awakened for someone, anyone, to rid them of their curse. Many answered: deputations of skilled men, and selfless warriors, all who promised to be gone a month at the most; but none returned. And the dread swelled, until it was a beast itself, rampaging through the people’s hearts and pillaging all that was good.
The sailor had watched his three brothers depart on their mission, borne the agonising wait, and felt the crawling, inexorable depression that accompanied each passing day. And so he had decided to undertake the impossible, to venture in to the unknown and face Death’s soulless gaze. But not for vengeance. For immortality.

His brothers’ demise had forced the sailor to examine his own life, to evaluate its purpose and why it felt like the mud trapped under a wheel. He realised that he wasn’t afraid of death; his life had been too tumultuous for that phobia to fester: instead, he feared the vacuum his life would leave. He was without offspring, and his wife seemed unlikely to reproduce. When his brothers had died, although the mourning was sincere, it was brief, far too brief for a century and score of years.
It was then the desire reared itself: here was the chance to end the dread cycle, to make himself a hero, and a celebrated legend for years onwards. Statues would be carved from mahogany, and garlands worn in tribute. Lifetimes of commemoration, if he could make just one moment count.
An unnatural ripple glided across the water, tipping the boat in to a sway. The sailor leaned over, clutching his spear, his eyes sharp as an eagle’s. Below the surface, an amorphous shadow drifted, its size great enough to eclipse an island. It started to rise.
The sailor, aware of the danger, dropped his weapon for the oar, thrust it in to the water, and heaved with all his might. The boat went spinning to the side just as the great beast burst from the water, spewing forth a roaring tidal wave that missed the sailor’s ship by inches.
Disorientated, the sailor stared at the titanic aberration, groping for his spear, unable to tear his eyes away. It was a monstrous creature, blacker than burnt flesh, more powerful than a storm, devoid of emotion. It was the starless night, and the sailor was the struggling fire.
At last, frantic hand touched reassuring wood. The sailor pulled his arm back, and then… stopped. The creature was still. Placid. For a moment, the two warriors’ gaze locked, and the sailor stared in to the abyss. It was like a whirlpool, mesmeric and fatal. In, in, he went, deeper, the darkness coaxing his being from his mind and body. Deeper, deeper, faceless shadows morphing, flitting back and forth. Further, and then the shadows coalesced, gaining depth and substance, until he was able to identify the darkness: him.
Without thinking, he launched the spear. It flew through the air, and stabbed through the heart of the reflection. An almighty scream erupted from the demon’s throat, as thick blood ran down its face, like juice squeezed from ripe grapes. It thrashed, lashing out in every direction. Knowing his boat was no longer safe, the sailor jumped overboard, hid beneath the waves, and held his breath.
Time passed sluggishly. The sailor’s head began to pound with blood. He could hear nothing above, nor spy any sight of the towering monster. Careful, he swam to the surface.
His head broke through the sea’s endless scales. Gasping, he glanced round, turning as quickly as he could. The creature was nowhere. He was safe. He’d done it!
A plank of wood bobbed under his beaming smile. He looked at it, bemused. And then comprehension wasted away to terror. Slow, slower than a calf’s last breath, he twisted his head: his boat lay in ruins. It had been shattered beyond repair, the bits of driftwood floating away, the pieces of his life abandoning him. He had no way to get home. No way to tell his story. His family, his friends, his prospects, all gone.
All lost.

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