From the Deep
First, there was a rush of salted cold that filled my head and poured down my throat to fill my body. At the same time, it was very quiet yet very loud; the screams and the singing and the sound of fire had stopped suddenly, replaced instantaneously by a gurgling, shushing whisper that sank into my ears.
Then, my head broke the surface and for an instant as I bobbed and flailed in the sea, I could make out the burning ship: the sails blooming orange, flames flashing from any open hatch. The idiot boy was still there beside the helm, crunching on his concertina. I could still see the stupid grin on his face, could still make out on the wind his song about the shipwreck that he'd been singing since we'd left port, the one that only had four words. It ran on the air over my head, along with the smoke and the stink of burning wood and tar and salt sea.
And then I was under again. My limbs grew heavy and numb; beside me, something big splashed and sank, nearly hitting me. I opened my eyes and saw it was one of the sailors, a crimson thread of blood draining from a slice in his head as he stopped sinking, turned face-up and began to float to the surface. Kuerten, his name had been. We passed each other in the cold darkness, lit only from above by the watery flames of the burning ship.
My shoulders felt like I was carrying a boulder on my back and my arms felt like iron rods. I couldn't lift them to swim, but I feebly kicked my legs, to keep my blood flowing, to perhaps reach the surface again. My head was numb and throbbing, my jaw hurt terribly. A linen shirt floated past, and I cursed myself for not shedding my now-sodden clothes the instant I had gone overboard.
But there had been no time for quick thinking. The magazine had blown, there had been no warning; or at least, none that anyone but an idiot would have understood. Now my lungs were on fire, desperate for air, and my brain, sodden and slow and afraid, almost opened my mouth to gasp. My nose and mouth had filled with sea when I plunged in; I felt the cold silent water seeping into me everywhere.
It was getting darker, darker, as I sank. I tried to arc my back so I could sink while looking up, because I knew I was not going to surface again; I wanted to see the fading bloom of the orange fire dwindle until it was engulfed in black water, as I was. I opened my eyes wide; it stung terribly. Something in my ear popped, then something in my head made a noise like a heavy curtain being drawn. I shut my eyes and felt the depth of the sea envelop me in chill embrace.
"that which the sea is given
the sea giveth up.
there shall be no hiding place
on the land, nor under the waves of the sea.
all is of the water,
the water is endless, there is no end to the water."
My eyes opened again. I felt weightless, almost disembodied. Like a wraith. I floated still, in water that felt like nothing against my skin; if I had not seen it all around me, I never would have known there was anything at all.
"and on that day,
the tombs of the earth shall yawn open
and the sea shall give up her dread fruits"
There was light in the water above me. Daylight, I thought. I found I could move swiftly through the water now, without even swimming, but rather like part of the current itself. It grew brighter and brighter the close I came, until I finally breached the surface. It was a clear, clean day. The sun was high and bright. I felt not its warmth, nor the wind that rilled the waves around me. I felt not hunger, nor exhaustion. I felt nothing.
I looked about. Everything except the sun itself was grey and sepia. I could make out, quite near, a small atoll or island. I moved toward it, again as a current. As I came closer, I saw figures on the beach: men in loincloths holding spears, watching me come. Something stirred in my chest.
The seabed gradually rose until I could walk upon it toward them. I rose up out of the sea and they stood staring, frozen, spears raised, silent. I kept coming. Something caught my eye, behind this group of warriors. A crumpled figure, bound in crude rope. A white boy. Not like one of these tan-skinned islanders.
The sea ran down me in cascades of torrent. I stopped and stood before them, then looked down at myself. My clothes were rags, shredded and nearly gone; great gashes and cuts gouged my arms, sides, legs. A large bite-mark and wound on my upper thigh startled me; I did not remember being bitten. The warriors stood and stared and muttered.
Suddenly, a wave pushed onto the beach a piece of detritus. I looked and saw it was a concertina. I bent to lift it; water poured from its bellows, but otherwise it was undamaged. I peered at it, peered at the bound boy. I smiled, I knew.
I squeezed the concertina, bringing the two ends together, unleashing a watery, wailing moan. The bound boy stirred at the sound. A fire kindled within me. The sound had barely died out before I was rushing headlong toward them, biting into them as I passed, tearing hunks of them with my fingers as I grabbed and them. The boy burst his bonds and was soon in the fray as well, gnashing and ripping and slashing with his teeth and hands.
Soon, it was he and I alone. Slathered in gore, he took up the concertina. I lay back and stared out to sea as he played that maddening song about the shipwreck, the one that only had four words.