Monday, March 2, 2020

Swimming and Stealing by Edward Black

A scuba-diving scavenger finds a supernatural treasure; by Edward Black.

Human waste burst into a cloud of brown filth from the through-hole in the sailboat above her and began to slowly dissolve in the water. Ana's scuba gear covered her entire body, protecting her from the foul sewage, but that did not make it any less disgusting to have been blasted with human excrement. It was illegal to discharge your holding tank within three miles from the coast, but that did not dissuade the lazier folk from dumping it into the marina waters anyway.

Treasure hunting is much less disgusting in movies, Ana mused as she forcefully kicked her feet to propel herself away from the miasma. She returned her gaze to the seabed, resuming her search for any valuables accidentally dropped overboard.

She'd enjoyed a blessing of luck that morning, discovering a woman's wedding ring tucked into the sand below a full-keeled sailboat in urgent need of new bottom paint. The diamond tucked into the prongs was hefty; she knew she'd be able to pawn a good price for it. But the sun hadn't even crested the sky and there might still be other people's possessions to be salvaged from the water, so she had pocketed her treasure and resumed her hunting. Perhaps, if she were doubly lucky, she might find another wedding ring.

I wonder if I'll ever get one the normal way? she pondered, moving to the next slip, eyes focused on the sand. She ignored several common objects along the way. Beer bottles, forks, and screwdrivers weren't worth the effort to carry back to land. During her hunts, she typically sought jewelry and wallets. Jewelry, if not submerged in salt water for too long, can be restored from minor corrosion or rust buildup, and paper bills can be dried, though they will suffer a bit of crisp from the salt. Luckily, bankers don't care much about that, and are happy to deposit other people's money into her account.

Hours later and with little else to show for it, Ana had nearly decided to retire for the evening when she spotted it: glimmering in the sand, one she would have missed had the clouds by chance not fled the sun at that very moment and allowed sunshine to reflect off the metal. Something flat, buried almost completely in the sand and hidden between several rocks, caught her eye. She kicked toward it, and hovering in the water, hefted the rocks aside before retrieving the very large coin from the seabed.

She studied it. It was silver, entirely free of corrosion, and very much unlike anything she had ever salvaged before. One side depicted a mermaid, breasts bared and wielding a three-pronged trident; the other side, a man, half his face eroded to reveal his skull and smoking a very large cigar.

Ana flipped it over several times, pensive. Antique coins performed very unpredictably at the pawn shop. They either sold substantially or for dimes. How much would this one pull?

She answered her own question with an underwater shrug, then pocketed the coin and paddled her way to the surface. Upon breaching the water, she removed her scuba mask from her eyes and gaped incredulously around her for several long moments.

The world had changed. The usual fiberglass boats of the marina were now transformed into archaic-looking wooden vessels, each one of them. The docks, too, were built entirely from wood when once they were concrete and metal. The people strolling those docks and lounging in those boats wore strange clothing, balloon pants and long waistcoats and triangular hats. Ana swam to a dock ladder and hauled herself out of the water before gawking at the scene around her. Was there a costume party on the dock today? She didn't think so, and that wouldn't explain the sudden replacement of all the boats in the marina. For it wasn't just the one dock she had climbed onto that had changed. She gazed down the rows of long wooden fingers of the docks that jutted from the shore, and on each one, she saw the same: sun-bleached wooden docks, old-fashioned wooden boats, and strangely dressed folk.

She walked toward land. With each wet step, her consternation grew, until before the afternoon sun had even dried her suit, she was certain that she had lost her mind. For it wasn't just the docks that had changed, but the entire marina. The businesses that lined the coast, once yacht brokers and sailing clubs, were now replaced with taverns, open markets, and one business which she couldn't force herself to ignore was a brothel. Ana's heart hammered in her chest as she frantically paced the marina grounds, desperately seeking an answer to her confusion.

If the busy folk who populated the area had noticed the incongruous attire of her scuba suit, they didn't show it. Of all the people dressed as 17th century townsfolk, few spared a second glance at the woman wearing a wetsuit and hauling a large oxygen tank about.

Why? Ana begged herself. What is happening? Her confusion sparked a sudden frustration at having to tote the heavy tank of oxygen with her, so she decided to stow it in her car before doing anything else.

At least, that was the plan, but when she arrived to the parking lot, she instead found a stable and a man loudly advertising his horses and the carriages one could rent. He caught Ana gawking and asked the "little lass" if she'd care for a "piebald filly whose spots match yer piebald dress." She looked down at her skin-tight, black scuba suit. Bewilderment overwhelmed her as she stammered a stuttered reply that ultimately conveyed no real message. She dropped her oxygen tank where she stood and ran, tears of frustration forming in her eyes.

With no destination in mind, Ana raced back to the docks. She hadn't consciously decided to steal a boat, yet found herself jumping into the most seaworthy vessel she felt she could single-handedly sail. She worked with frantic haste, hoisting the main and foresail within a single minute of reaching the boat. When the sails were hoisted, she hopped back to the dock and untied the dock lines tethering the vessel to land. With a firm kick to the bow, the boat swiveled from the dock. She leaped into the cockpit, tied fast the sheets, and manned the tiller. Soon, she had caught the healthy breeze in her sails and steadily cruised from the marina. Just get away, she frantically justified her piracy. Just have to get away until I can figure out what's going on.

