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The Ocean Men

Estimated reading time — 14 minutes

He tried not to get too close to the man because he smelled like salty chum and rotten fish.

Eventually, the scent receded as he went inside the cabin for a nap, leaving Dr. Peters alone on the deck with his pen and yellow-paged notebook. The marine biologist sat by the bow and allowed himself to be hypnotized by the calm waves, rising and falling like dancers arching their backs above the surface before dipping back underneath the water. In the early evening, the sun made the air glow faintly, bouncing rays off the waves and making silvery glints of bright lights on their curving backs.

His notes were desperately squeezed into every yellow space not already occupied by rough diagrams and sketches. Teddy, the burly fisherman, helped him catch the animals, but never with the tagging and data gathering; instead he hovered overhead, heavily breathing in his salty stench, mouth open, eating it – he disgusted Dr. Peters, who was small and skinny enough for Teddy to throw overboard.

About an hour later, the sun had dimmed to a warm orange that seeped into the horizon. Teddy emerged from the cabin with a beer hanging on his lips. “Hey, Doc, what do you want me to do with the fish?”

Dr. Peters was still sitting where he had been an hour ago. His head had drooped slightly, having dozed off in his seat. “Huh?” He started, wiping the sleep out of his eyes and directing them toward the bulky figure looming over him. His gaze then fell slightly to the beer stain on Teddy’s tank top, a brown smudge above his belly button, standing out on his protruding paunch.

“The fish,” Teddy repeated in a deep, raspy voice. “What do you want to do with it?”

“What fish?” Dr. Peters was awake now. His voice was high and squeaky in comparison to the boatman. Then his eyes widened and he stood abruptly. “It’s still on the boat?”

Teddy scratched the silvery gray hairs on his neck. “Yeah, down in the pit.”

“My God, it’s been almost three hours! Get it out of there!”


Teddy squinted into the scientist’s buggy eyes before lumbering over to the stern of the boat. Dr. Peters followed. “Christ’s sake.”

A thirteen-foot-long wagon-like container was secured to its place at the back of the boat. It was filled to the brim with water, which splashed out of the large holes in the top. Dr. Peters overtook Teddy and opened the lid. The ten-foot blue shark sat inside, still as a log. It sloshed with the water moving it back, forth, back, forth.

“Unbelievable,” Dr. Peters muttered. “I said get it back in the water.”

“I ain’t your servant,” Teddy growled. “And this is your shark. I’m here to drive the boat, not take care of your shit.”

“Just help me get it in the goddamn water,” Dr. Peters muttered.

They pulled the wagon to the edge of the vessel and hoisted the tail end up. The shark slipped over the gushing water in a sleek streak of blue and white. Once it hit the water, it was gone.


Dr. Peters mulled over the shark throughout the next morning; how it must have suffered – then he mulled over his suffering: of being stuck in the ocean with the oafish lump of flesh called Teddy. He remembered not putting much thought into hiring the fisherman. He remembered meeting him on the docks and simply thinking that he looked strong enough to assist him if necessary and that he seemed the type to keep to himself.

However, for reasons beyond him, the scientist managed to take issue with everything about the man, no matter how small, which made Teddy’s presence unbearable. Everything about him disgusted Dr. Peters: the way he ate with his hands and then wiped them off on his clothes, the way he walked swinging his arms like an orangutan, the way he coughed up phlegm and spat it into the ocean. He always emitted a wretched smell, never complete without a strong twinge of alcohol, of which he kept plenty on the boat. He snored, took long naps, scratched his bellybutton, and spoke crudely. Dr. Peters had known plenty of men like that in his life, his father being one of them, and he chided himself for not taking more time in the hiring process. But once they were far enough out in the water, he decided he would simply finish his research and get back to shore as quickly as possible.

He sat in the wheelhouse with Teddy during breakfast. He let his warm, dull hatred wash over him, sitting behind Teddy, who sat in the driver’s seat. Teddy, meanwhile, contentedly watched the ocean through the crust around his eyes. Dr. Peters squeaked in his high, angry voice, “You caused that animal to suffer.”

