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Salvage the Dead
31 Oct 2017
I'm a salvor. I salvage what others cast aside. Department stores, bankruptcy lawyers, and government services call me when they have excess or out-of-date merchandise. I recover the unwanted and abandoned, buff it up, and resell it.
Captain Carson Conway stood on the foredeck of the Astoria Annie, giving hand signs for the distance between the bumpers of the tugboat and a piece of dock over eighty feet long and ten feet thick. The serendipity of wind and currents brought the wreckage from the fishing port of Misawa, Japan to Oregon shores nearly eighteen months after the earthquake and tsunami. Its hardwood and steel fastenings held it together.
From his perch, The Captain pointed to wheelhouse.
"Bring us in closer, Mister Boyd."
"'Tis an evil sight, Captain Sir," Galen Boyd said in a loud voice. "We are all blind to the magic of this, deaf to the melody, demon vexed, snarled, and cursed. All ye hirelings beware. That wreck is damned."
"Stow it, Mister Boyd. Concentrate on the distance between us and that dock. This isn't the Black Pearl."
"T'ain't Captain Sparrow I be quoting," he paused for effect. "That ship will labor our souls unless it lies in the deep ocean. Wind and wave and oar did not send it from our departed brethren for no reason. Better to rest with its brother Mariners in the briny deep than wander the land, homeless and forsaken." Galen's mind wandered in realms unknown. His prophecy caused a distraction.
My salvage crew heads turned from the grappling hooks to giggle and smirk. Captain Conway noticed. He wanted their attention on the dock.
"Eyes on the dock, gentlemen," he said. Galen wasn't finished.
"I be but a beggar born and wear not golden brooches or fine silks."
Captain Conway waved a fist at the wheelhouse. "One more damn line of shitty poetry and I'll shove any book I find up your ass without lubricant. Concentrate on bringing us alongside without ramming a hole in our hull," he yelled. In the years I'd known Captain Conway, I had no memory of him raising his voice in anger at a crew member.
"Aye, aye, Captain," Boyd replied in his normal voice. The propellers reversed. Our approach slowed. The Captain watched as the ship and dock closed the distance between them.
"Come to port, five degrees, stop the engines and let her drift, Mister Boyd." The tugboat's propellers responded. The Astoria Annie slipped slowly to starboard, gliding parallel to the long axis of the dock. Grappling hooks swung out and latched onto the drifting dock. We pulled it against the rubber bumpers, lowered a gangway, and went aboard to lash the tow cables to the surviving cleats.
Although it was late and daylight short, my crew had time to examine the wooden decking. Kai, my right-hand man, and the only Asian person on my crew waved me over to the center of the dock. Miraculously, a single wooden pillar pointed straight up to the sky. It bore a bronze plaque above a carved red chrysanthemum. Kai bowed to it.
"How did that survive five thousand miles?" I asked.
"It's like the cornerstone. The dock was built just over a century ago and dedicated to the Kami. You should get a Shinto priest to purify this wood and metal and rededicate it to the Kami before we cut it apart," Kai said.
"You want me to arrange an--" I paused to find a word for this, "--exorcism? All you guys are strange today."
He shook his head negatively.
"Not exorcism, purification," Kai answered. I already had environmentalists demanding sterilization of the dock. It might carry any number of foreign intruders - - bacteria, plankton, miniature crabs, algae, starfish, and other wiggling things that I couldn't name. The Kami and its plaque would be Kai's problem.
"You know more than I do. The job is yours."
"Me? My great-grandfather was Shinto before the war. Grandfather wasn't. Father wasn't. I'm agnostic," Kai said.
I didn't want the delay. I turned and yelled.
"Cope with it. Cut the post down, pack it away for now, and make arrangments with whatever it requires. I want the saws ready for the dock when we arrive." I immediately felt wrong. I never snap at Kai. Everyone was on edge. Damn Galen for spouting that poetry crap and putting me in a bad mood. Kai gave me the bad-doggie eyes as he walked back to the tugboat to retrieve the chain saw and a rope from our lockbox. He'll get over it. We cut the wooden pillar, and Kai carried it to the tug.
Captain Conway watched, displeased. He met Kai on his side of the gangplank, spoke to him, and came to me.
