Hooking a Big One Off The Coast Of Destin

Everything I’m about to tell you is, more or less, what I told the police. Some of the details are a bit fuzzy, and I’ll admit to a few holes in my recollection where I was paying attention to the wrong thing at the right time. And, you know, every time I think about that day my memory twists a little – things that were probably normal seem a little less normal. Shadows in the water grow larger, stranger, and darker.

Anyways, what’s important is that it was June 15th.  We were about 19 miles out from shore – I don’t know if those are nautical miles or regular American miles, frankly, I don’t even know what a nautical mile is – on one of those white twenty-ish-foot boats with the blue stripes, a supersized model of the kind you see stacked in marinas like sodas in a vending machine. I had been in town for a week, down from Michigan for a conference on fungicide application on tart cherries, and figured some deep-sea fishing would shake the boredom off for a bit. I booked the cheapest charter around, and anyways, that’s how it got to be June 15th. Time passes regardless of cherry conferences.

So there were five of us on the boat, four tourists and Captain Lem. Captain Lem was one of those folks who thinks he has to act untrue to himself just to be passable at his job, and you could tell it from cheap souvenir-grade captain’s cap, the ratty coat, and his constant sucking at a pipe he couldn’t keep lit. The tourists weren’t much better, three of us guys in Florida-grade Hawaiian shirts and a woman with a white sunhat. I never really understood why, but sometimes it feels like folks need a uniform for relaxation.

Me and a fella named Carl hit it off right away, both being slightly pudgy and already quite drunk by the time we got to the fishing spot. He owns the third largest cattle ranch in Iowa. Nice guy, told him he should come by and see the cherry blocks next spring. They’re quite a sight when the blossom hits. He replied that I should “come see some of those dirty damn holsteins”. I’ve never met a man who hated cows as much as this rancher did. But then, some days I hate my cherries, too.

So me and Carl were fishing off the, the left side, you know, the port side, and when I say ‘fishing’ what I mean is that we cast our lines and helped ourselves to some Jackalope rum I had found on a bottom shelf back on shore. Carl was pouring and, frankly, it was some of the best fishing I ever had. Not a single bite on my line. Might have forgot to bait it, honestly, but with the sun beaming down and the cool water licking at the boat, who needs a fish flopping around and ruining the calm?

Not me, that’s who.

So, Carl and I were having a blast, the Captain was reading a Hustler in the boat’s little cabin, and on the sideboard (sunboard?) of the boat there’s the other two tourists. I didn’t get their names at the time, but the police named them as Patricia Ozeki and Kaito Ozeki. I had guessed they were from Japan, y’know, on account of – well, nevermind – anyway they were from Albuquerque. I don’t think anyone in Florida is actually from Florida. Captain Lem definitely had a bit of an Ohio twang to him, but I digress.

“It’s been an hour and we haven’t had a single bite. Are you sure this is the right place?” Patricia said to the captain.

“Normally this is a real good spot for groupers,”, the Captain said with that little twang, y’know, where for becomes fer. “Might be something scaring ‘em off.”

Now, I’m pale as death’s own horse and it was one of those hard-drinking days, so I squirted on some SPF 100 and started working it in. Didn’t seem likely I was gonna miss a prize catch anyhow. So you combine the heat, maybe a bit too much sun, and then with the drinks, and…well, you understand why things could be a bit fuzzy in my recollection. That was about when it all went down, right when I was smearing a glob of sunblock through my leg hair.

The tall guy, Kaito, started shouting something like, “I’ve got a bite! I think it’s a big one!”

So he’s straining real hard, putting his shoulders into it. He’s one of those real slim guys who look like they eat cigarettes for breakfast, y’know, and I remember seeing this vein on his forearm swelling up more than I would’ve imagined. Like the Appalachians on a topographic map. Anyways, whatever he’s got on the line is real fierce, starts knocking him off balance a bit. I heard a bottle knock over when he shifted, but I dunno what he was drinking. Probably something better than Jackalope.  But then Kaito starts getting pulled down, almost over the railing, bracing his hips against the rail with his torso leaning over the water, trying to haul in a prize catch.

So the Captain runs over and he grabs Kaito, one hand on the reel, and starts pulling him back in. Me and Carl moseyed over to get a better view of the excitement.

