The Last of the Sea by John Gerard Fagan

Taro awoke with watering eyes from a shallow sleep. Another dream of being back in his childhood village. Running over grass towards the old temple with his brothers. The scent of spring in the wind as it blew through pink flowers. Everyone smiling. Fresh takoyaki and cherry ice wafting from food stalls. A dangerous dream to have floating over dark water. Images could drive a man crazy while he breathed stale cabin air and had salt permanently etched in the folds of his skin.

He’d lost count of the days. The Antarctic waters were unforgiving, but he finally had enough money to get back home. That’s all that mattered. He’d been gon—

It took a few heartbeats to process Kazuki standing over him. The grip on his hair brought things to clarity as his head smacked off the wall.

“I won’t tell you again. Get up! Have you no idea what’s going on?” Kazuki screamed. Had never seen such panic in the old man’s face before.

The boat jerked and Taro was thrown out of the bunk. He pulled on boots and rushed up the stairs. Rain pelted the deck. The boat was leaning, fast taking in water. The waves were choppy with every third pouring over. The sky thick with black clouds.

“What happened? Where’s the captain?”

“I don’t know. He and the life boat are both missing. Get over there and help Jiro,” Kazuki said.

Jiro was frantic and trying to get the nets back on board. Taro held the edge and pulled towards the starboard side. Kazuki was shouting on the phone in the pit. He was slapping himself and kicking the steering wheel.

“What do you mean? Do you not understand our situation? Hello? Answer me. Answer me!”

“Taro get me a knife from the kitchen,” Jiro shouted. “We need to cut the nets.”

Taro nodded. The boat slammed against the waves. Before falling down the stairs he saw Jiro flying overboard.

Taro held onto the bunk as the boat swayed and water rushed into the room. He managed to kick the door closed. A noise like breaking metal echoed and he was thrown against the wall. He struggled into the bunk and held on as tight as those hands would grip.

The feeling of being dragged. The boat was already well under and headed for the deep before he realised he should have gotten out of that room. He scrambled to the door and peered out the circular window, seeing only darkness. He climbed to the top bunk and kneeled. Water leaked in from the joints in the door.

It was quiet. Then there was a dull thud. The sinking stopped. Three quarters of the room had filled with water, levelling just under the mattress. Didn’t know how long the air would last. A red cigarette box and its contents floated on the water. A picture of Kazuki’s granddaughter. That was all.

“Kazuki?” he whispered. The light flickered. Panic churned inside. Breaths became much deeper. “Kazuki? Jiro? Anybody?”

No answer.

The rescue party would be there soon. Kazuki told their co-ordinates. The captain might even have been going for help. Had to just stay calm and wait. He curled into a ball and pulled a damp blanket to his chest. Exhaustion swallowed him.

Taro opened one eye. Hands numb, pins and needles crawling in his legs. The water level had risen and the walls were groaning. He took both hands out the water and rubbed them. Teeth chattered. The bulb flickered. After three breaths it went out.

He held knees in the darkness. Even if they knew where the boat was, why would they rush down there? He was dead; that’s what they’d all think. It would be weeks, if ever, before they’d try and salvage the boat.

No one was coming to save him.

No one.

Only death.

He clenched his jaw and dropped into the cold water, gasping. He wasn’t waiting to die in there. He took a series of deep breaths and paused. Silent. And smashed his elbow into the center of the glass. The glass shattered and water rushed inside. He pulled himself through the window and swam through the darkness.

Taro ran over the grass towards the old temple with his brothers. The scent of spring in the wind as it blew through pink flowers. Everyone smiling. He was home.

 


 

IMG_0059
John Gerard Fagan is a writer from Scotland. He teaches writing classes at Meikai University in Japan, and has published short stories in venues ranging from Black Static to The Grind. He writes Scottish fiction at https://goosegog5.wordpress.com and tweets @JohnGerardFagan.

Esta es la Linea Azul by Becca Borawski Jenkins

The meth-heads and heroin addicts get on the bus and off the bus every day like I do. The city-employed men in yellow vests harass them. Not because they’re meth-heads, but because none of us can figure out how to pay to ride the MAX. To pay the ticket machines. The silent judges of whether we get to progress. They take your money and don’t print. They don’t take your money and don’t print. The button is stuck. And that button, too. It won’t scan your credit card. It rejects your cash. It rejects you. The screens don’t even light. It won’t be forced to acknowledge you. Especially in the pouring rain, the kind that flies sideways and the architectural wonder, the design student’s wet dream—those damn hipsters that ride their bikes around downtown with their coffee-cup holders and ridiculous jeans and a guilty mother’s money on every single First Thursday—of a public transportation stop that can’t help you stay dry. Try the next machine and the next. You should have gotten off at the subsequent stop and paid when the previous one didn’t work, says the yellow-vested I’m-more-employed-than-you man. He’s got health insurance that isn’t even on the exchange. Go wait in line behind all the folks who’ve already done their business at the methadone clinic and act like you don’t know that’s what’s happening, he says. He didn’t say it, but let’s not pretend. We all know. One day I went into work late and everyone on the train had armbands, had medical tape around their forearms. How strange, I thought. Then I realized they’d all donated. The plasma joint is one block up, the methadone clinic is right next to the train station. They donate, they re-up, and they ride with their new cash and their new high and I’m old news just going to work to sit at a desk, or if I’m lucky I get to stand, and earn what I earn to pay for my dinner, my rent, and my clothes, and maybe one night of over-priced vintage cocktail happy hours with day-old oyster shooters per week even thought the coast just isn’t that far away. Let’s not even talk about insurance. The other riders know I don’t belong because I don’t wear the armband. They’ve got tokens for free food and the lady next to me wears a lanyard that I know means she never pays to ride this thing, or the bus, or the streetcar, too. Maybe even the cab. The news says there’s an underground token market. You can get sixty cents cash for every dollar of tokens. Buy all the drugs you want. The meth-heads hang out near the newly remodeled yet authentically retro Voodoo Donut—the one in the Northwest, not the one in the Northeast, I know we’re riding from Gresham, but please—and you can barely tell the drugged-out zombies from the art students and viticulturists. I know the lady with the lanyard has got it worse than me but sometimes it still makes me angry when I sit at my desk and wonder what it feels like, what’s so worth riding all the way across Portland and waiting in line after line, to slug back that little plastic cup.

 


 

beccabjenkins-bioBecca Borawski Jenkins holds an MFA in Cinema-Television Production from USC and has short stories appearing or forthcoming in concis, The Forge, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Jersey Devil Press, Five on the Fifth, Menacing Hedge, and Corium. She and her husband live in a RV they built by hand. They split their time between an off-grid mountain cabin in the Idaho Panhandle and wherever their whims and the winds take them. 

Survey by Mary Lynn Reed

I’m doing a survey of all the ways to screw up a good thing. All the ways to make nothing out of something. All the paths to seek the unobtainable when it sure as hell feels like it ought to be obtainable. It’s an honest way to begin. Get it out on the table up front. So it won’t come as a surprise later when we’re both sitting at the other end of nowhere, trying to figure out how it all unraveled so goddamned fast. When just a few days before the sky had opened wide and blue—in the middle of the darkest night—and the unthinkable began to look like real possibility. When it felt, maybe just for five minutes—but they were a damn fine five minutes—like I might be able to deliver all the things you said you wanted and a good handful of the things you needed but never admitted to anyone—yet they were there, buried somewhere deep inside—and you would never tell me either—there wasn’t time, because I was doing this survey. And I promised it wouldn’t be a burden or take too much of your time. I’m very efficient and respectful and would never push you. Never overstep any bounds. You’ve been a great help and neither one of us should still be thinking about all that untapped potential, about how gentle it was that time, and how hot, or how good it felt to open the door and let someone in. Endings are important, too. Endings tells us who we are and that’s hard to capture in a survey. Hard to explain how nothing and never again and five fine minutes turned out to be quite something after all.

 

MLReed_photo

Mary Lynn Reed’s prose has appeared in Mississippi Review, Colorado Review, The MacGuffin, Smokelong Quarterly, FRiGG, Sakura Review, and Whistling Shade, among other places. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Maryland.

Swimming with Dolphins by Spencer Chou

There was this stupid charity event in the town square. Some firemen were walking through the crowd, collecting for one of those ‘make a wish’ children’s charities. They were going to pull a fire engine with a rope. I didn’t give them anything. I hate those things. It’s always swimming with dolphins or going to Disney World. I swam with dolphins once, and I thought it was shit.

It wasn’t a wish being fulfilled. I wasn’t dying or anything. We went to Florida in the summer break when I was twelve. One morning dad drove us all to the coast. Mum said we were going for a day out at the beach, but she was one of the worst liars anybody had ever met. When we got there she turned around in her seat, smiling like an idiot. ‘You two know what we’re doing today?’ she asked. It was supposed to be some big surprise. My little sister Mattie almost broke my eardrums with her screaming when mum told us. She was ecstatic. I didn’t blame her though, because she was just a little kid. She didn’t know any better.

Anyway, we got out of the car and there was this wooden hut nearby and on the side it had this awful painting of a smiling cartoon dolphin with a rainbow above its head. You should have seen it. We went inside and some old man was there. He made my parents sign some forms, probably so we didn’t sue them if we drowned or got bitten or something. Then he got these life jackets out. I told him I didn’t need one, but he said, ‘You don’t wanna drown out there, boy.’ I kept telling him it was too tight, but he kept saying it was fine. I think I’d rather drown than wear one of those again.

Outside, there was this wooden jetty that had two rowboats tied to either side of it. Mum looked like it was the happiest day of her life and she wasn’t even getting in the water. Oh, isn’t this magical?’ she said to dad. He just nodded. I don’t think he cared either. Maybe that’s where I get it from. He didn’t even raise his voice when he caught her with someone else that time. That was the problem with dad. He never cared about anything.

Mattie ran ahead when she saw the dolphins.

Be careful now, you hear?’ the man shouted, but she wasn’t listening. Once she got her mind on something you could never talk her out of it.

She stopped at the end. There must have been five or six dolphins there, jerking around like excited dogs when they know they’re about to go for a walk. The man climbed down into the water, then held his arms out while dad lowered Mattie to him.

I jumped right in. I just felt like doing it. ‘Hey,’ I shouted, ‘what do we do now?’

What do you mean? Enjoy yourself! You’ve got a half hour out here before the next group arrives. Just enjoy yourself.’

I still didn’t get what I was supposed to do. I kept my arm around the steps at the side while the man and Mattie played with those damn dolphins.

Let’s get a nice photo for grandma,’ mum said. How are you supposed to get a nice photo when you’re floating around with a stupid life jacket on and you’ve got these things wriggling all around you, smelling you or whatever, and you don’t even know what you’re supposed to be doing? That picture is still hung up in grandma’s living room. I hate it.

Anyway, some of the women in the crowd in the town square were going on about how damn sexy those firemen were. Whistling and everything. But they’re not like that in real life, are they? When you see them, real ones, I mean, they always look normal, no better than anyone else. Some fat, even. Some the wrong side of fifty.

They picked up this rope that was attached to the front of the fire engine. Nobody really knows how heavy those things are though, do they? And it’s on wheels, so really all you need to do is get it going and then it rolls all by itself for a while, so it’s not that impressive if they’re sharing the weight. But some people in the crowd were gasping like it was the most amazing thing they’d ever seen.

I got really worried all of a sudden. There wasn’t anything separating this thing from the crowd, nothing telling people how far back to stand. They were standing all over the place. Kids running around, everything. There wasn’t anyone in the driver’s seat ready to slam the breaks on if something went wrong. I saw it. They were going to pull it forwards and lose control and the crowd would be dragged underneath it and there would be nothing anyone could do.

I sort of wanted it to happen, the more I thought about it. I wanted everything to go wrong for them so everyone would realise that these guys weren’t so great. But nothing did go wrong in the end. They pulled the fire engine forwards for a bit and people moved out of the way and it rolled to a stop and the crowd started clapping and cheering and then started to put even more money in the bucket. That was it. I didn’t hang around for long.

All I’m saying is, those kids the firemen were collecting for are probably going to end up disappointed with whatever they get. That’s the problem with those things, isn’t it? I know they’re ill and everything, but what do they have to look forward to after they get their wishes? I don’t know. I don’t know what I was expecting. I’d rather have gone swimming with sharks, I think. At least you know where you are with a shark.

 


spencerchou

Spencer Chou is a writer and editor from Nottingham, England. He runs the literary magazine and publisher The Nottingham Review, and has been published in various places. In 2016 he was shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award. You can find him on Twitter @spencerchou.