Teddy replied gruffly, “I don’t owe you shit.”


Teddy woke from his nap the next afternoon to find his fishing equipment missing. He thumped out onto the deck like a bear, swinging his arms like clubs, pink in the face, and saw Dr. Peters sitting at the bow tangled from neck to torso in a fishing line. “The hell do you think you’re doing?” Teddy growled.

Dr. Peters jumped. He fought the urge to look at Teddy’s face, rather settling back down to continue untangling himself. “I was gathering research by myself after I realized that I could do your job better than you could.”

Teddy frowned. “Bang-up job you’re doing there, ain’t ya?”

His anger got the better of him and Dr. Peters consequently swiveled toward him. “I was doing just fine until now.” He started to struggle harder.

“Hey be careful with that!” Teddy rushed over to him. “This stuff is expensive!” When Teddy grabbed hold of Dr. Peters’ arm, the doctor flinched violently.

“Don’t touch me!”


A part of the fishing line split.

“Stop moving, you’re breaking it!” Teddy yelled. He made another instinctual move at the line and managed to grab it before Dr. Peters gave another jerk.

However, when Teddy pulled, the line came to him too easily – he caught a glimpse of carbon steel flying in the air as he realized a moment too late that he’d yanked the very end of the line, flicking it toward Dr. Peters’ head, where it stopped suddenly in the cartilage of his left ear.

The doctor shrieked in pain and dropped to his knees. He continued to struggle, snapping more of the fishing line as he tried to grasp the hook that had steadfastly impaled his upper ear. Teddy, dumb-struck, tried to help the doctor to his feet, babbling mindless instructions.

“Hold still!”

Dr. Peters jerked away harder, repulsed, like he was being touched by a leper. He scrambled to his feet to escape Teddy’s racket-sized hands, and the next thing he knew, he felt something hit the small of his back, and suddenly his feet were no longer touching the deck – he was flying backward over the railing, then upside down, then splashing headfirst into the depths of the ocean below.


Neither of them said a word to each other for days. They had sectioned off what little space there was on the boat in some kind of unspoken agreement. Teddy spent his time at the stern, napping and fishing, grunting and spitting, while Dr. Peters remained in his usual spot at the bow most days, scribbling and contemplating. They ate their meals at different times in the day, both going into the wheelhouse at different times until they finally had to endure each other’s company when it was time for bed.

Dr. Peters’ ear had split like a snake’s tongue where the hook had impaled him. The scientist had bandaged it up himself, deciding that he no longer needed any more research. Or sleep.

At this time, sometimes for hours a day, his journal would sit beside him, open but untouched, while the doctor looked out at the ocean, entranced. He would watch the flutter and flicker of the waves like one would a performance. They quivered like ribbons before him, held by blue girls in sea green leotards with billowing black skirts. They wore tiaras of silver and gold and they smiled at him bewitchingly.

When he was in the ocean, drowning and tangled up in fishing line, he remembered seeing nothing at all. But something was there. He could feel it, even while he struggled against his bonds. In some crevice of his mind, a part of his subconscious felt the pull. It wanted him to go down, farther and farther into its dark, fathomless depths.

He thought about that feeling now, wondering just how far he would’ve gone.

Dr. Peters emerged from his trance and noticed something very strange. When he looked down, he was quite surprised to see something etched into the wooden bench on which he sat. While he was dozing off, his hand had absent-mindedly scratched a pen into the seat. Now an image was there. It appeared to be a small, engraved, blue shark – cut open, its organs and intestines exposed, like a diagram in a science textbook.

At that moment he heard a loud belch come from the stern end of the boat. Teddy was enjoying an afternoon drink. Suddenly discontented, Dr. Peters turned his attention back to the waves, their feminine forms becoming more real the longer he watched.

He heard the clink of another beer bottle behind him. The little crevice of his brain wished that Teddy had stayed on the boat when Dr. Peters fell in the water. It wished Teddy hadn’t dived in and pulled him out, disrupting the rhythmic hum that had encased him and beckoned him downward, where something was waiting for him somewhere below.

