Black Petals Issue #89 Autumn, 2019

The Raft
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Mars-Chris Friend
BP Artists and Illustrators
A Tale of the Dark Web-Fiction by Blair Frison
Drop, Pt. 2: Help Thy Neighbor-Fiction by Michael Mulvihill
Gas Stop-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Grandad's Legacy-Fiction by Jan Cronos
Hive-Fiction by Dan Cardoza
My Nighttime Parents-Fiction by Malik Mandeville
Orphans at the Dark Door-Fiction by Roy Dorman
The News that Night-Fiction by June Driver
The Raft-Fiction by Stephen Caesar
The Voice from the Dark-Fiction by Scott Kimak
Dear Pneumonia-Two poems by Michael Mulvihill
The Well-Poem by Jason Rice

bp89raftbysavage.jpg
Art by W. Jack Savage 2019

The Raft

 

By Stephen Caesar

Things that go bump in the sea

 

 

He looked on in dismay as his ship went down, its prow jutting upward into the dying embers of that August night on the Sargasso Sea. He was the only one who had survived the exploding boiler and the subsequent conflagration that had gutted the vessel in mere moments. The vessel itself was but a small, shabby fishing vessel out of Bermuda, manned by a tiny handful of 5 ordinary men. In the roaring chaos of the disaster, he was the only one who had had the opportunity to take hold of the rubber life raft and pitch it overboard. He leaped feet-first after it, hoping the others would follow, but as he landed on the undulating floor of the raft, he looked upward to see the boat haplessly swallowed by flames, the screams of his shipmates choking off as the inferno engulfed them in fiery oblivion.

He lay there in shock, not from any injury but from the enormity of the disaster, and of the hopelessness of his situation. He had no paddle or other means of propulsion, and in the rapidity of the disaster he had had no time to gather provisions, including water. He simply lay stretched out on the damp floor of the rubber raft, gazing upward with a traumatized stare at the orange-gray of the twilit sky above him.

The raft drifted aimlessly. He knew well enough not to put his hand in the water to simulate a crude paddle: there was far too great a risk of sharks. He could do nothing but float helplessly through the unending mass of sargassum, the bizarre seaweed that gathered in the wide stretch of Atlantic south of Bermuda and north of the Caribbean islands. It forms miles upon miles of living mats, some so thick one could almost stand on them. In the dying light, he could see the eerie, tangled masses of living, botanic land stretch to the horizon in every direction as he briefly raised his head and peered over the edge of the raft. In despair, he slumped back down and lay prostrate on the clammy floor of his tiny boat, its rubber floor the only thing separating him from the merciless ocean and its equally merciless denizens.

With deepening despair, he stared helplessly upward, like a turtle that had been flipped over and was pitifully unable to right itself. His despair intensified as the oceanic twilight inexorably gave way to utter, inky darkness. Exhausted from his ordeal, and sinking into a profound despondency, he mercifully fell asleep as total blackness enveloped him and his minute craft.

 

He had been asleep for an unknown stretch of time before he felt it. It jolted him awake and caused him to inhale sharply with a combination of a hiss and a gasp. It felt as if someone with a balled fist had firmly but gently pushed against the bottom of the raft. An experienced seaman, he knew that it could well have been any sort of fairly large creature, from a harmless sea turtle to his death in shark form, or any manner of oceanic animal in between. Since this intrusion was not repeated, he once again began to drift off.

But just as his brain was entering the first stages of sleep, he felt it again. This time, however, it was more as if a limb was stroking the bottom of the raft for a length of about two feet. Again, this jolted him awake but did not cause him any panic. Nonetheless, he froze where he lay, realizing that, if the curious marine animal beneath him was a shark searching for an evening meal, any squirming or sudden movements on his part would quickly and inevitably lead to his sanguinary demise.