When she had cleared into open water, she hove-to to rummage through the sailboat below deck - not so much to loot, but to give her mind and hands something to focus on besides the fact that her world had become so veritably insane.

Or maybe it's me who's become insane? she questioned, then shook her head to banish the thought. "No, no," she spoke aloud as she continued ransacking the boat. "I'm a perfectly healthy, perfectly normal woman." She wasn't entirely sure if those words were a statement of fact, or merely an attempt to convince herself.

She discovered little of use aboard the boat, and none of the essentials she had come to know as commonplace. No first-aid kits or flare guns. No radio or G.P.S. - no electronics whatsoever, though she hadn't expected any in this new, transformed world. The only food to be found was a hefty wooden barrel containing piles upon piles of dry crackers.

In a small compartment beneath the starboard settee, Ana discovered a flintlock pistol kept in an unlocked box expertly engraved on the sides with a nautical scene of boats, sea, and leaping fish. She left it where it lay.

After finishing her scouring of the boat, she returned topside, adjusted the sails to return the boat from its hove-to state, then aimlessly sailed up the coast. Along the way, she confirmed that it wasn't just the marina that had been subjected to the bizarre transformation, but seemingly the entire world. Cars had been replaced by coaches, T-shirts and jeans with petticoats and canvas trousers. The skyscrapers of the city in the distance were no longer existent.

"What am I going to do?" Ana asked aloud to the new world.

The world did not respond. Instead, she heard a faint shouting from aftwards. She turned her head to see a small wooden boat, ferrying four men and with a fifth standing at the bow, sailing very directly toward her.

The boat sped along the water, galloping at least twenty knots, far faster than she had ever seen a boat without an engine travel. It frightened her, but not half as much as the fury written on the face of the rifle-armed man at the bow, his furor visible even from the vast distance between the two vessels - a distance, Ana noted with increasing horror, that was closing fast.

She abandoned all thought. She discarded the tiller, and with no one to man it, the sailboat veered wildly to port. She tripped several times on her way below deck, bashing her knees and arms violently against the wood of the bulkheads and rails. She flung aside the compartment hatch that hid the engraved wooden box and retrieved the flintlock from inside it.

Heart thumping against her chest, she returned to the cockpit in near hysterics. The rowboat had nearly closed on her now. With a shaky hand, she aimed the pistol at the man at the bow, cocked the hammer, and pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened. Sudden despair coupled with the still-present terror she had felt since surfacing from her dive into this mad, backwards world. Ever since then - ever since she had plucked that coin from the sand.

The coin. She slipped a hand into the small pocket sewn into her wetsuit and retrieved her treasure. She gazed at it, and the half-skeletal face returned her look with a mocking smirk.

Ana hurled the coin into the sea, putting as much fury into the throw as she could muster. The instant the coin left her hand, whatever mad hallucination had afflicted her freed her mind and returned her world to her. The boat she stood on transformed from wood to fiberglass. Instrument consoles appeared in the cockpit, modern electronics that indicated speed, depth, and distance. Looking aloft, she spotted a radar attached to the mast.

She was back - and then she was shot.

The force of the bullet knocked her to the cockpit seat. She briefly pawed at the hole in her chest, then died.



Ana Faldridge, twenty-six, was shot dead yesterday afternoon after stealing a sailboat from Silversound Marina. The owner of the vessel, whose identity will not be released, witnessed the theft from the parking lot before hastening to the powerboat of a friend three docks over from his. Together and with three other men, they departed the marina in the powerboat to chase Faldridge on the water. Witnesses aboard the vessel claim that when they approached the sailboat, Faldridge appeared on the deck with a revolver, attempting and failing to discharge the weapon at the approaching men. The owner of the stolen vessel, who claims to have acted in self defense, returned a shot from his own rifle, successfully striking Faldridge in the chest. She died shortly after, at which time the owner of the stolen vessel contacted authorities to report the incident. The family of the victim claims that Faldridge was a mentally healthy woman with no history of drug use, and is demanding a full investigation into the matter.

8 comments:

  1. A very bad luck day for Ana. Moral: whatever era you find yourself in, don't steal. Panic is not a good friend.

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  2. Fun time travel story, Edward. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. This is amazing. I loved this story and surprising ending. This is one of the best short stories that I ever read. I love the action, character, and the sad, but surprising ending.

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  4. So, Love spell doctor, the woman who stole your husband was young enough to be her own daughter? I wouldn't have messed with her. But, seriously, I found this story engaging for it's detail and credible specifics. The ending made me go "Whaaaa?" but in a mostly good way, but which even after reading the epilogue, I went "Whaaa?" again.

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  5. Great plotline. I had to read on and on... but I would've preferred for her to go back to her old world, rather than being shot. For me, the end was a bit abrupt.

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  6. Quick and enjoyable tale. The parallel flow of time and events in the two eras was quite interesting.

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  7. The ending did seem abrupt. I didn't see why, when confronted with a new world, that she immediately turned to theft and gun violence. Also, a scuba tank contains air, not pure oxygen.

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  8. I never believed I could...wait that's not what I wanted to type.

    I really liked the concept of the story. Too bad she hadn't just dropped the coin earlier. I felt the story had very good pace. I enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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