orca

50,000

THE WHALE KILLER

THERE LIVED A POOR, LAME FISHERMAN AND HIS WIFE on the edge of the forest right before the shoreline. Winter was soon upon them in three days. They asked for help from their neighbors and were turned away. 'Winter is harsh for everyone,' the neighbors said and shamed them.

In the previous spring the fisherman had lost his hand in a boating accident and the wife became blind from a grave illness. They were scarcely able to make a living or care for themselves after these misfortunes befell them. At low tide they stooped over rocks to gather oysters daily until their hands were raw and their backs were numb.

Aggravated, the fisherman convinced himself that the only way they would survive the winter was to kill a whale.

The wife begged him not to go but he soon convinced her too. Without a whale they would starve.

She promised to set the docks on fire and burn everyone anchored there if he did not return in three days.

The fisherman bid her farewell and embarked.

On the first day the fisherman spotted a pod of three whales: a bull, a cow, and their newborn calf. When they swam alongside his boat, he meant to draw the harpoon but could not. The whales were hungry and the fish were scarce. Perhaps they saw the fishing boat and thought there might be a net to share. 'Winter is harsh for everyone,' the fisherman remembered glumly.

On the second day there was nothing.

On the third day the fisherman had not eaten, he had not drank, he had not slept. He looked out across the waves and saw only shadows. Then the sky began to storm. Sleeting rain and tumultuous chop pounded the boat. The cow and calf swam up alongside and the fisherman gazed at them with hardened eyes.

The harpoon plunged deep into the water, piercing the calf's heart, and killed it!

The mother swooned. She dove back into the water to cry. Hearing her distress, the bull rushed towards her. The ocean boiled with blood as the whales thrashed in their grief. Blood and saltwater in thick splashes drenched the fisherman as he struggled to slip away with the dead calf.

Suddenly a tall wave swept over them all, swallowing the boat and the fisherman whole.

At dusk the fisherman's wife set the docks on fire and burned all the boats, and all the ships, and all the town along the shoreline.

THE DROWNING MAN

AT SUNSET, THERE IS A SHADOW IN THE SHALLOWS AT LOW TIDE that you should never look at directly. It used to be a man. If you squint from the corner of your eye you'll see it drowning. It grabs and drowns anyone who comes too close.

When it was alive, it was a dishwasher who arrived on one of the ships and who had settled in town with a similar job at a restaurant. He was not old but no longer young, and was said to spend most of his nights drinking alone on the docks to avoid the sight of tourists, mostly families, and the loathesome sight of lovers on their honeymoon.

One cold night, especially bitter, he waded into the shallows half-contemplating suicide. When he sat down to wash his tearstained face and sober up a woman approached him from the side.

She was soaked to the bone with ocean water, barefoot, and wearing a very old and tattered beach cover-up. There was sand in her hair and wind in her voice. 'Promise never to ask me questions and I will be your wife,' she said.

Instantly struck by her beauty, he promised.

Outside of her unexplained sudden appearance, it was a normal marriage. He quit drinking. He soon received a promotion to line cook, she a waitress, and they became a very popular couple in town. People greeted them with smiles whenever they passed and smalltalk began whenever it could.

After a time, he began noticing things. The wife's beauty, her eyes, her hair, her skin, turned into the main subject of every conversation whether or not she was with him. The women were envious of her. All the town's men always had something to say to him about how lucky he was. Diners flirted with her. The chef would find ways to touch her when she picked up plates of food.

The attention and praise did not cease even when she was pregnant or after she gave birth to his son.

He began drinking again. Every night, he would ask her if the child was really his and she would not reply.

On night during the dinner rush, the baby in his little basket on the counter began to cry uproariously as the wife was being bombarded by orders. He obliged to help and took the baby out on break.

The sun was setting as he walked along the beach. He brought his son up to the light and could not discern whether or not the child was his.

So he waded into the shallows and held the baby under the water.

The wife raced down the beach.

Sobbing wildly, she begged him not to do it. She fought with him, she screamed, she even bit him but he let go of the baby only to wrap his hands around her throat and force her under the water too. He put his knee into her ribs and leaned in until they cracked but even then she wouldn't stop screaming. It took a long, long time until the bubbles stopped, until the splashing stopped, and until she stopped struggling altogether. He held her down for such a long time that all the heat was gone. His body shook uncontrollably. He hadn't noticed the rising water lapping at his face and before he could stand up, a rip tide snatched his feet out of the sand and he was gone.