"I don't want your people out on that wreck after dark. Even this close to land you can be knocked overboard and drown too fast for rescue. If I find any of you off this tugboat, there will be the devil to pay. Post two lookouts and use the bells on the hour. If I don't hear bells each hour, I have the man responsible in irons and the brig. I don't want a hundred eighty tons of wrecked dock sinking the Astoria Annie while some fool dozes."
Kai lashed the pillar to the bow deck and assembled the salvagers. I assigned three watches. Randall and Billy, my head gophers, would stand the first watch. Kai would stand the second with Denton. I would take the third watch with Cordell. Watchers would be safety-lined to the deck in case the seas turned rough.
I took my computer to the foredeck and used the footlocker as a desk. I found emails concerning container loads of designer goods gone out-of-season, purchase agreements, bids for bankrupt businesses, and just plain "whatcha-doing" emails. As I worked, I listened for the bells. First and second bells came and passed without note.
I definitely heard the first ding of three bells
And when I looked up, clouds parted. A line of Priests and Nobles in yellow and white robes with red sashes and red flags came forward flanked by Dragons dancing on either side of the procession. A brilliant morning sun filled the eastern sky.
This new station will bring Misawa into the Twentieth Century and the western world. The great train will arrive at the new station near the dockyards. Carpenters, workmen, and the town of Misawa worked diligently to build a new dock from teak so hard it would last a thousand years.
The green crown of Aomori Prefecture flew high over the torii at the entrance to the rail yard. Red lanterns and white trees of Omikuji--prayers for good fortune and success--lined the rails. Tables filled with Shinsen and Saki for the Kami--sacrifices to the gods of Good Fortune and prosperity--stood at the beginning of the passenger platform. The President and Board of Directors of the Tohoku Main Line greeted the arrival of the locomotive, a magnificent iron dragon from the Western Powers, spewing fire, steam, and black smoke, shaking the ground with a chugging rhythm all the way from Sendai and Morioka to the Misawa dockyards on new shiny metal tracks. The people of Misawa looked on the Iron Horse and dream of the trade it will bring from overseas. Hope lived in the ferry metal beast. Our town will grow fat and have prosperous families.
"Break waves, break on the cold stones, break on the depths, break, so my tongue could utter the tales of men who dare to live by the seas." [note 1]
I heard the third ring of three bells.
I was back at my computer on the foredeck. I looked for the men on watch. They were awake and alert, nothing out of place. Uncertain of what happened, I returned to my emails, uneasy. Is it possible that the ghosts of a century before visited my dreams? I don't believe in such nonsense. But my hands shook. I packed the computer in my footlocker. Tomorrow was another day. I sat on the deck and leaned against the bulkhead.
I heard the first two of five bells.
I stood on Sabishiro Beach a third of a century after the dock was built.
Two men in black suits, white shirts, and skinny ties waited as our children, and young men cleared the sand of debris and laid mats so they could use the beach as a runway. I remembered their names, Hugh Herndon and Clyde Pangborn.
"We are desperately overloaded with nine hundred fifteen gallons of fuel. To compensate, I've had to make adjustments to Miss Veedol," Clyde said. Miss Veedol was a 1931 Bellanca Skyrocket J-400, single prop, unpressurized plane named after the oil company sponsoring the flight. Their record flight around the world ended in a rough landing in Khabarovsk, Russia. So they set their sights on another record--a non-stop crossing of the northern Pacific.
"What have you done now?" one of the men asked.
"The landing gear is rigged to fall off and make us lighter, more streamlined. Ought to get a few more miles, trans-Pacific speaking."
"Dandy, the new spark plugs are hot and use less fuel. Once we get the Miss Veedol in position, I will wind-up the propeller, and we can take off," Hugh said. No one in Misawa had ever seen an aircraft land and take off from our beach before this day. Such things were the way of the modern world and were only dreamed as part of the glorious future. We gathered to wish them a good journey. They bowed to the Kannushi, dressed in white, carrying red lanterns. He blessed them and purified the runway. We cheered and prayed to the Kami our best wishes for a prosperous journey and success in the endeavors before them. This was the blessing we gave to all who ventured into the vast Pacific.
The plane rolled down the runway and became airborne; The first non-stop flight to America. As it rose to the sky, the mists dropped.
