The boy woke, eyes half-glued shut, cracked lips sealed in brine, his throat a painful parchment rattle. Above, the high rise pitch of gulls. The boy’s sun-baked face pillowed against a naked forearm and his eyes rested on the slow undulation of the distant dark line. Through the sleepy blur, blue met deeper blue along a horizon’s straight edge. The easy sway of the empty dinghy closed his mind down again, rocked him, cupped and cradled like a newborn. He fell back to sleep.
He dreamt he was standing on the dock. His father was already on board the Sea Giant, doodling over a map while Carol waited on a shaded bench below, dabbing at the face in a compact mirror. “For Christ’s sake Dallas,” she said, “is the kid coming or not?” “Come on Denny,” his father said. “Get your damn ass on board. Don’t keep your step-mother waiting.”
He didn’t want to go. In another dream - a real-life one - his mom had disappeared while on the water with his father. ”A devastating accident,“ Dallas had convinced the police. Her body was never found. And soon after his father was seeing Carol. In dreams, he heard his mother’s fading voice calling out his name, warning that this dream would not end well.
The open sea frightened him and what lurked along its vast bottom, in deep trenches scared him more. His sixth grade History book was full of imaginative stories and drawings, depictions of creatures grappling long cable-thick tentacles over wooden boats as terrified sailors looked to the skies… ocean-wide whirlpools boiling beneath calm seas… flat-headed serpents coiling to the surface, maws open wide. He had no trouble imagining any of it. And now in the dream, they were on the water, the Sea Giant humming straight as an arrow toward a targeted horizon. His father was drunk and arguing with Carol, a cold smirk crossing his face. And when he lowered his voice and looked Denny’s way, it was the look of an unfathomable creature and it scared him more than anything he could ever have imagined.
Carol was crying and he almost felt sorry for her until he saw it in her eyes, knew she was on board with what his father had planned. They were fish eyes, round and glossy-wet, compassionless. She looked at him, mouthed, ‘I’m not your mother… never will be… I’m not the one abandoning you,’ her words trailing as she watched Dallas approaching, one arm lingering behind his back. The sea was quiet. The sun saw with its great glowering eye. Then came the sudden boom from below water.
When Denny opened his eyes again, the light was gone. He looked up to the dark beauty of a berry blue ceiling; there seemed to be more stars than sky. It was quiet but for the lap of black water, the cool wind whispering over the contoured surface of the dinghy. He rolled onto his side, leaned up on one elbow, his thoughts wrapped in cotton, his face sore from sunburn and dehydration. Rubbing a swollen eye, he tried to focus on the shape draped over the bow - a flotation device or some sort of gear he thought. Blinking, he focused again and caught his breath; it was the shape of a man’s face and a whimper of ‘Da’ escaped him; when he saw its white teeth flash in the blue moonlight, he lost all consciousness.
In the dream, Denny sat in the dinghy, the cold aluminum seat biting into his bare legs. His father stood on the deck of the Sea Giant. He was reeling and yelling at Carol, screaming for her to get into the dinghy, screaming at Denny to get back on board. Carol sat terrified, unmovable. The dingy swayed as the boat rumbled, pushed away. A deep breaking sound from below the water shook the vessel, rolled it quickly, Dallas’s eyes widening, big as Texas and he grabbed for Carol as the Sea Giant went under, suctioned down, quicker than lightning to ground.
It was still dark when Denny woke. His eyes were slits, puffy, and it was difficult to see in the shadowy moonlight. He was lying on his back on the bottom of the dinghy. His body ached, his muscles wrapped in deep heat and he tried to sit up, found he was unable to move. The sensation of a small hand - a woman’s hand he thought - cradled the back of his head, tilting it forward and another hand was bringing a vial of liquid to his mouth. “Mom?” he croaked and a soft garbled voice sang in his ear, ‘drink this.’
As he tilted his head he made out the shape of someone saddled on the edge of the bow. It was a man, the face from earlier, body in silhouette, a black arm extended pointing a long forked staff straight out to sea, toward the brightest star in the southern constellation. There was splashing about in the water, what sounded like fish jumping, tails smacking and he sensed the dinghy moving quickly through the water. There was music - or what sounded of music - though none that he had ever heard before and the more he listened, the more it sounded like a tubular call coming not from a shore but from far below. And he wanted to go down. Eyes heavy, he wanted to go deep.
The fishing boat found him at daylight. The boy was cocooned, wrapped in dry kelp up to his neck, a nest of seaweed sprouting and coiled Medusa-like behind his head. His face was covered with small iridescent scales that flaked and dropped from his skin leaving it smooth and brown. The puffiness was gone from his eyes; they were now clear and smiling. Dolphins cut through the surface around the dinghy, watched, talked. The fishermen marveled at the sight, at the breathing boy, at the turbulent water receding far below.