Restaurateurs saw him just as he went under. They searched but no one ever found the bodies.

The locals tell tourists not to go out on the beach at sunset. The drowning man will grab anyone who comes to help him and drown them too.

THE STICK DOLPHIN

TWO WOMEN WERE OUT DIGGING FOR CLAMS AND COLLECTING ALL MANNER OF URCHINS WHEN one of them thought she heard a squeak. She turned around and there was only a log of driftwood. When she kicked it, the log squeaked even louder so the two of them hauled it away and gave it to a woodcarver named Mam'ook.

Mam'ook was an old man who was good at making things. He became good at making things because he was too old to hunt, gather, fish, or dig holes. Nothing he made was used for anything, that is to say, they were useless things, but they were good useless things that made everyone very happy. Often people would even pay Mam'ook to make things and that was how he afforded food sometimes. When the two women told him the log could squeak, he knew exactly what to make.

Mam'ook carved a stick dolphin but he didn't give it a blowhole because he wanted to be able to tell it apart from real dolphins.

To see if it float or sank, he put the new carving in a tide pool and it jumped! It came alive!

Mam'ook loved the stick dolphin like a son and at first he let it roam as much as it wanted to in the ocean, in streams, and the river delta. Stick Dolphin would bring fish back to old Mam'ook so the man could finally eat.

One day a group of angry fisherman chased Stick Dolphin home and upon seeing it was the old man responsible, berated him for stealing. Knowing he had no way to pay them the fisherman threatened to burn the dolphin instead the next time they caught him. Mam'ook had to teach Stick Dolphin not to steal.

“Stick Dolphin! You cannot take what doesn't belong to you. The fish you brought belonged to the fishermen,” Mam'ook said to him.

“How do I know if a fish belongs to them or not?” The stick dolphin asked.

“If it is attached to their hooks and lines, or if it is in their nets then it belongs to them.” Mam'ook replied.

So the next time he went fishing, Stick Dolphin swam out into the ocean farther than all the fisherman's boats dared to go and began to catch all the fish out there. He brought back more fish than before. There were so many that Mam'ook had to dry and smoke the ones they couldn't eat.

The fishermen came back to complain. This time, it was about how all their hooks snagged nothing and their nets were empty. Mam'ook gladly shared his fish and the fishermen went away.

Mam'ook had to teach Stick Dolphin how to share. “My son, you cannot take too many fish. We only need enough for ourselves. You have to leave some for others.”

“How do I know how much is enough?” The stick dolphin asked.

“Enough is how much you and I can eat in a day.”

So the Stick Dolphin began bringing only as much as he and Mam'ook could eat. The fisherman no longer came to complain and everyone was at peace.

They remained at peace until the fishermen spotted a pirate ship a few miles off the coast and then they were all afraid. If the pirate ship landed, the pirates would eat all their food and destroy all of their homes. Maybe they would take some of the people away as slaves. While they worried and cried, the Stick Dolphin knew what to do.

All he had to do was stop the pirates.

So he swam all the way out to the ship at night and began pushing the ship with his nose. When the navigation wheel began to move by itself the pirates looked over the sides of the ship to see what was the cause.

Stick Dolphin stopped what he was doing and pretended to be a stick. “It is only driftwood bumping into the keel”, they thought.

When they went back to sleep, Stick Dolphin began nudging them off course again.

Then one of the pirates noticed that the ship was veering. He woke the other pirates up and they searched for signs of problems along the sides of the ship. Again there was Stick Dolphin pretending to be a stick. They got out a gun and shot it. Bang!

It hurt! The pirates even heard Stick Dolphin squeak, but he pretended to sink and slowly disappeared underneath the waves. Stick Dolphin finally had a blowhole like a real whale, like other dolphins.

Thinking that they were finally rid of the driftwood, the pirates all went to sleep.

And as they slept, Stick Dolphin quietly misdirected their ship by pushing the keel with his nose all night. Their ship eventually arrived at an island that had nothing living on it and the pirates couldn't figure out how they got there.

Stick Dolphin returned home a hero and everyone was happy. There were no more troubles.

Eventually when Mam'ook passed away of old age, the Stick Dolphin joined a pod of real dolphins to travel the world. So whenever you hear a squeak at sea, or spot a piece of floating driftwood, it is only him pretending to be a stick.