"We send this plane 'from afar, and it carries with it all our good intentions.'"
I was back on the Astoria Annie. The last two bells of the five rang in my ears. Galen Boyd, our Tennyson spouting first mate, stood next to me, shaking my shoulder. He startled me.
"Captain Conway requests your presence," Galen said.
"What?" I stuttered and composed myself.
"You OK, sir," Galen asked.
"Yes, Thank you."
"The Captain sent me; He would be angry with me if anything was wrong and I didn't tell him."
"I was simply lost in thought." I followed him and joined Captain Conway in his cabin. He sat on what passed for a bed--a metal cot bolted to the bulkhead. A crate set on its narrow side served as a table, and a folding chair was waiting for me to sit. He'd covered the crate with a white tablecloth, a candle, and Shochu rather than wine. MuShu pork and chicken wings sat in a microwave, heating. I smiled. In this cabin, he reverted to my college roommate and friend.
"I didn't think that you'd remember," I said, glancing at the portal and not finding the other element of our make-believe banquets. I gave him the "what's missing" nod.
"I'm Lord Nelson on this ship, not Captain Shakespeare. Tights hanging in the windows drying are not suitable for a rough, tough tugboat captain," Carson said.
"You never regaled them with tales of wispy, small-breasted ballerinas and how you practiced the pas de deux with them? Or lay in the arms of Venus in her secret underworld city."
He laughed. "I don't kiss and tell. They were sophisticated ladies and one or two are doing well. After my knee blew out, I had to give up ballet and took the seas. As I recall, you were going to build skyscrapers and great edifices, not work salvage. Helluva destiny for both of us. Me, tugboat captain and you, salvor," he said. I nodded. He poured us each a shot of Shochu.
"To the good old days and the dumbest wannabes in the world," he said.
Memories of college life filled my mind for the first time in many years. I had suppressed my boyhood dreams of being an engineer of new metal structures and colosseums. Advanced mathematics didn't work for me, and so I started working, learned business, got an MBA at night, and discovered salvage and junk.
"To the ghosts of what might have been, the dancer and the engineer. Good memories, no regrets," I responded with bonhomie. However, ambitions, hopes, and dreams cling to what remains. Subtle events of times passed are not easily forgotten. The hopes of young men drown in the seas of reality. Nevertheless, memories rise from the deep and seek out the living, waiting for the day when your guard is down to reveal themselves like ghosts.
The microwave buzzed. We dished out the MuShu pork and ate. We talked about moving large barges and steamships and salvaging fancy clothing and watches from bankrupt designers. Idle chatter that meant both everything and nothing. We basked in our friendship.
I looked at the time. Late. I went to the door to check on my men. They stood watch. As I returned to my cabin Captain Conway wagged his finger at me.
"You have to trust your men. I learned that lesson my first days at sea."
"It's not my men. It's this dock. I think I keep seeing its history. I can't stop the illusion. I feel a little out of control," I said.
"Trust in the sea," Carson said, pointing to the ship's clock. The second hand swept to the twelve, and I heard the first ring of seven bells.
"Right on time," he said.
And with it, my vision blurred and the captain's cabin slipped away.
I am small, childlike, sitting next to a much larger adult.
I am fishing from the dock. My pole dangles a worm in the ocean. The fish are not biting today, not in many days. Cousin Goro had come to live in Misawa after father joined God's Wind with the rest of the village's men. Each day when we woke, we would bow to father's shrine where we kept the medals the government sent. Cousin Goro seemed glad just to pass the time fishing idly, but my tummy was hungry and frustrated that we could catch the fish but might not eat them. It was the black rain that came from the South. Even the butcher wouldn't slaughter the sheep or the chickens if they bore the red burns and graying skin of the black rain.
"Why is Kami Ibusu angry with us?" I ask.
"It's not the Kami but the war. The enemy has a new weapon."
"I will fight them and beat back our enemies." My words are the words of a child. Cousin Goro put his withered arm around my shoulder. I used to shy away from the touch of that arm, but not today. My tummy growls with hungry, My father too long gone. My heart too sad.
