The Lotus Tree Literary Review, Autumn 2022 (issue #1)

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27 | From the Editor: A Short Story & More


Editor’s Note: Seeing that Richard Grieco had been working on a new pirate movie inspired me to write this story. It had been a while since I entertained my interest in the world of pirates, so I sailed back into it with gusto! I once worked with a guy who claimed to be a descendant of Edward Thache Jr., better known as Edward “Blackbeard” Teach. I have no reason to doubt my colleague’s claims of ancestry but for his exceedingly pacific disposition.

A Wereshark’s Memoir

I will say this before I begin in proper. My substance is best understood when measured in nautical miles of stealth and plunder. My history, the moon and the sea. My legend, a jewel of blood and saltwater.

This is my story.

I am a wereshark. We don’t receive as much notice as our landlocked brethren. Granted, there are far more of them, we being a rarer breed indeed.

I have met only two others of my kind in all these centuries, not including young Teach in whose fate I played a role. Both far older than I and far more powerful. I was wise to stay a hemisphere away. They had progressed to a phantasmal state of bioluminescence when transformed. I found that to be most interesting. A menacing beauty. An expression of the moon and sea that wrought us.

My ancestors left Connacht in the west of Éire as the last of the high kings fell, the might of that ancient bloodline washing away with the rain into the moss and lichen, down through the rocks to the sea, as the storm and sword of a new and terrible history rolled dark across that distant green altar, my Emerald Isle. For generations we roamed the coasts of the continent. Working as fishermen, seafarers, and shipwrights. A maritime legacy. I have never returned to the wild sea and green hills of Ireland. And I never will.

The sea has been my bright paradise, and it has been my darkest prison. It has been my joy, and it has been my torment. I have lived the sea like a salt-mad sailfish in the wind. To be a seaman, riding the currents, the winds, and the waves, has provided a measure of peace and camaraderie, grand adventure, and treasure beyond my most fevered dreams. It has also brought me notoriety — in which I once reveled. But to be a wereshark, in eternal bondage to the sea, has been a life unasked for.

Aqua. An axehard word for a substance soft and evaporative-ethereal. Terra firma. Ah, its peaceful sanctuary has done me much good, this recovering thalassophile.

Trees, now, my mast and sail, moss and lichen, my barnacled hull, fields of wind-driven grass, my green waves, meadows of wildflower abstraction, my coral reefs, still bogs, my saltwater lagoons, and always, the most delicious smell of rain.

Till the full moon calls me, as inescapably as it does the tides, to the sea.

The carnage, the sea-dog ferocity, the blood and saltwater, I am transmogrified, a shark and a man, with an almost human mind, but clouded, drugged, crazed, a thirst for blood of the sea drives me.

Once ashore, I go far from the seaside, deep into the mountains. A vegan with an almost hysterical aversion to seafood and any dish that once had blood. I say that I have allergies. I have become a solitary wanderer of forests and valleys, deserts and jungles. I follow legends and myths now, no longer the winds and currents of the Seven Seas. I search for the Seven Cities of Cibola and the many other lost cities of gold. I will find El Dorado one day, if it indeed exists. I search for the hoards of treasure cloaked in the mists of time. I search for the relics of rumor but find only whispers on the wind. I seek the unknown. The eternally hidden. The mysteries, the lore, the tales told around campfires and pints. I seek the lotus tree of Homer and Ovid. I have the time, so much time, and the blood-stained wealth to do as I wish. In truth, this is all just my entertainment, for I seek something else. Something greater, far greater. I traveled the Seven Seas long. Always looking for it. My crew as well, though they may not have realized. And I am still. That which sparkles and glitters, shining in a light all its own, far beyond any earthly riches. More splendid than all the treasure piled high and cascading of this material world. I didn’t find it then. Though all of the many who were once my crew across the centuries, save Blackbeard, have. That I know. My command means nothing to them now. I am no longer their captain. The quick of sword and the bold of deed. They have another. But I seek it always. And I will never find it. This I also know. Such is the life of a wereshark. Such is not the life of a man or woman mere and mortal. Growing like wildflowers do, climbing their yellowshine trestle of sunlight into the blue and blossoming air, only to slowly fall, grayed and stooped with age, into the earth again. I live on.