THE GREAT BLACK FISH

A TERRIBLE STORM SWEPT A SMALL FAMILY OUT INTO THE OPEN OCEAN so far that they could not see where the land was. It was a mother, her young son, and her second husband and older stepsons. They floated for many days on the wood of their house, reinforcing their makeshift raft, and eating what they could salvage from the water. Day by day the amount of food stored in the baskets around them grew less and less. The husband whispered in his sleep about eating the youngest son. Rather than have her son eaten as food, the brokenhearted mother decided to put the boy on his own little raft while he was asleep and let the ocean take him.

He woke up as she was nudging the raft away with a pole and asked her what she was doing.

She lied to him so he would not be afraid. “The Great Black Fish has many daughters. I have promised you to one. Go marry her and invite us to the wedding feast so we may live.”

The boy did not want to get married as he did not feel ready for a wife, but he understood that a wedding feast meant a lot of food. If a marriage would save his mother, stepfather, and stepbrothers from starving then he was ready to do it. So he bid his mother farewell and promised to obey her wishes.

It stormed. The rain and thunder kept him awake for many days. The boy clung to the little raft tightly as the ocean bobbed and swelled. He was carried far, far away. He grew weaker and more hungry until even in the midst of the raging storm he fell asleep.

He awoke to the Great Black Fish asking him a question, “Ho! Small man, why are you so far from land?”

“My mother says I'm betrothed to marry your daughter.”

“Ho! Which one?” For the Great Black Fish had many daughters. They all popped out of the water to greet him.

There were big ones, little ones, with tall flukes, and short flukes. The boy knew he had to hurry though because his family was waiting. So he said, “The one who needs a husband fastest.”

“You want to marry my oldest daughter?” The Great Black Fish called her and she swam forward. She was very, very large with one or two missing teeth. She also smelled like dead fish and wheezed like a dying horse. “Her?”

“Yes.”

“Wouldn't you like to choose another?”

“No, she's the one.”

The Great Black Fish was very pleased because the boy seemed honorable. He gave the boy a fleet of sea turtles and gifts to bring back to his family and invite them to the wedding feast.

When they saw him arrive on the back of a giant sea turtle with loads of oysters, they couldn't believe their eyes. The mother was overjoyed. After a quick meal they came back with him to attend the wedding.

The oldest daughter was heir to the Great Black Fish's kingdom and so her wedding feast was quite grand. There were endless platters of fresh salmon and oysters on beds of edible seaweed garnished with peals. The boy was dressed in the finest array of seabird feathers and seashells, so decorated that he hardly could move.

At the wedding the stepbrothers were jealous of his wealth and took it upon themselves that they should also marry some of the Great Black Fish's daughters.

“We would also make great husbands. Let us marry your daughters.”

“Ho! Which ones?” For the Great Black Fish had many, many daughters.

To the stepbrothers all the whales looked the same, so they said, “Your youngest daughters.”

So the Great Black Fish called forth two of his youngest daughters. But the wedding party for each was much smaller and because they were so young, they did not know how to keep husbands, and so the new brides ate their grooms on the wedding night.

The stepfather ate too many shellfish and died that very day, but the mother lived into her old age. The boy eventually became a great chieftain to all the black fish and even found his wife's missing teeth so she could again whistle instead of wheeze.

FISH GUTS

I HEARD A STORY WHILE I WAS IN ONE OF THOSE BARS that don't close until it's empty so if there were still people sitting at the counter it never closed. I think whenever somebody went on break, they actually took a nap in one of the booths before resuming business. That was good because I didn't have money for a motel and it was the last day of my vacation.

The guy at the bar was talking about how his great, great grandfather's father went missing while at sea during a famine. It was a new settlement on the coast and the people were driven there by other people who they didn't get along with. The soil was thin and full of rocks. The air was salty.

“The fog was thick as cotton. Then his father came back. You know, like he suddenly appeared one day, without his boat. It had been an entire year since he was gone. They thought he was dead so they cried over it and cried over it some more when they saw him again. He wasn't the same man though.”

The guy downed like two beers and had to take a piss so while I sat there I ordered a mug of black coffee. It tasted fine. I burnt my tongue on a sip. He came back but didn't say anything else so I turned to him.

“What do you mean? How was he different?”

“Who?”

