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Fisher of Men
Narrated by NaturesTemper
I used to bartend at this hole-in-the-wall dive bar down in south Boston back in the mid-2000s—the kind of rusty, run-down little shithole with rust-weeping nails that you’ll only find in spitting distance from any of the wharfs and harbors of the world. On a slow day once a week, and twice on pay weeks give or take, a drunkard by the name of Barnham would drop in, lay three twenties on the counter, and yammer these fuckin' stories at me, until his money ran out or his ass fell off the stool, or both. Most of his stories were the typical meandering ramblings of a bar fly—“this bitch thought she was too good,” and “that IRS, always trying to fuck me”—stuff like that, but he always put back enough cheap whisky for a Scotch horse, and he tipped well—and per-drink—so until and unless he became completely incoherent, he had my ear most nights. One night, though, the jaundiced little fucker told a story that I had to give him some credit for—one that chilled me, got to me a little bit—and it’s the only one I remember these days.
It was a Wednesday, something like that, probably four in the afternoon, and Barnham had to have been on his fourth daily pour, convalescing his cashews in his fingers—he always asked me for a bowl of these salted fuckin’ cashews we had—and he turns to me, ready to yammer the hours away. “Hey Chuck,” he started, same as always, calling at me far too loudly for the distance apart we’d be. “I got a good one for ya, if y’like a good story!” and so I nodded politely as I always did, and walked over to hear his slurred nonsense for the day, and here is what Barnham the bar fly told me, to the best of my recollection…
“Y’know I used to be a medic in the Coast Guard back when I still lived in Miami?" he began. "Not for too long, on a’counta when I earned my bum shoulder playing backyard tackle in summer ’86—I told you about that, right Chuck? Yeah, I must’a! Anyways, back in ’84 they had me doing chopper rescues out at sea—some poor fuckers would get their fishing boats out in storms, or nasty ship fires, or the like, and they’d fly us out to put people in those little baskets and haul ‘em up into the chopper to rescue ‘em—hero shit, y’know? We’d be out in the wind and rain and shit, getting tossed and everything, but we were friggin’ badasses back then, y’know?
“Anyways, this one day, we were out on a search and rescue, looking for this big fancy yacht—some bigwig hedge fund zillionaire and his family had gone and gotten lost, and hadn’t shown up in Bimini when they were supposed to, and we couldn’t get 'em on the radio. They’d been missing for about three days, and we were told the yacht was pretty massive, like one with a crew and butlers and shit, so we were looking out for a big ol’ sonofabitch, maybe banged up on a sandbar.
“But instead, we see this life raft—the big orange polygon type like you saw in that Tom Hanks movie with the volleyball—and we can see that there’s this guy in it, as well as a dog—chocolate lab it looked like, when we got the chopper down low and could see 'em up close. So we send one of our guys, Richie, down there in the basket, and he pulls the guy up and we load him on our stretcher—kid was probably 25, sunbaked to shit, and damn near passed out, but just as Richie turns to go back down for the dog, the kid sits up in the gurney like goddamned Frankenstein, and grabs Rich’s arm—damn near popped his shoulder out, Richie told me—and starts just begging us to leave the dog, just pleading with me and Rich, in this rambling sort'a way. 'It’ll kill ya,' he told us, and we figured maybe it became rabid out on their trip or something, I don’t really know, but the guy was sunbaked like a fuckin’ tomato and the chopper was running low on gas, so we left that dog in the raft, and decided to gas back up and come back later for it—and let me tell ya Chuck, after listening to what this guy told me when we got him back to our ship, I’m glad we did it that way—listen to this…
“So the guy passed out on the flight back, and back in the med bay on the Coast Guard cutter he sits back up like he had done earlier, scaring me half to shit again, and starts asking about that fuckin´ dog. So I tell him we left it out in the life raft, and we were planning to head back out to find it, and he says to me, ‘do not bring that fucking thing back here.’
“So I ask him if he'd been onboard this yacht we’d been looking for, the Sunfarer, I think was the name of the ship, and he says yeah, he’d been a deckhand. So I ask him where the ship was—the million-dollar question, after all—and he gives me this blank stare, says he needs time to think, and I was beginning to think he’d gotten caught fuckin’ the yacht owner’s wife or something, and then killed them or some shit, but I decided to play it cool, so I shrugged and told him it’d be about four hours’ sail back to Miami and that he oughta get his story straight before then, seeing that the authorities would likely want to question the hell out of him on shore—and I told him that he had an easy ear with me if he cared to try to explain—and I think he really wanted to tell somebody—so he lays it onto me over the next four hours, and let me tell you Chuck, what he said had my fuckin’ neck-hairs on end!”
