by The Teeth
Mine was a humble fishing boat. Nothing fit for a crew of men, just large enough for myself and three freezers for storage. Heavy competition soured the local waters, and drove me further out to the sea, to a rocky island I heard stories about years ago. It was a place that only the wild called home. Vast stretches of reef-laden coastline, massive flocks of wildlife—a place never before abused by the frenzy of man. It was too far out to be well-known, and a cruel and unpredictable sea kept most from venturing to the area. Plenty of derelict vessels drifted from the area, and the missing persons stayed that way. Still—for me—with a headlong and desperate mind, the risk seemed well weighed.
The first day went well. The bounty of the sea was more than I needed, and by nightfall I had almost filled my storage. One more day here, and I could return home to live for a while on profit. Celebration was in order, so I went to my cabin and retrieved a large bottle of rum. I kept the stuff for easing my burdens, but tonight would be different. My troubles are past, I thought, looking down into the murky liquid. Checking once more on the anchor, I settled in with the bottle. I put on some music and sang out loud, and at one point, I could have sworn the reef below was singing along with me.
Day two was marked by disaster. It was well after noon by the time I woke, and the stench of death hung in the air. At first I thought it may be some washed up animal on the coast, but looking out I saw nothing. No, the smell was definitely coming from on board. I opened a cooler and saw the rotting carcasses of yesterday’s catch. The cooler failed somehow, and nothing remained frozen. And it was the same for the next box, and the next. If I was to turn a profit now, I would need to replace the entire supply. After a moment’s panic, I committed myself to do just that. The place was still as pure as yesterday, minus one boat full of fish. The job would be just as easy today.
I spent an hour in the same spot with no luck, so I moved up the coast. No luck there, either. None to be found anywhere. But how could it happen? Was yesterday’s bounty a fluke—some random school of fish passing through barren waters? Logic told me otherwise, the reef below should shelter many things of the ocean. I gazed into the water. It was pure and clear, with easy visibility all the way to the bottom. A curious red coral lined the ocean floor, beautiful yet strange. It was too vibrant for a place like this—too red. An uneasiness began to creep up my spine. Staring at the stuff left me with an awkward feeling, something akin to getting caught staring at another person. The feeling of watching, and being watched back.
The awful thought raised hair on my neck, and I wanted to just leave the rotten place. Cut my losses and go home, maybe move inland where—no. I had to stay. Bad fortune was no reason to succumb to a paranoid mania. I moved up the coast until I found a single school of fish, swimming directly above a particularly red patch of coral. I laid anchor and cast my net without looking down at the stuff. I would catch what I could, then make my way back to the mainland. Before dusk, I hoped.
When it came time to raise my nets, I was faced with a bizarre catch. There were hundreds of fish carcasses, covered in that hellish red coral. And the stuff was making a sound—like singing—in a complex and harmonious tone. I never heard anything even remotely similar. It was rich and vibrant, confined by neither standard nor exotic music theory. The coral was producing a true symphony, and it was drawing me in. The madness of the situation finally struck me, so I cut the rope with haste and let it crash back into the sea. Darting around the boat, I made preparations to leave as quickly as I could. But the anchor was stuck. I could see that horrible red crust clinging to it down in the water. And as desperately as I tried to remove it, the anchor stayed firmly placed. The muffled symphony continued to resonate through the boat itself, and as fearful as I was, I knew I was stuck.
So I drew myself back into the bottle of rum, and waited for the inevitable. The only food I had was rotted fish, and I wasn’t about to touch anything that had been in that water. Days passed under a harsh sun. I don’t know how long it was for sure, but the music of the reef never stopped. And after many days and strange nights, I knew that the only way to live on was through that red coral. Better to get it done while I still have rum. I walked backward toward the edge of the boat, and jumped in. I never felt more alive.