“Your great, great grandfather's father?”

“He looked the same, maybe he was a little bit fatter. Actually, they didn't remember because it'd been so long. They were glad to have him back so they believed it was a miracle and that was the end of that.

He came back when they were about to call it quits and starve to death, or kill and eat each other for food, I don't know. He borrows his neighbor's boat and goes out onto the ocean again, by himself, and it's like he's gone again and this time he's never coming back. But he comes back with a shitload of fish and they're ecstatic because 'heck, nobody is going to eat little Jimmy now'.”

The guy ordered a plate of spicy wings and some fries. His story was kind of weird and I guessed it was going to be about his ancestor being a founder of the town or something. But then it wasn't.

“They said he smelled like fish guts.

He smelled like straight fish guts all the time. He took a bath, they washed his clothes, they bought him new clothes, he would sit down at Sunday dinner, breakfast, lunch, go to bed still smelling like fresh fish guts. They could smell him before they saw him coming. The dog was afraid of him. It barked and growled whenever he was around. They thought it was the reason why he was such a great fisherman all of a sudden. I really don't know why they let this guy in the house.

Anyway, all the men in town want to know his fishing secrets. It's lame that one man gets to be the hero and savior of the town. They want to know how he gets so much fish. He tells them nothing though. He doesn't really talk to anybody anymore. He goes out alone, really early in the morning when it's dark and foggy. Then he comes home at night when it's dark and foggy again with a ginormous catch. He stinks of fish guts. He reeks. They live with him like this for a while until it creeps everybody out.

My great, great grandpa is just a small kid so when he hides on the boat in a barrel, the barrel still slides a bit on the deck like nobody's in it. He slept all night in there as a stowaway. He wakes up when he feels the boat leave the dock. There's a little hole he uses to see what's going on. The boat sails for hours with nothing going on. He realizes that's because there really isn't anything going on. He gets out of the barrel and doesn't see his father anywhere, but he can kind of smell him?

He looks around confused and sees this big, huge whale swimming at him! The water swells and it picks the boat up real high. My grandpa's scared! He thinks he's going to capsize so he starts screaming.”

I watched as the guy scrunched up a wad of napkins to soak the wing sauce off his fingers. It was late. It was two in the morning and the bar still hadn't closed down. My third refill of coffee tasted burnt. No one else was listening, so he directs the rest of the story to me. His breath smells like greasy chicken. The stain around his mouth looked like bad clown makeup.

“Then, suddenly the whale turns around and swims away.

Later, the neighbors come get him when they see him waving them down. There's no more fog. The boat didn't even leave the harbor so they can see him. They don't know what happened to his father. He was gone and he stayed gone. All that was left of him were his clothes in a pile on the deck. And they didn't stink like fish guts.”

STAY ABOVE WATER

THERE IS AN EMPTY LIFEGUARD STATION at the end of the beach and it isn't numbered. They don't have anyone to fill the position because they don't need to. Nobody ever drowns in front of it. They say anybody who dives or goes under will suddenly find themselves emerging onto shore. The people who have been 'rescued' all claim to remember a strong push, not a strong wave, tossing them like wet ragdolls onto the sand. Depending on who tells the story it is either a swimmer or a lifeguard who died there and it's their ghost that protects that part of the beach.

SWIMMER

“WHAT'S THE TIME?” Thomas rose out of the shallows with water cascading off his lips as he shouted. “Time!”

The sun was down. It was windy and cold. They threw him a towel as he approached panting and coughing.

One of the boys, Luke, showed everyone the green glowing numbers on his stopwatch. It was stopped at a little under three minutes. It took Thomas that much time to reach the buoy.

The whole swim team was there: Thomas, Luke, Daniel, Robert, Christopher, Pasquale, including the skinny new recruit whose name was Leigh. He edged into the ocean a half-step at a time as they walked behind him, Thomas and all of them, watching.

“Alright Leigh,” Thomas said. “You beat my time and we won't beat you. Set!”

The last thing Leigh heard was the beep. He dove as far as he could and started for the buoy but to beat the time meant taking a deep breath first and he forgot to. Leigh struggled to stay under the water as long as possible and still only broke twice for air, once at midway, and again when he reached the buoy.

Instead of returning to shore, Leigh waited at the buoy and looked at them for a verdict.