“Is that a shark?” Patricia says. Well, I dunno a shark from a grouper, but it was something big down there. A shadow the size of, or I dunno, maybe even bigger than the whole boat. And I don’t think it was a shark, hell, to be honest the thing seemed real sprawling, almost like it had arms and way too wide and deep a body. It didn’t even really seem like anything you’d see in the ocean – but sometimes you see something like that, something half-seen when you’re already half-blind from the drink, and you can really get an appreciation for why old maps say “Here be monsters.”

So Kaito was pulling as hard as he can, I’m squinting into the water and trying to figure out what the hell I’m seeing, and the Captain is just trying to keep this tourist from getting pulled over and drowning. The way the light was striking and filtering over everyone, well, it looked like some kinda half-assed Renaissance painting. Lotta good reds and golds.

The next thing you know there’s a hell of a TWANG! That’s where things get fuzzy.

I remember seeing something sailing up from the water. At first I thought it was whatever Kaito was using for bait, but now I’m thinking it was a piece of jaw or a scale, y’know, something organic, maybe a shiny, curved tooth. It spun through the air, catching the sun with brilliant glints the whole way through its arc, then plopped into the water with a little splash. It’s weird the things that stick with you, but I remember smiling when I saw the little ripples.

Then everyone started screaming.

So I look back to the four standing around the rail. Patricia is hollering like a banshee, Carl’s got his hands on his mouth and vomit spilling out between the fingers. I don’t know what the captain was doing, actually, but I heard him shouting “Hold still! Don’t panic!”

Kaito was whirling around with his left hand covering his face and his right hand flinging out like he was trying to grab the air. It was all really baffling, up until I saw that wisp of silk-thin fishing line wrapping around him as he twirled, coiling tighter and pulling taut right up to-

And then his hand came away from his face for a moment, and I caught sight of that barbed hook jammed full-ways through the man’s eyeball. The shaft through the dark iris and the barb tipped jutting out from the white.

Good god, was it leaking.

Good god, and the line was pulling tighter. I think I saw the man’s eye start to bulge out right there.

Then he clapped his hand back over his face, still flailing like he was being swarmed by wasps. Carl had fully passed out at the helm of the boat, covered in his own sick. The captain was back inside his little cabin, digging through all the little cabinets. I think he was looking for a first aid kit.

People do dumb things when they’re drunk, and people do strange things when they’re scared. Me, personally, I get scared and I turn stock-still, y’know, picture myself like a camera recording the event. The cameraman never dies in a horror movie, otherwise there wouldn’t be a movie, and that’s how I see it. Anyways, Patricia, she did something strange and dumb.  She grabbed hold of the fishing rod, and threw it into the water. I suppose it makes sense, in a weird way.

“You’re safe now! It’s gone! It’s gone!” she screamed.

Yeah. She was wrong.

She had thrown the rod towards the back of the boat, and right away it jammed into the propeller. Line must have wrapped around the axle, or something, I’m more of a tractor guy than a boat guy, but anyhow the whole motor starts sparking and smoking right away. On top of that, the line got pulled tight. Real tight.

Look, maybe I saw the man’s eye get pulled out by that hook. Maybe I did. All I want to say is that he  held on real tight to his face as he went overboard. I saw the vein in his arm bulge like it was about to pop, and I remember Patricia screaming and the smell of smoke, and good god, that…juice running through his fingers. But I don’t want to remember most of that.

Anyways.

He went over real quietly, like he was done screaming and decided that it would be preferable to be drowned than to survive this. And I remember the little ripples and bubbles in the water.

Patricia kept screaming, and then she jumped in after him.

Me, I stayed put. Just looking. The sea was blue and slipping over the horizon. The clouds did their wispy dance, y’know, and I thought about how the clouds down south seem so much more elegant than the clouds in Michigan. How back home we don’t have clouds that drip and puddle like fluid leaking from an eye.

Carl was still passed out. The motor was fully aflame at that point, and the Captain abandoned his search for a first-aid kit to deal with the fire. I don’t really know what happened from then on, it all slips away from me like a dream. I remember the hiss of a fire extinguisher, and Captain Lem screaming. I remember Carl waking up, and us sitting in silence with the sea while the Captain called in for help. The smell of Carl’s vomit, which you can probably imagine without much elaboration.  A few hours later the Coast Guard picked us up.

