This Friday I’ll be competing in the second installment of NYCMidnight’s Flash Fiction contest. You have 48 hours to write a story, 1,000 words or less, based on the 3 criteria they send you – a genre, a place and an object. Here is my first story – the elements were “thriller, a coral reef, and chewing tobacco.”
Be Careful What You Wish For
“How much for your boat?”
The voice came from above him. Craning his neck back, the fisherman looked up to see a middle-aged man standing on the dock, wearing a pair of torn jean shorts and nothing else.
“What’s that? This boat here?” he asked.
“Yes,” said the man. “I want to go out to the reef.”
The fisherman climbed out onto the dock. Straightening, he took a tin of chewing tobacco out of his pocket while he sized up the man speaking. Tucking a wad into his cheek, he put the tin back in his pocket.
“You can hire someone to take you to the reef; you don’t have to buy a boat,” he said.
“I know. I’d just like my own boat. I…plan to go out there a lot.” The man stared steadily into the fisherman’s eyes.
The fisherman stared back, jaws working on his tobacco. Something about this didn’t feel right. He held out his hand.
“Jack. What’s your name?” The man reached out and shook Jack’s hand.
“Mitchell. I’ll give you a $1,000.00,” said the man.
Jack’s eyebrows went up. His boat was ready for the scrapper; it wasn’t worth more than $300. He decided whatever Mitchell was up to, it was none of his business. He spat a mouthful of tobacco juice into the ocean.
“Sold.” Mitchell took out his wallet and pulled out ten $100 bills and handed them to Jack.
“Be right back.” He walked down the dock towards the parking lot. Jack busied himself unloading his fishing gear onto the dock. After a few minutes he heard footsteps behind him.
Mitchell was back, with scuba gear he laid into the boat. Jack climbed out of the boat and Mitchell got in.
“Well, enjoy ‘er,” said Jack. “Don’t go too far out; it’s too small a boat for big swells.”
“I’ll manage,” said Mitchell. He was checking his equipment and did not look up.
Jack picked up his gear and walked back to the parking lot. The sun was getting lower in the sky, casting cool shadows over the beach. Reaching his car, he opened the trunk and tossed in his fishing pole and tackle box. Behind him, he heard the familiar roar of his boat’s motor. Closing the trunk, he turned and watched Mitchell untie the rope and push off from the dock. Mitchell turned the throttle and the boat began moving through the water. Suddenly, he made a throwing motion and Jack saw something sail from his hand and land on the dock. Mitchell revved the engine and sped out to sea.
Curious, Jack walked back to the dock, then down its length, toward a dark object lying on the boards near the end. When he saw what it was, his gut tightened. Bending over, he picked the object up and looked at it.
“Shit,” muttered Jack. He turned and ran back up the dock, looking for a policeman.
The coolness of the water enveloped him. Lying with his back against the coral reef, Mitchell breathed his precious oxygen in and out, marveling at the stillness of the underwater world. He was about 20 feet below the boat. Fish flitted past his mask; one bumped into it. He chortled softly into his mask.
Fuck everything, he thought. Fucking job, fucking boss, fucking wife. See how you like this.
He was 45 and his life was over. His daughter was dead, taken from him by a stupid, treatable illness – if you had health insurance. He didn’t. His wife moved out, blaming him for not saving their child. Then, last week, he’d lost his job.
He was done.
The only love of his life left was the ocean. Diving the coral reef had always been his escape from a chaotic world; a world of illness, misery, politics and death. The reef was where he wanted to end it. Cradled in the embrace of this silent utopia, he would just drift away with the fish.
The light filtering through from the surface was dimming. He stared into the blue, remembering his daughter. Her laugh; her face when she slept; their first trip to the ocean, where they built sand castles and he showed her crabs and starfish. The feel of her little arms around his neck. Daddy’s girl.
He shifted his weight slightly; the coral was digging into his leg. Probably have about 5 minutes of oxygen left. He breathing sped up a little; his heartbeat quickened.
This is gonna hurt.
Anxiety boiled in his stomach, irritating him. He didn’t want to be scared; he wanted this over. But his primal instinct to survive was starting to fight, trying to make him panic, get up, swim back to the boat. He clung to the reef, trying to calm himself.
His fear was building. He could almost hear the needle on his oxygen gauge dipping towards 0. His breath was coming in rapid pants.
Goddamn it. I can’t.
Sitting up, Mitchell started swimming towards the boat anchored above his head, tears of anger in his eyes.
The crushing blow hit him from behind, propelling him through the water like he’d been hit by a car. Pushed forward at blinding speed, his mask was torn from his face. He couldn’t breathe; he couldn’t see. An agonizing force of compression was around his legs and pelvis. Yanked back and forth, everything was boiling water and flashing light and pain.
Suddenly the jerking stopped. The grip around his legs disappeared. Panicked, out of air, he swiveled his head, trying to understand what had just happened. An object drifted past his vision, slowly sinking back down towards the reef.
Comprehension dawning, he tried to scream, but there was no air. He saw a huge, dark shape moving like a torpedo through the water towards him.
With the water turning red above the reef, Mitchell’s leg softly came to rest on the coral.
~~ The End ~~
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