It wished that Teddy had let him drown.


Both from a scientific and a nautical perspective, it was clear that a storm was brewing. The air was thick with moisture, and puffs of gray clouds floated over the horizon in the distance. Though for the moment, it was a perfectly beautiful day. Where the boat was, the sky was bright and there wasn’t a cloud overhead.
Dr. Peters hadn’t written in his notebook in days. He now spent all his time sitting at the bow staring into the ocean. Teddy still kept to his side of the boat and was currently trying to fix the radio in the wheelhouse. It had been broken since the previous day, now managing only to shoot out a steady stream of static whenever it was on. He didn’t notice that Dr. Peters hardly slept these days. He did notice, however, that there were more food and water in Dr. Peters’ rations than usual, but did not know just how little the doctor had consumed since his fall.

Now Dr. Peters was looking down into the water again, watching the dancers twirl their ribbons until their twisting, curling instruments became long, scaly sea dragons. Every time one of the blue girls pointed a clawed finger at him, his skin trembled with electricity. The dragons slipped through their long hair like fish in a kelp forest.

Suddenly the dark water beneath the boat was alive with shadows. Small shapes darted across his field of vision. Much larger forms with fins and slender bodies slipped by in utter silence. He gazed at the women’s glossy black eyes – spitting images of the immeasurable cavernous entity from whence they came. Dr. Peters heard the sound of thunder somewhere in the distance and looked up. The dark clouds were closer, and the storm itself could now be seen by the naked eye. Then he looked back down.


The blue ladies and their dragons weren’t dancing anymore. They no longer moved with easy grace; instead, they appeared to be seizing. The blue girls’ limbs twitched wildly and their heads’ sagged on their necks. The sea dragons’ slender bodies now buckled and writhed.

Blurry silhouettes shot by around them in a chaotic flurry of strange black configurations.

While watching this change in tense anticipation, Dr. Peters was immediately struck by a splitting headache. He fell backward onto the deck and squeezed his head with both arms. The pain was so searing that he momentarily believed that his skull had cracked open. Then, just as quickly as it had come, the pain ceased. The thunder had died down, and the sound of the waves trickled back into Dr. Peters’ ears. He got up, his knees shaking and his heart pounding, and wobbled over to the railing. The beautiful girls and their dragons had gone back to elegant dancing as if nothing happened. The ladies smiled at him and their gazes made him shiver with pleasure.

Dr. Peters looked back up at the sky. It was clear to anyone – man, nature, or other – that a storm was brewing.


Now the static of the radio would not stop, even when it wasn’t on.

Teddy was sitting in the wheelhouse slapping it around, having half a mind to throw it overboard. The clear sky had gone, replaced by a pale gray sheet of clouds that sprinkled the boat with mist. Dr. Peters was sitting on his bench at the bow, staring into the water. Only now he was on his knees, hanging onto the railing while he leaned over the edge like he wanted to get a closer look at the water below. It wasn’t raining hard yet but he’d been out there for so long that the drizzle had already soaked through his clothes, sticking them to his skin and making his white button-down shirt transparent. The skin underneath was ghostly pale.

It had been at least seven days since they last spoke, and Teddy was not looking forward to the conversation he was planning on having with him that evening. He’d finally noticed that Dr. Peters’ rations had appeared untouched for at least two days, and his gut was telling him that something was wrong. For now, he went back to his radio, grumbling to himself, the static remaining as constant as the vast sky of dark clouds that loomed in all directions.

Dr. Peters was having half a mind to throw himself overboard. The sea dragons had grown at least three times larger. When they looked at him, their lips moved rapidly, like they were whispering something. But he couldn’t hear the words, no matter how far he leaned in. They bumped the boat impatiently, causing him to rise out of his seat and land hard on his knees, again and again. The enchanting blue ladies bared their sharp teeth in contorted smiles and curled their spidery fingers at him. Dr. Peters smiled back at them dreamily. His face grew hot when they hissed, and his yearning intensified as he watched their scaly tongues loll out of their mouths as they swam about. The rain started coming down harder but Dr. Peters did not feel it. His head was filled with whispers. He strained against the haze that muffled his thoughts, but no matter how hard he tried, he could not decipher the message.