The boys looked at Luke's watch with grave expressions. The newbie Leigh beat the time by twenty whole seconds. They asked Thomas what he wanted to do. His eyes stared off into the moonlit darkness.

“We're going to wait.”

They stood on the beach in silence for a while without any eye contact. It began sprinkling. They stared at each other's feet and at the sky as it dripped. Then when the downpour increased they finally looked back at Thomas who was noticeably calmer.

“Let's go.”

And they all left, except Leigh who was hanging onto the buoy shivering so hard his teeth chattered.

It was likely that Leigh tried to swim back to shore but was too weak and tired to make it. He probably drowned. When the teen didn't come back home or show up for any of his classes for a week his parents filed a missing persons report. There were police investigations and there were fliers but nobody ever saw him again.

LIFEGUARD

HE HAD DROPPED HIS VERY EXPENSIVE, BRAND NAME DESIGNER SUNGLASSES ON THE BEACH SOMEWHERE and his girlfriend was going to kill him if he lost the gift she gave him that cost her entire burger-flipping paycheck. Chuck came back to the beach in front of the lifeguard station where he was all day and figured that he would find them soon, or by morning.

It was after dinner, midnight, when he arrived.

He noticed a sporty looking fishing boat, or charter, floating right on the horizon line. Drizzle wet his face. He could sort of make out splashing and hear shouting. Maybe someone was in trouble. Chuck wanted to help so he tossed his bag and joined the water. He didn't have his rescue can but there was an abandoned surfboard in the shallows. He picked that up and paddled all the way out there.

Rain rapidly pelted the seething ocean.

A meter from the boat, Chuck's nose tasted diesel. A whale was crying. It was screeching. They had a big net and harpoons. There were barely any lights but he could see blood. The foaming water was red, dark red. His mouth filled with it as he tried yelling.

“Hey! Hey! Stop!” Chuck slapped the aluminum hull of the boat. He looked one of them in eyes, but they ignored him. “I'm going to call the cops!”

Either it was an accident or it was on purpose but a thick iron chain unfurled and crashed on top of the lifeguard. Chuck died instantly, his languid body sliding off the surfboard and into the ocean.

There were reports of illegal fishing in the area and some say have seen the boat responsible but no one was ever caught and charged. A scarred, and battered young whale is often spotted some miles away that they suppose was an escaped victim. Chuck's bruised corpse washed up on the beach a week later and since then the people he rescued, while he was alive and after when he was dead, occasionally leave flowers at his station.

THE HEADLESS SAILOR

I WAS TWENTY-ONE YEARS OLD AND EATING A BIG, SLOPPY SLICE OF ANCHOVY PIZZA on the street corner next to the beach parking lot when I heard a group of five surfers talking about swimming past the buoy. I estimated it to be a hundred, two hundred, meters away from the sand.

I thought I was cool so it meant a lot to me to impress these random strangers I've never seen before so I walked up and was like, “Pfft! Yeah I can make that swim!”

They stared at me like, I don't know what, so I balled up the rest of my pizza, crammed it into my mouth, and chewed. Almost choked on the crust and burnt my cheeks with the cheese and sauce. Power move, am I right? But it took more than that to convince them of my supreme qualities.

They told to meet them on the beach at either one in the morning on the beach or at eight in the morning because both times some of them would be there to swim with me.

I wasn't necessarily that dumb so I didn't attend the night swim. I went to bed and woke up early. I showed up at eight. The sand was gray and cold. Fog was everywhere. After walking around in it my skin and hair felt damp and clammy. There were only four of them then. I didn't ask about that but I probably should have.

I was wearing a wetsuit. Them too. It was too cold in the morning not to wear one. I actually had been wearing one the whole trip. I couldn't even unzip to dry yesterday at noon when I saw all those guys in just square briefs and trunks.

We were all in wetsuits splashing our bodies in the shallows to prepare ourselves for the swim. It was freezing. My ears ached. My nose was running. I washed my face with icy ocean water to clean up so I wouldn't look gross. We walked slowly waist-deep acclimating. I would have buried my feet but the ocean floor there was covered in small, smooth rocks. It was cold, really, really cold.

One of them agreed to keep the time. He didn't have a watch and couldn't bring his phone so he was going to count by one thousands. That was going to be some responsibility.

“And if you guys look like you're not going to make it on the way back, turn around, and I'll run onto the beach and call for help,” he said, making a twirling motion with his hand and finger.