 Soon the groping, pawing sensation went away. Obviously, the inquisitive sea creature had lost interest and moved on. It clearly did not find prey made of synthetic rubber to be the least bit palatable. For the third time, the marooned fisherman drifted off into a leaden sleep. And for the third time, he woke with a start. He knew—he could not be mistaken—that something below the raft had once again poked or prodded him. This time, however, it distinctly felt like a hand, or some sort of appendage that was able to grasp. The appendage had unmistakably tried to grasp onto him through the thin but tough fabric of the life raft.

This time the experienced seaman panicked. He arched his back in fright, trying almost childishly to escape from the eerily grasping appendage in the black depths below him, so close to his body. The arching of his back caused his head at one end of the raft and his feet at the other to sink into the raft’s bottom, creating a triangle of bulges that jutted downward into the water. To his horror, he felt the ghastly, grasping appendage fondle the crown of his head through the material that comprised the raft’s floor. Almost simultaneously, two more of the horrid, hand-like things took hold of each foot through the rubber material. Reflexively, he yanked his feet away from the grotesque things that had taken hold of them, but this merely caused his body to flop loudly down onto the bottom of the raft.

 Almost at once, to his complete horror, two sets of feeling, groping appendages began exploring the impression made by his back against the bottom of the raft. With illogical panic he rolled from side to side in a vain attempt to get his flesh away from the grasping, searching hand-things below him, but they merely followed the writhing of his body as they made moving, sinuous impressions in the fabric of the raft’s bottom. Where once he had been mute with horror, he now began emitting almost child-like cries of panic and fear. The more he thrashed about on the floor of the little boat, the more the ghoulish appendages seemed to grasp at him.

Suddenly and inexplicably, the hand-things stopped their exploratory groping. The mariner’s relief was short-lived, however, as he began to feel the grasping things move deliberately and inexorably toward the edge of the raft. He stared in silent horror at the foot of the little vessel as he felt groping, exploring hands move toward the stern and up the inflated edge of the raft. Waves of ineffable panic tore across him as he saw, in the pale, feeble light provided by a three-quarter moon and a multitude of stars, a ghastly, weedy hand reach up from the black waters and the twisted mats of seaweed.

The grotesque horror was remarkably like a human hand in size and form, with four fingers and an opposable thumb. It grasped the edge of the raft, its digits pressing into the rubber material. The seaman lay in frozen terror as the hand was joined by its fellow. They gripped the tube-shaped edge of the raft, pressing downward as if they were lifting up the body that owned them. With instinctual panic, the fisherman kicked at both hands simultaneously with each foot, and they suddenly let go.

But almost immediately they were replaced by another pair along the side of the raft, near the sailor’s right arm. They seemed to crawl toward him, like two revolting, weed-covered tarantulas. Again with mindless instinct borne of sheer terror, the fisherman pounded away at the grotesque appendages with his left fist. They felt spongy and plant-like as they gave way slightly to his blows. At last they, too, ceded their grip and slid back into the water. Almost as soon as that had happened, yet another pair, this one on his left, began grasping and groping its way up the side of the raft. With his right fist he pounded at the hands like a madman, and within seconds they dropped out of sight beneath the weed-covered surface.

For several moments all remained still. The mariner lay in a petrified state on the bottom of the raft, breathing with sharp, uneven inhalations. All around him the sea was silent. Only the lapping of the water and the slight swishing sound of the weed-mats rubbing up against the outer sides of the raft were audible. After a few minutes, his laborious breathing began to return to normal, and his furiously pounding heart began to resume its natural pace. His steel-tense body started to relax as exhaustion once again vanquished him.

The warm, still night air was suddenly rent by the splashing sound of two algal hands bursting through the surface of the water and grasping the stern of the raft. Before the fisherman could react, the hands took hold of the tubular edge of the inflated boat and began hauling up the body to which they were attached. Panic conquered him again as an unspeakable head appeared over the stern of the raft. The apparition matched the hands: it was in shape and form like a human head, but had no human face. Where the face should have been was a mass of short, curly weeds dripping with seawater. The only resemblance to a human face was the most horrific aspect of the monstrosity that now confronted the sailor: two eyes, exactly where they would be on a human being, but lacking pupils or lids and glowing with the pale fire of an inner malevolence.

Feral panic seized the stranded fisherman, and he kicked out with both feet, striking the marine monstrosity square in the face with his two booted heels. The thing emitted a serpentine hiss and slid back into the depths, but it was almost immediately replaced by another, equally ghastly assailant who burst suddenly from the water at the prow of the raft, just behind the beleaguered mariner’s head. The creature grasped the stem of the raft and hauled its human-like torso halfway onto the craft, practically placing its revolting self on top of the fisherman’s upper body. He let out a bellow of horror and revulsion as he repelled the being with both his arms, made strong by years of hauling in fishing nets. The scabrous, spongy creature spat out a hiss of disapproval and slid back into the inky depths.

Once again all was still and silent, and again the stranded mariner breathed loudly and unevenly. He lay half-mad on the bottom of the raft, splayed out in an asymmetrical position. Suddenly, from all sides of the raft—fore, aft, port, and starboard—four pairs of hands, followed by four heads and torsos, burst out of the water and assaulted the raft in unison. The creature at the stern took hold of each of the seafarer’s ankles, while the ones on each side grabbed an arm. Worst of all, the entity that was climbing up the front of the raft began pawing at his face and throat with revoltingly spongy fingers.

Babbling and shouting with inconceivable dread, the mariner reached up and clawed at the two loathsome appendages that were assailing his face, while he kicked against the abomination that was pulling him by the ankles as if to drag him into the briny depths. At the same time, the two on each side of the raft raked and clawed with reedy, squelching fingers at this chest and midsection. The fisherman writhed and contorted in horror and revulsion, but to no avail. No matter what way he twisted, he found himself in the nauseating grip of one of his clawing, grasping, spongy assailants. And all the while the eyes—those pale, lidless, soulless, ghastly, glowing eyes—pierced the semi-darkness and stared at him with ineffable malevolence.

The creature that was grabbing his ankles seemed to be the most powerful of that quartet of horror, for it managed, more than the other three, to use the mariner’s legs as a pair of ropes with which to haul itself up over the edge of the raft and onto the seaman’s lower body. The fisherman gasped in horror as he looked downward, along the length of his prostrate body, to see a human-sized, human-shaped mass of seaweed inexorably drag itself up his legs toward his face, those baleful, glowing eyes staring straight at him.

Closer and closer the thing pulled its way up the sailor’s stricken body; closer and closer came those glowing orbs toward his face. The creature was light and spongy, as if its entire body was made of sargassum. Slowly, relentlessly it grasped and yanked at the sailor’s wet clothing, pulling itself ever toward his face even as he writhed and slashed in an attempt to remove the dripping organism from off his person. The unceasing assaults from the other three galling monstrosities, however, rendered his efforts useless, and within minutes the lead creature was fully on top of him. The fisherman’s body bucked and rocked wildly in a mad, animalistic attempt to dislodge the saline abomination, but his efforts were futile. The creature’s three fellows had all managed to crawl over the side of the raft, and all four of the foul things had piled themselves on top of the wildly bucking, screaming man.

The last thing he remembered was a mass of clammy, dripping seaweed-hands groping and clutching at his body, and four inconceivably frightening pairs of glowing, lidless eyes closing in on him. As consciousness left him, eight green-glowing eyes were joined by a ninth, this one a perfectly round, yellow-white eye of seemingly infinite brightness and potency.

He slipped into mental oblivion before he was able to learn that this new, round eye was the powerful search beam of a United States Coast Guard helicopter, which had been on routine patrol in the sector and had seen, off in the distance in the dying sunlight, the explosion that had doomed the fishing boat’s tiny crew.

 

The End

 

 

Stephen Caesar, stephencaesar@hotmail.com, wrote BP #89’s “The Raft,” his first fiction submission. He has had two scholarly, peer-reviewed articles published in “The Jewish Bible Quarterly.” A former adjunct professor of English literature at Newbury College in Boston, MA, he is currently an English tutor for various standardized tests, such as the SAT and ACT. 

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