Dr. Peters banged his forehead on the railing and implored, “What are you saying?”

A loud splash answered behind him. He wheeled around, and his heart nearly leapt out of his chest.
Standing on the deck was a woman. She was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. She had deep black eyes and shiny black hair that draped down her back in thick tresses. Her long legs were visible through the slit in her shimmering dress, which cascaded down the curves of her body like a waterfall. Her eyes met his and she smiled archly. Her teeth sparkled like pearls.

Dr. Peters slowly arose from his seat, dumbstruck. He took a step toward her. The woman remained silent but looked at him teasingly as he approached. Though she stood still for him, he couldn’t seem to get a good look at her. As he grew nearer, he realized that she was made completely of water. Her skin swirled and eddied, her hair an endless ripple of movement.

Dr. Peters was stupefied by her stare upon him. He didn’t even realize that he’d walked so close to her that he could feel her salty-sweet breath on his face. It smelt like a storm. There was some kind of invisible force pulling him closer and closer. He didn’t even realize that her tongue had rolled out of her mouth and was slithering up his face. Her hair wrapped lazily around his body while he ogled at her, beguiled.

He knew he would do anything for her. He would kneel for her. He would fast for days. He would claw his eyes out. He would fast forever. He would sing ballads for her. He would dig his knees into the ground. He would hang from the rigging. He would slit his wrists and drop at her feet. He would slit his throat and let his blood soak into the – “Hey, Doc?”

Teddy’s raspy voice startled him out of his stupor. The woman dissolved before his eyes and splattered into a puddle at his feet, gone. Dr. Peters looked around frantically, waiting for her to reappear. Lightning flashed. Teddy saw for the first time the dark bruises and bloody gashes on the doctor’s knees; his face was gaunt from starvation, his eyes bulged out of his head, and he was shivering violently from the cold. Teddy jumped.

“Jesus, what the hell is going on?”


As soon as Teddy took a step toward him, Dr. Peters collapsed, clutching his head as thunder boomed in the sky. He let out a piercing scream. His body shook violently as he pressed his hands hard over his ears as if they would fall off if he didn’t hold on tight. Teddy stomped over and knelt at his side, but he did not know what to do. He tried to hold him still but Dr. Peters, small as he was, was suddenly beyond even Teddy’s strength, managing to escape from his strong hands with every attempt.

When finally he was able to secure the small man’s arms, Dr. Peters stopped struggling and abruptly went limp, his eyes rolling to the back of his head.




Torrents of rain poured from the sky onto the boat, a speck in the vast black void. Teddy stared fearfully down at the small, slender man, whose face was haggard and vaguely skeletal, his breath shaky, and his lips stiff and blue.


Dr. Peters gasped and opened his eyes, which were immediately met by Teddy’s. They were near enough that Dr. Peters could see the individual pores on the boatman’s nose. Before he could react to the awful closeness, something in his peripheral vision caught his eye.


Behind Teddy silently loomed a great, giant beast, staring back at him. The sea dragon had grown almost twenty times larger. Its head alone was the size of the entire vessel. The sight startled his mind into lucidity. He pushed Teddy away with all of his strength, which was not very much at all, and sat up. The dragon was gone.

“You okay?” Teddy probed.

Dr. Peters rose unsteadily to his feet. “Get away from me.”

“I know you’ve been starving yourself,” Teddy persisted. “You look like a dead body, Doc. You need to eat something or I’m turning the boat around.”

