Dead bait 2, p.1
Dead Bait 2, page 1
By J Gilliam Martin
Myself, I have set foot in the ocean but a handful of times. I have submerged myself in over-head depth only once. It was a snorkeling trip around a reef off the coast of the Bahamas. My fascination of the sea and fair share of rum and punch fueled my courage enough to ignore the long list of fears I brought with me aboard that boat.
I was more than happy to explore once in the water, comforted by my inebriation and the swarm of other people also participating. I remained close to the surface, keeping the air within reach during most of my dive. When I learned of the possibility of an octopus hiding under a crevice below, I submerged a couple of times to investigate, having always wanted to see one of these creatures up close. Though I had become more relaxed in the environment since talk of the trip that morning, I still couldn’t help feeling like a sitting duck.
The reef was beautiful and well lit. The water was a crystal clear blue, and my visits to the surface were becoming less frequent. However, every time I considered my surroundings and looked about, I could not see more than six feet off in the distance. My heart rate would quicken whenever I looked anywhere away but the reef itself, which was not on the coast at all, mind you, but sort of an underwater island in what I remember being at least a half-mile from land. In any kind of emergency I had one option: get to the boat. Around the time I had nearly left all my fears behind and lost track of the boat's location, I spotted a considerably large silhouette in my peripheral. I gasped a few bubbles and stilled myself as best I could, then stared in its direction.
If you have ever seen a barracuda face to face, you know that they are ugly as all hell and heavily armed with teeth. One of these visual abominations had taken an interest in me on my dive. He stayed there, just barely visible in the water’s fog, and he was watching me.
When you spot a wild animal on land, you either observe it, or you shoot it. We are fascinated by the sight of them. People go to zoos to just to look at the various species, and in nature they will stare in wonder as a creature runs by on its normal routine. In the woods, the animals are scared of us and they will most often run away.
This was not the case with this fish. He was watching me, and I was suffering fear.
I swam around the reef to put a gap between us and get bearings on the boat. My swimming speed and skill was enhanced by the moment of panic that this aquatic, living chainsaw might be on my tail. I harbored no knowledge of these particular fish. I had never seen one or even bothered to read about one, and had no idea whether or not a barracuda had a history of attacking people, I just assumed so. With the general fear I brought to the table, he might as well have been a giant, genetically engineered, prehistoric zombie-shark, ready to take my fate into his mouth.
Sure enough around the other side of the reef, that same six feet away, he had followed. His little black eyes were still fixed on me, just beyond the point where my vision was blurred by the murk of the water.
I noticed that in my attempt to evade its gaze, I had swam to an area of the reef everyone else had finished exploring, and was all alone. Alone, but with this goddamn monster, who surely would come for a taste of my flesh at any moment.
I charged him, yelling underwater. My fear had taken control of my body and used its natural human-defense (a pathetic and useless one, proven so throughout time) of screaming obscenities and shaking fists.
The barracuda was not bothered, he didn’t even move.
Fuck that. I fled as fast as those flippers would take me to the nearest group of swimmers and reported my would-be murderer, but no one was interested. They laughed at me, if anything. After my complaining and show of paranoia during the boat ride out to our diving spot, I could have been yelling, “Shark!”, and everyone would have shook their heads at me in pity.
Maybe they were right. It was just a fish, after all, probably not quite my size and based on my father's teachings in my youth, probably just as interested and/or scared of me as I was of him.
Then I am approached by my youngest brother, one of the most fearless beings I have ever met. He was all amped up, breathing heavy and talking fast. I don't get to mention my tormenter before he tells me he has been swimming through the reef rather than around it. Finding holes and tunnels just big enough for his tiny frame, he was seeing parts of this area I would never imagine.
He goes on, talking of one of his tunnels with the water level uneven, and sometimes air would go through it. Drunk with adrenaline, he explains to me how I could catch it just right and a wave would carry you through the hole, and it is amazing. But his story ends for me when he explains that his last time through he caught the wave wrong and it lifted him too soon. He smashed up his back and thought for a minute he might not make it to the other end, but was hear panting from the thrill of survival to tell me all about it.
At this moment the only thing I could think of was his back.
I spun him around in the water to see a large scrape from his shoulder-blade down to the crack of his ass, seeping blood into the water behind him.
He was bleeding into the fucking ocean.
This was the end of the snorkeling adventure for me. I promptly swam back to the boat, climbed aboard and equipped myself with rum, never so glad to have a solid surface beneath my feet and a cold drink in my hand.
And as I stood there on the back of the boat as everyone still swam around the reef, including my baited brother, I swear a barracuda was circling the boat.
My thing with water, particularly the sea, is that you don’t know what’s down there. It’s not really any different than being afraid of the dark, though it seems far more reasonable to me. There is much more water than land on this planet, and we are still exploring it. They find new or evolved species regularly.
I think there is a good amount of helplessness involved in aquaphobia as well. Our bodies were not made for traversing waters. We have no gills, webbing, or fins to assist us. Swallow too much water and you fail to float.
Imagine yourself treading water in the middle of the ocean. Look below you. You cannot see a thing, not even your own hands. Now imagine how many things can see you.
