http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2011/12/02/flash-fiction-challenge-an-affliction-of-alliteration/ <Check out Chuck’s site for the conditions for this challenge. If I told you up front, I might give the story away. 992 words. I haven’t posted in awhile and felt nervous about posting this one. But did anyway.
Sinker, Sailor, Soldier… Louise Sorensen December 2, 2011
The trawler Banshee pulled a drowned man up in its nets. Seaweed clung to his neck in a stranglehold; his skin, where it wasn’t covered by sodden fatigues, was swollen and pale. He had only one sock on, as though he had rushed to make his appointment with the sea. Sailors freed the body and it crashed to the deck. They jumped back when it gasped for air, and crossed themselves when it groaned.
The Captain himself rolled the body over gently and found a wallet in the back pocket.
“William Blake,” he read out, ”soldier.”
“Johnny, you and Smith,” the captain pointed at two deckhands, “take him to the galley. The rest of you… get back to work.”
They had trouble lifting him; he kept slipping out of their hands. Finally they got a good grip and carried him below.
“Why didn’t we throw him back in?” the first mate inquired.
“Maybe someone will pay for his safe return,” the captain smiled.
Johnny and Smith laid the man down carefully on the galley floor. The cook glared at them.
“Sorry, Lloyd. Captain’s orders,“ Johnny said. The cook retreated to the far corner of his territory to continue dinner preparations, chopping vegetables with a sharp cleaver and excessive force.
Johnny put a tarp down on the floor, followed by a wool blanket, then a clean sheet. He and Smith placed the man gently on the makeshift bed. Smith left, but Johnny stayed to strip William Blake out of his sea wracked clothes, cover him with a sheet and offer him a drink of cold water. Blake reminded Johnny of his brother.
“Thanks,” Blake said. His nose wrinkled at the smell of charred meat and stale vegetables in the cramped dark corner.
“How you come to be so far out to sea with no boat?” Johnny said, and leaned close to hear Blake over the cook’s attack on supper and the pounding of the ship’s engines.
“Where you headed?
“I don’t know,” Blake said. “I was deployed with my platoon… to a marine research facility… an emergency… escaped creatures…monstrosities… like nothing you‘ve ever seen… one of them spit acid in my eyes… couldn’t see… shots going off all over the place… I fell into the water… the current pulled me out. I stayed afloat for ..hours?… days? I don’t know. Got picked up by fishermen. Put me to bed. Just like you. Next thing I know I’m in the water again. My eyes were better, but I’m swimming with the fishes. Thought I was dead. Then you pull me up with your nets, and here I am.”
“Hunh,” grunted Johnny. “I’ve heard some crazy things … but that one takes the cake. When’s the last time you ate, Blake?”
“Can’t remember. But I’d really appreciate some fish, if you had any.”
Johnny sauntered over to the old refrigerator, opened the door and peered in.
“We got tuna. The captain’s partial to it. Calls it brain food. I’m not much of a cook,” he cast a glance over at the cook, who was still sulking. “I could fry a little up for you.” Johnny cut a small hunk of tuna off the chunk in the fridge, then sneaked it onto a cutting board so the cook couldn’t see. Tuna was worth its weight in gold and the captain would probably cut him up for bait if he found out Johnny was feeding even a sliver of his private stash to Blake.
“Just slice it … I want it raw.” Blake closed his eyes and laid back.
He sliced the red meat fine and fed it to Blake, dropping it into his open mouth one piece at a time. Blake’s teeth snapped at each morsel, and Johnny watched his fingers.
Pulling the sheet back from Blake’s chest, he said, “You’re covered in slime, bro.” He went to the sink, wet a washcloth and knelt down by Blake’s side to scrub it off.
“Sorry.” Johnny pulled the sheets down lower. Blake’s legs were held tight together and encased in slime. He ran his fingers through it and wiped his hand on his pants.
“What?” Blake looked at him, fear in his eyes.
“I dunno, bro. It’s this weird slime.” He gave Blake a sorrowful look, patted him on the shoulder and covered him up again. “Don’t worry about it. You’re alive.” He shook his head. “It could be worse. You’ll be better after some rest.”
“I‘m so tired.“ Blake said, looking up at Johnny. “Thanks.” Lulled by the motion of the trawler as it plowed through the waves, Blake closed his eyes and went to sleep.
Johnny checked on Blake again at dawn, the end of his shift, and gave him more water and sliced tuna. He pulled the sheet down and looked at Blake’s chest. Still covered in slime, the skin up to his neck was a dark sea blue. His arms were held rigid by his sides.
“I’m so hot,“ Blake murmured. Johnny felt his forehead; it was cold and wet.
Blake looked up at him. “Water?”
Johnny held the water bowl to his lips and Blake drank like he was dying of thirst.
“More,” Blake demanded. “I’m burning up. Pour it over me.” He sighed with relief as the cold stream hit him.
“I gotta go,” Johnny said. “I’ll be back later to check on you.”
Blake nodded his thanks.
The sea was high that day; waves crashed over the deck and threatened to swamp the small ship. Johnny didn’t get back to Blake until midnight. Lloyd the cook was standing over Blake’s bed with the big cleaver in his hand. Johnny looked down. Blake was gone. In his place a six foot long blue fin tuna lay gasping for breath. Johnny felt a flush of heat and wiped his clammy hands on his pants.