"Oh my child, this is an enemy we cannot fight. They called the sun down from the heavens to burn the cities to ash and tears. It melts steel and turns the ground beneath to glass. It burns flesh and exposes bone. Even the air turns to fire and suffocates all that lives. Those who dared to gaze at the blast have their eyes boiled in the sockets and their hands and feet become as gray wicks to candles. The Emperor has surrendered," he says. I remembered days earlier when the sky flashed bright and dark clouds filled the southern sky. The black rain came, and Mother would not let us go outside. The rain burnt the animals and killed the fish in the harbor.
"The Empire of the Rising Sun is shamed and defeated. The survivors will carry the disgrace of defeat on their bodies until they die." Tears ran down his cheeks. He held me as if I was his only salvation from some great western devil that wielded the fires of hell and had come to take him away. I wiped the tears from his eyes and kissed his cheek. I leaned my head onto his shoulder and wept for my father and our shame.
"Break, break, break, at the foot of thy crags, O Sea! But the tender grace of a day that is dead, will never come back to me."
I opened my eyes at the sound of the watch bell and found myself weeping, face in my hands. Captain Carson reached out and shook me.
"Jesus Christ, Trevor, I've never seen you like this."
My hands shook as I grabbed the decanter, poured myself a shot of Shochu, and drank. I let its fire burn my throat. This wasn't wise, this drink, and I wasn't a child. I was preparing to salvage a wreck, a derelict, a piece of dock cast off from its moorings. Nothing more. Nothing more.
"I saw something, memories, bad ones, too," I whispered.
"It is the sea and nothing more."
"I must sound deranged."
He shook his head.
"Not any more than any sailor on a first voyage," he winked and shook my shoulder again. "You're a landlubber, and you're having a landlubber's freak-out. The sea is not a mistress you make love to. She is a harsh and vengeful goddess. We call those thoughts the siren's song. Every sailor hears its call. It is the song heard by Jason, Odysseus, Erikson, and Drake -- all who sail the seas. Think of the ocean as memories and your mind a schooner." He took a deep breath and sighed. "Either that or you're spooked out by water stretching from horizon to horizon. Get some sleep. I'll take your watch."
"I don't want you to do my job." I doubted his explanations, but I worried that it would send a bad message to my workers.
"I'm the captain of this tugboat. I can bird-dog your people without causing hard feelings. That's my job."
I left and went to my cabin to sleep on my undersized bunk. Sleep wasn't comfortable, but at least, I slept without dreams.
I woke and drank black coffee to wash the lingering taste of MuShu and Shochu out of my mouth. The sunrise cast long beams of golden yellow over the surface of the Pacific. I joined Kai and Captain Conway on the stern of the tugboat. They were discussing the grounding of the dock.
"I told Kai that we can strand the wreck on the beach at high tide and dismantle as the tide recedes. Kai made the arrangements," Captain Conway said.
"The lumber mill said that the carpenters want this Teak. They haven't seen it in since the Vietnam War. The steel haulers said that the structure isn't big enough to give them heartburn," Kai said. I nodded my approval and patted his back.
"Good job. How does the dock get close enough to the shore? The Astoria Annie can't come in that close to land," I said. Deep draft beaches were few and far between.
"The steelworkers are bringing a hawser rig for three winches. They'll use inflatable power-boats to get the hawsers to the dock," Kai said. I gave him a quizzical look because nothing is ever that easy.
"That's too simple. What's the catch?"
"You're the only one trained to shoot the last line."
"Like shooting skeet at a target range," one of my guys hollered, laughing. I glared at him. Well, to be truthful, I snarled at him with teeth bared and eyes narrowed--a primal growl of "me boss." He stopped smiling and got as far away from me as he could on the tugboat.
Several hours later we sighted the private cove where the loggers and steel haulers waited. A massive hawser lay across the tidal sands along with pairs of inflatable speedboats. The plan was that after the tugboat detached from the dock, I would fire a line from the leading end of the dock to the loggers and they would use it to attach the hawser to the dock.
Captain Conway brought the tugboat behind the dock and pushed the dock at the coastline with the roar of engines. We picked up speed. Sailors have patience. Salvors do not. Maneuvers at sea require slow turns and many course alterations, especially to ground a portion of a dock on a beach. I watched from the front of the dock. The rising tide broke over the cold gray stones of the shore as the unwieldy combination of dock and tug threaded its way past stone breakwaters and hidden sandbars.