No matter the body of water, you can only see so far. This book should give you a few more things to be concerned with. Concerned that just below your visibility, in the murk or depths of the water, lies something to which you are an intruder, and in the worlds of Dead Bait, that makes you a target.
Captain Fontaine and the Man Eater
Captain Fontaine possessed a certain rudimentary madness not commonly found in thirty-five year old men. His affliction was the sort usually reserved for middle-aged women who may suddenly find themselves amid a dreary marriage that has born shockingly ugly children, dwelling in a frostbitten state with fickle, nearly violent weather, and working at a fancy law office for a finely dressed man on the cusp of old age with bad taste in shoes and good taste in wine. At this particular law office, the woman could compare the dark mahogany desks and satin chairs with her drab plaid couch and particle board entertainment center, perhaps imbibing herself with a greater madness and resolve to smother those ugly children with love, let their lives become her own, and live until expiration under the thumb of an extreme infatuation with the monotonous persistence of her nuclear family.
Unfortunately for Fontaine, this was exactly the situation in which his wife found herself after five years of cold dinners and waiting with their whining brood for him to return to shore. However, unlike her husband, she possessed the cool calculation of a Bengal tiger waiting in a bam
No, it was her luck that all that particular madness resided in Fontaine and so when she departed quickly, leaving a scattered wake of bibs and pacifiers and frilly lingerie in the driveway, he remained.
His scant hair flitted in the breeze off the ocean, the only mistress he had ever known. At the end of the driveway he stopped following her, put his pathetic, melodramatic hand down which had been reaching forward as if to hold on. His madness took over and denied him the ability to believe she did not want to live there with him anymore and if he were to step across the cracks in the pavement that led into the road he was sure the world would crumble.
Her name had been Galadriel and she was pretty, but not beautiful, a washed-out blonde who froze in the winter like crystallized straw and burnt salmon-pink in the short summer months. They’d first met at a dance on the common in Onset Beach when they were seventeen. Fontaine told her that her name sounded like a mermaid’s as he felt her breath on his neck beneath the gazebo, slow dancing two feet apart.
But that had been almost twenty years ago, long before her hatred for him and their life and his knowledge that her name had, in fact, been lifted from a character in Lord of the Rings.
Now, instead of stolen gazebo kisses they had children. Pale, membranous creatures of varying ages spaced evenly apart by a year or so, none of them past the age of four. They burbled and cooed silly nonsense words at him, the oldest crying for mama. Not so unlike the strange fish he pulled from the ocean, gasping greedily at the air and pulling nothing but hot, vacant breaths that slowly killed them, the children became the last bastion of real, confirmed love between Fontaine and his wife. He hugged and cuddled them, smiled over them, fed them impromptu bachelor meals like hot dog stew and mashed up cheeseburgers. Finally his mother arrived at the house. She stood in the doorway looking fearfully at the monsters on the couch, lined up like bowling pins.
“I’ll watch them as long as you two need to sort things out,” his mother offered with just a hint of hesitation, knowing there’d be no sorting out. They packed them, wrapped them in coats and scarves like tuna steaks in wax paper. The four of them, grandmother and grandchildren, trundled north toward Avon and posh suburbs where class could offer them advantages no matter how freakish they may be.
The white house with the square hedges on Apple Blossom Road slowly fell away. Dishes crawled out of the sink and slunk across the countertop until it was impossible to add any more, and a thick skin of crumbs and dried sauces covered them. It seemed a giant, decaying animal with a porcelain skeleton had lay down and died beneath the faucet. Fontaine’s bed, forever rumpled, mattress skewed half off the box spring, became a vortex of discolored undershirts and stained pajamas and paint-spattered jeans and later, Chinese take-out and pizza boxes and newspaper classifieds. In the bathroom, the medicine cabinet mirror cracked from the molding, stuffed with pictures of the hideous children and Galadriel, all in which she looked bored and the children looked hungry. Cigarette burns no one would ever care about pocked the surface of the vanity, the rugs, the countertops, like craters in the moon.
And yet, despite the foul detritus accumulated by the sorrow of one man, the house maintained the scent of emptiness, the barren, musty, lack of smell a place possesses when its soul has been stripped.
The home, however, no matter how great a nexus of self-pity it became, was not a clear representation of how Fontaine had soldiered on with his life. To the contrary, he rose heartily like a sodden phoenix every morning at four, out of the garbage pit he slept in, over the scattered socks and underpants in the stairwell, and made himself two English muffins for breakfast and packed a turkey sandwich on rye bread for lunch, which he usually fed to the gulls. When he left for work he left the door unlocked, should Galadriel return.