“Wait, what?” I thought that sounded extreme.

“After the chant you have less than three minutes to swim past the buoy and less than three minutes to swim back. If you take too long either way the Headless Sailor rips off your head.”

Another guy chimed in, “Yeah so when we're swimming back, and if you see the Headless Sailor's ghost ship then you got to turn around and go back to the buoy. If you can pass it he can't kill you.”

I laughed but no one laughed with me. “But I thought this was the beach where nobody ever drowned?”

“You can still die. You just won't drown.” He shrugged like he wasn't really sure.

Supposedly there hadn't been any drownings or even near-drowning incident for decades and it was because of a ghost. This beach saw a lot of tourism and I visited every summer but this was the first time I had ever heard of a headless sailor man.

“Okay,” I said. I decided I'd play along. “What does the Headless Sailor look like? When should I panic?”

“The Headless Sailor carries around a chunk of ambergris the size of a head. Sometimes he wears it on his bloody neck stump.”

Ambergris? I kind of knew what that was. It was whale vomit or whale poop. Whatever it was it was super rare and valuable.

“He rides up on a broken ship full of holes. You see the ship, you have to pass the buoy.”

They like, karate chopped the direction of the open ocean and then karate chopped at the buoy. Again and again to emphasize the point home.

I tried to imagine it. I didn't know what kind of ship so I imagined a nasty, algae-covered row boat. And I imagined an old dude in a rainslicker with some blood.

It just didn't sound scary to me. The chant wasn't scary either we went:

“Headless sailor, undead whaler, Headless sailor, undead whaler, Headless sailor, undead whaler, Headless sailor, undead whaler, Headless sailor, undead whaler.”

We dove at the same time and started swimming and swimming.

”...twelve one thousand!”

The ocean is alive with waves and currents so strokes and kicks have to constantly adapt. Your whole body has to meld with the water. Become a fish.

”...twenty beluga!”

In the open ocean, the 'floor' could be twenty feet beneath you or a plunging twenty, thirty, forty feet. Each stroke felt like I was plowing through gallons of wet mud.

”...forty-six sailors!”

Then, something heavy crested the water alongside us. My heart pounded.

”...seventy-eight rocks!”

The water was dense. Heavy swells and swirls collided with my body from all sides. I knew something else was in the water with us. The pressure I felt increased the closer it got. I could feel the other swimmers leaving me behind so I flailed in panic. I was counting my own strokes so I'd know when to take a breath, but I quit. I turned my head and swallowed air through my mouth. I caught up somehow using shorter scoops of water.

”...hundred seventy-nine!” By now his voice was dry and raspy from shouting out the numbers.

We burst out of the water heaving and sputtering. Our hands grasped the buoy as we tread around it. The breeze cut me like a knife. I gasped. I looked, eyes burning, but I didn't see a ghost ship or a zombie with a hook hand or pegleg, whatever. My arms, my legs, my whole body ached. But the weight dragging me off-course was gone.

I heard, distantly, “ONE ONE THOUSAND!”

We hit the water again.

About midway, something bobbing in the water brushed against me and I instinctively kicked it. My hand trailed through some seaweed. It felt like hair.

I turned around and started swimming for the buoy. I had to.

”...sixty-two sailors!”

The two closest to me sensed the change in direction so they followed suit. We made it to the other side of the buoy and clung to it.

There was one guy still swimming, by himself, and his friends were screaming at each other as he crawled through the water trying to make the shore.

“GO! GO! GO! GO!”

“STOP COUNTING! STOP COUNTING! GO! GO! GO!”

And I think I did see something. I was so scared I was crying. I couldn't breathe. Because it was daylight, I could see through the water. There was something in there following him.

He was so close to making it but he went down all of a sudden. The one guy stopped counting and scrambled to run for help. We're all screaming, 'no, no' but then we saw him safely roll out of the waves and stumble through the sand on his hands and knees.

We waited there huddled together, facing the sun, for warmth until we were rescued by the coast guard.

I've told this story a couple of times and some of the facts don't line up with the way the others tell it but I'm not lying. I really did count five guys outside the pizza parlor. But they said it was only five of us counting me.

I think I saw a ghost, but it wasn't the Headless Sailor.

GHOST NET

A BEACH CLEANUP WITH ABOUT A DOZEN VOLUNTEERS WAS TAKING PLACE AFTER FOURTH OF JULY and they were very thorough, even picking up litter that was fluttering loose on the pier.