They couldn’t find the bodies. They said they figured out that the line got chewed up by the motor until it cut loose. They couldn’t really say why Kaito and Patricia would have sank, though. Maybe they were so tangled in the line they couldn’t move their arms…Or maybe Kaito decided he’d have enough and let himself sink, dragging Patricia down with him. Me, personally, I think whatever he had on the line was the first fish that ever figured how to hook a man. And a good fisher eats what he catches, y’know?

Anyways, one piece of advice before I head on out. Next time you go out fishing, try not to think about getting a hook in your eye. Try not to think about trying to blink with that little barb jutting out of your pupil, and try not to think about the clear liquid running out and through your clenched fingers. Trust me. It really spoils the whole sport.

I, Seinfeld

“Honey, I think that’s Seinfeld.” Rick gestured towards a dark-haired man five rows down the aisle. The lights were still on in the opera house, and Rick was absolutely certain the smattering of black hair belonged to TV’s most treasured sitcom star. “I’m gonna try to get his attention.”

Rita was preoccupied with a text message from her sister, but despite this hurdle managed to rebuke her husband, “Rick, for Christ’ssakes, We haven’t been in a theater since the 90’s. If you ruin this for me you’ll be waking up alone tomorrow.” Perhaps a bit harsh, but the point was made. Rick settled into his seat, the lights went down, the curtain went up, and a melody lamented the air as Don Giovanni began.

The opera was thrilling, as expected, and Rick tried to watch – but he found his eyes wandering back to the curly-haired man. Was he right? Was he a stone’s throw from one of his idols? He strained his ears, but the sounds of the opera easily overwhelmed any telltale snarky complaints. He grumbled, and half-shifted his attention back to the performers.

After the show’s end, the pair left their seats with a sluggish docility found only in theatres and opium dens. They waited for their respective restrooms for a time, made due use of the facilities, and eventually regrouped in the lobby.

“You’re not going to believe what just happened to me.” Rick hurried to his wife, clutching something in his left hand. “In the bathroom, I mean. C’mon, let’s get out of here, quick.”

Rita’s face spoke volumes. “Rick, please, I just want to get to the hotel. This trip has been exhausting, let’s just g-“ She stopped cold as her husband revealed the contents of his hand- a wad of paper towels stained with blood. He snapped his grip tight after the preview, and seemed altogether more nervous than his wife had ever seen. Her concern outpaced her fatigue.

“What? What happened?!” The pair hurried out of the building, Rick casting furtive glances through the lobby, and even more once they were in the street. It wasn’t until they were in a taxi that he reopened his hand and removed the makeshift bathroom bandage. Rita noticed, very clearly, the bloodied outline of a bite. She gasped in surprise. “Someone bit you?”

Rick shook his head. “Not just someone. Seinfeld bit me.”

Rita’s surprise and concern were gone in an instant. “Goddammit Rick, is this another joke? You’re so immature.”

“No, really. I went into the bathroom, and I saw that same guy who was sitting ahead of us. So I decided to see if it was him, y’know, and I said ‘So what’s the deal with airline food?’” Rick paused, mentally preparing for the disbelief he was about to face, “And he turned around, and it was definitely Seinfeld. He gave me the most horrible look, like, the look a father would give his daughters’ killer. He gave one of those snarky ‘ha-ha’s’ and then said, ‘Nobody’s going to believe you’ and he bit my hand.” Rick shuddered faintly, recalling a lunatic’s smirk.

The cab driver laughed -Rick returned a glare. Rita’s capacity for speech was momently suspended; she weighed the evidence and testimony. Yes, there was a bite mark. Yes, there was a man who might-have-could-have-been Seinfeld. It was a bit unbelievable, “Well…What do we do? Do we call the cops? That was definitely assault.” She scrunched her nose up when she was confused; right now, she looked like a rabbit.

“No, he’s right. Nobody would believe me, would they? And, I mean, he’s my hero. I guess…I guess I should feel honored?” His chuckle was half-mad, “I mean, most people don’t even meet a celebrity.” The two sat in silence the remainder of their trip; individually they sought some causation for the madness of the evening.

The cab driver chuckled after the pair departed his vehicle, “Seinfeld biting somebody. Sounds like an episode of Seinfeld.

The couple returned to their room, where they bandaged his hand with their limited supplies. “Y’know honey, despite finding out one of my idols is some kind of demented cannibal, it was still a nice trip. Can’t wait to get back to Cincinnati though.” Rita gave the tired sort of half-agreement common to a fracturing marriage, and they went to bed.

Rick’s dreams were haunted that night.

Not a normal type of haunted; there were no skeletons or ghouls to be found. His dreams were haunted by mundane things that were, without reason, incredibly distressing. His mind recoiled at the thought of flight; of captains giving minute details regarding their course, of airplane peanuts and lackluster food. His heart raced, his innards roiled, his bile brought itself to an agonizing boil – heated by thoughts of movie theater ushers, pushy shopkeepers, and inconsiderate taxi drivers. From somewhere deep in the recesses of his mind, an unearthly taboo began to beat – a sound from beyond the stars, a rippling, quirky base – an alien rhythm that pervaded his mind, intensely foreign yet all too familiar. In his dream, he knew it was some sort of signal; somehow, this was the start of something. Boop-de-boop de boop bop bah bop ba-da-da-da, wah wah wah waah. It echoed in his head, and then-

He awoke covered in sweat. A faint electric whine blared from an alarm clock. “Why do I do this to myself..” He grumbled, then considered the fresh nasally quality of his voice. I must have a cold. He groaned his way upright, quietly went to his closet, and dressed in jeans and a striped sweater of indeterminate origin. As he opened the bedroom door, he let out a slight squeal.

What he saw was not the three-star hotel he booked; nor was it the tiny Cincinnati home of a furniture salesman and a nurse; this was a bachelor pad. Rick gave a hard blink before assessing the room. To his right a green bicycle hugged the wall – to his left, an unlatched door hinting at a bathroom beyond. The short hallway opened into a living area complete with a sofa and surprisingly thick television; a huge window framed one of the walls, the opposite was home to a kitchen with wraparound counter, and the third wall held the entrance. Rick looked for the fourth wall of the apartment, but found nothing, and that trying to glimpse it for even the slightest amount of time sent a throbbing pain through his spine.

Rick turned back to the bedroom and called, “Honey?” There was no reply. He blinked again, then headed into the bathroom, careful not to look at the mysterious fourth wall. The mirror awaited him, and he stared into it; a shocked face stared back, long features and curly black hair had replaced his Irish heritage. “Oh, god, what’s wrong with my face?” Came a voice that he slowly identified as his own. The thunder-crack of laughter followed from behind the nebulous missing wall – a sharp mixture of booming chuckles, as though a crowd of gods were viewing his life. Rick leapt away from the noise with a dull yelp, striking his head against a tiled wall – then rubbed his eyes hard.

Please, just wake up. This has to be a dream. He pinched himself. He slapped his face. The slow throb of flowing blood emanated from his head. He felt physical pain, but this nightmare continued.

It was not a nightmare.

He retreated from the bathroom, his hair slowly matting and congealing. This is all so familiar. He headed to the kitchen, approached the freezer- The entrance door burst open- a man in a vaguely Hawaiian dress shirt sprung through the opening, gave a startled spasm along with a spurted “Hey Jer.” The intruder shouldered past Rick to reach the refrigerator; the thunderous disembodied laughter filled the room again as the stranger began rifling through the storage. The bandit didn’t seem to notice the noise. Rick finally broke the brief stasis of surprise.

“…Kramer?” His words were adhering to some unknown schedule. “What are you doing?”

“I’ve been storing my tapes in your freezer.” He retrieved an outdated VHS. Laughter.

“But – Why not store them in your freezer?” Rick’s words were no longer voluntary.

“Because I’ve got my CDs in there!” The laughter intensified.

“Well that makes sense.” The sarcasm in this voice was not his own. It was Jerry’s. The laughter had elevated to an unbearable cacophony. It was maddening. Help me.

“Ooh, what happened to your head?”

“I fell in the shower.” Help. Me.

“Fell in the shower?”

“Fell in the shower.” God, help me.

“Well, here. Put a Mechanosheriff on it.” Kramer passed over a chilled copy of the hit 1987 action film, which Jerry pressed to his wound. To Rick’s surprise, it was actually very refreshing. The infernal chorus of laughter resumed.