The tugboat gave its final push, separated, and swung away from the shallows in a single smooth motion. The dock drifted. Seconds ticked away like hours as I waited for the dock to drift close enough to the inflatable boats. When the lead inflatable was about 30 yards away, I fired the line. Once the logger secured it to his inflatable boat, I put the line over my shoulder and walked the length of the dock, hauling the excess line behind.
When I returned to the front, the logger was leaning on a chest brace and drilling a second hole in the decking. He bolted a large cleat to the thick beam. I fired two more lines at the other inflatable boats, and they came forward with the other hawsers. The dock so rigged, they radioed the winch operators to take out the slack.
I relaxed when the dock lurched toward the shore. I congratulated the loggers, shaking hands and patting backs, and then memories intruded on reality.
The world of recent times.
We were four in a small fishing boat, rowing furiously. These were my sons--the pride of my family, destined for university this year and years after. We heard the shrieking of the earthquake and tsunami sirens. Far away, on the shore, I saw my parents, my wife and our daughters and friends, scrambling out of the buildings and up to the highest hill where the tsunami wall would keep them safe.
Minutes earlier, we saw buildings shake, towers collapse, roads crack. The rumbling of the earth had lasted for a long time, longer than any memory. The land groaned like a beast. The ocean quivered, as the foundations of the planet threw the shore at us. An angry god pushed the land of Nippon eastward six inches. Waves buffeted our boat. We rowed to reach the dock so we could help our families.
Long minutes after the quaking stopped, we reached the dock and scrambled out of the boat. As we did, the ocean pulled back and withdrew. It exposed a thousand yards of sand with fish flopping, rocks poking upward, and the junk of a port scattered like a child's neglected toys. From the tsunami enclosure, I could hear my wife screaming and see her pointing at the wave. No one dared look at the wall of water we knew was coming.
We ran but did not make it off the dock before the first wave crashed onto the land. The great beams of the dock howled in pain, twisting and bending. With false hope, the beams tried to hold fast against the ocean. The dock lurched violently as the waters drew back.
A second wave rose, black with the wreckage of humanity's attempts to conquer land and sea. It lifted the dock, ripped it free from the land.
A third wave swept over us. We held onto the great wooden beams, hoping against certain death that this tsunami would recede but once again an angry ocean lashed out, rose higher. Helpless, we saw the black waters climb the hillside and top the tsunami walls. I cried, remembering my grandfather's words about the black seas and skies that came to end the war when he was a child. I will never know if my wife survived the wall of water as the dock broke. The land-end pulled away and crashed into the town. The ocean-end, where we clung, slipped sideways and plunged toward the deep.
My sons and I stayed together until nature claimed our bodies. Only our spirits remained with the dock, accompanying the spirits who built it. We came from the sea with nothing and destiny returned us to it. Life and death, given and taken by the sea.
May Kami preserve our dreams and desires. May Kami offer these memories as gifts to the living so that they know and understand. It is the Western poet Shakespeare who speaks of the sea changing us: "Nothing of him that doth fade, but doth suffer a sea-change into something rich and strange." [note 2]
The memories vanished from my eyes and the world returned.
There is salvage to be had from the sea.
The vast Pacific Ocean abides us all.
I'm a salvor. I salvage what others cast aside. Department stores, bankruptcy lawyers and government services call me.
I'm a salvor. I salvage what others cast aside. Yesterday, I salvaged the remnants of a dock that traveled 5000 miles across the Pacific ocean after a fearsome earthquake and tsunami. The dock brought with it dreams, ambitions, and sorrows. Today, I salvage the unseen, the recollection of days gone by, and the Chrysanthemum plaque. The plaque and the profits from the sale of this dock will go home to those who survived the tsunami of 11 March 2011 in Misawa, Aomori Prefecture.
4300 words more or less
Ten Stories by Dave Fragments
*An Alien serial murderer and a furry detective with fleas.
*Murder on a world with altered humans.
*Disturbing apocalyptic visions *Monstrous dystopian societies.
*A man on trial for betraying the human race to robots.
*Devils, demons and ghosts.
*Survivors of a plague war.
*Cyborgs trying to be human.
*Six friends in a strange sinkhole.
*The truth about a world drowning in rain, without sun, without hope.
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