That silent insanity, the particular madness, had made itself known to Fontaine. He wondered at it daily as he readied the chum on board, grinding junk fish into a soupy puree of guts and meat broth and stirring it evenly with a steel scoop. He was not alone very often. Divorce forced him to work non-stop, so he spent great lengths of time on the bleak ocean with strangers. They were laughing, happy strangers, lots of fathers and sons (his own father had drowned when Fontaine was two, leaving him with memories of half-finished cigarettes and the sound of the lawn mower running, but nothing of the man himself), sometimes moms too, with little daughters in pigtails that made faces at the smell of the fish, and the rare grandmother or aunt who mostly refused to venture down from the air conditioned cockpit. But mostly he kept company with men, bachelor parties and graduation parties and the like, making his madness all the more evident. Domestic longing pitter-pattered within what should have been stone-cold fisherman’s blood pumped from some titanic crack in the floor of his abysmal heart.
In reality, Fontaine was no real fisherman. He was a showman, a charter captain, sure. But for him the ocean was a wet, colorless world, bright and harsh or flat and dull, but a thing that resisted personification, as so many people loved to grant it. The ocean was an alien world, an atmosphere. For Fontaine there was nothing human about the ocean at all, only cold depth and mystery, both of which had become so real for him they held little fascination.
Captain Fontaine was wiry and hard, like a spring uncoiled and straightened. His tanned, leathery skin was the color and texture of expensive luggage. A sparse beard clung to his face as if the wind had for years been trying to pry it away and had mostly succeeded. Once blue, his eyes were now faded silver from the constant sun. They never fixed directly on an object, but rather digested everything together in a panorama, the way he’d digest a distant horizon.
Returning home from those horizons, having torn his turkey sandwich to shreds and tossed it to the gulls, he’d be hungry. Then he took his dinner at Hooters.
The restaurant was hardly distinguishable from its exterior, situated in an old white colonial two blocks off the main drag. The building had been a sailors’ tavern that failed as the little shops that sold pink flip-flops and beach balls sprung up. The only thing that betrayed the building’s nature was its sign, hung high toward the peak of the roof, small and square in accordance with Cape Cod’s infamous zoning ordinances that restrict every Dunkin Donuts and CVS and any other establishment in town to four-by-four rectangular signage in order to maintain the suitable level of quaintness. Fontaine wondered if quaintness ceased to be quaint when it had to be forced.
On dreary March evenings, just before the work season started, Fontaine ambled along Main Street, mind blank, and entered beneath the gaudy orange sign. The glowing owl with breast-shaped eyes stared away at the horizon, like him.
There, Fontaine subsided entirely on Buffalo wings or bacon cheeseburgers with jalapeno cheese, reveling in the fact that the cows and chickens had once lived on solid ground, ingesting the kinetic relationship their feet had had with planet earth. Seafood had lost its appeal to him long ago, as a child, when he’d learnt the strangeness of the ocean and the dark, inhuman wrath of its moods and denizens. Its creatures were not for eating. They were spiny, shining mouths and eyes and lips, sums of parts without consciousness or souls. Once when he was seven, on the same beach where he met Galadriel, a boy named Tony Barrett plucked a horseshoe crab from the water and dangled it by the tail in front of Fontaine’s nose, all shell and legs and motion.
“Why ain’t you screamin’?” the older boy demanded.
“Gimme something to scream about,” young Fontaine replied, spindly and tan even then.
It was important to Fontaine to differentiate what he felt for the ocean from fear or hate. It was certainly not love, but it wasn’t those other things, either. Perhaps, deep down under the blanket of his madness, the emotion was a longing to be as cold and numb and distant as a Moray eel or a sea urchin, a kind of resentment of their detachment. Or it might have been a sad, ironic respect for creatures so instinctual they might later in life consume their own offspring and never know a thing about it.
Regulars at Hooters joked that spicy food kept the Captain alive, he worked so damn much. Others said it wasn’t the spicy food, but the swollen, dangling breasts of the waitresses swaying above round hips poured into bright orange daisy dukes.
But Fontaine harbored no desire for the girls. Many of his neighbors, wives of local politicians or seasonal spinsters who became permanent out of romanticism for the Cape’s quiet festivity long ago, called him a slimy deadbeat. Some even gossiped that his wife and children were at the bottom of the canal (no one knew the exact details of his wife’s absence, not even his mother knew the story in its entirety). Truth was that Fontaine went to Hooter’s for business.
A dependable tide of tourists roared through the restaurant each spring. Some were snotty Ivy League college kids, clad in torn corduroys and tight t-shirts, others just scummy lawyers in blue pinstripes. The occasional old-money blueblood straggled in for kicks every now and then sporting khaki shorts, a sweater around his neck and a charitable twinkle in his eye, as if he breathed dollar bills, which was never far from the truth.
These men were a catch more valuable than Fontaine could ever harvest in the ocean. Usually he’d buy them a beer, chat about Hyannis and ask if they’d checked out the British Beer Co. or Tim’s Books. To a lawyer he’d bemoan the sorry state of the judicial system or with the students, the sorry state of anything, and with the bluebloods, the big fish, how damn-spanking wonderful the world could be. Somehow by the end of the conversation someone was using his card as a coaster or, more often, writing one of the waitress’ numbers on the back. Next morning he’d be dehydrated and overbooked and spend the day calling parties and rearranging his schedule while drinking Gatorade and swallowing Aleve by the handful.
by Steve Alten / Science Fiction / Horror / Suspense have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes