That Bitch, the Sea
“Look, my good man, now that we have some free time, it seems that we are in a perfect position to continue our discussion.”
“This is hardly the time or the place, Kincaid, you silly ass.”
It was not yet blazing hot, but it certainly soon would be. The ocean was huge - interminable - and the whole world seemed to be cut into different gradients of blue. The sky was a dark blue, the ocean was a scummy blue-green, and the extreme exhaustion both men were experiencing was causing the two to run together in hallucinatory blue streaks. Additionally, they both sported deep blue suits that matched both sets of their deep blue eyes. Kincaid had kept on his silk cornflower-blue neckerchief; Arugula had tossed his over the side hours ago. He did, however, still have a blue carnation tucked into his lapel.
“What do you mean this isn’t the time or place? What else do you plan on doing? We could be floating here for weeks.”
They sat side by side in a yellow lifeboat, bobbing up and down like a two-headed rubber-ducky launched into vacuous oblivion by a careless infant deity. Between them lay a cardboard box filled with food and magazines, and various unsorted kitchen implements.
“For one thing, I’d like to go through these supplies and see what kind of provisions we have. And then I’d like to see if I can figure out where we are, and our approximate chances for rescue. And then I would like to take a little nap. Or perhaps attempt to compose some lines of verse to keep myself sane. In fact, to tell you the absolute truth, I would much rather do almost anything than continue our completely fruitless, intensely frustrating, inane, silly, desperate argument.”
“Discussion. We were having a discussion. At most, it could be called a debate.”
“Whatever. Fundamentally, we hold different axioms, so there’s no way we can reach any kind of satisfying conclusion. Look here, I’ll not be dragged into this again.”
The first nautical meeting of the “Society For The Organized Appreciation Of Our Fair Satellite, The Moon” had ended in utter and complete tragedy. SOAOFSTM’s charter members, including both Kincaid the Astronomer, and Arugula the Poet, had rented a small yacht for the last weekend of the summer in order to sail out into the briny Atlantic and observe the moon from a new perspective for them all - namely from the deck of a traveling ship. Now, Arugula and Kincaid, the Society’s most bitter ideological enemies, were the Society’s only survivors.
At first, all had gone well for the sixteen uniformly suited quasi-intellectuals and their guide, the buxom Captain Mulva Magorian. But after dinner on the second night, a storm had hit from out of nowhere, arising out of the void like a sudden dust devil on an elementary school playground. Before anyone could think to man their yardarms or shiver their timbers, lightning had scored a direct hit on the doomed little research vessel, cracking it in half, and sending fourteen of its unprepared inhabitants to eternal perdition at the ocean’s bottom. Most died in their sleep, finding that their recurring dreams about drowning to death were more prescient and less unconsciously meaningful than Freudian analysis would have had them believe.
Kincaid and Arugula, however, had been awake, deep in argument on the prow. Subsequently, they had managed to be within easy access of the lifeboat, and with a cry of “Damn you Arugula, you just don’t get it!” Kincaid had grabbed the nearest box of food and kitchen accessories, pulled the cord on the military-surplus rubber dinghy, and rapidly inflated it just in time for the two of them to hop in and save themselves from even having to tread water. They watched the bubbles the sunken ship sent up for a time, counting them until it was eventually too dark to see. No one else surfaced.
The storm passed as quickly as it came. They both spent the night quivering with an almost catatonically depressing cold, hugging themselves for warmth, each hoping the other would croak in the night from exposure and become a ready and available source of potential food. The moral particulars regarding the contingency of cannibalism were quickly hashed out in each of their minds, each finding more than adequate justification. Not that they hadn’t already thought deeply about the possibility: rarely do amateur sailors set foot on a boat without believing deep in their hearts that they are never coming back and are going to end up forever castaways of some sort or another.
The shock of all the grim death that had brought them to this present miserable state only set in with the cold light of day. They wept, they gnashed their teeth, they rent their suits. But life staggers on; or at least its survivors do, and with a healthy dose of self-delusion, they let the deaths of their comrades empty from their minds, and proceeded to get back to the business of living. The morning sun began to climb, and they now sat stoically in a preheating solar oven, glaring at one another, no closer together as allies than they had been before the trauma.
“All I’m saying is that if we can’t find a way to prove who is right about this here, on this boat, where we literally have the rest of our lives to come to an understanding, then humankind will never be able to solve this particular dilemma.”
“I wish you were Captain Magorian instead. She wouldn’t take advantage of a captive audience and try to force her monotheistic God trip on me,” said Arugula.
“She most likely would have already killed and eaten you,” said Kincaid.
“And I gladly would have let her. Anything for Beauty.”
Arugula tipped over the cardboard box, dumping out its contents for easy sorting.
“If we had been smart,” said Arugula, “We would have somehow saved a bit of that rainwater.”
“Arugula, let me say that I of course respect you. I even understand where you are coming from. You are a poet... a liberal... an anarchist. Certainly you are interested in thinking divergently. You don’t want anyone to tell you what to do. That is eminently noble – the way in which everyone who can do so ought to strive to behave. Everyone who has the luxury, anyway. I am not so divergent a thinker. I seek order in the universe, and foundations on which to stand and bask. I believe in a single Creator God who holds the entire manifest universe in the palm of His or Her hand – a software programmer who occasionally tweaks His or Her program according to His or Her will. You, on the other hand, believe that it is belief which creates deities. You believe our choice of what to worship defines who and what we are. This is a tried and true existential claim, and no better than that in which I have faith, at the bones. But I think it is insane – insane – to hold that this having belief in something causes it to actually exist in the Universe. That is just patently, demonstratively untrue. We obviously believe in that which is, not the other way round.”
“Eleven cans of Spaghetti O’s, four cans of fruit cocktail, a loaf of fairly smushed and soggy white bread, one jar of peanut butter, a packet of Brillo pads, one “World’s Sexiest Grandpa” apron, the past six issues of The New Yorker, also fairly smushed and soggy, a spatula, a can-opener (thank god), a frying pan, two canned hams, a box of Shake ‘N’ Bake, a box of rat poison, and three almost-ripe bananas. I am ignoring you, by the way.”
“Rat poison?” asked Kincaid, “Why would we have needed rat poison?”
Arugula sighed, looking daggers at Kincaid. “There are always rats on every ship.” He moved to throw the box of “Herman the German’s Final Vermin Solution” into the sea, but Kincaid stopped him, grabbing his arm with a wild look in his eyes.
“Leave that...it gives me an idea.”
“What in the devil are you on about?”
“Just leave it. You never know. If you need a reason, just think about how incredibly painful it is to die of dehydration, and how much quicker it would be to go out like the poet you claim you are. Should it come to it.”
Arugula tossed the rat poison back into the box.
“Good point, I suppose. If you keep gibbering on about your pie in the sky, I might just take it right now. However, speaking of dehydration, it looks like we are a bit short in the water department. As in, with the exception of the fruit cocktail syrup and the Spaghetti O’s sauce, we are shit out of luck. Why didn’t you grab the box with all the drinks in it instead?”
“If it hadn’t been for me, we would both be arguing in hell right now. Be glad we have anything at all.”
“Who says this isn’t hell...” muttered Arugula under his breath.
“How long do you think it will be before anyone finds us?” asked Kincaid.
Arugula thought about it, sucking noisily on his bottom lip. “A week, if we are going to be found at all. Maybe more, maybe less. These boats have tracking devices and satellite internet access, but I don’t think Captain Magorian was very diligent about making sure she updated our location. Every time I saw her, she was pretty drunk.”
“Can’t you just believe us to be rescued and it shall come to pass?” sniped Kincaid disgustedly.
“I already told you; we are finished arguing about this. And anyway, it doesn’t work like that.” Arugula stripped off his suit jacket and put it over his face to block out the sun. He closed his eyes and leaned back. It was not long before sleep overtook him.
When Arugula awoke, the smolder of evening in the air told him that many hours had already passed. He was thirstier than he had previously thought humanly possible. His throat was rubbed raw as pasty sandpaper, and even with the suit jacket over his face, the heat of the day had sucked out all of his vital essences, shriveling up his soul like the crusty, puckered sphincter of an elderly child-molesting CIA analyst.
He peeled open his eyes (the lids had caked like fleshy mud onto his now desiccated and blood-shot eyeballs) and looked around desperately for something to drink. Kincaid was sitting placidly in the center of the lifeboat, smiling at him, watching him like a kid who knew where the whoopee cushion was.
“Water...I need water...something, anything...”
“I’m afraid there’s nothing left, old sport,” said Kincaid.
“What do you mean there’s nothing left?”
Panicking, Arugula grabbed at the cardboard box, searching for a can of syrup or sauce to drink. The can-opener was still there, as was the box of rat poison, but everything else had disappeared. Arugula looked closer, and saw that the can opener had bits of food detritus clinging to it, a tell-tale sign that it had recently been used.
“What have you done with all the food, you rotten bastard?” Arugula got to his knees, ready to strangle Kincaid to death and then toss him into the ocean. As he advanced, he realized that his legs were bound in knots with the “World’s Sexiest Grandpa” apron string, and he fell right over on to his face. The lifeboat made a squishy whooshing noise, and water lapped over from the side. Arugula licked at the water, needing something to ungum his mouth and cool him off. His mind was on fire with incomprehensible rage.
Kincaid sat still as the Buddha, taking out from behind his back the frying pan and a crude - but sharp - shiv made out of the lid of a Spaghetti O’s can.
“Simmer down now, Johnny Jump-to-Conclusions. I was forced to eat our food out of necessity, not malice. Now wise up and be still before I have to gut you out of necessity, too. This is a little boat, and it is no place to be fucking about like a petulant child.”
“What did you do with the rest of the food? You mean to tell me you ate eleven cans of Spaghetti O’s and an entire jar of peanut butter? That’s not possible!”
“Well, I ate all I could, and then I tossed the rest.”
Arugula tried once more to jump at Kincaid, but he began to grow exceedingly dizzy, and before he could stand, Kincaid was on him, the shiv pressed up against his throat.
“See, it’s like this, Arugula. I mean you no harm - no harm at all. I just know you. You are pragmatic and utilitarian, and don’t understand the opportunity we now have to settle our differences. It was simply necessary to remove options and compel you to see things my way, so that we can have proper closure to this argument, where one or the other of us has the satisfaction of knowing our point of view has been correct. This has gone on long enough, and i can't handle the tension any longer. You are stubborn, but I think you will come around to my point of view if you think hard and keenly about it enough.”
“This is about our argument? You are bat-shit insane! What does it matter what kinds of gods there are in the universe now, you dumb, psychotic son-of-a-bitch? Without food or water, we are both soon enough going to meet them!”
“Maybe, maybe not. I’ve been thinking about it, and do you know anything about the Mongol warriors? They would ride for weeks through the Gobe Desert, without carrying any kind of water that might slow them down. Whenever they would get thirsty, they would simply cut a slit into the back of their horse and drink its blood. Human beings are 98% water, Arugula. Not to mention all the important nutrition in the sweet meat parts of us. You just have to have the stomach for it. And like you said, it will only be a week or so. I know I’ve got a week’s worth of food and water in me, and you are welcome to it if I am the one to die in my little experiment. Just cut me open and take what you need.”
“I would gladly chew your eyeballs out, were it possible for me to do so. But I can barely stand, and you’ve got the knife.”
“This is true,” said Kincaid. “I could very easily butcher you right now, but I’m not going to. If I were, I would have just killed you while you slept. Like I said, I have done this out of necessity, not malice. I have an alternate proposition for you. Now sit up a second and have some dignity.”
Kincaid spryly jounced back to his side of the lifeboat, allowing Arugula to creakily raise himself into a feeble sitting position. As Arugula watched, Kincaid reached inside of his suit jacket and pulled out a sandwich cut into two halves.
“Peanut butter and banana,” said Kincaid.
Kincaid then reached inside the cardboard box and pulled out the container of rat-poison. He forced Arugula to inspect it, and Arugula was forced to determine that its seal had not been broken. Kincaid tore off the protective ring and proceeded to pour heroic amounts of rat poison into each of the sandwich halves. The metallic smell filled both of their nostrils, and if Arugula had eaten anything at all, it would have come up.
“You see, my good man, one way or another, if even one of us was going to survive out here, they would have eventually had to drink somebody’s blood. Now I can safely say that we both pretty much despise one another, correct?”
“That’s the first sensible thing you’ve said.”
“Alright, so I don’t predict either of us being the selfless martyr and allowing the other to feast on their remains. And I have a feeling we would have both ended up dead, if it had come to an attempt to do things using conventional ethics. I know I personally would rather swim to the bottom of the sea and try to drink the whole thing than willingly let you benefit at my expense.”
“I must say, that I am tempted even now.” Arugula stared hard at the open ocean.
“Right. So here’s what I propose we do. As far as our metaphysical argument is concerned, I think we are far past the point where mere words will settle anything. So we kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. Both of us eat a half of this sandwich. Now I don’t know exactly how much rat poison is considered a lethal dose, or even what kind of a death ingesting massive amounts of rat poison will bring, but I am willing to bet that it won’t be instantaneous. While we are waiting to see what will happen, we both sit here quietly, choose our respective deities, and offer them prayer. Whoever’s deity is stronger - mine, which actually exists, or yours, which doesn’t - will determine who lives, stepping in and settling things justly. The winner gets the loser’s delicious flesh, moist entrails, and succulent piss-laden bladder as additional take-home prizes.”
“The sea has gotten to you. You are completely over the edge. What is going to happen is that we are both going to die very painful deaths for absolutely no discernible reason. I can think of a million better ways to handle this situation, you fucking nut.”
“Well, at least neither of us would win. I am comfortable with that.”
“That’s not even...logic. This is ritual suicide.”
“Yes, but I have the knife. Once again, I could kill you right now, and that would be that. You lose nothing by participating, and you might even get out of this. Come now...where is your faith in your own indomitable spirit, O Hyperborean Wanderer? Where are your jibes and jests? My Christ has often been known to let people down who needlessly invoke His name, and perhaps you have some sort of iron constitution.”
“No, I won’t do it.”
“Suit yourself.” Kincaid leapt to his feet and swung the frying pan in expert circles, building momentum. He pulled it back to land a flat and killing blow, an excited gleam dancing in his eyes. Arugula raised his hands weakly, flinching, squealing.
“Okay, okay...I’ll play your damned game! Give me my half. But I want to see you eat your half first.”
Nodding, Kincaid hunkered back down, brandishing the shiv. He handed half of the sandwich to Arugula. In one bite, Kincaid stuffed his entire triangle into his mouth, chewing with a grimace of total wretched disgust.
“Now you eat,” said Kincaid. Arugula stared at his half of the sandwich. Still chewing, Kincaid pressed the shiv right up against Arugula’s belly. “Eat, eat...I can already see the pearly gates. It’s a wonder we’ve survived this long...do you want to live forever?” Closing his eyes, Arugula slid his half of the sandwich along the roof of his mouth and began to swallow and sputter, moaning in frustration. Kincaid kept the shiv at Arugula’s guts until he was sure he had eaten the whole thing.
Satisfied, Kincaid moved back over to his end of the lifeboat and kneeled, lowering his head in prayer. He began to speak under his breath, but was otherwise inaudible.
Arugula stared out into the ocean. He sighed a sigh of deep lament. He didn't have much time. With a fingernail, he dug deep into one of his wrists until a thin trickle of blood began to flow out and down his hand. He held his arm out over the boat, letting the blood flow into the ocean. With his other hand, he began to make mystic, potent, controlled gestures of summoning, writing in space and time the incantations that now came as natural to him as a second language. He used the language of natural magic - the sign language of all creatures damned and without ears. He could feel the ecstasy within him begin to build, and was careful not to confuse it with his growing feeling of dread at his own inevitable demise.
Kincaid began to hack and cough, holding his head in his hands, one eye on Arugula’s ceremony. “Oh Lord, please Oh Lord, smite mine enemies and save your righteous lamb...your righteous true believer...
Clutching at his stomach and waiting for the shooting pains that would soon rocket through his abdomen and signal his annihilation, Arugula sat at his end of the lifeboat and wept.
“It is done, you son of a bitch,” said Arugula, “Now you will meet the reckoning I have called.”
The sky began to blacken. Kincaid’s shrill religious protests began to grow louder, and then to slacken off altogether, as Kincaid now ostensibly grew close to his own ridiculous death. The sea began to churn. There was a general feeling of unholy wrongness. On the far horizon, a pinprick of dark began to form, and then to grow larger.
“What have you done, Arugula? What is happening?” shrieked Kincaid.
“I wasn’t sure who to invoke, really. Poseidon, the jealous and mutable Grecian god of the sea and earth? The Atlantean goddess Chaltrea, devourer of impure souls and mistress of infinitely expanding technical sorcery? All good choices, but not poetic enough to be the final agent of my untimely egress. And then I remembered your Bible...”
The blackness had become absolute, but a silver light the size of a football field shined in the water near the lifeboat and lit up their faces. The water below was a churning mass of wriggling chaos, and terror struck them both in their hearts. Deep, in the place where the face of the first father lies.
“Arugula, I was bluffing...I switched the labels of the rat-poison and the Shake ‘N’ Bake! Do you seriously think I am as crazy as all this? Call back your demon! The food is safe in the bread bag floating underneath the lifeboat, attached with my necktie! Or did you even notice it was missing, you lunatic! I got bored, lounging around all day! I thought it would be funny! I just wanted to scare you...to test your faith! Holy mother of God, Arugula!”
From out of the water, a head began to rise. A silver beast with cold red eyes like all the nightmares that were yet to be, and more teeth than there are starving children in Ethiopia, moved out of the water like a sickle cutting through wheat - slowly, so very slowly. Water poured off in great torrents, and the creature’s forehead flapped in great shimmering wrinkles that seemed to give off luminescent trails of fiery oblivion. Huge muscles worked and rippled, and the stink, the stink of fish - rotten, salty, slimy fish - overwhelmed the whole of creation. The beast’s forked tongue flicked great gobs of salty spittle like sheets of rain down upon the amazed, frozen poet and astronomer. That night reports of strange tidal activity would flood coastal news networks the world over.
“It is too late! BEHOLD, LEVIATHAN! Make your peace...your doom is upon you!”
Arugula leapt out of the boat as if to embrace the creature, and the monster’s incomprehensibly large head came crashing down, scooping him, along with the boat and a flailing Kincaid, into its maw like so much cheap soup. There was a noise like a popping balloon, and then crunching, and then screaming. The price of justice is the price of sacrifice, thought Arugula sagely, before his back snapped in two and his head was crushed between his own knees. In the end, all that was left floating lazily upon the waves was a smiling cartoon of Ronald Reagan, whose caricature had made the cover of last month’s New Yorker, and a blue carnation.