It wasn’t for a lack of trying. I pushed. I fought. I wrote letters. I showed up. I begged. I did what I could. Yet, my desire for a fine arts degree fell apart. I worked for the pharmacist during the days when I wasn’t working over dad’s farm to save up for the impossible. The economy collapsed. Men were flinging themselves from windows on Wall Street. Dad lost his farm. We lost everything. My two younger siblings were placed with my aunt and uncle who ran a mercantile, something that couldn’t go under in the little town. It was the only place that we could trust they would be fed.
At the end of the mountains was the ocean, or so I was told. At the end of the mountains, we found desert. A short jog east, and we came to the oceans, the Gulf Coast. There, dad told my brother and me that he was out of options. He pointed us to a series of shrimpers and told us to find our own way. He walked away with mom and disappeared from our lives.
Talk about hard. The old man expected two farm boys to automatically find their sea legs. Let alone thought we would gain employment immediately on a boat. Who was buying shrimp at this point? No one, that’s who.
I ended up on a troller while Jarl took up keeping books for a number of the captains that docked at our port of call. Sounds simple, right? Wrong. So much wrong. I am an artist, not a boat person. Tell me the difference between a dinghy and a rudder one more time and I will stab something with a pencil. Jarl was more coordinated than I could ever hope to be. He was also smarter and figured out a way from having to set foot on one of those bobbing hurl monsters.
The ship I was working on had been out long enough to figure we had missed the shole. Turned back and half a day from port, and after the fourth time breakfast left my stomach for over the side of the deck, I was up for hooking the ropes and twisting them on massive spools while my shipmates removed the fish. The hold was only a fourth full of salt pack. We were running behind season, having caught the edge of a late storm. It dragged in cold currants, running our cash crop away. We were supposedly chasing them. I didn’t get it. All I knew was if I got the ropes up in a neat twist, I could expect dinner of some of the leftover catch that wouldn’t get put in the hold. There are some fish that are tasty but ugly as mud, and thus, not profitable. I had hoped to get paid for my work this month. Maybe I’d get lucky and have something to take home for dinner at least. With the hold so low, I wasn’t going to hold my breath hoping to see coin in my palm.
The day trudged. We had a few runs of good catch, putting our hold a little under half full before Captain called it quits and aimed us back for the docks. A dark storm was rolling back, causing the waves to go choppy beneath us. He had no desire to go into the deep or lose his one source of income. I understood that desire more clearly than some of the other deckhands who had worked with him all through the Crash.
Docked and tied off, I helped the crew unload our catch and transfer it to the warehouse. There, a line of factory girls would process them to either be salted and tinned or smoked. Some of the local restaurants would get shipments to sell to big wigs who had bought while all was burning to rubble around them.
I had a fish, and a storm was coming in. That was all I really cared about, though. I rolled with the steady land, waiting for the road to stop swaying. I had put together a camp shack along the cliff face that bordered the west side of the docks. Easy enough to get to work. Wasn’t odd for quite a lot of us to have shanty village setups in the town. I had perched mine on land owned by one of my shipmates, with his permission, so I could have a bit of privacy. I took on odd jobs around his property to barter my way out of having to pay rent. Made for pretty views in the morning. The tide meeting dawn, and the ships bobbing around the wood planking. Would be great if I could enjoy it one of these days. I tended to be loading myself onto the ship about the time the world turned beautiful and missed it. I couldn’t complain much, though. At least I found a job that sent me home with food if I couldn’t get paid.
The problem with my shelter was that it leaked heavily in the rain. With looming clouds hanging low in a dark grey sky, I expected to not feel dry for the next several days. I’d need to make a quick meal of the creature captain had given me if I wanted to have any meal at all.
The wind picked up the cold late autumn air and bustled it about the sands and sedges. Grit would add seasoning to the glass-eyed fish. That’s what I’d keep telling myself. Didn’t make it any more bearable. At least Jarl had found himself a room to rent in town. I sent him my monthly pay so that he would keep it stashed in a lockbox for me. My shack was nothing to write home about, wherever home was now. It wasn’t safe from looters. I kept the minimum in it that would get me by from leave to work. Some days my clothes would get up and walk off by themself, as the saying goes. I’d see my shirt on someone else’s back. I guess that’s one of the benefits of the storm and the damp. People didn’t ransack my stuff as often when everything had the disgusting texture of slime and the smell of mildew. Not like there wasn’t about two-thirds of the workers around the docks who didn’t smell like that all the time anyway.
I settled into my little shack. Lighting the paraffin stove, I got a slab of tin heating to cook. A pat of margarine would put a nice char on dinner. The roof rattled overhead as the winds picked up rock on the cliffside and pelleted my walls. The temperature plummeted and the humidity drifted in waves. This was no normal storm.
“Oye! Marin! Get your ass off the cliff face, mountain boy! This here’s a hurricane!” Stephan shouted over the howling wind as rain drops threatened to obliterate my shack.
“Stephan?” I called, ducking my head under the tarp that was my door.
“Get yourself to high ground somewhere safe! This is gonna be bad! I’m heading to the guys bunked down in the grove and make sure they find solid shelter!” He told me, his rain slicker wrapping around him such that it made it difficult to tell his true form.
“What’s a hurricane? Stephan!” I called back as the wind picked up and sheared the roof off my shack, pelting me with rock and rain. Terror. That’s what a hurricane was. I scuttled out of the door frame and slipped as the rock crumbled around me. A roar, different from that of the winds, rattled my bones. I couldn’t see anything in the whipping white and grey. The dirt beneath my fingers was turning liquid. “Stephan!” He had disappeared. The world fell away under me.
Coming to, I found myself half buried in mud and debris. My arm was sore and the driving rain threatened to drown me. Looking up through the wind and rain, my cliff side was gone. Gone all the way back. It had to reach clear to the other side and the grove Stephan let out to a pack of other transients. Stephan’s house would be gone.
I had fallen between what was the mudslide and a massive column of rock that had failed to collapse, protecting me from the storm edge. I dug myself out, my slicker caked in mud and punctured full of holes from rocks. A whaling scream caught my attention. Turning, I lost track of the sound. I thought it to be part of the winds, until it echoed out again once more. Battling the breath-stealing wind, I pushed toward the utterance. In the protected alcove of the rock and the mudslide, I found a thrashed wallow. Much of Stephan’s house had come down in it. A massive rounded caudal fin at least the length of a Holstein caught my attention. Coloured like that of a bull dolphin, it was nothing like I had seen pulled up in the troller nets. I scrambled around the creature to see the size of this fish on the other side of the collapsed house walls.
A pipe punctured out of it at the thin section past the tail. Hands. Webbed fingers and small sharp nails. I waited, trying to understand what I was seeing. The creature flailed, massive eyes meeting mine in the driving rain. Another crack of rock above us. I dived, protecting the part human part fish as rocks chipped from the cliff face and a new waterfall burst. The creature buffeted against me as I pulled my slicker over it and hauled most of its upper body onto my back and drug it from the devastation. To my relief, it held on, nails clutching into my shirt as I tried to find a grip behind me for the thing’s tail. I don’t know how heavy it was, but it had to be more than me. I was doing good to drag most of it away, the bulk of its tail following along after us. The scratch of the pipe against rock had me cringing.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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