by Andy Luke
The King Crab festival jaunted through Kodiak: horns tooting, dancing ladies; debonair men in zebra striped jackets, jigging by the frills of gowns. A Volkswagon beetle carried a fibreglass crustacean twenty foot wide to Big Abe’s contest at City Hall.
Several currents often jostled for Kodiak’s attention. Today was unusually peaceful, sunny, the rare climate Methodists prayed for. Attention was on the harbour, so hoping the cooler beach off Cape Point would absorb his teen strop Jamie was left to his devices. These included looking out to the sea and wondering if it meant anything. The Pacific Ocean meant his pre-destined vocation as a crab fisher, the connections with mainlandAlaska, even the exploration of theAleutianIslandchain that stretched half way toRussia. But did it mean anything? What did they mean, those breaking waves he saw everyday since childhood? Perhaps there was something hidden in there, some poetic…thing.
It didn’t happen suddenly. The eruptions were occurring for four minutes and he watched without registering, pondering what fourteen year olds ponder. Each time, the exploding sea got closer, until cold spit wiped the sun off his face and seeped up into his toes. The water followed as he galloped backwards, mesmerised by the shore. Any moment, a freak wave might pull him down. The blue water was at one with the clear blue sky, which seemed odd. Another blast, (ten seconds apart), could rip him, into the tide. Fight or flight had not set in. A wave pounced over Jamie’s head. He shivered and braced. Then the sea was calm, and low, bubbles popping from the dipped sand. They glided playfully, as if holding dream castles.
There was a dark shadow on the beach. A fish: ten centimetres wide by five across. Jamie took up a piece of driftwood and walked to the suspected sea-slug. It shone like a petrol rainbow. He watched over it for a minute, and then gently poked it. Gills ticked but the belly did not move, nor the fin. It had no eyes (or the eyes were closed), but hexagonal scales like steel. Whatever claimed it, had taken it out without visible damage. Jamie dragged it by the plank in a line up the shore through damp sand, shuffling it left and right. An accidental tug too hard and it flipped, showing a gash, teeth marks, a small flesh chunk and a twitch. It leapt at his arm. The touch was firm, hard ice through raw skin. Jamie swung and punched it in the face. His knuckles burned, and there was a crack like glass as its one eye fell away. He would kill it. Solid, he raised the plank quick, and brought it down in a v-shape, but the fish was quicker. On the underside it crawled forty tiny legs up his arm. Flapping wildly, he lost the stick, then screamed, feeling a hole gorged into his armpit. Jamie had about a minute before vomiting. It was poking around in there, and then just as soon as it attacked, it was still. The lad felt a ripple of contentment. Something unwelcome, yet…homely. It touched his chest, the emotion, and his belly, which was content. Only his mental state wasn’t completely composed, but then it never really had been. If he removed the creature, what then? More struggle? A raised arm produced a gaping wound. The thing was nested inside. Summoning courage made him feel immediately uneasy but what he did next he did anyway. He put his hand into his armpit, through to his shoulder and ripped it, scooped it out and flicked it into a nearby crater. The discarded driftwood was close by where it landed. It shimmered with plankton and he lifted it up to smash the steel fish. Before he could do so, his gut threw up a full pint of carrots and steak into the hole. Then a mug’s worth, and he weakly dropped the stick on top of the fish. Jamie sunk to his knees. His mouth exploded as another pint of vomit poured out. He shook as he rose, kicking sand feebly over the mess and staggered back to the street.
Jamie’s nausea grew, sat on Dr. Davis’s blue bed, but the security helped his colour return. There was talk of transferring him by helicopter to Junea’s hospital but the blood tested clean and there was no need to transfer him to Junea.Davissuspected the bite a giant leech or jelly-fish. Rob went out with a few men the next day, but they found nothing.
Jamie got on with school-work. He grew in confidence, his class-mates noting his talents for practical thinking. Rob took him on short hauls crab fishing in the holidays, when the weather was calmest. It was two years later when Ivan got off the leash near Cape Point. Jamie braved the beach for a quick look and the rain battered a big band beat on his parka. Turning back, he caught sight of familiar driftwood on the dune. The stagnant plant life on its side seemed to shimmer and burn. He felt a calling, a settling, and then from back on the ridge, the dog barked.
The sea was furious, and it claimed the lives of many crabbers he did and didn’t know. From time to time they answered distress calls, on some occasions saving lives from icy depths. Jamie and Rob took their catches to the markets on the peninsula and atAnchorage. They found tinned meat at an abandoned army bunker on theAleutians. The breakers called Jamie to join with them sometimes, when the weather was still and the Pacific was deep, but he knew it was a bloody evil lie. Returning home from that first catch, he went back to that beach, and stayed for the afternoon watching what the shore brought in, and took out. He did the same once a month, revisiting and admiring, content in the glow of the downpour.
Andy Luke is the author of 'Brand of Britain', from the To End All Wars graphic novel, and a member of the new Belfast ABC Arts Collective and Gallery. 'Sea Legs' was inspired by teenage absence attacks while watching the river go by, and a chat with Stephen King in the kitchen.
Pieces Inspired by this Image