Dr. Peters scowled. “You don’t know what you’re –”


Thunder. The pain. He screamed as it rocked him. His bloody knees hit the deck and his hands flew to his head. He felt that his head could have been on fire. It thumped like firecrackers were bursting inside. He lurched to the railing of the bow and vomited into the ocean. Teddy stood by, frozen in an inability to act.
The inky waters below were in turmoil. Nothing could be seen but shadows of deeper black, swimming around chaotically. After the thunder faded, Dr. Peters couldn’t feel the cold. He couldn’t feel hunger or dehydration. He couldn’t feel the cuts on his knees or the rain beating on his scalp or even the pulsing in his head. All he could feel was a yearning to see what was going on beneath the surface of the ocean.

Then there was another figure in the water. It was deeper black than any of the darting shadows, darker than the turbulent waters. It was bigger even than the sea dragon and passed slowly beneath the boat. Dr. Peters could vaguely see the outline of a colossal dorsal fin. It’s deliberate, steady glide stood out against the disorder of the storm that churned around it. Dr. Peters watched it drift away while Teddy yelled incomprehensible words behind him.

Then the thunder returned. The pain ripped through him again and he shrieked. His reaction was so powerful that the momentum threw his whole body overboard and he fell, fell, fell. He smacked against a wave. The wave smacked him against the boat. Then it swallowed him whole, in a single gulp.


At once, the pain was gone. His head no longer pounded or seared. He felt better than he had in a very long time.

He opened his eyes. His vision was clear. Before him was an abyss in every direction, just like he’d seen the first time he fell. In which direction the boat was, he could no longer discern at all. His limbs floated freely while his eyes roved the vast nothingness. In retrospection, the waters had seemed so full of life and chaos in his view from the surface. Now it was still. Quiet. Peaceful.

He listened and found that it wasn’t quite silent. There was something there: a humming sound, coming from somewhere beneath him. It was full of an energy he could not explain. He looked down. Far beneath him was a small, elliptic shape, floating somewhere in the ocean’s depths. As he stared at it, the thing moved very subtly. The sound continued, delighting him. He could feel the vibrations of it tickle his fingers and toes, traveling up his neck and spreading across his face, making his eyelids feel heavy. The sound was so pleasant that Dr. Peters was beginning to feel sleepy. He looked down again. The round shape seemed to have grown just a bit bigger. The sound was louder.

He wanted to laugh. Soon he would be dancing with the blue women, wherever they were at present, to the sound of the humming, far away from the realm of men.

He looked down. The shape was even larger. Dr. Peters could see that it was moving. Very quickly.

He was so sleepy. The clarity he had achieved when he hit the water was already waning. But somewhere in his mind, he was aware of a pulling sensation coming from the shape. Unable to explain why, he started swimming downward. Fighting the drowsiness, he reached and reached toward the thing that hurtled toward him. He could feel its invisible gravitational pull. The musical thrumming beckoned as the small man kicked and fought against the ocean’s friction. The nearer he got, the more certain he became that the thing was in fact, calling him. The noise was deafening now. He smiled, his eyes bright, a hand extending toward the dark shape, almost upon him, so large now that it threw everything around it in darkness.


Teddy could not save Dr. Peters this time. He peered over the edge, into the deep waters, while the storm tried to throw him in, too. He knew even before he could move that once the doctor was overboard, he would be gone forever. But still, he stared into the ocean, wondering what had overwhelmed him before his fall.

Until something moved below him. Teddy’s eyes refocused and his gigantic, hairy hands gripped the railing firmly while he shivered in the rain. Though the water was black, something within it was somehow shades darker. He squinted. It was much too large to be Dr. Peters, its silhouette unfamiliar. But as he looked closer, the thing got bigger. Then the humming started. Very low at first, practically inaudible among the booming of thunder and crashing waves. Then louder. And louder. Teddy looked all around him, but couldn’t tell where the noise was coming from. Soon it was louder than everything else. He covered his ears. The sound was tremendous.

Before the boat could buck him off, his hands clamped onto the railing once again, forcing him to look back down into the water. He gasped. The thing below the boat was right underneath the surface. It was enormous. As he took in the image, his heart sank as he finally realized what it was.

A mouth.

Credit : Alex Ankai

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