I made my fortune long ago, aboard a swift ship of which I was the captain. Her name, the Ximena Feroz. A ship good and true. We were salt-flocked wolves of the sea, marauders drawn by mighty sails. The winds and the waves, leading us by their design, to each new opportunity in the glorious Age of Sail. There will never be another like it. Great sailing ships of discovery and commerce navigating the waters of the world. Sailing forth into the sun and the moon and the stars. Plying the known and charting the new. The future was ours. We would sail into it with sea salt in our beards and rum in our throats. A burning for treasure in our hearts. A most golden adventure it would be. The seagoing senses so alive. Salt air in the lungs and the symphony of wind on sail, mast, and wave. The fragrance of the sea, an elixir to the soul. The movement of wood on water, a meditation. The dance of wood and wave, a magic. The spray of the salted sea, a daily baptism. The compass rose and the mariner’s astrolabe emblazoning my dreams. We sailed beneath the glory-bright heavens. We sailed on effervescence through the sparkling seas of crystalline sun showers. We sailed beneath skies of the highest blue and those that fluoresced green. We sailed above waters of the deepest blue and those that engulfed green. We saw things that could not be readily understood and others that gripped us by the back of the neck in the dead of night. We saw phantoms gliding at sea, spectral ships, strange lights and orbs floating about, and tiny phosphorescent water sprites dancing on the crests of waves. We heard the songs, weeping, and laughter of the sylphs, just at the edge of perception, murmuring on the winds and echoing in the sails. Women’s voices gently called to us, rising from the troughs and from just beyond the swells. And at times, a tapping on the hull, that chilled us to the very marrow. Merfolk swam near the ship, vanishing as pale-green shadows beneath the surface. Creatures that shivered the timbers of our ship and great, barnacled tentacles that slapped the deck, and trailing seaweed, slid back into the depths. Coral reefs reflecting like great, bejeweled necklaces dropped by the sea giants of old. Storms that shook our bones and blinded our souls. Days that were but twilight. And seas that glowed blue at night. Whalesong, our strange lullaby from the deep.

Moments of high adventure that made me forget what I had become. Moments of riotous fun that shone bright the grand spectacle of life. An occasion found us surrounded by a roiling arribada of sea turtles so dense and vast that my landing party could not use the jolly boats, they hopped and reeled wildly across the great bubbling, carbonation of carapaces to the shore. I had nearly fainted with bullroar laughter. And there were moments of absolute tranquility. The embrace of a dense fog on a serene sea was to ascend into the silent, white cathedral of the clouds themselves. And the sea was my cathedral. It was my worship. And it was my captor.

We once came upon a long-dead man crucified in the Roman fashion, a near-skeletal vision of a Christ at sea, the cross affixed to a great log raft. He rode the waves like a grinning scarecrow, disappearing into the troughs and leaping out at us atop his cresting craft, as though playing a sinister game of peekaboo. Those of my men who still felt the weight of religion on their soul, took it as a sign, muttering prayers to the Redeemer and trembling, made the sign of the cross. At my hoarse command, we grappled his craft to ours, poured lamp oil over the side and sent him off as a torch aflame. It was then I first took notice that the spars of my ship formed crosses, and I, in my darkest, most fiendish hours of sea-wrought madness, nailed men up high, leaving them to return in bits to the deck below. Though my most inspired was to become known as the Devil’s Shish Kabob. I will provide no details here. Whether such wickedness was born of my own heart or of the unholy abomination I had been made into, I do not rightly know.

By the Golden Age of Piracy, I had long since become a legend of the high seas. When in battle, it was said that my face blazed as fire, that I moved as a quick flame, consuming all before me. I was called Captain of the Wine-Red Hand. And at times, simply, the Red Captain. My emerald-hilted cutlass was whispered of from the Bosporus Strait to the Indian Ocean. It was boasted that using just one of the Apostles from around my waist, I could both shave the skinny whiskers off a man at spyglass distance with my pistol and fillet a flying fish right into the galley cook’s pan. I was that very seaborne plague that begat a perpetual fear. The Jolly Roger, as it came to be known by the bastard English, was the rum-soaked work of my own artistic hand and to none we met, jolly. I was no Mither o’ the Sea. My men knew hard well that when the full moon rose, safety could only be found far aloft in the rigging, the nearer to St. Elmo’s Fire the better, he, the patron saint of sailors. On more than one occasion, a lad of my crew had slipped from the yards, plummeting like a diving seabird, at the sight of my moonlit form. My agelessness was a subject of suspicious wonder and mystery to all who did not know my true nature. Mariners told the tale that under a red sky at morning, I had gained immortality by offering a ship laden with fleur de sel, its sails washed burgundy with the blood of my foes, to the crimson-embered devil himself. And that soon thereafter, a screaming tempest had brought a red and boiling, sulfurous sea. Steam and vapor rose high, and “AYE” was writ large in the foul air for all to see. The bargain had been accepted. The contract signed in brimstone and saltwater, as it were. My eternal youth and the exploits attributed to me were taken as incontrovertible proof of that most vile transaction.

I have been called a privateer, a corsair, a buccaneer, a freebooter, and a pirate — depending on time and place and occasional employ. I have been called the Saltwater Devil, the Devil’s Own Squall, and even the Devil of the Sea. In fact, I have been called everything but a child of God. Verily, multitudes were the ship that found itself between the devil and the deep blue sea as my dread crew and I drew nigh. I have made many the man, good and bad alike, walk the plank and I have keelhauled many more. I was no pleasantry then as now. I have taught a legion of riches-hungry souls the ways of a plundering life at sea down through the ages. Young Teach, who came to braid fuses into his black beard, got his start under my command and owes me his life, then and still. My ship was never lost, never captured, but freely given upon my departure from the daily sea.