“Huh, and here I thought freezing tapes was useless.” Anyone, help me.

“Keeps them from tangling, too.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Nobody can help me. “So are we all still on for tonight?”

“Well, Elaine and George have to go to court for that Dachshund thing.” Cosmo started his exit from the scene

“Oh. But you’ll be there, right?” Jerry said.

“I mean… I’ll see you there – probably.” Kramer disappeared behind the door he entered, frozen VHS in hand. Rick’s vision went out of focus.

————————————————————-

The theater seemed altogether different than it had been just the night before – less peeling paint, cleaner wood – quieter, too, without the incessant buzzing of text messages and notifications. The opera started with the same fanfare as the previous night. Jerry was enjoying his time at the theatre; Rick was not. It was a constant battle for control – directing the eyes of this foreign body, glancing through the audience; searching for a victim. He knew what needed to happen… Could he do it? Would damning another soul to Hell be justified in escaping it himself? Yes, Rick decided, It’s better to act like Seinfeld than to actually be Seinfeld.

He could move the hands, now. Clench the teeth. Soon he’d be ready.

The opera continued, and Rick noticed a man a few rows ahead of him glancing back periodically. Rick knew these looks, he had foolishly made them himself. He memorized the target’s face. The opera concluded with a triumphant crash from the orchestra as Jerry left his seat and headed to the bathroom. Rick waited for his moment to take control, to go off-script. Jerry took position in front of a urinal, and soon the other man made contact.

“…So what’s the deal with airline food?” Said the target. His hair was particularly infuriating. Jerry eyed the man as he chuckled uncomfortably, but behind those eyes Rick glared. He wrested control of the body, hopefully for long enough.

“Nobody’s going to believe you,” – he lurched forward, and bit the man on the hand.

Dermapure

The packaging was very alluring; styled white with blue trimmings, a push-pump on top (this was a major selling point) and a smiling Caucasian woman applying the ointment to her face beneath the crisp blue lettering: Dermapure Reinvigorating Daily Facial Cleanser. The back of the bottle was, of course, a list of the hundreds of intentionally obfuscated chemical names that went into the manufacturing of the cream. The product came to fruition under Jim Norton, who was a rising star, and held the distinction of being the fastest developed product in Dermapure’s history. Norton received a hefty bonus for the celerity of the project, and all was well until the post-release product review the following month. Continue reading “Dermapure”

A Dollar Fifty

The mosquitos and the heat were both biting hard that morning, so Jim decided to wander away from the homestead and go off to town. It was a long walk that he had made many times, as the horse was usually too busy working a plow to make the trip and his family was not wealthy enough to afford one of the automobiles sold down at Benny’s. He took to walking very leisurely, a pace he always took when the only destination was elsewhere. Continue reading “A Dollar Fifty”

The Prince of Parties

There was a time, before I slipped the shackle of common sanity, when I was a biology student toiling in the dusty subterranean laboratories of Hexford University, back in the decade that now bears the outright odorous appellation ‘The Naughty Aughties.’ Hexford was a small school that sprouted nearly overnight in the decay of another less notable public university, though some curse must have lingered in the campus’s bones as the school lay again abandoned by the end of that year. In those days, I was possessed of an uncertain timidity typical of the unproven scholar and spent the majority of my time secluded in the study of various cultivars. I am not ashamed by the admission that a solitary digit could number my friendships in that place, and how our companionship was tenuous at best. Continue reading “The Prince of Parties”

Knight by Night

The call came in at 2:14 AM, a frantic voice pleading for help. Radislav was never the greatest judge of phone voices, but this one sounded like a soccer mom, probably about 40, Caucasian, with a radio in her minivan that consistently squeaked conservative talk shows.

“This is Radislav, what seems to be the problem?” Some kind of wolf was eating her dog. Could be his department, could just be a particularly vicious coyote. Continue reading “Knight by Night”

Gallow’s Coin

It had a rather nefarious glint to it, and that’s probably why it caught my eye. It was a larger coin, just wider than a half-dollar, and bore a face that looked, from a distance, very much like a jubilant skull; on closer examination the profile was of some long-dead king or president of a foreign land. The lettering read ‘AXIIL’, and it held no other indicator of the time or place of its minting. Continue reading “Gallow’s Coin”