A little boy about three or four years old watched the group pick up random things and putting them into clear garbage bags. It looked like a game. He picked a plasic bottle that rolled into his shoes while he was standing there and brought it to a very tall, dark woman who was the group organizer.

“Why thank you, little man! Good job!” She squealed cheerfully and let him place the litter in her bag. “Do you want to help me?”

The other volunteers clapped and the little boy followed the woman around to pick up more litter.

After a few minutes, the father, a local fisherman, while exiting a cafe noticed the little boy was gone and went looking for him.

“Drop it! That's dirty!” He snatched the boy up with one arm and shook ketchup-stained wrapper from his hands. The fisherman kicked it across the ground.

The woman stabbed it with a trash picker and added it to her bag.

“That's why we're cleaning it up,” she said merrily.

“That's alright for you,” the fisherman replied, “but don't be teaching my son to touch garbage.”

The fisherman shook his iced coffee at her. A frown grew on the little boy's face. To the annoyance of his father, the little boy started wailing.

She raised her eyebrows. “People should learn throw it away properly or recycle.”

But the fisherman was adamant. “He could get sick or something and then it'll be your fault.”

“Sir, I understand. My son— “

The fisherman tossed his drink at the beach cleanup organizer, ice, coffee, lid and all. The plastic cup, he crushed, and then dropped at her feet.

“I'm done with you hippies lecturing me all the time telling me how I should live my life and spend a million dollars on biodegradeable, eco-friendly shit. You people should leave everyone else alone and keep the paper straws to yourselves. But, if picking up garbage is so important to you, then don't worry, I'll keep making it.”

He maliciously emptied his pockets of random garbage. Receipts and a crumpled grocery bag scattered on the pier. And then he left laughing as his son bawled.

That night the fisherman dreamt about trawling on a tuna longliner. He and other shadowy fisherman worked together at hauling in the lines. The hooks were baited with sardines to catch tuna but they didn't only catch tuna.

They began hauling up tangled lines, and nets, and armfuls of bycatch to cut and throw overboard. They handed him crab pots full of rotting crabs and pieces of fish aggregating devices that he didn't know what to do with but he threw them overboard too.

In the dream as the night went on, they drew in a net with a dead whale calf twisted inside. Plastic bottle caps, old refuse, and straws spilled from its gaping mouth as someone shouted they'd have to throw it back because the catch was spoiled.

His chest and his lap were sluiced with chunks of red slime. A dead sea turtle with oozing eyesockets fell apart in his hands before he could toss it and it disappeared as a wave crashed on the deck, as the ocean heaved, and as the rain ran.

They called him to help haul in something tangled in the line. It was a shark thrashing with a hook wedged deep in its jaws.

Its body slapped against the deck hard as it bawled loudly.

The fisherman took a wide knife and sliced down from its mouth. The shark's crying turned into gurgling. He ripped the hook free so it could be reset by one of the crew. They pinned it down and began sawing off its fins.

Suddenly it wasn't a shark anymore. It was his son, mouth torn, choking. Blood bubbled from his freshly opened throat. The fisherman felt the knife chop bone. A mix of cold ocean and warm blood sprayed his face. Then the fisherman helped them saw off his son's legs. The meat was soft and cut very easily but the bone took time. Steaming, hot blood splattered his boots. They took the severed arms and legs away then the fisherman threw the rest of the boy overboard with a splash.

The fisherman awoke in cold sweat, trembling, and peeked into his son's room to see him sleeping peacefully unharmed. He checked the time. It was two hours after midnight so he slipped into his bathrobe and sandals to take a short, calming walk on the marina.

It seemed darker than usual outside the house boats, but he had only been asleep for a little under an hour. His eyes were blurry. His grogginess weighted him down.

As he was walking something thin wrapped around his ankle, like a thick spiderweb, so he kicked it, trying to shake free. He took another step and it began to pull tighter. It wouldn't break. It floated softly against his hands, his neck, rising over his chin so he raised his elbows to stop it. He tripped and fell. He was gasping and clawing at nothingness until he passed out.

The fisherman was found dead by a neighbor later that morning with his head inside of a plastic bag. It was believed he tripped, hit his head, and then lost consciousness with his head landing in the bag and then suffocating to death.