Chapter Twenty Four
Heroes and Villains





   I cannot apologize for what cannot be helped. When the first night came I was alone in the dark with my terrible thoughts. I fought them, for their direction was clear, but they roiled and spun and piled upon each other of their own accord. Their massing became a weight from which I had to escape. I swam at first without realizing it. But already I knew my intent. Of this I was fully aware. And fully deliberate.
   Within the hour I found what I wanted. The sailboat was far from land. I jostled it first, a violent shaking – what did they think, tumbling from their berths on a quiet sea? -- and then I backed away. I stayed on the surface. I wished them to see. I wished to see. I wanted the unfoldings to be exquisitely clear for both parties
   The man was first on deck, flashlight sweeping the water. Even as I churned the sea, making it easy for him to find me, the woman and the two children appeared behind him. The children were already wide-eyed, their hearts like trembling mice, but their fear reached an unfathomable apex when the man trained the beam on me.
  Bold-hearted. You make much ado of this. In the end you rarely are.  
  I did not rush forward. I raised my tentacles into the sky. Their lashings made a quiet hissing as they parted the air, like something lurking close in a black corner, something you do not see.
   Oh, but they saw.
   The man leapt into the sea.
  I heard the mother’s prayers and the guttural sounds of the children choking on the realization that nightmares live. The woman fled too, disappearing below. Even in my fury I found this disappointing.
   I took the cowardly man. I nearly lifted him from the water, to pull him apart for all to see, but even in my fury I was not wholly blind to the abandoned children. The oldest fell to his knees and retched. I finished the man beneath the surface, twisting him as you would wring out a drenched towel. His blood reeked of fear. This tipped me over the precipice. I became monster again, thoughtless apex predator of the sea.

   When I rose again to the surface, the woman was back on the deck. She held a flashing light, perhaps a distress beacon of some sort, but we all knew a bonfire of flares would not help her cause on this lonely sea.
  I did not recall finishing the woman or the children. I vaguely remembered smashing the boat to pieces.
   I floated on the surface, my insides howling.
   Slowly the sea settled. There was nothing left but plywood, fiberglass, a sandal shaped like a bunny and, after a time, remorse.  
   Children.
   We are all of us, heroes and villains.




   I return to the broken reef. For several days I do not move. I float off the reef wall, helpless as a butterfly in a web. I stare at the uncaring rock and I am jealous. The soft corals wave mockingly.
  I move only once, when the boat comes. Even then I find it difficult to muster the effort to drift out of sight. When she enters the water I feel nothing. I see her form backlit by the sun, but it stirs no more sentiment than the debris.
   Your philosophers, your God-fearing, your abortionists, they ask, “When does life begin?”
   As soon as it can die.
   How do I communicate to you what I feel? It crushes my heart. It blows out my soul. But it does not leave emptiness. Emptiness would be a pleasure. It is the foul card dealt to every intelligent organism in times of sorrow. The ability to think on loss clearly. Again and again.   
   Happenstance has seen me to a fork in the road.
  Wrath and vengeance. Forgiveness and hope. Monster or savior.
  Even as I took the old fisherman, the murderer of my dreams, I tasted his sweetness.
 You baffle me. You are an infinite puzzle of contradictions. My years of accumulated wisdom crumble before the confusion you provide.
  I say the word and everything changes. But I cannot decide.

Author / Speaker