It is a quiet life for me now. And secretive, as it has long been. Red wine and rum, too much, and poetry, too little. An earnest splash of paint here and there. Reminding me that I’m no Pollack. Some classical music, a new pleasure in the days of yore. I once ordered my men to capture a squeaking man and his gleaming harpsichord. We lashed them securely to the foremast and had the music of a palace court at sea for a time. But full moon comes calling, a sinister carnival barker levitating bright aglow. I plan ahead, renting Lambos and Ducatis, flooring them to the coast. This fish-to-be can drive like Mario Andretti — and ride a bike, too. Diving deep from cliff tops, displaying expert technique, a lycanthropene Greg Louganis. I’m more dorsal fin than man by three strokes in. Neptune deliver whatever I might find down there. I once catapulted myself upon a scuba club on their annual full-moon dive — a fundraising event for endangered sea turtles. One of their imprinted snorkels washed ashore in Fiji five years later, cocooned in sea life, and made the international news. A flipper, bite mark and all, had been found in a tide pool halfway to Santa Monica and a chewed-up diving suit-come-suborbital-projectile, gyrating as a windsock from a coastal cypress one county over. It was as though a crate of toothy TNT had detonated right in the middle of their little soirée in the sea. I can’t help but chuckle. Many the surfer has escaped my terrible jaws as I laughed uncontrollably beneath the waves, green-eyed tears to the sea, watching them paddle furiously in a swell of profound and pissing terror. I don’t feel guilty anymore. I do what I am. I didn’t ask to become this cursed creature of the fathomless marine, those many centuries long ago, along that moonlit Sicilian coastline.

It was my honeymoon and my last moments as a mortal man. Memories of my sweet wife haunt me still. I walked on the beach as she slept, her long black hair flowing from the bed, swaying gently as kelp in the sea breeze. I had gazed out upon the shimmering, hypnotic expanse of the night sea from our balcony. Felt the gravity of the heavy moon pulling at my blood and was drawn to the surf in a swoon. Each receding wave calling me closer. I enjoyed the feel of cool sand between my toes and the lapping of seawater at my ankles. The sweeping flash and long eclipse of a far distant lighthouse spoke a peculiar mixture of comfort and solitude as I walked luxuriously in the ancient histories of Mediterranean civilization. It’s sunken ships, battles between warring empires on the sea, and explorers sailing forth to shape destiny enveloped me as fully as any sea mist would. The full moon, that most radiant goddess, or so I once thought of her, watered my eyes, so low I could have reached out for a pinch of moon dust. I drank cognac from the bottle my wife and I had bought in Corsica and reveled in my joy on that splendid shoreline. Smoking Spanish tobacco long in transit, the fragrance of a new world, I had been making bold and daring plans for a seafaring future. Horror sometimes finds you when you least expect it, and least deserve it. I never saw her again, my raven-haired wife, but it is just as well. For I am a demon. Moon spawn of sea foam and dark waves. A pale demon of the deep blue sea. What other am I? And she, a saint. A saint of the calm depths, the currents, and the churning whitecaps. My patroness saint, Saint of the Seven Seas. The keeper of a sacred ember of light in the distant altar of my mind. The saint of my most hallowed memories.

The Sweet Dreams of a Fruit Fly

Scientists now believe that even the humble fruit fly may dream.

This further complicates the already very complicated world that we live in.

What might they dream of? Do they dream of fruit? 

Probably so.

Of nectar dripping down the tops of overripe peaches? 

Apricot dew and squished nectarines? Glistening slices of honeydew melon? 

Do they dream of red-eyed beauties? Large families among the fruit trees? Vacations in crates of plums? Kiwi skin carpets and apple core décor? 

Orchard paradises? Fields of oozing, sunburst fruit stacked in towering piles? Fruit juice fountains? Compost buckets overflowing with gooey, rotten fruit?

Do they dream of a fruit fly heaven with pearly, peeled-banana gates and colorful clouds made of fruit purée for eternity?

So much fruit to eat and so little time to eat it in — a few weeks perhaps, depending on the conditions. Sweet dreams, little fruit fly, sweet dreams.

Conversation with a Dung Beetle

So, you basically just roll a ball of shit around all day. That sounds horrible! What a meaningless existence.

To you, perhaps. But I love what I do. Can you say the same?

No, I can’t. I hate my job.

So, your job is your ball of shit. The difference is, I love my ball of shit, you don’t.

But I make lots of money with my ball of shit and you don’t.

True, but I have no need of money. So, we are both back to rolling a ball of shit around, but I love what I do, and you do not.

Well, the work I do is important, like the men in The Little Prince, and yours is not.

I disagree, but for the sake of argument, let’s say that you’re right. Is this important work that you do meaningful work or just a title and some status?

I suppose it’s just the latter, if I’m being totally honest with you.

Ah, so we are both back to rolling a ball of shit around. Are we really so different then?

Hmm. I guess that’s one way to look at it. Well, I’m off to get some lunch. Care to join me?

Thank you, but I’ve brought my own.

Ah, yes, that you have. See you around, dung beetle.

Yes, have a ball.

I Am Entourage

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The Editor