By this point a few of the other bargoers had gathered around me and Barnham—the little fucker was spinning what was turning out to be an intriguing little story, and he didn’t even notice he was beginning to draw a crowd. I could tell it would only get more interesting from there, because his cashew fingers came a’twirlin’ as he continued the story, wide-eyed:
“So the deckhand tells me that they’d been about a week out of Rome, headed for Bimini, and they come up on a lifeboat, has some ship’s name that the kid couldn’t remember painted on the side, but he said it had an Indian sound to it, and lo and behold, there was nobody inside of it except this dog, the chocolate lab. So the hedge fund family is thrilled with this dog, like the grandkids are just in love with the thing, playing fetch with it and this and that, and they don’t really question it, y’know? People love dogs, I guess... But the whole situation just struck the deckhand as kind of weird, he told me, and he didn’t like that dog one bit. He said the dog had a collar, and that the collar said the dog’s name was Tugboat—now here’s where it gets really weird, you ready Chuck?
“The yacht’s crew quarters were on the very lowest level—guess the rich pricks saved the money views for themselves—and the night after they found this dog, this deckhand begins to hear a fuckin' knocking coming from beyond the hull of the boat—like, something out in the sea. He said it kind of sounded like when the yacht was in port and would bob up against the dock, but heavier. Almost like somebody was lightly tapping the outside of the hull with a baseball bat. So the kid tries to go about his work over the next few days, but he kept hearing the same weird shit coming from outside the hull at night, and he tells me it got worse each night, up until one night, when everyone on the ship is launched ‘outta their fuckin’ beds, at like three in the morning. They all head out onto the sun deck to see just what the hell was going on, and the captain comes around, tells everyone that one of the ship’s propellers threw a blade, and the resulting vibration messed up the power generator—tells everyone not to worry, and that they’ve activated the distress beacon and would wait for assistance."
Barnham had barely touched his drink—I couldn’t believe my goddamn eyes when I saw his nearly-full glass—and the whole bar had gone fucking silent as he leaned into the story.
“Chuck, the Coast Guard never actually picked up that distress beacon, which makes this next part even fuckin' creepier… so the kid tells me he goes back to his quarters to pass the time, and he hears the knocking sound again. He said it sounded like something was trying to gnaw the other prop off, or that’s what he’d thought anyway, but he said the whole ship would rock with each knock. He told me that's when he became really panicked—kinda like that fight-or-flight, caveman shit—and he booked it over to where they kept the emergency life rafts, in duffle bags; as he’s walking with one back to his room along the outdoor deck, the ship lurches to one side, and he gets thrown into the water. The life raft automatically inflated when it hit the seawater—that's how those rafts work—and the kid pulls himself inside it, still all dazed and coughing, and as he turns to the ship, he watches as the whole fucking yacht was pulled underwater in less than a second, flat. The huge whirlpool the ship made when it went down in the drink sucked the life raft in, and the kid said he blacked out at that point.
“So this kid wakes up the next morning in the raft, and there’s that fucking dog sitting in the raft with him—the only other survivor—bone-dry, and tail a-waggin'. So then, Chuck, this kid pauses his story and he looks right fucking at me and asks, in a trembling voice, if I’ve ever heard of an anglerfish. They’re these goblin little fucks that live only in the darkest, deepest oceans, see, and they hunt in this curious manner—they have a long sort of antenna-like thing coming out of their heads, and it has this little glowing ball on the end, and they sit perfectly still, in the darkness of the deep ocean, with this little glowing ball stuck way far out in front of them, and they wait. Some unsuspecting little fish comes along, and sees the pretty glowing orb come out of the total darkness and goes to check it out, and then WHAM! The little fucker becomes codfish-kebab and the anglerfish gets another meal—which leads me to the final rub of this story, Chuck…
“See, unbeknownst to me at the time, Richie and the rest of the chopper crew had left without me, back out to find that fuckin’ dog, Tugboat. Chopper ended up disappearing in a storm, or so we all heard a few days later—never did see those boys again...”
On that Wednesday afternoon, midway through only his fourth drink, Barnham the bar fly stood up from his stool, nodded sadly and soberly to himself, and walked out of the bar, without another word.